Clarke / Post Hoc / Life

When thirty four year old Billy Clarke signed for Bradford City over the summer there was some upset at the club’s perceived inability to find new targets.

New targets were to follow in the personage of Elliot Watt and Levi Sutton but by the time they did a narrative was set that for the want of a recruitment network City were scruffing around to bring in the manager’s mates ahead of what would be a terrible season.

Clarke

No club will look back on football in lockdown with less fondness than Brentford who seemed to have three gilt edged chances for promotion to the Premier League and missed them all. For them the time will come and perhaps they appreciate the distance they have travelled in the past ten years.

In April 2009 Brentford turned up at Valley Parade £10m in debt but spending freely as they tried – and succeeded – in beating Stuart McCall’s Bradford City to promotion. There is a celebrated match report on this very website one can read about it from back when I was good.

Amidst the three entwined narratives of Stuart McCall’s time at Bradford City is the peripheral figure who is on loan to, should be sent off for, and scores for Brentford: Billy Clarke.

Jacko

There is story about Peter Jackson saving Bradford City from relegation from League Two which is rarely heard and lacks any real veracity.

Jackson took over a team destined for a reversion to the mean and a mid-table finish, performed significantly worse, and managed to make a last minute goal from Ross Hannah at Morecambe into a showpiece triumph.

Jackson lasted less than a half dozen games as permanent manager of Bradford City and left among acrimony. Like Billy Clarke poking the ball away for Brentford he is a part of someone else’s history as the manager before Phil Parkinson took over.

Five

“Jon McLaughlin’s fifty yard run and punch on a Crawley Town player is – to me – the moment when Bradford City’s fortunes turned.

The brawl that saw five players sent off was the moment when Phil Parkinson’s team coalesced into being the team which would go onto Wembley twice and Chelsea 4-2.

Had Johnny Mac walked slowly to the dressing room after the dour defeat none of that would have happened.”

Life

In 1970 John Horton Conway devised a Mathematical simulation known as Game of Life in which cells were placed on a grid and be dent of their having or not having the correct number of neighbours they would thrive or not.

Cells follow rules and from that the interactions happen. When I was around eight or nine years old I was entranced watching Life creating stories of villages smashing together, narrating the rise and fall of these areas of blocks, enforcing a story onto what was entirely deterministic.

In Life one created a starting situation, and followed a predetermined set of rules, and the complexity which followed was not in any way random but seemed that way because of the massive compounding of simple factors into something which while deterministic seemed to be utterly random.

Looking at it long enough, focusing on it long enough, staring at it long enough, a story started to emerge.

2021

Bradford City may have a terrible 2020/2021 season or it may be glorious but probably it will be neither.

A lot of teams in League Two have had to lose a lot of players and bring in mostly new squads and one suspects that the League will be decided by how quickly and well those players mesh into a team rather than how good they are.

One thing that Bradford City have going for them is that Stuart McCall – left a half dozen players by Phil Parkinson when he last returned to the club – has some experience melding squads together.

Foucault

All of which presents something of a difficulty for the modernist grand narratives which the match report for the Brentford game, the footnote of Peter Jackson, the friends of friends recruitment of 2020, or the McLaughlan Brawl and how it led to Chelsea are trying to present.

The Parkinson era did not end with the departures of Phil Parkinson or owners Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes but continued for another year or so with McCall’s side being an offside call from Promotion. Likewise the Rahic era did not end when Rahic and Julian Rhodes returned.

The narratives we attempt to use to analyse football as it happens are anticipations of post-hoc appreciations of events which will be given context in relation to other events.

Right now we look at events as they unfold and we decide variously if we think that it is smart recruitment or it is wrong headed and we decide what that will mean for events to come writing a future history as we do that. Looking at events and unfolding information and trying to craft them into the story of the future of Bradford City.

Clarke (Again)

All these events are Billy Clarke appearing dotted through history with significance assigned arbitrarily.

Clarke is just the manager’s mate, unless the group coalesces into a team and wins promotion in which case he is a great senior pro.

We construct overarching narratives to explain events dotted through the past excluding what does not fit our narrative and we do the same for a future we know will only be contextualised by the playing out of those events.

We are all watching John Horton Conway’s Game of Life and assigning meaning to what we see hoping to make sense of seemingly random patterns.

Gone / Parkinson

It would seem that Bolton Wanderers will confirm that Phil Parkinson is their new manager tomorrow after Bradford City’s new owners Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp agreed to allow the long serving manager to talk to the Lancashire club.

Parkinson leaves behind him a Bradford City transformed from the struggling League Two team he inherited when they sat in 23rd position. His record of having improved the league standing of the team in each of his five finishes is impressive in itself but coupled with a League Cup final, wins over Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Sunderland and Leeds United make a case that Parkinson is the club’s most successful manager in the club’s history in terms of the resources available to him and what he achieved with them.

Parkinson built teams of iron character with players who redefined, for me, unity on a football field and his legacy will be measured in the high watermark set for players who wear the shirt from now on in terms of the effort put in and the support given to team mates.

Legacy

While it is Parkinson’s abilities to make these teams of his overcome huge obstacles that will have him remembered – giving Chelsea a two goal start is a good example – his real successes are on the nuances of manufacturing a team which rewarded effort in support with effort on the field.

But it would be wrong to say that Parkinson did not have his detractors. There were many who were concerned with his style of play and how it focused on a long delivery into the final third. There were questions about his ability to recruit players to improve the team with the summer of 2015 resulting in a lottery of players none of whom worked out. There were also concerns about his willingness to bring young players into the Bradford City first team set up which contrasted with Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp’s stated aims of developing talent.

Those questions will not need to be answered and Parkinson leaves Valley Parade having created a genuine symbiosis between supporters and team that becomes the next incumbents biggest asset and the now former manager’s lasting legacy.

Parkinson also achieves that rarest of things for a Bradford City manager in that he leaves on something of a high. He has not been sacked (well, only the once, and that was a few years back now), or forced into resignation, or hounded out, or told he would have not had his contract renewed, nor did the club or a majority of supporters want him to leave.

Parkinson was a good thing and – it seems – that good thing has come to an end.

Motivation

As Parkinson leaves suspicion is thrown on Rahic and Rupp as to how they could have avoided the manager’s departure and how determined they would be to have kept him. One could only guess at this but it would seem that Rahic had meetings with Parkinson and one assumes that at those meetings the two explained their approach to each other. Parkinson, one assumes, did not especially like what he heard from Rahic and decided that his career was best served elsewhere.

One can have one’s own thoughts on if Rahic should – when Parkinson told him that he wanted to carry on his career elsewhere – have told Parkinson that all the manager’s plans would trump all the owner’s decisions. While the change of ownership might have given Parkinson the pause to exit it seems unlikely that fundamental disagreements could have emerged in the space of two weeks that precipitated the exit.

