Too much pre-season

Pre-season rumbles too a close.

The defeat to Hull City was remarkable only because City wore a superb looking pink strip and Peter Jackson was not that pleased with the performance talking about some players having done well, others not so much.

New keeper Martin Hansen was a positive. The Liverpool keeper swatted a few away despite picked the ball out of his net three times. Nialle Rodney could have probably won himself a starting position had he scored, but he did not and Mark Stewart did giving the Scot the box seat come Aldershot.

This weekend’s two games represent the end of what seems to have been a long pre-season. The squad assembled for Silsden has pretty much stayed as it was throughout the games which have contained little of note with the Bantams beating teams below them and losing to teams above them.

So far, so dull really and there is a sense that most people can not wait to be done with the friendlies and onto the proper games. Twenty years ago the regular fan would rock up on day one and find a clutch of new faces, with rumours of pre-season but never having seen them or at least that is what it seemed like. Perhaps it was the day Carlos Valderrama rocked up for Real Valladolid and did midfield battle against a City team who fielded Paul Jewell at right back that pre-season became something I watched rather than something I heard about.

Pre-season seems to go on for more then the month it shows in the calendar and at this level it is unfulfilling. The game with Carlisle United represents a team close to City in the structure of football and perhaps the best chance of a decent game but with City’s squad – or squads – well defined at this stage the players seem to be keeping away from injury with a decent knowledge of who will be in the sixteen on opening day.

Indeed the back five of Hansen, Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Guy Branston and Luke O’Brien seems inked in and Stewart has added his name to James Hanson up front. The midfield has some movement but seems to have Dominic Rowe on the right, Michael Flynn in the middle and one of David Syers, Chris Mitchell and Richie Jones in there too. Jamie Green is trying to play for a contract but should he sign one then the left wing is his with only former Carlisle man Nakhi Wells seemingly offering another option.

The day previous to that match at Valley Parade a minor event occurs as City return to Horsfall Stadium as Archie Christie’s development squad take on Albion Sports in the Bantams’ first game against the former Sunday league club formed in 1974 and recently turned Saturday.

There is a family link for me – Uncle Bill used to manage them – but Albion Sports also provided the kit for my team at University. At the time it was the same kit which Bradford Park Avenue were wearing.

That Albion Sports – formed by two men named Singh just after Park Avenue went out of business – have move into sharing the stadium with the Stans perhaps has a significance beyond this game in the shifting patterns of local football.

Christie’s Development team is likely to feature a mixed bag of players with the likes of Luke Oliver keeping fit, Darren Stephenson trying to get back in from the cold and no doubt whichever trialists the former Dag & Red man scout has found.

Some do not care for the idea that Christie does more than scouting at City – why he should not considering his title is Head of Football Development one has to wonder – but there seems to be a benefit for a team which so freely hires and fires managers in taking the responsibility for passing players from the youth levels to the first team away from the temporary position of “manager”.

When Jackson leaves – and let us face it the only certainty about any manager in City is at some point his critics will outnumber his advocates and drum him out – then it is a good thing that young players like Scott Brown or Patrick Lacey do not have their development interrupted by the new broom of a new gaffer.

Christie’s role is to bring the manager – whoever it is – new players who are good enough to be given a first team role. He can do this though scouting and signing or he can do it through picking up young players and filing off the rough edges to make them good enough. If he can grab a player from a local league and give him a six months in the Development squad getting him ready to hand on to the manager then that is a way to improve the club other than just the hiring and firing of men in the big chair marked boss.

So plenty to play for at Horsfall Stadium, perhaps for both sets of players, but at Valley Parade there is a water treading and a waiting for the pre-season to be over and for football to begin.

Pink City lose 3-1 to Hull City

New goalkeeper Martin Hansen made his first start a week before he officially joins City on a month long loan from Liverpool and the Bantams also gave a debut to the (in)famous pink away shirt at Hull City’s KC Stadium.

Peter Jackson gave Jamie Green another chance to impress and allowed Nialle Rodney to start in the place of Mark Stewart but it was the Scot who scored for City after his second half entrance when the Bantams were two down to two Tom Cairney goals.

Martin Pusic scored a third for the home side and the game ended 3-1.

