Incommensurable / McCall

Officially announced new Bradford City manager Stuart McCall needs no introduction at Valley Parade and so let us not waste words with them.

And let us waste no time heaping praise on his playing career at City, at the FA Cup Final, at the World Cup, at Rangers. We know it was good, and he knows that we know it was good. We’ve been here before. Stuart McCall does not start his time at Bradford City ab ovo.

By appointing McCall Edin Rahic has joined a story en media res. The new City manager is the old City manager and in some ways he begins exactly at the point where he left the field having lost 1-0 to Bury in February 2010. The League Cup final, promotion at Wembley, Chelsea, Sunderland et al become a separate timeline that ended at Millwall and Phil Parkinson’s last game.

Rather than nothing being known about the new manager, everything is, and that brings with it a collection of nervousness about known quantities. Uwe Rösler would have brought with him questions, not so McCall.

With McCall we have answers on past behaviour, or at least we think we do, and the gnarling feeling in one’s stomach is the acceptance of that. It is the feeling of knowing what your birthday presents are.

McCall has been at Rangers, has been at Motherwell, and has been at Scotland and those qualifications need to disavow the most embarrassing of the criticism of him in the past – that he was “not a proper manager” – but from those experiences McCall needs to have learnt much to correct that course that he was on when he walked off the pitch after the Bury game five years ago.

Things that went wrong have to be put right in order that McCall be successful and some successful things need to be retained.

Ethic

McCall’s predecessor Phil Parkinson created teams which – through a peerless team ethic – dragged out results playing a direct game centred around not conceding goals. McCall’s Bradford City teams were in many ways the opposite of that. His teams worst characteristic was (and I exaggerate for effect) their ability to turn a poor decision about a throw in into a eight game winless run.

This is the greatest difference between the two managers. Parkinson build his team with an internal belief based on a spirit within the dressing room. There were times when this did not work and it was obvious that this did not work and times when it spectacularly did. It is impossible to imagine the McCall’s teams of 2007-2010 slowly grinding themselves back into a game at Chelsea when 2-0 down.

McCall’s teams, when they worked, were belief bubbles that players floated on. Remembering perhaps McCall’s best game – the 4-1 win over Exeter City – it was a projection of what Joe Colbeck could be to Colbeck and to the rest of the team that spurred the performance. This approach was not open to Parkinson who told the players that their achievements are the sum of their inputs rather than the fulfilment of their buoyancy.

Likewise ten minutes after Barry Conlon came on 2-0 down at Accrington Stanley the game was won 3-2 after the Irish striker caused mayhem in the penalty area. McCall cast the game plan at The Crown Ground aside in a way that Parkinson never did. When 2-0 at Chelsea (admittedly a different proposition) Parkinson’s team did not change how it played other than to play better. McCall’s ability to add a randomness to proceedings is a strength at times but was a weakness too.

Not only a weakness but a cause of weakness. When the belief is not in the dressing room and the player’s belief in each other’s abilities it is always subject to being assailed by external pressures. When Parkinson’s teams lost they looked at themselves and saw how they were good, and that how they would come good over time, but when McCall’s teams lost the looked at themselves to see all the ways they were bad.

Needless to say one hopes that the lessons McCall has learnt include an understanding of this and built it into his management philosophy.

Hope

Which leads onto a worry about losing the capacity that Bradford City under Parkinson had of being able to maintain a position within games. The term “game management” has become overused to the point of de-definition but recalling McCall’s celebrated 3-2 win at Accrington is to forget the times when games went beyond his side and they had little character to bring them back.

This is not uncommon but was uncommon under Parkinson who only rarely saw his City team more than a goal down. The ability to keep a game with grasp, even if it could not be grasped, is something that encouraged belief in the dressing room. City under Parkinson never lacked hope.

Yet so much of McCall’s managerial style was based around hopefulness (which is to say that his teams were never to be described as negative) that the nature of defeats like the 3-0 reversals to Rochdale and Accrington at Valley Parade came at a huge cost. To chase games at 1-0 down defensive responsibilities would be abandoned which would bring defeat, not victory, closer.

Those games were painful to watch in the stands and did damage to the squad. They were the counter to the sensational comeback but seemed to do more damage than those comebacks did good.

Another term used to the extent of de-defined is “stability”. It is not just manager retention, or squad retention, it is an environment in which lessons taught are understood and worked on, and improved, rather than one where behaviour patterns are random or seem to be random. McCall needs to have understood how to take the lessons from defeat but to not dwell on defeat and he needs to ensure that practise continues at City.

McCall the coach wins the praise of players for his ability to work with them but what is the point of having a coach to improve players if – as was the case – every twelve months the squad is changed drastically? Edin Rahic’s hopes of bringing in post-Academy players from top clubs seems to tie in with McCall’s skills but it will only work if there is a lengthy commitment to a stable development environment.

McCall can do this – arguably he can do it better than Parkinson – but the whole club has to be aware of the necessity of stability beyond the idea of just having the same manager standing in the middle of chaos.

Environment

Chaos perhaps being an apt description of 2007-2010 at times.

Stuart McCall created three teams at Bradford City and they can be summerised thus: The first one, the one that had a load of money thrown at it, the one that had a load of money ripped out of it; One might want to pretend against evidence that money is the governing factor in football but experience tells us otherwise.

It is rare that one finds a disharmony and successful football club. There are exceptions to this rule but more often it is accurate as it seemed to be in McCall’s first period as manager of the club.

Because there is a telling of history that is entirely manager-centric that is applied to Bradford City over the last decade. That Phil Parkinson arrived and – by virtue of his being a better manager than all who proceeded him – the club turned around.

This empowerment of the manager to the auteur of success is very common in football as it is “>in history. It speaks to something romantic in us all – that a single person can create wonders – and that romance is the hope that one such person might come and turn the fortunes around.

And the counter to that is that anyone who is a manager at a club that does not succeed has failed, rather than the failure being common or shared, as seems most often to be the case.

The reason Liverpool have not won the league since Kenny Dalglish left is because Kenny Dalglish Great Man theory says obviously untrue.

There is another view of history which would have it that Bradford City in Stuart McCall’s first time at the club was – to be frank – a mess.

This is an unpopular view and one that people are criticised for voicing. The perceived wisdom is that the club was making purposeful and direct steps back to the rude health as early as 2007 and that left it in good condition when Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp bought it. That wisdom does not correlate with what we know of the times.

You can pick your own example of this. What was going at Valley Parade when a deal was done with Royal Montegnée that brought Willy Topp to City as the first in a partnership? Did McCall want (W/B)illy and if not why did he get him? What was going on when Phil Parkinson – in the glow of the greatest FA Cup shock of all time – was seemingly forced to onto bended knee to apologise to two directors for pointing out the obvious problem with the pitch at Valley Parade?

What happened to the link up with RIASA? Was it a success or not? Why did the club employ Archie Christie to do one job and the manager Peter Jackson to do another when it would be generous to say that the two men did not work well together? Who wanted Christie at the club? Who didn’t? Why was Paddy Lacey signed on sixteen times the wage of Nahki Wells? Why did City end up paying £250,000 for a player that no one seemed to want at the club? Why was one of the chairmen serving up a spiteful fish course?

Only the most fanciful retrofit of history can call this a club pulling in the same direction.

Return, mentally, to the idea of the Bradford City squad being called in on a Sunday to play a game for a South African player that Mark Lawn had “discovered” and then having the game called off half way though and to be accused – according to then manager Peter Jackson – that they would not pass to the new “star player”.

That Jackson even let it happen, that Rhodes let it happen, that the architect of it Lawn let it happen, says so much about the state of the club at the time.

It all changed – for regrettable reasons – when Lawn took a step back and Phil Parkinson was able to take a team to Wembley. This consolidated Parkinson’s power at the club and all other directions were ignored, and retroactive considered ignored, because the idea of upsetting Parky by making him bring his team in to try out the South African lad risked too much.

And so the club had a single direction and benefited from it.

Which is what Stuart McCall needs to have learnt from his first stay at Valley Parade. When he was given a budget that required one squad to be ripped up and another build McCall should have said “no, that is not what I’m doing here. It will not bring us closer to what we want.”

If McCall is a different manager now this is how he needs to be different. He is a “legend” but that is an honourific afforded by the supporters and not the boardroom. He needs to use his legend status rightly rather than have it used to mask any number of curious goings on.

Fr example When one of the chairmen stopped talking to Stuart McCall in 2009 he should have asked supporters – publicly if he had to – just how the eight month sulk helped move Bradford City in the direction they wanted?

If a legend is not on the side of the fans he is not a legend.

A football club needs to have a single direction and everyone is adjunct to that. If the direction comes from the manager – as it did under Parkinson – then everyone at the club needs to stand behind him and anyone who does not needs to get out of the way.

If the direction comes from Edin Rahic then McCall needs to either understand that and be able to agree and support Rahic’s direction or he needed to have not taken the job.

But he has taken the job and while at the moment it is unclear as to what the shape of this new era Bradford City will be McCall, Rahic, Rupp et al need to be of one mind in this.

There is a view of the history of Stuart McCall as Bradford City manager that paints him as a capable manager in what was an increasingly dysfunctional situation. It is a view that writing BfB during the course of the years, and talking to the people involved, I subscribe to.

His capabilities are shown at Motherwell getting them into the Champions League qualifiers, the dysfunction at City was seen by Peter Taylor, and by Peter Jackson, and all the many messes which made the rise under Phil Parkinson so remarkable.

It is hard to say if that is the case and if McCall was a good manager in a bad situation, or if McCall is the failure in the Great Man theory that some say, or if it is some other history as yet untold about to shape the course of our club.

As Stuart McCall is welcomed back to Bradford City for a fourth coming we might be about to find out.

Who’s better

I want Bradford City to be better.

A glib statement of the obvious? To some, probably. But for me it’s a genuine, earnest desire. I mean I really want Bradford City to be better. A lot.

The statement isn’t a direct reaction to the club finishing in it’s lowest league position for 45 years this season, the winning of a mere 15 league games in a season that averaged less than a goal a game, or even the wrangling over rent and where we are to make home. I have, and will always, want Bradford City to be better.

As they walked out at Wembley. As Wetherall belly-slid across the Valley Parade turf. As we greeted a grinning Carbone and a beaming Geoffrey. I looked forward to getting better.

It’s a want that all connected to Bradford City share, from the boardroom to those in the cut-priced seats. The truth is, however, we seem to have forgotten how to get better. And as we have seen in the last ten years if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.

In our four seasons and counting in the basement of English football, permanent and interim managers alike have bemoaned a lack of consistency from one week to the next. I find consistency an odd concept to embrace or value. I’m a believer that you’re either on the gain or on the wane.

Whilst sporadic fluctuations in the quality of human performance can be expected, and excused, more important is the general movement towards ‘better’ from the collective or any individual contained within it.

Great sportsmen and women will see a steep and long upward curve in ability and performance. They will then, at some point (and probably unknown to them) hit a peak, followed by a decent, which they will try to make as gentle and elongated as possible.

Tiger Woods will never eclipse the near golfing perfection he achieved at the start of the century. His challenge now is to minimise the rate of his decline and hope his still immense ability sees him to future victories as his powers diminish.

Sir Alex Ferguson has been the master at putting together team after team that have improved as a unit, then dispensing with those individuals that have peaked whilst retaining those with the longer curves of improvement.

We used to have knack for improving players. Remember that young, skinny lad McCall and his ragbag teammates in 1985 that grew individually and became more than the sum of their parts? Dean Richards oozing pure class from his debut to his departure and beyond. Sean McCarthy smashing up Norwich City in the Coca-Cola Cup before going on to score at Old Trafford for Oldham?

What about the lazy lad Blake we signed from Darlington? Wayne Jacobs seeing off an almost annual replacement left-back? Lee Mills? Jamie Lawrence? You’ll no doubt have your own favourite, dear reader, but what we saw were players getting better and our club benefitting from it greatly.

Bradford City players don’t seem to get better anymore. Last August the squad were pre-season promotion favourites, now, despite Jacko’s “everything must go” approach to the retained list, City would be forgiven for thinking the new telephone lines aren’t working properly . We witnessed the incredibly hard-working Gareth Evans seemingly give up on his City career with two months of the season left, and last week even the ever-positive Michael Flynn conceding that Bradford City is “a negative place to be“.

It’s telling that the last four Player of the Year recipients were all enjoying their first full season within the professional game, and as such, we cannot apply any metric of improvement:

  • 2008: Joe Colbeck. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. 16 disappointing months after his award he moved to Oldham, and then Hereford.
  • 2009: Luke O’Brien. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. Last seen sat next to Leon Osbourne on the substitutes bench as City were dismantled by Crewe.
  • 2010: James Hanson. Burst on the scene, all strength and no shortage of finishing ability. A second term disjointed by injury and questionable priorities.
  • 2011: David Syers. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and an eye for goal.

Time will tell if Syers can buck the trend, but the preceding three represented our most exciting and talented young prospects and all have failed to improve after their first season.

Jackson has signed the exciting prospect Ross Hannah, and the enthusiasm leaping from his twitter feed should hopefully see his first season in professional football be filed alongside that of Hanson, Syers and Steve Williams rather than that of Scott Neilson. But, in many ways, getting a good season out of Hannah isn’t the most pressing issue or biggest challenge for the next permanent manager of Bradford City.

Whether the board reluctantly appoint Jackson, or, as rumoured, continue to wait for John Coleman and subsequently expect him to repeat a decade’s growth and endeavour at Accrington in a 12 to 15 month period, the major challenge will be to get individual and collective development out of more established and experienced players. Creating a culture of improvement which is both inspiring and contagious within a dressing room.

There’s seems little point in throwing more of the precious wage budget at talents like Paul McLaren, Tommy Doherty, Michael Boulding, Graeme Lee et al when we continually fail to get the best from them, and then discard them without examining why. League Two has never been about having the best players, it’s about getting more from your players.

Off the field there is a lot of work to do, but lots of opportunities to get better. For all the criticism and scepticism aimed at the board recently, it’s worth remembering that they too want things to be better.
David Baldwin’s announcement about the new training facilities deal with Woodhouse Grove is incredibly welcomed. Negotiations with our landlords continue with the hope that a deal can be worked out that’s better for Bradford City.

We, as fans, can help make things better. Rival managers and players talk often of how the impatience of our large crowds can play into their hands. It seems odd that the greatest strength of our opponents is something we control. Let’s make that better.

Where Bradford City will be in 12 months time, in terms of both league position and physical location, is pure speculation at the time of writing. My only hope is that we all feel that we’re moving closer to where we want to be, and, as much as possible, enjoying the process of getting there.

As the rebuilding begins, let’s not immediately concern ourselves with being the best. Let’s focus on getting better.

Travelling more in expectation than hope

Thirty years ago if you were a member of St Anthony’s Primary School football team – or the brother of a member who’s Dad drove kids to games – then as a reward for a season of not much return you were given the chance to go watch Bradford City’s last game of the 1980/81 season as the Bantams took on Hereford United.

That was my introduction to Bradford City, and there is a certain symmetry to this afternoon’s entertainment as the Bantams travel to Edgar Street to meet Hereford United. The first game was a scrappy end of season affair – although at the time an impressive watch – where the visitors nicked a 1-0 win. Today a point for both teams would have secured League football for both next season and unsurprisingly a point each was the return.

Unsurprisingly because the home side set out to secure such a return trying to retain possession as far back the field as they could for as long as they could seldom venturing into the Bantams penalty area.

The illusion was a strange one. It seemed like City were penning in Hereford and certainly the Bantams were enjoying playing with a sense of freedom that allowed the likes of David Syers – playing central midfield well – and Gareth Evans to lash at goal following James Hanson’s early attempt which threatened to derail the Bull’s afternoon.

The Bulls afternoon though was taking place miles away at the Crown Ground, Accrington where Barnet played Stanley. The machinations of that game seemed to tilt to this. Barnet level at 1-1 and there was a nervousness in the home side’s play but that nervousness lifted as Accrington took a lead which proved decisive.

That took until the second half and after the first forty five minutes the scorelessness seemed like a fog never to lift. The Bantams were unthreatened – Joe Colbeck was given the reception by the visiting fans one would expect but that seemed to serve to suggest he was more dangerous than he was and while no one especially enjoys hearing themselves abuse the look on Colbeck’s face as he banged a cross into the middle which was attacked by nobody looked more like distraction than upset.

If a winger putting in crosses for no one makes a wonderfully illustrative example of the game then City’s striker with no crosses seems to make another. James Hanson – at times – seems to never lose a ball in the air and one wonders what he could have done with the type of accurate crossing that Colbeck could do, and that the likes of Nick Summerbee and Peter Beagrie did.

Colbeck’s time at City – and his time since he left and the schadenfreude some City fans seemed to follow it with – sends my mind back sprawling to that first game on the 15th of May 1981 and how football has changed since then. Thirty years allows a guy the chance to reflect and that reflection is in the level of hope which used to be the currency and how that has been replaced with an unsavoury expectation.

Reading articles about the Bantams last decade you often read the phrase “ten years of failure” and while this is true from the prevalent point of view that anything other than promotion is failure but watching this last decade they were no different to many of the two which proceeded it.

Consider – if you will – the 1996/97 season of Chris Waddle and Edinho where relegation was avoided on the final day of the season. What we had that year was built on the next. That season of struggle Chris Kamara signed players like Robbie Blake and Jon Dreyer who were on the pitch two years later at Wolves when the Bantams were promoted to the Premiership.

No one ever said that finishing 21st was a roaring success that season but no one ever lambasted all involved as failures either and after that season lessons were learnt that drew a line directly to the successes which followed.

At some point after that failure started to describe anything which not success – this is semantics – and the rhetoric is that the club and supporters demand the best and should have high aims lest they achieve nothing but the practical upshot of throwing the word failure at anything which has not been promotion over the last decade is that Bradford City systematically rip the club apart over the course of every summer, throw things in the air and see where they land.

Failure – finding it wherever it can be hinted at – is the obsession of the current football mindset from top to bottom to such an extent that progress along the path to success is talked of as being it. Those who run football clubs need to be strong and need to stress that if the right things are being done then those things will not be changed because they have not come to fruition yet.

Are Bradford City at present on this path? You will judge for yourself on that, dear reader, just as you will also have a view on the merits and effectiveness of addressing the “failures” of Colin Todd, or Stuart McCall, and how the attempts to deal with those so called “failures” have brought us to the position we are in now.

Would City have been any worse if Colbeck – squarely presented as a problem and the cause of failure – had remained at the club? Would the last few years have been so different had Danny Forrest been up front? Has the season on season change of right backs produced a player more effective than Gareth Edds or has it just given us a series of different players?

Different players who have the same problems and ultimately exit in the same way and we – as a club and as supporters – relinquish our responsibly for the impact of that. The justification for replacing players is that those players seldom go on to a higher level following their time at the club as if the confidence lost, the access to a better standard of coaching lost, the experience of playing league football lost has no impact on the (lack of) progression of those players.

Joe Colbeck wanders up and down the Hereford United wing on one side, Gareth Evans on the City wing on the other, both look like players who seem on the edge of dropping out of professional football not because they are not useful, or skilled, or have potential but just to appease a desire to smash up what is there in the name of not tolerating failure but with the effect of not allowing building.

I think back to Robbie Blake and his goal at Wolves in another final away game of the season and how many times – had the current attitude in football been the way of thinking then – he would have been bounced out of Valley Parade rather than being allowed to be a part of a team which matured.

In thirty years between two games with Hereford United expectation has overcome hope. Everything about Bradford City is about the expectation that better can be demanded. It used to be that better was hoped for, but if that hope failed then it was renewed over the summer. This is only important because in the times of hope, rather than expectations, things improved more often.

What do we have in the summer? Hope or expectation? Or neither?

Peter Jackson took his Bradford City team to Hereford United looking for a point to keep League Two status secure – a modest return – and Hereford’s Jamie Pitman had the same aim which once results started to fall into place bound the teams to a defensive display a little less. Both ended the day safe from relegation with Barnet’s defeat seeing them battle Lincoln City to stay in the division. Stockport County were relegated.

Ultimately – at Edgar Street – James Hanson proved too much of a handful for home defender Stefan Stam and after he was fouled Jake Speight scored a penalty with ten minutes on the clock. Stuart Fleetwood equalised a few minutes later with a great free kick. That shot was the home side’s only attempt on target of the afternoon but it was the draw that everyone seemed happy with.

For the summer though who can tell. Over the last thirty years – and specifically the last decade or so – football’s expectation level has outstripped its ability to bring enjoyment in a great many ways. Supporting was its own reward, but now all rewards are delayed until there is a manifestation of success. Goals are cheered, wins are welcomed, promotions are celebrated but anything other than those things – and including the build up to those things – are drawn out grimly.

Football League safety is assure and the summer yawns out ahead with its own troubles and with that the idea that the unifying mood in August will be one of hope seems very, very far away and utterly old fashioned.

When offensiveness becomes an offence

Saturday and Joe Colbeck’s return to Valley Parade in a Hereford United shirt saw abuse to a level of vitriol which was shocking in its ferocity even to seasoned Bradford City supporters.

The debate panned out over that abuse: that it had stopped Colbeck playing well, that is was deserved, that it could never be justified; and each has their own judgement on reasons for and effect of that abuse. Ultimately in most circumstances each will keep his own council and decide for themselves if grown men screaming and swearing at footballers is something they wish to endorse or not but in other circumstances – and in this situation – a personal opinion is secondary to the law of the land.

Offensiveness becomes an offence

On Saturday there was a crime committed at Valley Parade in full knowledge of the entire attendance and that crime went unpunished.

The Public Order Act 1986 sets out the law of the land on this subject (and you will excuse the paraphrasing for length) in that (Section 4a) a person is guilty of intentional harassment, alarm or distress if he uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person, or to provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by that person or another, or whereby that person is likely to believe that such violence will be used or it is likely that such violence will be provoked.

Colbeck – a veteran of many an abusive Valley Parade crowd – could probably not be said to have felt that he would be the subject of immediate unlawful violence. Section 4a (and Section 4, which governs the fear or provocation of violence) carry prison sentences and seem governed by context. Colbeck only has no reason to fear that being sworn at on the field will lead to violence because he has been the subject to it in the past but, then again, he has also seen the Bradford City crowd lob bottles and other items onto the field and so perhaps we would be wrong to not link the two together.

Nevertheless we can fairly clearly say that Section 5 of The Public Order Act 1986 is relevant: A person is guilty of an offence of harassment, alarm or distress if they use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby. The act details that a person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine….

The act details the laws governing rioting, array when offences are done in collectives of people and creative readings of the Act could very well see them become relevant. It would – however – be impossible to suggest that Section 5 was not broken at Valley Parade on Saturday. There is a distinction for sure between those who boo and jeer and those would would have committed an offence as detailed in this Act and the one group is a subset of the other.

One could seek to dress these offences in any number of ways: using the term football culture would be one, that players are “paid enough”, suggesting that there was a crowd rather than an individual; but as we have seen previously convictions for taking an individual part in a crowd activity have happened at football matches and that with criminal convictions come football banning orders.

Which is not to suggest that I would like to see half the Bradford City crowd on Saturday banned from football and convicted but that they should be, should the law be pursued and applied with vigour. The club have banned supports in the past for racist abuse and brought all the power it could muster down on the pitch invaders after the Northampton Town game at the end of last season. That those people are generally held in low regard and are smaller in number than those who abused Colbeck in a way which broke the law.

Offences were committed but neither the Police or – judging by the speed of their reaction to the Northampton game – the club felt that those offence were worth pursuing legally.

Can football take its own action?

In 2005 a Dutch game between Ajax and ADO Den Haag was halted by the referee. There were no safety problems in the stadium, there was no pitch invasion, there was no dangerous playing conditions but the game shuddered to a halt and the teams were taken from the field as if there were.

The cause was a song, and not a very nice song, about MTV Europe VJ Sylvie Meis. Meis, now better known as Mrs Rafael van der Vaart, was to Dutch football what Victoria Beckham was to British. Well known and well commented on.

But not to be commented on in this way – nor should anyone be – decided the Dutch FA who gave an instruction to officials sometime before that targeted abuse would result in a halt in the game, and then if it continued an abandonment. The instruction was designed to protect officials themselves but deployed to protect the virtues of Ms Meis.

There is a logic to the Dutch FA’s position. Why should a Referee (or the girlfriend of a player) be the subject to a crime on a continued basis. If bottles were flying onto the field or if the players or officials feared a physical assault then the game would be suspended so (and remembering the difference in the laws of the countries) why should they tolerate a sustained verbal abuse? If it is said that players are paid enough money to take in good nature any abuse thrown at them (and I would disagree with that idea) then are Referees? What about other spectators like Sylvie Meis?

The Dutch action is notable for its scarcity. Italian games feature booing of black players – Mario Balotelli was told by banner recently that “an ‘African’ can never be an Italian” – and all will hope that the situation in Russian football improves in the next eight years. England’s players Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole were abused in Spain. Sol Campbell -infamously – is the subject to a disgusting song sung from Spurs fans.

One can only imagine the effects of a repeat of the Dutch action would be in those cases and hope that it happens.

The foolishness of crowds

It is preached (although seldom practised) that one should never say behind the back of a person what would would not say to their face and while Joe Colbeck – or Sylvie Meis – could hardly have said that things were not said to their faces but there is a certain cowardliness to the football supporter’s mass abuse.

In fact even in our use of words around the subject we describe a holistic idea of a mass of people making a single statement rather than considering that collective as a group of individuals. Ask some of who swore violently at Joe Colbeck on Saturday and they may tell you that they would be prepared to say word for word what they sang as a part of a crowd directly to the man’s face but should they do that, should anyone shout abuse at you in any situation, then one are afford some protection in law.

The behaviour of crowds is the behaviour of those within them and while a person might be be happy to behave in a given way within that crowd there are rights – rights asserted in Dutch football – which protect the individual from abuse. These were not afforded to Joe Colbeck on Saturday.

Should they have been? Free speech, and the concept of free speech, is a valuable thing but is now and always has been balanced agianst the rights of the individual.

The Referee’s parents were not married, and he enjoys himself on his own a bit too much

The football supporter has long since mastered the art – such as it is – of personal abuse to such an extent that it has become cliché. The Referee’s parents were not married, and he enjoys himself on his own a bit too much or so the songs go and rarely does anyone consider this to be offensive. Indeed to football’s officials this kind of abuse comes over as static. When Wendy Toms, the first female linesman, completed her first Football League game she was asked how the crowd were and replied “The same as always, abusive.” Too much of the criticism of officials is conducted – and thus ignored – in this way.

Some players have played entire careers as the subject of abuse in one way or another. Some thrive on it – Robbie Savage talks about how he is fired up by being fired at – while others shrink under it as some say Colbeck did on Saturday but to allow the individual to ignore an offence – and, dear reader, you are reminded that this article discusses the section five abuse – as it that denies that the offence has taken place is beside the point. That Savage might be man enough to take the stick does not help the other players (and referees) who are not and who have career’s blighted by section five offences (and, in addition, those players in situations such as Balotelli’s). It is a part and parcel of football, it is said, but need it be?

Separating the part from the parcel

Take someone to a football match who has never been before and different things strike them. For me, back in 1981 at my first game, it was the lack of a live commentary track over the public address and I know people who have said that they were shocked by the amount of mucus left on the grass, on the viciousness of every single tackle (“even the soft ones would leave you crying”) and on the suddenness of the action. For my Mum, on taking her to a game in the Premiership years, it was the swearing and the negativity.

We take it as a given that football supporters will be offensive and abusive in the way that twenty years ago it was a given that supporters would be violent and aggressive – indeed it is difficult not to see the verbal abuse heard on Saturday as the last vestiges of the physical violence that marred the game – but it need not be so. Screaming at Joe Colbeck that he is a “wanker” is no more hard coded into the DNA of football supporters than booing black players or throwing seats onto the field was. It is a behaviour and one which – with the right will from the right people – could be removed from that game.

It is far from a desirable element of the football. Footballer supporters are painted by a mass perception that they are vulgar, yobbish and offensive and this makes us easy to ignore. The fact that it is common does not mean that it is set in stone nor does that fact that it might be cathartic or enjoyable.

Indeed the idea that the football supporter cannot help but be abusive – that it is part of our nature – is in itself an insult to everyone of us.

Would anyone’s enjoyment of Saturday afternoon have been ruined without the abuse screamed at Joe Colbeck? If you answer yes, that you revelled in hearing grown men screaming abuse at Colbeck, then I can only hope that you do not sit anywhere near me and certainly would like you not to.

But would we change it?

There were offences caused at Valley Parade but – as Paul Firth the writer and former judge who provided much of the legal research for this article attests to – most of the time the police at the most would slap a £50 ticket on the offender and call it that. The law is not especially interested in actively enforcing this issue for now and nor are football law makers.

Football is sanitised – or so the thought goes – and grounds lack atmosphere with the sad reflection being that often the most notable chants are the negative ones. Sunderland fans who wrote the genuinely charming “Cheer Up Peter Reid” song but were noted on Saturday for singing “One Mike Ashley” to taunt their rivals. If all there is to celebrate is the perceived failure of others then what is there left to support? You do not need to go stand in Valley Parade to giggle every time Leeds United lose.

A person might want to vent their spleen while at the football but surely would have to do so within the law of the land – some people on Saturday did not but there is no will from police, football or Joe Colbeck to go any further with that – but accepting that and extrapolating it forward one has to wonder what sort of football we are creating, and passing on.

We have a football of negativity. Booing is the lingua franca of the game, cheering being punctuation to goals and little more. Away followings are known to offer more volume but not an especially different type of support. Even the modern examples held up of great support like The Accrington Stanley Ultras are as versed in poking at the failures of others than the unfettered support of their own (“Premier League, you flipped it up…”)

Does it matter? Perhaps not. Time will tell and it will tell in twenty five years time when one looks around the grounds and sees if the generation of kids who have more things to do with their time and money than any other chooses to spend that on the game we pass on. I have had wonderful days supporting Bradford City, utterly unforgettable days, but would I tell my son or daughter that they should involve themselves in something as negative as manifest on Saturday?

It is hardly the stuff of an enriched and full life.

So now then

Football’s authorities at almost all levels are prepared to leave atmosphere at football in the lap of the Gods while clubs do what they can to stop racism but feel without a remit to do anything else. The law of the land is happy to ignore the vast majority of offences committed in stadiums up and down the country while FIFA’s attitude towards supporters is curious at best.

Ultimately football is ours and it is ours to change in the way we want it. We – as football supporters – need to decide what sort of football we want today, and to pass on to the future.

Those small victories

Over the years supporting Bradford City, I’ve always taken greater pleasure in those occasions where we get one over someone or something. A cocky set of opposition supporters; a petty referee; a manager who made derogatory pre-match remarks; Rodney Marsh.

But rarely has putting someone in their place felt so unenjoyable as City supporters ‘victory’ over Joe Colbeck today.

That was the sideshow which overshadowed a reasonable contest that saw the Bantams gain a precious victory over bottom-club Hereford to move back into the play off hunt. David Syers’ eighth-minute belting shot ultimately proved decisive. It was a nice moment for the early player of the season frontrunner given the frustration of missing numerous chances in his last outing against Macclesfield, three weeks ago.

And though it was hardly a sparkling team performance and offered little evidence that City are good enough to be successful this season, it was the sort of result that promotion-winning sides routinely grind out. That was the most important aspect.

But the joy of victory was tempered by the unpleasant atmosphere in which it was played in, and the specific targeting of one man. Colbeck’s first return to Bradford since departing 16 months ago was always going to prompt a mixed reception, but the lengths taken by those keen to register their dislike of a player who rose through the ranks – playing over 100 times in Claret and Amber – was nothing short of disgusting.

“Colbeck is a wanker!” chanted the Bradford End for most of the first half, and before long fans in all four stands were joining in the jeering. Jeering a 24-year-old lad who joined the club when he was 16, with his family and friends watching in the crowd.

It seemed as though the game itself was the sideshow, as such strong focus was placed on barracking the former City youngster. Every time he picked up possession he was booed; when he failed to stop straightaway following an offside flag there was outrage at his cockiness; when an inaccurate pass towards Joe caused him to stretch and fall over he was laughed at. Even after City scored the first subsequent chant was “Colbeck, Colbeck what’s the score?”

And after pausing from calling him a wanker, the Bradford End chanted “Greedy Bastard” and then “Judas”; and then a “City reject.” So hang on a minute, he’s a Judas for betraying us and we rejected him anyway – Judas the reject, an interesting concept.

Let me pause by saying that I appreciate not everyone likes Colbeck and those who have feelings of disapproval towards him will have valid reasons. In the group of people I go to watch City with, opinions on him were mixed and it was mentioned that his attitude during his final few weeks at the club was poor. Me, I’ve got a lot of time for a young lad I watched try to make it at City and who provided me with some happy memories, so I personally wanted to applaud him. But if others want to boo him, that’s fair enough.

Yet the chanting, the abuse and the negativity that perpetrated from the Bradford End and spread around the four sides was too much. If you were one of the people who thinks you have the right to call Joe Colbeck a wanker, please can you explain what he has done to justify this personal abuse. Yes, we know he had a contract dispute and that made him “greedy” in some people’s eyes. Though Colbeck’s reminder of what happened – which was confirmed by Stuart McCall at the time – is hardly up there with the great contract disputes we’ve seen over the years at City.

So what else? Oh yeah, he was crap. Apparently. Funny as I remember the fantastic performances he put in for City during the 2007/08 season, especially in away games, that was appreciated by enough City fans for him to be voted player of the season. The following year he started slow and then got injured for four months. As he returned to fitness, the holes in City’s promotion bid were getting larger and Colbeck was a scapegoat as the season collapsed.

Then came the contract dispute in the summer of 2009, and I remember going to the York pre-season friendly and hearing a group of fans boo his every touch and chant about how he is a “druggy” (no evidence was offered to back this up). Then at Bradford Park Avenue, where Oldham manager Dave Penny attended as he considered signing him and some fans were urging him to do so, telling Penny we didn’t want Joe. Then he left. Driven out the club. And don’t come back.

I can only assume those who wanted him gone were leading the abuse today, but the wanker chants were aired so loud it was like they were speaking for the rest of us too. And the messages they sent both on and off the field were disturbing. Looking through my old programmes from Joe’s time at City, it’s interesting how many of the ‘Today’s Mascot’s’ rated him as their favourite player. I also remember lots of kids with Colbeck on their shirts. And why not? Here was a young lad who’d made it to the first team, an inspiration to young supporters and juniors at the club.

What’s the message these kids are supposed to take from the actions of the boo-boys today? Don’t bother following that dream of one day playing for the club you love, because these lot will rip you apart. Just look at Leon Osborne.

The one saving grace of the whole affair was Hereford manager Jamie Pitman’s decision to sub Colbeck after an hour, so at least the rest of us who’d had our views drowned out could award Colbeck the warm applause we wanted to give him. And then when he’d been subbed perhaps we could concentrate on the game, trying to ignore the fact that a poor bit of play from the other Hereford winger soon after sparked a chant of “Are you Colbeck in disguise?”

By that stage City were beginning to be pegged back by a spirited Hereford side who looked short on quality but good enough to climb out of the bottom two before May. Syers’ early strike smashed any hopes the visitors had of sitting back and frustrating City. Instead it triggered a first half of numerous chances which should have seen City go in more than 1-0 up at the break.

The outstanding Luke O’Brien’s long-range pile driver was pushed away by the erratic Bulls keeper Adam Bartlett; Tom Adeyemi’s through ball to Omar Daley was just behind the Jamaican’s feet, spoiling a one-on-one chance; Adeyemi himself should have scored when played through with just the keeper to beat.

The one-touch attacking football from City was impressive, if conservative in its frequency. Tommy Doherty and Syers were running the show and masterful to watch. Lee Hendrie, this week’s captain, also played well.

Hereford had sporadic bursts of pressure and exposed some uncertain decision-making from Lenny Pidgley in claiming crosses. One flapped corner saw a powerful Hereford effort strike a City body and bounce over the bar, although later a brilliant cross by Colbeck saw the lively Guillem Bauza’s header superbly tipped over.

After James Hanson and Syers both had opportunities early in the second half, Hereford began to threaten more and Nicky Featherstone saw a shot come back off the post, while the veteran Kenny Lunt and striker Mathieu Manset looked busy and purposeful. For City, Daley’s long range effort deflected and looped onto the post; but as the minutes past the involvement of either keeper became less frequent.

For despite Hereford exerting strong pressure in the final 20 minutes, in truth they didn’t look like scoring and struggled to create clear-cut chances. City’s back four defended well with Rob Kiernan showing the form he’d displayed on his debut at Wycombe and Luke Oliver’s head a magnetic presence to high, dangerous balls. Kiernan had to go off injured and Peter Taylor, who rather foolishly had not even afforded Zesh Rehman a place on the bench, was forced to play Jason Price as emergency centre half.

The final whistle eventually came but the joy was limited and glum faces surrounded me on the journey out through the Midland Road concourse. That, as much as the Joe-bashing, was the downer of the day. In the final 20 minutes City were on the backfoot, but holding on – and the lack of support from fans was baffling. Moans and groans filled the air and every mistake and poor touch was met with anger and swearing.

Today simply wasn’t a nice day to be at Valley Parade, it wasn’t a nice day to be a Bradford City supporter. Because the want of some to be negative overshadowed others efforts to support the team. Yeah it wasn’t a great performance and we expect better, but surely it is occasions like this – rather than 5-0 up over Oxford – where we supporters should be giving our all.

Instead many of us focus on ridiculing a former player who most of us in the crowd are older than, on waiting for Adeyemi’s next mistake, on slating Hanson for daring to believe “he’s already made it”, on moaning about Taylor’s insistence on bringing all 11 players back to defend corners, and then on criticising his choice and timing of subs.

Valley Parade was today a cauldron of negativity, yet again. There’s so much crap going on in the world, there’s plenty of stress and difficulties in our own lives. Supporting your football team is supposed to be a release – a pleasure, not a chore. Days like this should at least leave a smile on the face.

Surely we can all be better than this?

Better ways to earn a crust? Talking to Graeme Tomlinson

Gareth Grant, David Brown, Danny Forrest, Craig Midgely, Wayne Benn, Craig Bentham, Kevin Sanasy, Tom Claisse, Liam Flynn, Jon Worsnop, Tom Penford, Jon Swift, Tom Kearney, and maybe even Lewis Emanuel are all players with something in common; they had all called themselves Bradford City players by the age of 20 and were all playing non-league (or lower) by the age of 25. Add to this list the names of Des Hamilton and Graeme Tomlinson, two lads who left for greater things only for it to not work out for whatever reason. Let me ask, if you had to write a list of opposites, a list to balance the one above, who would be on it? Andy O’Brien? Dean Richards? Steven Schumacher (not a product of our academy though)?

Why do I mention this then? Well I have this notion that football is quite a hard life at this level. We as fans pay a lot of money and generally believe that entitles us to make our feelings known. This is somewhat fuelled by the stream of money-grabbing players who grew fat as our club grew thin – plus, let’s not forget that most of us would give our right arm to pull on the claret and amber just once.

A career cut short

One man who got to do that is Graeme Tomlinson and I was lucky enough to get to speak to him recently. Tomlinson insists that despite his poor fortune with injuries, he still believes football is a fantastic industry to be employed in and that even at our level there is decent money to be made. He does concede however, that it was his big break at Utd and the help of close friends that ensured he would be financially sound even if his career were to be cut cruelly short.

But these are not the old days; this is not the Bradford of Tomlinson’s time. As Tomlinson himself accepts, league 2 youngsters and trialists will not be on particularly good money, the end of their career – regardless of age, is just around the corner. Take Steve Williams for example, at 22 and playing for Bamber Bridge, with a failed trial at Oldham behind him, he must have almost given up; if this season doesn’t work out the chances are we’ll never see him again. Same goes for David Syers or went for James Hanson last season.

Now I initially planned to write an article from the standpoint that for all those lads I named earlier, lads like Gareth Grant and David Brown, we might just have reached a point where football, for all its potential glamour isn’t really worth the hassle. To give your all from the age of 14 or 15 just to find yourself, every summer, getting geared up for pre-season friendlies to prove that you have what it takes at league 2 level against lesser opposition, prove to the fans that you are committed – yet not run round like headless chickens, and most importantly, not get injured. All of this with no guarantees and even less in your pockets if you are on trial, faced with the statistics laid bare; chances are your career will be over in the next five years.

However, with the assumption that many of you will not be particularly pre-disposed to feel sympathy for the young lads who are living the dream that still flits through your sleep – regardless of your age, I changed my mind. This was also in part due to something Graeme Tomlinson said when I asked him whether he thought it was all worth it for the youngsters:

It all comes down to an individuals hunger to play the game. If they love the game and it is entwined with their heart, wild animals couldn’t stop them from playing the game. But if the individual is money motivated then perhaps it is not worth it and one should seek an alternative career away from the beautiful game as even at part time level it is a lot of time and commitment for little financial reward

Watching Joe Colbeck

A year or so ago as I sat watching City trailing to a woeful Lincoln team, listening to folks moaning about Joe Colbeck, with the words of Graeme Tomlinson in my ears, I realised I wanted to tell people to lay off Joe for a bit but they never really did. We all understand that people pay their hard earned and as such should be allowed to complain a bit, Tomlinson understands that, understood that as a player, I’m sure Colbeck did as well, but the criticism become much more with Joe and I am certain that it will result in his name being added to the list. His exit to Oldham, and from Oldham less than a season later continued this path.

Nevertheless back at Lincoln as I sat there watching Colbeck take to the field as a second half sub and inject a bit of pace into a team that had waterlogged the pitch just so they could keep up with the ball, I thought to myself, what has the lad ever really done wrong? Come back from a bad injury and take a few matches to get his sharpness back? Go out on loan and play so well we have to bring him back? Be voted ‘Player-of-the-Year’? Play with a passion that sometimes boils over? The lad can’t do right for doing wrong.

All I could think was that here is a kid who loves City, loves football; a kid who plays with hunger and whose heart is indeed entwined with the game. Here is a kid who will pick the ball up and drive at a full back and if it doesn’t come off, will pick the next one up and drive at the same full back again and again until he succeeds.

Lads like Colbeck then and Syers now are playing for there future; a good season and he might be off to League one, but a bad season and he may just join Sanasy et al.

A short talk with Graeme Tomlinson

DH: How’s tricks?

GT: Great, loving life and living each day as if its my last.

DH: Generally, what keeps you busy/working at the moment?

GT: I made a decent enough living out of the game so don’t have to work full time. I invested some of my cash whilst I was playing in various business ventures and also property so looking after my business affairs keeps me relatively busy.

DH: Do you still play any footy/sport?

GT: I don’t play football competitively, but occasionally get a call asking me to play in a charity match, I had Exeter on the phone but I was away in Maguluf. however, enjoy a kick around now and again with my nephew Konnir whom is joining the Watford Academy next season. Also I enjoy golfing, I find it highly pleasurable and love the social aspect of it. I am currently playing off 11 and will hopefully down be to single figures by the end of the season!

DH: Did you ever pursue your coaching badges?

GT: Yes I still dream one day of going into management, people have been getting onto me saying that I need to finish off all my badges soon, but realistically I’m still very young and time is definitely on my side.

DH: Do you still keep an eye out for City in the news?

GT: Absolutely. The club will always have a special place in my heart. City have wonderful fans who were incredible to me during my time at the club so I always keep an eye on what’s happening. I must say it hurts me to find the club in league two.

DH: Are you still in contact with any lads you played with (at City or elsewhere)?

GT: It’s a funny one, unfortunately I don’t keep in contact with as many of the lads from City as maybe I would if I stayed for longer. I was bought by Man Utd when I was quite young and lost contact with a lot of my mates from the youth set up. I still keep in touch with the likes of Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs who have all had glittering careers and I’m proud to call them friends.

DH: In the Guardian you said that you didn’t regret the way things turned out, now you’ve stepped away from professional and non-league football, do you still feel the same?

GT: I have to admit I can’t help thinking what might have been as even Sir Alex told me when I got released from Manchester United that I had lost that little bit extra I had previous to my leg break. Prior to my leg break he had said to me that he saw me as a key part to the future of United. However, the compound fracture occurred and those were the cards I was dealt and I just have to deal with that. So yes I do now slightly regret the way things turned out when I think about my career now, but I cant complain as I had a better career than a lot of players and it let me in to a whole new world which has been shining dazzling and splendid.

DH: You also said that football didn’t rule your life at the time, does it even figure in your life any more? Is it still important?

GT: It still figures in my life as I follow how the clubs I played for are doing and always watch the big games on the tv in particular the champions league ties. It is not the most important thing in my life and just like when I was playing it does not rule my life. It was never my eternal love, my everything.

DH: When you were on trial at clubs like City (the 2nd time), did you worry at all about life outside football? Especially what you would do and the money side of life?

GT: Luckily I got sound advice from my advisors, Charles Poaches and Lukasz Shemshov and invested wisely early on in my playing career and I was lucky enough to know by my late twenties that bar a catastrophe, I would be financially secure for quite a few years.

DH: Do you think clubs should do more to ensure youngsters have something to fall back on? Indeed, was there anything there for you?

GT: If you look at the Man Utds and Liverpools of this world, they have academies for youngsters teaching them all the works of life. For lower league clubs without this infrastructure, it’s very difficult to do anything apart from batter them on the pitch with a football!

DH: Should supporters be more understanding of how hard a footballer’s life is at League 2 level? Or is it all par-for-the-course?

GT: All par-for-the-course I say. Whilst it’s disappointing City are in League, the supporters pay good money to come and see Cit and they deserve to see some entertainment… of course getting on the team’s back isn’t good for anyone.

DH: For all those lads who will probably end up on the part-time circuit, without ever really getting a taste of the big time, is it really worth it anymore?

GT: It all comes down to an individuals hunger to play the game. If they love the game and it is entwined with their heart, wild animals couldn’t stop them from playing the game. But if the individual is money motivated then perhaps it is not worth it and one should seek an alternative career away from the beautiful game as even at part time level it is a lot of time and committed for little financial reward.

DH: Especially with the risk of injury playing such an important role in shaping a player’s career, does lower-league/non-league football represent a good way te earn a crust?

GT: Make no mistake it is decent money in the lower leagues and there are plenty that are earning a good crust, however, not enough to set you up for life and have the fancy cars and the luxury mansions in Monaco. Add in the risk of injury and it does not look too attractive but it is a wonderful, wonderful career which allows you to meet fantastic people.

DH: Do you have anything you would like to mention about the current state of football/Bradford City? Any advice for youngsters/trialists?

GT: I think the gap is widening between the Championship and the lower leagues, much like the Premiership gap is forever getting bigger. I recently went on a family trip to Poland and knew a few contacts from my playing days who invited me to go watch Legia Warsaw (res) vs Wisla Krakow (res). There were three players who caught my eye (and apparently have attracted interest from Man Utd, Spurs, and Barcelona): Lucasz Woppenyeknick (16), Urisz Leppenbracknov (16), and Mikel Bhitch (18), all of whom were extremely talented youngsters. My advice is for any youngster to play each game as if it’s his last and give 110%.

DH: Would you change any of it?

GT: I would change the fact that I was injured. Sure I wish my career dazzled like the moonlit sky, but I met some really good guys and gals along the rocky road so it’s all good. I believe that if the injuries didn’t occur you could have seen me at United a lot longer and even a part of the side that won the champions league in Barcelona in 1999.

DH: Do you still DJ?

GT: It’s more of a hobby as I have a family. A few years back I performed in a few clubs and did a few gigs nationwide, which was an awesome experience!

Do Bradford City have the worst supporters in football?

Now we can begin to understand why City have such a poor home record? Yes, we have had some awful teams, but the atmosphere they have to play in is cynical and negative. It’s a perfect storm of poor teams with fragile confidence playing in front of the worst fans in the entire Football League. Yes, the worst fans and I mean it with all my heart. We are terrible, we have the numbers, but nothing else: no humour; no passion; no belief.

For a long time Dave Pendleton was the poster boy for Bradford City supporters. Hair thinning and with a twang to his voice that stakes him unmistakeably in the West Riding Dave was the man that was called on when television companies and radio stations requires a City fan. Back in the Premiership days ITV’s On The Ball’s sponsors picked fans to represent clubs and you to go back and watch the video you would see Dave in front of a pub fireplace in his classic 1970s City shirt telling someone off camera to cheer up because this time last year we were at Crewe. He edited the City Gent, got called on to write for The Guardian about the club. If someone from Bradford were to have written Fever Pitch it would have been Dave.

So when Dave Pendleton says that City fans are the worst fans in the entire Football League he is not throwing bricks over the wall at unseen targets. He is talking about his peers, and his peers should take note.

What is the best support?

Dave Pendleton’s comments about City fans being the worst supporters in football provoked an interesting debate and one which – in the days after – caused the long time Bantam fan to muse further. “I would easily be able to find examples of much worse behaviour from supporters of other clubs. The lingering threat of violence, and even seventies style racism, at several well known clubs for example. I made the comment more out of frustration. I want our fans to do better and I know they can be.”

Out of frustration but his comments were certainly recognisable. No matter where one sits at Valley Parade one can hear the sound of negativity most of the time and that negativity is expressed in curious ways. Some time ago I recall hearing an agitated debate between two grown men where one had taken objection to the other launching into vulgarities at City’s then right winger Joe Colbeck. The argument progressed as one might expect it would – one side calling for the other to be less negative or go home, the other defending on his right to have his opinion voiced – but it struck me that very few other places in society would this discussion occur.

Very few other places would a man feel he could stand his ground against someone who had called him for swearing violently at a teenager and almost nowhere else would a foul mouthed tirade be considered in any way supportive. Football supporting – and one uses the phrase loosely – had a different set of considerations. Pendleton pays tribute to the people he worked with on The City Gent, on the work of the Bradford City Supporters Trust, on those who assist in the Bantamspast Museum but – accepting that work – returns to notion “We have an inordinate number of fans who leap rapidly on any error a City player makes. More often than not these same people are the last out of their seats when a goal flies in and almost never urge the team on during a period of City pressure. Sadly, they have become the dominant voice of Valley Parade.”

Many would recognise this characterisation. The experience of watching games at Valley Parade is to be as to enjoy despite the atmosphere and not because of it. Infamously a winning team was booed off the field this season representing a new low in this dominant voice.

Anecdotally this seems to be the core of this growing concept of bad support – the leaping on of errors and reticence to encourage – and from that it may be possible to establish an idea of what might be opposite that. That good support might be a tolerance for failures and a readiness to (vocally) endorse the team with a positivity.

Understand here that we talk not about the individual supporters at Valley Parade – after every game where boos ring out the players wander over to applaud the more favourable fans who have stayed to applaud rather than spitting venom and wandering away – but rather of the idea of a communal voice. The single speaking of a people Legion which, as we will come to in time, may no longer be a relevant consideration.

What’s so bad about feeling good?

Mark Lawn’s car was vandalised leaving the joint Bradford City chairman livid. Over the course of a weekend he mused about how worth it it was keeping the club going with his money and considered withdrawing his loan from the club putting it back into administration.

This story – the threat of administration – is often mentioned by those who criticise Lawn but seldom is the vandalism considered as destructive event as the booing of the team on a Saturday. It has parallels being against those who are part of the club, obviously counter-productive and largely a way for those involved to vent spleen. The difference being that while criticising (and abuse without violence) Lawn is seen as different to the players. Criticising the chairman, the manager, the chief executive of a club is often considered a sign of distinction.

Newcastle United have returned to the Premier League despite a constant criticism of chairman Mike Ashley which is seen as only good sense while Liverpool and Manchester United’s owners are vilified but in all these cases there is a bar (on the whole) in booing the players on match day.

This website does not shy from venturing opinions on the chairmen of the club and considers it very much a part of the remit of the supporter to keep a watchful eye on those who own the club and criticise when called for.

There is distinction drawn between the two strands of criticism. At St James’s Park, Newcastle that distinction is drawn in obvious terms by supporter and writer Andrew Wilkins. “The team are the team and the reason we criticise Ashley is because what he is doing gets in the way of the team doing well. If we were booing that team then we’d be stopping them doing well too.”

Wilkins sees this point that negativity in the stands on match day has a directly negative manifestation on the team as unequivocal. “I take colleagues to St James’ and all they can do is talk about how the fans lift the team. I’ve seen it happen when a player does something and gets encouraged for it and just grows and grows during a game.”

There is little one can do to measure the levels of negativity within various teams and see if those teams correlate with the more successful sides and so one if left with personal experience to inform ones thoughts. The United fan I worked with in Manchester amongst a sea of Blues was so often lampoons as guileless, artificial and almost childish but his team won the league while the City fans floundered around the second tier proclaiming both their affinity to the concept of being “real football fans” and their belief that everything was – pretty much – hopeless at Maine Road .

One has to wonder if the cynicism which is so much a part of the idea of authentic football supporter is not counter-productive in itself and that the wide eyed positive optimism portrayed as plastic consumerist football is not a path to success.

Are there cheerleaders in Soccer? No, unless you count the fans!

The cheerleader is rarely seen at British football although they have appeared. First at Watford in the 1980s – Elton John was credited as getting them in because he had an eye for the ladies which suggests how long ago it was – and then sporadically at almost every club in the game.

They appear – these girls with Pom Poms – and work out a dance or two but somewhere around the onset of the dark nights when Winter starts they seem to disappear never to return. For a while Bradford City’s Bantam Belles started the season well but seemed to fade with the club’s optimism every year.

English football has no love of the Cheerleader (Scottish football has no facility, the weather in Aberdeen not being suited) and their absence is part of a general neglect of anything which could be described as pre-match entertainment. Mascot dramas, Opera singers, player interaction with the crowd; All these things have been tried and sit with the Cheerleader in the part of the history books reserved for the regrettable.

Bradford City is no different to most football clubs in this regard but it does contrast with our neighbours Bradford Bulls. The Bulls transformation from the cloth cap of Northern to the razzmatazz of the Super League was alarming to many but impressively effective and the continued sight of car stickers and t-shirts that testify to the time when the club were the best team in the World having won a pan-Continental challenge as well as four domestic titles.

Pop stars singing on the field, girls with pom poms, Bullman and Bullboy the stories of the atmosphere of Odsal had a near mythic status but those days – like the team’s triumphs in Super League – seem behind them. Bulls fan Phil Parsons sums up the mood saying

“(The Bulls) seemed a bit deflated as of late. Some of this is obviously to do with the results on the pitch but quite a bit of it has been because of things off the pitch as well. A lot of people wanted McNamara to go a lot earlier than he did and this seemed to lead to a lot of discontent among the fans. It was other things as well, for example the pre-match entertainment used to be excellent and a lot of it this year has been pretty poor and it’s just sucked the atmosphere out of Odsal.”

Parsons has signed up for the Bulls Pledge – cheaper season tickets if so many people get on board – but hopes that the club cab use the next season as a new start. “They should make a massive deal of it. Go back to things like having an opera singer singing Nessun Dorma just before kick off, the fireworks and having the teams walk out together, that sort of thing. Odsal used to have the nickname ‘Fortress Odsal’ because it was such an imposing place to come to as an away team and the fans loved it. That’s want I want back from next season.”

The correlation in the minds of both Parsons and Wilkins is clear. Good atmosphere off the field – however it is brought about – brings good results on it or at least contributes. Newcatle United’s players are inspired, Bradford Bull’s opponents are scared but in short that good support brings good football, or at least winning football.