Parkinson may explain his motivation but ultimately you, I, and Edin Rahic have to accept that he has made that decision and take it with good grace. That good grace to the likes of Gary Jones and Jon McLaughlin who return to Valley Parade as opposition players, rather than boos and backbiting, is another part of the Parkinson legacy and something best carried on, in my opinion at least.

Incumbent

And with Parkinson exiting thoughts turn to his successor and very quickly to Uwe Rösler who has been linked with the position since the new owners arrived although Rahic was quick to speculate that the link was created in the English press because both parties were German.

Rösler’s track record in management is not especially good enough to promote his name above any other candidates and one hopes his application is considered in that way. Linking Rösler seems to be educated guesswork as does linking Dutchman Huub Stevens.

Steve Parkin and the rest of Parkinson’s management team are expected to follow him to Bolton Wanderers and – experiences with Chris Hutchins colouring judgement – that may be the best for all.

Colchester United and the Crawley Brawl

As far as match reports go few are more erudite than Damien Wilkinson’s comment on Bradford City’s 2-0 defeat in Essex at Colechester United.

Colchester will probably have harder training sessions than that.

The names may have changed but the problems remain for Bradford City. A goalkeeper making a mistake, a team playing without character, a ninety minutes where there were not enough threats to the opposition goal. A replay of Saturday but one could pick a dozen games since City returned to League One where the same could be said.

It has become manager Phil Parkinson’s nadir. The manager who builds teams – including one at Layer Road at the start of his career – based on players who will play for each other turning out teams who do not play for each other.

Original sin

Brad Jones – signed with fanfare – may step down as goalkeeper for the weekend trip to Rochdale after his mistake led to Colchester’s first goal.

Jones’ mistake does nothing for Ben Williams’ ability to control the space between where he can reach and where he positions his central defenders which is more Williams’ problem than his occasional mistake. Goalkeeper – more than any other position on the field – is a judgement made and stuck to. It is worrying that Parkinson believes in a fluidity between his custodians.

Worrying but not unprecedented. The City manager moved between Matt Duke and Jon McLaughlin when they were sharing goalkeeping responsibilities. Only Jordan Pickford – probably as a product of his loan arrangement – has been cemented into the City goal.

Street fighting man

McLaughlin’s exit plays heavy on the mind.

In Jon McLaughlin – who is keeping goal for League One leaders Burton Albion – City had a keeper who some still recall as making more than his fair share of mistakes but was vocal enough and improving to a point where he holds down a spot in the team at the top of City’s division.

McLaughlin’s play aside when considering the character problem in the team which City put out I cannot help but recall the sight of the City goalkeeper sprinting fifty yards to punch Crawley Town players after they had started to fight with City, and City’s Andrew Davies.

And while I’m not suggesting that there is a nobility in scrapping on the field I think back to The Crawley Brawl as a galvanising point for that City team.

I cannot – with all my powers of imagination – see many of the current City squad prepared to do what McLaughlin did that night. I cannot picture Williams or Jones or many of the current team sprinting fifty yards to stick up for their team mates in a fight.

Character study

As City warmed up against Colchester United Radio Five Live hosted a debate where they bemoaned the lack of leadership within the current Arsenal team. Arsene Wenger stood accused of inheriting leaders like Tony Adams and not being able to create anyone to replace them once they had passed into memory.

Journalist Henry Winter suggested that Wenger’s problems were the problems of all football. That in an era of squad players who understand that they will not be in the side every game, and in the era of increased player movement between clubs that can see someone like Mikeal Arteta leave Everton for Arsenal having seemingly become a part of the Goodison Park furniture, that the sort of leadership and character of a Tony Adams was not appropriate.

Expanding on Winter’s hypothesis would seem that managers have pursued players who can be used sparingly, and who understand that they are not essential to a team and can be rotated out, and so they do not grow the characteristics of the ever-present leader.

League One football is not Arsenal’s concern but the hypothesis may hold true.

It is hard to have players who could be described as leaders when those players after often at clubs over relatively short terms. Not every player had it in them to concern themselves with the general performance. Most look after their own game and – if you are lucky – that of the player next to them in a partnership.

Leadership – the type that promotes character in the team – seems an increasingly rare commodity and one which is not suited to being rotate or traded. For a player who has arrived on a two year deal as most do the point in which he starts to grow into a role at the club seems to be the point where the club start to look beyond him.

Take – as an example – Lee Bullock who in 2010 was the player’s player of the year but having spent eighteen months at VP. He signed a new contract that summer but changes of manager and focus saw Bullock play less and move on. While not wanting to comment on Bullock’s skills as a player it seems uncontroversial to suggest that no sooner had Bullock settled in then he was being marginalised in the number of games he played, and ultimately in his position at the club.

With players coming and going in this way it it hard to imagine how a player will establish themselves as leaders in the group of players to have the effect on the field we talk about. After six months you know everyone’s name, after eighteen months you might have everyone’s respect, but if you are marginalised after that how do you lead?

It has always been thus.

Stuart McCall was made, not bought, and both Andrew Davies and Gary Jones who also typified the trait were rehabilitated having started their role at the club as curios and ended them as key men.

Parkinson needs to grow leadership from within the squad – and perhaps allow the squad to promote their own leader – and that is a process which takes time if it happens at all.

Right now we are waiting for that before the club can progress.

A side note, for the foolish only

There is no question of another manager being best suited to carry out that process.

Perish that thought.

History

Until leadership emerges within the squad City are subject to defeats and bad performances as befits any team. Two defeats – marked out because of their lifeless performances – are set in the context of a season which is in turn set in the wider context of the club’s history.

Just like the display against Gillingham in September 2001 – a 5-1 win which represents the best I’ve ever seen City play in a season which had little else of skill – the highs and lows are modulated to fit in with the overall view of the season.

The good are forgotten in bad seasons. The bad in good ones.

Much of what came before the Crawley Brawl is not remembered now. The brawl itself though – the way the squad stood literally shoulder to shoulder in the fight – seemed to jump start the team spirit of 2013 and beyond.

Colchester United 2-0 away will sink into that context too, providing Phil Parkinson can find another way to galvanise Bradford City, to create team spirit where there is none, and to enable the team to create its own leaders and character.

sees Parkinson, Milanese and the beauty of beating Leyton Orient

En media res

Having been the Leyton Orient manager for a month Mauro Milanese is changing how things are done in his part of London. Last season the O’s reached the play-off final with Russell Slade’s side losing out on promotion to Steve Evans’ Rotherham United.

Rather than imitation of Evans Leyton Orient (under new ownership) have brought in a manager to move the club from gusto to grace. Milanese has Leyton Orient in transition. They were one of the better lower league English sides last term but very much a lower league English side and Milanese is moving them towards something distinctly more – shall we say – “continental” in flavour.

A team that can pass and move in short distances, a team that will bewitch you with a flick or a back heel, and a team that is comfortable on the ball when probe for space between defenders. When Milanese is finished Leyton Orient could be a superb team to watch.

He is a long way off finished yet.