Jackson left scribbling out his midfield options

The Team

Mark Howard | Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Guy Branston, Luke O'Brien | Dominic Rowe, Michael Flynn, Chris Mitchell, Jack Compton | Mark Stewart, James Hanson | Naille Rodney, Nakhi Wells, Andrew Burns, Ross Hannah

I imagine that somewhere in the depths of Woodhouse Grove that there are any number of crumpled up pieces of paper with teams sketched out on them which Peter Jackson has produced as he tries to permeate his starting eleven for the first match of the season in thirteen days time and most probably the greatest number of changes come in the midfield positions.

The City team that lost 4-1 to Bolton in a performance which had no disgrace – more on that later – has a settled back four of Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Guy Branston and Luke O’Brien and while O’Brien was guilty of messing around rather than getting rid in the last minute to give the ball away cheaply and lead to the fourth goal by the visitors which was nicely finished by Ivan Klasnic the back four is stable and has promise.

Likewise the power of James Hanson up front and the movement of Mark Stewart seem to be the pair in waiting. Nialle Rodney bangs on the door after a superb dribble which took him by a number of Trotters and saw him apply a cool finish but it seems that Rodney and Ross Hannah will be bench sitters against Aldershot Town when the season kicks off.

The effectiveness of Stewart and Hanson remains to be seen. Hanson has the ability to dominate defenders but last season often that was wasted for the want of support. Stewart’s intelligent play seems to be a good match the idea being that if Hanson is winning the ball and Stewart running to where Hanson will nod the ball on to. Rodney and Hannah suggest that if Plan A does not work then there is something else in the locker. Looking over at Robbie Blake – playing for Bolton and warmly applauded by City fans – the mind drifted back to how Blake was the second choice to Isaiah Rankin back in 1998. The ability to make that switch in the season proved to be key.

Blake set up a fine second goal for Bolton running in behind the Bantams backline and picking out Darren Pratley who came out of midfield well all afternoon including a moment in the first half where having bested his marker he tumbled in the box under the sort of changeling from Mark Howard which is a penalty in pre-season at Valley Parade but will be a foul on the keeper at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge.

It was Pratley’s running which will cause Jackson to rip up more paper this week. He and Patrice Mwamba – who for my money should be in the England team – battled tooth and nail against City’s midfield two of Chris Mitchell holding and Michael Flynn attacking the the Bantams pair past muster.

Flynn seems to have gone from being stuck in the stiffs at Silsden and seemingly on his way out of the club to being the best Bantams player on show against the toughest opposition he will face all season.

Flynn’s attitude is obvious and excellent and his play saw him breaking forward and being a threat and he combined well with Chris Mitchell who’s holding abilities are second to his abilities from dead ball situations and one suspects that that second attribute is causing Jackson more scribbles. Mitchell’s corners to Hanson, Williams and Branston were a threat that nearly brought goals in the first half but one wonders if he is strong enough in the holding role to justify his selection.

Flynn too – while looking impressive in his own play – has been over the last two seasons a part of midfields which are soft centred. Was that Flynn’s fault or the fault of those around him, or the previous management, and could Jackson’s deployment of Flynn bring the best out of the player? This is where Jackson earns his money.

Mitchell and Flynn are joined in the mix by David Syers – the criticism of Flynn could be equally applied to Syers – Lee Bullock and Richie Jones. Bullock seems less in the running than the others but one can only imagine the permutations Jackson is running in training to try find an answer to this most pressing of questions. A good team needs a good midfield mix and history tells us that at City a good team needs a good start lest it be dragged down by a chorus of disapproval.

The widemen offer options. Jamie Green did not feature today with a potential third Falkirkian in Jack Compton on the left flank and Compton a more out and out winger than Green who could tuck in to provide strength in the middle. Strangely a lot seems to depend on Dominic Rowe who is improving game by game and if that improvement will manifest itself as quality performances in League Two games.

If Rowe can use his pace to effect and continue his habit of simple improvement of possession – when he loses the ball he does so in a better position than when he gathered it and this manifest itself in corners and throw ins – then he could find himself nailing down a place in the starting eleven. On his performance today that is a risk, but it might be a risk worth taking.