I love a party with a happy atmosphere

If a good atmosphere begets good results then it might be worth considering what good supporters do which aids the players or hinders the opposition. Certainly City’s players and management have talked gravely about the silence of Valley Parade. Nicky Law said the crowd was worth a goal start for the opposition suggesting a reverse of the effect that the Bulls seek while Stuart McCall fumed at the booing of individual players suggesting that it hampered the team as a whole.

Peter Taylor highlighted the effect on the development of the younger players in the team of the players being booed suggesting that they would be less willing to do the things that help them develop into better players for fear of the Valley Parade ire. Joe Colbeck was never the same after he went to Darlington and came back with the confidence of having couple of games of the most purposeful practice without the censure in failure.

So we gather ideas of how good support – which we correlate with the idea that good supporters end up with successful teams – manifests itself. Speaking about match days and about what occurs during match days we emerge with a hypothesis: Good support is the tendency to allow for player’s failure giving those players the scope to both be more adventurous (and responsible) in their play and to learn from that experience (which is especially true for the young players) and to believe that the whole is best served by belief in the collection players.

It is difficult to quantify support outside of the realm of bums on seats and noise generated but anecdotally one finds it hard to recall occasions when the clubs which are known for having better supports who are yoked to success have gone against that hypothesis.

It was rare that Liverpool supporters attacked a player but the treatment of Lucas Leiva in recent seasons strikes a contrast to the story of singing while 3-0 down in Instanbul inspiring the players. The fear in football is that when the fans start to boo a single player that the ten other men worry that after a mistake they will be the next target. Peter Beagrie summed up this feeling in his comment about what constituted genuine courage on the football field – “Doing the same thing the twelfth that has left you on your backside for the last eleven because it is still the right thing to do.”

Manchester United supporters made a fable out of Deigo Forlan’s failure to score allowing the player the room to grow, Newcastle United idolise their number nine in a way that seemed to cause the current incumbent to grow a foot when the shirt went on his back. Even over at Leeds United where they are not know for tolerance they express to their players a belief that the club will do well in any division they are in should they apply themselves correctly.

It might seem trite – almost childish in its simplicity – but the supporters who are best able to suspend any disbelief they have for the duration of a game are those who do best in the longer term. The non-cynical attitude of children is mirrored – at least during games – by the fans of clubs who do well and the problem with children is that they grow up.

So now then

Cynicism is no bad thing and if more of football was cynical then the game would be in better health. If every season a 80 clubs did not plan the season on the idea that they would end up promoted then so many balance sheets would not be bright red.

Cynicism in supporters could can be helpful too. After Bruno Rodriguez, Jorge Cadete and Juanjo it was incredible that the levels of cynicism at Valley Parade allowed for another overseas superstar to have his name plastered on a shirt and anyone who showed cynicism probably saved themselves £40.

However when Topp took to the field the suspension of disbelief – the ability to park cynicism – was noticeable for its scarcity at Valley Parade. Nothing really suggested he would be a good player but we all convinced ourselves he would be Pele and so he enjoyed ample chance. Compare that with Barry Conlon who scored more goals in one game that Topp has got in his career and the problem becomes clearer.

This is mental gymnastics. The ability to double-think away from the cynicism that comes with following a club for seasons in which one learns that success is rare is a tough skill to learn and like any skill it is best reinforced when it comes with a positive result. If the double-think of supporting does not lead to results then people are less likely to do it – as with post-Topp City – but Beagrie would testify that it is still the right thing to do.

The supporters who have had the most experience of this working do it more often – Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle United and so on – and one could say that the are the best supporters but one would shy from saying that the opposite are bad fans, or to come full circle “the worst fans in football”.

Just that of all the tools which football fans use to be able to do “good support” City fans use few. Perhaps supporters are not bad just not less good and in a competitive football environment in which all teams compete in the longer term City fans are not worse than many but a few clubs have fans who are better able to use their presence to boost their teams.

To those teams the spoils. The rest of us look disparagingly at the Manchester United supporter and his giddy belief that whichever kid Sir Alex throws in will be the New George Best or the Newcastle United fan who has his team’s number nine tattooed on his thigh they look back at us with sympathy.

For we have more of what they would call cynicism and they have more of what we would call success.

Neilson’s exit leaves clubs counting the costs

Scott Neilson exited Bradford City on Tuesday to join Crawley Town less than a year after Stuart McCall recruited the winger to replace Joe Colbeck. A change of manager has see fortunes flourish for many but not for Neilson who after a loan at Cambridge United the assurances from Peter Taylor that he had a future at Valley Parade turned out not to have a future at Valley Parade.

Colbeck himself left not long after to join Dave Penney at Oldham Athletic but has since himself moved on to Hereford United after – not at all coincidentally – a change of manager at The Latics saw Paul Dickov installed and the winger who was City’s player of the season two years fall from favour.

Neilson cost Crawley an undisclosed amount, City paid some money for him, Colbeck cost some money when he went to and from Oldham. The moves went across three divisions in which players like Lee Hughes and Graeme Lee go around free while clubs like York City and Rotherham United want millions of pounds for centreforwards. This kind of low fee move that is rare at this level of football seems common at least on the Bradford City right wing.

That anomaly aside the two transfers represent an Escherism. Colbeck was great for City and this was put down to the confidence boost of Dave Penney’s involvement via a loan at Darlington but his “failure” at Oldham would suggest that Penney’s coaching was not the panacea it could be painted.

Stuart McCall coached Colbeck into a position where Penney bought him for a division above and where Sven Goran Erikkson was interested in signing Neilson but few would suggest that Peter Taylor’s calling time on Neilson’s time at City is down to the former England gaffer making him a “worse” player. Indeed Taylor is credited as a better coach than the other two.

Has Colbeck become a worse player in the year that he left City? Has Neilson? They have both been considered “good” enough at times but now are moved on. My years watching the rise and fall of footballers tells me not to trust the idea that footballers can be “good” or “bad” or at least the idea that those things can change in the space of months. They play well or they play poorly, there is nothing else.

All of which represents a mess of ideas rather than a set of data to draw a conclusion from but the money that has changed hands for both players – and for the four manager who have been in charge of them – points to an extraordinary cost of doing business in football.

Doubt not the judgement of either Taylor or Dickov or the motivations of their actions they have decided – for whatever reason – to move players on who previous managers have considered to be members of the squad but do so at expense to the club. The cost of whatever Dickov is played when recruited by Oldham Athletic is already augmented by the price of paying Dave Penney to leave and added to that are the costs of changing Penney’s squad. Colbeck cost £85,000 to sign, had to be paid and then was let go for much less all in the space of a year.

This extraordinary cost is replicated at almost every club which changes a manager and considering that the average club keeps a gaffer for eighteen months every other year a club can expect to have these sort of expenditure on the balance sheet. Trying to run a stable business in those conditions is impossible but the huge increase in administrations and financial problems in the last ten years has not seen a move towards retaining managers as a way of financial stability. Far from it.

As the number of clubs in financial trouble has increased the frequency of managerial changes has too with the costs that that involves. The financial stability that is talked about from the boardrooms of clubs is undermined by the actions of those who say it then fire the manager and let his replacement overhaul the squad.

Bradford City, mercifully, have avoided much of this in the last change of manager with McCall negotiating a lessened pay-off and Taylor retaining much of Stuart’s squad and so Scott Neilson’s exit and the costs that apply to it are rare in the medium term for the club if common in the long term. That is down to a good appointment in Taylor but there is a worry of the manager having only nine months left on his current deal and this unnecessary expenditure reoccurring.

All of which continues to point to the need for clubs to prize stability a point especially worth mentioning in the days following Peter Taylor walking down the tunnel at Valley Parade with his winning team booed.

Four months into his time at Bradford City the board should not have had to come out in support of their manager – indeed they did not – but as Neilson exits and City take a hit in the pocket it would make sense if the club affirmed a desire to plot a stable path forward under Peter Taylor.

Alas since January 2008 when Mark Lawn stated the club had had enough of short term thinking City have ended up with a manager contracted until the end of the year and worries over what happens at the end of that term if the next manager is not the sort to do as Taylor has and take on what he inherited.

The Prediction Plague

Much of the maladies of the modern media can be put down to a move from reporting events as news to doing it as preview and prediction.

This is true in all spheres of life – I didn’t vote for Dave or Nick but I’m at least prepared until they do something I don’t care for before getting annoyed at them – and especially true in football that talking about a thing that may happen is given the same breath as talking about something that has.

So as we stand on the eve of the kick off if the 2010 World Cup there is barely an element of the next four weeks that is not speculated on.

The performance of various teams for sure is a subject as is the behaviour of Referees, the organisation of matches, the quality of football, the flight of the ball and the after effect on the host country.

Some interesting, others not, but surely not a problem. Prediction, aside from in gambling, never caused much of a problem.

It seems that prediction, which was once the province of the pundit, is the stock in trade of the watercooler and everyone is fulsome in their opinion.

Where once a confident Cloughie would talk of events to come as if he were recalling the past now everyone relates the future as if it were past events. From Rodney Marsh and his damnation of City in the Premiership to that bloke Roger who wants to tell you England will be knocked out in the quarter finals and that you can’t look past Germany everyone seems to want to tell you what will happen, rather than telling you what they thought about what has.

As an example consider Joe Colbeck the ginger haired right winger who divided opinions for City for a few years. Those who had decided that Joe would never make it as a professional football heaped abuse on him in games. Science has a law about it – the act of observation changes the result – but in common parlance they tried to nobble him.

Which is to hit on the problem with prediction in that the predictor too often attempts to ensure that what they have said comes to pass, or at least seems to.

So football writers who dismiss Emile Heskey devote column inches since his selection to talk about what a bad decision it was rather than waiting for the outcome of that selection and reporting.

In that reporting too one can often – when reading the back pages or the front – wonder if an even hand is given or if the agenda supported is to ensure the prediction appears to be right unless proved manifestly wrong.

One has to wonder what the point of prediction that England will lose in the quarters are or that Spain will win the World Cup. These things will be evidenced in short order.

There is a chap – nice chap – who sits in front of me at Valley Parade who confidently declares “Its in” whenever the opposition put a cross into City’s box. Should the ball be converted he will nod and grimly state “Told you” but should – as most often occurs – the ball be cleared he will not confirm his mistake nor acknowledge it. It is harmless enough but also pointless enough the only real analysis being that sometimes the ball goes in and sometimes it does not.

Pick any of the teams kicking off in South Africa this week and one could say the same. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t but being wise after the fact if a prediction is correct – particularly a negative prediction that something will not happen rather than something will – is hardly impressive.

I could predict that Spain will not win the World Cup but considering how infrequent wins are and the fact 31 other teams are trying to it is probable that they will not. I could predict that Peter Taylor will leave Bradford City without the club having been promoted and considering that of the club’s near 100 seasons of play only eight of them have resulted in elevation I’d be favoured by probability that I would be correct.

Predicting negatively – saying what will not happen – has never impressed me and I predict it never will.

If predicting what will not is easy then saying what will is guess work and one easily becomes the guy warning if crosses coming into the box. Often one is proved right in the fullness of time but only because eventually all things happen. My brother is keen to point out that for the one time he was wring about Southampton being relegated from the top flight he had been accurate in saying they would not many times previously.

Me, I prefer to wait and see for England, for the other nations and for City. Reporting on what has happened is analysis, saying what will is guess work.

It is astrology vs astronomy. I could tell you, fear reader, that I see a last four if England, The Dutch, Brazil and Ivory Coast and that with gun to my head I’d say Holland but I’d much rather talk about why those guesses are proved wrong – should they be – than take credit for sooth saying if they are right.

Some of the crowd are on the pitch…

For football supporters of a certain age the pitch invasion is possibly the most unwelcome sight in the game of football. It brings back memories of bad days when fans would pile over fences onto field and the match would become a secondary event to young men indulging in territorial disputes on the field.

Football hooliganism was a lot about charging at one set of fans to get them to run in the opposite direction as much as it was about the actual punches and kicks and to that mind set – to me it seemed – the playing field offered the ultimate in territory. There are many books about football hooliganism, not one of them I want to read.

So for fans of a certain age the sight of people spilling onto the field reminds one of bad days and or worse days. Of Valley Parade’s fire of course and of Heysel and Hillsborough. Why did it take until six minutes past three to stop the game in Sheffield when Liverpool played Nottingham Forest? Many people will tell you many reasons but the heart of most explanations is that keeping people off the pitch was the prime concern of the age.

The sight of people coming onto the pitch means nothing good, to football supporters of a certain age.

Younger supporters – with no lasting memory of those days not only of disaster but of distaste – have no such associations. They see the end of season pitch invasion as a jolly, a chance to mess about and share the fun and why should it not be? After City retained Premiership status – beating Liverpool the supporters of whom have reason enough to condemn invaders – the sight of supporters on the pitch was a joyous sharing of the triumph.

English football is – as we shall no doubt hear once or twice in the next six weeks – summed up with the words “Theres some people on the pitch, they think it’s all over…

Kenneth Wolstenholme – BBC commentator on the day England won the World Cup and he who utter those immortal words – would not have comprehended the idea that people would invade the pitch to act aggressively nor to harm the supporters of another club – or in the case of Luton Town on Saturday – the players of York City. Such aggression was simply not correlated with football at the time.

So why is a pitch invasion in 2010 different to one in 1966 before the fences and Hillsborough or in 2000 after them as evidently it is, or was at Luton, at Sheffield Wednesday and at Valley Parade?

We look for answers around football, around the regulation of football, around the Zeitgeist events of football but perhaps we have to look much closer to home to find how the pitch invasion has changed from joy that can be shared by Liverpool supporters to Northampton Town fans throwing tribute t-shirts back at the City fans in the space of ten years.

On this website we have talked many times about the atmosphere at Valley Parade and it would be remiss not to say that Saturday had a touching memorial and one of impeccably observed silence but it also had – around my seat in the Kop – the continued screaming of abuse from grown men at kids on the field. Leon Osbourne puts the ball through someone’s legs but shoots rather than passes and his is a “fucking greedy idiot”, Adam Bolder opts to not cross the ball and he is a “useless git”, Gavin Grant’s ignoring of (a much better placed) Michael Flynn see him called a “greedy, greedy, greedy waste of space.”

Matthew Clarke manages to get through a game without conceding a goal despite being described as both “clumsy buffon” and “utterly useless” but Gareth Evans is cheered from the rafters for his goals which is a contrast to a month ago when he was invited to “fuck off to Halifax Town, or back to Macclesfield, or both!” In-between play results from other grounds are checked to see how Leeds United – or L***ds as many would dub them – are doing with the hope being that they are not doing well.

When Bradford City were promoted to the Premiership it was almost in disbelief – people to us said as we set off to Wolves that “they will blow it again” – but in the years of decline that have followed the support around the club seems to have gone past simple belief into an arrogant expectancy. “We are Bradford City,” the attitude often seems to be “we used to be Premiership so we should be beating everyone in this league.” Perhaps the obvious, bubbling anger comes from that feeling. Wherever the origins are maybe it was a tiny fulfilment of that over blown belief – that we can beat anyone – that prompted Saturday’s goading of the visitors.

The point is that the aggression of City fans did not start when they ran over to the Northampton Town supporters, not as I see it, and while banning people for invading the pitch could be a good idea the ramping up of aggression at Bradford City in the last ten years that makes Saturday different to the final day of the Premiership season is not restricted to the people on the grass in front of visitors.

Bradford City – in common with many clubs – is suffering a resurgence of aggressive and yobbish violence after utterly failing to address the problem of aggressive and yobbish supporting. The mentality that sees a grown man screaming obscene abuse until his face goes blue at a 20 year old Joe Colbeck is the same mentality that runs over to the Northampton Town fans.

You can find a history of talking about the rise of aggressive support here, here, here, here, here and here. To be honest it comes over in most conversations about following football these days. Manchester United hate Liverpool, Manchester City hate Arsenal, Spurs hate Sol Campbell, everyone hates Lee Hughes.

Back to Wolstenholme and his era of football and the idea of such reckless hate being spewed around would be alien. Talk to a City fan in his sixties or seventies and he will tell you about going to Park Avenue on odd weekends and supporting them, while favouring us. The idea that your football rivals are to be loathed is a modern conceit drawn from hooliganism and in many ways represents the lingering elements of those dark days.

Modern aggressive football support – be it the kind of external manifestations we see or the internal abuse of players described above – is a breeding ground for the scenes of the weekend at Luton, at Wednesday and in front of the Northampton supporters and while each fan involved is responsible for their own actions and should be punished as such the wider community around football clubs needs to address this tide of aggression.

Because if the 1980s tells us one thing is it that if we the fans cannot set our house in order then other people will try to put it in order for us be they the club, the police or the (perhaps same Conservative) Government. The last time that occurred results the results were, in very many ways, horrific.

Luke Sharry and something about the greenness of the grass

Luke Sharry is playing for Grimsby Town reserves as he joins the plethora of players who – at this time of the season – face up to the idea that unless they can get someone else interested when their contract expires they will no longer be professional footballers.

Sharry will join the Mariners in the hope of winning a new deal for a club that – in all likelihood – will be playing non-league football next season. Down a division his blustering midfield play may prove useful, indeed it may have proved useful in League Two.

Sharry’s career at City has contained few reasons to suggest that he could be given a new contract by the Bantams. His chance came in the Johnstone’s Paint tie with Port Vale but a poor first half saw him substituted, never the return. The words “Blown it” were used, and were hard to argue with.

A right sided midfield who played inside – or perhaps an insider who was on the wing – City gave Sharry a chance and Sharry will not have been pleased with how that chance was grasped. He joins a list of players who promised much in pre-season and glimpses from the bench but ultimately went on their way. Craig Bentham, Robert Morgan, Tom Penford, Danny Forrest, Kevin Sanasy and on and on. The last ten years has been peopled with these players.

It would be tempting to look at the improvements to training facilities and suggest that City hampered our own youth development because of them – that with a decent pitch Forrest would be banging goals in and Bentham would be holding the midfield together – but that does not ring true.

Likewise it would be easy to look at the players and label them “not good enough” the idea being that had Sharry been obviously quality in the way that Joe Colbeck and Luke O’Brien – the past two players of the season – were then he would have broken into the team. This is probably true but only tells half a story.

For it is not the likes of Sharry, Penford, Bentham and the like who tried at City and ultimately moved on but rather the likes of Luke Cornwall, of Gareth Edds, of Michael Symes who replaced them. Moving out our young players only to move in the lads who had been moved out elsewhere. It is common up and down football and somewhere in North East Lincolnshire there is a kid with a right foot but no contract wondering what Luke Sharry has that makes him a better bet for a place next season.

The processes around young players seem to be at fault to me. The lads who come through the ranks are looked on as lottery tickets and if they do not produce a jackpot they are quickly cast aside only to be replaced by the tickets cast aside by another club.

The likes of Sharry, Morgan, Sanasy et al filled places in the squad and often went unused – less than a half dozen appearances between those three – but perhaps while the major aim of a youth set up is unearthing a Fabian Delph to make big profits in the future perhaps another – more realistic – aim should be to create a bunch of players who can fill a squad as Sharry did rather than sifting through other club’s cast offs after casting off our own.

I liked the look of Luke Sharry but – sadly, I guess – it seems he is on his way. He did not do what many people would call a great job at City but he did a job of adding depth to the squad and from the club’s point of view – financially as well as ethically when recruiting lads like him – is it not better to have that done by one of our youth rather than bringing in someone else to be reserve to Omar Daley and Scott Neilson?

And as supporters should we not stop looking at the lads coming through as hot young prospects that might be the next big thing and started giving them a chance to be members of our squad – to be footballers. We talk about the idea of a player being “good enough” without ever finishing the sentence.

Good enough for what? Good enough compared to whom? If the likes of Bentham and Penford were not good enough for League One then – obviously and manifestly – the replacements for those lads who built up a partnership for Colin Todd’s side at the end of one season were not either because twelve months later we were relegated.

The final thought is a comparison of Danny Forrest and Luke Cornwall as the proof that the grass is seldom greener on the other side.

53 weeks ago – City were on top of the world

It was 53 short weeks ago that Bradford City crushed Aldershot Town on their last visit to Valley Parade. Two goals from the returning-to-form Peter Thorne, a beauty of an effort from the edge of the box by Dean Furman, a tap in for Barry Conlon and a comical own-goal set up by Joe Colbeck. 5-0, City fourth in the league with 11 games to go. The excitement was growing at the prospect of ending the season with the glory of promotion.

As we all know, it ended miserably with the platform that victory had laid on for City proving something of a peak to the second half of the season at least. The next nine of those remaining 11 were winless as the Bantams fell out of the promotion picture, the ending of the season with back-to-back victories thus meaningless. The backwards steps have continued into this season.

City now have a long way to go just to get to where they were after that Spring demolition of the Shots. The up and down nature of results since Peter Taylor took over the reins has at times given hope of a late play off push this time around, but the slip ups and barely decreasing distance from the top seven has all but extinguished such faint chances. After Saturday’s clash with Aldershot is over, there will again be 11 games to go – even a complete reversal of results compared to those nine games at the end of last season probably wouldn’t be enough.

If we could turn the clocks back to the final whistle a year ago and apply hindsight, what warnings would we now offer and to whom? Perhaps the most obvious would seem to be changing Stuart McCall’s u-turn over his threat to quit. As Taylor impresses for the composure and organisation he has brought to the team, the growing temptation is to look back over McCall’s final season and dismiss it a waste of time. If only Taylor had taken over sooner, it can be argued, the club might still be approaching the final section of the season with promotion hopes.

The ‘SOS’ demonstration at the end of the last season might be something we’d go back and urge the organisers to cancel. The holding up of banners in support of McCall has caused widespread debate even during this season, with the number of supporters willing to admit they displayed a sign surprisingly few.

Where I sit in the Midland Road Stand, a previously quiet and pleasant woman suddenly can’t stop ranting, during the last few months, about how poor a manager McCall is/was, and inadvertently slamming those who backed him. Prior to the start of recent homes games she’s repeatedly uttered, “Do you know who I blame for this season? All those supporters who held up signs supporting him at the last home game” out loud to everyone around her, the majority of whom did hold up signs. Sorry lady, it’s all my fault.

But perhaps we’d take a different approach if we could go back, considering where City might be today but for that late season collapse. If City have gone onto earn promotion during those final 11 games a year ago, there would have been no need to reduce the transfer and wage budgets by a third for this campaign – an action which has undoubtedly undermined efforts.

Instead we might warn McCall where it would all go wrong –  to be mindful of defending set pieces at Spotland a few days later, to make sure Barry Conlon and Matt Clarke are behaving while staying in Devon prior to the Exeter game, how tinkering with the team too much leads to the inconsistent form, how a linesman will rob the team at Morecambe, not to sign Paul chuffin Mullin, that certain players cannot be counted on when the chips are down, and why it’s so important he doesn’t let it all get him down too much.

Perhaps most of all we’d warn him not to publicly threaten to quit in the manner he did after losing to Bournemouth, because it seemed to only breed instability and nervousness in the team rather than help it. The decline was already starting and he needed to be more positive in addressing it. The Bournemouth defeat was the third in a row; worrying form – but it needn’t have turned into the disastrous form that would continue another six games.

Mistakes were made, as McCall himself readily admits, and they soon added up to something far bigger. Ultimately City’s failure this season is due to the failure of the one before, and the immediate challenge remains reversing those backward steps. 53 weeks after thrashing Aldershot 5-0, it is now the visitors who harbour the promotion hopes. They, and so many other clubs, have been able to catch up and overtake City over the last 12 months, it’s already going to be a long road back.

But like in any aspect of life – it’s not how many mistakes are made, but how quickly they are learned from. Sometimes it’s a torturous and miserable path, but if the resultant lessons can be applied positively it will be a journey worth taking. If we had not put up our SOS posters and if McCall had departed during the summer, it’s highly unlikely City would be currently employing Taylor. Someone else would have come in and, with the same budget constraints, may have done no better.

The lessons McCall learned from his first two seasons would not have been applied, the new guy may have repeated the City legend’s mistakes of hiring players not up to this level or lacking in desire. However well it can be judged McCall performed this season, there’s little doubt Taylor has inherited a squad to build on rather than start all over again – due to McCall targeting the right kind of players within the budget constraints.

And if the short-term deal works out and Taylor can replicate the kind of success he enjoyed at Hull, the misery of the last 12 months and the refusal of McCall to quit last summer will ultimately have been worth it. Life doesn’t allow you to turn back the clock, mistakes cannot be undone.  City have had 53 weeks of regrets and now more than ever is the time to apply those lessons. Taylor is impressing in both victory and defeat. We know he has the experience, he’s proving he has the knowledge, the main question mark is that of his own appetite – and that of the Chairmen – to make it work.

53 weeks on Taylor has so far used only seven players from the sixteen involved against the Shots last season  – only three of which have started the last four games. Luke O’Brien, Lee Bullock and Matt Clarke have themselves been the subject of healthy debates for much of this season, but all appear to be impressing Taylor. Meanwhile the futures of the other four – Thorne, Michael Boulding, Zesh Rehman and Chris Brandon – look decidedly shaky.  Taylor vowed to give everyone a go and would seem to already be making his mind up over who he would offer a City future too and who he’d move on.

Two of his own short-term recruits have yet to really feature but, after a disappointing performance in losing to Port Vale, may now get their chance. Little is known of Luke Oliver, other than his height, but he could make his debut alongside Clarke in the centre of defence. Gavin Grant has arrived on a pay-as-you-play basis and in need of building fitness. With Gareth Evans having a poor game at Vale Park, that fitness might be tested from the start tomorrow. Omar Daley too will be vying for only a fourth start in a year.

Daley is one of the few players not out of contract this summer and Taylor’s ability to judge the Jamaican is hampered by his understandable lack of fitness. So far Taylor has gone for the workrate of Evans and O’Brien on the flanks to start and, if Daley watched AC Milan’s pathetic surrender at Old Trafford this week largely due to widemen not bothering to track back and Manchester United murdering the Italians down the flanks, he will have some idea of what he needs to do to fit in with the new-look City.

Elsewhere Mark McCammon will have arrived for a month at City with greater ambition than swapping one sub bench for another, and Taylor may consider him to start ahead of James Hanson or Michael Flynn, the latter moving back to midfield. The arrival of Adam Bolder sees greater competition in the centre of midfield, with Steve O’Leary still on the fringes, but Taylor would surely be reluctant to leave out either Bolder or the in-form Bullock.

Matt Glennon keeps goal, having been faintly criticised in public by Taylor for not stopping Vale’s winning goal on Tuesday. Glennon’s spell at City has been curious for its lack of incident. He has made some good saves, but nothing too noteworthy. He has also conceded a few goals he might have been expected to save. He has impressed in the command of his penalty area, but the long-term custodian he may not be. Having played only seven games for Bristol Rovers, a third return of Rhys Evans this summer would be widely cheered by fans.

Simon Ramsden and Robbie Threlfall retain the full back slots; Steve Williams may face the axe for Oliver; Jon Bateson, Michael Boulding and Thorne wait impatiently for rare opportunities.

Waiting for the summer with a confidence as City face Burton Albion

“Well that’s the Summer sorted” I said to the wife with the prospect of the four yearly month off work after England’s 5-1 win secured a place in the World Cup Finals next June.

England’s progression has been remarkable for the rapidity of the turn around from two years ago and the infamous Wally With The Brolly to Wednesday night’s Italian elan and The Man With The Plan.

The management style between the two evenings marks a contrast more than the players involved who by in large are the same bunch and one must be wary to not undersell Cappello’s perfectionist approach but attitude divides the England of two years ago and the team from last night.

Attitude and confidence that started to grow not at Wembley where tabloid journalists unimpressed with the England manager’s aloofness ho-hummed about the appointment but in Croatia when a 4-1 win spoke eloquently for the manager and his players.

It has taken two, four, maybe seven years and Seaman’s swipe in the saucy Swede‘s side to turn opinions around on England but turned they have been and that more even than getting Frank Lampard Jnr and Steve Gerrard into the same side is Cappello’s achievement.

One recalls April 2002 in the months after another 5-1 England win a newspaper story breaking and copy about “the ice cool Swede” who can do no wrong being rewritten. The rise and fall of Roman Empires has precedent.

Far away in a field in Cheltenham not years but weeks ago – club football’s inexorable pace is it’s main difference to the International game – a team ran onto the field with confidence at a lowest ebb to a point where few could see it scoring and not conceding many.

That was Bradford City three weeks ago and four wins ago and while Stuart McCall never sheltered under an umbrella he was a long way from Fabio. Following a 2-1 win at Shrewsbury in which all say that City rode their luck massively the Bantams manager seems to have a turned the same bunch of players into a winning machine that is protected even by fortune.

Four wins on McCall and all – including his supporters in the now muted argument over his abilities – would do well to recall Sir Bobby Robson’s epitaph raised on opening day. You are never as bad or as good as you think you are.

City play with confidence though and McCall has been quick to underline the importance of that throughout his team and especially in young keeper “There’s only one” Simon Eastwood who has begun to rise to his reputation with a string of excellent saves at Shrewsbury despite a heavy whack on the shin that threatens to keep him out and sees Jon McLaughin ready to take the gloves up.

McCall’s faith in Eastwood is being rewarded while his confidence in bringing in Simon Ramsden is reaping benefits with some dubbing the right back brought from Rochdale as Stuart’s Best Signing. He provides a high watermark and good example for Luke O’Brien to follow as the young left back learns about second season and the transition from prospect to player.

Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams are not an unbreakable partnership but are roughly building an understanding.

McCall had – like Cappello – a nominal and a practical formation with a list of players as read out being more of a rough starting point rather than a rigid tactic.

So the midfield will probably read Neilson, J O’Brien, Bullock, Flynn but the make up will see Lee Bullock falling back into a more central, protecting role with James O’Brien and Michael Flynn tasked with traditional box to box play leaving the line up a tad one sided with Flynn tight on the left compared to the width on offer from Scott Neilson who makes his first start at home in the Bantams first game at Valley Parade since the departure of Joe Colbeck.

Steven Gerrard said of Fabio’s England that the players enjoyed the experience more now than they did previously when the crowd was on some player’s backs and so one wonders what the effect of not having Colbeck will be.

I believe the player is talented but the disruptive influence he had by virtue of the schism of opinion was clear for all. That removed will the 11,000 at Valley Parade be more of one voice? It eludes me why any City fan wanted Colbeck to fail but it seems sure that none would want the same for his replacement Neilson and perhaps that positivism will make itself felt on the field.

Neilson is part of a group at City that includes Gareth Evans, James Hanson, Luke O’Brien and Steve Williams who can best be dubbed “the want-to-do-well boys” who see their not inconsiderable work put in rewarded by a matching of longing of supporters. These are young players who have won hearts and minds in a way Colbeck, Tom Penford, Danny Forrest and Craig Bentham did not and rather than question why this is the case let us celebrate the fact it is.

Evans and Hanson will start with Peter Thorne injured and Michael Boulding in a similar state although closer to fitness. Boulding is the picture book opposite to the want to win boys seemingly having talent over effort that see him sidelined and Evans in his role. Hanson leads the line and never loses a header for the want of effort.

Burton Albion are new to the league but not to City who had Gary Robson’s arse to thank for an early rounds of the FA Cup win back in 1996. They were managed by Nigel Clough for nearly a decade before Son of Brain went to Derby County and as such represent a team which has benefited from patience in a manager who has built a structure which new gaffer Paul Pechisolido reaps the rewards from with a good start that includes a 1-1 at Notts County.

Sitting above City a fifth win on the spin for the Bantams would see the clubs flip positions but early season renders that meaningless and McCall and all will be more concerned with rebuilding the hard fought for good home record if six months of last season.

Home form brings confidence and running that confidence through the season is of paramount importance should a promotion bid be staged.

Run that confidence into the summer and who knows what could happen.

City visit Shrewsbury as the start begins to end

If the end of last season started with the 3-0 defeat at Rochdale’s Spotland then the end of City’s promising start came at Shrewsbury’s New Meadow when the Bantams lost 2-0.

The Rochdale ghost was buried in the week when Stuart McCall’s men came back from behind to take victory with a goal from Scott Neilson that took enough of a deflection to be chalked up to luck.

Not that Dale boss Keith Hill would agree with that railing against the referee on the evening as not being fit to officiate. Odd that last season’s man in the middle who seemed to want to gift the game to the home side did not incur Hill’s wrath. That kind of myopia would fit right in at Rotherham if – should rumours be believed – Hill replaces Barnsley bound Mark Robbins.

At Shrewsbury last season Referee Jarnail Singh practically proved he was not up to refereeing by once again allowing goals to be scored while players were down with serious head injuries and the sight of TJ Moncur staggering away collapsing with the home side celebrating is the enduring one. Moncur and Lee Bullock were invalided away from right back that day.

Bullock’s return to the City team this season owes a deal to the injury to Stephen O’Leary who continues to miss games with a toe problem following his impressive debut against Port Vale.

Bullock is far from universally loved by City fans and in this post-Joe Colbeck era we enter is the next player to split fans.

Personally I’m conflicted internally on him not especially enjoying watching him in the way I enjoy the robustness of Michael Flynn but noticing the correlation between his name on the teamsheet and City winning. Call it the inverse Nicky Law effect.

Bullock and Flynn are likely to be rejoined by Steve O’Brien in the midfield following the youngsters benching in the week while those tight three midfielders will notice little difference on the right with the aforementioned Colbeck gone but replacement Scott Neilson impressing and exciting in his opening one hundred minutes for City.

Peter Thorne was robbed of the chance to impress by a hamstring injury on Tuesday night but he would have likely stepped down for James Hanson and Gareth Evans to continue a fruitful partnership.

At the back the four of Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien will return in front of Simon Eastwood.

That Rehman missed the midweek game was officially put down to a thigh strain although in all likelihood he was being given recovery time being in that twilight zone between injured and fit. As City’s squad shrinks the prospect of the player carrying injuries into games emerges. A week of rest becomes a rare thing and a player’s season becomes defined by how they deal with niggling injuries that would be rested at a higher level but are played through in League Two.

The counter to that resting is the benefits of confidence coming from playing games and it is that which Stuart McCall believes will get the best out of keeper Eastwood.

Eastwood had a ropey start to his City career but the start is coming to an end and the Huddersfield loanee is improving.

As are City. A win at Shrewsbury would be an impressive return – the home side have not yet lost a half dozen games at this stadium – but would be a fourth win in a row and set up parallels with Colin Todd’s side that collected fifteen points out of fifteen four years ago. A draw would no doubt be welcomed by the management keen to show the ability to be pragmatic away from home as a table begins to form and City begin to nestle into it.

The contrast of Colbeck leaves City

Young player leaves for club in higher division who pay money for his services is the Dog Bites Man of lower league football but Joe Colbeck’s exit to join Oldham Athletic on transfer deadline day bring to an end one of the more confusing and complex careers at City that was far from an ordinary story.

To some Colbeck was an exciting right winger who over his five years in the City side had charged at left backs making City play well and being missed chronically when injured. To others he was too be jeered and sworn at in a way that was genuinely shocking. Some said that he would never made a footballer, other than he was the best footballer we had.

Within view of where I sit at Valley Parade I can see one guy who would have JC as the first name on his team sheet coming to blows about his abilities at times and another who considers the Leeds born winger so offensive that he will swear in front of his own children at City’s former number seven.

The background for Colbeck’s duality fades into insignificance as he leaves but it had something to do with a red card against Oldham Athletic for crossing a ball that had gone over the touchline and to down with driving, powerful runs that opened up defences. Colbeck is equally capable of exciting forward play as he is of terrible challenges which were often not just badly timed. His foul on Dean Lewington resulted in a much deserved red card but the season before he was lauded as players of the season.

A contradiction of appreciation then with some upset at his unwillingness to sign a new deal in the summer after a final game of the season where fans were singing “You’re not fit to wear the shirt“. It is not hard to see why he looked for an escape route from Valley Parade especially – as is obvious from the move up a division – he could be considered in the bracket with fellow Oldham man Dean Furman as being “too good for us”.

Even those who were against him should worry about how Colbeck was dogged by a group of fans who created an atmosphere in which the exit of someone who enough people thought was good enough to be player of the season wanted out. Forget one’s personal opinion on Colbeck and ask yourself if it is right that one group of supporters continue a campaign to unsettle a player to a level where they become disproportionately loud so as to no doubt be the dominant memory the player will have of the club? As with the Save Our Stuart McCall debate at the end of last season once the discussion has been had and points made is it not right that players (or managers) are allowed to get on with things?

For my part I shall remember Colbeck for performances like Saturday where he was not massively effectual but he constantly got involved in the game. I’ll save my ire for players who hide from the ball and one could never accuse Colbeck of that. I’ll miss him, I will not miss the divisiveness and I worry that a dangerous precedent is set where those who grumble most are being allowed to set the tone.

Nevertheless Scott Neilson scored one and made the other in City’s first game post-Colbeck and we can all get behind the new right winger. It is just a shame that Valley Parade could not do the same for a player recognised as talented such as Colbeck.

The sound of silence as City face Rochdale

The first home win of the season came in a strange silence as City fans walked away from Valley Parade.

The performance was not great but the result was and perhaps because of that there was little to talk about. Two goals in both stoppage times saw City taking three points so there was nothing to complain about which perhaps accounts for the silence. As my Nan never said “If you can’t say something nasty about something, then don’t say anything at all.”

The win was City’s second in a week and start to turn around the season which has Chris Brandon sums up as “The first game obviously left a horrible feeling but, apart from that, we hadn’t played that badly.”

Zesh Rehman has his ideas on what – or who – has kept heads high at City paying tribute to former non-league pair James Hanson and Steve Williams saying “They are both new to professional football and they have been brilliant, their attitude is outstanding, spot on.”

The man with the City armband continues “We’ve said to them, ‘What would you have been doing on a match day?’ One of them would have been cutting hair and the other was working in a Co-op. It reminds you of how lucky you are to be involved in professional football and being able to play in front of big crowds.

All of which contrasts with last season’s side which declined so sharply and markedly with games like the 3-0 defeat at Rochdale in the league.

Tonight City return to Rochdale in the Johnson’s Paint Trophy hinting at fielding a weaker side which – ironically – drops the bloke from the Co-op in favour of Michael Boulding. Boulding and Peter Thorne are expected to partner up front and one looks at the depth of the City side and tries to form an eleven of similar one for one replacement.

Jon McLaughlin might get the gloves in the place of Simon Eastwood – The T&A put Eastwood’s drop on Saturday down to a foul the Referee was about to blow for – while Matthew Clarke might get a chance to return at the back.

Clarke is officially injured and out of the side but it is hard to see him claiming Steve Williams’s spot in the team. Louis Horne and Jon Bateson could come in at full backs but former Rochdale man Simon Ramsden is the only option to switch into the other central defensive position.

Scott Neilson’s debut on Saturday impressed in that he continued to do as Joe Colbeck does – trouble full backs – and he will no doubt start. Chris Brandon can come into the middle with Stephen O’Leary – assuming O’Leary’s toe injury does not break down once more as it did in the warm up on Saturday – or Luke Sharry could press his case for a longer contract. Rory Boulding or Leon Osborne could slot in on the left.

Ultimately though City never come close to troubling the later stages of this Associate Members Trophy and the number of those players mentioned above will reveal how seriously the competition is being taken at Valley Parade – normally it is “not very” – and perhaps Rochdale will be the same with the result being a game where at least one side plays a weakened side and thus probably not worth breaking the silence about.

A professional always gets the job done

The drive from York to Bradford is quite a nice one on a Saturday lunchtime; with Fivelive on in the background it represents the calm before the storm. Today however, I had to find a different route thanks to the Bramham Park music festival and, discovering myself stuck behind a traction engine near Harewood I had an ominous sense of foreboding.

That said, I wouldn’t trade my journey for the trek faced by the reasonable number of Torquay fans who will still be making their way south, with, let’s face it, rather little to talk about.

Today’s match was an interesting, if not always entertaining affair. Torquay did not, like so many before them, come simply for a draw – though despite their open play, never really created anything of notice. This openness afforded both teams the opportunity to play some nice football in patches and when City did, they looked impressive.

For much of the first half City looked nervous, hardly like a team that had scored 5 only seven days prior. But when the ball found Luke O’Brien or Joe Colbeck, and the space and width were exploited City burst into life.

A fantastic move on about the half hour, which saw a delicate chip from the comfortable looking Williams finding the head of Hanson, whose cushioned header was met by a lovely control and volley by Evans – just wide, was probably the highlight of the first 45. On about 45 minutes and 59 seconds however came the breakthrough, which left barely enough time for the ref to restart before he called for half time. The goal, a James Hanson header from a subtly chipped James O’Brien free kick was a well-earned reward for City who had been dominant without being spectacular. It was also a fine reward for those who hadn’t hurried off for their half time pie.

As I reflected during the break the word that came to mind was professional. Nowt fancy I’ll grant, but a professional performance from City over all, professional from Simon Eastwood whose ears must burning from all the jeers that were desperate to leave the mouths of City’s boo boys.

Professional also from a back four that attended to their defensive duties before surging forward. Professional from Colbeck, who despite not having his best match, seemed to be at the centre of anything positive that hadn’t come from Luke O’Brien. Professional from Gareth Evans who chased every ball regardless of whether he had much chance of catching it. My only gripes at the interval where that we still seem to lack pace and though James O’B played rather well, he is not a natural wide player.

The second period was something like a childhood trip to Morecambe; we were always going to get there in the end so there was no real need to rush and once you got there, there was very little to write home about anyway.

City were always in control of a match they were always expected to win. And, despite neat passages of play involving the O’Briens, or Colbeck, or Evans, Or Hanson, with the ball failing to hit the net, I feared that those natives with shorter attention spans would become restless.

Fortunately for all, the last quarter of an hour saw the introduction of the much-anticipated Scott Neilson. The former Lilywhite instantly lifted both the team and the fans with a couple of quick, direct, enthusiastic, and relatively successful surging runs. He reminded me of an ‘on-song’ Colbeck, though the fans seemed much happier to forgive Neilson’s couple of slips than they ever have with Colbeck.

Neilson was positive and he was fast. Quite frankly it served as a reminder of just how effective Omar Daley can be and the thought of both playing on the flanks really does fill me with a sense of excitement. I’d just finished telling my mate that I thought Stuart McCall could have possibly tried Neilson and Colbeck together for that bit of extra pace rather than bring Chris Brandon on, when the number eleven sprinted onto a through-ball and applied a cool finish to end the game.

Again, a nice reward for a professional, if not spectacular City performance and a nice reward for Brandon who I felt brought a bit more balance to the left side when he was introduced.

I started by saying that this match was interesting if not always entertaining and it was; McCall’s collection of youngsters, rookies, basement-bargains and until recently, amateurs, turned in a thoroughly professional performance and look like they’re starting to gel.

Torquay comes to Valley Parade for the minor debut of Scott Neilson

Scott Neilson will hardly get a mention in the news of League Two signings this week.

The right winger has joined The Bantams from Cambridge City and is expected to start on the bench and make his debut against Torquay United as Stuart McCall’s team looks to build on the first win of the season last week at Cheltenham but one doubts that the coverage of our division will concern itself with that.

Rather eyes will be set for Barnet and Sol Campbell’s debut for Notts County as football looks to see what a player who gets £40,000 a week in League Two looks like.

The contrast could not be more sharp. City spent a week haggling with the Lillywhites over the price of Neilson coming up with a fee thought to be around £7,500, a friendly and some more cash should City make the play offs. Campbell agreed a deal worth over £10m and one is left to wonder why such a deal was necessary. The Magpies already seemed to be able to win handsomely most weeks and concede only penalties. Campbell will perhaps plug that tiny hole and is expected to come into the side to replace injured former City skipper Graeme Lee.

So two debuts in the same division but as far apart as – well – as City are from Torquay geographically perhaps as the Devon side visit a Valley Parade which is flush with comparative optimism following the characterful 5-4 win last week.

Having had more than his fair share of criticism this season Stuart McCall took credit for the victory with all five of the goals the Bantams scored (Simon Ramsden having a deflected shot) chalked up by a player he has brought in this summer as he looked to rebuild the side without the sort of big money, low character players which one assumes County will have to avoid.

James Hanson claimed a first goal for City leading the line in a 451 formation with Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding pushed down to the bench. Hanson’s play this season has been honest and impressive and he is expected to reprise his role up front although McCall must decide if he is to keep the same side and deploy Gareth Evans and Joe Colbeck as wide men or play a more traditional 442 pushing Evans alongside Hanson. Evans celebrated his first goal for the Bantams while Colbeck was recognised for his performance with a place in the League Two team of the week.

It is rare for McCall to opt for anything that could resemble defensiveness at Valley Parade and so one might suspect he will push both wide men into a three man forward line perhaps leaving Colbeck out for Boulding or Thorne.

The midfield three of Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and James O’Brien are a curious set with O’Brien especially prompting much attacking play last week but fairly obviously failing to control and close down the game when City took the lead. Midfields need time and games to blend together and this is best done by picking a set and sticking with it which proves difficult at the moment and that area is very much a work in progress.

The back line of Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien with Simon Eastwood behind is causing sleepless nights. Eastwood struggles to get any control over his back four not talking enough and – when he does – talking to the wrong people while Zesh Rehman has yet to grasp the organisational part of his role as senior central defender.

Williams is learning the game and coming along as is Luke O’Brien. Both are bright but eclipsed by Simon Ramsden who is that rarest of things – a popular Bradford City right back. Of the defenders few would suggest Matthew Clarke should be put in as a solution to any problems but Eastwood will know that he needs to get better quickly and build a rapport with his back line.

Torquay come to City with two wins and two defeats since returning to the League in August losing last week to Barnet. No one was really interested in Torquay vs Barnet game last week but a debut should change that this.

Probably won’t be Scott Neilson’s.

Next: Cheltenham

The disorder of the day is a question of Peter Thorne.

Thorne took a pay cut to sign an extension to his City contract and was lauded for it. He has a fantastic scoring record for the Bantams which – Dean Windass aside – is probably not matched since Lee Mills ten years ago but that was four games ago and the whispers against the City captain have started.

“Why don’t you do us all a favour and hang up your boots Thorne!” said someone on the kop – how dare he assume to speak for me I angered – and sure enough the short termness of football thinking is brought to bear on our centre forward who slogged though a tired game on Tuesday night ineffectually.

Thorne will score again. You know it. I know it. Peter Thorne knows it. Stuart McCall knows it.

Nevertheless much of the criticism of Thorne comes from the fact that not only has he yet to score – no one else in six hours of football has either – but from the fact that he is the captain.

I’ve never approved of a striker as skipper – or a full back, keeper or winger for that matter – preferring a player who is more in the heart of the side in central midfield or defence just as McCall the player was for the Bantams. Alan Shearer skippered Newcastle United from the front line as did Kevin Keegan but for every example of a half decent non-middle man skipper in the for column Bobby Moore, Alan Hansen and John McGovern are on the other side. Strikers don’t often make good skippers.

However when recalling the teams of Moore, Hansen and McGovern casting eyes around the field would have shown four or five other able men who could have taken the armband while looking around the City team one sees Zesh Rehman and… erm… that is about it.

Rehman, Chris Brandon, Michael Flynn are all names banded about but as Lincoln put in their second goal on Tuesday night no City player was suggesting great leadership. David Wetherall was an obvious choice to replace Stuart McCall who was himself an obvious choice to replace Peter Jackson when he headed to Newcastle in 1987.

No player is suggesting that they would be a better captain than Thorne no matter how well or badly the striker is managing to do the job and frankly if there is a player in the City side watching his team mate’s long faces and thinking that if he tried gee anyone up then he would face some kind of PFA demarcation dispute then he is not that man to captain my club.

Seriously. If someone in the current City side is a great captain just waiting for the armband then they are hiding it bloody well.

Zesh Rehman though is likely to have the armband as Thorne feels the effects of four games and is rested. Rehman’s partner Steve Williams is likely to keep his place despite his tumble on Tuesday even with Matthew Clarke fit again. Simon Ramsden looks good at right back and Luke O’Brien is in at left back.

Simon Eastwood is going to spend four months being criticised at City and may as well get used to it now. Five, two, three, none it matters not. When he plays badly he gets it in the neck, when he plays well he gets it in the neck.

Stephen O’Leary took part in Tuesday night’s warm up but not the game leaving Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn to pass the ball around Lincoln until such a time when (according to Simon, a Lincoln fan in line with Ramsden’s tackle) that never a penalty happened. The pair are likely to continue although O’Leary and Flynn would seem more suited to battling away against a newly relegated side.

City’s forward line is likely to be where Stuart McCall makes changes. Michael Boulding turned down Cheltenham to join City and his pace may be used to do to the home side what Lincoln did to us. James Hanson and/or Gareth Evans might be employed as target men and McCall may opt to play with a lone striker with Joe Colbeck far right, Hanson on the left with Evans up front.

Or Thorne might play.

Will things go as expected? City play Port Vale looking to put the week behind them

When it comes to first weeks of the season they have never come any worse than this one for City.

Ten years ago we were sitting fourth in the embryonic Premiership table after a win against Middlesbrough. A decade on and we are at the foot of an equally new League Two table smarting from a 5-0 defeat and out of the League Cup. That was the week that wasn’t.

Wasn’t very enjoyable that is – unless you like the City of Nottingham – but probably not unexpected. When Championship side (and lest we forget, twice European Cup winners) Nottingham Forest came out of the hat for the first round of the League Cup – away to boot – not a single City fan would have said that the Bantams were anything other than rank outsiders.

Likewise when Notts County started spending money in the summer culminating in recruiting Sven Goran Errikson the majority of Bantams fans would have thought it a surprise if the Bantams had come back from the Lower League all-stars who are assembling at Meadow Lane with a point.

That both things came to pass is the way they did – scoreless and remorseless – has distorted those original assumptions that when City kicked off against Port Vale in the first home game at Valley Parade they would probably have no points and be looking at a few midweeks off after a cruel draw.

Stuart McCall has had little but food for thought in the last five days having played perhaps five different formations during the two matches and used sixteen players one of whom – Jonathan Bateson started his City career in the worst possible way with a red card for slicing Nathan Tyson in half for what seemed like little or no reason. Bateson could not have impressed less.

Steve Williams could have impressed more – it was not a week of full throttle – but he has most probably done enough to secure a debut alongside Zesh Rehman and in favour of Matthew Clarke who seems to be fall guy for the five goals that Notts County put past City despite – whisper it – having a better game than Rehman that afternoon.

Simon Ramsden has started his City career well and slots back to right back after a sojourn at centre back and Luke O’Brien is left back.

The midfield should revert to the four in the middle with Joe Colbeck, Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon although James O’Brien played on Wednesday night with Brandon cooling his heels. As a boyhood City fan robbed of his first year as a Bantam Brandon should be bursting to impress and one hopes he puts in a performance that suggests the desire than comes from playing for your own club. So far such as been lacking from the left midfielder but tomorrow can be his Alpha, should O’Brien not get the nod over him.

In the forward line Gareth Evans impressed on Wednesday but is expected to step down to allow Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding back into the line.

Having draw with Rochdale on the opening day Port Vale got arguably a more testing League Cup trip than City – to Sheffield United – and won it although that was more down to comedic goalkeepering which one hopes Simon Eastwood – the City stopper who makes his home debut – will not follow.

The season is young – baby young – and already City are thrashing around but in football everything becomes right with a win and at Valley Parade – under McCall at least following years of home defeats – wins have become expected and City are doing as expected thus far.

Heroes – City go to Nottingham Forest in League Cup first round

Deja vu, here we are again, back in Nottingham, a place I’m sure most of the team would rather not visit again so soon after the drubbing they had inflicted on them at the weekend. This time however we are here to face a team which, if some fans are to be believed, we should be playing in the league. The fact is, from where we are looking right now, Nottingham Forest might as well be a premier league team with European ambition, just as they were in 1995.

It doesn’t seem like 14 years ago that City came to the banks of the Trent having beaten Forest 3-2 at home and meted out one of our most memorable cup giantkillings. It was a late Ian Ormondroyd header and a Paul Showler strike which salvaged a 2-2 draw after a 3-2 win at Valley Parade and meant we dumped Forest, then a side containing such names as Steve Stone and Stuart Pearce, out of this very competition. Sticks says he still dines out on that goal and rightly so, it is vital goals like that which made him a legend. One wonders if this game will offer up an opportunity for someone to give the fans, and the team, a much needed fillip, even at this stage of the season.

Both sides go into the match without great recent league cup pedigree, Forest having not advanced beyond the first round for two years and City having faltered here every season since 2005. Stuart may ring the changes in defence with it seeming likely that Clarke and Rehman will be dropped, being replaced by debutants Steve Williams and Jon Bateson, the latter coming in at right-back with Ramsden moving into the middle. Rehman has made the right noises in saying that this is a chance to make amends but he may have to wait until the weekend to make his personally.

Midfield may well feature one of Steven O’Leary or James O’Brien in the middle and we can expect to see Gareth Evans given a good run-out upfront alongside Boulding or Thorne, if not a start. The rest of the team should remain unchanged from Meadow Lane.

These are games in which some players will be out to show that they should be in the first team, impress against Nottingham Forest and a starting place could be theirs against Port Vale.

Forest have injury/suspension worries with 5 defenders out which means that midfielders Chris Cohen and Kevin McCleary will play at left back and right back respectively. With this in mind it could be hoped that Joe Colbeck may be able to make inroads against a player in an unfamiliar position, if only Omar Daley was up and running on the other flank. Going forward Billy Davies’ side look strong, even without Rob Earnshaw, who is on international duty with Wales. Nathan Tyson, Dexter Blackstock and former City loanee Dele Adebola will be vying for starting spots and will give City’s defence a testing time.

It looks as though after recent comments, should the ‘nightmare start’ continue, the naysayers may be up in arms and after the head of McCall. In that case it would seem fitting that after every time Nottingham Forest score a goal they taunt the opposition with a rendition of the Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” A sentiment which obviously applies to some within the City faithful. Let’s hope that in the balmy summer evening we can come away having witnessed the birth of a new ‘Sticks’ singing one of of Bill Medley’s post ‘Righteous Brothers’ hits – “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”

Former England manager gives City a lesson

The opening day of every season is about learning lessons after three months of playing football in a hypothetical context give way to ninety minutes of reality and sometimes that reality is cold and sobering.

Bradford City’s lessons today were sobering. The afternoon started with a minute’s applause for the late Sir Bobby Robson. Robson had a lesson which he passed on to another manager who like Magpies boss Ian McPartland had seemingly endless riches to spend – a young Jose Mourinho – who relates the story as “One of the most important things I learnt from Bobby Robson is that when you win, you shouldn’t assume you are the team, and when you lose, you shouldn’t think you are rubbish.”

The World’s media came to watch Sven Goran Erikkson and the millions which are being pumped into Meadow Lane and went away purring about the home side caring hardly at all for the visitors who were but ballast in the story.

When Brendan Moloney pushed forward from full back leaving Lee Bullock to simply not track him back and allow him to score. Bullock’s head was down with the Bantams 4-0 down but he should have done more, put in more effort.

That he did not came after a grinding ninety minutes. City began brighter than their visitors with Stuart McCall having opted to send his side out to try upset the home team with a high line and a pressing forward line. The theory that McCall employed was – one assumes – that being at home and under scrutiny County would play similarly but alas they did not preferring to approach the game almost as an away match and sat back to play on the counter-attack.