Ad initium

Bradford City tried transition but Phil Parkinson has more recently decided that his endeavours in that direction have to be retired – for now at least – and his team has returned to the beloved characteristics of old so much so that when Chris Dagnall excitedly lunged into a tackle on Billy Knott sending the 22 year old midfielder spinning away into the distance out of the corner of an eye one half expected to see Jon McLaughlin charging from his goal looking to join in the pushing and shoving.

Parkinson has found the heart of the Bradford City side which won promotion and it still beats.

David Mooney had scored an equaliser for Leyton Orient with fifteen minutes remaining in the game following an impressive backsiding of Andrew Davies out of the way. Milanese will have been pleased with how his team had got back to parity despite spending most of the game exposing their flaws to City. When that equaliser came rather than flatline though City sparked into life again and five minutes later – following Dagnall’s red card – were 3-1 ahead.

Milanese may look back and think that equalising was the worst thing his team could have done. When defending Leyton Orient were a struggling side failing to mesh how they used to play with how they wanted to play. Players shouted at one another, pressure relieving clearances were played out of defence (badly), simple play was passed over in favour of more aesthetically pleasing but less effective football. They were as porous a team as any who will come to Valley Parade.

City led by one at half time after pushing through this defence only once and there was concern that for the second week running that the Bantams would forgo the chance to win. The goal came when Jon Stead put in good work to square to Billy Knott who rolled the ball into the goal. Today was Knott’s 22nd birthday and while he has some problems in his game he has many, many more benefits. There is nothing not impressive about a midfielder who demands to be on the ball and be involved in the game as often as possible

When behind all Leyton Orient needed to do was attack and when attacking they looked capable. They moved the ball well and one lost count of the number of times strikers peeled away from through balls to allow midfielders to burst through and take possession – or rather try to – because whatever that count it is x+1 of the times when Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies kept eyes on the ball and not on the fakery and cleaned things out.

The difference

Cleaning things out is probably the difference between the teams. Parkinson’s City team are a team of pragmatism who can be aesthetically beautiful from time to time and normally those times are when Mark Yeates – quiet today – is on the ball.

Milanese’s Orient seem to want to be beautiful all the time and beautiful in a way which seems to suggest their manager and his career around the divisions of Italian football. Beautiful in the sense that aspires to a higher ethics rather than a practical ones. One recalls William Morris‘ “Nothing useless can be truly beautiful.” The reflections on playing well but losing are long and deep.

David Hume in Moral and Political failed to turn concept into phrase when he said “Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.” When Phil Parkinson watched Billy Clarke appear at the far post in the minutes after Orient’s equaliser and red card and sweep the ball into the goal perhaps he considered the resilience of his team to be the most useful thing he has brought to Valley Parade and by being so the most beautiful.

There is a beauty in how the player’s celebrations centred around their manager as Clarke ran to the dug out and how the manager has (re)found the thing that made Bradford City precious.

Hard working Jon Stead latched onto a poor back pass and turned half chance into goal the victory was sealed.

A month into his time in London Milanese is a short way into transforming his team into something more aesthetically pleasing for sure but one wonders if he will recognise the beauty of a cold winter’s night in Bradford.

A win over Peterborough United has City looking at the costs of survival

If the adage holds true that football matches are won by the team which needs to win most then Bradford City can feel some pride in besting a Peterborough United who needed to win far more than the Bantams did.

This time last season City were not far from the position which Darren Ferguson’s side occupy in League One. The last play off place and looking over the shoulder at those who would take it. And just as City battled at Chesterfield last term on Good Friday for a 2-2 draw so The Posh put up a fight against Phil Parkinson’s side who nearly mathematically assured survival in League One.

It is a survival that has come at some cost. At the end of last season Parkinson was unimpeachable in his position as Bradford City manager having taken the club to Wembley twice. This term there has been a misguided but concerted effort to unseat him from some people who follow the club.

The inerudite attack on Parkinson is that he has “no tactics” which is to say that he favours a 442 and often is over concerned to ensuring the opposition do not progress rather than that his team does. The manager favoured a 4312 with Adam Reach playing behind Jon Stead and James Hanson and added Raffaele De Vita to the right side of a middle three alongside Gary Jones and the also returning Nathan Doyle.

Parkinson’s midfield offered a survival chance for Jones and Doyle who have not shirked from responsibility this season but have struggled. Reach ahead of the midfield give Jones a smaller zone to play in and allows him to focus his energy. Doyle too, dipped back into a ball winning midfield zone, had perhaps his best game of the season. Add to that a De Vita looking more comfortable and a shape for next season that ensures that two of the players who excelled in 2013 might feature in 2015.

All of which comes from the failure for Kyel Reid to survive. As Adam Reach dropped between the lines in Parkinson’s 4312 City forwent wingers and so the team finally found a way to cope without the pacy wideman who – it is worried and it seems – will not play for City again. Perhaps while Parkinson watched a fluidity to the first half of the Bantams performance which had been missing since sometime before the turn of the year he may be convinced that the 442 with wingers would not survive either.

Reach was impressive in the playmaking role behind the front too. His runs invited fouls and from one by Jack Payne the on loan Middlesbrough player lofted a fine free kick over the wall and into Joe Day’s goal. From another Sean Brisley earned his second yellow card in two minutes.

Brisley had been booked for pulling down Stead on 38 minutes, Reach on 40, and while from a Bantams point of view Reach’s sliding interception was impressive Peterborough fans might have been surprised by the high line the visitors played for the first half. In the second, with ten on the field, things were different.

The play off chasing side had to drop back and pull back players from the forward line and worked hard in doing that. Their second half display was a model of football efficiency rarely wasting the ball but the Bantams backline covered the attacks well with pressure put on the ball in the Peterborough half and cover in the City half very secure.

Four of the back five of 2014’s play off final have survived and while Adam Drury is an able deputy it seems sure that James Meredith will return to make the five. Parkinson has a decision to make on if he has faith with the five assuming he can keep all at the club. It has seemed apparent that Parkinson believes that should his side take the lead then Jon McLaughlin behind Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies and James Meredith are solid enough to see a game out. Parkinson’s case is made by City’s defence having conceded fewer goals than Peterborough’s this season.

Which suggests the problem – if retaining a place in League One could ever be said to be a problem – is at the other end of the field. While Peterborough attacked in the second half the Bantams took a step back and were balanced towards defending. One can hardly expect Parkinson to change in his next season and so if James Hanson and Aaron McLean – a second half substitute who came on to applause from both sets of fans – are to improve on this season’s returns then they either need to become more efficient in front of goal or they need to get more chances.

Which points to the decision Parkinson has to make in the close season. If he is to carry on with a 4312 – which has yet to last a full game – then he needs to find someone to play in the role Adam Reach took today. If he is to use the 442 then he needs to find a more apt set of widemen.

He should though get to make those decisions. After months without a win, after losing his centreforward, after losing Reid, after the chairman who could not keep his face off television last season going entirely silent on him, it seems that Parkinson has survived too.