Pre-season matches at City are curious affairs. The crispy £10 handed over to watch the game could be the most that any of us pass to a turnstyle operator to watch the Bantams this year with season tickets making the per match price around £6 yet the expectation is often so low. Bolton’s third goal – like their first – was the sort of decision which they would never get in the Premier League and so seems of limit use to give in this game. If Owen Coyle can see his strikers barge Jamie Carragher and John Terry out of the way in the way that Guy Branston was and still be celebrating a goal as he was after Kevin Davies’ tidy lob then he will consider himself very lucky.

Jackson though will be considering his options. The chassis for a team is built, he just needs to figer out the engine.

Playing the season out in July

The Team

Mark Howard | Chris Mitchell, Steve Williams, Guy Branston, Luke O'Brien | Dominic Rowe, Richie Jones, David Syers, Jamie Green | James Hanson, Mark Stewart | Michael Flynn, Andrew Burns, Ross Hannah, Nialle Rodney, Nahki Wells, Lee Bullock

Pre-season football matches should never be mistaken for football matches.

For sure they look like football matches and to the unschooled they would appear to be football matches: twenty two men hoof a bit of leather around and occasionally stop to score, swear or stop for some other reason; but they are not.

Chief amongst reasons for this contradiction between what seems to be and what is is that pre-season football matches are not processed as football matches are by supporters and listening in around Nethermoor as Bradford City recorded a 3-2 victory over Guiseley proved this.

Firstly – and not least importantly – is the result which drifts into irrelevance almost on the sound of the final whistle. It matters not that the Bantams were the victors, nor indeed is the manner of the victory especially important. City twice trailed the team from two divisions below and came back to win but no prizes are given for character in friendlies. Contrast that to the next time a teams from two divisions away play each other in Leeds.

What matters on an evening like tonight is extrapolation. Looking at performances and casting an eye into the distance of next May and assessing how that performance will pan out.

So Mark Stewart – starting for City up front alongside skipper for the night James Hanson – touches in an equaliser to make the game 2-2 and is dubbed a “natural born goalscorer” destined for fifteen to twenty goals a season. His smart and accurate touch at the front stick after good work from Hanson is impressive. Hanson wins much all evening against defenders who include former Bantams Daniel Ellis, Mark Bower and Simon Ainge and back to his best Hanson will be a force.

Ainge twice goes close to giving his new club the lead over his old as City’s back four struggle to clear their lines and it is a weak headed clearance by Steve Williams that allows Alex Davidson to score the opener. Branston has to sort out Williams soon, so grumbles go, or we will have a problem. Chris Mitchell can hit a dead ball, but one worries about him at the back, unfair on the strength of a single mistake.

Extrapolations on goalkeeper Mark Howard are not good. Gavin Rothery scores the home side’s second which takes a deflection but leaves the keeper looking flat. In-between the two strikes David Syers gets onto the rebound from a Stewart shot and equalises.

There is much extrapolation about Jamie Green on City’s left who is a big winner on the night looking a player of some ability in a first half in which City struggle to maintain a tempo. When the Bantams retain the ball they look good – and players like Richie Jones are impressive – but there are spells in which play becomes frantic. Dominic Rowe bursts with pace but lacks composure blazing wide and over a number of times but he shows a usefulness. Extrapolating Jones’ ball out to the winger, and the winger surging forward, is enjoyable as City go in at half time behind.

More troubling though is the extrapolation of a team which loses the ball being punished too readily, and of a team which is not able to maintain a consistent tempo being too easily pushed off stride. David Syers’ goal masks a performance in which he has struggled to take control of a midfield and his replacement with Michael Flynn turns the tide in City’s favour.

Stewart’s equaliser comes, and then a superb delivery form Chris Mitchell is headed firmly into the goal by James Hanson. Hanson celebrates a goal against his former club and could have another later as City – despite the odd worry over being turned around too quickly when giving the ball away – keep the ball better and pass around the field with more fluency. Nahki Wells and Ross Hannah both test the home keeper’s palms and in the end the scoreline could have been more tipped towards the Bantams, but the result does not matter.

What seems to matter is the mood of supporters who wander away happy. Guiseley supporters have seen enough to suggest that their next season may be successful enough while City fans have seen enough trailers of what is to come to extrapolate from balmy July night to the sunny afternoons of next May and conclude that it might be a season they would enjoy too.