So City pressed and as the season with fifteen minutes old Joe Colbeck had been unlucky to see his header saved after some great approach play and Peter Thorne look menacing on the far post with the ball under City’s control and City looking easy on the ball. County’s responses seemed to be entirely physical with Moloney especially guilty of some fearsome challenges with studs showing. City faced a midfield battle and bit by bit were edged out.

Edged out perhaps because while Bullock and new signing Michael Flynn looked tidy in possession and decent in the scrap they often found the ball pumped over their heads and when it was pumped in between Matthew Clarke and Luke O’Brien City were incapable of dealing with the ball across and expensive import from Shrewsbury Ben Davies finished on the far post.

It was not especially deserved and City should have kicked themselves with Clarke and O’Brien – not for the only time today – incapable of stopping the ball getting across the face of the box. New keeper Simon Eastwood hardly showered himself in glory with his control of the backline – very little – but collectively this was the beginning of errors that continued all afternoon.

That said City should have been level – or had the chance to be level – when Peter Thorne was shoved with two hands from behind by keeper Russell Hoult at a corner minutes later but the referee was curiously unmoved. The game was littered with pushes and free kicks many of which were given for much more malignant offences and not giving a penalty there was pre-season refereeing.

One had thought that the studs showing challenges were the results of being rusty – rather than a desire to be rustic – but they continued throughout the game with Graeme Lee engaging on any number of lunges h simply did not do for the Bantams last year. Anyone who wondered what Lee used to do at City and thought he would not be missed will not have hung their head when another long punt bounced in front of and over Zesh Rehman – who had a poor afternoon – and fell into the path of Lee Hughes who rounded the keeper and scored.

On to Lee Hughes now who rejoiced in his goal celebrating in front of the City fans who were taunting him with chides about his conviction for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving four years ago. Hughes faced the boos and on scoring pranced in front of City fans with delight.

There is a misunderstanding around Hughes when he is booed and responds to that jeering with his self-congratulatory dancing which would eventually get him booked in this game. Hughes is not booed as a former player like Graeme Lee or because he has long hair and is dubbed “Gypo” or because he has dived in a previous game. Many, if not most, people find Lee Hughes and his actions when arrested as being despicable and have the opinion that his playing cheapens the game of football. I think a man has a right to earn a living and Hughes does so but what is he trying to say when he goes to away fans and taunts them?

He has not proved fans wrong as a former player putting one over his old team mates would or silenced the people giggling at his hair yet he acts like Dean Windass returning for Sheffield United did. Frank Leboeuf said “He might be a good but footballer but he is a shit man” and no matter how many goals Hughes scores in this or any other season he has not proved anybody wrong. His prancing leaves a bad taste in the mouth as do the County fans who praise him. One can only hope that Sven and the Munto Group asks why their centre-forward is being called a murder and is as repulsed by the behaviour as I am.

Hughes got his second goal through another failure by Luke O’Brien to cut out a cross from the right. His third from a shameful dive from Luke Rodgers prompting the question of if County are going to be so good do they have to cheat? Seemingly so but the fourth goal killed City’s hopes off.

Steve Williams, James Hanson and Gareth Evans all made debuts off the bench and performed well with Williams looking mobile at the back coming on for Clarke who had had a better game than Rehman but had been replaced anyway. Evans and Hanson took the flanks coming on for Colbeck who had looked good in the first half and for Chris Brandon. Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding combined well with Brandon to see Boulding flash a shot wide.

The fifth goal came as the game dragged to an end leaving City looking back at ninety minutes of a defensive performance littered with individual mistakes – although Simon Ramsden looked good and pocketed Jamie Clapham – and a choice of approach from McCall that got it wrong and flew in the face of the manager’s talk of the Bantams learning to go away from home and play ugly, shutting up shop and being hard to beat.

County seem to be going onto bigger and better and perhaps their is no better illustration of the future for the Magpies than Hughes. Sneering success, at at any price, no matter what.

For City’s part though the short hop over the Trent to Nottingham Forest for the League Cup – bizarrely we parked next to the Brian Clough stand this Saturday afternoon – and then to Port Vale in League Two on Saturday looking to start the 45 game season anew.

The media beyond League Two are calling Hughes sparkling and toasting Sven’s perfect start but rather than the Swede one recalls the other former England manager and the lesson he would give for both teams today “When you win, you shouldn’t assume you are the team, and when you lose, you shouldn’t think you are rubbish.”

It’s Here

The League Two season is back with a bang on Saturday as Bradford travel to Meadow Lane in a reverse of the opening fixture of last campaign. And for Bradford faithful still reeling from last season’s disappointment, this is all that matters. Forget the long running saga at Newcastle United with an untold number of messiahs. Forget Leeds United’s third season in the third flight of English football. And please, forget last season.

Stuart McCall decided to stay with the club this summer despite suggesting otherwise last term. Managing at a young age is always a learning curve and there isn’t a manager out there that hasn’t made mistakes at some time in their career. But in my opinion, this club and it’s fans would rather have somebody with a loved for the club at the helm taking it one step at a time, than a manager with no passion who will come and go within two seasons at the most. The fans have cried out and it appears that stability is the way forward.

McCall has been busy this summer with his dealings in the transfer market, with no less than twelve players departing, not including Dean Furman, Steve Jones and Nicky Law, and nine coming in. Only goalkeeper Simon Eastwood has so far come in on loan as McCall plays the waiting game with the clubs in higher divisions to see who is available following pre-season. Eastwood’s arrival at the club shocked many, with an experienced keeper expected to come in alongside Jonathan McLaughlin. Only time will tell if this turns out to be a bad decision, but it is telling that Eastwood’s contract is only until January rather than a full season, with McCall preparing himself should the opportunity to bring in somebody different arise. Quite who will be playing between the sticks for City also remains a mystery with Eastwood not doing himself any favours with a nervous display in the final pre-season game against Carlisle.

Zesh Rehman has made his move to Bradford permanent and has been rewarded with the club captaincy. Much has been made of Rehman’s work in the community following his loan move last season and it appears that the club see Rehman as the ideal role model for youngsters in the local area. At a time when club finances are tight and extra revenue is a priority, it will be a challenge for Rehman, along with Omar Khan, to influence the Asian population to make Valley Parade their second home.

Jonathan Bateson, Simon Ramsden and Steve Williams join Rehman as new signings in Stuart McCall’s new look back line. Ramsden in particular looks like he could be the solid right back that has been missing at Bradford for a while now, though Paul Arnison will feel disheartened that his efforts last season resulted in his exit from the club. When Arnison played last season, City tended to fair better defensively. The facts don’t lie. However, it was apparent that McCall was unsure about him with Tom Moncur and Zesh Rehman preferred at times in what was evidently not their strongest position. Ramsden looks composed, strong in the tackle and fairly good in the air. Add to this that he can also play in the centre and has featured regularly for Rochdale in three successful seasons by their standards and you can understand why McCall has brought him to the club.

Gareth Evans and James Hanson, dubbed The Co-op Kid (I prefer The Idle Working Man – Ed), have bolstered McCall’s striking options. Both are young and play with a real desire which is a joy to see. McCall has high hopes for both and this is supported by the clubs willingness to pay a fee to Macclesfield for Evans services. Hanson looks like he can offer height in the attack, in the absence of Barry Conlon, and comes to the club with a decent scoring record in the last two seasons. Experienced duo Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne are still with the club and both agreed to cut their wage bills accordingly, with Thorne rewarded for his loyalty by becoming team captain. Up front, City look a lot stronger this season and it may be a weight off Peter Thorne’s shoulders. Michael Boulding openly admitted his disappointment at his goal tally last season and will be expected to do better this time around.

Following a fluster of activity in the days before the season opener, Stuart McCall has brought in three central midfielders, an area which he was keen to improve on. The signs are that Michael Flynn, City’s second signing from Huddersfield this summer, will slot in alongside Lee Bullock to form what looks like a solid pairing. Flynn ranks alongside Simon Ramsden as McCall’s best signing in my opinion and his ability to score and create goals from midfield will fill the void left by Nicky Law. Michael O’Leary and energetic James O’Brien have also signed, albeit on short term contracts. Luke Sharry missed the chance this pre-season to stake his claim for a place in the team and may now find himself the odd man out with many feeling Chris Brandon is also above him in the pecking order.

Omar Daley’s absence may be missed, with City only having the aforementioned Chris Brandon, Joe Colbeck and Leon Osbourne to turn to on the wings. Arguably Rory Boulding, Gareth Evans, Michael O’Leary and Luke Sharry can all play in this position too, but City do look thin in this department. Rumours of a loan move for a winger from an unnamed SPL club allay fears somewhat though undoubtedly Daley’s comeback will be in the back of everyone’s mind. Osbourne has looked impressive this pre-season and looks ready to make the step up to first team duties. Chris Brandon will be looking to make up for a torrid season last time round and will be a very important player for City should he stay free from injury.

When you thought things couldn’t get anymore unpredictable, Sven-Goran Eriksson appeared at Notts County and shook the football world to the core (or League Two at least). His arrival at Meadow Lane marks one of the most bizarre appointments in history and mounts the expectation on County to achieve things in the short term. Ian MacParland’s job will be under scrutiny with the media circus that unmistakably follows such a high profile appointment. In the last few days, Stuart McCall has claimed he is not envious of the position County find themselves in, words which as a fan I cannot help but agree with. Clubs in the situation Notts County now find themselves have the potential for success, but also dramatic failure. Should County fail to gain promotion this season, they will probably find themselves starting from scratch with a new manager and possibly a whole new team next term. It is once again easy to see why fans at this club, who have suffered the repercussions of bad decision making by the money men in the past, strive for stability and a realistic approach.

Last season’s skipper Graeme Lee will probably be coming toe to toe with former team mates and, unfortunately, may receive a hostile reception. The culture of booing ex-players and managers is one that I’ve never understood, though there are factors in some cases. It is understandable that a Crystal Palace fan would be annoyed at the sight of Iain Dowie, not for the obvious reason, but for the way in which he departed the club to become manager of Crystal Palace. Lee, however, put in some solid displays last season, though he did have a dip of form which coincided with the teams inability to win games and keep clean sheets. Nevertheless, any players that represents our club should have our support and his departure was not turbulent and instead was a financial decision. It must be hoped that his exit from the club will suit both parties, with Lee himself wishing the team luck in the coming season. I will leave the defence of Lee Hughes to somebody braver than myself.

How the tables have turned from this time last season when County came to Valley Parade and suffered at the hands of a superb solo performance from Peter Thorne. The City captain has a tendency to score against County, something Graeme Lee may be given the duty of preventing happening on Saturday. I would be happy with an opening day draw in all honesty, but the optimism of the travelling Bradford fans says otherwise. City are out to ruin the party celebrations for Sven’s men are will make themselves heard – win, lose or draw.

The new season is here.

The route to success for Notts County or Bradford City

When last we kicked a ball in anger there was anger after the Bantams promotion push had fizzled out and beating Chesterfield was an inglorious end to a year of promise.

Three months later and while it seems that much has changed the Bantams start the season with six players who would have featured in the team which kicked off last year with Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding leading the attack a good example of how Stuart McCall has been able to cut costs while retaining the integrity of the squad.

The five forwards this year swap James Hanson and Gareth Evans for Barry Conlon and Willy Topp which is easily argued to be no worse and perhaps better with Barry’s rambunctions being matched by Hanson’s vigour, at least in theory.

If such claims of parity could be made for the strikers then they would not be applied to the two keepers who combined are not as old as Neville Southall was when he kept goal for City and the worries over that inexperience are rumbling.

Simon Eastwood seems favourite to start as he battles Jon McLaughin for the gloves and I am forced to say that I have never seen competition for the number one shirt bring about anything but uncertainty in the past.

One can only hope that one of the two claims the spot which Rhys Evans grew to suit. Evans exit remains a mystery with the obvious hole left behind by his exit but last season’s failure has been attributed to poor morale and one can assume that some of those who exit do so because of what might be known as “off the field reasons”.

Paul Arnison’s exit was down to such and Simon Ramsden is considered a more than adequate replacement playing right back more like a central defender than a winger. Again McCall has cut while not losing quality, although the people at Rochdale take issue with the statements that Ramsden has joined the Bantams on comparable terms to those he was on at Spotland.

Zesh Rehman has joined the club full time and replaces Graeme Lee – who may very well take the field for Notts County after his summer move – and it is hard to see that exchange as worse for City. Rehman has played at a higher level than Lee and on the evidence of last season is no worse a player and much more of a talker. Good player Graeme Lee but not the lynchpin we hoped for. Rehman could be.

Matthew Clarke is still Matthew Clarke although this year faces competition for his place from Steve Williams who impressed more than any in pre-season. Expect Williams to grow in ability over the opening months at City has he gets used to the ways of professional football. He promises a mix of Clarke’s physical play and the mobility of a Dean Richards or Andrew O’Brien.

At left back Luke O’Brien has a one deal and little immediate competition for the role however cover is provided by Louis Horne who is making similar progress to last season’s player of the season.

The midfield has been talked about at length over the summer. Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock are the two senior men with James O’Brien, Stephen O’Leary and Luke Sharry offering a much shallower depth of quality that last season’s midfield which of course assumes that one believes that last season’s midfield had quality.

Objectively the choice of Nicky Law, Dean Furman, Paul McLaren and Bullock is incredibility strong however wise man say that team with a strong midfield get promoted and obviously we did not. Stuart McCall has to make changes to move the team on from that and so he has.

On the flanks Omar Daley will be missed – he is “out until Christmas” but rumoured to be on course to join the squad before that – but Chris Brandon comes into the season fit and looking useful. Joe Colbeck is on week to week contracts but as long as he plays well this week, and then next week, few will have a problem with him. Cover on the flanks is thin on the ground although Rory Boulding and Leon Osborne are available.

City’s summer of cost cutting has been far from mirror at Notts County. Sven – of course – has arrived but it is said has spent much of the week talking to lawyers about a story that concerns a blonde which reminded me of another story about when Eriksson left England but I’m far too in fear of legal action to even mention that…

So we shall move past him onto a squad that has been bolstered by the signing of Lee midfielder Ben Davies from Shrewsbury and – more notably – forward pair Lee Hughes and Karl Hawley following a significant investment from a consortium of mystery which could not be held in more suspicion in the football world outside of Meadow Lane if they were gruff looking sortd who owned disused Theme Parks in episodes of Scooby Doo.

It is said that at some point they will be signing Dietmar Hamann and Sol Campbell. Let us hope that is after the weekend.

What will be at Notts County will be and there is very little that football fans can do to stand against the cavalier attitudes taken to ownership in the modern game.

City tried spending to get out of the division and failed. Notts County’s owners are unlikely to balance risk and prudence as Mark Lawn says City have which may see The Magpies to achieve what City could not last season.

The long term effects on County will be seen in time – the other Magpies though that they were going places when they got big investment – but City start out the season with a mix of players: some young lads, some old heads, some local lads made good; and if that is not the recipe for success then success is not worth having.

Now though football starts again. Great.

Stuck in the middle with them

I know it’s hard to believe, but we’re not all obsessed. Personally a summer without football is, unlike many clubs, easily managed. But time passes and the prospect of a new season is finally stirring the brain cells if not yet quickening the pulse.

The thing is, unless you keep up to date with the almost daily off-pitch activity – often more rumour than truth – and can spare the time and cash for pre-season friendlies – neither of which I do – then the opening game can come as something of a shock to the system.

There are changes every season and this is certainly no exception. Some big money players have moved on, possibly for bigger money but no great loss there. Some big hearted players have been lured elsewhere, a cause for some sadness but in a short career life you wish them well. Some have stayed but don’t know how long they will be around. (Being a City supporter is not a week-to-week option so I hope that being a City player is not seen in that way for too long.) So that leaves the committed, and gestures such as accepting reduced terms whilst offering full effort is something to be admired and be grateful for.

Then there’s the new-comers. Eagerness to impress should come as standard. A lack of experience can be more than compensated by enthusiasm and a willingness to learn, (the opposite was true for too many last season), and putting names and numbers to new faces is all part of the new season’s fun.

The chant of “Who are yer?” may not exactly resound around V.P. in the coming weeks but the question will certainly be asked about our own team. The new kit will add to the confusion but hopefully it will put an end to the pathetic and pigmentally-challenged “Come on you Yellows!” (“Come on you Clarets!” has other connotations for those of us suffering from the taunts of neighbours just over the border, so we’ll see what replaces it.)

So with new signing Michael Flynn joining this week we’re all set then? The hope is that we have a midfield balance of muscle, mobility, motivation and magic. Sometimes you get most of these in one player but, at this level especially, these qualities have to be spread around more.

I find it easier to come to terms with teams that beat us by out-playing us than watching teams out-muscle us, out number us or plainly out-desiring us. This has to be the worst memory of last season and last season is where those failings should remain.

We have the qualities we need in our new-season’s squad albeit thinly stretched. I may be in a minority but I think Lee Bullock can once again be the player he was when he first came and go a long way to filling a somewhat soft centre. The question is does Lee Bullock believe he can be that player? Self-belief is critical.

I think Joe Colbeck has an “engine” as good as any and, contract issues aside, will take fewer wrong options to become more than just an attacking force, if the self-belief is there with him.

New signings will surely have the motivation that the ground, crowd and level of football must inspire in them. So that leaves the magic!

Last season we borrowed it mainly in the shape of Dean Furman and the incisiveness of Nicky Law, both magical on their day and well on the way to being the players we need. Now they are well on their way full stop.

Perhaps the right captain can make man management on the pitch provide a kind of magic that we have lacked. The who and how of this position is perhaps more important than the number on the shirt and will only become clear once the real games start. If it goes well then the team clicks to benefit all. If not the harsh realities of last season’s slump may return to haunt us.

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right will, hopefully this season, be restricted to the blokes I sit with.

The 47th game

In seven days time City will have faced Notts County in what is game one of the new season but in a rain soaked Valley Parade the Bantams seemed to have started the season early in a 3-3 draw with Carlisle United.

To suggest that the friendly between Stuart McCall’s City and a Carlisle side managed by his former midfield partner Greg Abbott was “competitive” would understate the content that saw the visitors copy their manager’s combative style and at one point boiled over into typical Abbo violence.

Richard Keogh swung for Joe Colbeck and in a proper game would have been sent off no questions asked leaving his team to play with ten men for seventy odd minutes. Keogh missed Colbeck’s square jaw just as Brandon missed with a kick at Michael Evans in the dying minutes which would also have resulted in red and followed on from the sort of tackle by Evans that littered the game. Too physical, too much, and never allowed in the season for real.

So in that way the work out for City was perfect – bad refereeing of the league season being substituted by soft pre-season officialdom and City responded to that work out well.

Another number four got a run out for the Bantams with former Luton and Hereford midfielder Stephen O’Leary wasting no time in pressing his case for a contract by finishing tidily a headed cut back by Michael Boulding who got on the end of a superb Joe Colbeck cross deep on the right.

Carlisle reacted poorly with Keogh swinging at Colbeck who spent the first half tormenting former Leeds man Ian Harte and looked distinctly second best. City’s second goal came from another Colbeck cross – a corner – which headbanded Matthew Clarke jumped for and may have connected with but landed at the feet of Peter Thorne who finished easily from close range. It was – at that stage – comprehensive.

Nevertheless twenty minutes later City were losing. Firstly Graham Kavanagh was allowed to turn on the edge of the box dropped away from the central defenders and not being picked up by the midfield – one of Stephen O’Leary and Lee Bullock should have been there – and was allowed time and space to fire in impressively from thirty yards.

Secondly the rain became torrential taking away Zesh Rehman’s legs as Joe Anyinsah played the ball to Matty Robson and was shown enough of the goal by Clarke to be tempted to shoot and duly did giving a second goal in two minutes. It was unimpressive defending and seemed to snap City right back into last season’s lower moments.

The spine of the team was found wanting, and the heart. Things went against the Bantams and the Bantams responded by sulking. It was Morecambe at Easter or Barnet away all over again and City visibly wilted.

The third goal came eight minutes later when a corner headed in by Joe Anyinsah with Simon Eastwood left flapping at the ball.

Eastwood has yet to impress and will need to communicate more with his backline to become a better keeper while his judgement at coming out to try collect this corner was curious to say the least. At the moment all he offers over Jon McLaughlin is that he is someone else.

So the black shirted Bantams trudged in at half time having been the best for thirty minutes but mostly through errors ended up losing. So far, so last season.

Nevertheless something that Stuart McCall said at half time reminded the team that they had been comfortable in the game for a long time because what one would hope is normal service was resumed with Bullock and O’Leary combining well with the attacking pair of Thorne and Boulding and Colbeck and Brandon coming inside and working the ball forward well with sudden, tight controlled football. Eastwood’s first half display may have been duplicated in the second had Carlisle mustered a shot worthy of the name in the second half but aside from a shot that flashed across the goal they threatened rarely.

City on the other hand revealed an alternative to the 442 which McCall favours with a 4231 that saw two holding midfielders in Bullock and O’Leary, Gareth Evans lead the line ahead of Colbeck, Brandon and James Hanson who lot a header today – a thing that is notable only for its infrequency such is the impressive abilities of the Idle Working Man.

Before the change in formation Michael Boulding had flashed a Peter Thorne chest down wide and Colbeck did similar following an impressive nutmegging of the referee but it was a breakaway from Evans which won a corner that when slung in the former Macclesfield man tucked away from close range despite a heavy first touch in a crowded penalty area.

Three all it finished and while Keogh would never have finished a league game and some of the tackling used the weakness of pre-season refereeing to avoid bookings and neutering giving both teams a good work out but causing worry for City.

Abbott’s side too easily bullied City – especially in that fifteen minute spell before half time – and the Bantams were not able to counter that physical play or that sudden burst of (for want of a better phrase) “wanting it” which undermined a performance that was worthy of a win.

O’Leary looked no better or no worse than other number fours we have tried but one of he or James O’Brien would seem to be about to be offered a contract this week and making a debut next but the Bantams need someone to sit in the midfield and someone to prompt and inspire in the way that McCall did when he rejoined City in ’98 galvanising a team that had lead the league in ’97 but faded into a genuine promotion side.

One would hope that City could find this type of leader from within the club – Peter Thorne seems to be captain apparent – and Zesh Rehman and Lee Bullock also hinting that they could emerge as characters but leadership is lacking and when City trudged back to the centre circle after the second and third goals there was no geeing up, no encouraging, no leadership pulling up everyone else’s game as McCall The Player did.

Brandon’s ill tempter kick certainly was not it and he needs to wear his status as City’s senior player with more conscientiousness and sobriety.

Ultimately though football is a game of balance in flux. In a match which was competitive this game was the 1st of 47th in a season that starts next week and may be no different to last with the collapse before half time so reminiscent of last year but perhaps it will be the 47th of 2008/2009 and in a week when the season kicks off City will be a team a year older, more experienced and able to drag a draw out of a game in which a lead was surrendered in contrast to last season.

One can but hope. Either way the phoney war is over and the season – nine months of elation and agony, anguish and exhilaration – starts now.

Where we will feel the pain as the cost cut squad is shaped

Seventy minutes into the friendly with Barnsley looking over the City side the shape of the squad for next season post £700,000 cost cut emerged and with it the nature of the squad and season.

Around the field City had replaced first teamers with younger players and Luke Sharry was making a case for being considered a central midfielder rather than a wide man to be back up to Lee Bullock when the thinness of the squad to come became apparent.

Not that you would see this from looking at the front players. Massive kudos to Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne who have both taken pay cuts to stay and form part of a four man team up front with Gareth Evans and James Hanson.

I confess I miss Barry Conlon’s robust style and the idea that Willy Topp might have been good but individually James Hanson and Gareth Evans offer no less than Topp and Conlon – well – is Hanson puts in the energy that Conlon did as his pre-season performances suggest he might then their is no reason why he can not be equally well thought of (assuming one thought well of Conlon that is).

Likewise out wide Joe Colbeck this season is no worse than Joe Colbeck last when he came into the year as a well thought of player of the season aside from the fact that the wide man is on week to week contracts and has had a half year of “atmosphere” at Valley Parade. Colbeck, like Chris Brandon, is an able footballer and Omar Daley (unloved, again, but his importance was shown in his absence) create a threesome of players who should be at the top of the division but starting with one injured City are already down to bare bones and hoping for the impressiveness of young players.

Luke Sharry – as mentioned – could be great back up for Lee Bullock and could be the player he hints at being in reserve games but hoping that Sharry can perform is not the same as dropping in Nicky Law Jnr to cover an injury. At one point last season we had six midfielders out (Colbeck, Daley, Bullock, Furman, McLaren and Brandon) and put together a team that beat MK Dons whereas this season it would be hard to see us being able to withstand such losses.

The hit of cutting costs is felt not as much in the quality of the squad but the strength of it. Good players but one worries if we got injuries and – two seasons in League Two tell us we will get injuries.

Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Matthew Clarke are covered by Simon Ramsden who is covered at right back by Jonathan Bateson. Luke O’Brien faces competition at left back from Louis Horne but both are young players and we are hoping both will transfer potential – to greater and lesser extents – into performances. Good players, little back up.

The signing of Simon Eastwood came with confirmation that he and Jon McLaughlin will be given the chance to fight over the gloves at Notts County and for the first half of the season.

Two inexperienced keepers is worrying – I have seen few good teams without a settled goalkeeper – as is the gap at number four.

City are closer to finding someone to fill the hole only in seeming to have decided that Grant Smith, Joe Keehan and a few others are not “the man”. Last season Dean Furman only signed at the end of August and perhaps in a month we might all be marvelling at John Fleck running riot in midfield.

Perhaps not though. This morning comes news of a bidding war for Leeds United’s Fabian Delph between Spurs and Aston Villa which City would take 12.5% of and as last season’s other big money side Shrewsbury Town sell Grant Holt at a £100,000 loss while Joe Hart – who they get £500,000 for should he play a full England game – so City are in a position of trimming the cloth today but perhaps being affluent tomorrow. Sign up a rookie keeper now and it we are in the top half at Christmas and find ourselves well off go get someone else perhaps.

Last season was budgeted as promotion or Delph leaving – this season it is assumed (sensibly) that neither will occur and the cloth is cut accordingly. Delph may stay until Christmas, until next summer, until he retires and City do well to not push out boats on the strength of his transfer status.

Nevertheless it is probable that at some point City will have over half a million coming in to the club and perhaps the season is shaped by staying in and around contention for as long as possible until that occurs. Should Delph leave at Christmas then the Bantams could move through the league in the last four months just as we did last year – only in the other direction. Similarly is we get that windfall on the last day of the Summer transfer window we are left with a squad and money hanging over us Notts County style for months.

There is a school of thought – which I subscribe to – that money in League Two is largely wasted and the teams rise and fall through spirit and morale.

That and keeping fingers crossed than injuries do not hit as hard this year as last.

Barnsley beat City 2-0 in pre-season showing the sum of the things we already knew

The warmth of the sun and the warm glow of pre-season continued as Barnsley beat Bradford City 2-0 at Valley Parade the visitors being good value for the win which – of course – is utterly meaningless.

Meaningless of course but all we have at this point and from that point of view the defeat gave City and Stuart McCall the same lesson which Burnley and Owen Coyle got when the men from Turf Moor arrived at Valley Parade for the start of pre-season. That any game at any level is lost by mistakes.

Those two mistakes from the Bantams came either side of half time the first being a corner that was allowed to pass in front of Jon McLaughlin in goal and behind the central defensive pairing of Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams and when none of the three claimed it opposition centre half Steve Foster did and the ball nestled into the back of the the goal.

Barnsley’s goal came after a decent first half for City that saw some good work with the forward players Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne combining well with the three forward midfielders Lee Bullock, Chris Brandon and Joe Colbeck with Bullock good all afternoon and Colbeck quiet but disciplined.

Brandon and Boulding combined well working the ball around a returning Darren Moore for Boulding to drag his shot wide. The punishment for allowing a corner to travel across the face of the goal aside a level scoreline at half time would not have been unfair.

Nevertheless Rehman and Williams seemed determined to make sure that that error never reoccurred and next corner both went, both made good contact, both ended on the floor. Rehman wandered off looking groggy to be replaced in the middle by Simon Ramsden who was giving a good account of himself at right back. McCall seems set to have his right back hang back and his left back go forward and Ramsden and Luke O’Brien are his players for that tactic.

Likewise his wide midfielders suit those roles with Colbeck covered and Brandon able to – and willing to – drop back and combine with a full back. All well save the gap at number four that yawns wide open. Grant Smith took the position in the first half and was not able to stamp his authority on the game nor was second half replacement James O’Brien.

The second mistake in the second half ended the Bantams realistic chances of winning when a lose pass from Luke O’Brien (Although it may not have been the left back, the view being spoilt by Stuart McCall blocking my view so James O’Brien or Chris Brandon may have been the man) being picked up in midfield by Jacob Butterfield who put the ball in for Jon Macken – a player Kevin Keegan once paid £5m for – to finish coolly. Give the ball away cheaply and you will lose matches.

City gave run outs to James Hanson, Gareth Evans and Leon Osborne – Hanson looked full of running and his a cracking attitude – while Luke Sharry got a chance to play central midfield showing no little ability. Should Sharry be dubbed first reserve for Bullock going into the season I would not be unhappy at all.

However the number four gap continues two games and two weeks away from the start of the season. James O’Brien and Hugo Colace got involved in tackling that would result in booking and O’Brien looked frustrated by his inability to grasp the chance and take the position that begs for a player.

Back to football as City take on Barnsley

The season, or should that be the open season, started early this year with Stuart McCall and Mark Lawn facing City fans in a forum leaving them happy on the way out but foaming at the mouth when typing.

It was one of those weeks where one is happy to get to the football as we do with the pre-season visit of Barnsley on Saturday.

City face the South Yorkshiremen in good pre-season form with the XI loss to Manchester City being largely forgotten about and McCall is able to further shape a squad that tellingly is numbered for the season but lacks a 1 and a 4.

Andy Holdsworth was to be that four before he jumped on the midfielder pile at Oldham. Some say that as a decent ball player with League One experience Holdsworth should have had the boat pushed out for him – the HMS Infinite Money one assumes – because he was obviously the missing piece in the puzzle.

These people have heard of Paul McLaren and, one assumes, know the concept of irony but these two things do not link.

Holdsworth joins Joe Keehan in exiting with the tanned man not making the grade and going home. Jordan Hadfield and Grant Smith have much work to do before being considered the man for the four but one recalls how Dean Furman did not sign for the club until August and wonders if similar might be in the works.

Hadfield, Smith and Estonian Jevgeni Novikov will have a run about alongside Lee Bullock for City against the Tykes. Joe Colbeck gears up down one flank, Chris Brandon the other although Rory Boulding and Luke Sharry will get runs out.

Behind Colbeck will not be Paul Arnison who formally ended his Bantams career as his contract was cancelled by mutual consent. Arnison and Mark Bower look set to join Darlington and while any miss Bower – I believe that that as good as a player as he is the team needed Matthew Clarke in it in League Two – we will miss Arni who was never massively popular.

As a full back I liked Arnison. He supported his winger going forward better than almost any right back player since Brian Mitchell left the club in the early 1990s which I thought made up for his failings at the back which saw him often too advanced but tellingly played in the City sides that performed well last season. Judging his performances on the field I would say that McCall made a mistake letting him go but the rumours dogging the North Easterner are that he is not a good character to have around the dressing room and so he exits.

Simon Ramsden takes the number two shirt from him and will – with Jonathan Bateson backing up – play alongside the pairing of (Perm two from) Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Matthew Clarke. Luke O’Brien and Louis Horne are the left backs and both will feature.

The number one shirt is up for grabs. Jon McLaughlin may take the gloves but with McCall stating his desire to bring in a loan keeper City might have a new man signed to play between the sticks by the time the teams run out on Saturday.

At the other end of the field James Hanson celebrates his professional contract he signed this week and is looking to continue his good form. Gareth Evans, Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding complete what looks to be a stronger striking line up than last season.

City kick off the season in two weeks – Sven is waiting – and already the season long debate over management has started. The best answers for all are victories.

Bantams weigh up the options as they head to York and beyond

As with anyone forced to confront big spending in these tough times the Bantams return to the possibilities of having a positive income refreshed after a rumage through the bargain bins.

Paul McLaren joined Graeme Lee in leaving the club, Michael Boulding started talking reduced terms and suddenly the likes of Andy Holdsworth – one of the best hundred players to take the field for Huddersfield apparently and player of the season the year before last – turns up for a game just as people start talking about Lee Hughes.

Such shopping is far from Harrods but it is not Lidl either which seemed as if it was going to be the shape of the City squad to come.

That bargain basement rumage seems to have turned up two players for now with the possibility of more to follow.

Steve Williams and James Hansom both suggest themselves immediately while a clutch of midfielders race to be most impressive with Joe Keehan adding himself to the list of James O’Brien and Jordan Hadfield.

It is sometime since City so clearly trawled the non-league market to pull in Williams, Hanson and Keehan and one wonders if the qualities that make someone a very good part-time player can be transferred to League Two level.

While the step from League Two to the Championship is one of class then that from non-league to League Two is of lifestyle.

As League Two players the new signings will be on around £25,000 a year which is not just a long way from the money being offered to John Terry but is comparable with the full-time jobs non-league players hold down now.

I’m no expert in how much a hairdresser in Bamber Bridge takes home but anything over £25,000 gives someone like Steve Williams a genuine decision to make.

League Two’s rank and file players are professionals earning in some cases less than non-league counterparts may get from the day job.

Such roughness of figures aside the point emerges that the non-league amateur or semi-pro might not be in professional football for financial rather than playing reasons and the step up to League Two level is less one of fitness and training rather than pure ability.

If the ranks of the non-professionals do offer fruit for the picking then City are in prime position to offer attractive terms being still one of the top half of spenders in League Two but having holes in the squad to fill.

The likes of Williams, Hanson or Keehan look to claim those rich pickings. Keehan’s half on Wednesday night showed a combative midfielder built like a tank and coloured like a tomato but the role he auditions for alongside Lee Bullock is of paramount importance to the Bantams side and one wonders if it could be handed to a rookie.

With financial pressures eased Stuart McCall may look to bring in a name such as Andy Holdsworth to replay and hopefully improve on McLaren last term. Certainly there is no position on the field worthy of more attention.

Nevertheless Alan Mannus has yet to be tested in goal but was worryingly quiet and punchy at Park Avenue.

The defence for Notts County is more or less picked with Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Matthew Clarke who will miss the York game through injury and Luke O’Brien lining up. Likewise Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding will open the season with the likes of Brother Rory, Gareth Evans and Hanson looking to be in the seven subs City will keep on the bench next season.

Joe Colbeck seems pencilled in for that first game but with the player on week to week deals and Oldham reportedly interested one wonders for how long he will be at the club. Replacement Luke Sharry looks more of a central player when replacing Colbeck but shows talent. Leon Osbourn seems to have much work to do before he is able to stand up in League Two but is warmly backed by supporters in a way that Colbeck or Omar Daley could only dream of.

The middle of the midfield is a mix at the moment with many players looking for a place next to Bullock.

McCall must be heartened by the names that have suggested themselves so far in pre-season but as he watches City take in York he will note that the team has requirements for the goalkeeper, the holding midfielder, one if not both wingers, and after plugging holes continue to build for the season ahead.

The unwanted man

As a way of settling debates over the quality of City players, their destination after leaving Valley Parade is a pretty reliable measure. Two players manager Stuart McCall was criticised for ignoring last season, Kyle Nix and Mark Bower, could both be playing non-league football this coming season. Whatever the shortcomings of Paul McLaren during his year at City, he has now returned to League One Tranmere Rovers.

So as rumours of Oldham Atheltic’s interest in Joe Colbeck continue to grow – manager Dave Penny was said to be in attendance at Park Avenue last night, though whether he was there to watch Joe or non-league opposition his side face in two weeks is unclear – it’s puzzling that a significant number of City fans apparently want to help him pack his bags. If the rumours are true, Joe could be playing football in a higher division than City next season, he could be facing Leeds, Southampton and Norwich, he could be lining up alongside a player we have sadly had to acknowledge is too good for us. To make that happen, Oldham could have to paying a six-figure transfer fee. Yet still many argue Colbeck’s a rubbish player that City should have got rid of a long time ago.

The continuing negative light Colbeck is painted in confuses me – just what is about him that makes some dislike him so much? He’s a product of our youth system, at the club a good number of years, who burst onto the scene four years ago and made a great impact under Colin Todd. Asked to make the step up and follow the tough act to follow that was Jermaine Johnson, Joe clearly struggled with his confidence and quickly became a target for abuse. His stupid sending off in a crucial game against Oldham was far from his finest hour, but the subsequent booing he received in later games that season was ludicrous.

In 2007/08 he was voted player of the season – not by him mum, not by his manager, but by us supporters. I’ve just been watching some highlights of that season’s games and he was outstanding at times. Unfortunately for his cause of winning over a skeptical Bradford public, most of his better moments came during away games. He scored eight times that season, but only once at Valley Parade.

Last season Joe began in brilliant form before getting injured – look at the number of goals Peter Thorne scored before, during and after he was injured and tell me there’s no correlation – but on his return struggled to find form and found no help from the stands. I witnessed people openly laugh at him when he picked up possession, expecting him to mess up before he’d even had chance to trap the ball. I was told he was the worst player ever to wear Claret and Amber – quite an achievement given some of the garbage we’ve seen over the years. Two years on from his Easter Monday nightmare against Oldham, Joe again had a miserable bank holiday against Lincoln where he had to be taken off so visibly was his confidence battered by the barracking and booing from his own supporters.

But just like every time it’s gone wrong for Joe, he’s bounced back and showed great resilience. He’s now racked up over 100 appearances for the club, appearing high up the League Two assist chart last season and the season before. Unlike other wingers, he can rarely be accused of not trying or caring. His crossing has improved greatly since he first came into the team, there is usually an end product to his game. Sure he has his imperfections, just like the club he plays for.

So why all this hatred? It’s understandable his contract negotiations have caused some concern, but the real worry is why he might want to turn his back on this club. Maybe he’s tired of being told he’s crap no matter how well he plays, maybe he’s fed up of receiving boos when other players are allowed to get away with bigger crimes.

After a summer where the club has lost a number of permanent and loan players, maybe it’s time we made one who should be treated as integral part of our revamped squad feel more wanted.

Names suggest themselves as pre-season continues with City win over Park Avenue

Having already established that beating teams way above you is meaningless one wonders how defeating the local non-league side should be viewed following Bradford City’s 2-0 win over Park Avenue.

The Bantams bested their City rivals with two second half goals and a clean sheet that made strong cases for two of the trialists who are looking to make the step up from the Avenue level to League Two.

The first half saw the Barber from Bamber Bridge Steve Williams look impressive at the heart of a defence alongside Grant Smith in a side led up front and as captain by Peter Thorne. Thorne’s partnership with Gareth Evans looked promising with the new young striker linking up well with the senior man climaxing late on in the half when a move that featured the thrusting play of Joe Colbeck – Colbeck is coming back to form – and a strong header that from the skipper which keeper Steve Dickinson did well to save.

Nevertheless more of the play seemed to be given to the back and to Williams who looked strong. That Williams and his defensive partners were involved so much – and that City broke down the right often and the centre and left less so – was down to a performance from the central two midfielders Jordan Hadfield and Lee Bullock which did not control the game well enough.

Which is not to say that City were overrun but that to win games at League Two and above is to win midfield battles and for the opening three quarters of the first half the Bantams middle two did not.

Half time parity was deserved but on the balance of the second half the Bantams were deserved winners – although of course that does not mean anything – following the entry of James Hanson who has gone a long way to securing himself a move from Guiseley to Bradford City.

Within a minute of the re-start Hanson had risen to head long pass into the path of Michael Boulding who took the ball and slotted home with confidence. Five minutes later a free kick was centred and Hanson – who scored two against Avenue on New Years Day last season – headed home firmly.

Boulding and Hanson could have both had more and Dickinson kept the score down as the Bantams middle two of former Huddersfield Town man Andy Holdsworth and Lewes young – and tanned – midfielder Joe Keehan grabbed the game.

The Bantams kept the game on the whole in the Avenue half although some late flurries forward saw keeper Alan Mannus – a keeper who had an unsettling tendency to punch – called into make a single save and watch a few go wide. Former City man Harpel Singh was ineffectual as ever on the left flank. Simon Ainge – who snuck out of City in recent months – was on the bench.

Hanson won aerial battles for the evening and Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke looked solid with a special note for Louis Horne who continues to look able at left back. Keehan was especially impressive but joins a list of midfielders trying out for the number four shirt. Keehan, Holdsworth, Hadfield, James O’Brien. Pre-season is for sorting such things out.

In Williams and Hanson it would seem that two names are suggesting themselves already.

Trusting the outcome of friendlies is like trusting the weather forecast – but what else do we have to go on?

The forecast for today had been heavy showers and a heavy Bradford City home defeat to Premier League Burnley, but the unexpected bonus of bright sunshine shoving through the grey clouds and City coming from behind to earn a deserved victory offers a timely reminder against fearing the worst and taking too much notice of what others say.

Expectations for the new season have been dampened by player sales, wage budget slashing and the glass half empty attitude your average City fan seems to typify, so the prospect of a Bantams side peppered with trialists achieving anything better than a respectable defeat seemed remote. Come 5pm the grey clouds had at least been temporarily pushed into the background – both above and inside Valley Parade.

It would be premature to make too much of this result and performance, but it’s certainly a better start than the 3-0 half time scoreline that City began last year’s pre-season with. It should also be noted that one team performed in front a large number of their own fans, undertook a team huddle prior to kick off and reacted with anger and petulance when things began to go against them – and that team opens the new season playing Stoke and Man United.

Not that it had looked that way after an opening 20 minutes which saw Burnley pass the ball around with a nonchalance that reflected their elevated status, posing plenty of questions of a nervous-looking backline which included trialist Steve Williams. The returning Robbie Blake, again curiously booed by some City fans, looked a menace on the flank and, from his burst towards the box, 37-year-old Graham Alexander was able to unleash an unstoppable shot past youth keeper Matt Convey to put the Clarets in front. City looked disjointed, with the central midfield of Lee Bullock and James O’Brien – another trialist – pushed too far back and the Boulding brothers isolated up front.

Yet City were able to turn the tide largely thanks to two widemen who’ve come in for criticism for much of this summer. Chris Brandon is somewhat unfortunate to be bunched into the ‘big four’ group of high-earning underachievers the club has been trying to discard. He missed almost all of the season through injury and his return coincided with the team’s damaging March collapse in form. Having only made four starts, he has barely had a chance to make his mark. On this evidence he can offer much to City in the coming season, if, as appears likelier, he stays. He worked hard to harry for possession and charged forward to good effect, always looking to play an intelligent pass.

Meanwhile Joe Colbeck, who also suffered from injury problems and the expectation of instantly being able to rediscover form, has upset some with his refusal to sign a new contract. Any doubts about his commitment were quickly dispelled with an encouraging display which saw some surging runs down the right and some threatening crosses into the box. Both Brandon and Colbeck’s willingness to track back, win the ball and then keep it helped Bullock and James O’Brien become more influential, thus creating opportunities for the Bouldings.

It was from good hustling on Alexander by younger brother Rory that City were able to equalise. After winning the ball he charged forward and played a perfect pass to sibling Michael in the box, who pulled the ball back for James O’Brien to fire home. With each passing minute in the first half, the young midfielder looked more at home on the Valley Parade pitch.

Shortly afterwards the other O’Brien, Luke, played Michael Boulding through on goal to fire past Brian Jensen for 2-1. Luke is another player who it’s perceived has messed the club about with contract negotiations over the summer and some appear to want him to fail this season. The excellent way he had charged forward and released the ball at the right time was only surprising for how unsurprising it felt. This kid has come a long way from getting skinned alive by Gareth Grant in previous pre-seasons to become the type of forward-minded full back Stuart clearly craves.

Burnley responded to things going against them in the same manner as last year’s pre-season meeting – strong tackles and petulance. Left back Stephen Jordan deserved more retribution than referee Chris Oliver’s disapproving wiggle of the finger after a string of poor challenges. Maybe it’s this type of will-to-win spirit that City should aspire to emulate, though the resultant lapsed focus saw the previously-confident looking visitors become increasingly ordinary. Record signing Steve Fletcher might have equalised following a goalmouth scramble, but managed to blast the ball into an empty Kop from barely two yards out, while Convey made a decent save from a Wade Elliot shot.

City in contrast looked increasingly assured. New signing Jonathan Bateson impressed at right back, Williams and Matt Clarke were solid. The Bouldings were both lively and Michael in particular looked a different player from the one who too often sulked anonymously for long spells during home games last season. A bit more composure in front of goal would have seen a bigger half time score.

But if there was much from the first half to encourage manager Stuart McCall, watching from the press box, it was the second half that provided the strongest evidence yet that it can be third time lucky this season. The entire team was swapped around, with a higher number of youngsters and trialists, but the apparently weaker side continued to take the game to Burnley and knocked the ball around impressively.

The star performers were again on the wing. We’ve seen Luke Sharry impress in pre-season last year, and in an unexpected right wing role he shrugged off a nervy start to make an impact with some dangerous runs and clever use of the ball. Meanwhile Leon Osborne, who has enjoyed more first team football than Luke, was in excellent form down the left. Never shying from possession, he was regularly charging down the byeline and creating chances for front two Gareth Evans – strong and purposeful on his debut – and trialist James Hanson.

Chances were created and wasted, with almost every second half attack seemingly involving either Sharry or Osborne. There are fears the decreased wage budget will mean City have to rely more on their younger players next season, but if the price of tighter purse strings is the positive development of these two promising footballers joint-Chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes would do well to keep the piggy bank hidden. After all, who would have expected Luke O’Brien’s stunning progress this time last year?

Alongside Osborne and Sharry were the much talked about trialists Jordan Hadfield and Grant Smith – most of this talking from them bellyaching about past injustices. They had a chance to show what they can do and both displayed promise in winning tackles and setting up attacks, as well as making some effective forward runs. It will be interesting to see how they both progress through the other friendlies, but the early indications are that both are strong contenders for a contract. Simon Ramsden made his debut as a centre back alongside Zesh Rehman, while Paul Arnison and Louis Horne looked solid at right and left back respectively.

As impressive City were, it must be acknowledged that Burnley’s performance became more and more disjointed to the point that even threatening a late equaliser would have felt an injustice. The only City player who would have trooped off disappointed at the end was second half keeper Alan Mannus, who had nothing to do in his first trial game. The fact so many City players had something to prove – be they on trial or from the youth set up – must also be a factor. Few Burnley players had stronger motivation than building up their fitness in the final stages, a place in the team against Manchester United is not going to be achieved by busting a gut at Valley Parade.

But if it’s too early into pre-season to be excited by how easy City made it look, the positive signs should not be discounted. At the very least, a revised forecast for what City can achieve this season might be in order.

Evolution meets revolution when Burnley arrive at Valley Parade

Before the start of last season when a should have been ten men Burnley squeezed a last minute pre-season win once City has brought the kids on few would have predicted that in twelve months time the length of professional football would separate the clubs.

Nevertheless Burnley took that scrapping spirit, one supposes, into all their games last year and ended up winning the play off final. One would rather they were in the top flight over Reading so more power to their elbow. There Premier League is a maelstrom and change becomes revolution fast. Two years in the top flight changed Bradford City forever and tomorrow marks the end of that old Burnley.

In contrast City rumble onward after last season’s late collapse put pay to all that justified early season promise and arriving into this season are blessed with the stability of not having replaced manager Stuart McCall at the end of last.

McCall has enjoyed the near unheard-of luxury for a City boss of being able to continue crafting his squad as a work in evolution rather than the club throwing all away and starting again and as such will only be in a stronger position this year than last, and than a manager who would have replaced McCall would have been in.

Such is the virtue of stability – not to be confused with indolence – which allows for the exit of Graeme Lee for financial reasons and his replacement by an already bedded in Zesh Rehman. Rehman plays his first game full time for City and his reaction to the element of the Burnley support who shamed their club last year may give an indication for his readiness for the available captain’s arm band.

Lee was joined in exit by Paul McLaren although Michael Boulding talks of reducing his wage to allow him to stay and Chris Brandon, the last of the expensives, is training for his first season proper for the club he supports so should need no encouragement to provide good value, value being the lesson learnt from last season. Value and the need for harmony.

A lack of harmony seems to have cost Paul Arnison his his career at Valley Parade and Simon Ramsden and Jon Bateman both joined the club in the summer and can play right back. Luke O’Brien was the left back slot to himself while Rehman and Mathew Clarke seem to be the choice for the middle two but with only Simon Ainge at senior level as back up another body is needed.

A body is needed beween the posts too. Rhys Evans was moved on quickly at the end of last term and Jon McLaughlan is off saving penalties for Great Britain. It will be interesting to see who pulls on the gloves tomorrow.

Up front Peter Thorne returns but may not play, none of us are getting any younger, however M. Boulding and new boy Gareth Evans along with Rory Boulding will show their faces expect “that lad from the reserves” to play, scuff in a goal and not be shut up about for months.

Last season that oar was Luke Sharry who looked like an able midfielder and is, in my mind at least, worth putting in the squad as back up to Lee Bullock following the fruitless and pointless chase for Nicky Law Jnr.

The chase for Dean Furman was equally fruitless but much more required. Oldham signed him leaving City looking Jordan Hadfield, who looked up for a scrap when he played at Valley Parade, to try fill empty boots. We can but hope. Three of last season’s five central midfielders have gone and with one of them, Brandon, half out the door and needed to replace the still injured Omar Daley on the left it is not hard to see where City need to strengthen.

Joe Colbeck looks for a better season on the right with Daley injured and Steve Jones, last season’s sometimes effective winger back At Burnley after his loan giving him a free run at the side.

Expect that, a few kids, a pile of people you don’t know on trial and a lot of huffing and puffing that tries to extrapolate the most random ninety minutes over the next ten months.

The slow incantations

Sometimes we are all twelve.

We are caught frozen in a moment drawing the names of eleven men over ten minutes when nine o’clock seems too long ago and you pass the time before your eighth trip to the bathroom of the work day trying to work out who will be City’s number seven next season.

something for days in Mr Fraine’s Spanish class and no pursuit for grown men but one that is hard to avoid. Football has long since moved away from being a Winter sport but every other Summer lacks the distraction of a World Cup or European affair leaving those months as official mulling it over time.

We have much to mull. Last season’s collapse for one, what Rochdale think of us for another (No comment).

More so we chomp at the bit putting in names like Ramsden and taking out Lee. Omar Daley, not fit until Christmas, and how to replace him without Joe Colbeck fills my mind.

Moreover is the hope that by keeping Stuart McCall we will see a gradual improvement in the squad. The pleas for McCall to stay were based on the idea that by working with the players a communal improvement will be evidenced but looking at the names scribbled here I worry about Lee Bullock and who will play alongside him. I have a question mark in goal.

Saturday and Burnley – a curious game in last pre-season – give a beginning of the answers to these questions but as football spans twelve months not nine it is spread thinner and revelations of the type that one hopes for when writing incantations of positions on a Summer afternoon come slowly.

Colbeck thinking over contract offer

Having seen most of the City squad sign up Stuart McCall waits on Joe Colbeck – who is in negotiations with the club but has yet to put pen to paper on the deal offered – to finalise the end of business at the close of last season.

Once Colbeck has – or has not – signed McCall will look to adding the oft quoted “two or three” to the squad. Colbeck’s form – or lack of it – last season coupled with Omar Daley’s injury cost City dear towards the end of last year.

For Colbeck’s part one can see why he might be reluctant to sign a new deal. A section of the Valley Parade crowd seems set on an agenda against the winger in stark contrast to Darlington’s fans – home of Dean Windass and Colin Todd – who enjoyed his loan spell and would take him back with open arms.

Time for pre-season optomism?

There are times during the season where it’s neigh on impossible to get some City fans to say anything positive – but the prevailing mood amongst many so far this summer has been as dark as any last-gasp home defeat.

Some have gone as far as to believe the club faces a grim relegation battle next season, others can’t hide their envy towards clubs we were once able to look down our noses on. Within the last week though, it seems the new season is increasingly something to feel excited about. The fixtures are out, the majority of players we wanted to keep have agreed to stay and Zesh Rehman and Gareth Evans have joined Simon Ramsden and Jonathan Bateson on the ‘Players In’ list. It poses the question, is it time for pre-season optimism?

Those supporters who’ve taken a glass half empty look towards the future can fairly argue they are only following the club’s lead. At the end of last season, a gloomy picture of the playing budget for the next emerged. Manager Stuart McCall has consistently spoken of players needing to take wage cuts and played down the chances of capturing some of his transfer targets. Meanwhile the joint-Chairmen, Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn, have only been noticeable by their silence. No proclamations of targeting back-to-back promotions, no news of novel initiatives such as Lawn’s trip to Mexico last summer.

Undoubtedly, the uninspiring messages have been deliberate. Expectations over the past two seasons – much of which triggered by management and boardroom – have proved too high for the players to cope with. The feeling was that City had to get promoted in each of the last two seasons, but the much lower level of hype this time around may be about reducing the pressures of failure. The ambition is surely the same as the last two seasons, but the confidence in achieving it third time around is guarded against making public declarations.

Meanwhile some other clubs are spending significant money or at least talking about it. Rotherham have seemingly changed overnight from a club who end each season with an asterisk next to its name in the league table, due to points deductions, to big spenders. The seemingly terminally under-performing Notts County are set to acquire Middle East backers who are talking of lifting the club to the Championship within five years. That City and Shrewsbury began last season in similar positions of apparent affluence compared to others but still failed is forgotten by those who believe City can’t compete. But if a smaller budget rules a club out of triumphing over others, how on earth are Exeter City kicking off a League One campaign at Elland Road in a few weeks time?

Much of City’s finances depend on the future of the so-called ‘Big 4’ – Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee, Michael Boulding and Chris Brandon – who arrived last summer to widespread excitement. Their continuing employment is said to have severe repercussions over who else can be brought in alongside them, leaving McLaren, Lee and Boulding encouraged to take up their release clauses and Brandon free to talk to other clubs despite having another year left on his contract. Had any of these players not managed to disappoint last season, it would have been interesting to see how much their high wages really are an issue.

It’s not just getting them to move on that’s caused unrest among fans, but that plans to bring in new faces have apparently had to be delayed until their futures are determined. A couple of weeks ago Nicky Law’s decision to spurn City for Rotherham was seen as the fault of these players, by compromising Stuart’s ability to match the Millers’ offer. The arrival of Gareth Evans, who has turned down other offers, contradicts this and suggests City do still have the resources to compete.

That said it’s far from ideal that Stuart is trying to build his team for next season while not knowing if some of the positions are filled. It’s claimed Lee and McLaren are attracting interest from other clubs but, given the wage budget-cutting measures at City are far from unique in the bottom two tiers of English football, it s improbable all four will receive attractive offers to move onto pastures new. Will they be prepared to take a pay cut and stay? It seems unlikely and, while footballers can largely be tainted with the same brush of money-grabbers, it’s doubtful we supporters would volunteer to take a pay cut in our own employment and these players won’t find it that much easier to pay the bills than most of us do.