The team that taught me football: Part One

Best teams, worst teams.

It is all opinion and opinion is no bad thing but those opinions are formed by our experiences watching teams and players week in, week out each one teaching what could and should be done, what might be avoided.

I went to my first Bradford City game in 1981 on the last day of the season when we played Hereford United and lost 1-0. Since then I’ve seen hundreds of players and about a dozen or so managers and some I could not even recall playing but others have stuck in the mind and the ones which stick in the mind most are the ones who have formed my footballing opinions.

This is my team that taught me football.

Gary Walsh in goal

I’ve seen Paul Tomlinson frustrate strikers who rushed at him one to one because Tomlinson never got beaten one to one.

I’ve seen Matt Clarke bouncing around the goalmouth like a flea seemingly able to change direction in mid-air and had my heart in my mouth.

I know Paul Henderson was a model pro who settled himself down for the season astonishingly quickly and I’ve seen Jon McLaughlin race sixty yards to lump someone who has had a go at his friend and all these keepers have taught me something.

But none of them had what Gary Walsh had.

Gary Walsh taught me that goalkeeping was positioning. That the best keepers were the best not because they were athletic but because any athleticism they did show was second defence.

First was positioning. The ability to read a game and not thing a few moves ahead and then stand where they needed to be. Good goalkeeping is about looking forward, not reactions, and Walsh was able to do that.

So when I hear Match of the Day pundits say “They hit it straight at the keeper” then I raise a smile and think of Walsh, shuffling to the right two steps seemingly for no reason and then two seconds later taking the ball into his palms.

Nick Summerbee on the right wing

No one really liked Nick Summerbee and there were plenty of good reasons for that. His faking injury against City showed poor sportsmanship and his reluctance to join the club suggested that in his time at Valley Parade he would much rather have been anywhere else but what he did have – and what I took from watching him – was the uses of quality delivery.

Of course Peter Beagrie has superb delivery – better than Summerbee but then again everything in Beagrie’s team worked well and hardly anything in Summerbee’s team including Summerbee. He did not track back well enough, did not take control of games well enough, did not get involved enough. In fact all he did well was deliver the ball and he delivered the ball superbly.

And it is that which Summerbee taught me. What to do in a situation of limited talents. Managers would use Summerbee to take corners but seemed to notice that his team struggled to win anything from the delivery no matter how good it was. A great cross headed away and it was left to someone else to try create a second phase of the attack from the edge of the box.

And so Summerbee switched to that role. Rather than trying to deliver a good ball he would be detailed to get ball after it was headed clear and create an effective second phase. To return the corner with interest so to speak. In the football economics of scarcity it was an education. If you have two jobs to do that both require one player than the most obvious job is not necessarily the most productive one.

Summerbee did that for a time and drifted away from Valley Parade and no one really cared by that lesson is there when Garry Thompson tucks inside to form a firmer midfield rather than go to his man when everyone is screaming at him to make a tackle.

In left midfield Shaun Murray

When he was fifteen Shaun Murray was the best prospect in English football. Ten years later and having been through Tottenham, Portsmouth and Scarborough he had become a player for which it was said that he had a great future behind him.

He arrived at City, played a good season or two, and then faded making a decisive contribution in the gap left by Chris Waddle in 1997 before drifting away and joining Notts County on the way down as City went on the way up.

And so it would be easy to forget Shaun Murray were it not for a legacy he left for me which has become the yardstick of any creative player.

Shaun Murray always improved possession.

When he got the ball near the touchline he would either play a pass or win a throw in. When he got the ball near the byline he would either play a cross or win a corner. In the middle of the field he would find a good pass to a man who had space to do something with the ball or he would keep the ball and move it away from trouble.

So it was what he did not do that was educational. He did not try beat a man every time and get tackled, leading to the ball flying back against his team mates who were caught coming forward. He did not waste possession by putting in low percentage crosses. He did not dump the ball onto a teammate unwilling to take responsibility for his performance.

Which was nothing to do with being England’s one time brightest prospect or even from being especially talented it was from understanding the Cardinal virtues of football. That the job of a player in possession is to take responsibility and improve in the situation.

And every creative player since is judged by that yardstick.

Never criticise for making a mistake trying to do the right thing and want them to take responsibility for ensuring that when the ball leaves their feet the team are in a better position than when they got it. A bad pass is a mistake, running into two players you were never going to beat and having your team turned around is not.

The dominative not really a winger, not big enough for a central midfielder Shaun Murray was smart enough to realise that, and in realising that I learned a lot from him.

The influx of weak character players that was presented starkly

There is a debate at the moment between Bradford City supporters and a consensus seems to be forming from that debate that the woes that befall the club at the moment are because of the sentimental attachment to the players who achieved historic feats with the club at Wembley last season and that the club would be wise to move on from that.

And from move on we should extrapolate the word “players”. Move on those players from last season in order to achieve more next. If you are of a mind to believe that you can call achieving your stated aim as a woe – get up, stay up and so on – then you might buy into this idea. I cannot.

Watching Bradford City since the turn of the year has been alarming. The character which marked out last season’s team seemed to ebb away on a week by week basis culminating in Kyle Bennett’s alarming lack of commitment on Saturday which surrendered a goal.

In fact one could iterate though the players who put in spineless performances and they would make a damning list but foremost on that list would not be the team which is termed History Makers.

That list would not have Andrew Davies or Rory McArdle on it. It would not have Gary Jones on it and not have Garry Thompson either.

You can, dear reader, make another list if you want which suggests that any or all the players who were at the club last season are “not good enough” but to do so – in my estimation – is a wasted effort. At most time I will argue that “good enough” is a modern construct from the days of Championship Manager and the ability to look at players in an entirely statistical way but I need not do that here.

Simply put if a player will not put his heart, his whole heart, into a performance then his ability to bend a ball, play a pass or be accurate is irrelevant. If you’ve come to a different conclusion after watching City last year, or City under Paul Jewell, or City under Trevor Cherry then I’d have to question your grasp of the fundamentals of the game of football.

Application is genesis of success. Without it everything else is just effects.

If anyone were to tell me that Kyle Bennett could be a better player than Garry Thompson if Bennett applied himself I’d be forced to recall something that would make my Auntie my Uncle.

The Bradford City team are lacking application and this is obvious to everyone in the stadium especially Phil Parkinson who – if the talk of last year and what he does not say this is to be believed – thinks along similar lines. Is that application lacking in Jones? In McArdle? In the players from last season? It is not.

And be aware, dear reader, that I’m not talking about mistake making or misjudgements. I’m talking about the foundation of football teams. I’m talking about the willingness of a player to put himself into your performance. I’m talking about players taking responsbility for their own, and their team mate’s, performances.

I’m talking about what drives a goalkeeper to run sixty yards to punch Claude Davies because he has started on your mate and the unwillingness to put your body into a tackle with the Oldham Athletic number three.