City start the season hoping for a change of luck

The season starts at Silsden and the end is a long way away.

A long way in terms of the months until the start of May when the League Two season finishes. A long way in terms of minutes watching the Bantams and miles to travel to watch them. A long way in terms of the emotional turmoil which will no doubt follow in the forthcoming months.

Peter Jackson took over as City manager part way through last season having taken over from someone who took over part way through the season. He has transfer listed the entire squad, freed fistfuls of players, and brought people in. If things do not go well for Jackson then one might expect – if not welcome – a change to someone else.

City show the green shoots of recovery. More than recover they show signs of building for the future but the habit of habitual change may die hard and it may not be Jacko who enjoys the fruits of new training facilities and Archie Christie’s development squad.

So with this in mind Peter Jackson must select his squad carefully. Ross Hannah and Guy Branston have been headline signings. Hannah is a striker with enthusiasm aplenty. His personal goal tally for Matlock Town last season rivalled City and his zest for this second chance at League football is obvious to all. Branston – an experienced campaigner – it is said stopped on his way through Bradford to admire Valley Parade from a distance. Both Hannah and Branston seem to view the club as a graduation, or perhaps a deliverance.

Mark Stewart and Chris Mitchell have come in under the radar from Falkirk. Of Mitchell little is said, of Stewart much. Mitchell can play right back and delivers a ball well from the right back or holding midfield positions. Stewart comes in with the sounds of negotiations around him more than the buzz about his abilities. Falkirk believe they are owed money for him, City that they owe nothing and it seems that The Webster Ruling is being deployed. Webster’s exit from Hearts to Wigan might re-write the rules of football transfers but the player did little for football and one will hope that Stewart is more successful.

A striker by trade Stewart is talked off in the same terms as Gareth Evans but one hopes that – unlike the player who exited for Rotherham in the summer – Stewart is more able to grasp the opportunities when they arise and nail down a place in the side.

One wonders how close to the side sixteen year old Scott Brown will get during his first season. Signed from Clydebank big things expected of Brown but at a tender age perhaps those expectations are too high. He and 18 year old Patrick Lacey – signed from Sheffield Wednesday on a one year deal – are looking for the break in the clouds that may allow them to shine through.

Nottingham Forest’s Nialle Rodney has joined on a one year contract. He is 20 and described (by Peter Jackson) as being “extremely quick, has a lot of pace and has a good goalscoring record” which must be at reserve level. Of all the new recruits Rodney seems to have furthest to go to impress, but pre-season and a new club offer a fresh start.

In addition Jackson has a clutch of names from last season to get the most out of. People like Lewis Hunt, Simon Ramsden, Lee Bullock and Robbie Threlfall have all got much to prove after last season.

I addition Jackson casts an eye over a half dozen or more names who look to secure a contract with City having joined the club on trial.

Chief in these names is twenty year old former Leeds striker Tom Elliott who having played for the tiresome team three times and been loaned out to a number of clubs brings his six foot four frame to Valley Parade. He has previously played for Hamilton, Macclesfield, Bury and Rotherham United but not especially impressed for any of those. At twenty he seems to to be lined up for the Development Squad rather than the starting eleven.

American central midfielder Steve Arau joined City from Steve MacLaren’s Wolfsburg but did not stay long – David Syers is not joining Rangers but having tried and failed to sign Gary Jones the need for a central midfielder seems there from Jackson.

21 year old left back Jamie Green has suffered from the rapidly changing manager’s position at Rotherham United being favoured by Mark Robbins but falling from the first team under the two later managers. The five foot seven full back has played 62 games for the Millers and was well liked for wholehearted displays. The Bantams though are not short of left backs.

However with only Jon McLaughlin on the books Scottish goalkeeper Greg Fleming has a chance of securing a deal. The 24 year old has played for Oldham Athletic and Gretna and is currently at Galway.

All are expected to get a run out for the Bantams as are the remainder of the squad from last season and while that squad was largely unloved expect tonight a note of cheer for the return of Simon Ramsden, long time injured and looking for better luck next season.

But aren’t we all.

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