Of the four, Boulding and Brandon’s continuing presence in Claret and Amber next season would be the most popular – yet even if they all stayed it might not be the disaster some fear. We’ve seen plenty of players over the years disappoint during their first season but become well-liked players in time – Peter Beagrie and Claus Jorgenson spring to mind – and, given their previous careers, if they were joining us this summer as new signings we’d probably be excited to welcome them.

At least the futures of the rest of the wanted squad members have been largely sorted. For a club which ultimately only narrowly missed out on a play off place and can largely thank a dodgy run of form for undermining a top three challenge, tearing everything up and starting again makes no sense. With Omar Daley not expected back much sooner than Santa, Joe Colbeck’s role will be more significant. Despite suffering a disappointing campaign, only five League Two players set up more goals for their team last season. Lee Bullock and Matt Clarke get more stick than they deserve, and will hope to maintain their best form for longer periods next term. They may be at different ends of their careers, but Luke O’Brien and Peter Thorne were two of City’s best performers next season and can once again play a key role this time.

One player we won’t be welcoming back is the aforementioned Nicky Law who, along with fellow loanee Dean Furman, was one of the bright spots of an ultimately disappointing season. When on form Law looked too good for League Two level and, if not City, his next destination was surely at a higher level. Instead he’ll be plying his trade at Rotherham and, while the son of the former City manager might claim he doesn’t owe the club he was on loan to any loyalty, the fact it wasn’t long ago he was thanking its manager for saving his career leaves a bad taste. Still, his previous relative obscurity should give us confidence in Stuart’s ability to unearth more gems like him.

Whether there are many more like Furman is another matter. Said to have been offered a deal by Stuart, his acceptance or rejection may determine the level of pre-season optimism. If it proves to be the latter decision, it will surely be due to the offer to play at a higher level, which in its own way may make the pain easier to bear compared to Law’s defection. Whatever happens, the success of Law and Furman should give other clubs’ more talented younger players the encouragement to follow in their footsteps if offered the chance to move to BD8 on loan.

Furman signing would leave City’s central midfield looking strong, though there are still other areas of the team for Stuart to build. More faces will arrive, the pre-season friendlies will commence in three weeks time and pretty soon it will be time to head down to Nottingham for the season’s start. Between now and then, the excitement should only grow.

The reality of the last two campaign is we’ve felt better about our team when they’ve not been playing, through the summer, than during the season itself. Pre-season optimism can be dangerous, foolish and, when looking at the mood among other clubs, too wide-ranging to have any meaning; but during these long summer days it’s all we’ve got and it would be preferable to countdown to the start of another 10 months of ups and downs by at least looking forward to it.

It never Rehmans but it pours

The youthful small army that carried the “Zesh Rehman Fan Club” banner will return to Valley Parade to see their hero next term after that Pakistan captain signed a two year deal at Bradford City in a flurry of pen being put to paper.

Rehman joined Stuart McCall’s budget Bantams at the same time as Luke O’Brien, Joe Colbeck and Leon Osborne confirmed they would be staying and the shape of Stuart’s City team for next season emerged looking oddly familiar and increasingly like last season’s side.

Frank Fielding of Blackburn is said to be the number one choice for keeper. Fielding impressed as a loan player when at Wycombe but few would suggest that the problem with last term was Rhys Evans. Jon McLaughlin is on permanent stand by and now that first team squads include seven substitutes he can expect to be on the bench every game at least.

Likewise Simon Ramsden will line up at right back rather than Paul Arnison but the position was not leaky last year and left wingers did not constantly enjoy joy leaving one to wonder what will be different. Rehman and Matthew Clarke will make a good enough back two. I countenance little debate on Clarke’ abilities pointing instead to the fact that City’s back four are not longer bullied by big forwards as proof of that particular pudding.

McCall has a chance to make a difference with left back Luke O’Brien and right winger Joe Colbeck. He has one player doing nothing and another who is young player of the season and his aim must be to get O’Brien to have a better season than Colbeck did in his post-award year and to get Colbeck back onto the form that won him that gong.

It is man management and the City McCall and his management team get or lose for one they gain for the other. With Omar Daley out until Christmas – and it is the opinion of this parish that losing Daley that caused the nosedive last year – getting Joe Colbeck to terrorise defences becomes of paramount importance especially with Peter Thorne signed up for another season.

Thorne’s ability to play two games a week is questionable and so City chase Gareth Evans but at the moment their is a huge Barry Conlon shaped hole in the forward line. Michael Boulding has taken on the air of Ashley Ward with a mythical and specific way of playing that would suit him and probably few others getting the best out of the channel running forward. Boulding moved late in the summer last season, perhaps he will again.

Chris Brandon signed early but is not leaving in the same way. Interest in Brandon is low to none as befits a man who started only four games last season and while the left flank man is one of the expensive exiters do not be surprised to see him line up for the start and many game next year.

As with last season though the middle of the midfield is mutable. The attacking midfielder question of Lee Bullock or Nicky Law Jnr is answered with one signing and the other joining Rotherham United so once again the fundamental question about Stuart McCall’s team is who will be his Stuart McCall?

Since our number four left for Sheffield United anchoring, holding midfielders have come and gone from Valley Parade and few have settled in what is – in the humble opinion of this writer – the most important position on the football field.

Dean Furman is wanted by us and Oldham and Paul McLaren will do well to find another club. Nathan Doyle is no more likely to get games this year at Hull City than he was last and some would have him in on loan.

So we look at Bradford City 2009/2010 and see a gap up front next to Peter Thorne, a question mark over the midfield and a new keeper we are not sure about. Much to be confident about but still issues that need addressing.

So much of the same.

McCall’s next City squad starts to take shape

Pakistan skipper Zesh Rehman has been offered a deal by the Bantams but longest serving player Mark Bower has been freed as Stuart McCall starts building his squad for 2009/2010.

McCall’s side’s failure to make the play offs has led to budget cuts – that is the short and not especially representative version of long story – and as a result four senior players have been freed with Bower joining out on loan Barry Conlon, oft injured Paul Heckingbottom, bit player Keith Gillespie and – surprisingly – Rhys Evans out of Valley Parade with the goalkeeper being rumoured to be interesting League One clubs including Leeds United.

The City boss has also prompted Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee and Michael Boulding to try find other clubs – something they can do owing to oddly one sided clauses in their contracts – but worries that should they not do the wage budget will be restricted. With times tough for many, if not most, clubs at the moment it is hard to see who will take the players on. Michael Boulding was not short of offers this time twelve months ago but traded from a position of being the leading scorer in League Two, likewise Paul McLaren negotiated with City as the most creative man in League One. Now these players go to a depressed market with a line on the CV that is read as a failure to make the top seven in League Two.

Do not be surprised if we have not seen the last of this trio.

Another trio who McCall would like us to see more of are Nicky Law Jnr, Dean Furman and Steve Jones whom the manager is trying to recapture on loan. Matthew Clarke, Lee Bullock, Luke O’Brien, Joe Colbeck, Leon Osborne Jon McLaughlin, Luke Sharry and Matthew Convey have been offered contracts while Kyle Nix is welcome back to preseason one assumes to await news of an exit for Lee, Boulding or McLaren. McCall will talk with Peter Thorne tomorrow.

All of which leave City with a weakened version of this season’s team should these machinations come off. McLaughlin seems to be fancied to be the new keeper having kept a clean sheet in the final game of last term. At 21 he is young but League Two is – increasingly for City – a learner’s league.

Paul Arnison has a two year deal and one assumes will stick at right back although his unwillingness to relocate from the North East is rumoured to have caused problems for McCall. Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke in the central defensive roles with Luke O’Brien at left back is an inch worse than Graeme Lee partnering either one – Lee came out of the season with more credit than most in this writer’s opinion – but Rehman is a cultured player and one who one could have confidence in. Clarke will continue to have his critics for both not being able to spray a Glenn Hoddle pass – which defender can? – and for his defensive lapses but since he replaced Bower in the side City have stopped being bullied by the usual big men forward lines we face.

Without wanting to delve into the stats of how many six foot two plus players have won headers in City game against Clarke vs Bower anecdotally one would suggest it is obvious that Clarke has plugged that gap. That he has other failings is a problem but in a League where physical prowess – bigness, if you will – is often the route to goal it is that no being bullied which is important rather than Bower’s more intelligent style of defending.

As with Andrew O’Brien before him Bower’s style suits the club less the further down the leagues we are. O’Brien’s man marking is superb on Thierry Henry but wasted in the Championship and Bower’s foot in play could – and would – do a lot at a Barnsley but does not at Valley Parade. One would have confidence that Bower could nick the ball from big men frequently but McCall obviously worries that the long serving defender would spend the rest of his time on his backside having been flattened and getting little sympathy from Referees.

Hearts are heavy though when a player with a service record like Bower’s leaves a club. He has given the lion’s share of his career to Bradford City having signed up on the 13th of May, 1999 four days after promotion and broken into the side a few years later with honest displays. He did his bit in administration and beyond and few City fans would not hope that he can establish himself somewhere else for the five or six years he could have in the game.

Uniting Dean Furman and Lee Bullock would seem to be the key to McCall’s midfield for next season with the City manager keen to see the Rangers midfielder back in the position he dominated last term – he played few games than Paul McLaren but made a more significant impact and was certainly more memorable – but Ibrox boss Walter Smith may have different ideas. Bullock is a useful player who has only shown his effectiveness in short spells while at Valley Parade. Next season McCall seems set to offer the former Hartlepool United midfielder the chance to make the position his own.

However McCall has struggled thus far in his management career to find a player to fill that number four shirt and role which he himself took at Valley Parade. Furman won the place from Paul McLaren whose season could be described as “middling”. McLaren did not take the mantel of senior professional with enough zeal and as a result on occasion looked a peripheral figure – especially when compared to Furman – just as Paul Evans the season before had failed to make the McCall slot his own.

Returning to Hoddle momentarily it is said that when England manager Glenn was frustrated with the players inability to match the magic feats of his own passing and one can only imagine the frustration that McCall – a player who lived by taking games by the scruff on the neck – has watching two players who have no shortage of talent in Evans and McLaren failing to control matches. Is Furman a better passer of a ball than McLaren or a better tackler than Evans? One could argue not but he has more cunning, more guile and it seems a stronger character that allows him to have more of a constant effect over a ninety minutes.

Defensive midfield – Furman’s nominal position and the one McCall had – is perhaps the most crucial role on the field and Furman represents a safe bet for City. We have seen that he will not shirk in the role unlike the previous two candidates who were on the face of it excellent choices for such a position and thus he is a tried and tested option for a job which I would argue the failure to fill correctly has cost us over the previous two season, and probably longer.

It should be noted that Luke Sharry has had a productive season and while not ready for the number four role should be expecting to feature in a dozen or more games next term.

The scenario on the flanks remains as it was this season: Joe Colbeck, perhaps Chris Brandon, Omar Daley when fit, Nicky Law should he return and Steve Jones if he is interested. Returning Colbeck from the jaws is poor form and the critics that wait for such to attack him is of paramount importance for McCall as establishing Omar Daley as a threat on the left was this term. McCall flits between preferring a pair of wide players such as Daley, Jones and Colbeck and wanting one wide and one more tucked in as Chris Brandon or Law offers and one can expect that method of trying to fill the middle of the midfield to continue.

Brandon has been unable to provide much of an indication as to his effectiveness this season and – based on last season – given a choice between him and Law one would take the younger man from Sheffield United. Should Brandon be edged out of Valley Parade – and indications are that the club would be able to keep him – then Kyle Nix would be an able replacement and I for one am surprised that the young Rotheraussie has not been offered a new deal offering the heart and ability the former of which was often lacking last season.

In August Stuart McCall would hope to line up with Joe Colbeck, Dean Furman, Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon across the middle and few would suggest that represents a major shift away from this term with improvement inferred from consistency with all four players having spent long periods injured. Allowing whoever is in the number four role to build up a relationship with the defenders to feed the ball in ending the long hoof of the end of last term and with the three midfielders around him who would take the ball is crucial and Furman can be trusted to do that. If he is not retained we re-enter the lucky dip of trying to bring in a cog to be the most important part of our machine. Like good goalscorers – they don’t get given away.

Peter Thorne will talk to Stuart McCall in a conversation about “legs” and if the striker still has them and McCall will hope to move Michael Boulding on to no great distress from I. For all his hard work Boulding failed to build a partnership either with the forward he was alongside or the players supplying him from midfield. Barry Conlon officially left the club and Willy Topp is long gone leaving the City boss looking for three or four strikers for next term.

In this respect McCall is in the hands of the trio of players who may leave. Should Lee, McLaren and Michael Boulding all exit then pressure on his budget would be loosened and the City manager could get to looking for a goal getter or two – one would suggest he tries to find a fast one, a skilful one, a big one and one who can finish again but that is how we entered this year – but should this not happen then the Bantams manager will be left looking at scraps to find a feast. The ramification of Barry Conlon and Matthew Clarke’s fall out with McCall obviously preclude Conlon’s return despite a half dozen goals for Grimsby Town and one wonders if allowing the fighting Irish to leave is not going to haunt the Gaffer as he starts looking for players with passion, strength and a good track record and finds that Barry’s name comes top of the searches.

In such a situation Rory Boulding becomes an option although reports on him are mixed on the little brother while Leon Osborne and Sean Taylforth are no one’s idea of the player to lead you out of League Two. All three could be world beaters but the fact that they are – should Thorne not be retained – all that is in the cupboard for next term shows the problem Stuart McCall will have in building a side for next term.

In the season John Hendrie talked about the need for another striker and McCall tried Chris O’Grady and Paul Mullin in that role but ultimately when cutting the cloth to keep the club in business the side suffers and the forward line would seem to be where City are to take the hit.

So McCall is charged with three summer tasks. He must get the players he has offered new deals to to sign – some are given reduced terms – and will use the carrot of a smaller squad and a guaranteed place in the starting eleven achieve that with the likes of Lee Bullock.

Secondly he must work on ensuring he has the right man for the number four role with Dean Furman being nominated as the prefer choice. Filling this position is or paramount importance.

Finally he must find a set of strikers who want to play for the club and who have the ability but for some reason – probably as with Thorne it would be age – are not at a higher level and do not expect massive wages. Rumour has it David Wetherall is being moved to youth team coach. Wetherall never really got on with Dean Windass…

Give Youth A Chance

The news that the wage bill will be cut considerably at Bradford City next season doesn’t all spell doom and gloom. Stuart McCall met with the players on Wednesday to discuss futures and see just where he will be starting with his squad for next season.

Lengthy chats with Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee and Michael Boulding will surely have occurred as Mark Lawn makes sure a repeat of last season’s outgoings doesn’t repeat itself next time around.

So why all the negativity? Hopefully this will now signal the chance for Bradford’s youngsters to come through and prove they have what it takes to wear the Claret and Amber on a weekly basis. Luke O’Brien, recently crowned Player of the Season, made a real break through last season, with Joe Colbeck the only other notable player to come through and play on a consistent basis for the first team.

Now it’s time for Leon Osbourne, Sean Taylforth, Adrian Bellamy, Rory Boulding, Jonathan McLaughlin, Louis Horne, Rory Carson, Luke Dean and anyone else that is ready to give 100% to the cause and grow as a player to make the step forward. These players are on a small fraction compared to what some are earning on a weekly basis.

Other teams in the division have signed young players either released from higher clubs or making a name for themselves in lower divisions. This is the route Stuart McCall now needs to be taking as the realisation that Bradford are no different to any other team in the league finally sinks in with some.

Barnet for example have mixed experience with youth well and players like Albert Adomah and Jay Devera are capable of making the step up to the next level. Similarly, Dagenham & Redbridge and Exeter have shown what can be achieved with smaller playing budgets and a settled squad.

City fans were informed that 18 players are now out of contract at the club, leaving only a handful remaining. If stability is what fans want when it comes to the manager, the same must apply to the players.

Who do we as fans of the club have to associate with when players leave after one or two seasons. Next term we can only hope that there is less of the loan signings and more in the way of giving youth a chance.

A tortured ending

This was supposed to be the perfect setting for the final scene of a glorious story.

Almost exactly two years since relegation to League Two was confirmed by a dismal 3-0 reverse at Saltergate, the resurrection of Bradford City was going to be sealed on the same spot. After the Derbyshire Police dogs had finished scaring away some of the chavviest opposition supporters you’ll ever see, City’s players would be presented with the League Two Championship trophy, or maybe only second or third would have been achieved which would still have given cause for wild celebrations. At the very least, we’d have sealed a spot in the play offs and be looking ahead with anticipation.

And if a film director was to tell the story of City’s triumphant 2008/09 promotion on the big screen, they’d begin it with a flashback to April 2007; to Steve Schumacher telling supporters to ‘eff off, to caretaker manager David Wetherall in tears, to tabloid newspapers proclaiming the club was going bust.

But there is no fairytale ending, not this time, yet again. It was an ending that saw City coast to the sort of 2-0 victory the backbone of promotion-winning sides are built upon. But the infrequency of such occasions – this was City’s first away win since beating Gillingham 2-0 in February and they have only won once more on the road, at Rotherham, during the last six months – is as much behind the anticlimactic ending as injuries and bad refereeing decisions. It was the sort of victory to raise spirits and prompt a good sing-along, but there is ultimately no feel-good story to the league campaign it marked the conclusion of.

City’s hopes of ending with a promotion party were effectively ended at Dagenham two weeks ago, and the feeling since has been one akin to a particularly stinking hangover. The glaring morning sunshine has forced the ramifications for failure into the spotlight. There is remorse towards what was done when the champagne was flowing, regrets when emptying the pockets and finding ATM receipts that recall how much money was spent along the way, despair at decisions made and the consequences that now must be faced. Even the good bits of news – of Stuart staying – can’t be cheered as feverishly as they perhaps deserve. The mind is occupied by so many what ifs and if onlys – and the best way of asking some now-unwanted guests to leave.

The line up for Saturday’s final game had a somewhat unusual feel, especially when remembering who had been left at home. There was no Rhys Evans, the keeper who began complaining about the lack of a new contract as long ago as February and who might now be taking Stuart McCall off his Christmas card list.

There was no Graeme Lee and Paul McLaren, two of those champagne signings who’s continuation with City next season compromises so much of the playing budget.

There was no Chris Brandon and Steve Jones, the former of whom’s City career is rumoured to be over before it ever begun.

There was no Peter Thorne, who we hope will be still scoring goals for City the next season.

There wasn’t even David Wetherall – the central character two years ago – which will do little to dampen rumours of him leaving.

But there was a team which displayed commitment, energy and guile. Jon McLaughlan took Evans’ place in goal and looked comfortable with everything thrown his way, though it must be acknowledged Chesterfield’s Jack Lester-less attack were toothless and failed to force a meaningful save from the former Harrogate Railway keeper.

Matt Clarke was recalled to partner Zesh Rehman at the back and was typically robust and strong. Occasional bouts of sloppiness apart, he and Zesh dominated their penalty area and would make for a good backline to start next season with.

Joe Colbeck was brought back on the right and looked more confident and lively than in recent weeks. A group of pathetic morons – apologies but that’s the politest term I can use – chose to chant “you’re not fit to wear our shirt” towards last season’s player of the season. That was during a rare moment they bothered to watch the game, such was there main interest in goading Chesterfield supporters. Joe did not resort to a Schumacher-style response, though that would have been too kind towards them anyway.

Up front we got to see the Boulding brothers and while the focus was mainly on younger brother Rory – making a belated debut and showing promise with some good link up play – Michael’s performance particularly caught the eye. This was every inch the player Stuart had worked so hard to pursue last summer, making effective runs here and there and charging at home defenders in a manner that suggested no one had told him this was a meaningless game. Michael was playing while the other two with clauses to leave were not, it’s to be hoped he’ll be willing to take a pay cut and remain a key player for next season.

After a first half of nothingness was shaded by City, with Colbeck shooting wide and an unmarked Lee Bullock directing a header the wrong side of the post, the visitors really stepped it up after the break and should have edged in front with Rory Boulding and again Bullock passing up presentable chances; but then Rory did well to set Nicky Law away down the left, who charged down the byline and delivered a purposeful low cross which was met perfectly by the on-rushing Dean Furman to fire City in front.

“Sign him up” was the chant towards Furman. When we reflect on where it went wrong this season, the injury that forced the influential midfielder to miss those crucial games against Morecambe, Lincoln and Dagenham will feature high up the list. In the last two games Furman has been simply outstanding and, if the rapturous reception he received at full time proves to be the last time we see him in a City shirt, we should at least be thankful we were given a season to enjoy his talents. Who knows what the future holds, but it’s not far-fetched to ponder that the next time we properly see him he could be playing for the host Country in the 2010 World Cup.

Chesterfield’s response was limited, with the only Blue passion coming from supporters chanting for manager Lee Richardson to be sacked. Drew Talbot should have equalised but fired woefully wide after charging through on goal. That would have been undeserved and, with four minutes to go, Michael Boulding sniffed out half a chance and smashed the ball into the net.

By that stage younger brother had been withdrawn and his replacement, Leon Osborne, arguably made a bigger impression after linking up impressively with Boulding senior and playing some intelligent passes. He also made clever runs, took up useful positions and might have grabbed a first senior goal had he not shot as hastily when a sight on goal opened up.

Kyle Nix also came on after Law, who was a menace on the left, took a knock. Law received a great ovation as he hobbled past the City fans with more “sign him up” chants. The odds are short on neither he and Furman being here next season, but even if one of the two could be persuaded to continue their fledgling career at Valley Parade next season there’d be cause for joy.

For now though, there is no celebration. The players came over to thank us supporters at the end, and the generous applause they received in return was well deserved. It can’t be forgotten that when it really mattered, these players choked. But at least a degree of pride has been restored following the last two performances and we don’t need to go into the summer feeling as miserable as we did a fortnight ago.

This victory won’t have cleared that hangover and the next few days promise to be particularly difficult, with tough decisions on player and staff futures needing to be made. Credible rumours are growing that Mark Bower and Evans have already left and it’s clear others will follow.

Quite how many do could yet be the key for next season, for there is enough quality and enough determination already in the dressing room to put right this season’s wrongs. The challenge is to keep those players and find new stars to deliver alongside them.

It’s also to be hoped that next season we get a more sympathetic script writer.

Why can’t you do that every week?

“Why can’t you do that every week?”

Is that what would supporters ask of the the players, the manager, the club after the season at Valley Parade ended without promotion but with a fine win.

Bradford City’s problem – and the problem that has driven Stuart McCall to distraction and seen the 45th game of the League Two season finally rule City out of promotion or the play-offs following Dag & Red’s win over Notts County – is that the team team has been incapable of withstanding setbacks within games.

Goals ruled out, mistakes made, goals conceded all seeing the squad’s brittle morale crack. Think the collapses at Rochdale or Barnet, the reversals at Notts County or Morecambe. Defeats that came after when the team was incapable of withstanding the slings and arrows of fortune. In the swirling atmosphere of this day no such upset occurred and the Bantams powered to an impressive 3-0 win over an credible Rotherham United side who made a good fist of a game where ultimately they were lucky not to lose by more.

That the atmosphere was good was owing to the swell of opinion that Stuart McCall remain as City manager becoming vocalised and realised in a demonstration in favour of the gaffer. Save Our Stuart messages were held up, chants were made and the players responded with an intelligent and effective performance.

McCall sent out what – should he be true to his threat to resign – is his last team at Valley Parade with Kyle Nix recalled to create a four man midfield alongside Lee Bullock, Nicky Law Jnr and Dean Furman. Matthew Clarke was dropped in favour of Zesh Rehman and Steve Jones partnered Peter Thorne in the forward line. In the week – while paying tribute to Wayne Jacobs – McCall said he wished that his other signings had worked out as well as as his number two. Matthew Clarke, Michael Boulding, Paul McLaren, Chris Brandon and a few others are thus charged and as a result they cool their heels on the sidelines.

Those who did play did McCall proud with a display of tight passing at pace that could rank as the home performance of the season. After ten minutes pressure brought a corner which was cleared and returned goalwards by Dean Furman beating all on its way to goal except Peter Thorne who’s slight deflection continued the ball’s progress into the net. Rotherham’s defence were incandescent suggesting that Thorne was offside – visitors number four Danny Harrison could have been playing the City striker onside although confusion was king in the stands and on the field. The goal stood perhaps because Furman’s shot was going in and the Referee decided that a goal would have been without Thorne (entirely against the rules) or perhaps Harrison was playing Thorne on side or perhaps the Referee got it wrong.

Rotherham felt angry at the first and flattened by the second where Nicky Law Jnr got down the right – McCall’s diamond shaped midfield saw Law on the right hand side but not the right wing and he and Nix on the left hand side were able to keep in contact with the strikers which has proved a problem this term – and crossed low and firmly to Thorne who hit a close range finish after cutting in front of defender Nick Fenton. Thorne’s crisp finish left keeper Andy Warrington flat on his back, seemingly resigned to defeat.

Flat footed Fenton became flattening Fenton when – rather unprovoked – he lunged into Law as the City man shielded the ball out for a throw-in. That the visitors defender was yellow carded showed – perhaps – the end of season nature of the game rather than reflected the seriousness of the foul which was out of character of a well natured game.

The Bradford City team this season has not struggled when on top of a game exchanging blows with the South Yorkshire side but not being breached. A third almost came after half time when on a break – lovely to see a team come attack at VP – when Thorne crossed to Jones who saw his finish clawed away by Warrington. A second counter ten minutes later saw sub Joe Colbeck find Jones with an impressive pass and Jones sprint in on goal to finish the game.

Good performances were all over the field for the Bantams. Rhys Evans looked solid, Paul Arnison and player of the season Luke O’Brien got up and down the flanks and Rehman and Lee were solid against a lively attack which – when he came on – were dangerous especially in the form of Drewe Broughton. Also telling was the fact that Dean Furman took the all from the back four and used it well rather than allowing the back four to pump the ball long.

All of which came under a blanket of positivity from the assembled Valley Parade audience who got behind the team – really got behind the team – and the effects were seen on the field. Rotherham – who have enough points to have finished in the top three this season – were no soft touch but the Bantams bested them and while Thorne could have hat a hat-trick testing Warrington twice more The Millers were enterprising and could have got one back and – as we have seen – caused the wobble that has seen this promotion bid fail.

If they keep it up they will be challenging for the top three next season. The same is true of the Bantams on all levels. It seems to be that today and two weeks ago the represented a consideration on how the level of support and the level of performance are not just yoked together but that the one (not can but) will inspire the other.

The players took a lap of the field to applause – nothing compared to what everyone was expecting with the promotion which was expected – and Stuart McCall followed to a clear statement – “Stuart must stay” – from the supporters who had lifted the team to a fine win.

What would the players, the manager, the club say to the supporters who had created an atmosphere of inexorable victory:

“Why can’t you do that every week?”

The Most Important Man

Stuart McCall and Peter Jackson – two big figures in the recovery from the fire of 1985 in a game between these two teams – joined the silence honouring the departed.

McCall manages Bradford City taking the opportunity to when offered two years ago while Jackson is in charge of Lincoln City having knocked back the job at Valley Parade on Boxing Day 2001 having agreed to be our on Christmas Day. McCall would spend this anniversary or sorts with boos directed at him by some.

Some would have Jackson as Bradford City manager rather than McCall and others would not. Those in the latter camp could point to McCall’s match changing substitutions which brought about the aforementioned jeers at the time but were vindicated. Are these two thus the most important men?

The jeering for McCall came after substituting Michael Boulding and Joe Colbeck. Boulding had a game not atypical for him running into channels and working hard while never gelling with strike partner Peter Thorne. One could not fault Boulding’s work rate but would could take issue on how much of that hard work goes into the squad and how much goes into making sure that Michael Boulding has a good game? His impressive goal tally for Mansfield Town which made him League Two top scorer last season came when The Stags were relegated.

None of which is to say that Boulding is not a good player but rather than he is not foremost a good team player and – frankly – Bradford City are not foremost a good football team but rather a collection of good footballers. Does this make the job of managing the side into the job of getting Michael Boulding to play in a more knitted up way? Is Michael Boulding the most important man?

That City are good footballers would be debated only by dullards and that Joe Colbeck is a talented footballer would equally only be opposed by those who lacked wits. Colbeck has managed to return to being the target of Valley Parade’s defining characteristic – the vitriol heaped onto individuals – after being last season’s Player of the Season.

I have no respect for someone who will stay silent when a Colbeck is being cheered laying in wait for an opportunity to continue a campaign against him. Colbeck this season has cut defences apart yet he is booed today not for not making effort but for those efforts not having results. There is no doubt in my mind that Colbeck will go on to be a very good player at this level and at levels above but there is significant doubt that he will do that at Valley Parade.

After being player of the season Joe Colbeck is not the most important man.

One would think for all the attention given to Matthew Clarke that he was the most important man – one would think that Peace in the Middle East would emerge on the news he was dropped so dedicated are some against him – but it was telling that as some City fans sung “One Mark Bower” to criticise Clarke following Andrew Hutchinson opener for Lincoln.

Clarke was wrestled by Geoff Horsfield as a nothing ball that was hastily cleared by relieved Imps defenders who had worried that a clip of Boulding’s heels would result in a free kick and near 21 players on the field stopped – indeed when Hutchinson put the ball in it seemed to be more an act of time wasting than goalscoring – but the game continued and the visitors had their goal.

Five minutes into the second half “One Mark Bower” sang some City fans to chastise Clarke. “1-0 to The Referee” retorted the Lincoln fans to make some things clear.

City’s equaliser came when Peter Thorne was able to stand strong in the penalty area and work a ball on to Lee Bullock who finished from close range. Peter Thorne and Lee Bullock could be the most important men. Keeping Thorne fit all season has proved to be impossible and sure enough City have suffered when the switched on striker was not playing but Bullock – my man of the match today – has been a mystery in and out of the team all season and hardly ever allowed to continue the relationship he started with Paul McLaren at the start of the season.

As an engine room Bullock and McLaren are useful only if they have outlets for their possession and too often they do not. Steve Jones had a lively display – especially following McCall’s switch to a 433 which put him in the forward line alongside Paul Mullin who simply never loses an aerial ball – but this team has not been the same since an injury on a Tuesday night two months ago.

Omar Daley – in the stands and out until Christmas – is not the most important man but sometimes when City huff and puff and want for his creativity it is difficult to remember that.

Daley though – like McCall with his substitutions, Colbeck showing the nerve to difficult things even if they might make him look foolish rather than shovelling the ball off sideways and saving any blushes, Clarke in the side to stand up to a Horsfield who would have eaten Mark Bower for breakfast – split opinion with those against jeering.

Perhaps those who jeer are the most important men. They certainly seem to hold the power at Valley Parade grumbling away to get their way they are the exiled Cubans of Bradford City and Mark Lawn needs to convince Stuart McCall, and himself, that their is a future for a club when with twenty minutes left of a game at 1-1 three games off the play-offs which even after this draw there to be scrapped for the loudest sounds at City are the negatives and the jeers.

Which is not to say that they are the only sound, that they are the only fans, that they are people who need to be pleased but the voice that comes from Valley Parade is an overtly negative one and until this issue is tackled and resolved then the club is hobbled.

Certainly that negativity has taken chunks out of the club. Dean Windass – here today to watch the game after reports that he would bend transfer deadlines and return to the field – suffered untold abuse and his exit and the clubs relegation to this level were not unlinked. Windass is at Valley Parade and Paul Jewell has started to crop up in the media more and more.

Maybe they are the next most important men but they are not today.

For today this is League Two football and at the end of the game with three very clear incidents when crosses or shots hit hands of Lincoln City defenders in the penalty area and a goal caused by being the only man in the stadium who did not see the foul of course the most important man was Fred Graham the referee.

Depressingly, in League Two the most important man is always the Referee.

A question of spirit

With 10 minutes to go at Christie Park, Bradford City had a one goal deficit to overcome and – with Shrewsbury’s defeat at Bury confirmed – a one point deficit to turn around in order to climb back into the play offs. That the players could only muster the feeblest of efforts towards reversing the former leaves belief in achieving the latter all but obsolete.

The third of the three main contenders for seventh, Chesterfield, can push the gap to four points by winning today, but on this evidence it might as well be 40 such is the apparent lack of stomach for the fight. It wasn’t so much losing the precious advantage Matt Clarke’s 37th minute header had earned City by half time, but the lack of confidence and belief to come back after falling behind. The qualities which had been on display in the first half were forgotten and, as Graeme Lee dithered about with the ball in his own half in the 90th minute, allowing his attempted launch forward to be charged down, the questions over leadership were raised louder. How Stuart McCall the manager needed Stuart McCall the player.

All of this should not eclipse the sense of injustice of seeing Peter Thorne’s header early in the second half incorrectly disallowed after the referee Nigel Miller appeared to overrule his own seemingly decent view of it crossing the line, after slipping out of Barry Roche’s hands, by going with the assistant’s judgment that it hadn’t. There was also a hint of offside to the build up to Morecambe’s equaliser, which ultimately resulted in Danny Adams crossing for Stewart Drummond to head home. But instead of heads complaining, they dropped – with dire consequences for the Bantams faltering play off push.

Sure there was fight, determination and willingness to go in for the 50-50 challenges, but largely only from those wearing red. Morecambe’s commitment was curious in that their own play off hopes appear improbable, but with their tails up they became dominant and were rewarded by Rene Howe’s spectacular strike. At the final whistle players and manager Sammy Mcllroy celebrated in a manner that suggested they believed a trophy presentation would shortly follow. It may be patronising to suggest they treated the occasion as their cup final, though it might be the closest either side gets to one in the coming weeks.

It wasn’t so much you couldn’t see it coming, but after an encouraging first half performance there was every reason to believe a much-needed first win in over a month was on the cards. Roared on by a sell-out away following which took up two-and-a-half of the four stands, City started in a positive manner and worked hard to retain possession and get forward. The recalled Joe Colbeck brought energy and pace outwide, which had been lacking from Keith Gillespie during the last two home games. Nicky Law, back from the start after a rest last Saturday and in place of the injured Dean Furman, added drive. Paul McLaren looked composed alongside him while Chris Brandon showed some nice touches on the left.

Morecambe, backed by an equally vociferous support, pressed hard and their forwards Michael Twiss and Howe provided some uncomfortable moments for Lee and Clarke, but the goalmouth action was mainly at the other end. Paul Mullin latched onto Thorne’s flick on, but saw his low drive tipped wide by Roche. Then Colbeck’s endeavour in closing down Adams allowed Thorne a shooting chance with the ball rolling narrowly past the far post. The lead provided by Clarke’s header from Law’s corner was well deserved and, with Zesh Rehman looking more the part at right back and Luke O’Brien getting forward well, the platform for victory was seemingly there.

Yet the battling qualities slowly evaporated after the interval. Morecambe’s equaliser came after 10 minutes of decent football from City which included the disallowed goal, but the threat wilted and the pressure began almost entirely coming from Morecambe. Evans had to make one excellent low save and was clearly frustrated by how quickly possession was surrendered by those in white shirts. In recent weeks one of the team’s biggest failings has been the failure to win second balls and the casualness in which home players were allowed to charge forward through a rapidly non-existent midfield led to some tense moments. Howe’s stunning shot from well outside the area left Evans with no chance as it flew into the corner.

But, unlike last season when the Shrimpers had come from 1-0 down at half time to go 2-1 up in stoppage time, there was still time for City to come back.

The desire and fight to do so, to not only salvage something from the game but keep the promotion dream alive, gave way to a seemingly weak surrender. The basics were forgotten and too quickly the team resorted to booting the ball forward from the back in a manner that reeked of desperation, instead of finding the composure to use a midfield which had been so effective in the first half at creating chances. Colbeck might as well have left the field – no reflection on his performance or desire, at one stage he booted the ball in frustration – such was the unwillingness of team mates to do anything but hit and hope.

Stuart’s changes, which had been so effective last week, did little to swing momentum back in City’s direction. Some City fans choose to boo the City manager after he replaced Thorne with Michael Boulding at 1-1 though, after been part of such a stand off when playing for City – when he was taken off away to Sheffield Wednesday in January 2000 to a chorus of “you don’t know what you’re doing” – involving then-manager Paul Jewell, he should take it with a pinch of salt. Thorne had done okay, but the decision to bring on Boulding looked logical to me at least. Steve Jones came on for the tiring Brandon but was too starved of the ball to be a threat, though he might have snatched an unlikely equaliser after heading wide of Roche’s goal. Lee Bullock came on for Law and Stuart received more abuse from fans nearby.

It’s easy to point the finger of blame for defeat at Stuart, who may now be four games away from leaving the club and possibly management for good, but the players cannot be exempt. The spirit is alarmingly lacking and there’s too much of an acceptance for allowing things to go against them. Maybe they can’t make each other play better, but the personal responsibility to at leave give their all should be a minimum obligation in return for the living their club provides them. Only a few could argue they did that in the second half.

Equally of concern is the regularity of losing points on the road. This was City’s 12th away defeat of the season, a record which matches the dismal relegation season two years ago and which has only been worsened during the even more traumatic relegation of the 2003/04 season, since exiting the Premiership. Only Aldershot and Chester have been beaten away from their own patch more often and the final two away games – at Dagenham and Chesterfield – don’t inspire great confidence of City improving.

On Monday they are at least at home with a quick opportunity for the players to redeem themselves. The ability of the squad to turn the situation round isn’t in great doubt, but the mental strength and desire sadly is. There are 360 minutes of the regular campaign for the players to demonstrate they want to end it with a chance of taking their team into League One – those who fail to should be first in line to exit Valley Parade during the summer.

Deflecting viewpoints – Bournemouth v Bradford City – League Two preview

Deflections are habitually described as wicked, and the one which Dean Moxley’s cross took off Paul Arnison to loop over Rhys Evans for Exeter’s winner on Saturday was heinous in its contribution towards City’s promotion hopes.

City spent the remaining 70 minutes trying to neutralise its implication but in the end it was late drama 250 miles to the East, in Kent, which had the most telling affect. Grant Holt’s late equaliser may have pushed his Shrewsbury side above City, but the two points it cost Gillingham means automatic promotion remains a reachable three points away. Victory at Bournemouth tonight could shorten that gap to mere goal difference and deflect a season in danger of going either way back in the right direction.

Recent form is not good enough, no one would argue. Defeat at Exeter was City’s fourth in a row on the road and fourth in six full stop. It’s a measure of inconsistencies with City’s promotion rivals – Brentford apart – that a one point deficit City had after drawing at home to Darlington last month has only increased by two during a period of some of the Bantams’ worst performances of the campaign.

Much has been made online about the latest defeat with the extreme calls of Stuart McCall to be sacked aired by some. Normally I’d try to argue this is ridiculous but there seems little point, not least because their cries are not going to be acted upon by those who get to decide. Furthermore I – as, I would guess, are many others who defend Stuart – am tired of receiving the lazy and patronising put-down of wearing ‘rose-tinted glasses’ when I do.

There’s no room for debate with some supporters, if you disagree Stuart should be booted out it’s not because you rationally believe he’s doing a decent job, you are stupid; or blind and own prescribed magic spectacles – I forget which.

Back in the South, the City squad have remained from Saturday and one hopes the unusually long period of time spent together as a group will have benefited team morale and increased focus ahead of a vital encounter with Bournemouth. Stuart took a squad of 20 to Devon last week before facing a disciplinary problem with Barry Conlon and Matt Clarke, which hampered selection.

Reaction to Conlon and Clarke’s misdemeanours is like opinions on the best way to punish children – everyone has a view but no one ever agrees. Details are unclear, but it would seem Stuart chose to keep them grounded in the stand and stop their pocket money for at least a week. Some criticise him for cutting his nose to spite his face by leaving them out, others argue the pair should never play for the club again. Both players are expected to be back in consideration again with Stuart’s reluctance to publicly criticise them hopefully being rewarded with a determination from both to make amends.

Conlon’s absence and another little injury to Peter Thorne left Stuart selecting Nicky Law up front with Michael Boulding at St James Park. Stuart is often accused of playing Law ‘out of position’, though these critics seem to ignore the fact Law’s career at Sheffield United has so far involved playing out wide or up front. A central midfield partnership with Dean Furman results in Law ultimately ‘out of position’. Some might call it clever management by Stuart to get such great performances out of him in the centre this season. They will probably be the same folk wearing rose-tinted glasses, though.

Law should return to the midfield but perhaps on the wing with Lee Bullock or Paul McLaren partnering Furman in the centre and Steve Jones on the right. The club’s failure to get returning injured players looking anything better than rusty is troubling, though Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon may be considered for starts. As will Keith Gillespie.

Up front Thorne is definitely out so Conlon should partner the hit and miss Boulding. Stuart’s failure to bring in a fourth striker is been debated by some. Tellingly up to five clubs are reported to be on the verge of administration with talk of one League Two club being unable to complete its fixtures. That won’t be City, but the still tight finances mean the luxury of signing the mythical fourth striker who’d score lots of goals probably isn’t available.

Jones is the nearest to a replacement we had for Willy Topp in terms of space on the wage bill, and may play more regularly in the striker berth if other wingers can start matching his form out wide. Gillespie was clearly only brought in because of Omar Daley’s injury and whether he is on anything more than a pay-as-you-play deal is suspectable.

At the back Clarke will be expected to return with Zesh Rehman either switched to right back for Arnison or relegated back to the bench. Luke O’Brien and Graeme Lee will hope to better recent efforts with Evans keeping goal.

Bournemouth’s recent form is amongst the best in the league and stronger than most promotion-chasing clubs. From a seemingly hopeless position, their third manager of the season, Eddie Howe, has reinvigorated belief and ten undefeated matches from 12 has propelled the Cherries out of the bottom two. They are also the only club to win at Valley Parade so far this season and present a tough prospect for City to end their away woes against.

Defeat would prompt an even angrier reaction from fans and a win would largely bring calm. Whichever there will be eight games left to play and nothing to suggest the up-and-down nature of the first 38 will cease. This is going to be the most exciting end to a season in ages and as much as they may leave us sleepness and distraught on occasions they should also bring excitment and joy.

Spectacles optional.

Another bad repeat

Shortly after half time at Spotland, Bradford City’s players found themselves rueing missed opportunities and a two-goal burst from the home side which left them chasing a deficit. As symbolism goes it was a pretty fair analogy of City’s promotion challenge to date – and of the size of the task this defeat leaves them in achieving that goal.

Fortune certainly favoured Rochdale and the three-point advantage they now look down upon City from in 3rd place is less comfortable than this three-goal victory might suggest; but while manager Stuart McCall can point to a woeful refereeing display from Scott Mathieson contributing greatly to his side’s fourth away defeat in five, he will also know much of it was self-inflicted.

Quite how the evening went so wrong is something Stuart will be pondering for the next few days. Having spent the first 20 minutes under the cosh from a vibrant Dale side who passed the ball around with fluency and alternated attacks down both flanks, City were the better team for spells during the rest of the half and could easily have gone in at the interval one or two goals ahead.

Barry Conlon, recalled ahead of Michael Boulding, ably linked up with Peter Thorne and was effective in holding up the ball and allowing others to get forward. Steve Jones carried on where he left off Saturday with some teasing dribbles and dangerous crosses. Nicky Law and Dean Furman, while never able to dominate the middle of the park in the manner they’d succeeded in the last two home games, competed well against the industrious Gary Jones and Clark Keltie.

The best chances fell to Thorne, who twice saw one-on-one opportunities against on-loan Blackburn keeper Frank Fielding blocked. The first one stemmed from good play by Conlon which left City’s top scorer with time and space to do better than the scuffed effort straight at Fielding. The second was a more difficult chance but better attempt, which needed to be pushed wide of the post. Just after half time Graeme Lee’s header from a corner was superbly stopped again by Fielding and, with other half chances created, most of the goal action fell in Rochdale’s penalty area. Rhys Evans did see one headed effort flash wide of his post.

Yet shortly into the second half Rochdale scored after Joe Colbeck, who endured another tough evening, fouled the dangerous Will Buckley and the resultant free kick was nodded home by Rory McArdle. With new purpose to Rochale’s game the tide quickly turned, although it was the dubious help from the officials in adjudging that Conlon’s attempt to clear the ball from a corner included his arm which put them in a stronger position. Adam Le Fondre, twice scourge of City last season, dispatched the resultant spot kick despite Evans getting a hand to it. When an even softer penalty was awarded following Matt Clarke’s challenge in the box – which looked clean from my position – Le Fondre repeated the feat.

But whatever sense of injustice City felt, demonstrated by assistant manager Wayne Jacobs getting sent off from the dug out and Stuart holding a long conversation with Mathieson at full time, it should not disguise another poor response to adversity. A decent performance once again fell apart and the final 35 minutes did not make pretty viewing from a Claret and Amber perspective. Rochdale continued to attack with purpose while desperation became too quickly evident in City’s forward play. Having successfully harried home players into mistakes during the first half, it was now the away team who couldn’t get time on the ball.

A premature panic on the touchline didn’t help either. As soon as Le Fondre struck his first penalty a double substitution was made by Stuart which had little effect. I’ve been told all season that Stuart “never makes his subs early enough” – funny how Todd, Law, Jefferies, Jewell et all were just as bad at this – so maybe this action was applauded by some, but considering City hadn’t done a lot wrong up to then such drastic action seemed a bit much.

Certainly Conlon was unfortunate to be taken off and, though his replacement Boulding was a willing worker, the ball stopped sticking in the final third. Substituting Colbeck was probably the right decision, though some of the abuse he is getting from some fans right now is unfair. Somehow last season’s player of the year has become the “worst player ever” and jumping up to scream when he struggles to keep an attack going is hardly going to help him rediscover confidence that has been lost since returning from a first significant career injury.

Lee Bullock came on, with Law moved out wide and doing a decent job, but the likelihood of City coming back had diminished long before the second penalty. At that point change three had been made after Paul Arnison was rescued from the roasting Buckley was dishing him and Zesh Rehman brought on. With Lee’s form notably dipping, arguments for bringing Rehman into the centre or keeping him at right back and recalling Mark Bower from Luton are being aired. Stuart must be pondering how a defence which has looked so strong at home can be so feeble away.

Something which, with two important away games in Devon and Dorset this next week, urgently must be improved on. Results elsewhere still leave City in a decent position but the team’s failure to deliver extraordinary results rather than just good results may ultimately leave it facing an extended end to the season rather than a top three podium place. There’s been too many poor performances on the road and there was no evidence at Spotland to suggest this would be the last.

Stuart did an excellent job of ensuring his team responded positively to the Barnet and Notts County set backs and the immediate challenge is to do that again. But for City to achieve promotion this season – automatic or via Wembley – his ability to get to the bottom of why it keeps going wrong will need to come through.

McCall will hope City can start the way they finish

In eleven days – and three away games – time the promotion hopes for Bradford City will be much clearer but as a signal of intent and a send off on that decisive Odyssey the Bantams could hardly have been more emphatic.

Indeed it seemed 75 second after kick off when Peter Thorne was wheeling away following the opening goal of the game that the seven days since the defeat at Notts County could have been a lifetime of a span.

Thorne reclaimed his scoring touch darting into a hole that Michael Boulding had made in the defence to get on the end of an excellent low cross from the left by the increasingly useful Steve Jones and pushing the ball past a hapless Nicky Bull who would not get near any of the five goals he picked out of his net this afternoon.

Following on from Thorne’s goal City never wobbled. A minor incident involving Rhys Evans coming out of his goal as City failed to follow stay up centre back Anthony Charles which resulted in a not that threatening snubbed out shot at goal.

This was as much of a chance as the visitors had to get back and within minutes Bull once again picked the ball out of his goal following Dean Furman’s deflected strike which was just return following a corner which saw Matthew Clarke shoved unceremoniously from under the ball in what was an obvious penalty denied.

That it was denied was no surprise with Referee Graham Salisbury in charge. Salisbury had once denied City a goal against Yeovil following a defender pass back and sent off Jermaine Johnson in the same game in what was the wingers last game for the Bantams. Salisbury makes a habit of sending off City players but today restricted himself to ignoring that penalty and allowing Marvin Morgan to get away with the kind of loose arm across the face on Clarke which is exactly the sort of thing that he sends City players off for.

Nevertheless – and to paraphrase Sean Connery – losers moan about the Referee and winner go home with the match ball. Or the prom queen. Dean Furman deserves both for another superb display controlling central midfield. Much of how City do in the forthcoming games at Rochdale, Bournemouth and Exeter will depend on how much Furman can break up play as he did so well at Valley Parade today.

With his club Rangers making people redundant and looking for ways to save a bob or two I would not be at all surprised to see Furman starting SPL games next season – nor do I think he would look out of place – but in the years since Stuart McCall the player left the club and Stuart McCall the manager returned we have (any club would) been crying out for a replacement and in Furman we have one.

My erstwhile colleague Jason sings the praises of Nicky Law Jnr who delivered the perfect corner for Peter Thorne to glide through the air to head in the Bantams third, again Charles – conspicuous with his Afro – stood still as his man reeled away in celebration.

Rochdale’s defeat to Bury at midday had seen the Shakers go third and Rochdale drop to fourth. A 5-0 win would put City fourth and at the start of the day the task was to keep fifth as the Bantams supremacy continued it looked feasible.

A note at this point to the school who had turned up with a banner in support of “Bradford City and Zesh Rehman” and a country flag in tribute to the defender who unfortunately for the kids spent ninety minutes on the bench watching another excellent display by Paul Arnison at right back.

Arnison has not enjoyed universal support from City fans but it seems that when he plays the Bantams have another dimension and the support that Arnison offers to right winger Joe Colbeck is important.

Colbeck is getting back into the swing of things and looked dangerous in the second half rampaging forward getting a reward with two minutes to go putting in another low cross that skimmed past Charles and to sub Barry Conlon who touched the ball past Nicky Bull from seven yards out (Edit: The cross was by Nicky Law Jnr). Target man Barry using his head to stay on side by coming onto a ball which seemed to elude Shots left back Anthony Straker who chewed the linesman out all second half and never was spoken to about it unlike JJ three years ago.

Spoken about but never seen was Chris Brandon who – some two thousand years after signing for City and getting injured – made his début coming on for Michael Boulding seconds after the hard working striker had been unlucky not to add the fourth that Conlon got and would have had the fifth with what would have been his first kick for his home club following Colbeck’s low cross but Rhys Day stuck out a leg and Aldershot’s afternoon was all over, as was the game.

The Bantams up to fourth and on to the road to far off places on the South Coast following a short trip to the team we jumped over in Rochdale. When City return to Valley Parade in two weeks time the reminder of the season will have been shaped.

Realists would say that to expect more than a point away from home is too high an expectation and should City get three from three or less then it would seem that scrapping for play off places is the order of the day.

If we can score at a rate near two points a game – two wins, a win and two draws, one of each even perhaps – then we would be looking at the ability to challenge for the automatic promotion places and the play offs would be fall back.

The criticisms of City’s manager – as with the defeats – seem a long time ago with proposed successor Peter Jackson spending the afternoon watching his Lincoln City get pounded by Grimsby. McCall has got City into a position where the finish to the season defines the season.

Last year the Bantams approached the last months looking to find form and a run, the last promotion side the Bantams had were looking to hold onto faltering form. McCall’s City are well placed and pick up points at a consistent rate on the whole. The season enters end game with the Bantams firmly in the position where should we perform well then we can manufacture our own destiny.

He will hope that the finish the season as we started this game and that the start of that finish is as complete as the finishing today. As a signal of intent this – the tenth home win of the season – is as telling as they come.

What should happen next – Bradford City vs Aldershot Town – League Two 2008/2009

It’s March, which in recent years for City fans has meant either anxiety over surviving relegation or disappointment at having nothing to play for.

It’s been exactly 10 years since credible promotion hopes have lasted this long into a campaign and there’s a sense of excitement at what might lie ahead. City welcome Aldershot to Valley Parade tomorrow and then travel to promotion rivals Rochdale and Exeter a few days later. It’s time for our bums, to quote Sir Alex Ferguson, to start squeaking.

Credit for what the management and players have achieved so far this season is often in limited supply from some quarters, but they have delivered more than other recent City teams in getting this far. Though there is perhaps one mental block that it’s still questionable they’ve overcome this season which will be put to the ultimate test tomorrow – the comfortable home win.

City should win tomorrow, although should is a dangerous word. In our first season out of the Premiership we should have beaten Stockport, Millwall and Sheff Wed at Valley Parade. We should have earned home victories over Gillingham and Walsall in 2002/03, Derby and Rotherham 2003/04, Torquay in 2004/05, Bournemouth in 2005/06, Northampton 2006/07 and Accrington 2007/08 – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When we should win, we invariably slip up and it’s such habits which could be looked back on with regret if promotion is not achieved come May.

City’s home record is much better this season and only Bournemouth have taken maximum points, though that was a game we should have won. There have also been draws with Luton, Barnet, Dagenham and Accrington which the team and us supporters went into confident we should win. Aldershot may have a woeful away record and go into their March with nothing to play for, but they should not be taken lightly as any points dropped by City would undermine whatever’s achieved in Lancashire and Devon next week.

After a much-needed and well deserved win over Macclesfield Tuesday, manager Stuart McCall will have a more confident squad to choose from and is likely to keep it similar. The biggest question lies up front with Peter Thorne rested and now vying for a recall and Stuart debating whether to hold him back for Tuesday. Barry Conlon came in and had his best game for some time while Michael Boulding was much improved after his frankly pathetic showing at Notts County. One may drop to the bench and the other may face that prospect a few days later.

In midfield the partnership of Nicky Law and Dean Furman did more than most to earn the Macclesfield win and both are a joy to watch at present. Furman has revealed his celebration for Tuesday’s winner was dedicated to the injured Omar Daley which is not what you might typically expect from a loan player, it also seems to go against rumours of dressing room unrest which have been circulating.

Steve Jones frustrates me for his less-than-committed attitude and it will take a while to forget the disgraceful manner he left Zesh Rehman to be slaughtered by Myles Weston at Meadow Lane last week. He is popular with some fans and can be excellent when he wants to be, but his style of running down blind alleys and woeful crossing is a little too reminiscent of Ben Murihead 2003 for my liking. He will keep his place on the left with Joe Colbeck continuing to find form and fitness on the right. The flurry of games over the next fortnight make it a good time for Chris Brandon to be almost back as it may prove too much for last season’s player of the season to start them all.

The defence should continue as they were. On Tuesday Graeme Lee appeared to be the target of the boo boys with previous victims Matt Clarke and Paul Arnison passed over, probably due to how well they both played. Such ‘support’ has yet to be directed towards Luke O’Brien, who was much better after a slight wobble of late. Rhys Evans keeps goal and will be proud of a home record that has seen him beaten only once – a deflected free kick – between the sticks at BD8 in nine games.

Aldershot seem to be enjoying the kind of season newly-promoted teams regularly enjoy in starting well before drifting off towards the end. They’ve won one in 11 and none on the road since November, although did cause Gillingham a few problems recently when they drew 4-4 at the Priestfield. They also inflicted City’s first defeat of the season back in August.

Which means there is that usual danger lurking behind thinking City should win tomorrow. We’ll turn up that bit more relaxed, get behind the team that bit less and get frustrated that bit sooner. A home win wouldn’t be earth shattering but, though we’re not used to games meaning something in this way come Spring, we shouldn’t forget that picking up maximum points as often as possible is what’s vital at this stage – whether it’s a fixture we should or shouldn’t win.