Which is not to single out Bennett any more than Bennett singled himself out when he decided that he would acquiesce on a 75:25 ball that favoured him. One could look at how Matty Dolan decided not to track James Wesolowski when Wesolowski scored or Jon Stead’s modest return (although mostly Stead stands accused of underlining just how effective James Hanson is).

And this is not to suggest the problem is with loan players. One could look at Mark Yeates attitude all season which meant that even when a slot in the team opened up Yeates stays on the bench. Or wonder why Jason Kennedy is back at Rochdale. And the less said about Raffaele De Vita the better.

The problem is the players of last season, its the players of this. Its poor recruitment and bringing in players without character into a team which is all about character.

As Parkinson starts to rebuild the team he needs to shake out the last twelve months and build with the foundation stones of Jones, Davies, McArdle, Darby, McLaughlin, Hanson, and so on. Make a case for any or all of them “not being good enough” if you want, suggest they should be got rid of if you want, but do not assume that Parkinson will be able to find a half dozen similar characters and prepare for your better set piece delivery to come in the context of lifeless displays like the defeats to Walsall and Oldham Athletic.

Parkinson has to build a team for next season and he has to build it on what at the club was right this season and not what went wrong and what went wrong was the influx of weak character players that was presented starkly in Kyle Bennett’s meek surrender of the ball that ultimately was the difference between the two teams on Saturday.

Doing your business early

Doing your business early

After about fifteen minutes of what would be a stolid, fruitless encounter with Walsall at Valley Parade the visitors gave up.

Adam Chambers – the number seven – had showed well pushing forward from the Saddler’s midfield but found Matthew Bates in front of him detailed to sit and stop him playing. Bates and Gary Jones were the midfield and perhaps it was Phil Parkinson’s homework that told him that Walsall would push Chambers forward and leave another back but Bates was deployed to nullify that threat.

And he did.

Such underweaned ambition defined Bradford City on the evening. One wonders what was in Phil Parkinson’s mind when he decided that against a team eight points off the play-offs the highest priority was to stop them playing. That this was achieved – Chambers simply dropped back on top of his back four creating two holding midfielders – caused further problems.

Problems for Kyle Bennett who if he has skills – and I struggle to verbalise what skills are that put him above Zavon Hines who was moved on in the summer – has skills which involve cutting into the middle of the pitch which drove him straight into that deep sitting middle two. It crowded an already crowded area which already had the static Andy Gray and the ineffectual Aaron McLean.

Its worth considering McLean, Bennett and the likes of Adam Reach on the left who looked more dangerous than Bennett on the right but considering the onus was on either to breakdown the visitors neither were able to. Throw in with them Parkinson’s other Winter recruits and recall that the reason City had to sell Nahki Wells at speed was because we needed to “do our business early”.

The results of this business? Reach looks promising, Bennett’s promise eludes me, Matthew Dolan is in and out of the team, Aaron McLean looks like he is involved in the longest pre-season in football history getting ready for next term. Why the rush? Three months after not being able to hold out on Wells the approach we are taking to an upper mid-table club coming to Valley Parade is to nullify?

Which is not to criticise Parkinson’s approach to the game over much. Every man, woman and teenager who shouted vehemently that we needed to replace (for example) Stuart McCall – who could have (and still could) learnt much about shutting down a game from Parkinson – is forced to accept that this dour pragmatism is very much what was wanted. We are not an enterprisingly, free flowing, attacking team and were not last season either. Walsall at home 2013/14 might be the ugly face of Parkinson’s approach to the game, but it is the approach which was lauded in the summer.

On the pitch City looked like a team who have forgotten what winning looks like. There is little confidence and that is obvious when players stand on their heels not expecting a teammate’s pass to reach them or perhaps not recalling what to do if it did. All that was in the subconscious is not strained and pained over. In short, and collectively, Bradford City have choked.

But it may not have been so. A free kick thirty minutes into the first half which Andrew Davies headed wide, the entry of James Hanson after an hour which seemed to inspire would have changed things against a Walsall side that would have been happy to go home having said they battle hard for a point.

A mistake on the front post by Jon McLaughlin though and the evening, and the game, were lost.

It never shimmers but it shines

Bring me lucky Generals.” Napoleon.
People said I was a lucky golfer but I found the more I practiced the luckier I got.” Gary Player.

If there was the shimmering of a change in luck in Carl McHugh’s last minute winner on Tuesday night then James Hanson’s winner after seventy eight minutes was a shine through the clouds.

Hanson followed in a ball back to Milton Keynes Dons keeper David Martin expecting little but was rewarded as the custodian performed a pratfall leaving the City striker to put the ball into an unguarded goal.

It was lucky. A fluke. Good fortune.

And it came after nearly eighty minutes of football in which both sides committed little forward seemingly for fear of losing. City drove more of the match but not enough of it to apply pressure on the visitors goal.

Other than an enterprising effort from Hanson that came after the striker had got the ball from one of very few crosses and taken it under control well and apart from the visitors getting a great one handed save out of Jon McLaughlin there were few threats at goal. Stephen Darby – brilliant today – cleared a ball off the line which was City’s Martinian mistake.

It was difficult to see where a breakthrough would come for City – or for the Dons – until that error but Parkinson will take credit for the solid rearguard defence. His maxim that games are won by clean sheets and punishing mistakes was never truer.

City’s effort earned the reward but had that misfortune befallen rather than benefited the Bantams the visitors would be able to say the same. It was the shine of luck

Luck though Parkinson’s change to a 433 when Chris Atkinson joined a three in the midfield just before the goal allowed him to seize any initiative that was there. Its hard to know if that has the decisive impact but fortune favoured the brave.

Both Parkinson and opposite number Karl Robinson drilled in the need for application on the field and both will feel that they have got it. As a side note Robinson’s fulsome praise for City in the week is respectful enough to not be an application but does suggest that should they have won the game and Parkinson be “in trouble” then the club might look at the MK Dons boss as a replacement.

That was the case though and Parkinson strengthens his place at Valley Parade with two 1-0 wins going into a third home match on the bounce when struggling Stevenage visit next week.

In the last week Parkinson had returned to his original managerial philosophies of a solid team and a clean sheet above all else – Colin Todd called him “the enemy of football” for it – and today the attack suffered for it. Hanson and Aaron McLean showed signs of an understanding but mostly working from long punts and not often enough in the game.

Adam Reach needs to forget any good things he read about himself this week and start doing what he did to gain those reviews again. Kyle Bennett looks increasingly like a player which too much work needs doing with to make him useful. As soon as Garry Thompson arrived on the field City improved.

Both Bennett and Reach were problems today. Parkinson needed creativity from his wide players and neither offered it. Bennett came short when he should have been looking for passes from Gary Jones behind the full back and when he did get the ball his control let him down. Reach did not do enough right on the left and needs to get back to being harder to play against.

