Overcoming the margins – Bradford City vs Leyton Orient – FA Cup 2nd Round preview

We remember Ben Murihead stupidly running down a blind alley with 10 minutes to go, losing possession and Barnsley racing up the other end to crucially equalise. We remember Jermaine Johnson’s incredible dribble from his own half before shooting wide when reaching the penalty area, then a Nathan Doyle own goal gifting Millwall an undeserved win. We remember David Wetherall hitting the crossbar with a header before, erm, Tranmere proceeded to play us off the park and win 3-0.

The previous three Bradford City seasons have featured progress past the First Round of the FA Cup, before each time falling at the Second. We’ve allowed ourselves to dream of City’s name being included in that illusive 3rd Round Draw with the opportunity of a lucrative tie. On Saturday we dream again that this could our year as Leyton Orient rock up to Valley Parade – will it be fourth time lucky?

The so-called “magic of the FA Cup” will be duly hyped all weekend and City could, by some stretch of the imagination, be considered one of the giant killers of the last round after the impressive win at MK Dons – a result which looks more impressive each week as the Buckinghamshire club climb League One.

It’s doubtful whether the magic really will touch Bradford this weekend though, the stadium will be barely a fifth full and there’s a convincing argument that, unlike the last three seasons, an FA Cup run is an unnecessary distraction. Nevertheless as memories of recent disappointments remind us of the often thin line between success and failure it’s worth noting that City have twice this week been on the right side of such margins – Rhys Evans’ wonder save at Rotherham and Jack Lester’s miss at 2-2 on Tuesday – and it’s the sign of a good side when they’re the ones regularly benefiting from such fortune.

A good side. Worth emphasising to some of our supporters who still can’t manage to do anything but criticise and moan. Tuesday’s comeback win against Chesterfield was a fantastic game of football – arguably the most entertaining of our season so far. Yet still all some can do is focus on the disappointing first 25 minutes, pick on a couple of players who didn’t reach the heights of others and, perhaps most stupidly of all, moan that City we’re hanging on during the final 10 minutes. Let’s imagine our team had fallen 3-2 behind and had a man sent off with 10 minutes to go, wouldn’t we still expect our players to force pressure in the closing stages? Why shouldn’t Chesterfield fans expect any less of their side?

We witness an injury hit City side show tremendous character and commitment to recover from an awful start and win against an impressive visiting side, why can’t we enjoy it? All some people can do is look for negatives; there’s been some over-the-top moaning about Matt Clarke (who apparently was booed by some ‘fans’ in the Kop whenever he touched the ball on Tuesday), the medical experts amongst us have managed to blame Omar Daley’s injury on Stuart McCall and there’s a certain balding Irish striker who some attempted to argue was one of our worst players. I am staggered how any City supporter could have left Valley Parade on Tuesday feeling unhappy. As Alan Hansen would say, “it’s unbelievable.”

Of course there were things which didn’t go so well and Stuart will look to address these on Saturday. I’m full of admiration for the way he stuck to his guns with the line up on Tuesday. At 2-0 the diamond formation he’d employed did not look a clever decision but, rather than panic, he got the players doing the right things and the improvement was vast. It won’t work every game and may not be used tomorrow with no Daley, but Stuart has a lot more faith in his team than many of us supporters do and surely it’s time more of us got behind them, particuarly when they’re struggling.

Stuart is unlikely to make many changes for this tie. Nicky Law and Tom Clarke have both had their loan spells extended and both arguably enjoyed their best games in Claret and Amber so far on Tuesday. They will make up the centre of the midfield with new loan arrival Steve Jones, taking Daley’s place, on the right. Kyle Nix, who did reasonably well Tuesday considering it was his first game back from injury, will push his claims for a regular spot on the left.