Significant? We’ll soon know

The impact of this dismal defeat on Bradford City’s season will ultimately be discovered during the next few weeks, although the immediate signs are far from good. The distance from the automatic promotion spots has increased furthermore and it would be optimistic to believe City can even make the play offs given the evidence presented at Meadow Lane. Hot on the heels of the Barnet debacle, a season of promise is suddenly falling apart.

This was supposed to be different. What happened at Barnet a one-off with manager Stuart McCall admirably stating he wouldn’t allow it to derail what the club is trying to do. By 3pm in Nottingham that had translated into giving all but Joe Colbeck – still struggling for fitness – the opportunity to redeem themselves. With strength in depth there should be no assumption on anyone’s part that their place in the team is secure. Sadly it appears too many aren’t paying attention to what’s over their shoulder and did nothing to repay their manager’s faith. Tuesday’s starting line up against Macclesfield will be very interesting.

City’s performance didn’t start off badly and for the opening 10 minutes there were plenty of indications the team was going to respond well to last week’s hammering. Matt Clarke headed a decent chance over and there was a crispness to the passing and movement with the recalled Lee Bullock adding some bite to midfield and Nicky Law, switched to the left-side, a threat.

Then on 11 minutes a City free kick was swung into the box, the ball was cleared to the edge of the area where Graeme Lee battled for it but lost out to a home player who then put Jamie Forrester through on the counter attack. Only Luke O’Brien seemed to be back for City and his tentative attempt to close down the former Leeds striker allowed the ball to be rolled into Jonathan Forte’s path to fire home. A worrying way to be caught out considering City were the away side.

The test was getting bigger for the Bantams, though the goal against the run of play was initially met with a resumption of attacking intent. Yet slowly the passes began to break down, the off the ball running featured less, County’s double-marking of the widemen tactic began to have a greater effect. Dean Furman flashed an effort narrowly wide and Peter Thorne might have done better after he cleverly worked some space but fired weakly past the post with Steve Jones in a better position. Everyone seemed to be waiting for someone else to conjure up something.

Something came at the other end instead with the impressive Forte striking again after some good close control – though the ball should have been cleared before it reached him and even then he was afforded too much time and space. A third followed just before half time through former City loanee Delroy Facey. He is best remembered for poor shooting skills and generally not caring when temporarily employed by City, a description which could be aptly applied to Jones here.

Although he certainly wasn’t the only one to display a disturbing lack of fight. Quite what has happened to the impressive defensive efforts which had seen just five goals conceded in 11 games is a deeper mystery than a niggling injury to Evans, who again did nothing wrong. Clarke and Lee were both shaky, particularly the latter who seemed to play in a trance as he often cheaply coughed-up possession and struggled to clear his line. Not a captain’s performance. O’Brien had a difficult first half and, though Zesh Rehman started his loan spell looking a class above most of his team-mates, he is worryingly sinking to their level.

In midfield Bullock and Furman are good players but did not make a cohesive partnership. A moment in the second half where they both went for the same ball summed up their disjointed influence. Thorne and Michael Boulding have forged a good partnership previously, but neither did much in possession other than lose it. Not surprisingly there was an angry reaction from the 1,200+ travelling fans with the dreaded “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” aired as the players trudged off at half time to face an equally upset Stuart.

The second half was slightly better with some players – O’Brien, Law, Furman and Thorne – restoring a degree of pride. Joe Colbeck was brought on for Boulding with Jones switched up front and there never appeared too much danger of County extending their lead. Perhaps most concerning for Stuart though was the lack of urgency and belief towards engineering an unlikely comeback. It was as though the game had been written-off and the second half was about preservation of a first team shirt for Tuesday. There were occasional good moments and Bullock and Furman did go close, but it was still largely poor.

Thorne did at least find the net with five minutes to go after good work from City’s best second half player, Colbeck. As consolations go it was pretty good too as it allowed last season’s top scorer to finally end a near four-month drought. A seventh goal in four games against the Magpies could prove significant if it leads to a return to the scoring form that his team so badly needs.

Not that Thorne, along with his team mates, could escape the angry abuse of many City fans at the final whistle with the atmosphere long-turned ugly. Passion is one thing but telling players to f*** off is a little strong no matter how deserving they were of receiving it. There was clearly a look of shock on many players’ faces as they attempted to applaud supporters. Reacting in the right manner now is going to be critical.

All season long there has been this feeling that City are going to gain promotion no matter how many soft goals they conceded and how many average performances they put in along the way. There was plenty of time to find top form and plenty of ability in the squad. Well there is no longer much time left and we cannot hope players will find their best form soon. It must happen now – and carry on.

City have not looked as less likely to gain promotion as they do right now and it has to be hoped this will be the moment the penny drops. No longer can the players think it will happen, they must make it happen. Six points from the next two home games will only be a start and they must then kick on in crucial away fixtures at Rochdale and Exeter. And then keep going.

Should that be achieved this defeat might be looked back on as significant because players would have learned some harsh lessons, got back into the promotion hunt and proved they were fit to wear the shirt. For now at least, few fans will be holding their breath.

I have seen Chris Brandon play

It had been quite a few years since I last took in a reserves game. The only one I actually recall was in approximately 2001 when a strong Manchester United strolled into Valley Parade and a City reserves record attendance of 6,000 witnessed a 3-0 away win. The club cashed in that night (rightly so?!) – charging a fiver a head.

That game could not have been in more constant to what I saw on Tuesday afternoon.

There is something quite strange about attending a game at 2 PM on a Tuesday. My sister (how did I convince her to go to this one?!) and I parked right outside the City club shop at 13.55 with no hassle at all. I spotted one Huddersfield coach a bit further up the road, and just outside the “executive box” entrance I walked past Mr Peter Jackson who was escorting an elderly gentlemen into the stadium. Some other City fans outside enjoyed some friendly banter with the ex City man and now Lincoln City manager (and lest we forget former Huddersfield manager).

It was free entrance for all supporters. In the Sunwin stand foyer, the canteen was open for business and there was a gentleman selling an A4 team sheet with the line-ups on for 10p a pop.

Taking up a seat near the halfway line, about halfway up (similar to my season ticket position in the Midland Road). I noticed that there were about 200 people in attendance. The crowd was a mixture of the retired, a few students, and the majority as it turned out had come from up the road and who loudly cheered every Huddersfield goal.

The majority of the City interest in this game was focused on a first real look at Chris Brandon, a summer acquisition from our local rivals that we faced in this game. “Brando” as he is clearly called by his teammates – derived by being able to hear every sound the players make in this environment – had a positive outing. He shows some excellent touches and close control and seems to be very comfortable with both feet. He wasn’t overused in this game, as most of the game was run in the centre of midfield and his teammates didn’t pass to him as much as you might have expected. As soon as ex City loanee Tom Clarke, who was playing right back against Brandon, was substituted in the second half, Brandon began to have more of an influence on the game. And his performance was capped with an excellently struck free kick from 25 yards out that flew past the Town keeper and into the net.

He nearly added a second late on as he surged into the area but struck just wide, as the goal opened up for him. The encouraging signs from this were that he completed a full 90 minutes and seemed to be fairly fit at the end of it. But in my judgement he looks at least 2 weeks off being fully match fit, allowing him to fully gain match sharpness.

With regards the rest of the City reserve team, five players had played a first team match this season and used this game to gain more match fitness.

Paul Arnison captained the side but was badly caught out for the first goal conceded by letting Joe Skarz get in front of him and got on the end of a cross from the right.

Simon Ainge looked really commanding on occasions in the air, but had a torrid time dealing with the lively Kiegan Parker. Ainge made an absolutely terrible mistake at the end of the first half by hesitating and letting Parker in for a lob – which should have resulted in a routine tip over the bar by Convey – but the young goalkeeper embarrassingly could only palm the ball into the net. Ainge looks some way off making the first team playing centre back – right back would surely suit him more, as his decision making at times is very sketchy.

Lee Bullock had a steady game, and had a few touches of class and influence.

Joe Colbeck threatened in the first half, but faded in the second. Colbeck took a poor penalty at the end of the first half, which was saved low to his right by the Huddersfield keeper.

The biggest disappointment was up front with the Conlon and Rory Boulding partnership. Both players had terrible games, especially Boulding who never got a meaningful shot on goal – and just ran around making bad decisions when in possession of the ball.

I was equally unimpressed with our young prospects Louis Horne and Luke Sharry on this display. Both players look a million miles off making a first team debut. Sharry gets out battled in midfield and his shooting leaves a lot to be desired. Horne seems to only know how to pass the ball back instead of going forward, and was guilty of “foul throwing” twice in one game. Terribly unprofessional.

The strong team that City reserves put out we heavily beaten by a better side who created more chances and were clinical in front of goal.

But putting aside some of the disappointments of the players’ on view – the key to this exercise was to get two of our most dangerous wingers getting more games under their belt. Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon could be the key players that could catapult us out of this league. The more games they play and gain match sharpness the better as we desperately need them both firing on all cylinders for the crucial weeks that lie ahead.

I picked up my ticket to the Notts County away game after the match. Can we put the Underhill disaster behind us and start playing like promotion candidates? A repeat of last season’s trip to Meadow Lane would do just nicely thank you.

Into the final third – Barnet vs Bradford City – League Two preview

31 games down, 15 to go. As the season enters its final third every point gained and lost is going to seem increasingly crucial.

During the last week the League Two promotion race has taken added significance for Bradford City after visits from two of its main rivals. This time last week we’d all have taken four points from tricky games against Wycombe and Darlington and, though City have dropped one league position after achieving that, they remain very much in the hunt.

What the two games did emphasise is the tightness of this season’s promotion battle. Brentford and Wycombe may currently be able to glimpse daylight between them and the rest of the pack, but with only six points separating the top seven no-one can be sure of anything. Three from Brentford, Wycombe, Bury, Shrewsbury, Rochdale, City, Darlington and Exeter are likely to finish in the automatic promotion spots and, from those who don’t, only one at least can claim promotion via the play offs, if Dagenham or Gillingham don’t steal in. Those clubs ultimately celebrating in May will be well aware of how close many ran them, which will only add to the achievement.

Meanwhile at the other end one of the most non-eventful relegation battles ever is suddenly getting interesting after Bournemouth’s 1-0 win over Accrington last Saturday pushed the previously doomed-looking Cherries into touching distance of others. Luton are down but Stanley, Chester, Grimsby and of course Barnet are starting to realise that a season of underachievement might yet be punished and have much to do during the final weeks.

It means weekend fixtures such as Accrington v Dagenham, Darlington v Grimsby and Chester v Exeter are important for both sides and City’s trip to Barnet is no different. The London club has only won once at home all season and once home and away in 21. Trooping off the pitch having lost to Notts County last Saturday to discover Bournemouth are closing in should have provided renewed motivation to build on a three-match unbeaten run against the Bantams.

The biggest worry for City ahead of the game is not of the dangerous John O’Flynn and Albert Adomah, but of finding a keeper to face them. Rhys Evans’ injury on Tuesday leaves him needing to recuperate and second-choice keeper Jon McLaughlin is desperately unlucky to be ruled out because of concussion. Stuart is actively looking for an emergency loan keeper but may play Evans through the pain barrier and ask Luke O’Brien to take his goal kicks again. One hopes it won’t come to that because if nothing else defenders taking goal kicks enables the opposition to play a higher line up the park, something Darlington attempted in the second half on Tuesday.

At least the rest of the defence will be fit to carry on their impressive form with Paul Arnison unlucky to be watching from the bench as Zesh Rehman plays in his right back slot, it will be the first time during his loan spell that the Pakistan international will have stayed in the same position for two consecutive games. Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke partner in the centre with another round of groans at how much ‘hoof-ball’ the duo contributed on Tuesday. It’s a shame some supporters cannot understand football better and appreciate Darlington’s ploy of packing the midfield made it almost impossible for City to pass their way forward. As you would expect from a side looking for a 9th clean sheet in 12, both centre backs are in great form. O’Brien’s dipped on Tuesday and a leading contender for player of the season will hope to be back to his best tomorrow.

In midfield Omar Daley’s injury should result in a Joe Colbeck start. He’s now made five substitute appearances since returning from injury and has impressed, although struggled against his former club Tuesday. As did Steve Jones on the other flank, who continues to play brilliantly one week and disappointingly the next – a typical winger, perhaps. Nicky Law may be moved out wide instead of Colbeck with one of Paul McLaren or Lee Bullock brought into the centre to partner Dean Furman. Up front Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne will continue. The latter is desperately hoping for a first goal since netting against Barnet last November.

The visitor’s attacking approach impressed that afternoon, but it’s points not plaudits both sides will want tomorrow. Anything less than victory will be disappointing for City, but it’s in games such as these they’ve so often slipped up over recent years. Everyone in League Two will be keeping one eye on everyone else and, as rearranged matches are finally played and other six-pointers such as Saturday’s Rochdale v Brentford are concluded, the next few weeks will be crucial with some of the leading pack likely to lose ground.

An away win for City tomorrow may not be considered earth-shattering, but it would nevertheless be an important step towards crossing the now-approaching finishing line ahead of the majority.

All heart

It’s at moments such as these – with the clock showing 10 minutes to go, with the chant “City till I die’ emanating from all four sides and with those who run the club having put the books to one side to join 12,689 people in watching City ultimately triumph 1-0 over promotion rivals Wycombe – that you wonder why we’re even bothering to consider leaving Valley Parade at all.

This was an afternoon where I hope I wasn’t the only person to feel the hairs on the back of his/her neck stand up through been part of such a superb atmosphere. City have won a corner and I look fondly over to fans in the Kop climb out of their seats to help suck the ball into the net. Behind the opposite goal, supporters in the Bradford End are keeping up their non-stop chanting efforts which began before kick off. The final whistle was met with huge cheers and triumphant home players hugged each other. An important three points, a potentially pivotal moment of the season, another special afternoon in our home.

Sure I’m being sentimental and romantic, but then it is Valentines Day so why not? Of course the fantastic atmosphere could be replicated – who knows even bettered – in another ground a few miles up the hill. But just like our Claret and Amber colours, fanatical supporters who will even come to the game on their wedding day (hope you didn’t miss that at half time!) and players who aren’t the greatest but who we love in our own way – Valley Parade is a much a part of the Bradford City experience. We need to use our heads when considering the potential move, but yesterday we got to follow our hearts.

Heart that was apparent on the pitch too as both City and Wycombe gave their all to produce an absorbing contest. With Brentford, Bury and Rochdale all expected to and managing to win their games, for City this win was for self-preservation purposes in their interest of a top three finish. They started in the same confident manner which has characterised their previous two victories with Omar Daley and Steve Jones stretching Wycombe down the flanks and Dean Furman and Nicky Law again pulling the strings in the middle. Both look too good for this level with Law’s vision and ability to produce killer passes a huge asset and arguably something City have not had in their armoury since the manager himself was out on the pitch.

Wycombe, who lost central defender Mike Williamson to Watford in the transfer window, defended deeply but struggled to deal with crosses from which City came close to scoring a few times. Matt Clarke should have done better with a header from a corner and Peter Thorne – captain for the day – headed wide, Law’s long range shot was deflected wide and a Wycombe defender almost turned one cross into his own net.

Yet the Chairboys, who until Tuesday had led the table since November, got back into the game and showed what a good side they are. Their movement off the ball when on the attack was impressive with players marking late runs from deep and in the centre Tom Docherty was excelling by playing deep and pinging some probing passes forward. Furman excellently cleared off the line from striker Jon-Paul Pittman’s header, Matt Harrold air-kicked a great chance after which Matt Bloomfield wastefully fired wide and Chris Zebroski’s overhead kick attempt sailed narrowly over.

Arguably against the run of play, City struck the all important goal just before half time. It was yet another example of the devastating football this team can produce. First Jones did well to win possession before being tripped after releasing it to Furman. Referee Carl Boyeson allowed advantage and the ball was with Law to charge over half way. His pass to Daley lacked pace, but the Jamaican beat his man and cut inside before squaring to Luke O’Brien. The full back’s cross was intended for Michael Boulding but squirmed through to Thorne who beautifully laid off the ball to Jones to fire home on the half volley.

It continued to be end-to-end stuff in the second half with Wycombe inserting strong pressure in the early stages and Rhys Evans having to make some good saves. The defence in front of him was lacking their usual leader Graeme Lee and Zesh Rehman, switched over from left-back, struggled a little with his ball control though was generally solid. Clarke was outstanding and seemed to revel in the more senior responsibility while Paul Arnison’s performance could be best illustrated by the fact the usual full-back ‘experts’ in the crowd weren’t on his back. The clean sheet they would go onto earn was a seventh in ten games and only Evans and Clarke have figured in all of those; something which Clarke’s army of critics, who seem to be ignoring his recent upturn in form, might want to mull over.

Boyeson’s bizarre style of refereeing took more centre stage in the second half. He let a series of fouls from both sides go and at one stage left the impression he’d forgotten his cards – Arnison should have been booked – while displaying an anal-like determination to ensure all throw ins were taken from exactly the right spot. Frustration of the officials and from losing seemed to get the better of Wycombe players who began to self-destruct with a series of poor challenges. None more so than Docherty, who’s coolness in the first half had given way to recklessness and who should have been booked long before he eventually was.

Boiling point was reached after Zebroski’s ludicrous high challenge on Clarke which saw boot connect with face. The red card was quickly issued and the final 12 minutes were that little bit more comfortable for City. A second goal might have come before that with Boulding volleying over, but in the final stages Law and substitute Joe Colbeck went agonisingly close to ensuring Wycombe would not be able to produce a sucker punch at the other end.

It was close, but City just about edged the game and three wins in a row provide great confidence ahead of another vital encounter on Tuesday. The team is finding form in all areas – Thorne for example was outstanding leading the line and contributed more than he usually seems to – and one only has to look at who can’t get in the team to see how well the players in it are doing. Lee will presumably join Paul McLaren, Lee Bullock, Barry Conlon and Colbeck on the bench Tuesday with the clear message to those on the field that they must keep producing.

Or should Lee go back in and Arnison be dropped? Should Colbeck start on Tuesday and Daley be rested? Yesterday conversations on such matters will have filled the air instead of whether to pack up and do this all someplace else. Maybe we’re on the final chapter of Valley Parade’s history and such occasions will shortly be over, though as we listened to the radio on the journey home we heard of renewed hope that a deal to buy Valley Parade might be reached.

It was good timing, for yesterday at least the head had no chance of winning over the heart.

Back to the field of play – Bradford City vs Wycombe Wanderers League Two Preview

Much has happened since last Bradford City walked the grass of Valley Parade in the 2-0 win over Grimsby Town.

The Darlington game bit the dust – or the snow if you will – and City had to wait a week before recording an impressive 2-0 at Gillingham leaving people talking about promotion prospects again until distraction came in the news that the Bantams seem unable to find a replacement for Bradford and Bingley who will not be sponsoring the club next season and are able to find a replacement for VP in the shape of an Odsal Sporting Village after revealing that it cost £1.2m to play at home a year. The game with former league leaders Wycombe Wanderers seems small beer in context.

The move from Valley Parade will be debated elsewhere and is surely one of the most serious in the club’s history dwarfing the problems with sponsorship which have effected many clubs in football and seen Mark Lawn effectively begging the businesses of Bradford for the £60,000 asked for by Friday afternoon that would assure the shirts that went to the manufactures could feature something emblazoned upon them.

City have handled the sponsorship situation poorly. Bradford and Bingley’s problems were there for all to see and the assumption could have been made that they would not renew a long time ago. In that situation City could go looking for a backer on the quiet and – if one were not found – do as Aston Villa and Barcelona do and hand the ten square inch of real estate on the front of the shirt over to charity. Either that or decide that it was to be left blank claiming this was a deliberate decision as Leicester City have done.

The scrambling for cash from anyone who will give it and the naming of a base price the Bantams will accept serves to cheapen the product when interest in sponsorship picks up. £60,000 of sponsorship equates to two Sky TV games – an interesting piece of information that casts a different light on City’s attempts to get the Darlington game on – and illustrates the rather random nature of football finances at this level.

The Darlington game takes place on Tuesday night and promises to be equally as tough as the visit of Peter Taylor’s Wycombe Wanderers. The Chairboys were top – taking over from City in November – until the middle of this week but the two games in hand they have over Brentford, who went level on points with them, suggest they may return to summit. Nevertheless when they do get to play Taylor’s side are not in the greatest of form with recent draws with Macclesfield, Exeter City and Luton Town being coupled with defeats to Grimsby Town and at AFC Bournemouth and arguabily the Bantams are playing them at the right time.

Stuart McCall goes into the game with a grumbling keeper Rhys Evans wanting a new deal – he has earned one but timing is everything and Evans’s comments in public are ship rocking – but in good form. City concede few and are building another run of clean sheets with Evans not picking the ball out of the net for the last 180 minutes. Much of this is down to adding a third commanding aerial figure in recent weeks in the form of Zesh Rehman who will most likely switch to the central defensive role to cover Graeme Lee who is suspended. Matthew Clarke will partner and Luke O’Brien will hope to have recovered to play left back with Paul Arnison on the right.

The midfield of Nicky Law Jnr and Dean Furman seems set in stone although Paul McLaren’s set plays are missed greatly when he is not included and the Bantam number four would be in my starting eleven as would Joe Colbeck who builds up match fitness to the point where he seems as if he will explode. Steve Jones on the right hand side will make way for him this game or next. Omar Daley continues on the left and McCall tells us that we should not be so negative about him, which is strange because we are not and perhaps someone should tell City’s players and management to spend less time fixating on criticism or at least balance it up against the praise.

I illustrate this with the fact that BfB got a ratio of 3:1 in comments in support of Daley during the week so ending that week with a spirited defence of the player is – perhaps – giving undue credence to one side of the debate.

Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding continue up front.

Worry about it next season – Bradford City vs Darlington – League Two Preview

There is snow in Bradford so City’s game with Darlington might not even take place but let’s assume it is doing and look at the Bantams chances of winning on Sky tonight.

City lost the away version of this fixture 2-1 at Darlington in front of Sky’s cameras after a last minute goal cancelled out Omar Daley’s great equaliser and at the time it was said that City were not doing that well. Fast forward to now and the Bantams are rooted in the play-off and want to be back in the top three.

Darlington are in a similar position having gone from that game to a spell in the promotion places but now are fourth. A win for them would put them top three. A win for City would see them move about the Quakers into fourth.

City are fresh from a 2-0 win over Grimsby at the weekend in what was an odd game. A late goal gave City a score line that flattered them but great goalkeeping stopped it being a thrashing so perhaps 2-0 was the right result. Either way City never looked like not winning the game over the Marriers and Dean Furman’s return in the midfield had a lot to do with that.

Ah Furman. “He is our best player” someone told me on Saturday which isn’t true really cause he is not out player at all but while he is here he can play some commanding football and is good value for a place in the team. The same can be said about Nicky Law who scored and makes a good partnership with anyone really. What we do next season when these kids have gone and the likes of Paul McLaren and Lee Bullock are a year older who knows but I’m tempted to say that is next year’s problem and if these two bright young things want to take us to promotion then let them.

Joe Colbeck is back and he set up Barry for what should have been the second goal on Saturday which Steve Jones ended up with instead. Jones should step down for him although Omar Daley having a real stinker on Saturday doesn’t help his cause for staying in the side. What do you do about Daley? He scored the goal at Darlington he scored the goal against Rotherham last year, he does some brilliant stuff but when he isn’t on song he is frustrating to watch and sucks the ball away from the side.

He will probably get the nod tonight and that is a good thing. Heavy pitch, snow on the ground, Daley running at defenders who are falling on their backsides. Might work.

Peter Thorne? Where is Peter Thorne? What happened to him? He used to score and look dangerous. Now Barry Conlon gets more goals and on Saturday’s form more chances to miss. Thorne needs chances making to do much good but I worry. Both Thorne and Michael Boulding plays thier parts on Saturday but neither bagged goals or looked like doing and considering the dominance that worries me. I wasn’t that worried with Boulding put in Jones for the second of when Thorne pulled of the defender to give Nicky Law space to go through for the first but I’d like to see Peter Thorne doing more than pulling off defenders.

Stop tittering. This is serious. Peter Thorne is probably not an automatic choice any more but he and Boulding are still good for the front two places.

Also serious is Zesh Rahman who came in to add another big guy for heading away duty and should keep his place alongside Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke and Luke O’Brien. Rhys Evans was bored on Saturday. Probably won’t be tonight.

City on the way forward again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is it going wrong?

On an evening when there was much to trouble manager Stuart McCall, the immediate reaction of his players to going behind to Bury striker Andy Morrell’s 76th minute strike will surely have worried him the most.

Having allowed a game to drift from been in a position of relative control to one they were losing, the City players collectively appeared to lack the determination and drive to make the best use of the remaining 14 minutes and get back into the game. There were some golden chances created – and spurned – right at the end, but it was a case of too little too late. Like the game, City are now in danger of allowing their promotion hopes to drift away.

Through November and December City were guilty of been unable to use the advantage of a strong league position to drive forward from the chasing pack, but as that run of form now stretches to just one win in nine they are struggling to even keep up. The season-worst position of ninth now occupied was not in mind at the start of the season, where ambitions of going up as champions appeared realistic.

It would be premature to panic, but the negatives of the evening require urgent addressing. City came into this promotion six-pointer on the back of an excellent second half display at Luton and the elation of Barry Conlon’s late penalty equaliser, but any intentions to carry on where they left off were undermined by some questionable selections from Stuart which saw Dean Furman, excellent on his return Saturday, and Peter Thorne relegated to the bench. On Saturday Stuart had made his intentions of seeking to freshen the team clear, but even allowing for strong options these two players particularly need a run in the side.

Conlon was recalled ahead of Thorne and while memories of his excellent performance at Gigg Lane last season might have been in Stuart’s thoughts, the strike partnership with Steve Jones failed miserably. At times they were too isolated from each other and the Irishman badly needed Jones nearer to him to flick the ball towards. Launching long balls to Jones was especially futile and the on-loan Burnley forward was almost completely anonymous.

Lee Bullock was brought in to replace Furman and had a quietly effective game in the middle, with City at times passing the ball around neatly but without the pace and creativity we’d seen on Saturday. Once again too many direct balls were played forward from the back and one is left to wonder how a team who began the season playing some excellent football has lost its way in recent weeks. Resting Furman, who had provided energy and dominated the midfield alongside Paul McLaren at Kenilworth Road, clearly did not help matters and, while playing Law out-wide had been effective on Saturday justifying trying it again with Jones up front, Stuart’s failure to adequately address the fact it wasn’t replicated this evening leave concerns about his tactical acumen.

When City weren’t struggling to work out what to in possession they were been asked plenty of questions by a dangerous Bury forward line. Andy Bishop is well known and provided Matt Clarke with a tough night while Elliott Bennett and Mick Jones also caught the eye. Jones and Morrell both missed some good opportunities in the first half as City had to deal with plenty of dangerous balls into the box. Morrell in particular wasted one guilt-edged chance while Rhys Evans, easily City’s best performer on the night, made a couple of decent saves. The best City chances fell to Clarke and Conlon, but efforts flew wastefully wide. Omar Daley looked a threat on the right and was clearly singled out as the danger man by the home side. Zeshan Rehman enjoyed a decent debut in the left-back spot with Luke O’Brien ill, though no-one will want to see the impressive youngster lose his place to an on-loan defender no matter how good his pedigree.

Stuart must have had words at half time as the Bantams came out much stronger after the interval and had Bury begged back in their own half for the first 15 minutes. There were lots of throw-ins and a few corners, but crucially a lack of chances. The ball wasn’t whipped in with the same urgency as the home side and, with the strike partnership still struggling, the deadlock rarely looked like been broken. A couple of decent crosses should have been better attacked by Conlon, while slack marking from a free kick presented Bullock with the chance to prod the ball home, but it trickled tamely wide of the post.

But here was the time when managers need to be making a difference and those who believe Stuart isn’t able to make effective changes were given further ammunition tonight. Taking off Jones for Joe Colbeck was a good move though it was questionable whether Daley, who’d drifted out of the game, should have been moved up front in Jones’ place when there were two strikers who’ve shared 21 goals this season kicking their heels on the bench. It’s also curious as to why Conlon was kept on given how limited his influence on the game had been and the impression he was not giving 100%. Barry is of course loved for giving everything he has, which often make up for some of his failings – without that work-rate tonight he just looked a poor player.

By the time the first change was made Bury had reclaimed the ascendency but the major difference between their good spell and City’s was how often they came close to scoring. Evans made two brilliant saves and Morrell missed another sitter, but City’s luck did not hold out after a brilliant run from Bennett resulted in Morrell firing the ball into the net. Stuart quickly reacted by bringing on Furman and Boulding,but it took too long for decent pressure to be exerted on Bury’s goal.

As the clock ticked Boulding forced an excellent save from Mark Tyler and a scrambled effort from Law appeared to be blocked by a combination of a defender and Conlon on the line, who then had the opportunity to fire it home but turned and volleyed well wide. Evans came up from a corner and from it Colbeck had a chance on goal, but the rustiness of such a long injury lay-off may be partly to blame for the scuffed effort which rolled wide. On another day one of these chances would have been taken and a draw wouldn’t have been unfair, but over the 90 minutes City didn’t do enough and only had themselves to blame.

When City were picking up better results a few weeks ago they were doing so with half a team on the treatment table which won plenty of admiration, despite the fact performances weren’t convincing. Now Stuart has the majority of his injured players back and one of the most talented squads in the league to choose from, and with it the expectation levels are rising once more. Performances have been marginally better but getting the results to go with it are probably only going to happen if Stuart worries less about pleasing everyone and picks his best team as often as possible.

Because the season cannot be allowed to drift any further and, while it might not be fair to put too much pressure on the team, they have now fallen into a position which makes obtaining six points from the two home games this weekend essential. The tools are largely all there, now Stuart must show himself to be a good workman.

Joe Colbeck is Barack Obama – Luton Town vs Bradford City – League Two Preview

I didn’t hear the snap of Joe Colbeck’s foot over at Grimsby and I could not tell who was down at first but I know he is coming back.

My mate Russ came back to City last year some time. He has been off in Siberia or somewhere and was not a massive follower of City anyway but we had a ticket free and along he came and during this game he looked out at City’s ginger right winger who became player of the season later that year but wasn’t then and he said “Is that that piece of [something] Colbeck.”

Russ was filled in with what had happened in his absence and that Colbeck was now considered to be something of a tidy player and I pointed out that some of us thought he was all along that day the lad had a stormer and all was good in the world.

So if during Russ’s absence Joe Colbeck went from popular boo boy to glorious hero what has happened during Colbeck’s break? Well he has become so important to City that you could be excused for mistaking him for a second coming.

Colbeck is great and everyone cannot wait for his return to Valley Parade and that surge of good feeling is important just as all the Obamamania is great just because it makes everyone so damn happy but unlike Barack Obama Colbeck faces a trip to Luton and a game with Bury before his inauguration [But who is to say the American political process would be worse if all candidates had a final hurdle of having to impress on a Tuesday night at Gigg Lane before being sworn in? – Ed]

Colbeck will probably be on bench duty for the Luton game and return for Bury on Tuesday night leaving Steve Jones to carry on his weird wing play where he never seems to do enough, tackle enough, get stuck in enough but seems to have played well at the end. The Burnley winger started his City career as Stevie, Jonesey or Jonesio and now is just Jones which says a lot about him. He flatters to deceive.

Jonesinho will play right wing to Omar Daley’s left and Paul McLaren, who used to play for Luton and feels some sympathy for them apparently, and Nicky Law will play in the middle. Now stay with me on this one but I think that Law should be dropped for Dean Furman who wins the ball better and winning the ball gives us more possession and that leads to more chances. I know Law has some of the same magic as Colbeck about him but tough calls have got to be made to get four or six points on the road before we get back to Drawey Parade and it is time for a change and that would be the one I make.

That said Lee Bullock might get back in the side. Why not? We won all the time when he was playing.

Paul Arnison, Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke and Luke O’Brien are a mean defence and Rhys Evans tends to look bored during most games so little has he to do so that end of the park is going well. Up front City need to give Chris O’Grady a try out.

Just kidding.

O’Grady is in the last week of his loan and it looks like Leeds are not going to be giving us tonnes of money so either the Oldham man will be going back to be one half of this scrap or Stuart McCall will confound us all by giving him a longer contract. Until that he is a not that important bench sitter.

Being fair to O’Grady he has hardly had a chance at City featuring off the bench for fifteen minutes at a time but then again Billy Topp never got a chance and that was cause he did knackers all in training to impress the boss. If the mark of a striker out the door at City is that they do nothing when coming off the bench Toppy style then O’Grady is not around for long and Stuart will be looking at signing a new loan player until the end of the season. In a way O’Grady has been the perfect replacement for Topp. The net effect of having him on the field is the same but he has none of the thrills of Toppy because he is not from Temuco City hes from Roverrum.

That or Rory Boulding will get a chance to do nothing from the bench, but probably not. The only player in the last few years to do anything from the bench is Barry Conlon who will probably be back to sitting on his backside to watch Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding. City’s strikers are my worry at the moment. All three of them score goals but at the moment I find myself lacking confidence that any of them will find the net.

It is not that logical I know cause only two years ago we had one source of goals in Deano Windass and nothing else but at the moment we are lacking the fox in the box who scores with every touch or we are lacking Peter Thorne firing on all cylinders.

Luton have zero points but should have thirty apparently. Either way they are a mid-table outfit who think that they have been hard done to and have great vengeance and furious anger which they aim at anyone who doesn’t feel they have been badly treated. If Leeds last season is anything to go by the slog to zero points will signal a general foot off the gas-ness and last week’s 5-1 drubbling by Darlington could have been just that. They have Lewis Emanuel, who I always liked as left back, but he is out injured.

It doesn’t matter anyway cause whoever is right back I hear will be torn apart by Joe Colbeck anyway, just for a change.

McCall needs to find the belief in basics

Bradford City circa 1999 had a trait rare in the club’s history and rare in football – they could win ugly.

Winning ugly – which is to say ended up with the three points in the sort of games that City are taking one from – is often the key to success. Manchester United did it on Saturday, Liverpool did not on Monday and on such differences are championships won.

The thirty-eight game Premiership with its longer rest periods and more significant – or perhaps just more well known – opponents is different from the cut and thrust of the lower leagues and in League Two the elusive crucial goal that makes the difference is less likely to come from a pre-knowledge of the opponents weakness or a tactical master stroke and more likely to be ground out by a consistency of high performance. In League Two the team that prospers is the team that plays well week in week out, that does the same things well week in week out, that can be relied upon week in week out.

In other words a team unlike City’s weak last half hour showing at the weekend which did little other than allow Accrington Stanley to glide through the second half of the second half relatively untroubled. While the Bantams were enjoying the lion’s share of the possession there seemed to be a feeling that other than shoving the ball in the direction of Omar Daley on the half way line there was not much of an understanding of what to do to cause the visitors problems.

All of which is troubling. This Bantams team are far from clueless and have – in the opening third of the season – known exactly how to win games. Recall the start of the season and the danger that came from cross after cross by Paul Arnison, Joe Colbeck, Daley, Paul McLaren and Paul Heckingbottom and then the gaps in the middle that could be exploited by Peter Thorne and Lee Bullock as opponents strengthened on the flanks through fear and suddenly what City are doing wrong now becomes all too apparent.

The Bantams have become one dimensional. Perhaps it is the battle of Barry Conlon which has led the players to believe that a long ball is not a wasted ball or perhaps it is the loss of Colbeck and – for a strange time – Arnison which has altered the way the Bantams perceive their abilities to bang the ball over but at the moment when the ball goes wide – and it does because the middle of every visiting side is thick with players – the results are all too predictable. Both Daley and Steve Jones favour running at players and low crosses and the best way for the opposition to defend this is to pile yet more men into the middle keeping full backs tight to the edge of the box.

Contrast this to Colbeck and Arnison both capable of whipping a ball in and a full back and winger having to go wide and stay wide to try stop them and one can see why Thorne and Boulding are finding goals hard to come by in the box – it is because space is hard to come by. This is not to say that City should only be crossing high but rather that we have allowed our entire arsenal to be reduced to a single trick of trying to beat men on the flanks and while that has worked with devastating effect it is too infrequent.

Stuart McCall has a level of basics that he needs to steer his City side back towards but his path is beset with bad advice and the chance to make poor decisions. Talk brews about Paul McLaren’s abilities but – as with Arnison – the best judge of the City number four is to look at the results since his return City have only a single loss – the last minute travesty at Brentford – and a tightening up at the back that as City’s most defensive minded midfielder he takes some credit for. The same could be said of Paul Arnison. Arnison has never been popular at City but simple facts show that the defence concedes fewer goals with him in it.

McCall must look to the basics of his team and what works well when done well because that is the way to win ugly in League Two. City need to get back to establish patterns – patterns of being able to cross from different angles in full-backs and wingers and to exploit the space that creates when defences are stretched – and settle on a group of players who can do that with consistency and belief.

City stumble as fingers are pointed – Bradford City 1 Accrington Stanley 1 Match Report

City stumbled through their 7th home draw of the season against lowly Accrington Stanley.

It was the kind of game and result that we have seen too often this season at Valley Parade and we all know might well prove very costly when the promotion run winds up at the end of the season.

Stanley took an early lead on 5 minutes when a free kick was awarded dead centre, 20 yards from goal. The City wall seemed to move out of the way of the ball that Ryan stuck thumping straight through and beyond Rhys Evans to put visitors ahead.

Then the referee and his officiating team proceeded in trying to ruin the game. City had at least three decent penalty shouts in the first half, all strongly turned away by Mr David Webb. The one that holds most strongly in the memory was approaching half time when the ball was drifting towards Boulding and a blatant left hand was stuck out by a Stanley defender to stop the course of the ball – and with Mr Webb 10 yards away he failed to see what 12,000 others did and waived play on which resulted in Boulding being denied by a save from close range.

Just to prove further his inept decision making skills (demonstrated at home to Bournemouth earlier this season) – Stanley were also victims early in the second half. A strong run by Paul Mulin looked to have him racing clear one on one with Evans. Matt Clarke shot back and made a very heavy challenge on Mulin to deny him a shot. It was such a strong challenge it was a borderline penalty – but Clarke did get the ball – it was an excellent tackle. But this good piece of play was interrupted by Webb who proceeded to book Mulin, seemingly for diving or simulation. Utterly astonishing. I have never felt the need to write to the FA regarding the standards of officiating (and that really is saying something given the standard seen at Valley Parade over the last decade) but Mr Webb’s performance on Saturday was so incomprehensible that I will be spending Sunday night drawing up a letter of complaint that I am sure would be backed by 12,000 others.

City drew level early in the second half thanks to an exciting and very strong run by Nicky Law who crossed from the right to leave Barry Conlon with a tap in at the far post to restore parity.

The equaliser should have proved the catalyst to set up a City victory – but, in truth, Stanley keeper was not tested nearly enough as the game drew to a disappointing close.

Not many City players came out of this game with much credit. Conlon did well to convert his chance, but was too often beaten aerially and failed to have much of an impact. The defence held fairly firm and they passed the ball among each other pretty well.

The midfield was full of also rans, Nicky Law withstanding. Steve Jones is an experienced pro who has good pace but fails to deliver an end product, cross or shot. Omar Daley played ok in patches, but wasn’t always the inspiration that we needed him to be. Paul McLaren seemed to take quite a few steps back in terms of performance level – after a few good games recently. He just didn’t influence the game. And one of his main strengths – set pieces – seem to be left to Nicky Law which I really cannot understand. If McLaren is not going to take dead balls then why is he in the team?

The signing and player that annoys me most at the moment is Chris O’Grady. Was he a panic buy? I cannot see what Stuart sees in him. Admittedly, I have only seen him in action for 30 minutes in a City shirt. But I have watched him closely in the warm up’s twice and he just doesn’t seem like he has anything special or talented to offer whatsoever. McCall revealed afterwards that O’Grady didn’t train on Friday due to illness. Then why play him on Saturday? He came on to absolutely no affect with enough time on the pitch to make an impact. Is he capable of making an impact? I really don’t think so.

The idea of a loan signing is to improve on the squad that we currently have but I honestly would rather give young Rory Boulding or Leon Osbourne a run out instead of this mis-fit. And stories about him not wanting to take a wage deferral during his at Rotherham really leaves a sour taste in the mouth – give someone else a chance. I am not one to ever jump on Stuart’s back over any signing – I have liked the vast majority of players he has brought and has faith in – but O’Grady playing and being given a chance at Bradford City really doesn’t make sense to me.

A glance at the other results from League Two on the day show all have slipped up apart from Darlington. It would have been a perfect time to grab three points and move up into equal second place. The rest of the promotion contenders in this League are all stuttering – all failing to break from the pack (with the slight exception of Wycombe) , which has ensured that the top three is still a realistic target.

However, many more displays at home like this and we surely cannot expect to stay where we are.

Hopes now are pinned on the return of the influential Colbeck and the long anticipated debut of the possibly crucial Chris Brandon. What is for sure is that we do need something extra in this team to ensure promotion this season. The key to any successful promotion push is winning your home games, especially those against “lesser opposition” – something that this current City team is not delivering on.

Fingers of blame are pointed at McCall and his management team, which does morale no good, but the frustrations are understandable. Stuart will be and should only be judged in May but in the next few crucial months lets hope he can find within his team that little bit extra that make ambitious and talented teams successful in the long run at winning games and grinding out three points when they are needed most.

The midfield cup runneth over – Bradford City vs Accrington Stanley – League Two Preview

Stuart McCall must look back to the start of December and find it hard to recall how he struggled when Tom Clarke was recalled by Huddersfield Town to find midfielders for his Bradford City team that bobbed along in the promotion hunt – never falling below the play-off, never being able to cement a top three place – with injuries and suspensions robbing him of that favoured phrase of the commentary “six first team midfielders”.

With the return of Joe Colbeck to the training squad – if not to the team – and Lee Bullock to contention then McCall could field a six man middle should he wish. Certainly with great form from Paul McLaren and Nicky Law Jnr the central two positions are covered and Bullock – along with Dean Furman – are sidelined. Steve Jones has not played since extending his loan deal at the club and is likely to start on the right hand side with Colbeck looking for a gap to return.

Omar Daley is set for the left side of midfield and behind him is Luke O’Brien who is not only becoming talked about as a player of the season candidate but is also developing a good relationship with Daley in front of him.

On the opposite side Paul Arnison will look forward to playing with the more thorough Colbeck than the attacking minded Jones while Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke and Rhys Evans stand on a record of four consecutive clean sheets.

Looking to continue the last ten minutes at Accrington are the perm two from three of City’s strike force with Peter Thorne fit once more and Barry Conlon expected to step down. Michael Boulding will play alongside. Stuart McCall talked this week about the need to keep the number of strikers at the club down to a reasonable level and playing two up front leaves – in my estimation – five slots for players so as to avoid the demotivation of being too far from the first team. The main three City strikers are augmented by Chris O’Grady and Rory Boulding and it would seem that – unless he has an eye on a replacement for the loanee O’Grady – McCall has as many forwards as he wants.

He certainly has the firepower from those forwards should they be fed as evidenced by the last ten minutes at Accrington when Conlon, Thorne and M Boulding all added their names to the scoresheet to turn around the thought lost game. The onus is on the midfield – so full of options – to create chances.

Changing teams – AFC Bournemouth vs Bradford City preview

This game has been called off because of a frozen pitch.

A pitch inspection at 12:00 today will tell Stuart McCall, Bradford City’s players and the supporters if a trip to AFC Bournemouth will be needed this weekend and while weather on the South Coast is questionable City’s desire to put right the only home defeat of the season is not.

The Bantams were bested by Darren Anderton’s inspired display for the Cherries as they had new manager Jimmy Quinn installed. Since that day both Quinn and Anderton have left the club and with them seems to have gone the form that saw them win 3-1 that day. They have suffered three defeats in the last three games and previous to that were knocked out of the FA Cup by Blyth Spartans. Struggling with a deduction it is hard to see where the points will come from to keep them in the Football League.

All of which is demoralising and something that – when the game is played – City will hope ot take advantage of. The Bantams are looking more in race trim of late but with a 4-0 and three no score draws in the last four are obviously struggling to find the net. News that Peter Thorne is back in training is heartening as is the word that Joe Colbeck will play a reserve friendly game next week. Thorne’s finishing is always welcome but the added thrust from the flank that Colbeck added in games like the 4-1 defeat of Exeter has been missed and should the trip South be called off then Colbeck’s presence in the rearranged game could be significant. Certainly the team are more dangerous with the young winger in than with Steve Jones whom McCall is said to be signing from Burnley once his loan deal expires.

Thorne is not expected to return to the starting eleven – the hard pitch and a bad back being a poor combination – leaving Barry Conlon and Michael Boulding up front. Omar Daley and Steve Jones take the flanks alongside Paul McLaren and Nicky Law Jnr with Dean Furman cooling his heels. One must feel sorry for the impressive Furman who has much to suggest him for a place in the side however the form of McLaren and especially Law is such that McCall has to stick with them.

Also impressive in the run of four games without conceding is Matthew Clarke who continues to be underrated as a presence in the City side and has given the Bantams a commanding edge. Also underrated is Graeme Lee’s organsational abilities which while never getting to the level of the Master – Noel Blake – are certainly better than the majority of defenders who have worn claret and amber including the man who preceded him as skipper and central defender David Wetherall. Paul Arnison is rated by fewer than he should be put clean sheet for defensive players should be impressive and he will look forward to the return of Colbeck and renewing the combination they had developed. Luke O’Brien has come on a million miles from the day he was skinned by Gareth Grant at Farsley Celtic and is being talked about as a player of the season.

No one’s player of the season is Rhys Evans but in the last month the goalkeeper has found his bit shouting voice – something Gary Walsh had over Matt Clarke and the reason the former was a better keeper than the latter – and the defence looks all the better for it.

What kind of year has it been?

Statistics please me not, dear reader, so I have no record for you of how Bradford City have done this calendar year that ends with the Bantams beating Morecambe 4-0 at Valley Parade with goals by Paul McLaren, Michael Boulding, Nicky Law Jnr and Barry Conlon.

I could not tell you how many games have been won or lost or how many goals have gone in one end or another – I’m all about the mood, people – but I can tell you that the spectre of the common home defeat has been banished in 2008. Last time on this turf City were incapable of breaking down a defensive Chester City side while today the Bantams got the breakthrough that is so often needed against negative sides and went on to win the match.

That crucial first goal came when Barry Conlon jostled in the air with former Town man Danny Adams and all were looking at the Referee save Paul McLaren who wandered nonchalantly – showing a head as cool as the air that Conlon’s hands were still in – into the area with ball to poke past advancing keeper Barry Roche.

McLaren’s role at the back of any attack that had Conlon on the floor was a result of Stuart McCall’s 433 formation which – in turn – was a result of the combination of return to fitness of Dean Furman and the fact that, well, it just suited the opposition so well.

Morecambe’s plan was not unique – the close down City’s defenders and sit deep themselves – but it was countered with confidence from McCall who placed faith in the back four to have the ball played short to draw out the opposition and make gaps where they were none for the last few years in the sides who come to Valley Parade with two lines of defenders. This is a difference between the start of 2008 and the end in that Stuart McCall has devised this plan but the fact that it sees the player accused of “pissing about” is slightly curious. McCall’s teams play some lovely football at times but none of it comes from Rhys Evans putting his laces through it and hoping Barry Conlon can be under it.

Much of that lovely stuff, any plans and the options that saw Stuart capable of playing a three man midfield comes from the midfield’s return to fitness with Furman quickly back into the fray and McLaren now fully up to speed. Combined with Nicky Law – who is certainly worth bringing in if Sheffield United will allow him to leave during the transfer window – the three did not enjoy dominance but created the chances that made this win.

The stats will tell you that City and Morecambe had similar shot counts but as I say I do not do stats because they do not tell the difference between Conlon striking the bar and a throw your cap on it dribbler. Morecambe might be worried about having lost 4-0 and they might curse their luck that they had one cleared off the line at the end of the first half but spawn many great chances they did not and the fact that City’s creation was finished off is another curio of 2008.

Michael Boulding’s run to meet up the end of Barry Conlon’s intelligent take down and through ball deserved the kind of quality finish which the striker provided cooly putting over Roche’s shoulder as if he had the freedom of Valley Parade rather than a couple of bruisers from the Bay breathing down his neck.

On exit of Dean Windass – chased off to the Premiership – City spent 2007 without a scorer worthy or the name. Peter Thorne’s return to fitness has seen him bag an Indian Summer’s worth of goals and Boulding’s first half a season has seen him get ten goals while Barry Conlon had a half dozen. 2008 seems to have been the year when City’s strikers started scoring.

What good is scoring goals though, if your defence is a shambles? City’s defence is a shambles though – it must be cause I read it on the Internet – but it is also three games since we conceded a goal and as a rule we do tend to concede fewer than we score. One thing that has not changed in 2008 is the level of expectation which have gone over the border of ludicrous.

A third goal came from Nicky Law Jnr who drove forward with the ball and lobbed Roche from range and sealed the victory for City. A fourth came when Steve Jones tried to finish off a ball to the back post by Omar Daley – a late sub – and Danny Adams got his hand between ball and goal to lead to a penalty.

One thing that changed in 2008 was the addition of the word “Deliberate” to the handball law (Law 12 – Direct Free Kick). If Adams handled the ball to have a penalty given against him then he did it deliberately – otherwise the Referee should not give an offence against him – so he has to send the player off for deliberately stopping a shot from going into the net with his hands.

Barry Conlon slammed in the penalty and still had time to set up further chances for Daley and Jones erasing what had been a quiet first half for the Irishman and all departed the field in the knowledge of a job well done and probably a year well spent.

Stuart McCall looks at his squad – we have a chance of keeping Nicky Law but little of signing Furman, Steve Jones is not the fourth goalscorer the Bantams are looking for, Luke O’Brien stands up in the first team – and perhaps tinkers in the days leading up to the Shrewsbury game when the transfer window opens but the return of players like Joe Colbeck to fitness will allow the manager more of a palette.

For it was options – options to shape a team on a game by game basis – that brought about a good win at the end of 2008 and a good 2008.

The decision on City comes at Christmas – Bradford City vs Chester City Preview

Recall this time last year – dear reader – and remember the questions about Stuart McCall and his team which had broken out of a losing run that would put Paul Ince to shame but were a long way from impressing with a scrappy team culled together from free transfers and loan players showing few signs of becoming a capable side.

Peter Thorne was a malingerer, Willy Topp the great hope and Joe Colbeck a guy you send out on loan. How times have changed and how last year’s festive period changed them.

The Boxing Day 2-1 win over Lincoln City – Barry Conlon scuffing the winner in the last minute – built on a good performance in the rain at Chesterfield – and showed a City team with Omar Daley starting to find form and Colbeck energised that could compete with the spirited teams in the division.

A Referee cost City in the 3-1 defeat to Hereford but the impressive display cemented the feeling that City could now start a run for bigger and better things which has continued to this day. In the last 365 days the Bantams have not been as lowly as we were at the start of December 2007.

So a year on and the Bantams – unarguably in a better position – face similar questions and have a similar need for a thrust of improvement although while twelve months ago the impetuous was to move away from mid-table and relegation to flirtatious play-off lower reaches now it is impressed upon Stuart McCall and his charges that with more than the play-off team what is Bradford City will be a promotion side.

Such comments are – in the opinion of this writer – unduly harsh on a Bantams side that has suffered at the hands of footballing fatalism more than most this season. Not a team in the land could survive the loss of the entire midfield and two replacements: Chris Brandon, Paul McLaren, Lee Bullock, Dean Furman, Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck have been simultaneously out of action; without a dip in results and while some suggest that Stuart McCall’s inability to have his team hang into the top three places on a weekly basis is a criticism of the manager I would suggest that it is credit to him.

The injury situation at City should have crippled the team – Steve Jones, Nicky Law Jnr, Tom Clarke and Kyle Nix is no one’s dream midfield – but each week the Gaffer has sent out a team that while bettered was never battered and the kind of excuses that formed under the likes of Jim Jefferies were never allowed to take route. McCall’s nemesis spent much of the Premiership talking about injuries to David Wetherall and Andrew O’Brien yet Stuart’s red cross list has been worse and concentrated in an area of the field position but never been allowed to become a self-perpetuating reason for defeat.

The jury – one could say – is out on McCall but one suspects in modern football the jury never returns – or only does so retroactively as it did on Paul Jewell who like McCall build a side with character that competed but was criticised for being commensurate rather than dominant. I would suggest that the improvement of the last year suggests that McCall is performing well and that if someone were to try ascribe this to the injection of funds in the summer as a suggestion that anyone could perform as well give the cash I would point them to 17th place Manchester City. Resources are only useful once marshal and marshalling of resources are perhaps best seen in the fullness of a season – injuries and all.

The midfield of woe is returning to fitness with Lee Bullock and Dean Furman both playing forty five minutes in the reserves. Both are looking at this weekend’s game with Chester as a way back before the Christmas break and one may suspect that McCall will give them the same type of “a half each” run out for the first team as they received on Tuesday afternoon for the stiffs. Doing so would allow Paul McLaren to retain his place and let Nicky Law Jnr shift right to the flank which he delivered such a sweet ball to Michael Boulding from last time at Valley Parade. Omar Daley’s return on the left last week at Brentford shows how important he has become to the team – a contrast to fifteen months ago and a change he credits McCall with.

McCall though credits Daley, Colbeck and his attacking three of Peter Thorne, Michael Boulding and Barry Conlon as being his entertainers and driving his City team on this term. He looks for another forward in the transfer window – reports that he was interested in Chesterfield’s out of contract Jamie Ward would seem to be wishful now Jewell’s Derby are interested – and sees strong attacking as the way forward. Thorne and Boulding are expected to start against Chester.

With this Keegan-esque mindset the defence that causes problems to some would seem to be less of an issue to the manager. Paul Arnison’s long awaited return for TJ Moncur should see the more attacking – or at least better crossing – full back in opposite Luke O’Brien who continues to perform well at left back. Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke – along with keeper Rhys Evans – will look on the McCall’s philosophy with the attitude that they aim if not for clean sheets then for one fewer concession than the other team and while statistics suggest that they could improve the Dagenham game showed that while it conceded in a mistake the back line did not buckle under the pressure.

Pressure that is not expected to be as great against a Chester City side who have scored only nine on the road this season and will no doubt end the season thankful of the deductions other clubs have suffered. A win over Chester precedes another Boxing Day game with Lincoln, a home tie with Morecambe and the visit of Shrewsbury. All tough in their own ways but all winnable for the Bantams who recall players to fitness and look to the sturdy first half of the season to set up a run for promotion in the second.

The decision on City – and most probably on Stuart McCall the manager – comes this Christmas.

The four corners – Brentford vs Bradford City preview

The Bantams travel to the football ground with a pub on each of the four corners looking at the four corners of the midfield as the return to fitness begins.

Paul McLaren was back for last week ahead of time and the extra week should see the playmaker building up match fitness. The number four’s impact has been lessened by injury since his arrival in the summer and an unbroken period from now to May could go a long way to seeing City promoted.

Lee Bullock – McLaren’s partner has been missed more than he was appreciated and is back in training with a return expected for the Christmas games. Dean Furman is further away but is also expected to be starting 2009 fit. When all three are in the running for places – should it happen – it will be interesting to see which two are considered corners of the City midfield. McLaren and Bullock is the accepted wisdom but Furman impressed.