This is a problem and – without creativity from the flanks – Parkinson’s game plan is left looking for luck and misfortune.

Today he got both.

Bradford City left considering credit where credit is due

Carl HcHugh already has scored more important goals for Bradford City than his last minute looper from a corner over Port Vale which gave Phil Parkinson’s side a first home win in months but weight lifted off shoulders at Valley Parade has seldom been greater.

McHugh got his head to a corner put into the box by Gary Jones which seemed to have gone beyond the young Irishman but had not and then was describing an arc Chris Neal into the back of the Vale goal. It denoted similarly to the goal which was decisive against Aston Villa in the League Cup semi finals last season but connotations were massively different.

This was relief, it was all relief.

City had looked like being frustrated again. Frustrated by a team which played strongly but has only won once in twenty one fixtures. Frustrated by a by a Vale side who played for a draw save the odd enterprise forward that Jon McLaughlin can be pleased keeping at bay. Frustrated by a referee Mark Brown who seemed to have decided that he would keep bookings and controversy to a minimum by ignoring what deserved one and would have caused the other.

And that frustration came to an end when McHugh’s goal went into the goal which itself came some had been convinced that the Bantams did not look like scoring. They streamed away into the dark Bradford night frustrated at City’s inability to score.

And while those people were ultimately wrong it was not hard to see how the conclusion formed.

As strong as the back two of Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies looked and as well as Stephen Darby at right back and McHugh returning to the left after his cruel exposure at Sheffield United played the Bantams did not threaten goal enough.

James Hanson is Sir Bobby Robson‘s one in three man and does all he needs to but Aaron McLean is struggling to play off him.

McLean seems to need more room than is available when a solid defence close to a deep midfield is deployed as it did today with the risible Anthony Griffith playing a holding role for the visitors. Still McLean’s endeavour does not falter and that earns him his chance to play in a City side swelled by victory.

In midfield Nathan Doyle seems not to be as he was while Gary Jones retains a level of energy and application which one cannot help but be impressed by but Jones’ work rate would be impressive for an eighteen year old.

The two wide men offer contrast. Adam Reach asks a question of a defender almost every time he gets the ball and sometimes the answer is simple – you can’t go past me but you can have a throw in – other it is not and every time he makes the defender work. Kyle Bennett is too easy to defend against and while one feels that there will be occasions where things go right for him in a spectacular and impressive way those occasions will be fleeting. Reach does more than Bennett but one gets the feeling Bennett will one day do something Reach could never do.

Bennett is a frustrating figure – an un-Parkinson like player – but he has the benefit of being defensively disciplined. Reach is a much harder player to play against for defenders and Bennett still has to show that he can be useful to the team on a consistent basis.

Nevertheless Bennett was one of the last off the field at the end of the game after Jones had led the applause for the supporters who had not gone for the early bus. They make an impressive noise, these City fans, and they do it regardless of wins or goals.

And they seem linked by symbiosis to the Bradford City team who seem refuse to give up on games, or on the spirit in the club, or on the manager that must have come close to the sack.

The players must have known that had spirited defeats become meek surrenders then the manager Parkinson would have struggled to keep his job and its to their credit that they did not let that happen. One hope that they continue to not let it happen at home to Milton Keynes Dons on Saturday.

Its credit too the boardroom at Bradford City that they have watched three months or more of games with only a single win but did not flinch. No articles distancing themselves from Parkinson, no whispers that the boardroom might be unhappy, no suggestions that things “had to turn around soon”. Just support for Parkinson and what he carries on trying to do. Credit is due to Messrs Lawn and Rhodes for resisting baser urges.

Urges which would have said – correctly – that the way a chairman wins over support is to be seen to be doing something even though that the best course of action was to do nothing other than support Parkinson in what he continues to do.

And will continue to do on Saturday taking what he can from the last few months. I confess I’ve no idea what Parkinson did when McHugh scored – goal celebrations I do alone – but I imagine he allowed himself a moment of relief before looking soberly at the team, and where improvement is needed, and how to get that improvement from the players.

A year this week Parkinson was preparing his team for Wembley in the League Cup final. The team was beaten that day but that defeat became a tool of motivation for the rest of the season.

Having looked the end so squarely in the eye in the last months one waits breath bated to see what Parkinson will make of this opportunity.


And if you, dear reader, want to know more about Port Vale then BfB points you to One Vale Fan which is a site older than this one.

If you want Phil Parkinson to be Bradford City manager please sit down and shhhh

In the light of City’s 2-0 defeat to Wolves if you want Phil Parkinson to be Bradford City manager because you enjoyed going to Wembley twice last season then please can you sit down and shhhh.

The fact that Parkinson’s side achieved anything last season has no relevance to this season in which the team have won once in nineteen games. The historic visit to Wembley – no team that far down in the football pyramid has got so far – has nothing to do with if Phil Parkinson is the right man for the job of Bradford City manager.

If you want Phil Parkinson to be Bradford City manager because the club are doing well to be in 13th position in League One considering that last season we were in League Two then please can you sit down and shhhh.

The squad that Parkinson has built is the one that he has built to compete in League One. His signings in the summer: Jason Kennedy, Raffaele De Vita, Mark Yeates et al; were not intended to come in above the 2013 players but rather to be a part of it. He is happy with the squad. He made it as he wants it to be and in signing the likes of Aaron McLean he continues to do so.

If you want Phil Parkinson to be Bradford City manager because things will go right again when the injuries clear up then please can you sit down and shhhh.

Injuries are a fact of football and Parkinson coped with the loss of Andrew Davies by playing Rory McArdle and Carl McHugh to victory against Aston Villa and Arsenal. Good managers are able to cope with injuries.

If you want Phil Parkinson to be Bradford City manager because he has turned around ten years of rubbish then please can you sit down and shhhh.

It is probably worth facing up to the fact that Phil Parkinson is not the only manager who could have won promotion last season and even the only manager who could have got to Wembley in the League Cup final. You, dear reader, can have your own thoughts on the people who preceded Parkinson as manager of Bradford City but I’d say that if you are defending Parkinson as one of a kind then you are not doing him any favours.

Managers have different sets of tools and use them in different ways. Parkinson has shown a set of tools and used them effectively previously.

If you want Phil Parkinson to be Bradford City manager because the club needs stability then please can you sit down and shhhh.

The stability debate has been had at Bradford City and the people who wanted it lost. I know, I was one of them.

Stability at Bradford City is the sort of thing that we used to joke about it. I know that the club considered replacing Parkinson in his first season. The fact that that fell off the agenda because his team created history just suggests that stability is only achieved in the face of the bleeding obvious.

Never again with it be that obvious what a good job a manager is doing and why Bradford City need to keep Parkinson in charge three months out from the end of the season where it seemed we were mired in mid-table then when that team is walking out at Wembley. It is very easy to be “stable” when the team is obviously doing well.

The argument for stability carries no weight inside Bradford City. It has not done previously and there is no sign that it will do going forward even though it is on the whole correct.