The back five will be unchanged with Matt Clarke still causing concern but Graeme Lee winning fans over. At 2-0 down and in real trouble on Tuesday, strong leadership was needed and Lee stepped up to the mark in more ways than just his impressive free kick. TJ Moncur must improve on his recent showings while Luke O’Brien will reflect that it was a year ago this weekend he made his debut and how far he has come. Rhys Evans keeps goal.

Up front Stuart has a real dilemma. At last Valley Parade got to see what a talent Michael Boulding can be and it would be difficult to rest him with confidence improving. Same with Barry Conlon, who’s popularity is surpassing the ‘cult hero’ status of last season into genuine ‘fans favourite’. That could mean Peter Thorne is left out again, which might not be a bad thing with a busy Christmas coming and injury niggles. FA Cup rules allow Stuart to name seven substitutes, which will give some fringe players a chance – will Willy Topp be one of them?

Of course the last time Leyton Orient were in town they cruelly smashed our hopes of avoiding the drop with a two-goal burst which had people around me crying and the boo boys curiously gloating. That day City battered Orient and wasted a hatful of chances to be out of sight by half time.

It’s those margins of success and failure that good teams invariably benefit from and poor sides are left cursing about. If City are the beneficiaries on Saturday we supporters just might start to believe in magic again.

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.

Ben, Muirhead Leave City

Ben Muirhead has been released by Bradford City bringing to an end a turbulent five year connection between player and club that say him signed, released, signed again and go from favourite to failure to favourite to great white hope before his career with the club petered out.

Muirhead was signed from Manchester United and wasted no time in impressing with his right wing play that recalled the buccaneering style of Jamie Lawrence. At Turf Moor he ripped Burnley apart in a 2-1 win and he looked a huge threat for Nicky Law’s team.

However for all his exciting front foot play Ben had a number of flaws in his game – he would give the ball away when charging forward rather than win continued possession, he would try the impossible cross rather than winning the odd throw in – and these problems soon saw him benched as Law’s team struggled and Nicky Summerbee offered more crossing.

Nevertheless his flair cameos made sure he stayed popular and under Bryan Robson one Manchester United number seven told another how to play and he returned a Ben all about the end product.

He was the Ben Muirhead of forcing corners and tidy football and for a while that seemed to impress some however as his game improved the tide seemed to turn and – as famously identified by The City Gent’s John Watmough – “Ben” left and was replaced by “Muirhead”.

“Muirhead” was released as the club’s money problem mounted and Bryan Robson exited – he seemed to show most improvement under the famously good coach/bad manager that was Robson – only to be signed again as the club exited administration and start the next season well loved for his loyalty.

However while Muirhead was a better player for the team he seemed to lack the excitement of the flying winger Ben and he was not a regular feature in Colin Todd’s teams. By the time Jermaine Johnson and Omar Daley – both of whom could stand accused of all the worst and best points of Ben’s early play – arrived at the club the sun had set on Ben’s career at City and he was loaned to Rochdale.

His release from Bradford City comes at the end of that season and no doubt Rochdale will be interested in signing him – he scored three in nine games – after which we will no doubt see him again next year.

At such point – with the distance of opposition – we may discover if that winger is “Muirhead” or “Ben” after all.

There Is No Third Time for Bradford City

News came this morning – if you can call it news – that Julian Rhodes could be forced to put City into administration for the third time should the Bantams be relegated from the league. It comes in the Daily Star – attach to that whatever status you will – and it reads ominously.

Everybody knows that there is no third time for Bradford City. Administration is about settling debts with creditors by allowing them to have faith that they will be paid back better in the long term than they are through a liquidation of assets. Kroll – no one – could make a case that City would pay back this time better than the previous two. Without faith there is no CVA ergo there is no administration. There is only liquidation.

However Julian Rhodes has no immediate reason to seek Administration. The squad at Valley Parade is threadbare to the point that in the summer the Bantams may have only six or so senior professionals in contract and the expenses are transparent. City lost £600,000 last year. £330,000 goes to Gordon Gibb leaving £270,000. Should Dean Windass exit – and he probably will – then City have every right to demand a significant fee for a player wanted for a season in League One so perhaps half if not more of that £270,000 can be wiped away.