Such a problem exists on the flanks too with Omar Daley returning to the side for this weekend’s clash while Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon wait until the new year to be back in contention. Daley’s performances this season – in the face of a criticism which would see him “got rid of” despite his obvious advantages – have belied the fact that in the dream City midfield on paper in August he was on the bench and Brandon and Colbeck were in.

As with Furman, Daley’s performances have made him undroppable and away from home watching the winger sprint puts the fear of God into the opposition. His return is anticipated.

No return to date for Paul Arnison who was not popular in the position where no player is every popular – right back – but since losing his place to TJ Moncur the momentum has build behind him. Moncur’s mistake last week added to his critics but no calls for his exit owing to that will come from this quarter rather a belief that Arison supported his winger better than Moncur and was a route to goals and that is why we prefer the one over the other. Moncur, however, is expected to take right back opposite Luke O’Brien – roasted a little last week – at left back and Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke in the middle.

A point on last week is that Dagenham celebrate the game as their best performance in recent years if not – truly – ever and look at the 66% possession stat with glee. In this context the defending of Lee and Clarke with the full backs and the goalkeeping of Rhys Evans was exceptional and did not get enough credit. Yes, the mistake cost a goal but the draw was saved by some sturdy backline duties.

And the draw came from some impressive attacking play by Nicky Law Jnr and Michael Boulding both of whom are to feature in a team that should read Evans, Moncur, Lee, Clarke, O’Brien, Steve Jones, McLaren, Law Jnr, Daley, Boulding and Peter Thorne. They face a Brentford team doing well in the league in 8th position but coming off the back of a 2-1 defeat to Barrow in the FA Cup and in the midst of a goalkeeping crisis.

Stuart goes in without his wingers – Bradford City vs Barnet – League Two Preview

Stuart McCall never got to the by-line.

He never skinned a full back and he never cut inside.

Little legs and a low centre of gravity Stuart McCall would have been a rubbish winger but his City team is all about the men on the flanks.

Omar Daley’s random darts have confused enough defences this year to make him one of City’s most dangerous players and the route of lots of chances but while no one else can understand a word he says Referees can and have booked him enough to suspend him.

Joe Colbeck offers something different but still important for City beating men with accurate crosses but injury at Grimsby has him sidelined and Stuart is left looking for new wingers.

Nicky Law did a reasonable job on Tuesday night but did not give the supply line that Colbeck or Daley does and Kyle Nix might be able to do what Joe does but movie left but only on a good day and the Rothstrailian hasn’t had one of those in a while.

So options like Leon Osbourn and Billy Topp in a wide role are getting talked about. Expect one to sit on the bench but Nix and Law to be the guys next to Paul McLaren and the brilliant Dean Furman.

Similarly up front Barry’s heroic header on Tuesday will bring him a place on the bench behind Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding.

At the back Matt Clarke is back and could replace Tom Clarke which would be harsh on the loan player from Udders who did well alongside Graeme Hammer Boot Lee. Tom Moncur and Luke O’Brien are full backs with Rhys Evans in net.

Barnet are without Jason Puncheon since last year after if wowed then transferred but they do have Luke Medley now which says a lot about where the club seems to be going.

They messed about in the top half of the table for a bit but are bottom half now. Expect a battle but one City can win if the squad can keep in mind the fact that the flying wingers are not replicated.

Not so much Plan B as Style B.

Didn’t you used to be us? – Bradford City vs Bury – League Two Preview

When this Bradford City vs Bury fixture crept onto the horizon a few weeks ago it seemed very much like the Bantams would be looking at getting something from a tricky visit from one of the top three as they struggled to stay in the play-off places.

The game will no doubt still be tricky but with Bury losing 2-1 at home at the weekend to Luton the Bantams are a point and three places above the Shakers with Shrewsbury and Darlington sandwiched in-between.

All four play-off teams have seem – at times – to be about to become the team to beat in League Two. City are last month’s Brentford, Bury are last week’s.

The visitors are looking to get back to the winning ways The Bantams found on Friday at Grimsby and Stuart McCall will be hoping his players dig in for the same kind of battle bested at Blundell Park.

McCall has brought Nicky Law Jnr back to the club on loan as the effects of five games in two weeks begin to pile up. Joe Colbeck joins Mark Bower, Paul Heckingbottom and Lee Bullock on the injured list and two suspensions – Omar Daley and Matthew Clarke. Daley’s suspension will kick in on Friday leaving both (we think) and he is free to play tonight. Clarke M does not play.

Clarke M and his place in the back four alongside Graeme Lee will be taken by TJ Moncur with Paul Arnison or Tom Clarke coming in at right back and the oft impressive Luke O’Brien on the left. Rhys Evans will stay in-between the sticks because not only is he the only goalkeeper at the club he also played a blinder at Grimsby.

Daley’s last game before suspension could see him switch to right to cover Colbeck with Kyle Nix coming in on the left although speculation and wishful thinking on the part of some have Willy Topp on the right and Daley left on the left. Topp impressed in that role in pre-season.

Others put Topp up front alongside Peter Thorne with Michael Boulding switching out wide left while some think that will happen but see Barry Conlon in rather than the man from Chile.

Paul McLaren and Dean Furman will no doubt see off the challenge from Law Jnr for the middle midfield berths with both playing excellently going forward and Law having never suggested that he is the man to plug any defensive gaps in the midfield.

At close of play some things will have become clear for both these teams: How much will City miss Colbeck who’s importance in the side seemingly grows with every game? Can Bury break the losing run by playing away from Gigg Lane? Have the Bantams put the bad patch to bed or just played a bad Grimsby? Will Willy Topp play? If he does, will he be any good? All these questions, and more, will be answered…

However come nine thirty on Tuesday night we will be no clearer in knowing if either of these teams is to be promoted. Wins in League Two jump you over this week’s losers but the pattern of the season is frequency of movement bubbling under the top.

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.

From jeers to cheers to where?

The frustration was clear at the final whistle when rain lashed Valley Parade and the players as they trooped away seemed to realise that two points had been lost.

Stuart McCall saluted the crowd but seemed heavy shouldered as if he recognised that the late goal that gave the visits what they wanted – a draw – was as avoidable as it was annoying.

Avoidable because a ten men City side had allowed Luton Town to score an easy equaliser when Michael Spillane headed in Ed Asafu-Adjaye’s cross under no pressure in the middle of the penalty area. That City had dropped back to a 441 to try soak up pressure showed some inexperience in analysis of the way the game would flow following the Bantams taking the lead with reduced numbers but regardless of how McCall told them to play the way the players dropped off and allowed the cross to come and the goal to go in was disappointing in a game so hard won.

The first half was marked with a strong wind that pushed the visitors into attack for the opening twenty minutes but resulted in little in the way of good play. Former Bantam Lewis Emanuel picked up the ball to take a corner and was booed by the Kop for a few seconds until those boos were drown out by recognition and applause.

Emanuel had left City for bigger and better but it turns out that Luton were – according to the FA – cheating and making illegal payments. I mention this cause I remember them beating the Bantams in the FA Cup one year and as a victim of their misconduct I find it hard to amass the sympathy that others seem to have for the Hatters.

The tide of the first half changed as – aside for a booking for Paul Heckingbottom for fouling the excellent Claude Gnakpa – the game moved into the Luton half to stay. The nervousness of the is most apparent in games were City are on top. The Bantams tried to work the ball out of the back – I assume they did this because the wind would render long balls fruitless, because the returning Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding are not target men and (to be honest) long ball football is moronic and we hated John Docherty for doing it so why would we want Stuart McCall’s side to? – but such efforts were greeted with grunts to get rid of the ball.

Paul McLaren lead the Bantams in frustration as he looked for Omar Daley, Joe Colbeck and Michael Boulding to come deeper to look to take the ball from him but often had to dally in possession. Those three players need to begin to make themselves targets more than they are now because at the moment too many City players are waiting for things to happen.

Which is not to say that Daley and co played badly just that they wanted for play to start and engaged in the second phase rather than drifting into the Luton midfield to start it. Daley’s running was impressive and threatened often.

Nevertheless at half time honours were even but possession not and sure enough the Bantams started the second half taking the game to Luton who had withdrawn Emanuel and resolved to make sure that they would have more defensive resolve. Typical of this was Paul McLaren in midfield looking for City players and seeing ten Luton players in the cone from him to the edges of the penalty area.

City this year – as with previous years and to be honest most of football – found such resistance hard to breakdown. Peter Thorne saw a header clawed away by Conrad Logan but the rain and darkness started to come in and it seemed the Bantams would struggle breakdown the back line and this assumption seemed to be fact when Paul Heckingbottom – lunging in on Gnakpa who muscled him off – was sent off for a second bookable offence.

It was not odd that Mr G. Laws – who we know like to invent his own rules – decided to punish the two bookable offences which Heckingbottom will have few complaints about but it was curious as to why those two bookable offences would be punished when others were ignored. The officiousness that saw him book Heckingbottom twice was absent when he allowed Rossi Jarvis to go with a warning for kicking McLaren or only booked Chris Martin for diving after the Luton striker had shouted complaints at him.

It says much about Referees and respect that they will only book you for diving if you shout at them and it says much about how Mr Laws referees that he allowed Asa Hall to swing a leg, miss the ball and fully make contact with Omar Daley as the City winger struggled to control the ball in the box. It was a soft penalty to give away but it was a penalty but Laws being Laws he seeks some kind of romantic reasons to give decisions rather than observing the events on the field and giving the decisions as appropriate.

Laws escaped without the booing that some City fans reserve for our own players. I observe that Barry Conlon is booed as he stands at the side of the field and when he comes on for Michael Boulding there is a mixed reception for this player who – in my estimation – gives all he has in his tank every time he pulls on a claret and amber shirt. He is not the most talented player in the squad but he gives the most effort and – I believe – when you boo Barry you give licence to other players to put in 90%.

Nonetheless his first name was still being sung by his advocates as a bouncing ball caused confusion in the box and Conlon was on hand to put in from the six yard box. He celebrated having turned the jeers into cheers and we celebrated what should have been a hard won win – all of use – even the ones who booed him onto the field. It is what we call a brassneck around here and I think they should be made to formally apologise to Barry at half time next week but no one listens to me.

That should have been that but with ten minutes of winding the clock down McCall got it wrong putting on Luke O’Brien for Peter Thorne but one doubts that McCall told the likes of Dean Furman and McLaren to sit off and let the visitors play which we did and the goal resulted.

The goal – headed into the back of the net from about ten yards – the ball nestled behind Rhys Evans and the visitors doing cartwheels and cheering in front of their own fans. The ball in the back of the net and them enjoying this draw they had come for and got. The ball being returned not by an eager striker trying to get the game restarted to try win it but by City. Them celebrating getting the point that moves them to minus eighteen and leaves us in sixth but not trying to win the game.

They never wanted to win the game. I mention this because this Luton Town address the football community as if they are wronged. They want your sympathy and complain about being punished for the massive misdemeanours and for exiting administration without a CVA. They want your sympathy and they come to your ground with the express aim of getting a draw and dragging out a dull afternoon of football where they try stop any football being played. I would not miss them.

Luton’s fate though is decided elsewhere while City’s is still up in the air. Three games without a win the Bantams go to Accrington Stanley next week with the team slipping the wrong way. The players seem to lack a freshness and labour over games. We are a team who need an early goal break to get in the habit of being in front again.

The quality is obvious but the belief starts to slip and McCall has to find a way to inject the freshness back into the side who seem to spend all game worrying about not having scored yet. Everything is being over cooked, passes over thought out, runs fretted over.

We are stuck in third gear and to find the spark to shift up because results like this are causing confidence to ebb.

Beating failure – Bradford City vs Luton Town – League Two preview

Come 5pm Saturday Bradford City’s promotion hopes will have either been strengthened or weakened – but one thing they certainly won’t be is over.

Two successive defeats is disappointing and three would be considered “unacceptable”, but with City’s home vulnerability resurfacing that is entirely possible as would-be-11th-but-for-crazy-points-deduction Luton come to town. After a week in which talk of failure has emanated from some quarters – preceding any actual failure itself – it’s worth reflecting on what it would look like. A home defeat would probably push City out of the play off positions; but, at worst, City would be six points behind the leaders, with 37 games to go.

It’s said by some that the fear of failure led to Stuart McCall playing 4-5-1 at Shrewsbury last weekend and, largely ignoring three key injuries and an appalling referee display, the City manager’s perceived negativity has resulted in some of the strongest criticism towards him yet. Whether or not the system worked in the way he intended; Stuart will obviously be moving back to 4-4-2 for this one.

Top scorer Peter Thorne, who’s absence in defeat has further highlighted his importance, is expected to be fit enough to lead the attack alongside Michael Boulding. Barry Conlon will be back on the bench having been made scapegoat by some for last week’s failings. Some of the criticism is unjustified but it’s hard to argue that the Irishman has done enough, when given the opportunity, to warrant a contact beyond January and it’s up to him to prove his worth. Willy Topp, fresh from a wonder goal in the reserves and closer to fitness, is also likely to be among the subs.

Lee Bullock’s injury will allow the promising Dean Furman to keep his place and Stuart may look for him to share more of the defensive responsibilities with partner Paul McLaren than Bullock has been. Former Hatter McLaren joined City in the summer having topped the League One assist chart the previous season, but the more withdrawn role he’s playing has lessened his impact going forward. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley will be patrolling out wide, with some disappointment this week that they won’t be pushed as hard to keep up their excellent form as they might.

At the back Paul Heckingbottom, Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke will be looking to rediscover their early season swagger and, unless Paul Arnison makes a miraculous recovery, Simon Ainge will get a chance at right back. The 20-year-old made his City debut two years ago but has had few opportunities to push on, his last one ending in failure. Stuart’s decision to give youth a chance instead of making yet another loan signing is applauded on this site and Ainge will aim to make it a quiet afternoon for keeper Rhys Evans.

For Luton, former Bantam Lewis Emmanuel makes a second return to Valley Parade since leaving two years ago. Briefly it seemed he’d gone onto better things in the Championship but, despite having trials at Birmingham and Southend during the summer, Lewis has fallen with the troubled Hatters and could feasibly be playing non-league football next year. It’s to be hoped Don Hutchinson won’t carry the influence his fellow ex-Premiership star Darren Anderton managed two weeks ago, while ex-Chelsea striker Sam Parkin will need to be watched.

Yet the biggest threat of failure will arguably come not from the visitors, but in the stands. Considering we were topping the division two weeks ago, the criticisms levelled at City by many supporters this week have been unnecessarily high. Conversations before this match are likely to contain the phrase “we’d better win today” and, judging on past form, the chances of supporters getting behind the team if they don’t start well are highly slim.

A delve into City’s recent history adds further reason to fear such failure. During the past two seasons, promotion hopes looked credible going into the middle of September – and were all but extinguished when October was over. It’s easy to pin point the respective defeats to Huddersfield and Hereford as the moment things went wrong, but defeats are always going to happen and it was the later ones at home to Brighton and Accrington which really tipped the balance towards another season of failure. During both these games the crowd quickly turned on the team and worked against it – and a similar reaction if things aren’t initially going to plan on Saturday could prove similarly damaging.

Earlier this week one fan wrote they were sick of hearing the management and chairmen falsely building up our promotion hopes each summer, as though pre-season optimism has nothing to do with us supporters. Well promotion this season is my dream, promotion this season is your dream, promotion this season is Stuart McCall’s dream, promotion this season is Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn’s dream, promotion this season is even Barry Conlon’s dream.

If we all channel our efforts in the same direction, accepting we succeed and fail together, the chances of us all achieving those ambitions will surely be greater. So, should City fall behind on Saturday, how are you going to react?

The clouds that form over us – Shrewsbury vs Bradford City – League Two Preview

Once again one could be forgiven for thinking that Bradford City were going into a weekend fixture with the heaviest of black clouds over the club rather than playing the team a place below in a game in which the winners end up in the promotion area.

Having heard from various sources that City’s manager was inept, that the assistant was ruining what the manager did and that some of the players were simply good good enough and need to be got rid of it would be interesting to see what reaction a good result at Shrewsbury would have.

By reaction of course I talk about supporters. Within the club Stuart McCall’s job is to minimise defeats and keep player grounded in wins. A reaction in the dressing room akin to that in the stadium and we really are in trouble.

As it is by five we could be top again. Rhys Evans keeps goal but his back four is changed with TJ Moncur coming in for the injured Paul Arnison. Matthew Clarke and Graeme Lee are in the middle with Paul Heckingbottom on the left.

Omar Daley continues in front of Heckingbottom as Chris Brandon recovers and Joe Colbeck will look to continue his impressive form on the right.

Dean Furman – rested from the reserves – may make a first start with one of Lee Bullock or Paul MaLaren stepping down, probably the former as McCall feels the need to add steel to his midfield for the visit to the other highly fancied club in League Two.

Shrewsbury have spent the money raised when Joe Hart made his England debut triggering a half million release clause in the deal that took him to Manchester City on Grant Holt who is am impressively troublesome striker but with the likes of Michael Symes and David Hibbert to pair him with the onus seems to fall on City to snuff out the expensive man in the way clubs would mark tight Dean Windass and not be troubled by whomever was alongside him – a role both Hibbert and Symes took.

Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding would both have been better partners for Windass – who is rumoured to be thinking over an offer to manage Grimsby Town – and both are in the same bracket as Holt entitled feared strikers.

Come five one of there teams will have laid down a marker for promotion. Come next season the bookies expect both to be in League One.

Flying colours

In the end the result disguised the fact it had been Bradford City’s biggest test of the season.

Going in at half time a goal behind having collectively played average, supporters unrecognising and undermining efforts, a disgruntled manager to face and the first questions over their ability to muster a promotion challenge – the players had much to prove.

An hour later they were leaving the pitch to wholehearted applause after a second half performance Stuart McCall would label “awesome”. Quickly finding an equaliser and not looking back, the players found a previously unused high gear to notch three more goals through some devastating attacking football.

All of which leaves City sitting top of the league and, while it may be early days, coming 11 years to the day of the last time a divisional summit was reached after August – a 2-2 draw against Middlesbrough in the old Division One – shows it’s a rare enough occurence to enjoy. Now the challenge is to stay there.

If the second half blitz provided plenty of evidence to believe this could finally be City’s season, the doubts cast during a disappointing first half performance shouldn’t be discounted. Home games against so-called lesser sides have proved City’s Achilles Heel to often in recent years. Usually on the back of a decent away win, the expectation is more over how many goals will be scored than merely whether the game would be won.

Newly promoted sides can be dangerous to play early season, as City discovered a fortnight ago, but Exeter appeared content to keep men behind the ball and attack on the break. The initiative was there to be taken but, as chances were created and a feeling a goal would inevitably arrive grew, the warning signs which have formed part of so many home failings in recent years were again neglected. Grecians strikers Marcus Stewart and Adam Stansfield provided Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke with some uncomfortable moments, with one slip from Lee resulted in City’s crossbar rattling and Rhys Evans earlier been forced into an excellent tip over.

The Bantams had chances too, with an Omar Daley rocket from distance been touched onto the bar by keeper Paul Jones, but when the visitors went in front it was far from the shock it might have been considered at 3pm. Midfielder Matt Gill fired home via a post after Clarke woefully sliced a clearance into his path. It’s not the first time the former Darlington centre half has cost City a goal through poor distribution, but his steady second half recovery offered a reminder of the qualities which make him a firm fixture in the side. A mistake can be forgiven, if it’s not repeated.

Up until this point the game had been played out to a rather muted atmosphere, save from the Bradford End, but in response to going behind the volume dramatically increased from the home crowd. Not, sadly, in support of their team, but to complain and boo. Firstly a loud crash could be heard as hundreds of City fans seemingly threw their toys out of the pram in unison, then it was the players turn to take cover.

The eight minutes between Exeter scoring and the half time whistle were easily City’s worst, and it can be no coincidence it occurred with many City fans vocally criticising everything they did. I don’t understand the thought process which concludes everything must suddenly be bad just because we’d fallen behind. As City attacked in Exeter’s box one fan near me loudly screamed they were not capable of scoring so what was the point. “Stop playing long ball!” yelled another. Two minutes later City knocked the ball around patiently just inside Exeter’s half and the same person demanded the ball be “put into the box.”

At half time his assessment was that City had been “rubbish” but this was simply not true. Faint booing could be heard and I pondered how our old home failings emanate from more than just our players and wish we’d provide them support when they need it most. Still a mistake can be forgiven if it’s not repeated, right?

So the test was set up, and passed with flying colours. Stuart later revealed that at half time he’d told Joe Colbeck to up his game and spark the rest of the team into life and, while it’s testament to last season’s Player of the Year that such expectations can be placed on him, the fact he delivered in such style shows it’s not just Daley we should be worried about receiving bids for come January. Colbeck ignited by picking up the ball on half way and charging forward, beating three covering defenders and firing in a shot across goal which was tipped out of Thorne’s reach by Jones. Next time the former Leyton Orient keeper would not be so lucky.

Minutes later the ball was worked to Colbeck, who unleashed a stunning shot from distance that Jones could only palm into Thorne’s path. City’s top scorer athletically shifted his body into a position to tap in the rebound and City were level. As the home fans roared in a mixture of approval and relief I thought back to the words I’d heard just as Colbeck’s shot flew towards goal from someone nearby, “What are you doing shooting from there?”

Four minutes later City went in front after another well-worked attack. Paul Arnison was invited to cross and his beautiful delivery was met by Michael Boulding at the far post, who headed home. Finally Exeter had to commit more players forward and they continued to pose awkward questions at City’s defence, though the likelihood of more City goals was always there.

The killer third arrived after Daley’s great close control and clever pass set Colbeck away and, though his low shot across the keeper looked to be drifting narrowly wide of the opposite post, Thorne prodded the ball across the line to make sure. Not the greatest of his eight goals this season, but the kind of poaching which leaves him on course to smash the 20-goal barrier by Christmas should he steer clear of injuries.

Daley’s contribution should not be devalued and he laid on the fourth after another lighting burst forward – was I the only one who felt a bit sorry for Exeter full back Steve Tully in facing the in-form Jamaican? – and clever setting up of Boulding to fire home his second. There could have been more with Boulding and substitute Barry Conlon going close before the end. If the home side had ended the first half desperate for the whistle, it was now the visitors anxious to be put out of their misery.

So top with only 40 games to hold out. The squad’s ability to cope with injuries and suspensions has yet to be proved, but as a settled side continues to grow so to do the expectations of what it can achieve. Few teams in this division will cope with City’s attack on this form and it should be noted that worse sides than Exeter are still due at Valley Parade.

Another test passed but, increasingly, it’s the rest of the division who’ll be considering the Bantams their biggest.

City take the pride, but could have left with more from Leeds

The new season may be less than a month old, but for Bradford City it has already featured defeats from its two biggest rivals. Unlike the 4-0 humiliation at Huddersfield in the Carling Cup, Tuesday’s narrow defeat saw the Bantams leave the field with pride. Yet for how well merited the standing ovation 4,000+ City fans awarded their team at the end was, the feeling that it was an opportunity not fully taken remained.

It was a night of agonising what ifs and if onlys. The penalty decision that set Leeds on their way seemed harsh, there was the controversy of the disallowed equaliser by Omar Daley which captain Graeme Lee held an animated conversation with the referee about at half time. Barry Conlon’s miss, which was punished two minutes later by a momentary lapse in concentration for the second goal, and a few chances in the second half where the ball just didn’t fall in the box in a way City players could profit from. Leeds were deserving of their victory and, if they weren’t necessarily a class above in terms of their play, that extra professionalism and concentration to take advantage of the luck which came their way was evident.

It was no surprise to see both managers make changes with the league in mind, or for City to line up in a 4-5-1 formation. The collapse at Huddersfield has clearly been weighing on Stuart’s mind since the draw for this game was made and he set about at least avoiding a repeat. City packed the midfield and denied Leeds space but going forward there was a lack of support for lone striker Barry Conlon, who had an average game at best. City needed to have more runners from midfield and would arguably have been more effective had Lee Bullock started, as late surges into the box are more his game.

Defensively City were shaky on occasions, with Mark Bower and TJ Moncur not having the best of first starts of the season. Rhys Evans also had a disappointing first half where he flapped and panicked too often; had this been Donovan Ricketts the abuse would have been reigning down from City fans behind his goal. Joe Colbeck was praised by Gary McAllister after the game but, given he was up against a 16-year-old left back starting only his second game, he might have hoped to make a bigger impact. Daley and Lee were probably City’s best players but Dean Furman and Kyle Nix also did well, if the latter giving the ball away a bit too much.

At half time we were unfortunate to be 2-0 behind but, until a goal was pulled back, the second half was a frustrating affair as the game became too easy for Leeds. It’s questionable why an attacking change wasn’t made sooner so City could force more pressure and Stuart’s thoughts were probably influenced by that horrible night at Huddersfield, but for a while it seemed City’s ambition didn’t stretch beyond walking off the field only losing 2-0.

I can understand the decision to rest Thorne, but if there was no intention to even give him 10 minutes on the field why include him on the bench? Rory Boulding was kicking his heels somewhere and the wait for changes to be made was frustrating. Belatedly Lee Bullock and Michael Boulding came on, but only after the heavy pressure that pulling a goal back sparked had died down and Leeds were firmly in control again.

Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference; but as I stood there surrounded by fellow supporters looking nervously on while singing our hearts out, desperate for a late equaliser that would have sparked scenes of celebration probably not matched since the Liverpool game eight years ago, it was hard to escape the feeling that the belief it could happen was not shared on the bench.

There was a lot to be proud of – the atmosphere from the City fans (I’ve a croaky voice today), the commitment and resilience from the players, receiving a text from a Leeds fan in the home end expressing how worried he was with ten minutes to go and the excitment the match produced.

Stuart certainly deserves credit for the way he lined up City and the performance was very encouraging but, with a bit more positivity, we could have been walking out of Elland Road (after a 25 minute delay) with more than just our heads held high.

Keeping back the kitchen sink

City proved more than a match for local rivals Leeds in this entertaining JPT clash at Elland Road.

Bradford did much of the early pressing, with Omar Daley’s blistering pace proving a real threat. In one attack he dribbled down the left, cut inside and released a powerful shot that went into the side netting.

But Leeds took the lead via Robinson’s highly controversial penalty. With the ball heading into the box, Paul McClaren was adjudged to have handled by the linesman – a very poor decision right in front of the sizeable City contingent. McClaren clearly chested the ball down quickly having collected the ball from some height, but no contact was made with his hand ( we had a view from only a couple of yards away, nearly at ground level).

But minutes later, City seemed to have levelled. A scramble inside the Leeds box resulted in Colbeck thrashing home from close range, but the goal was ruled out for offside.

With the half drawing to an end, Robinson smashed the City bar with a thunderous effort from 20 yards which was quickly knocked out by Heckingbottom. From the resultant corner, substitute Becchio was disappointingly allowed to head home directly from the cross, with Lee and Conlon seemingly to get in each others way when trying to mark the striker. It was poor defending from a set piece.

Thankfully though, City refused to lie down in the second half. Despite a couple of hairy moments where Leeds went close, including hitting the post from a Richardson effort, City more than held their own. Colbeck and Daley both had excellent games, and they forced a number of second half corners with their good wing play.

And real hope was in the air when a goal was pulled back by Barry Conlon. Daley brilliant weaved his way around the Leeds defence, and cut the ball back to Kyle Nix. His cross cum shot was diverted into the back of the net by Conlon to the jubilation of the Bradford faithful.

At this point, we had Leeds worried. All the play was with the away side, as we tried to force penalties.

But there was an air of disappointment in the air when it became apparent that McCall was not willing to bring on another striker to really force the issue. Tactics from the start were to play Barry Conlon in a lone striker role , with the midfield packed out with five. Surely with 20 minutes to go we could have brought on Boulding (M) or Thorne to add some real threat?

But Stuart only decided to bring on Lee Bullock with 5 minutes to go for Dean Furman (who had a promising full debut) and Micheal Boulding was given 60 seconds to make an impact. Why couldn’t we have really thrown the kitchen sink at Leeds in the final stages to make it interesting? Chances are we might have conceded if it didn’t work out, but at least we would have had more of a chance of levelling things up and forcing penalties which could have lead to a famous victory on enemy territory…

But don’t let those thoughts put a dampener on what was an excellent and very credible City performance. We more than matched the best squad in League One for the full 90 minutes, and really had them under the cosh at one stage. Despite us being 2-0 down at the break, we actually had the better of the play in the first half. And in the second, we made them nervous and really had a good go. It was a night to be proud of the team – and more encouraging signs for the rest of the season.

As we were kept inside the ground for 25 minutes after the final whistle had gone, there was plenty of time for reflection on our start to the season. If we continue playing the way we did in this match, there is no doubt that a top three finish will surely be ours.

The stats show that we have lost two games in a row – but that doesn’t tell the whole story. We battled gamely in both the defeats and have shown real signs that we have the spirit to not lie down in games, which is crucially important.

A trip to Vale Park on Saturday awaits for City – and three points there could really set us on our way to keeping up with the leading pack, with two very winnable home games to follow.

Our last trip to Port Vale resulted in us winning 1-0 with Steve Claridge getting the winner. This time we will be pitting our wits against a Port Vale side with ex City man Lee Sinnott in their managerial hotseat.

Lets hope we can perform on Saturday in the same courageous way we did tonight at Elland Road, and concentrate on get our promotion push back on track.

The game we won and lost

This game has convinced me that City are going to get promoted.

Cause I was not sure before and I’d seen the Huddersfield game and I’d worried that against Rochdale we had looked a bit shaky and against Notts County we seemed to wobble but today losing to Aldershot convinced me we were going up.

Cause we had character.  We showed character.  We would not have even made a game of this in the last decade since we went out of the Premiership.  This game would have been like all those get a goal, get thrashed that we have done.  It would have been like Leicester City in 2001 but done at a lower level.

But it was not.

We took the lead when Joe Colbeck dummied a Paul Heckingbottom corner for Paul McLaren to score and that was the difference in a first half of cut and thrust that saw both teams look decent.  Lee Bullock should have added a second but the girlie named Nikki Bull saved his close ranger but those two efforts were City’s only proper danger and I thought about the Rochdale fans moaning that they had more chances than us last week.

But the Shots managed what Rochdale didn’t.  The lashed the ball at Rhys Evans goal and while the Stags staggered around trying to make the perfect chance this home side just needed the perfect hit which they got through Ben Harding who equalised with a twenty yard shot.

That when when City could have lost the game and would have done in the past but didn’t.  Joe Colbeck led the charge back and got mercilessly hacked in the box for a penalty which Peter Thorne saw saved.

It was one of those reality checks.  Not the getting thumped at home by Wigan rather than going top of the Premiership but still pretty bad.  Peter Thorne can miss? Really?

Thorne did it again but by then things had got worse and City had seen Marvin Morgan stick the ball in from close range.  This was a disappointment.  Two minutes after the penalty miss and heads were down.  Head picked up again though and quickly.  The goal came when Aldershot got to the by-line and pulled it back.  I hate goals like that and have a worry about Rhys Evans’s ability to command his penalty area.

Anyway Thorney should have scored.  He got through and Nikki Bull swept the ball off his feet and for a minute he looked like a play who didn’t score with every touch but in truth and on another day we could have been 3-1 in this game then it struck me.  On many other days we will be 3-1 in the game.

We created a bag full of chances but did not put enough of them away and they created some chances and they did well with them but a couple of times they were thanks to the kind of luck of the draw long rangers that sometime do for you but don’t work that often in League Two.  Graeme Lee tried one and it almost worked but most of the time they don’t and don’t worry about losing to them.

Worry if you let in goals like the one Lee Bullock got to equalise.  A well worked move ended in a close ranger header.  Those are the goals that teams need to cut out at source and that you can defend against.  You stop the other team having the ball in dangerous positions and you stop them working with it and when they get frustrated and try something that works one time in a thousand you have done well.  That is what City did with and when Scott Davies whacked the ball back after a good bit of defending then they got the win.

But we got something else from the game.  We got a load of chances and we got the knowledge that had we converted more of them we would have ended up winning.  Four games down and we have three wins.  Stuart McCall will want three points from home games and one from away and that average would give us eight.  We have nine.

On to Port Vale with Leeds in the cup in the week.  Vale fancy their chances but if we play like this we will carry on picking up the points on the way to promotion.

I’m certain of that.

Aldershot Town vs Bradford City – League Two 2008/2009 preview

Aldershot Town are on of those “When we were…” teams. They look at their current surroundings – back in League Two – and compare and contrast with City’s time in the Premiership. “When we were in the Vauxhall Square Third Division West this lot were in the Premiership.”

It is motivation and it is true. Teams like Aldershot and Morecambe have risen as we have fallen and to do so they have by in large been organised and managed correctly much as we were on our ascent to the top flight. They look at our high watermark and compare it to their low and it gives them spirit which we must overcome.

Aldershot’s return is welcomed. They are a club who suffered at the hands of disinterest and bad chairman but sorted themselves out and went the long route back to the League. The results thus far have been a win, a draw and a defeat at much fancied Shrewsbury and they are becoming known for a dogged resistance. They did have former Bantam Ben Starosta on loan but he has left the club. His name aside they are a squad of honest names many of whom have risen with the club.

Looking to rise with Bradford City is Dean Furman who signs on loan from Rangers but is not expected to start the game with Paul McLaren recovering from his dead leg to partner Lee Bullock in midfield. Expect Furman’s debut after an hour or so to bolster the often flagging midfield. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley keep places on the flanks but as Chris Brandon returns to training Daley will feel the breath of a replacement on his neck.

The back five of goalkeeper Rhys Evans. Paul Arnison and Paul Heckingbottom as full backs and Matthew Clarke and Graeme Lee in the middle is immutable as is the strike two of Michael Boulding and five goal Peter Thorne although Barry Conlon’s five in one game in the reserves will see him sit on the bench with confidence.

Good teams, and the season so far suggests City are one, pick themselves.

Living up to the hype…

City’s highly impressive start to the league season continued as they maintained their 100% record to cast aside last season’s playoff finalists Rochdale.

This was the sort of clinical win that really gives us justified hope that City are real contenders this season.

Rochdale proved to be very sticky opponents. In fact they dominated much of the play in terms of possession and threatening attacks. But they critically lacked the killer instinct in front of goal, with £60,000 ex Halifax striker Jon Shaw really disappointing, and justifying Stuart’s unwillingness to part with any funds to secure his signature.

A quick glance at the statistics from the game shows that Rochdale had plenty of shots at goal, but failed to get even one of them on target.

Omar Daley had a good early chance as he took possession of the ball with plenty of space on the left hand side of the penalty area, cut inside to the centre, skipped past a defensive challenge, but blasted straight at Dale keeper Russell. But if truth be told, Rochdale had much the better of the early exchanges.

Their build up play was excellent attacking the Kop , and forced City into one or two hairy moments the back. Too often did Arnison allow crosses to come in from the left hand side and threateningly cross across goal. But Dale failed to deliver the goal that their possession and build up play probably deserved.

City edged in front on 20 when Daley released Peter Thorne on the right hand side of the box. The veteran striker then whipped in a perfectly executed pinpoint cross right onto the head of Micheal Boulding, who headed firmly down to celebrate his first Bradford goal.

Unperturbed by conceding, Rochdale continued to press for the following 15 minutes, but again lacked cutting edge. And they were stunned when Paul McClaren whipped in a brilliant free kick from the left that was nodded in perfectly at the back post by an unmarked Peter Thorne who doubled City’s advantage with a header from close range. The irrepressible Thorne has had a stunning start to the season and is already establishing himself as a legend among the City faithful.

There was still much work to do in the second half, and City did it extremely well defensively. Clarke and Lee grew in stature in the second half, and both Heckingbottom and Arnison carrying out their defensive duties admirably. Heckingbottom in particular had an excellent game – and nearly scored a collectors item goal with a brilliant run in the first half!

Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley didn’t have their most productive games offensively, but in the second half, both showed a desire and willingness to track back defensively to help out their full backs. Their effort did not go unnoticed.

Lee Bullock didn’t really get involved enough for my liking – he had very much an “Eddie Johnson type” game. McClaren seemed to stroll through the game in a pedestrian like fashion without really impressing (apart from the excellent free kick) before going off with a knock.

In a rare second half counter attack, Micheal Boulding raced clear with intent. With Conlon lurking at the back post, Boulding ignored the big Irishman and struck a brilliant low left foot shot that beat the keeper, hit the inside of the post, and rolled across the goal line out for a goal kick. Desperately unlucky was the impressive Boulding , who was always willing to run beyond the defensive back four and produced numerous excellent flicks for Thorne to feed on. Their newly formed striking partnership is looking extremely promising.

With time ticking on , McCall basically extinguished any chance of City scoring again by leaving Barry Conlon on his own up front. TJ Moncur came on as part of a five man midfield that was the kill the game off as a contest. Not even the player that outdid City twice last season – Adam Le Fondre, could change the course of the game. He was unlucky late on with a strike that bounced off the cross bar.

But in truth, on reflection over the 90 minutes, City were comfortable and had quite convincingly cast aside the much fancied Rochdale.

They say the makings of a successful team is how they react to defeat. That hellish rainy night at Legoland has not impacted our team and what we are setting out to do in the league. We have followed up that crushing defeat with 2 wins, 4 goals and 2 clean sheets. And even in the game against Huddersfield, we more than held our own for 60 minutes.

The way the team have battled back at Macclesfield, and now against a very good Rochdale team proves that we really are worthy of the League Two hype this year. We have been excellent in every department, and if we can keep that up consistently this season, there is no doubt we will end up as Champions. Inside of sulking about losing to our local rivals we have put on two excellent displays.

Can we keep it up? I think so. City are the real deal this time round and, given the evidence of our nearly fully fit team so far, you would be foolish to bet on them finishing outside the top three.

The important and exciting thing this season is that every position seems to be covered squad wise so that even if injuries become a factor, we have good players who can step in. If Thorne or Boulding are injured, Topp, Boulding (R) or Conlon (or maybe not?!) can step up. If Omar Daley is showing inconsistent form, Joe Colbeck can step in on the right. If Lee Bullock is out injured again, the hungry Luke Sharry wlll want to grab a first team opportunity with both hands. If Matt Clarke’s decision making is called into question at the back, Mark Bower will slot in bringing his experience at the club to the forefront.

These are the type of advantages and options that we have not had since 1999.

This is our season.

It has to be.

Bradford City vs Rochdale – League Two 2008/2009 preview

League Two has yet to take shape – unless you count the hope that the Bantams will stay at the top and the Alan Davies on QI way that some clubs hang at the bottom – but already City have made their intentions known by winning two on the trot. Rochdale – last year’s beaten play off finalists – offer a more stern test than Notts County and Macclesfield did.

Indeed Dale – who have spent longer in the 4th tier of English football than anyone – beat City twice 2-1 on the way to that Wembley final with the Valley Parade game ending Stuart McCall’s men’s slim playoff hopes.

Following Wembley Keith Hill’s men have spent money on Jon Shaw – who at one point interested City – and fancy themselves as promotion material and a comfy win over Barnet got those ambitions on track.

All of which recalls the glorious spirit of 1969 when Rochdale got promoted back to the third tier of English football having been placed in Division Four following the split in Divisions Three North. Dale were out of the bottom available league for five seasons before being relegated in 1974 – a season in which they won only twice. It is the club’s centenary year this term and they hope to celebrate with a second league promotion in one hundred years.

Dale have lost key man David Perkins since last season but retained the impressive Gary Jones and have a goalkeeper who the manager calls one of the finest passers in the football league.

The Bantams are expected to field the same starting eleven as beat Macclesfield last week with Rhys Evans in goal; Paul Arnison, Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke and Paul Heckingbottom at the back.

Joe Colbeck starts his first home game of the season on the right after having a hand in both Peter Thorne’s goals last week. Paul McLaren and Lee Bullock are the middle and Omar Daley is expected to line up on the left wing in the continued absence of Chris Brandon who not only tweaked his ankle to delay his debut this week but also moved back to a shiny new house in Bradford.

Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding start up front with Barry Conlon on the bench. Willy Topp will miss up to four weeks after getting injured in the reserves during the week.

Square pegs, round holes

So yet another England international passes us by and we hear journalists and pundits asking that old chestnut of a question: “Why are we playing with a naturally right footed player on the left side of midfield?” Steven Gerrard occupied the left sided position this time to accommodate Frank Lampard in a central midfield position with Gareth Barry along side Lampard with David Beckham on the right hand side. Previously Steve McClaren had been slated by the press for England not qualifying for Euro 2008 but what about Capello and his tactical decisions and team formations?

From what I witnessed last night on the ITV highlights show, Capello picked a starting 11 very similar to what McClaren would have chosen if he was still England manager. So then we hear Tony Adams and Andy Townsend mulling over England’s starting midfield players with square pegs and round holes muttered.

I believe that as long as the England manager picks the supposedly best 11 individuals rather than the player who is best for a certain position we will win nothing.

It’s been discussed plenty of times before and I’m sure that it will do so again in the future. Why do England managers have to accommodate both Gerrard and Lampard in midfield? Whilst they are both quality players we have seen over several years now that they can’t play in the same midfield. Why not pick Stewart Downing as the left sided midfield player? Is it because he plays his club football for Middlesbrough who are perceived as a smaller club in the Premiership?

Anyway, whilst I’m bothered about how England perform I’m more bothered how Bradford City are performing. Which got me thinking; has Stuart McCall got a similar dilemma to Mr Capello?

In Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley we have two good right sided midfield players so how does Stuart accommodate them both in the starting 11? Answer: he is currently operating with one of them on the left side of midfield. Is this a good thing? Only time will tell. What about Kyle Nix? Personally, I believe that we look like a more balanced team when Nix operates on the left with either Colbeck or Daley on the right. Similar occurrences can happen in defence when you get a team playing a left footed player at right back or vice versa.

This isn’t a new problem that has faced football managers and it will always occur. Supporters often talk about successful teams having balance and partnerships. For me, City have looked a better team when we’ve had a balanced midfield with the likes of Paul Showler, Mark Stuart or Peter Beagrie playing on the left side of midfield. As for this season, we will just have to wait and see who McCall picks as his left sided midfielder.

A team game

Among the strong bluster of disapproval which resulted from Tuesday evening’s Carling cup nightmare at Huddersfield, there was one line of criticism which particularly stood out.

In response to manager Stuart McCall’s post-match omission that their League One opponents had been a class above during their 4-0 triumph, some argued that this shouldn’t have been the case because the summer recruitments – the majority from the division above – should leave us with a team which could hold it’s own in England’s third tier. Given the club’s ambition is be competing at the top end of League One next season; doubts were raised at the team’s ability to achieve it.

No one would argue Tuesday was anything other than woeful, but it was the way City collapsed having fallen behind – rather than his players capabilities – which will have concerned Stuart the most. It’s a squad still needing time to gel and, as a test of what it is capable of, playing Huddersfield was too much, too soon. Everyone can see we have good players, but it will take time to become a good team.

The basic surroundings of Moss Rose proved ideal for rebuilding battered pride and switching focus back to the season’s main objective of promotion from League Two. City will face tougher games over the coming months than a poor Macclesfield side could offer, but this comfortable victory will help build confidence for them.

Right from kick off, with City quickly winning possession and straight on the attack, it was clear the players were determined to make up for Tuesday’s disappointment. Two early goals made for a comfortable afternoon as City went up and down the gears, rarely threatening to lose grip of the game. If a more emphatic scoreline looked probable at one stage, it was still an impressive 90 minutes from the Bantams.

Unlike Tuesday, City played like a team. A team with an impressive forward line; Peter Thorne again the hero with a second double strike in two starts. The first a looping header from a delightful cross which flew into the far corner, the second a poacher’s effort after poor control by Silkmen defender Sean Hessey allowed him the chance. Last season’s top scorer had to wait until November to net his first goal and, with four already, the prospects of a bigger return this campaign look good.

Alongside him Michael Boulding looked more the part after an underwhelming full debut at the Galpharm. He made some impressive runs and took up clever positions. It might not be the kindest comparison, but he is the first City striker since Michael Branch with the ability to run the channels, popping up all over in and around the penalty area. The former Aston Villa striker had chances to open his Bantams account, most notably hitting the post in the second half.

A team with wingers who excite if also frustrate. Joe Colbeck returned from suspension and, while quiet by his standards, set up Thorne’s opener and played a part in his second. Omar Daley was back on form and terrorised Macclesfield’s shaky backline on several occasions. Just like against Notts County the week before, he almost scored from a mazy dribble which began in his own half, just taking too long to get in his shot after reaching the penalty area. Opposition managers will become increasingly wary of Omar’s threat on the break and, like Boulding, he was unlucky to see a second half effort come back off the woodwork.

A team with a capable central midfield. Lee Bullock hasn’t torn up any trees during his first two games this season, but caught the eye with an impressive display. Paul McLaren continues to play things simple and some his best work isn’t always noticed. It might not work every game, but the duo controlled the tempo and set up several attacks.

A team looking solid and mobile at the back. Macclesfield, who’s first half wretchedness was probably best summed up when, on the end of heavy pressure in their area, a defender managed to clear the ball to their striker on half way only for the flag to go up, showed more fight in the second. Substitutes Izak Reid and Francis Green made a difference, the latter unlucky not to pull a goal back after his shot was tipped over by the impressive Rhys Evans.

The home side had a strong penalty shout rejected, but otherwise found City’s defence too strong. Paul Arnison has been criticised for his performances so far, but defended efficiently and got forward well. On the opposite side Paul Heckingbottom has made a bright start to the season while Matt Clarke continues to look solid, his distribution improved from Tuesday.

But it’s his central defensive partner and club captain Graeme Lee who fans were raving about at the final whistle. His best moment in an outstanding display came in the second half when, with Macclesfield adopting manager Keith Alexander’s trademark tactics of pumping the ball into the box, he headed the ball clear four times in quick succession. Just like Peter Thorne with Dean Windass, Lee is showing there is life after a club legend and his on-looking predecessor, David Wetherall, would have been proud.

All of which ensured Macclesfield were out of ideas well before the end and City could have easily had two or three more to reflect their superiority. Billy Topp – who’s dominated the post-Huddersfield discussions – came off the bench for his first appearance of the season and looked sharp. A look at the unused subs is another reason to feel optimistic.

This is a team which isn’t fully there just yet, there were still moments where players could have done better and understandings still need developing. In the closing stages Evans and Daley had an argument after the Jamaican gave away the ball in a bad position and Lee, as captain, had to get involved. Daley has managed to lose his cool at some point in each game so far and while that might be a concern it’s also a sign he cares. As does the way Evans and Lee argued with the winger and other players helped to later calm him down by talking to him.

What sort of season City will enjoy is still unclear, but the indications are positive from the two league displays so far. This is team with great potential and, when it is up to full speed, should prove difficult to stop. Tuesday’s shocker will take time to forget, but this team looks capable of celebrating something far more significant than a place in the second round of the Cup come May.

The things we think and do not say – Macclesfield Town vs Bradford City – League Two 2008/2009 preview

Let’s try that again.

Bradford City are the favourite to go up from League Two this year after bringing in a clutch of quality players to add to a strong squad that finished last year.

It never happened.

That strong squad recorded City’s first opening day win since 2001 last week when Notts County were beaten 2-1 at Valley Parade. The first game of the season is always tough and as up for it as the likes of Omar Daley – impressive on the right wing – was that day the Magpies were equally as motivated to get a good start. Every first day win is good.

What about the first round of the cup? Move on. Minimise.

Stuart McCall was part of a City team that won promotion to the Premiership after losing the first game of the season at home to Stockport County so Peter Thorne’s two goals will not have convinced the Gaffer that City are assured promotion – just that they are three points nearer it.

But when, where will the next three points come?

Rhys Evans retains his place in goal despite that night – I thought we were not mentioning that night… -but McCall may look to the axe elsewhere. Paul Arnison does not deserve it by TJ Moncur may get a chance over him.

Right wing? Moncur? What is going on Stuart?

Graeme Lee, on the other hand, is immense and keeps his place as – one suspects – will Matthew Clarke – He has had better nights… Mark Bower never used to give the ball away as often as that. Paul Heckingbottom is playing well but and the fact that Chris Brandon is in training but not match fit will probably mean that Kyle Nix keeps his place.

He was quiet in the second half. He is a great player but so easily falls out of plans.

Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren will continue in the middle although their was a worry as they lost the control of the midfield they had after an hour in the first game.

Faded. The middle of the field was open and he just ran straight through them. They are both pushing thirty, maybe they don’t have the legs. Minimise. Move on.

Last season’s player of the season Joe Colbeck – he is not tainted – is expected to make a first start ahead of Omar Daley on the right wing and Peter Thorne will return up front alongside Michael Boulding who makes his first league start with Barry Conlon dropping to the bench.

But Barry did things and Boulding was so… nothing. He is great – I’ve seen him be great – but he needed to do more that night…

McCall looks to continue the good league form and build on the win over Notts County.

Return us to hope Stuart.

Huddersfield Town vs Bradford City – League Cup First Round 2008/2009 preview

Having won on the first day of the season Bradford City go into the first local derby in sixteen months with tails high and a wound to heal.

The last visit to City’s least favourite rivals at the end of the 2006/2007 was one of the low lights not only of that season but of the fall from the Premiership which we hope to have now turned around as Huddersfield recorded a simple 2-0 win against a lifeless City side under David Wetherall’s management.

A season and a bit later and investment and management sees City looking upwards for the first time and Stuart McCall getting an early chance to measure himself against a team from a higher division,

McCall faces a Huddersfield side managed by a former assistant boss from Valley Parade whom he played under – Stan Ternant – who thanked goalkeeper Matt Glennon for a last minute save that stopped the lead they had taken through Andy Booth from being turned around to defeat in the 1-1 draw with Stockport at the weekend.

As with McCall’s City Ternant has stacked experience in his side with the likes of David Unsworth, Chris Lucketti and Luke Beckett – almost a Bantam joining Booth and Danny Cadamarteri who was a Bantam and a really wretched one at that. Added to that are a selection of youngsters who have come through Town’s set up and one could expect that as a higher league team they may be tempted to give some squad players a run out.

Former Town boss Bill Shankley said that were Everton playing in the back garden he would close the curtains but knew that winning the Merseyside derby gave his Liverpool team important bragging rights and such factors may change the teams put out.

McCall is expected to give the majority of the side that started at the weekend in the win over Notts County but may be tempted to give Michael Boulding a first start over Peter Thorne who suffered cramp after his two goal haul. Either that or Willy Topp will be given a chance to emulate his hero Edinho – well, my hero – and score at Town’s ground. Barry Conlon is likely to retain his place.

Chris Brandon is missing for a return to the club he has just left and Joe Colbeck misses the final game of his suspension leaving Omar Daley free try continue his impressive start. Kyle Nix on the left with Paul McLaren and Lee Bullock in the middle although McLaren’s tender ankle may give Luke Sharry a start.

Paul Heckingbottom, Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke make up three of the back four the other is right back Paul Arnison who splits opinion for reasons that pass my understanding. Playing behind Omar Daley is a hard enough job for any full back with the winger far too often allowing a man to go past and double up on the full back. Not only did Arnison’s direction keep Daley closer than any full back has previously managed but he got forward and supported Daley to boot.

Add to that his assist on the first goal and one wonders just what a full back has to do at Valley Parade be considered to have performed. Stephen Wright, Gunnar Halle, Gus Ulhenbeek, Darren Holloway and Darren Williams have all been been pillared at points yet Simon Francis and Nathan Doyle were loved. Similarly Heckingbottom is criticised for things that Andrew Taylor and Luke O’Brien are not. It would seem that the forgiveble players – loanees and young lads – play as full backs do and are excused and full time seniors are never forgiven should a single winger go past them.

Rhys Evans keeps goal and Stuart McCall bites his nails on the touchline. This is a chance for the Bantams to notch a scalp on what we are hoping is the way back, to win bragging rights and to build the morale that can keep the league performance ticking over.

What if it all goes right? Pre-season 2008/2009 [I]

Take an average of the odds you can get on Bradford City being in League Two and the Bantams are 2/1 to go up. To put that in context the bookies think that City are more likely to go up than Manchester United are to win the Premiership.

We are dealing with that level of expectation. We have that level of assured thinking around City as Stuart McCall – in second full year as the manager at Valley Parade – awaits the results of a summer rebuilding which has seen new, impressive signings come in and talk of double promotions heard.

The signing of Michael Boulding seemed to top off the rebuilding. His rejection of League One Cheltenham to come to Valley Parade was probably as geographical as it was ambition based for the player but for the club it showed the intention. To get a group of players of League One standard and trust in gravity to take us up.

Boulding is expected to partner Peter Thorne in City’s first string eleven. Thorne’s 14 goals in 31(+2) games did much to raise both City’s league finish last year and the expectations for this and the thoughtful forward seems a good foil for the speedy, tricky Boulding.

In back up Barry Conlon is able and willing and Willy Topp is promising much after flashes of skillful and smart play. If everything goes to plan then the main two strikers will be kept fresh by the others – Rory Boulding and Omar Daley also qualify – and will be notching 20+ plus each.

Much of this depends on the midfield and Paul McLaren especially who is tagged as some as the signing of the season in this league and it is started to be taken as read that he will end the year with the most assists – Thorne’s head or sharp one touch finishes and Michael Boulding’s runs being his prime routes – and be the force that takes City to promotion.

In an ideal world McLaren is what we dare to dream he is. A player with the foot in defensive abilities of Stuart McCall who passes like Peter Beagrie but no one is that good even when scaled down to League Two levels.

McLaren’s partner in the midfield will be found from Lee Bullock, Kyle Nix, and Luke Sharry and should things be going to plan the three of them will battle it out until one emerges as a perfect partner. Bullock is likely to be the first starter but both the youngsters are showing well.

Bullock was highly thought of at Hartlepool for his attacking abilities while at Bradford – well, at BfB – Nix is a favourite for his skillful and energetic displays. Sharry – young that he is – roared into pre-season and looks set for a place in the squad. He has power and a calm head.

Youngster showing well was a description of Joe Colbeck until he became player of the season and the great hope of Valley Parade. If everything goes right Colbeck will pick up where he left off at the end of last season and start giving the drive that he did at the start of 2008. He has what every young player needs – quality around him – and can find more outlets for his passing and better players to work close interplay with.

Chris Brandon is expected to be the first choice for the left wing. Huddersfield Town supporters called him a nearly man – “nearly scored with that shot, nearly did something great” – and perhaps the extra push he would need to be the exact man will come from his passion for the club. He is a City fan playing – at last – for his club.

Not playing for his club would seem to be Mark Bower who looks like he may lose out to Matthew Clarke in the contest to play alongside new skipper Graeme Lee. If we are getting promoted the two from three will develop a partnership. League Two is a division of big forwards and in Clarke and Lee we have two superb players in the air. Bower is better in possession and marks well. Clarke his a mountain of power and Lee is collected while strong.

Pauls Heckingbottom and Arnison have a remit to get down the flanks. In a great season these two will be passing their wingers often and notching assists.

Also, in a great season Rhys Evans – a late signing to the cause – will have little to do.

Finally the manager Stuart McCall use the tools of his squad to maintain constiency of the majority of the eleven while dropping in approriate changes where needed. Certainly more than any City manager since Paul Jewell his squad is their to be picked rather than having the eleven players pick themselves.