The reason Parkinson should be the Bradford City manager is because he is doing a good job.

He brings to the club a set of tools which are bringing success. Those tools include hard work and effort on the part of the players, and they include patterns of playing which get results and they include building a team spirit and ethos which if obvious on the field and off it.

The lengthy tribute Alan Connell paid to the squad on his way out is evidence of that of that. Ask anyone close to the squads of 1985, 1999, or 2013 and they will tell you that the common thread is groups of players who have been melded into a team.

Parkinson has the tools to do that and has done it previously at City and other clubs. He is not the only manager who can nor is that the only way of getting success but he is in the process of attempting to do that.

You may wonder how one win in however many games you decide is part of bringing success but poor results on the field do not alter the core facts that – if you want to make a sturdy defence of why Phil Parkinson should be the Bradford City manager – a case should be built on.

Parkinson has the tools to bring success to a football club. He knows how to do it. And he is trying to do that now.

He understands that building teams is more important than amassing players and did not risk the spirit he had in the club in the summer by throwing in new faces. He understands that what other players think of each other is more important than what the fans think of players and that is why he simply does not care that you do not like Garry Thompson, or you think Jon McLaughlin might make too many mistakes, or that Rory McArdle is not what he was.

He understands that Gary Jones’ legs might not be those of a twenty one year old but he knows that Jones is the leader of his group.

The challenges are in improving the squad both through coaching, building belief and recruitment while not damaging that core which is essential to how he does things. It is not about Wembley or wanting stability to injuries or other managers its about being smart enough to recognise the strengths of what the club have in place and standing up for that.

Parkinson has the abilities needed to create a successful club. That is why he should be Bradford City manager and that is what you should stand up and shout about.

I will be doing.

Things that happened to me when I was on loan at Bradford City

Kyle Bennett’s Bradford City debut lasted 24 minutes and for a few of them he looked interesting coming in off the right flank, getting involved in play behind the two forwards, but it was a tackle he put in on Neil Kilkenny which saw Kilkenny kick back at him and Bennett slap Kilkenny that he will be remembered for.

The red cards – both players were sent off – were deserved but the result was a game left without a pattern.

Addition:
The footage of this incident suggests that the red cards were harsh and certainly Kilkenny has some questions to answer about his reactions but Bennett is clearly not going for the ball with his hands and is – in that way – the architect of his own sending off.

Promotion hopefuls and powerful defensive unit Preston North End started better but by first half ended had been pushed back to defending. Playing an hour with ten men Preston were happy to try sneak a win by feeding forward Joe Garner. City struggled to set a pattern of play when Preston sat back.

The Lillywhites were as well drilled a side as any who have come to Valley Parade this season. Both teams saw the benefits of a draw. A draw seemed inevitable even when victories for Phil Parkinson are scarce. The onus was on not losing.

Parkinson’s side’s posture was aided by the return of Andrew Davies who stepped back into the team and immediately impressed with a controlled performance in a calm defence.

Davies arrived on loan at Bradford City two and a half years ago with the club in the bottom two of League Two and ended up staying. He was the best defender in League Two and certainly is amongst the best in League One. That is what happened to Andrew Davies when he came to Bradford City on loan.

Davies was calm and so were Rory McArdle and Jon McLaughlin alongside him despite both making mistakes. McLaughlin pushed a ball wide he could have taken but did not sulk. McArdle put mistake upon mistake giving the ball away sloppily twice but his was not composure lost. Both can mark that as personal and collective progress.

City struggled to press the game. Without Bennett the width in midfield was lost. Also on his debut Adam Reach ended up drifting from position to position occasionally looking useful but often looking lost for a place to settle in. Within an hour of his first game at Valley Parade he found every eye in the stadium looking to him to provide inspiration which was lacking all evening.

City lacked confidence going forward and have for some time.

James Hanson toils but is now targeted by big defenders who make it their business to stop him doing his. Aaron McLean looks to have the strength to hold up the ball and bring other players in but again without Bennett or width he lacked targets to do that. Oli McBurnie did well when he came on but as with Wells before him in the last three months without Parkinson committing more men forward to attack players with pace end up running into defensive bodies.

The goalless draw was threatened on occasion when McLaughlin’s post was rattled and when McLean forced Declan Rudd into a push away and both teams were content to take a point. Rudd was an assured pair of gloves all evening.

One wonders though what – in private – those managers will think of Bennett and Kilkenny. Parkinson’s run without winning goes uncommented upon at Valley Parade and there is a justified belief he is in the process of getting things right but Bennett’s actions will not have hastened that process.

One wonders though how much today will shape the things that happen with the players on loan at Bradford City. Adam Reach won admiration for his attacking play and willingness to take players on.

Kyle Bennett, on the other hand, has a lot to do.

Williams and McLaughlin in the reserves win over Gateshead

Both defender Steve Williams and keeper Jon McLaughlin played in Bradford City reserves’ 2-1 win over Gateshead.

The Heed – who are second the the Conference and hoping for promotion to the League this season – scored though former favourite (of mine) Kyle Nix but the Bantams pair of Naille Rodney and Adam Baker gave City the win.

The Bantams gave a first start to midfielder Scott Brown along with new recruit Marcel Seip who played centre back with Andrew Burns at right back.

The win is City Reserves’ third victory of the season in three games having already gone to Rotherham and hosted Hartlepool coming out on top.

The week we lost patience

It was always coming – the loss of patience that has fractured Valley Parade this week – but the surprise was not that it has arrived in such a short space of time but that the harbinger of trouble came from a sight thought consigned to City’s history. Luke Oliver in attack.

Oliver lumbered into the forward line and five days later Peter Jackson – the man who called the job as Bradford City his dream come true – was walking out of the club leaving a stunned playing squad and a lot of questions.

Questions that everyone – including Jackson – will struggle to find answer to. As he woke up this morning the former Huddersfield Town, Lincoln City and Bradford City manager is no longer a football manager. The Bantams pulled Jackson out of retirement – he was literally in a nursing home – and gave him one of 92 jobs in professional football.

And, Jackson said, the job he really wanted over all others. Think about that for a moment. Right up until – as Michael Flynn testified to – Jackson put on his suit and headed to the board meeting at Valley Parade Jackson was a man (according to himself) doing the job he had always wanted. Two hours later he became a former professional football manager now. Before City no one wanted him, and his experience of the last six months will do nothing to add to his employability.

What could have happened in that boardroom which would make a man inflict such a destiny on himself?

Retracing the steps following the defeat to Dagenham and Redbridge on Saturday it is hard to say. During the week Peter Jackson went back on his ideas of building a squada squad we are told has been bolstered by additional funding – after a game which had seen his side booed off.

Jackson talked about how great the supporters had been to him, how they had stuck by the team, and in doing so drew a line between the malcontent and those who did get behind his side. There are people who use Valley Parade as a place to vent their spleens and I have made my thoughts on those people known but there are more people who have turned up to Valley Parade regularly over the past decade through some pretty thin thin. Ten years without much manifest progress.