A projected loss of £150,000 is not a debt that forces a club into Administration and the loss of £600,000 this season has been offset by the sales of Jermaine Johnson and the loaning of Windass. I may be wrong and I may not be privy to all the information but veteran of two CVAs unless I’m reading this wrong the end of the world is not nigh.

Rhodes for his part is furious saying

It’s utter rubbish and we will be discussing these comments with the club’s lawyers. The stories are so far wide of the mark it’s untrue.

The Daily Star – jumping on Rhodes’s comments in the week and looking for punchy stories – would be better off pointing City fans to Sheffield Wednesday and Hull games for the rest of the year. Should the Tigers stay up City get a slice more cash for Windass and promotion for The Owls – they are pushing for the play-offs – would land the Bantams £150,000.

City need to be on a constant watch against financial problems but part of that watch is being able to control panic that would be sparked by the Daily Star article. It is still worth buying a season ticket; it is still worth caring about the club.

Rhodes: I Did What I Had To To Keep The Club Going

Some years ago while Bradford City were parking next to extinction I managed to see a copy of the financial reports for the failing business that was Bradford City AFC. It did not make good reading, in fact I had to hold back a tear. If people knew some of the things that had gone on not to put the future of this club in jeopardy but afterwards and by some of the people who came to refinance us then…

Well then people would be marching on a local theme parks demanding answers.

To be honest Bradford City fans do deserve answers about what has gone on with the money at Valley Parade and they deserve the truth. Mouth shut agreements on some parties and a fear of litigation on mine prevent this truth from fully being told and perhaps that is a good thing because to paraphrase Aaron Sorkin’s play We can’t handle the truth

Or at least some people cannot and so Julian Rhodes is set on the defensive talking about being insulted by comments that money had been taken out of the coffers and defending sanctioning the departures of Dean Windass and Jermaine Johnson.

Rhodes never says that Windass’s departure could have been brought about by the vague campaign of criticism which lead to hate mail and death threats the player suffered nor does he say that the £500,000 for Jermaine Johnson was ridiculously good money for a player who would be publicly balled out on the field for his selfish play.

Rhodes makes it clear that selling Johnson allowed the club to continue trading. That is a no brainer. Rhodes says

The facts of the matter are I had to do what I had to do to keep the club going.

Rhodes has been in charge at Valley Parade for seven years and faces his second relegation in that time. He faced a shrinking income stream which has been turned around and a climate in football where the kids of Bradford no longer sport Manchester United shirts but increasingly don the colours of Barcelona and LA Galaxy and football is followed from an armchair.

He faces a football world in which money is poured into the top level and the trickle down is pitiful. He faces hyper-inflation at the top level dragging wages up for all and he faces that with his own failing laid bare.

For Rhodes has made mistakes in running the club but like Joe Colbeck, Valley Parade and the claret and amber striped shirts it is not a case that as Bradford City fans it is our job to find these faults and magnify them but rather accept them, hopefully guide and try minimise where they occur. Selling 25 year season tickets (Not something Julian Rhodes did, a Geoffrey Richmond innovation) was a mistake but it has been accepted, representation was made and a solution found that all were as happy as could be with.

The truth that the 5% of City fans who Rhodes accuses of shouting loudest against him cannot handle is that as good or bad as Rhodes may be he is the only option to manage and own a terminally holed business that continues to trade at a loss long after any normal business would have been liquidated.

The truth is that Julian Rhodes has not sucked the money out of City – City have sucked the money out of him.

This is not sycophancy or obsequiousness, it is honesty based on having seen on paper the facts that stare Julian Rhodes in the face on a daily basis. The man has failings and I would run the club differently perhaps but make no mistake that without him Valley Parade would look like The Odeon in Bradford City Centre and Bradford City would be out of business.

Recent Posts