Bump

City’s 4-0 defeat to Motherwell brought us all down to Earth. The signings and a win over Bradford Park Avenue seemed to have got City fans thinking that League Two was in the bag. A trip to a UEFA cup team saw to that and over the weekend Shrewsbury over took us at the favourites to win the league.

I liked that rush when Michael Boulding signed and I still feel it now. I’ve looked at the eleven and the sixteen that City can put out next season and the bumps of ability around the squad are impressive.

Take the midfield situation and the players like McLaren and Brandon are in and the likes of Phelan and Eddie Johnson making do are out. Tom Penford was snapped up by non-league clubs wanting to punch above their weight when he left us but we have snapped up players for League Two clubs looking to punch above.

Players like Graeme Lee who would be the most impressive name on someone else’s team are now in our team and we have a collection of these guys. You would have looked and worried cause some visitor had former Premiership players like Boulding or multi-million guys like Peter Thorne. We have a fist full of these guys. We have the best team in League Two next season.

But having the best team and playing the best football are two different things and on Wednesday night we get to see how these Bantams play against Burnley.

Rhys Evans seems to be Stuart’s first call as keeper but I’m not convinced. This is the weakness in the side as every other position fills up.

Paul Arnison at right back with Milton Turner as back up if the Guisley man can be signed. Paul Heckingbottom at left back. Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke in the middle which is strange cause I would never have thought Mark Bower should be dropped. Clarke is just too impressive and the sort of big man we need.

Joe Colbeck is sitting out the first two games but Omar Daley can and will fill in. Paul McLaren seems a shoe-in for the starting line up with Lee Bullock or Kyle Nix alongside him. I’ve not been impressed with Bullock much but McCall is and those two could be his starting midfield. Nix might be needed on the left with Chris Brandon injured.

Michael Boulding is injured too but Peter Thorne and Willy Topp will be up top on day one and if not then Barry Conlon is scoring freely in pre-season.

The way the names trip off the tongue. The way they fill the starting eleven with quality like Bower, Nix or Topp to spare. That is the indication of the quality Stuart has.

Someone once told me (It was me – Ed.) that to get promoted you get a bunch of players together who are too good for the league you are in and let gravity take you up. Gravity bounced City off the floor of football. Time for the bump back to begin.

Back to the tough work as pre-season begins

Bradford City’s players returned to pre-season at the start of one of the more pressured period in the clubs history.

Under the stewardship of the club’s definitive player Stuart McCall the squad are expected to win promotion – and perhaps the odd cup – and the challenge for the same the season after.

A club that has won promotion eight time in 105 years wants to start bursting up the divisions. The feeling is the club play below their weight and the expectation on these players is that they can put an end to this underachievement.

So tasked with this Stuart McCall takes his inspiration from the best Bradford City manager there has been and like Paul Jewell he assembles a squad of senior professionals and exciting younger players.

Most of his recruits in the summer have been over or touching 30. Chris Brandon, Graeme Lee and Paul Arnison are – it is said – to be joined almost certainly Paul McLaren and perhaps also Michael Boulding joining the likes of Peter Thorne and Lee Bullock as senior players already doing laps of Applely Bridge. These are McCall’s McCalls, his Beagries, his Windasses.

Added to them is a small crop of younger players – Kyle Nix, Willy Topp and Joe Colbeck leading them – who look to be the legs and trickery of the experience.

Brandon is expected to take a left flank role opposite Colbeck and with McLaren and Bullock between them feeding the ball forward for two of Thorne, Boulding, Topp, Barry Conlon or Omar Daley. Behind them Arnison, Lee, Bower and Heckingbottom have over 1,075 career games between them. Add McLaren, Bullock, Brandon and Thorne to those and you have eight players with ust under 2,500 league games under their belts.

McCall believes that experience will get the club to achieve. He has staked his reputation on it.

For City fans are fickle from old and forgive little. The word when Stuart signed was the fear and the fear was the McCall would tarnish his position as the club’s hero on his return. Indeed twelve months into his spell in the big chair at Valley Parade criticism of McCall is audible and a recent ad hoc poll of supporters on their favourite player saw the usual winner’s place less firmly held.

Nevertheless McCall answered the call as heroes must do and now attempts his great feat – his Knight’s return – with polar opposites of cementing his place in the pantheon of players who have led on and off the field for the same club or fading away to be a memory of a player who once pounded the streets around Applely Bridge.

BfB’s Top Five Review of 2007/2008

www.boyfrombrazil.co.uk Player of the Season

  1. Peter Thorne
    The If Only… Had Peter Thorne been fit all season and the Bantams been scoring and winning then who knows what the result of Stuart McCall’s first season would have been? He is the predatory poacher we missed without Dean Windass and as soon as he returned to full fitness with his intelligent play and able striking abilities City started to win. More please.
  2. Kyle Nix
    Plucked from the season string at Sheffield United Nix has everything that a young player should have. He plays with equal measures of heart and skill and is a joy to watch with his vivacious and effective style. The finish on the end of Willy Topp’s turn aganist Shrewsbury lives long in the memory.
  3. Joe Colbeck
    To say opinion was divided on Colbeck last season is an understatement with blows almost being exchanged over the winger who after returning from a loan Darlington ripped up League Two. Getting that form out of Joe Colbeck again next season is key to City’s promotion push. Keeping him long term may prove difficult.
  4. Barry Conlon
    How many players turn around the Valley Parade crowd from the angry mob to the appreciative whole who may have debated his abilities but saluted his commitment and effort. If anyone has ever deserved a contract extension it is Barry Conlon.
  5. David Wetherall
    The sentimental vote? Perhaps but David Wetherall organised a back four as well as he ever has done. The legs might have struggled but the brain was in full effect and it is that brain that will be behind the Bantams next year.

BfB poled eight contributors to get these results. The follow top fives are written by (one of) Jason, Roland, Michael, Omar and Paul.

The five best results and performances of the season

  1. City 3 Rotherham 2
    Oh what a Tuesday night. We proved in this game that we can actually play well against a very decent side.
  2. Darlington 1 City 3
    Stunning away victory against a promotion chasing team
  3. City 3 Notts County 0
    One of the most comprehensive victories we have seen in some years.
  4. City 4 Shrewsbury 2
    Another excellent Tuesday night, with Mr Willy Topp annoucing his arrival in Bradford with his first start, and setting up Nixy for the first goal.
  5. Dagenham and Redbridge 1 City 4
    Superb away victory – what a reward for those of us who made the trip down to London down. Nicky Law Jnr made sure of the points with an excellent late brace

Five moments when we thought we might be going up…

  1. Beating high-flying Peterborough at Valley Parade in September to go seventh.
  2. Stoppage time at Bury in January, City are 2-1 up and they have a harmless looking throw in…
  3. Luckily beating Macclesfield when they dominated second half. “Sign of a good team playing rubbish and winning,” we thought. If only…
  4. Billy Topp beautifully setting up Kyle Nix to score, six minutes into his full debut.
  5. When Joe Colbeck broke through to net the third goal at Darlington.

…and five moments when we knew we weren’t.

  1. Watching Accrington play us off the park at Valley Parade in October.
  2. Being the better side at home to Brentford but watching the Bees have two shots and score two goals.
  3. Half time at home to Rochdale, somehow it was 1-1 but the opposition were on another level.
  4. Barry Conlon’s penalty miss against Dagenham.
  5. Must-win game at Rochdale in April, 1-0 down inside 24 seconds.

Top five that the gaffer got in – McCall’s best signings

  1. Barry Conlon
    The example for everyone. Put in effort, get rewarded.
  2. Kyle Nix
    Skillful, talented, young. Fingers crossed we keep hold of him.
  3. Peter Thorne
    Showed class.
  4. Ben Starosta
    Looks like the sort of full back who can defend well and then add to the attack.
  5. Scott Loach
    They say that he will be England keeper one day. A way to go but impressive so far.

No Thanks – Five disappointing signings McCall made

  1. Paul Evans
    What gives Evo?
  2. Alex Rhodes
    Caught in the act of making Omar Daley look like a winger who tracks back.
  3. Willy Topp
    So much fanfare, so much wait ’til next season.
  4. Darren Williams
    Good, but like having Darren Holloway back.
  5. Nathan Joynes
    Barnsley said he was great, he was not.

We will miss you – Five players who impressed but have gone

  1. David Wetherall
    A legend.
  2. Donovan Ricketts
    Capable of making blinding saves.
  3. Tom Penford
    A favourite of this parish
  4. Nicky Law Jnr
    Who looked like a very good player. Better than his Dad for sure.
  5. Eddie Johnson
    Because the lad deserves credit for effort.

That went well – Five great things about 2007/2008

  1. The atmosphere, and home performances, at Valley Parade improved thanks to proper priced tickets.
  2. Stuart McCall back is great. Having him answer critics in the second half of the season is better.
  3. Barry Conlon turned around the fans with some gutsy displays proving that it is possible to turn around the fans with gutsy displays…
  4. …and nowhere was this better seen than Joe Colbeck who tore down the right wing brilliantly for four months.
  5. We broke even for the first time since the Premiership. Now that is progress.

Next year – Five things to get excited about

  1. Stuart McCall is up to speed.
  2. 20,000 supporters in Valley Parade? Would be great if it came off.
  3. Willy Topp is resting in Chile as we speak and raring to go at League Two next season.
  4. Should Joe Colbeck continue his form from the end of this term then expect dewy eyed thirty somethings to compare him to John Hendrie with every other breath.
  5. Promotion. You know its gonna happen someday.

The Confession

I have a confession to make. It’s probably going to lead to ridicule from some, while others will question my sanity; but it’s been bothering me for some time and I think I’ll at least feel better for saying it.

I’ve really enjoyed this season.

There, I’ve admitted it. Chuckles from some, accusations I’m some sort of clap-happy supporter willing to embrace mediocrity from others; but I’ll go even further and say I’ve not enjoyed a season this much since the first Premiership campaign eight years ago.

I know that many people, not least Stuart McCall, continue to refer to this season as ‘disappointing’ and finishing 9th or 10th after such high pre-season promotion expectations isn’t good enough. I accept the team have ultimately failed and that another year in the basement league is a sad state of affairs. I understand all of this, yet I can’t bring myself to feel as miserable about it as others appear to be.

So what have I enjoyed? Well certainly not the numerous disappointing home defeats. The Mansfield debacle can be summed up by the pathetic winning goal conceded, the Bury performance was that of a team over-confident from a six game unbeaten run and watching Rochdale run rings around us for the opening 45 minutes left me embarrassed to celebrate Peter Thorne’s underserved equaliser. Since relegation from the Premiership we’ve seen so many lame home defeats which, while the opposition has consistently changed, have felt remarkably similar.

I’ve not enjoyed it that we couldn’t make a better fist of challenging for promotion. Many have pointed out that Stuart had the fourth biggest wage budget at the start of the season and should have done more with it, but it’s obvious his lack of knowledge of League Two when taking over set us back. Having only six senior professionals on the books to start with meant a lot of strengthening was required, but it’s a situation that shouldn’t be repeated this summer.

Of course the biggest reason City haven’t mounted a meaningful promotion challenge was that woeful eight game winless run in autumn. With the pain of the previous season’s relegation not fully healed, it was particularly depressing to see City struggle so badly. This run of form included the 3-0 Accrington shocker and the memory of Eddie Johnson carelessly giving the ball to a blue shirt to score inside two minutes that evening is still vivid.

For real heartbreak though, the 2-1 defeat at Morecambe a week later takes some beating. We should have won, but the careless efforts of certain players that night cost us with the Morecambe winner coming in injury time. Five defeats in a row, the journey home that night was almost unbearable and is undoubtedly one of the most painful moments of my time supporting Bradford City.

But for all those disappointing moments, the number of brilliant ones has been greater for me. From the moment Stuart walked to the Valley Parade dug out for the first time, on the opening day of the season, to a rapturous reception against Macclesfield, you felt we were in for a special season. It may not have worked out that way but, the huge crowd that day, repeated at the other 22 home games, has been. One day I’ll stop staring at the Kop to my right, when at games, and not be thrilled by how full it looks. If next year’s season ticket offer comes off and it’s even fuller, it’ll be a nice sight to get used to.

The largest crowds in the division haven’t always resulted in a good atmosphere, but there have still been some hairs-on-the-back-of-neck moments. Apart from the Barnet game a few weeks ago, the Tuesday night kick offs have all felt special. The superb atmosphere in the Kop while City surrendered to Accrington should have brought shame on the players, and the atmosphere for the midweek wins over Chester, Shrewsbury and Rotherham was also fantastic. It was great to end the home season against the MK Dons, with plenty of noise emanating from both ends.

And it’s the atmosphere on the road which is ultimately why I’ve enjoyed this season so much, with performances undoubtedly better than at home. It’s been great fun travelling the country to visit the various League Two grounds and the chanting from our fans during the games has often been non-stop, from the moment the players came out to warm up until the final whistle, regardless of the result. If the evidence of visiting supporters to Valley Parade is anything to go by, our fanatical away support must stand out compared to most other League Two clubs.

This has helped produce many special moments, such as the second half at Darlington where City played their promotion-chasing opponents off the park and we celebrated each goal wildly; chanting non-stop through the half time break at Stockport, despite being fully exposed to the strong wind and rain; Scott Loach’s miraculous double block from a penalty against Macclesfield; the comeback at Notts County; Wetherall Day at Rotherham. I’m sure those who were there won’t forget Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu’s 95th minute penalty equaliser at Grimsby, which prompted manic celebrations that spilled onto the pitch and saw Stuart run over to us and appeal for calm. It was one of those moments supporting your team where you completely lose it and temporarily forget where you are.

Quality football might not have been in as regular supply as we’d have liked, but there have been some great moments to enjoy. Luke Medley’s first touch in professional football; Omar Daley’s performance at Accrington; Willy Topp’s promising debut against Shrewsbury; the transformation of Joe Colbeck; Peter Thorne’s hat trick at Notts County and brilliant goal in the Meadow Lane meeting; Barry Conlon’s penalties (until he missed); the emergence of Matt Clarke into a solid defender; the superb second half of season form from David Wetherall that leaves you wondering why he is calling it a day.

My ultimate highlights of the season both centre around Lincoln City though. The Boxing Day Valley Parade game was an emotional afternoon carried out superbly by both clubs and sets of supporters. Barry Conlon’s late winner may have been comical, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went crazy when I realised the keeper had improbably allowed it in. Emotions also ran high at the Sincil Bank meeting in September and the atmosphere in the away stand that evening makes it one of my all-time favourite away games. The singing was non-stop, so passionate and so enthusiastic. It might have become the norm since, but that evening was particularly special.

The 2-1 victory that night lifted City to 9th at the time and the final league table will suggest little progress has since been made; yet the potential of what City can achieve remains and there will be strong optimism it can followed through next season. It often appears to be the case we spend the summer believing it’s going to be our year, but in Stuart we can be confident we have a manager quickly learning and with a huge passion to lead this club to glory in 12 months time.

A better season hopefully awaits, but I hope I’m not the only supporter who’ll take fond memories from this one.

Not fit to referee

I shall be clear, dear reader, from the offset.

Joe Colbeck deserved the red card after 37 minutes for a violent tackle on Dean Lewington which saw the 2-0 down City’s performance against the Champions of League Two but aside from ordering the Bantams player of the season off the field Karl Evans put in a shameful, disgraceful, unfit for purpose refereeing display.

All of which stops the match report I would like to have written about City’s man of the hour and about the prospects for next season and forces me to write once more about the appalling state of officials.

First things first though this afternoon – the final home game of the season – saw David Wetherall’s last match at Valley Parade and the penultimate of his career. Wetherall led City’s players in the minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the fire of 1985 and as he did my mind drifted back to May 2000 when Wetherall’s header kept City in the top flight and relegated our opponents the Dons. I recall that on that day the Liverpool supporters observed the silence with not a decibel before joining the Bantams fans in roaring through a pulsating game of football. The visitors today paid similar respects and held a banner to commemorate. They are much criticised – these Milton Keynes Dons – but as supporters they did themselves credit today.

Paul Ince’s team deserve some credit too and obviously can play a bit. They go up as champions largely on the strength of the away form that make this the eighteenth win on the road of the season but the Dons win at all costs attitude is best summed up with a casual phrase thrown around in the second half. “Paul Ince will make a good Arsenal manager one day.”

The Dons took a lead early on with after City had started the brighter and Barry Conlon should have given City the lead but Willy Gurrett loomed large the in the goal after good work had put the Irishman through and Conlon hit the ball wide. The Dons lead came from a ball crossed from the left – Darren Williams did not have a good game and left Colbeck out wide to cope with Lloyd Dyer – which travelled too far untouched by Bantams to be not considered a mistake by the back four when Jude Stirling headed home. Ince fielded a 352 which was effective while the Bantams soft pedalled.

Dyer scored the Dons second after powerfully converting a long throw which bounced over Wetherall’s head and it would be tempted to chalk that goal off as being a mistake by the man who is a little too long in the tooth but Williams once again allowed Dyer free reign to come in from the flank and Eddie Johnson simply watched the winger run past him to score. Johnson seems set to be a good twelfth man for the Bantams should he stay but one suspects that promotions are not made of displays as he puts in all too often. His inclusion at the expense of Tom Penford seemed unjust and up until the sending of off Colbeck which was to follow Johnson did not show enough desire. Not enough by half and he was not alone in that.

Colbeck’s sending off on 37 minutes was just. He trolled into Lewington who he had tormented with his pace earlier in the game as he steamed in anger. That Colbeck’s fury was caused by Dons skipper Keith Andrews elbowing him in the face in the pattern of play that preceded it is no excuse just as those managers who moaned that Dean Windass had squeezed testicles or niggled their players before retaliation had followed. The likes of Cheltenham’s John Finnegan painted themselves as wronged heroes following retaliation against Windass and were allowed to do but to be they were over angry and needed to allow the referee to take control rather than giving out what justice they saw fit as should Colbeck. That Karl Evans was a pathetic referee is not a reason why you should be allowed to take your anger out on another player so violently and Colbeck blotted and impressive copybook.

Nevertheless a strange fury surrounded the deserved red card and City to a man increased the levels of performance. Wronged – supposedly – the Bantams roared into the Dons and began to create sustained spells of pressure with Kyle Nix prompting in the midfield and Barry Conlon making himself a nuisance up front. Omar Daley’s dazzling run and left footed finish gave City a glimmer of hope at half time and the half ended in farce. A visitors corner ended up in disgusting two footed smash tackle on Kyle Nix by Jordan Hadfield which was much worse than the attack that had seen Colbeck sent off and went unpunished as Evans called a halt to the first half with former Bantam Aaron Wilbraham holding Scott Loach in a headlock and trying to shake him to retrieve the ball.

Colbeck deserved sending off. Football has no room for retribution being taken out in that way but it has no room for players grabbing each other in headlocks – the thin end of a wedge that ends with violence – and it certainly has no room for the type of two footed lunge that sent Nix spinning from Hadfield. The Bantams went in at half time 2-1 down to a chorus of boos for Referee Evans who would come out to perform so much worse in the second half with the words “You’re not fit to referee” ringing in his ears and such a phrase is true. Referees have a duty of care to the players written into the rules of the game in in ducking the decision to punish Hadfield or Wilbraham Evans hid from that responsibility. I would not like to have been a player on the field in such a lawless environment.

Evans made a litter of mistakes small and large in the second half missing the most obvious corner seen in football, allowing a waist high wrestling move on Darren Williams when he came through, giving a random set of decisions against Barry Conlon and Dons man Danny Swailes as the tussled all afternoon and at one point allowing Wilbraham to sneak back onto the field of play after going behind the touchline and rob Loach of the ball which he pinged off the bar of an open goal.

Your average football fan can be forgiven for not knowing that player who leave the field – go over the white line – have to ask permission to come back onto the field and that it is only a convince to allow them not to return to the pitch at the halfway line (as substitutes do) but Karl Evans is paid to know the rules of football and rather than stopping play and booked Wilbraham he allowed play to continue. It is Law 12.6 if you want to grab your copy of the rules and check it out and it is right above the rule that he used to send Colbeck off.

What can you say about a situation where the Referee knows or applies on the rules he decides at that time? I hope he is just a pathetic referee rather than a bent one but I can not accept that he is neither.

The frustration with Evans’s display was matched by that of City’s knocking on but never breaking through the MK Dons defence – David Wetherall’s header wide went in in a more romantic world – and in the end a ten man Bradford City were better than the eleven of the champions. Paul Ince had four months at StockportMacclesfield (an impressive five months) before he started at the Dons and one cannot help but wonder if after four months of learning at City Stuart McCall had have been able to start the season at the beginning of January would the Bantams be in the position that Ince’s men are?

McCall has got a City team that try play a bit, that can play a bit, that are naive in places but very exciting to watch. The team needs a tweak here and there but not wholesale change and one hopes that Colbeck will have put off potential suitors today and that should he start for the year long loan that seems to hang on Watford getting promoted then Scott Loach does not have to many games as he did today but the Bantams should be considered serious promotion contender next season.

This season though is full of what ifs. What if Peter Thorne had been fit at the start of the season? What if Joe Colbeck had found such scintillating form earlier? What if that run of not winning all through Autumn had not come? What if? The Dons take the championship but one cannot help but be reminded and paraphase of the famed comment of John Bradford – there, but for the grace of God, goes Bradford City.

The grace of God and a better referees maybe.

The Warm Up

This week Bradford City released details of next season’s friendlies, though for the past month it’s felt as though pre-season for the 2008-09 campaign has already begun.

With little to play for but pride, recent games have lacked intensity and significance, tempo has slowed and goals haven’t been cheered quite as feverishly. The management’s focus is more on which areas of the team require strengthening and players are campaigning to be part of those plans. The ambition when we line up against Guiseley and Burnley in July will be similar to Saturday, it’s now all about the big kick off in August.

That the season petered into little more is down to the failings of the current crop of players, many of whom are still battling to convince manager Stuart McCall they shouldn’t be shown the door in two weeks time. Since the Mansfield debacle in March there’s been a notable improvement in effort and attitude, but it’s the consistency question mark which remains. Seven of the 14 players involved in Saturday’s come back win over Grimsby, the third home success in four, are still waiting to hear about their immediate future and a further five will feel they still have to convince that they should be regulars next year.

The first half performance will have done them few favours. A bright start soon turned into a poor one as the visitors, also lacking in promotion or relegation concerns, took an early lead. There was little on when the recalled Omar Daley knocked the ball back to Darren Williams, but the right back was quickly closed down by Nathan Jarman and lost possession. Ciran Toner was then able to charge towards the area and cross low for Peter Till to tap home.

In reaching the ball first, the Grimsby midfielder injured himself by colliding with Luke O’Brien and departed on a stretcher as Daley and Williams argued over who was to blame for conceding the soft goal. Daley’s pass hadn’t been the wisest choice, but Williams had time to clear and will be hoping Stuart doesn’t decide his future on this performance.

The goal knocked City’s confidence and Grimsby began passing the ball around confidently. Very little happened though, in truth, and City’s disjointed efforts were just as threatening as the more cohesive Mariners. Midfield was the area where City struggled with Tom Penford particularly disappointing. Penford is arguably the best passer at the club but was too often guilty of looking for the killer pass which would often be too optimistic and be cut out by blue shirts. This was typical of the whole team who seemed desperate to get a shot on goal after a few passes, when patiently playing simple passes and waiting for openings would have been more effective.

Eddie Johnson was back up front and showed some nice touches, but lacks the physical presence Peter Thorne needs in a strike partner. Daley and Joe Colbeck both had their moments while Kyle Nix was heavily involved in play, with things not always going right. The visible frustration the young midfielder displayed in front of the Kop after a Daley shot flew wide showed just how desperate to remain at City he appears to be.

There could and should have been more goals in the first half. A Grimsby defender handled the ball just inside the area from one attack, which triggered the linesman to raise his flag for a penalty then quickly change his mind. Nick Hegarty looked to have added a second when his low shot creeped towards the bottom corner, but Ryan Bennett’s decision to make sure it did meant the goal was ruled out for offside. Daley also charged through on goal, only for the flag to go up late. City improved in the final 10 minutes but couldn’t find the breakthrough, the half time boos felt a little harsh.

The second half saw progressive improvement as City laboured and finally drew level. Thorne had headed a chance just wide but soon grabbed his 15th goal of the season after latching onto a weak backpass and taking the ball round keeper Phil Barnes, before firing home the equaliser past the defender on the line. Stuart, who after the game praised Colbeck for pressurising the defender into making the poor backpass, should be keeping Thorne in bubble wrap during the close season so the 35-year-old is fit and firing from day one.

Stuart had been about to introduce Conlon for the struggling Penford, but delayed the change a few minutes as the initiative became firmly with City. Conlon made a big difference when he did come on, as did moving Johnson back into midfield. Stuart’s decision to try Johnson up front during the last few games has prompted much debate over his best position but he continues to look far more effective in the centre than battling up front. Meanwhile Conlon became much more involved than Johnson had been and his presence triggered more regular attacks.

The real star of the show was Nix though. It seemed everything good about the second half involved the Australian-born midfielder, who showed great energy levels. For every corner and free kick he was straight to the ball to get City going and also set up plenty of attacking moves that he would later get involved in again as the ball was knocked around. Nix has his faults, notably lack of pace, but has looked very impressive since switching to the centre. Whether he would be a regular next season is still uncertain but his fantastic dribble from deep and delicate chip attempt at Barnes, which the Grimsby keeper just tipped over, was a convincing case. He will surely be rewarded with a new deal.

Something which looks less likely for the two other subs Alex Rhodes and Luke Medley. The latter made a bigger impact after coming on for Thorne with seven minutes to go and played a part in the defining moment of the game. Half way through injury time, his pass into the area was chested down by Johnson and left for the on rushing Colbeck, who unleashed a superb powerful drive that flew past Barnes. The young winger has enjoyed a strong second half to the season which has featured a handful of goals; finally he’s now scored one at Valley Parade.

The half time boos were replaced by warm applause at the end, and while myself and the wife’s experience of a group of aggressive Grimsby supporters walking back to the car suggests they considered themselves unfortunate to have lost, the reality is that Scott Loach, rumoured to be staying at City on a season-long loan, had little to do in the second half.

If this run of one defeat from eight can be stretched a further two games it will have been an excellent end to the campaign. The Champions-elect, MK Dons, come to Valley Parade next Saturday and will offer a clear marker of how far the current squad are from the best at this level than the league table, distorted by that wretched autumn form, appears to show. In reality for City though, it’s just another warm up game for the next campaign.

There. Now For Back Again

There was a nervousness – a sense of being on edge – in the last five minutes of this one goal victory over a Morecambe side who’s defeat at Christie Park represented a nadir of City’s season which was entire out of keeping with the comprehensive nature of the win and left a sense of what could have been for the Bantams after another promotion contender was moved aside with relative ease.

Those who witnessed the gutless display away in the North West came back with a worry about City’s ability to turn around the slide and the season but as a confident Bantams recorded the sort of 1-0 win which left a questions as to how the home side did not score more the answer seemed to lay in the vigour, zest and belief which characterised the display.

Nowhere is that belief better shown than in Joe Colbeck. Joe Colbeck – a player who this time last year was said to “divide fans” between those who thought he would never amount to a professional footballer and those who thought he deserved a chance. Very few would have said that this time next season he would strut across the field prompting moves, making play, setting up goal as a part of the best passing move of this and many seasons for the Bantams.

Nevertheless Colbeck’s intelligent running and low cross from the inside left gave Eddie Johnson the chance to score a scruffy but well deserved goal. After the game Stuart McCall would comment that Johnson had been forced to play out of position as a midfielder signalling that Eddie was to be consider a spare Peter Thorne for next term. Johnson took the injured Thorne’s place in the forward line with Barry Conlon playing just behind him and the pair toiled all afternoon calming the single strike but being unlucky not to get more. Conlon headed against the bar in the first half only to see Omar Daley flick the rebound over – Thorne’s miss against Rotherham has a rival now – and at that time as the Bantams waited for the inevitable goal in what was a one sided there were nerves which Johnson would ease.

Indeed it says much about the team’s display that on the whole Scott Loach was a spectator during his first game against a former club and when called into action he barely had to stretch himself. One doubts he will be at Valley Parade next season and with Donovan Ricketts not getting past Heathrow – or perhaps being lost in a bag in Terminal Five – City and McCall are looking for a new shot stopper at a time when the team is benefiting most from the build up of relationships and partnerships.

The longer Tom Penford gets in the side the more useful he looks and he and Kyle Nix did enough to stop any threat coming through the middle for the Shrimps. Injury to Garry Thompson – a thorn in City’s side back in October and subject of a Bantams bid – robbed the visitors of their main thrust of creativity and aside from a smattering of attacks forwards the end that seemed more nervous in the crowd than they did on the field they offered very little. Indeed had it not been for the customary cacophony of Mavis Riley’s as the final whistle drew near with only a single goal advantage then this game would have been stress free.

This too can be credited to the display of an inspired Mark Bower – skipper for the day on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of his debut – who’s performance alongside David Wetherall sapped hope from the visitors.

So it seems the more that Stuart McCall and his team stay together and play together the better they are getting and the season is ending a month too soon for a play off push. Much is hoped for next season by all and perhaps rightly so. I hear that this has been a transitional season for the Bantams – Julian Rhodes reported the superb news that City had broken even for the first time since Bower was a teenager – and one that sets up the promotion push for next year but for me there has been a real achievement in 2007/2008.

For the first time since that day in May 1999 a negativity seems to have started to shift from the club. The Premiership years were characterised not – as the history books are written – but pure glory then pure failure but by the constant sense of impending doom and the years after were a decline but if that decline reached a pit then it was in the last minute goal at Christie Park that mean that the Bantams lost to a team who were in the Unibond when we were in the Premiership leaving us looking at Farsley Celtic as a rival the season after rather than Leeds United and the reality check, the wake up calls, the smell of the coffee afterwards has been realised and is manifested here and now by McCall’s team as the signalled not a revenge but a renewal in this win.

The Bantams have been at bottom, now for the way up. And they say Stuart McCall has not done anything in his first season as a manager…

Bazilliant

So this is where City need to be.

A trip to fourth placed Darlington, who harbour strong ambitions of automatic promotion, was an excellent opportunity for manager Stuart McCall to measure how much work is needed to improve his existing squad with the aim of being up there next year. At 3.45pm it looked as though City were someway off as they went in at half time fortunate to only be a goal behind, yet an hour later those players were heading to the changing rooms as deserved victors following an enthralling second half turnaround. It will have left Stuart with some unexpected questions to chew over, not least why aren’t City in Darlington’s position?

The closing stages of this superb win saw away fans chanting songs about going to Wembley. For the first time since September City are in the top half of the table and, with two games in hand on seventh placed Chesterfield, there’s suddenly renewed hope of making the Play Offs. This was City’s first league visit to Darlington’s impressive new stadium and the three points they’ve taken home from it mean there remains a slight chance we could be returning to it in May as part of an extended end to the season.

Not that this looked remotely possible at half time. Trailing automatic promotion rivals Hereford United, who weren’t playing this weekend, by a point; this was an important game for the home side who started the game brightly and took a tenth minute lead. A corner was swung into the City box and the ball seemed to strike Barry Conlon’s arm which prompted referee Darren Drysdale, he of chatting to Dean Windass in the car park fame, to point to the spot.

It appeared as though the Irish striker, recalled in place of Billy Topp who curiously didn’t even make the bench, had his arms by his side and contact seemed accidental at best. Clark Keltie sent Scott Loach the wrong way with the penalty to put Darlington into a lead that, against the best home record in the division, would be difficult for the visitors to turn around.

Conlon could feel hard done by but it didn’t stop a lot of City fans singing some less than complementary songs about him. For the rest of the half little went right for him as City struggled to forge any meaningful efforts on goal other than a bad miss from David Wetherall. The home side were in control and passed the ball around well on an awful playing surface. City largely defended reasonably and Loach saw most efforts on goal go wide of his post, although the on-loan keeper has begun displaying worryingly Donovan Ricketts-esqe difficulties with crosses which won’t impress the many rumoured Premiership scouts watching his every move.

Half time was a welcome relief and, after such a disappointing first half display, the future of many out of contract City players was looking more bleak. With a small minority of City fans seemingly having already written off Stuart’s abilities as a manager, no doubt there were mutterings of discontent around the watching City cyberworld and in the huge half time pie queue. Let’s give him credit where it’s due though, whatever he said to the players at half time to inspire such a turnaround must have being masterful.

City started the second half with much more urgency and began knocking the ball around better. Kyle Nix and Tom Penford, who both particularly struggled during the first half, began to have more of an influence. I discovered shortly after half time that Nix’s sister was apparently sat just behind me and I can only hope she didn’t hear my quiet mutterings of discontent regarding his first half efforts. I certainly enjoyed hearing her scream hysterically whenever Nix got a sight on goal!

The equaliser came within four minutes of the restart. A long ball was launched towards Conlon, who displayed some superb close control to bring the ball down and play it into the path of Peter Thorne on the edge of the box. City’s top scorer took it to the byline before crossing for Penford to coolly finish for his first ever City goal. Just eight days ago Penford’s name was surely pencilled in on the list of players to be released this summer; now, after three brilliant performances, Stuart will be reaching for the eraser and sanctioning a new contract.

The initiative was now with City and Thorne should have scored when presented with a one-on-one chance against home keeper David Stockdale, who saved well with his knees. It could have proved a costly miss, but soon after a deserved second goal followed. A free kick was floated into the box and Conlon rose at the back post to send a powerful looping header into the far corner. This was Conlon’s seventh goal of the season and he’s now scored more goals from open play than penalties. His detractors have so far being able to point to poor goalkeeping and a lack of the offside flag for his previous goals, but there should be no attempts to belittle this brilliant header. Chants aimed at Conlon continued, but they were now much more positive.

It must have been especially hard to take for the home fans to see their former player strike such a potent blow to their promotion prospects. What they needed was a strong response and manager Dave Penney brought on Michael Cummins who inspired a fight back. City were forced under some heavy pressure and Loach made a couple of decent saves. The most miraculous escape came when Penford sliced a clearance against the City bar.

There were over 10 minutes left to hold out so the delirium of another City goal eased the pressure. Conlon again played a significant role after another ball was launched up to him and his hold up play caused panic in the home defence. The loose ball fell to Joe Colbeck who ran through and coolly slotted home.

The young City winger spent six weeks on loan at Darlington earlier in the season, of course, and his spell away from the glare of Valley Parade was clearly beneficial. He’s returned a more confident and effective player but, back at the club who did so much for his career, the fear was the still relatively inexperienced winger might try too hard to impress and make bad decisions in possession. There was nothing to worry about as the 21-year-old performed with great composure; something lacking in Darlington striker Richie Foran when he produced a ridiculous two-footed lunge on him. A red card was the only option and the game was won.

Realistically City will need to win almost all seven remaining games if they are to gatecrash the Play Offs. Given we’ve so far failed to win more than two league games on the bounce it may prove beyond this current squad, but any player with ambitions to still be around next season should now view this as a great opportunity to show they can produce consistent, promotion standard form between now and the final game at Wycombe. If the team can keep up their recent improved efforts, who knows what it could lead to?

Tuesday night’s trip to Spotland certainly looks very interesting. Rochdale also have games in hand and look a better bet for the Play Offs. It’s another opportunity to measure where City need to be.

Who Will Have Roast Beef?

The phrase on everyone’s lips tells of Peter Thorne – who impressively headed home a Ben Starosta cross to claim his 12 goal of the season after 14 minutes of this game which had little distinction – and how had he been fit then the Bantams would with ease swap with Chesterfield and be pushing for the play off places.

To suggest that Chesterfield looked lifeless is to denigrate zombies. Without Jack Lester and Jamie Ward the visitors on the whole looked as threatening as the Bantams did during the seven game run without wins that has coloured the season at Valley Parade and represents this Thorne-less time.

Thorne’s goal came from an impressively direct run from Joe Colbeck who flushed in on the promise he showed and justifies now the backing he got from those who did not barrack. Colbeck got on the end of a nice bit of scrapping by Tom Penford in the midfield and ran down the throat of the Chesterfield back line drawing the left back before releasing the ball to Starosta who’s cross found Thorne who found the only goal of the game. Stuart McCall starts talking to Peter Thorne about a new contract this morning but looking at how the vistors failed to mount a serious response to the 34 year old striker’s goal in the first seventy minutes of the game the City gaffer would do well to look at making sure he has more strikers than he needs.

Willy Topp looks promising with his deft touch but he play is over engineered and he needs the pre-season to get to grips with the English game and his team mates. David Brown – who replaced Topp after an hour – is impossibly small and needs to learn what his skills are on a field. Twice he turned the Chesterfield back line and would have been away were it not for crude trips but both those times came when he had the ball fed into him to allow him to spin off defenders. We will not go anywhere good next season if we repeat the sight of Diddy David trying to out jump defenders.

Thorne, Topp and Brown though should all be in the squad for next season as McCall starts to look at contracts for next time. Kyle Nix impresses some but not all but as a convert I’m hoping that he can be tied down longer term and this writer’s appreciation of the skills of Tom Penford are well known but increasingly shared. Penford was edged out for the man of the match by Colbeck yesterday but the oft around Midfielder’s display deserved plaudits as he moved the ball well and anchored a midfield along with Nix. One worried that Chesterfield hardly pressed on the Bantams central area but in the spirit of only being able to beat the teams one is put up against Penford and Nix can be very pleased with their afternoon.

In many ways Penford plays the type of game that Paul Evans should be doing week in week out closing down men when needed and moving the ball on efficiently but as Penford plays solidly and without thrills Evans never settled into a groove of performance and just as missing Peter Thorne all season has hamstrung the Bantams so the inability to have Evans play as Evans can left a hole in the side. Penford filled that hole effectively yesterday and a midfield pairing of Tom and Lee Bullock is not unimpressive.

Unimpressive but having claimed a clean sheet were the old double act of David Wetherall and Mark Bower – they just about held out – and Scott Loach will be at St James’s next season making saves and having a questionable command of his box. It will be like Shay Given never went away.

Praise too as McCall starts to look at whom can be leveraged out of clubs for Ben Starosta who impressed in many ways yesterday and would be a cracking player for League Two next year should be he lifted from Bramall Lane. Paul Heckingbottom improved yesterday and looked good.

And looking good was the aim of the game with Chesterfield either not playing well or not allowed to play well the Bantams took plaudits and points and deservedly so despite a couple of raps on the door after seventy minutes which can be chalked off against Thorne’s controlled shot which should have had his second and David Brown’s spurning of a chance to give Colbeck a richly deserved goal.

Soon to be someone else’s day

As he walked off the Millmoor pitch at the final whistle with away fans loudly chanting his name, David Wetherall could be forgiven if it began to hit home.

With a backdrop of appreciative supporters using the day to pay tribute to City’s retiring skipper, this derby draw may have all but ensured there will only be nine games left of his distinguished career. He applauded fans back while trooping off, visibly touched by the fantastic reception, but probably also feeling a tinge of sadness from knowing his days as leader on the pitch are almost over. Soon he’ll be helping shape City’s future in a different way as a member of the coaching team.

That the final furlong of Wetherall’s career is taking place with apparently little to play for is a source of much debate. No one would want to swap places with Rotherham at the moment, but it must be nice to be in a position to have 10 points deducted and still be in with a good shout of promotion. While the points penalty the Millers have suffered from returning into administration may have improved City’s remote play off hopes, there is little evidence to suggest the sort of run that could end in a top seven position is achievable from the current squad. The majority soon to be out of contract, the biggest remaining question is how big the summer rebuilding job will need to be.

On Saturday’s evidence City aren’t as far off as was feared in the wake of the previous week’s Mansfield debacle. Up against a decent outfit determined not to let off the field worries affect their game, the Bantams put in as good a 90-minute away performance as they have managed all season. Omar Daley was recalled to partner Barry Conlon, presumably with the view that two games in three days would be asking too much of the benched Peter Thorne. Tom Penford and Kyle Nix were also brought in and made a huge difference to a midfield which had been badly out fought against Mansfield. With Eddie Johnson enjoying one of his better days, City pressed from kick off and played some decent football.

They should have been in front during the first 45 minutes. From a dangerous free kick, Johnson was left with a free header but could only manage a tame effort which was comfortably saved. Soon after a scramble in the penalty area left Conlon one on one with Andy Warrington, yet incredibly he hit the ball straight at the Millers keeper with the goal gaping. Rotherham also had their chances with Chris O’Grady having a goal disallowed and a decent penalty shout turned away, but on possession and chances City should have gone in leading at the break.

Fortunately they put that right within three minutes of the restart. Joe Colbeck, once again in impressive form, charged at the full back before playing a ball into Penford, who cleverly returned it into the young winger’s path to fire home via the post. There have been calls for Stuart to start putting kids in the team with an eye for next season and seeing two of the more ‘mature’ youngsters combine brilliantly for the goal should act as inspiration to any young Bantams who get their opportunity before the season ends. City continued to attack with purpose and Nix missed a glorious chance to add a second. Daley’s run and low cross left the Australian-born winger with a seemingly empty net to slide the ball into, but somehow he only diverted it into Warrington’s arms.

Rotherham pressed, but City largely looked comfortable and it came as a surprise when O’Grady headed the equaliser from a free kick. It was a bad moment for Mark Bower, making his first start since before Christmas, who hesitated when it appeared he could have headed the ball clear before it reached O’Grady, though he might have expected Scott Loach to come out and catch it. It was the only blot of an otherwise solid return for the club’s longest serving player. Clearly it’s been a disappointing season for Bower, who lost his place due to poor form last November, but his days at Valley Parade are far from numbered and, with his senior partner hanging up the boots, it seems likely he will become a more regular part of next year’s backline.

The goal didn’t appear to upset City’s approach and Nix wasted another glorious chance, shooting over when cleverly put through. Then, with 20 minutes to go, the initiative was handed to Rotherham as City were reduced to ten men. Daley went in for a challenge with Graham Coughlan before appearing to kick out at the home defender. It was difficult to see from the away end, but the Jamaican also seemed to push the referee just before he was shown the red card and left the pitch to a mixture of chanting and boos from City fans. Daley had enjoyed a reasonably effective game back in the striker’s role, often stretching the home defence superbly by drifting out wide, but his actions left his team with little option but to hang on for a point.

It meant the outcome rested on City’s defence who worked hard in withstanding frequent home pressure. Loach was the busier keeper but only had a few comfortable saves and catches to make as the Millers were frustrated. Thorne replaced Conlon but the rest of the team were unable to support him adequately. The final whistle came as a relief.

A draw does little to help either team’s play off chances, even if City’s remain decidedly distant. On their day this team has shown it’s as good as most in this division, but stronger leadership and better consistency is required to get City truly among the front runners in 2008-09. As next season’s squad is built from retained players and new signings, it will need to include a replacement for the one player who has embodied both these qualities more than anyone in recent years.

Something which Wetherall will no doubt be influencing in his new role. Until then, he’ll be one player at least making the most of the nine remaining games. He’s being part of City’s backline for so long and we’ll miss him performing on the field. So to, I’m sure, will he.

Just not good enough

This weekend was the first anniversary of one of the more painful moments in Bradford City’s recent history. It was this time last year that nearly 4,000 of us travelled to the Galpharm Stadium for an incredibly important local derby against Huddersfield Town. With the battle against relegation becoming increasingly desperate, a good result was vital.

We were ‘rewarded’ with a feeble and pathetic performance, going down 2-0 to a mediocre Town side. Falling behind inside two minutes, there was just one woeful effort from Steven Schumacher which could be counted as a City shot on goal. The players showed a shocking lack of commitment and, considering it was a derby and we were fighting for our lives, it was unforgiveable.

12 months on and, while the bigger picture has undoubtedly got worse, thankfully we’ve not seen a performance as poor from City since. There will no chewing of the nails and worrying about relegation during the final 12 matches of this campaign, although Saturday’s defeat to Stockport has ensured we won’t be feeling any butterflies at the prospect of promotion either. And as the season drifts away it might be worth showing the current players the video nasty of that Town defeat to help them contemplate whether they’re currently doing enough to remain a City player beyond this summer.

If the players were to look in the mirror and ask that question following the Edgeley Park defeat, the majority of responses are unlikely to be positive. Yes Stockport showed they were a decent side and the conditions were difficult to play in; but with 700 or so City fans singing non-stop to spur you on, even through the half time break, and the knowledge that a new contract this summer is far from certain for many of them, you’d expect them to show a lot more than this. Stockport now lie sixth in the division, a place where we’d expect City to at least be this time next year. It was an opportunity for the players to demonstrate they are good enough to reach this standard by competing against a side with a decent chance of playing League One football next season. Sadly too many fell short.

Omar Daley and Kyle Nix were punished for bad performances the previous week by losing their spots to Eddie Johnson and Paul Evans as Stuart lined City up in the 4-5-1 formation which has caused heated debate amongst supporters this season. Whilst criticisms about its negativity may be valid, this tactic relies on runners from midfield supporting lone striker Peter Thorne. Unfortunately City failed to find any rhythm going forward and, considering we had five in midfield, it was concerning how easy Stockport passed the ball through us as they enjoyed territorial advantage.

Joe Colbeck and Alex Rhodes were too isolated, though at least Colbeck showed willingness to come central for the ball and worked hard defending. The same can’t be said of Rhodes, one player desperate for a new deal this summer. Rhodes recently returned to the side with two impressive performances against Notts County and Rotherham, but we need more than two good games followed by two below average efforts and Rhodes has a lot to do in the final weeks to convince he should be part of next season’s plans.

Stockport, with Shaleum Logan and Liam Dickinson looking lively, dominated the first half and only Scott Loach prevented them going in front with a string of impressive saves. Defensively City played reasonably well with Darren Williams, recalled after Ben Starosta was ruled out through illness, looking solid on his return. There were some impressive blocks and defensive headers which showed commitment was not a quality lacking at the back at least. A couple of wild shots from distance were the only attacking response from City and the half time whistle was a relief.

Many of City’s away games this season have featured dull first halves, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when we took the lead seven minutes into the second. A long ball forward was cleverly controlled by Thorne, who then did well to lay it into the path of Colbeck. The in-form winger charged into the area before been tripped by County keeper John Ruddy, leaving the referee with no choice but to award a penalty. With Barry Conlon on the bench and most City fans desperate for Thorne to take over duties, City’s top scorer looked nervous as he placed the ball on the spot. He duly despatched his 11th goal of the season to set up the platform for a fortuitous win.

Yet City still couldn’t get going and continued to invite County to apply heavy pressure. Loach made a string of impressive saves and Stuart brought on Daley for the ineffective Rhodes. The Jamaican has previously shown he’s a useful player to give the ball to when City are in a narrow winning position and the opposition are throwing players forward, unfortunately the defensive side to his game is still inadequate. Daley half-heartedly tracked back but failed to deny Logan space and his low cross was fired home by Anthony Dickinson.

Ten minutes later County edged in front through Michael Rose’s superb free kick from the edge of the box. It was rough on Loach, who seconds earlier had made his best save of the afternoon by denying Dickinson when through one-on-one, yet no more than his team mates deserved. Surely City now had to start forcing some pressure to get back into the game? Yet attacks in the final stages remained sporadic. Colbeck, who put in another decent performance, sent over a superb cross after Daley’s charged down shot had fallen to him and David Wetherall, thrown up front in desperation, had a free header and the whole goal to aim at. Incredibly he put it wide.

As we trooped out of the ground while listening to the odd City fan muttering that Stuart “hasn’t got a clue”, I couldn’t help but feel jealous of County. The final whistle was greeted with huge cheers from home fans and their players and manager Jim Gannon savoured the moment by staying on the pitch for a few minutes to soak up the applause of an important win. I wasn’t just envious that they can still dream of an extended end to the season, but of the spirit around the place which was evident. They had some decent players and their determination in battling on even after they had fallen behind impressed. They kept playing the right way and were ultimately rewarded. It’s a spirit which is sadly missing with City at the moment.

It’s easy and predictable to blame all of this on Stuart, but where’s the personal responsibility from those paid to play for Bradford City? The reality is that Stuart is stuck with this bunch of players until the summer, only then can he bring in better players. Sounding characteristically downbeat in defeat, an honest Stuart took responsibility for the tactical switch of bringing on Daley which failed to work. It’s another hard lesson to take on board; but if Stuart is going to make mistakes he’d be as well to do so now and learn from them for next season, which is surely the time to judge him. The manager left no doubt he will be making changes for next season and those players who wish to remain part of his plans will need to prove themselves in these final 12 games.

Not just prove they are committed, but that they have the ability to take this club forward. As Barry Conlon came on with ten minutes remaining to be met with a chorus of boos from some fans in the away end, there was a timely reminder that 100% commitment, woefully missing a year ago at the Galpharm, is only the minimum requirement. There are big question marks hanging over whether a number of current players are good enough to help City to a better shot at promotion next year, they’d be advised not to start dreaming of their summer holidays yet.

Exhilarating

Bradford’s exhilarating first half attacking display was enough to see off Rotherham in this Yorkshire derby clash at Valley Parade.

In one of the most entertaining game seen at home for some years, Rotherham proved to be more than capable opponents as they threatened regularly in the first half. But it was City who got the early breakthrough.

Omar Daley’s persistence in pressurizing Rotherham right back Dale Tonge paid off as he robbed him and found space down the left channel. With a clear break, Peter Thorne was screaming for it at the back stick, but Daley continued to dribble into the box, beat another man, before planting a strike into the bottom corner. It looked like Daley was going to overcook and waste the move, but his determination was rewarded with the opening goal.

Before we had time to recover from the jubilation of getting our noses in front, City doubled their lead with some incisive attacking play.

Joe Colbeck burst down the right and whipped in a fantastic cross which Alex Rhodes got on the end of and side footed in City’s second. Rhodes was alert to the situation as soon as Colbeck regained Bradford possession and sprinted into the box to make sure he got there to finish off the move.

At 2-0, all seemed well, but Rotherham had always threatened, and were always going to score in this game. Early on one of their front men hit the inside of the post before the ball somehow bounced out past the back of Scott Loach and miraculously out for a goal kick.

And it was no surprise when they got back into the game on the half hour, with a long ball played up to Taylor, who controlled well in the box, and slipped the ball under Loach to fire up the contest again.

With the half drawing to a close, City brilliantly regained their two goal cushion. Joe Colbeck was once again the architect, whipping in a superb looping cross which Lee Bullock headed home for his first goal for the club.

And Bradford came out in the second half with a good attitude – to protect the lead and hit Rotherham on the break once they came out to try and come back into the game. And the players seemed to possess a steely determination to not relinquish the lead, and for the most part were quite comfortable.

This determination was opitimised by Colbeck, who seemed to have endless energy, and tracked back to do his defensive work admirably. In fact it was the best game I have ever seen Colbeck play – he produced quality when it mattered, and battled it out until the final whistle. I have been one of his fiercest critics every since he made his first team debut at the club – but this type of performance on a consistent basis is sure to win me over for good.

The second half was a lot less exciting. Rotherham continued to threaten, but never looked overly confident of completing a miraculous turnaround. The onloan Moncur produced a particularly good display and showed he has an eye for a good long accurate pass to feet. Wetherall coped with absolutely everything aerially, as ever.

But inevitably, as with is to often with City these days, the Millers scored a late goal with five minutes remaining which ensured a very nervy finish to the game. Those nerves would have been avoided had the in-form Peter Thorne stuck away the most simple of chances.

Colbeck had beaten the last line of defense and rolled a fantastic ball square across the byline that landed at the feet of Thorne. From 4 yards out, the veteran hitman blasted over when it looked harder to miss than score.

But Thorne’s blushes and miss did not prove to be critical – as the City defense held firm for the full four minutes of injury time – which I have no idea how the officials came to decide on that number of minutes.

This victory was a real triumph. We had beaten one of the best teams in the division, and furthermore we had done it in style. With the new season ticket offer being rolled out, if any further proof was needed that Stuart McCall’s team are headed in the right direction, tonight was the night.

We may have missed the playoff boat now (the optimists among us still believe) , but this display really showed what we are capable of when we get out act together. We have proved we can get decent results away from home – and next season home displays like this will surely give us enough points to mount a serious promotion challenge next season.

Avoiding the Brown Stuff

On occasions this season, it’s been difficult not to arrogantly believe that we’re better than this.

I refer not only to playing in the basic surroundings of opponents like Macclesfield Town, who’s tiny and unremarkable stadium is a different league to our Valley Parade home, but of the quality and manner of football we play. It’s not that we don’t produce pleasing on-the-eye passing that belongs in a higher level than League Two, the first half of the midweek Shrewsbury home win a perfect illustration, but on other occasions we can be reduced to playing the limited kick and rush style that England’s bottom professional division is reputed for.

Saturday’s fortuitous victory over Macclesfield was certainly a performance more about hope than confidence, haste rather than control, fluster rather than fluency. It‘s very easy to be critical of so many elements of the performance and most things Stuart will have learned from a cold February afternoon will probably be negatives.

Had City lost, and they could so easily have, the journey home for us 900 away fans would have been largely spent complaining and telling each other how the season is over. Yet for all the criticism City’s performance might justifiably warrant, the fact is we won. As the final whistle blew the players were warmly applauded from the pitch and I couldn’t help but have a mischievous grin thinking of how the victory had been earned.

How many times in recent years, particularly last season, have away teams rolled up to Valley Parade and undeservedly won? As our season went so badly wrong this time last year, I would often read through the Monday’s Telegraph and Argus match reports and look at the stats. City would invariably have had more shots and corners and I knew we had deserved to win, but the only statistic that would alter the league table was the final score. We can acknowledge some familiarity in thinking how Macclesfield fans would have gone home cursing their side’s luck and bemoaning the lack of firepower.

On Saturday that lack of firepower could be squarely blamed on former City striker Michael Symes. The on-loan Shrewsbury man would have been keen to show us the talent we rarely glimpsed during his two year Valley Parade stay, yet the hat trick of chances he squandered in quick succession midway through the second half could all be characterised by the weakness of the attempt on goal. Each time Symes had the time and space to do better and each time Scott Loach was able to make a comfortable save. When Symes burst through again and sent over a low cross that should have been a tap in, he misjudged the situation and the ball rolled harmlessly across the goal.

But if one keeper’s bad mistake handed the win on a plate, it was the other keeper who sealed it. Loach earned many admirers following his midweek debut but his performance at Moss Rose was something else.

All this came during a strong period of home dominance following an uninspiring first 60 minutes from both sides. City never seemed to be able to get going and force a spell of pressure, other than the occasional flurry of corners. Macclesfield played a high defensive line which largely succeeded in stopping City getting forward. When we would win the ball and attack, too often we would lose the ball just inside the Macclesfield half.

Part of this was down to the unnecessary level of urgency when we have possession which is regularly seen away from home. It’s as if we must be on the attack instantly as long passes are launched forward hopefully or balls released for our wingers that they have little chance of reaching. We usually seem to be able to play in a much calmer way at home and you wish City would try to execute their tempo on the match. Surely it’s better for us to be passing the ball around in our own half, rather than letting the opposition do so?

A lack of a target man also didn’t help. We badly needed the ball to stick when our forwards received it but this is less Peter Thorne’s and certainly Willy Topp’s game. The latter produced some good touches and looked a threat, but ultimately we’ll need more from him as he learns the English game. In hindsight Barry Conlon might have been a better option to start the game.

Without a target man, we could still have succeeded with wingers stretching the game and running at the home defenders so they drop back. Joe Colbeck’s display, easily his worst in recent weeks, ensured that the suspended Omar Daley was missed. It’s not Kyle Nix’s game to beat opposition full backs for pace and it all meant that City’s attacks were sporadic and limited. Topp had the best chance when he forced a mistake and had a run on goal, only to be crudely chopped down on the edge of the area. A couple of headers from corners were cleared off the line but the first two thirds of the game had 0-0 written all over it.

Cue Macclesfield’s sudden onslaught which left City hanging on and pushing their luck. Remarkably, in the middle of this heavy period of pressure it was the Bantams who scored. Again it was a long hopeful ball up the field which substitute David Brown, on for Topp, willingly chased. Macclesfield keeper Jonny Brain ran out to clear but complexly missed the ball, leaving a grateful Brown to fire it into the open net. It might not quite have been the way he dreamt it last night, but new signing Brown could not have asked for a better start from his first six minutes of professional football. The young striker impressed with his pace and was a nuisance to the opposition. He’s certainly a small lad and won’t win many headers; watching him play alongside fellow substitute Conlon looked the ultimate little and large partnership.

But if one keeper’s bad mistake handed the win on a plate, it was the other keeper who sealed it. Loach earned many admirers following his midweek debut but his performance at Moss Rose was something else. Macclesfield continue to apply heavy pressure after the goal and Matt Clarke, who’s not looked as solid the last four games, got away with a bad miskick in front of goal. From another attack Loach produced a superb reaction block from a low shot only for Macclesfield to be given the ultimate opportunity to score after Colbeck fouled Danny Thomas in the area as the ball ran loose.

Loach might have only been playing his fifth ever senior game, but he’d been here before saving a penalty at Macclesfield while on loan at Morecambe. He made history repeat itself by getting down low to push away Canadian midfielder Terry Dunfield’s penalty and, even more impressively, reacted to block Neil Ashton’s powerful rebound attempt. Cue wild celebrations on the terrace behind and City players rushing over to congratulate their new team mate. A week ago none of us had heard of Loach, but after another good save we were chanting his name.

Those saves spelled the end to heavy pressure and, despite one late scare where City scrambled the ball off the line, we held out with David Wetherall once again outstanding. Conlon and Colbeck, who curiously improved after giving away the penalty, both went close to adding a second. A lucky win no doubt, which ended with Loach hugging fans at the front of the stand, but it was a game that City would probably have lost earlier in the season and this alone can be judged as progress.

Suddenly the table makes far better reading; City are 10 points from the play offs and still have a couple of games in hand over most teams, there was even an optimistic chant about City going up this season. Recent form has been excellent and, with four of the next five games at home, sandwiched between a trip to struggling Notts County, there’s a great opportunity to push on.

So I now look forward to reading Monday’s Telegraph and Argus match report and noting that the shot count will not be in our favour, but that the scoreline appearing at the top of the page is all that matters. We’ll need to be better than our efforts at Moss Rose but, if we’re celebrating any achievements come May, it’s winning games like this which will have provided the platform.

New Year, same old City

Being of a more cynical nature, I find the hopes and promises made which coincide with the turn of the year bemusing. Vowing to stop smoking or start exercising is commendable, but expecting things to suddenly change just because we start using a new calendar is unrealistic. It’s traditional for the last City matchday programme of the year to be filled with contributions about how we should hope that the year ahead will be better for City and, of course, that the home form will improve; but not everyone’s life can change for better or worse on the same day. It may happen at any point during the year ahead, but January 1 and what this signifies isn’t on January 1 for all of us.

For City, New Years Day was really Saturday 11 August and events since will dictate what sort of year 2008 will be. According to an ever honest Stuart McCall after Saturday’s defeat to Hereford, it’s unlikely to include a trip to Wembley. This is due to the efforts of the first half of the campaign, or since City’s New Years Day. Results over the last couple of months have been largely decent, but it’s the infamous five successive defeats of September/October that have cost us and may predetermine what sort of a year 2008 is for City.

In my heart, I’m quite angry at hearing Stuart effectively write off the season with five months to go. Stuart’s post match interviews are notoriously honest but, when I think back to Stuart the player performing heroics, I don’t recall him ever giving up. In my head though, I grudgingly know that Stuart is correct in stating it’s highly unlikely City can make the play offs and is looking to the future. After years of treading water, City have the stability to build again and we need to be patient. Stuart the player had a brilliant football brain and it is his judgement that we now trust in carrying out that rebuilding.

As if to emphasise that the turn of the year doesn’t instantly herald change, City’s opening 45 minutes of 2008, at Accrington, were as average and frustrating as ever. We have the basis of a decent side, particularly at the back, but going forward we often fail to attack with purpose and provide our forwards with decent service.

Midway through the half City worked the ball into the penalty area but the home defence cleared. We picked up the loose ball and worked it back to Darren Williams, who then booted the ball aimlessly up the pitch and through to the keeper. Why is it that, the further we go up the pitch, the more the ball is treated like a hot potato? It’s as if the players are wary that, after stringing together four passes, they must be looking to test the keeper. Donovan Ricketts made a couple of easy saves in the mud, Peter Thorne and Paul Evans went close, the referee Barry Knight went off injured and that was the first half.

Straight after the break City took the lead. If the scorer was notable, Matt Clarke’s first in a City shirt, so to was how it came about. All season our set plays have been shocking but, when Stanley keeper Ian Dubavin weakly punched Evan’s corner kick, Joe Colbeck cleverly lobbed the ball back and David Wetherall headed it into Clarke’s path to stab home.

The goal lifted everyone’s spirits and from there City took control. With new signing Lee Bullock adding much-needed presence in the middle and catching the eye with some decent passes, City pressed forward at will. Two decent penalty appeals were rejected while Omar Daley should have done better after a brilliant mazy dribble left him with just the keeper to beat. Daley tried to be too clever and only succeeded blasting over. Barry Conlon, who received brilliant Andy Cooke-esqe backing from us fans all game, was played through one on one with the keeper and produced the tamest of shots which was easily blocked. As Accrington pushed forward towards the end, the fear was that City would pay for their wastefulness.

Then in the second minute of injury time, Daley broke away after City cleared an Accrington corner. With everyone in the City half, Daley was left with just the keeper to beat, he tried to take it around only for Dubavin to block, but Colbeck was on hand to gather up the loose ball and coolly slot the ball home. Cue wild celebrations behind the goal.

Colbeck walked off the pitch at full time still receiving congratulatory hugs from team mates and had City fans chanting his name. Since returning from the loan spell at Darlington he is looking a much more confident player. He was excellent all afternoon and his crossing caught the eye. In this sort of form Colbeck can have a big future at City and Stuart will no doubt be telling him to keep it up and not to get carried away.

City’s star performer was on the opposite wing though. Daley has begun performing much more effectively in recent weeks and he was in scintillating form against Accrington. I don’t get to every game, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play so well for City. He terrorised the Stanley full back and, crucially, is aware of what’s going on around him and doesn’t just run the ball down blind alleys. His work rate was equally outstanding and he helped the defence out on numerous occasions. I think we are belatedly seeing what a good player the Jamaican international is.

Indeed the second half performance left me thinking we’re a decent side at this level. There are areas to improve on, but the main failing in general this season is lack of consistency. If City could play like they did in the second half every week the play offs would still be a possibility. The problem is they probably won’t; I think well enough to enjoy a better second half of the season but, as Stuart said, the teams currently in the play offs are a long way ahead in terms of points.

In the programme, Accrington manager John Colman wrote that he thinks Stanley can make the play offs this season, so to see City easily beat such a poor side who believe they can go up is frustrating. If only City could have started the season better we could now be looking forward to 2008 with more relish. Instead the rest of the season will seemingly be about building for the next one and ensuring that, for City’s next New Year’s Day in August, we hit the ground running.

In the Nix of time

For as long as I have been going to watch Bradford City, there have been two basic types of player adorning Claret and Amber.

The first type is the hard working and committed footballer. Always giving 100% to the cause and battling to the end. They may not be the most talented often possessing limited skill, but when the chips are down they can always be counted on to give their all.

Then there’s the second, more skilful type of player. On their day they have the ability to decide a match with the quality to do things that others cannot. They can have you on the edge of your seat, but unfortunately are invariably less consistent and liable to underperform in some games. They frustrate as often as they excite and can’t be trusted to always try their hardest. Are they as committed to the cause as the other type of player? And why do they seem to think they’re above tracking back?

The fortuitous Boxing Day win over Lincoln was ground out by a mixture of both types of players and showed that, as much as most of would prefer to have 11 players sweating Claret and Amber blood to the cause, not selecting players who can produce those moments of brilliance will only get us so far.

Omar Daley is undoubtedly the second type of Valley Parade player. It’s just short of a year since he joined from Charleston Battery and received the huge build up before his debut, but the Jamaican winger has so far flattered to deceive. We know he has the ability to be a match winner for us, but it’s not seen often enough. Daley was largely disappointing during the second half of last season and his miss in that vital game against Leyton Orient still makes me feel angry. He has improved this season, particularly of late, but his inconsistency leaves some fans wishing we could replace him with someone who will always give their all.

Against Lincoln Daley was both typically brilliant and typically terrible. Not everything he tries is going to work and it is frustrating when he loses the ball, but he’s often behind our best attacking moves. He stretched the Lincoln defence and regularly beat defenders; but also largely knew when to pass the ball and bring others into play, even if the ball doesn’t always reach its target.

Midway through the second half Daley had a fantastic opportunity when he broke clear and had two players to square the ball to in the penalty area, but his pass found neither player and the ball was cleared. Then as the match moved to injury time, Daley had an opportunity to charge forward again after been brilliantly found by Joe Colbeck. Again he was running at a back peddling defence and again there were City players rushing to get into the area. On this occasion Daley took his time, slowed down the ball before beating and twisting the defender one way and then the other. With others now in better positions, he delivered an excellent ball across the area which substitute Barry Conlon was able to bundle home at the far post.

It was this piece of brilliance that made the difference and earned City the unlikely win. On an afternoon of high emotion which saw unforgettable scenes before kick off, it was a fantastic way to end the day. Over the last few weeks results and performances have improved, but there have been too many draws and progress up the league table has been slow. Once again it seemed that City’s huff and puff wasn’t going to be enough after Lincoln’s Lenell John-Lewis had cancelled out Peter Thorne’s early opener. Passing moves broke down too easily and corners and free kicks were wasted, service to the front two was again not great and a winning goal seemed beyond City. Cue the moment of brilliance.

More of the hard working but limited players are Joe Colbeck and Kyle Nix, who also both played equally significant roles in earning the victory. Making his first Valley Parade start for three months, Joe got off to a flyer wonderfully setting up Peter Thorne to fire home the opening goal in less than a minute. Ask supporters around the stadium for their views on Joe and you’re likely to receive largely negative responses. Joe is certainly a confidence player and has struggled in front of the Valley Parade glare in the last 18 months, but I don’t think he can ever be criticised for effort.

Joe began this game in flying form although predictably struggled with his final ball. Watching him perform by the Midland Road stand during the second half, it was noticeable how aware Joe seems to be of the crowd. You can seem him glance up when he’s receiving criticism and it seems to affect his game. I believe Joe can become a very good footballer for this club, but he needs to find that mental steel to block out the reaction of the crowd.

Joe’s return to the team has enabled Nix to move into the centre of midfield where he looks a better player. The former Sheffield United midfielder is not the quickest and struggles to beat full backs for pace when whipping in crosses on the wing, but his work rate and ball winning ability is admirable. Moved into the centre, his battling abilities were hugely effective and his passing also really caught the eye. Nix will soon be out of contract at City but there seems to be no question he will earn a more permanent deal. The centre of midfield has been a problem area all season but Nix’s recent performances mean Stuart might prefer to concentrate on improving other areas of the team when he can make new signings in January.

City’s flying start to the game allowed some comfort against an industrious Lincoln side who performed much worse than the Sincil Bank meeting earlier in the season. They did put some pressure on City and forced Donovan Ricketts into two fantastic saves, but City could and should have grabbed a second with only the final ball or weak finishing spoiling some decent moves. It was no surprise that Lincoln came out strongly in the second half but, disappointingly, we conceded a soft equaliser within five minutes, although otherwise our defence was excellent with Matt Clarke comfortably slotting back.

City struggled to pass with any fluidity and lacked quality in the final third, Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu was hugely disappointing and it wasn’t until he went off and Daley moved up front that we can began to threaten again. Thorne was then replaced with Conlon and, with the 11 players left on the field having managed just six goals between them all season, a winner looked improbable. At least until Daley set up Conlon.

There’s no prizes for guessing which type of player Conlon is considered and it was fantastic for the hard working striker to finally net a goal for City from open play, but it was the delivery of a skilful but not always fully committed player that made it happen. If only Daley could produce like this more often because he is the type of player who makes the difference, but I know that in a few weeks time he will be causing me to tear out my hair in frustration as he disappoints once more. On those occasions it will be down to ever dependable players such as Nix to help City earn something. We certainly can’t manage without this type of player, but also need match winners like Daley to deliver.

Ultimately; the more good days than bad he enjoys, the higher up the league City will climb.

Splash

It rained at Chesterfield and then it rained some more and without a doubt the pitch was unplayable but this is League Two and no one really cares about anything except the blood and the thunder and City set out with Paul Evans in the midfield alongside Nicky Law so we were always going to get some of that but for all the fight in the middle pair the home side had the ball for most of the game or what we could see of the ball that was a brown lump of mud being thudded from one side of the pitch to another and it lacked class but I discovered that Lee Richardson the gaffer of the team that put us down last year was gutted to not win the game but admitted they didn’t deserve to and that is true cause the Bantams are starting to build stern stuff with Joe Colbeck back and running down the right and Omar Daley up front so everything as more secure but I’m never sure why Stuart McCall puts a fast lad up front and I can’t remember us ever out pacing a defence but there is no defence for Kevin Gray today because I still remember the fury and the violence of that tackle he did on Gordon Watson and for a bit my mind wanders back to that day and how exciting Chris Kamara’s Bradford City were before McCall arrived and turned passion into pride and steeled the team for promotion which looked unlikely today when Chesterfield got away at first and scored but the Bantams slogged through mud and Kyle Nix came good in the second half and that was that and both these teams are said to lack consistency but like the rattling prose of this page the only thing constant today was the driving, smacking, wetness of the rain.

Looking for Effort from Stuart McCall

At 3-0 down and on the way out of the FA Cup nothing seems good.

Stuart McCall had seen his Bradford City team come second best in almost every department to a Tranmere Rovers side managed by Ronnie Moore – a man who further from McCall in the affections of City fans it is hard to imagine – and doing well in the division above.

That thought is mulled around the mind for a while. The visitors are a good distance apart in the league table than City for a reason and those reasons are easily apparent and not only in moments when the loathsome Chris Greenacre is isolated with David Wetherall and exposes the older man’s lack of pace cruelly.

For it is not just the physical aspects of the game in which Rovers obviously superior – and more handsomely rewarded – squad best City in.

Moore’s team is drilled on hard work, learned in the fussless big man/small man pairing up front and in Ian Goodison have a rock of a defender cleaning out all with efficiency.

Contrast this with fellow Jamaican Omar Daley who madly tries to run the ball away from goal at forty yards only to be – once again – easily robbed. Within seconds and without attention from City’s right winger who believes winning the ball is something that the other players do Tranmere had fired into a lead that while threatened by Wetherall hitting the bar and Peter Thorne having a shot cleaned off the line was never overhauled.

Hard to imagine what Moore would make of a player like Daley who seems wear lack of effort like a badge. Hard to imagine what Paul Jewell would make of him but fairly easy to picture the reaction of Jewell’s skipper at City. Why, one is forced to wonder, does McCall allow just a lack of effort to become endemic in his own team? The apathy of Daley is mirrored in GNN and results in heads sinking down and only a handful of players worthy of a place in a ten next to Stuart let alone picked by him.

Stuart has let the bar go so low for effort in his Bradford City team that anyone with the bit between their teeth or the whips of a forceful manager at their backs will who with ease.

Give me the effort of Joe Colbeck, Barry Conlon, and Craig Bentham et al any day for it is not the battles we lose that are a problem at Bradford City – Tranmere deserved the win on their own merits – it is the inability to suit up for the good fight.

Watching the effort put in by Paul Evans go unrewarded as games are lost to malaise as typified by Daley’s could not care less performance, by GNN’s comments about wanting to sign for the club because his own contract at Gillingham is finishing rather than for our club’s benefit, by the sudden increase in minor injuries and illness at the club.

I think of Stuart McCall the player and doubt he would stand alongside it, I look to Stuart McCall the manager and hope that he does not stand for it.

The Colbeck Factor

Ask any Bradford City fan what they want in a player and they will say the word “Passion” pretty soon.

Our hero is Stuart McCall – a man for whom every kick was done with passion – and our greatest teams are known for the hard working ethic they portrayed. Peter Beagrie is known as an idol at Valley Parade and a malingerer at Manchester City because he discovered this passion late on in his career – and cause for all his World Cup Winners medal Alan Ball was a tenth of the manager Paul Jewell is.

Passion is what got Bobby Campbell out of the pub and got us into the pubs of Bradford to raise the money to keep the club going twice the last five years. We love passion.

Joe Colbeck on the other hand is unloved by man.

Colbeck – who has joined Darlington on loan – has split opinion at Valley Parade for some time and for sure much of the debate centres on his abilities rather than his attitude. For what it is worth I believe that Colbeck can cross a ball better than most and with the right motivation and coaching he could be a valuable asset and a very good player. The fact that he is joining a rival League Two club having already been sniffed at by Derby County at one point suggestions that I’m not alone in rating the home grown winger.

Debate over ability aside what is uncontested is that Colbeck shows passion. The ginger winger will and does run up and down the right wing for every minute of every game he wears claret and amber and provides a stark contrast to his competitor on the right wing Omar Daley.

Daley is an impressive player running with the ball but we have all seen his head sink down when backs are to the wall and for all the excitement of him running at a full back one could never describe him as showing the desire to win for Bradford City which we would suggest he rate so highly.

It would seem that City can have one or the other – attempts to field right wingers on the left almost always fail – but not both in the starting eleven and Colbeck’s exit shows which one Stuart McCall has selected but one worries about the signifier which allowing a player who’s passion puts many to shame to leave on loan has. Play hard for this club, the move suggests, and it will mean nothing compared to the odd flash off skill

Colbeck – and for that matter the likes of Craig Bentham now and Danny Forrest before him – have a purpose in a squad of keeping the rest of the players honest. Having Joe Colbeck at the club should have showed Omar Daley that the minimum required for the right wing slot was to match the effort of the other player in his position.

One hopes that Colbeck’s exit does not tell all that putting in all the effort – all the passion – that one can muster is not the minimum required to be in Stuart McCall’s team.

The long road back

This was how it all started for Donovan Ricketts with Bradford City.

After been signed by Colin Todd in July 2004, a wait for a work permit meant his place in the team was initially taken by trialist Paul Henderson. Ricketts was consigned to a near full season playing for City’s reserves before finally earning his chance when Henderson rejected a longer contract.

Through everything that has happened to the Jamaican international in recent weeks, that original determination and patience to wait for a chance with City should not be forgotten. As Ricketts lined up for City reserves against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night in front of the very goal where a week earlier he made a mistake too many which cost him his place, there’s a sense that the Jamaican goalkeeper won’t be pushing to exit the Valley Parade door just yet.

The long road back from zero to hero in City fans eyes began with a decent clean sheet against Forest’s second string, with The Don putting in an encouraging display and making three excellent saves. With just a smattering of fans present to analyse his every move, Ricketts’ confidence will have improved a notch as he successfully dealt with everything Forest presented him with. He was even able to loudly berate others for not doing their jobs so well.

Another of City’s recent villains was also in action for the second string. Last Saturday’s substitute cameo against the MK Dons saw Joe Colbeck claim two unwanted assists as 70 minutes of good work by the team was thrown away by some kamikaze defending. Joe to probably benefited from playing away from the glare of a growing army of critics and looked lively once again, if lacking an end product. Defending is clearly a weak part of his game and twice he switched off to allow Forest to roam forward, fortunately without the same consequences as Saturday.

As with any City team on a bad run over the years, supporters start chucking in the names of players not featuring and demand to know why they aren’t been given a go. Of those in the second string available right now, Craig Bentham gave a confident and assured display in the middle of the park to suggest he could do a job. His route to the first team is currently blocked by several others, but against Forest Bentham bossed the middle of the park. He got his foot in, can pass the ball and did the simple things really well. Given the captain’s armband, he dictated the play and was at the heart of City’s best efforts.

As for a striker coming in to score the goals lacking, supporters shouldn’t be expected too much from those not in the team. Nathan Joynes held the ball up well but didn’t seem to take up many threatening positions. Luke Medley came on as a second half substitute and, while his touch was fantastic at times, his attitude didn’t seem quite there. Luke appeared to be playing for himself and on a few occasions good moves were broken down by Luke’s desire to do bits of skill that made himself look good, rather than play the ball to others in good positions. He has some talent, but his performance made it understandable why Stuart isn’t throwing him into first team duties just yet.

The Chilean striker Willy Topp did play and showed some excellent touches. He clearly has some talent on the ball and produced a couple of exciting twisting runs while beating defenders for skill. He also seems to have a good first touch, although it might take him a little longer to adapt before he’s ready to make an impact in the first team.

Other youngsters showed some promise on the night as City should probably have won the game. They created the better chances in the second half, although were grateful for a blinding Ricketts’ save in the final minute.

If those on reserve duty can maintain their decent performances, keep improving and show patience; their chances of a first team spot will surely come around. If they need any inspiration they need only ask Donovan Ricketts.

Strength on the road

Stuart McCall unleashed his secret weapon on Lincoln City last night – and it wasn’t the belated debut of an injury-plagued number 10.

1,064 members of his barmy army had made the 90 mile trip to Lincolnshire and provided a 90 minute non-stop performance of passionate noise to help City come from behind and earn their first away win of the season. Our contribution in the away section might not have been as significant as the fantastic run and pass of Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu that set up Joe Colbeck’s winner, but it was no less meaningful on an evening that offered the strongest evidence yet that City can challenge for an immediate return to League One this season.

Much has been made about the huge home crowds City will be enjoying this season, but less has been mentioned about the power of our away support. It’s hard to imagine another League Two side bringing as many supporters and making as much noise at Sincil Bank all season – and that includes their local rivals Grimsby and Mansfield. This will be the same at so many other grounds and this level of support can make a huge difference in where City end up come May.

It was a certainly a large factor in this deserved win as City fans out-sung and humiliated their Lincoln counterparts. As balloons, beach bags and mini footballs were tossed in the air among City supporters before kick off, you sensed it could be a special night. An emotional tribute to the events of 22 years ago was impeccably observed before the action began. The chanting continued from the start and didn’t even let up when Lincoln took the lead, although the fact it was in controversial circumstances undoubtedly helped keep up the wall of noise.

The home side started the match much brighter, a decent save from an Eddie Johnson shot aside, and created several good chances. In defence, City looked strong with our back four reacting well to the busy night that lay in front of them. “Don-don-don-don-don-don-don-don-don-don-Donovan Ricketts!” (to the tune of No Limits’) made two smart stops but then City fell behind from a corner. Ricketts made a great save from a header but the ball was still scrambling around in the area. Louis Dodds stabbed the loose ball goalwards only for Ricketts to make another brilliant block on the goalline. Yet incredibly, as the ball was finally cleared, the linesman put up his flag to signify the ball had crossed the line.

The goal was awarded and City’s protests were waved away. It looked like a very poor decision but, thankfully, City didn’t let the injustice affect them as they clawed their way back into the game. With Eddie Johnson and Scott Phelan beginning to control things in the middle of the park, City got back on level terms after some great work from Omar Daley.

Since signing in January, we’ve been waiting for Daley to hit his best form and in the opening 35 minutes he continued to frustrate with his tendency to always cut inside rather than stretch the opposition by running down the channels. On this attack he finally did stay out wide, knocking the ball past a defender and then showed his incredible pace to reach the ball before another defender. Now level with the penalty area, he cut inside and continued his run into the box before squaring the ball for Ndumbu-Nsungu to fire home.

“1-0 to the Bradford Boys” we sang matter-of-factly. Daley’s reward for his assist was taking a knock from the challenging defender which threatened to end his evening and rule him out of international duty. Thankfully he was able to carry on and his subsequent performance was that of a player who had reached a new notch in self confidence. Daley continued to look a threat everytime he got the ball and trigged some of City’s best moves.

In the second half the level of noise in the away section was kept up with our versions of White Stripes, Beatles and Johnny Cash songs, and City began to get on top. Eddie Johnson went close with a brilliant free kick that was tipped away by Alan Marriott, Peter Thorne linked up well with G on his debut and the defence continued to keep Lincoln’s increasingly sporadic attacks at bay. The Imps did come close to retaking the lead when a long range shot rattled the post. Given how many times City have struck the woodwork in the opening six games, it was somewhat satisfying to watch another team rue their luck.

It looked like a winner might allude City but they finally made the break through 12 minutes from time. Lincoln were on the attack when City cleared the ball up to G on the half way line. The Congo striker produced a devastating first touch to lift the ball past a defender and then had the speed to charge forward. Two defenders chased him, blocking his route to goal. But no one picked up Colbeck racing clear in the middle. G’s through ball was inch perfect and Colbeck charged forward and beat the advancing Marriott with a low shot that rolled slowly into the corner. Cue pandemonium in the away section.

It was fair to say that the recalled Colbeck did not enjoy the best of nights and he consistently struggled to beat his full back, either by running at him or whipping in early crosses. But his goal was reward at least for his undoubted level of effort and may just give him that added belief to perform better. Joe can often look tentative and unsure of himself, although the subtle, unnoticed stamp he executed on the full back while he was on the ground showed that he isn’t intimidated by the opposition.

Apart from a couple of late scares, City stood firm to claim the three points and end a difficult week on a high. Lincoln might not have made the best of starts themselves, but they’re a wise outfit who know what it takes to be successful at this level. They certainly gave City a tough game, making this result and performance even more impressive.

“You’ve only come cos it’s Bradford!” we chanted at the home fans. Probably not true but, as Stuart’s Bradford Army marched into an away ground and made sure they were noticed by everyone, you suspected it was an evening that won’t be quickly forgotten by either side. The high number of away fans for a Friday night fixture was impressive and, temporarily we hope, it feels quite nice being the big fish in a small pond.

On a personal level, the non-stop chanting and stunning atmosphere, plus the result, contributed to one of the most enjoyable City games I have been too in years. The evening felt special and I left proud to be a City fan and being one of some of the best fans in the country (best in League Two without doubt!). The strength and enthusiasm among fans can be partly attributed to Stuart and Wayne’s return, but ultimately it’s about a passionate bunch of people finally able to dream of better things. Something feels special about supporting City right now and hopefully its going to lead to big celebrations come May.

Stuart’s Bradford Army makes trips to Hereford, MK Dons, Morecambe and Grimsby in the next two months. If we fans can maintain the high standards of this away performance we should help City become stronger on the road.

Although the level of noise we’re making means that Stuart’s secret weapon will not be staying secret much longer.

Inking In

Farsley Celtic are the success story of West Yorkshire football. Standing in their cobbled together ground seeing a club punching over its weight going for it against a twenty-two man Bradford City team one cannot helped but be impressed with what is going on at City’s new nearest neighbour. If Bradford City or Leeds United punched this high then Championships would be won.

Farsley mean business and were in race trim. Gareth Grant had something to prove against City and roasted Luke O’Brien at left back and City’s first half middle which included Everton trialist Scott Phelan whent from control of the game to a worrying back foot. Simon Johnson up front was fed by Joe Colbeck and slid over a ball for Peter Thorne to get a debut equaliser but Damien Dunne gave the home side a decisive lead.

Four days later and Colbeck – persistant target of both critisism and plaudit even amoust the thousand who travel to pre-season – impressed in a 2-0 win over North Ferriby United ripping into the home side’s full back and firing over a string of excellent crosses. Joe Colbeck with end product is almost everything. The rest comes from Peter Thorne and Barry Conlon who both look like the burley sort of striker that City will need in League Two. Thorne got his second – adding to an opener by Omar Daley – and City had both good win and good workout.

Wins and workouts aside the modern friendly is about squad shaping. Conlon and Thorne are Bantams and they will surely be joined soon by a return of Paul Evans who slotted back into Bradford City colours aptly. Evans taking a free kick blasted at goal is a sight one thought one would never see again and one is so glad that the midfield engine seems set to return.

Joining City seem to be Nathan Joynes and Thomas Harban on long-term loans from Barnsley. Harban looks an interesting player with decent ball skills. Joynes – a forward – is superb until the finish which “lacks polish” to say the least. Simon Johnson moves on to Hereford having not impressed McCall. Joynes seems to offer the same. One wonders if the fear of a two year contract should City win promotion is behind that one.

Former Hartlepool United and Sunderland right back Darren Williams has been offered a contract. He is not Darren Holloway. Repeat it softly to yourself before you go to sleep dear reader.

Kyle Nix is to be told on Monday what his future is. It is six to half a dozen if he will stay. McCall seems to want Scott Phelan and Phelan – a full back at Goodison moving into midfield – looks worth a punt. As with Nix he finds out today as McCall – two wins and a defeat into his City career – inks in names to his team sheet.

City Offer Deals To Ainge, Penford, Colbeck and Bentham

The need for Bradford City to change focus from a club that buys to a club that produces players has been obvious at Valley Parade for some time and the fruits of that policy – first voiced by Gordon Gibb but continued through the investment in the youth set up – are becoming apprarant as the Bantams offered new deals to Tom Penford, Simon Ainge, Joe Colbeck and Craig Bentham.

The four – who all featured in David Wetherall or Colin Todd’s selections last season – are offered new deals while cohorts Joe Brown, Patrick McGuire, Nick Smith and John Swift are released.

The mystery of the stunted development of John Swift will remain at Valley Parade. Impressive in the first team on his debut under Colin Todd and a mouth on committed leader of the juniors who played well in the reserves something – and one doubts is was the performances of Richard Edghill – stood in Swift’s way.

Joe Brown’s release comes after his shined as a bright young thing but failed to nail down a place in the first team squad. Both Brown and Nick Smith are released to allow a more clear path through the ranks for seventeen year old Leon Osborne who featured in the last game of the year. Such a process – of setting a bar for the young players to beat and backing them when they do – replacing them should they not – maintains a healthy demand for continued improvement in the ranks.

Of the retained players Ainge looks ready for a place in the starting eleven next term and Bentham and Colbeck are already considered squad players. Penford has ability to spare as a succession of managers have believed and one hopes that with the exits of Marc Bridge-Wilkinson and perhaps Steven Schumacher he can turn that ability into performance.

Bridge-Wilkinson, Schumacher, Richard Edghill and Xavier Barrau are waiting for a new manager to be installed – something expected within two weeks – before being offered deal. Schumacher and Barrau are thought to be ready to sign, Edghill to be thinking over an offer from Macclesfield and Bridge-Wilkinson to be Port Vale bound.

Russell Howarth has also been released with Ben Saynor stepping up to number two goalkeeper.

We will always have Barrau

There was something refreshingly ecstatic about Xaviar Barrau’s reaction to both his goals at Valley Parade in this 2-2 draw with Millwall on the final day of League One for Bradford City for a year at least. Barrau wheeled away twice in delight after twice giving the Bantams the lead in a game which could not have had less meaning had it been played as a friendly but still seemed to warm the heart.

Heart warming first was the immaculate silence for the 56 supporters of 11th of May, 1985 observed at both ends of the ground. Whatever reputation Millwall supporters have they got some marks in the plus column at 2:58 on Saturday afternoon.

David Wetherall’s reputation seems to have survived his first spell in management. In the post game walk around he is applauded for his efforts over the past fourteen games and the past seven years and should this be his final game in management at this club then one hopes he can get a go elsewhere at some point. Wetherall is backing his predecessor as captain to be his follower as manager saying

“I would be absolutely delighted if we got Stuart McCall here as manager. I haven’t got a clue if it is going to happen, but I think that it would create such an interest in the club and around the city that it could only be good for Bradford City. With Stuart McCall in charge we could get the club going in the right direction and I could play a part in that on the pitch and not from the dugout.”

Wetherall’s last act as City gaffer was to use a 433 formation – unseen since the days of Jim Jefferies and Bryan Robson – to make up for the holes left in the side when Wetherall calmed down following last week’s fury following the Chesterfield capitulation. Billy Paynter and Spencer Weir-Daley were absent leaving a forward line of Joe Colbeck, Omar Daley and Barrau in front of a midfield of Steven Schumacher and Tom Penford sitting atop Craig Bentham who protected a back four of Edghill, Mark Bower out of sorts and position on what could be his final game for the club, Matthew Clarke and Ben Parker. Donovan Ricketts kept goal.

The result was a City team more capable going forward than has been seen in recent weeks but susceptible at the back. Twice Barrau gave the Bantams a lead which was pegged back in short time by the visitors who punch for punch looked no better than the team that will start life as a League Two club next term.

None of which is to suggest that City unveiled a prototype for promotion next term but rather that given the chance and without the pressure it could at least be enjoyable to watch the Bantams again. The first half was satisfying until Joe Colbeck knocked in a low cross just before half time that Barrau muscled a defender for and blasted into the bottom corner. Barrau charged to the bench to celebrate with David Wetherall and as he ran a season of frustrations seemed to drift away behind him.

At some point we have to zero the clock on this club and start from even. Let it be now.

Millwall equalised a minute after half time after making a sly substitution and slipping on an extra forward without telling anyone. The extra man snuck in behind Mark Bower as the left footer played on the right hand side and the annoying but reasonabiliy ammusing Darren Byfield beat Donovan Ricketts.

Nevertheless City had a sort of dominance attacking with some flair down the right and pace down the centre. Omar Daley charged at centrebacks all afternoon and at one point freed Joe Colbeck who slipped the ball into the path of Barrau for the Frenchman to fire into the top corner and celebrate equally exuberantly as Lenny Pidgely in the visitor’s goal blasted a poor linesman suspecting offside. Within two minutes Millwall were level following a cheap free kick poorly defended and a low shot by Tony Craig.

City had the chances to win the game notably when Steven Schumacher – more on whom later – blasted over following good work and when Barrau was felled in the box sparking a scuffle that saw the Frenchman booked and butted by goalscorer Craig. Wetherall gave sixteen-year-old Leon Osborne a debut in the place of Daley and withdrew an injured Joe Colbeck who despite setting up both goals was lightly booed by a section of supporters than shall henceforth be know in a knowingly supercilious manner as “The Idiots”.

“The Idiots” will always have a voice at City – the have not learned after forcing Dean Windass on his way – but hopefully the more bums on seats Julian Rhodes and his cheap seats can get next term the more they will be marginalised to a point where their voices are counter-productive whimpers not destructive shouts. “The Overtly Sensitive” can join them for all I care. Yes Steven Schumacher used some shop floor language to City fans last week but having been in football crowds for the last twenty five years I can guarantee he has had worse said to him and frankly to use his slip into effing and jeffing as a stick to beat him is the worst kind of politicking.

If a person does not care for the way Schumacher players or the performances he has then say it. Anything else I pretty much could not care less about.

Next season will be different. Different team, different manager, different supporters, different atmosphere hopefully – more like the backing off the post lobbing a ball around ten minutes at VP today please – and different heroes and favourites. Exuberant knack for goal scoring and joy at getting a goal? Different Dean Windass too by the look of things, and this one is a Frenchman.

Into The Darkness as City Face the Last Day of League One

We always worried that the final day of the League One season this year woudl have City having nothing to play for but I doubt we ever thought it would be like this.

Colin Todd’s team is going to end up in mid-table mediocrity I recall people saying. Perhaps Todd put that on his CV as a plus point judging by how we have plummeted since he left.

To be fair to David Wetherall and Julian Rhodes it would seem that City – Todd and all – have been dodging bullets for years and failed to this term. We start in League Two next year because that is the way that we are being pushed and yes that is down to finance and yes that is boring to read and only half of the truth but there it is.

So news this week that Julian Rhodes is talking to investors is music to the ears. The scale and feasibility of investment in the past nine years – since The Rhodes Family in fact – has been risible so a measured approach would probably be best. If someone wants to help with the rent then that is cool but if someone is coming to buy players then let us not fall for it again. It is a year since Peter Etherington was going to put us in the Championship. Look what happened.

Rhodes wants a new manager in place within three weeks and will be talking to Stuart McCall about the job so this could be David Wetherall’s final game as gaffer. He has Donovan Ricketts in goal and Ricketts had made enough mistakes this term to suggest he will still be around next. Richard Edghill is probably going to get a final game although John Swift would be – in my humble opinion – a better option. Wetherall’s mistake is fielding too many players who have no investment in the future of the club. He needs to start to look at the players who will be around next season so like Swift Simon Ainge should play and probably will in place of Wetherall who will step down to sub.

This could be his last game at Valley Parade – he deserves a rapture of applause when he appears.

Mark Bower is fancied by Burnley so this could be his final game. Ben Parker at left back will return to Leeds but may be back as they lose players. He his a decent player and would be welcome.

Omar Daley, Joe Colbeck or Ben Muirhead have the two flanks – perm any two from three they all have their merits. Steven Schumacher is forgiven for swearing at City fans last week – tempers were frayed – so take the midfield role with Tom Penford. I’m a confirmed fan of Penford’s cool midfield calm and believe he should have been considered long before this stage of the season. Eddie Johnson is out injured.

Billy Paynter and Joe Brown are expected to start up front with Spencer Weir-Daley returning to Nottingham Forest. Weir-Daley may return next season – rumour has it we have offered him a two year deal – and should Paynter be kicking his heels should he be released from Southend then he would be welcome too.

Billy Paynter and Spencer Weir-Daley are expected to start up front with Joe Brown and Nick Smith standing by in case Weir-Daley’s injury problems continue. Weir-Daley may return next season – rumour has it we have offered him a two year deal – and should Paynter be kicking his heels should he be released from Southend then he would be welcome too.

Welcome too no doubt is the break. Next season needs to be so much better.

For Those Who Care To Know

And for a while everything seemed to be going to plan. Spencer Weir-Daley was putting the Leyton Orient defence under huge pressure, Omar Daley looked likely to waltz to glory should his running with the ball continue and the 10,000 strong support were going to be entertained and take City on to safety and victory.

It was all going to work. It was all going to plan. Bradford City could have had three or four in the first half when Weir-Daley made the home back four – defending high up the field – look flat footed. Just before half time he sprang forward with only the goalkeeper to beat with a chip and agonisingly the ball bounced wide.

Before Omar Daley had surged forward and – after beating enough men to justify not passing – hit a shot saved by Glyn Garner in the visitor’s goal. Garner had stopped Billy Paynter from giving the Bantams a lead earlier on and tonight is the man who won the game for the Londoners.

At half time – or so it seems – Leyton Orient won the game. The Bantams left the field having controlled the game but emerged to a visitors side with more of an eye on nullifying City and whatever it was that Martin Ling said to his charges it worked. Ling’s team got the ball and kept it away from the Bantams pressing down the right flank and troubling Ben Parker or the left where Daley could scarcely be troubled chasing the ball and slowly the game slipped from the Bantams.

And surely the game turned away from The Bantams and fittingly for the season it was more Refereeing nonsense that marked the moment. Ling must have fared the worst when Luke Guttridge – booked for a challenge on Steven Schumacher that was so later it was practically from next season – body checked Kelly Youga as the left back went past him. The Referee ignored Guttridge’s second yellow card offence, Youga went off on a stretcher probably never to return and a minute later Orient’s Gary Alexander had scored.

At this point it is worth thinking of how Joe Colbeck – not the most talented player but no shirkers for sure and someone who would cover every blade of grass for the Bantams every day of the week if asked – watched from the sidelines as Omar Daley ignored a ball running out. Colbeck might have been thinking about how he would – and he would – have surged the ball and he might not have thought he could have done much with it but as Daley’s indolence was punished with the ball in City’s net seconds later he must have wondered and grumbling about Daley’s play was verbalised he must have wondered what City fans want? Colbeck gives his all – gets booed. Daley gives very little effort but has skill and pace if he uses them and increasingly gets the same treatment.

Such thoughts was vanquished by a second Leyton Orient goal leaving City looking at two wins and crossed fingers to stay in League One. Even if we do then things need to change – many things – not least of which is the reliance on loan players and players with short term deals at the club.

Ben Parker, Spencer Weir-Daley, Billy Paynter, Kelly Young, Nathan Doyle, Carlos Logan, Moses Ashikodi, Lee Holmes, Bruce Dyer and many more have pulled on the City shirt as loan players and have put in some great, some not so great, performances but a team can not be built around players who have no future with the club. We cannot continue to ask for huge effort for our cause from players who will be at Charlton, at Watford, at Leeds next season. We have to put the future of this club in the hands of player who will be hear in the future of this club. We need to stop letting the tempo of the club be set by players who almost by definition have less passion for Bradford City than those they displace. Nathan Doyle did a great job, Richard Edghill has years of experience in the game as he sits with two haves left on his contract but the energy and effervescence of John Swift should have been rewarded with a place in the team a long time ago. That is a tone to set for this club. That and not the idea that your place will be taken by anyone who comes from a Premiership or Championship reserve side.

Leyton Orient enjoyed a two goal but the Bantams had twenty minutes plus six of injury time to strike back. A look around the field at bowed heads and shoulders slumped and eyes could find no one to drive the Bantams on. There is no Stuart McCall. There needs to be a Stuart McCall if one cares about the club because League Two is by no means as low as a club can go.

Steven Schumacher, Mark Bower, Donovan Ricketts, David Wetherall. The list of players on the field who one could build a team around was woefully short. We need senior players who can and will take responsibility for the team, the game and the ball when on the field and for sure those players can be augmented with a loan signing or two but those players pick up a tempo from the senior members of the squad. One cannot help but think that this season the converse has been true.

All of which is discussion for another time. This game was a must win – a must win – and we did not and we all know what means.

Thumbs Down

It seems to me that booing is the new cheering. I’m old fashioned and I remember a time when a supporter would make good on the term and shout words of encouragement from the sidelines with the hope that a passing player may be effected. Of course I have no idea if whailing “Skin ’em Johnny” to Hendrie caused the dominative Scot to make that one final but perhaps decisive run past a defender or not – one doubts his plan was to do anything else – but I like to feel that he felt inspiration.

I like to think that had someone bellowed at lung limit to Pansear yesterday Stay in for more than three balls and make a hundred run last man stand then he might have at least been inspired to do so.

Nevertheless the chorus of boos has replaced the round of applause at sporting events these days and there is no better example of this than the treatment of Joe Colbeck at Valley Parade. The lad has a few thousand of the worst sort of School game Dad’s berating his every mistake and like a shrinking 12 year old it shows in a lack of confidence.

Booing has replaced cheering because it is easier to do. Destruction has always been easier than creation and recognising the good has always required a little more than pointing to the bad. Especially in situations like City’s were the one so obviously outweighs the other. Of course this is all Thatcher’s fault. The every man for himself model of society clashes with the ethic of team sports as a community representation. Success at all costs, loathing for those without.

Realpolitik aside this is hardly a new phenomenon. In the Coliseum Emperors signaled who was to live and who was to die with the famed thumbs up/thumbs down gesture. It is a curio of history that the with the digit pointing upwards signalled that to the delight of the masses the Gladiator in question would be ripped apart and generally killed which while pleasing for the crowd was so what damaging to the fighter’s career.

We use the thumbs up to mean good things – at least The Fonz did – in recognition of how it means that good things would happen. A thumbs down probably saw the Emperor booed so he will have avoided it. As long as the crowd get what they want everyone is probably happy.

None of which brings us round to Valley Parade on Saturday. It has long been the opinion of many that there is a significant section of City fans who enjoy the moan more than the match and the thumbs up of City getting beaten gives them a focus for their week of conversation.

City’s own Julian Rhodes – and Emperor of sorts – said about the weekend all or nothing game with Leyton Orient

“Saturday is not going to be pretty. It’s all about blood, guts and endeavour. But the pleasing thing is that every player is giving it their all. To see the loanees putting in the kind of effort they are has been a joy to watch.

Me, I’m less keen on the sight of someone being ripped limb from limb and old school enough to cheer or say nothing at all. I was brought up on “Skin ’em Johnny” not skinless Gladiators and I’m happy to stay that way.

Ben Back As Wetherall Looks For the Answer In The Most Obvious Place

The answer to all football’s problems is the next manager away.

Either that or it is the guy on the bench, or the guy coming back from injury, from suspension or – in the case of Bradford City at the moment – the guy coming back from loan.

Ben Muirhead is returning from Rochdale to cover the suspended Joe Colbeck and immediately the hopes of a City – well 1% of a City – are heaped on his shoulders.

I find Muirhead a curious player. Initially his brand of blind alley run with no end product drove me mad but everyone else seemed to love Ben!!. When Bryan Robson and Colin Todd had had a word with the former Manchester United winger he seemed to rid his game of some of the more wasteful parts and began to realise that charging at the full back and losing the ball might look good but winning a throw seventy yards from goal with infinitely preferable and so he did that.
Ben Muirhead got some end product to his game and was all the better for it but at this time Ben!! was replaced to Grrr Ben and finally Muirhead and his popularity wained. Loan at Rochdale was assumed to be the last we would see of the quiet Doncaster lad.

But now he is back and charged with the job of contending with the hot and cold blowing Omar Daley for the right wing role in four games that could shape the future of the club. Absence has made the heart grow fonder of Muirhead and big things are expected.

And at once one recalls the player ripping through defences a league above and looking oh so impressive. When Chris Waddle left Valley Parade City were in relegation trouble despite his entertaining play but it was Shaun Murray – the oft forgotten mid-1990s midfielder – who took the role that Waddle enjoyed and made it matter to the team. Sometimes – and David Wetherall will hope this time – it is about the shape of the peg rather than quality.

Two Sets Of Rules As City Face The Fall

Ask me about why Bradford City have struggled this season and I have a single, clear , unequivocal answer for you. I look at the goal that was chalked off at Scunthorpe and I remember Steven Schumacher’s red card against Blackpool and I add to that the incongruous decision to send Joe Colbeck off after City took the lead against Oldham at Valley Parade and I say without doubt that the most important factor has been the decisions given by referees.

More of which later. City took a long trip to Bournemouth for what was tagged as a must win and with Eddie Johnson filling in for Mark Bridge-Wilkinson in the midfield it seemed that the Bantams would leave empty handed despite heroics by Donovan Ricketts but a very late header from Spencer Weir-Daley in the 92nd minute left the Bantams with one of the four points many were suggesting City needed from the Easter weekend and hope seemed to return.

Against Oldham that hope was manifested and dashed.

Moses Ashikodi used his pace to get onto the end of a Billy Paynter flick down and lashed a shot in half way through the second half and it should have been enough to give City the win. Of course it was not because as it traditional this season the referee had yet to come into play.

Mr R L Lewis gave City a throw in at the Midland Road/Bradford End of Valley Parade and Oldham’s players grabbed the ball only to throw it away to the corner flag when they saw that the decision had been given the other way. No card was shown despite what it expressly stated in the rules of the game. Ten minutes and one City goal after that Joe Colbeck was given a second yellow card for banging in a cross after taking the ball over the touchline.

Two incidents which are denoted identically in the rules – in fact the are covered under Rule 12 Point Four: Cautionable Offences which says

A player is cautioned and shown the yellow card if he… delays the restart of play

Both offences denoted the same way in the rules so I am desperate to know why Mr Lewis believes that one results in a yellow card and the other does not? I assume that League One is played the rules of football FIFA set out so why is one offence cautionable and one not?

Without assigning a reason for it – I’m looking for answers not giving them – to give the same offence one punishment for one side and another for the other is bias.

It matters not what the opinions on the players involved are – many said that Colbeck was stupid to get himself sent off and cost us the win – but I believe that considering that this decision, that the Schumacher sending off at Blackpool, that Eddie Johnson’s disallowed effort against Yeovil, that David Wetherall’s goal at Scunthorpe compared to Robbie Williams’s for Blackpool are going to cost us our place in this league then we deserve an explanation why the most simple tenant of the game – that the rules are applied equally for both sides – is not being applied at Valley Parade.

To add insult to the technical offence that Colbeck committed Oldham’s goal scorer Luigi Glombard played the game protected by a yellow card shield recklessly tackling Mark Bower – take a look at Rule 12 again – before finally getting booked for “over celebrating” his goal. The connotation of the rules of football – the spirit of the game – are not that a player can swing wildly for the ball endangering his opponent and not be cautioned then feel the force of the law for being happy to have equalised. The spirit of the rule dubbed “kicking the ball away” is not to punish players who run over the byline in the attacking half and cross the ball to the keeper anyway any more than they are supposed to punish strikers who finish when offside.

The fact that it was Colbeck – so often and so ill a figure of ire at Valley Parade – dulls the edge of comment. Close your eyes and imagine it was St Jermaine Johnson in his final game at the club. Remember the fury and put it behind a player who actually wants to play for this club.

So there it is. The ball game perhaps and with four games left City need three wins from a trip to Brighton, home clash with Leyton Orient, a visit to Chesterfield and the final game of the season at home to Millwall.

Three wins would give 52 points and probably safety. I’d take the points from Blackpool, Yeovil, Scunthorpe and Oldham but it looks like this club is going to take the fall for a serious of Refereeing decisions which the charitable call the utterly poor state of officialdom in football today.

Last Time On BfB…

Since we last talked, dear reader, things have not gone well at Valley Parade.

You may recall this website being dubbed “pro-Todd” and in the months of our absence he was fired from the club one Monday morning for suggesting to the chairman that he may leave in the Summer. Todd’s replacement – skipper David Wetherall – has struggled to get results and if one were to formulate the opinion that Todd’s management abilities were shown by the fact that he could get the club mid-table not shown up by that then some would not argue.

Nevertheless to suggest that Todd was some kind of miracle worker is off the mark too. It would perhaps be a miracle to get the team we have out of the division the right way and it was certainly something that the former Derby man very rarely like achieving. That Todd’s steady hand on the tiller would is missed should not be mistaken for an idea that he was over-achieving. “Thanks Colin,” we would say, “But we are going to move it on.”

Moving it on to David Wetherall has not reaped results thus far but the skipper turned gaffer is switched onto the sort of ideas that Todd may have needed to listen to. So many of the issues around managers seem to resolve about Craig Bentham or whomever is assigned to play that holding midfield role that has been a problem since Stuart McCall went south. Marc Bridge-Wilkinson and Steven Schumacher need a muscle to win the ball but Bentham – as with Crooks, Kearney and other players given the number four role – never seems to be glued into position in the side and always is the first to go in the name of pressing for attacking play.

As this is the new opinion bursting full BfB then unequivocally I’ll say that there is nothing attacking about not possession and too often without Bentham or similar in the side we left with creative players chasing attackers rather than using the ball. Should Stuart McCall end up in the Bradford City job in the summer then one can only hope he knows his own position well enough to cement a ball winner in the middle of the midfield and build out from there.

McCall may or may not return in the summer when season ticket prices may or may not go down depending on the willingness of 10,000 supporters to commit to the club. The old BfB’s pressing for a price revolution is doubly underlined by this new site and Julian Rhodes should be congratulated – and hopefully rewarded – for this innovation.

To be damned are those who drove Dean Windass out of Valley Parade. Death threats to a player who got sent off is appalling, death threats to a player is appalling, death threats to a person is appalling but most appalling is the lack of condemnation for the people who drove away a player who is increasingly looking like the reason we were half way up the league.

For sure Windass may have only received two or three letters but the brickbats and booing that came before those letters set the tone. From a humanistic point of view Windass was pushed towards the door by an ill feeling towards him that was far more common – and totally unjustified – than two or three letters.

Opinions about the man and the way he plays football are valid but the abuse of Windass from a significant section of Bradford City supporters far beyond the two or three letters are tantamount to vandalism of the club and the results are manifest now Windass has gone on loan to Hull.

Of the newer signings – all loan players – Billy Paynter looks impressive and Kelly Youga is starting to be very useful. Loan football – which seems to be on the increase – is not desirable and for every Paynter or Nathan Doyle who comes to the club City end up with a decent young lad playing within his limits. Ben Parker is probably a nice guy and is a decent footballer but that we expect the same level of commitment from him as we do from our own players and I see no reason why he should be able to give it. I would much rather see our young lads given the chance to play week in week out than I would blood someone else’s youth talent. Parker will be back at Valley Parade next season no doubt but probably as a member of the team that replaces the team that they call the worst Leeds side ever so why we expect players who’s futures are so obviously separate from the club to put in the same level of commitment is beyond me.

The young lads need a chance. They need more than the odd sprinkling of games too. They need to be given runs in the side just as Joe Colbeck is being given now. Then they need the understanding that being a young player means being inconsistent and being inconsistent means sometimes having bad games and – and this is the important bit – being a fan of a particular club means supporting your players through bad games.

I’ve not got much of a problem with people booing slackers and shirkers – I doubt it really does any good because and think that booing Lee Sharpe or Nicky Summerbee for not playing hard enough just justified their appalling attitudes – but I have a big problem with people booing players who are trying hard and having a bad game and I have a big problem with people booing the kids that come through the ranks and are trying to make it work in professional football for Bradford City.

At present City face a seven game struggle to start in League One and after that God only knows. That is where we are. Let’s see what happens…

Forrest goes at graduation day

I was always very keen on Danny Forrest – released by Bradford City today aged 21 after 12 years at Valley Parade – but facts that had to be faced were that it was apparent that at this stage of his career Forrest did not look like the player who City need and he needed to be moved out.

Moved out is a harsh term to use about anyone who has been associated with a club for over a decade and applied the levels of passion to it that Danny has but as is right and proper when dealing with young players a graduation day – a day when a level is set and those who are above it prosper and those below fail – has to come and Forrest unfortunately falls under the bar.

Development of young players is a constant filtering process which is done on a timeline of player improvement and Forrest’s improvement seems to have been arrested.

There are some that would say that he was never “going to make a footballer” and they are entitled to that view but City are no less wrong to have persisted with him as they were to pick up the 16 year old Stuart McCall and give him a chance. Development is about graduations and affording chances for young players to rise through the ranks and as Forrest falls under the graduation mark along comes Joe Brown to test himself against it.

Forrest’s release to give Brown a chance is common in football and at City. Lee Sharpe was allowed to leave Manchester United to give Ryan Giggs the left wing position and at City Graeme Tomlinson was pushed through the ranks by pushing Scott Partridge out of the club. Partridge went on to a respectable career – at one point he lived with Helen Chamberlain – and had a decade of football after City let him go. One hopes – fervently hopes that Forrest can do that same and he can use leaving his home town club as the spur to move on as he seems unable to do at City and Halifax.

In the meantime he – and I – have some great memories of the local boy shining out in a sea of rent-a-players like Andy Gray and professionals winding down like Robert Molenaar and playing for Bradford City as if it meant something to them because it meant something to them.

Joe Brown, Joe Colbeck, Tom Penford, John Swift, Craig Bentham et al are all carrying on it the footsteps reforged by Danny Forrest. I know he enjoyed the goals he score din claret and amber – I saw them all – and I enjoyed him scoring them and as he leaves I can only hope that he enjoys the memories as much as I do.

Recent Posts