Those people – who Jackson credited as sticking by his team – are wondering what must have happened in that two hour board meeting that means that Jackson lasts only six months compared to the years they put in.

The Daggers game saw patience levels tested. It was the second home defeat of the season in only two games which levelled the number of home defeats which Stuart McCall’s side suffered in the 2008/2009 season, the point being illustrated not being about managers but rather about promotion prospects. For those who – with levels of optimism unjustified – thought that City were in the title hunt this season that was enough to see them lose patience. Perhaps Jackson – or members of the board – were amongst them.

It is said that in one board meeting former manager McCall threw a DVD of a game at a board member after a badgering session. Perhaps there was nothing for Jackson to throw. McCall carried on that season until he felt that promotion could not be achieved, Jackson had 42 games left but – we are told – believed that the club could do better with someone else at the helm.

For Peter Jackson it seemed that his patience with his four strikers was at an end and he declared that he would be bringing in an experienced striker. Jackson’s decision had some logic to it – a team that is not winning because it is not scoring will do no good to the education of any of the squad – but even were one to accept Jackson’s analysis that the problem City are facing is to do with not having enough smarts in the forward line his solution was by no means foolproof.

Recall – if you will – Peter Taylor’s signing of Jason Price – a player who has since moved on to today’s opposition Barnet – who was very much the type of experienced striker that Jackson talked about bringing in. The thirty year old Price looked good at Valley Parade but his presence did not spark a turn around in Taylor’s side’s fortunes and on his exit we were left with the same squad of players we had before his signing, although their noses had been put slightly more out of joint by having someone brought in over their heads.

If Jackson was under pressure to sign a player and did not want to – and there is no indication that he was not keen on bringing someone in or that he had not attempted to do so – then he certainly toed the party line. If Jackson did try a quarter of the managers in football to try find a new player and drew a blank then the suggestion he resigned on a point of principal of the club recommending via Archie Christie a new forward would paint the City boss in the most churlish light. If you have spent all morning being knocked back for players, why get upset when someone else has helped you out? Upset to the point of leaving your dream job.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

It was a chilling sight when all six foot seven of Luke Oliver lumbered into the attack for the end of the defeat to Dagenham. Not that Oliver cannot be trusted to do whatever job he is given as well as he can but that the situation in which – James Hanson having been removed – there was the requirement for a target man seemed to suggest that having taken off Hanson Jackson had – in effect – changed his mind.

Four games into the league season and it seemed that Peter Jackson was flailing. Pre-season was spent with the players playing a tight passing game which lasted but a half against Aldershot Town. Since then there has been a commitment to putting foot through the ball and trying to win anything from James Hanson’s head. Players like Mark Stewart – signed with one way of playing in mind – are decided to be too lightweight for the hustle of League Two football.

There is an irony in League Two football. The teams in the middle of the division play a big man, hit-and-hope type of game splitting the teams in the league who try to play the game on the ground. Those who play a passing game well are able to beat the lump up merchants and so rise to the top while the bottom of the league is full of teams who get muscled out, fail to press their passing game, and suffer under the strength of players in the division.

The best and the worst teams play football in League Two. Playing a physical, hit-and-hope game practically guarantees a place in the division next season. Get a couple of big lads and ping the ball at them and – like Peter Taylor’s team – you will still be in League Two at the end of the season.

Which sounds a good prospect after four games and one point but – in two years time – when City feel they have developed the development squad to such a degree where a promotion push is needed then a new way of playing the game is needed to get above the morass.

City’s best performance of the season to date – the game with Leeds United – was based around the kind of passing game which Jackson did not deploy against League Two teams for fear that his players will be muscled off the ball.

Looking at City’s four goals in five games this season three of them have come from what could be classed as passing football, the other being a set play flicked on by Luke Oliver at Oxford. Jackson needed to have more faith in the players he had brought to the club – and in his own judgement that he could bring them in and put them into a starting eleven which could work in League Two – and perhaps it was the thought of retrofitting muscle into his side which played on Jackson’s mind during that board meeting.

One wonders what was said and between whom. For sure in the days and weeks to come both the departing manager and the joint-chairman Mark Lawn will speak about their versions of events and probably reality will sit between them.

In the back of a Ford

City face a Barnet side who seemingly had no chance of being in League Two this season. Adrift at the bottom of League Two they looked to be relegated but for a late season push which saw Lincoln City cast out of football once more.

Having had a trip to Burnley in the League Cup in the week Barnet arrive at Valley Parade without a win since the opening day and on the back of two 2-2 draws. They are managed by Lawrie Sanchez who twice wanted the Bradford City job and have the aforementioned Price, Steve Kabba and Izale McLeod as a potent strike force.

With Colin Cooper expected to be put in charge of the team it is hard to say what the side would be. Martin Hansen has returned to Liverpool after a loan spell which – if anything – should teach him of the need to shout more. Jon McLaughlin would hope to return having played in a Reserve game at Rotherham in the week but Jackson did indicate that Oscar Jansson will start and that the club want him to sign for a longer loan deal.

Steve Williams was in line to return to the back four and – on form – Guy Branston would have had to be man to step down for him with Luke Oliver putting in excellent displays however news of Williams’ set back in training questions that. Robbie Threlfall and Liam Moore are expected to continue at full back.

Jack Compton will be wide on the left. Michael Bryan has yet to flatter and at the moment he – like most loan players – stands accused of using up a shirt that one of our squad could have. Not to put too fine a point on it but it is hard to see how picking Dominic Rowe in the three games Bryan has been at the club would have seen things pan out differently and Rowe would have been three games wiser.

None of which is to criticise Bryan just the wisdom of bringing him to the club given the long term aims that Archie Christie’s development project has outlined. Far be it from me to side with Mark Lawn but given a choice between what Christie talks of and the reality of signing more Michael Bryans, Ryan Kendals, or Louis Moults I’d side with the man who said that we should take a longer term view. Chris Mitchell could come in on the right.

Richie Jones and Michael Flynn – when they were not watching the ball sail over their heads – put in a good display against Dagenham and Redbridge. Dagenham, home of Ford, prompts a motor metaphor in most men and in this case it is that the pair represent an engine running away without the driveshafts and gears that connect it to the wheels. With Jackson’s 442 having been so static there was power generated but that goes to waste for the want of connections to the extremities.

Which returns us to the subject of Mark Stewart and how he would provide that connection dropping between the lines and allowing for some interplay between midfield and attack but – in a game of hoof ball – his skills are negated. Ross Hannah probably did enough to secure himself a starting place in the side next to James Hanson in the starting line up although Nialle Rodney might get a chance. All four of the strikers would – in my opinion – do well with good service.

Which is why the sight of a long ball being pumped to Luke Oliver is a good reason to lose one’s patience but probably not the reason that Jackson’s patience for the machinations of working at Valley Parade ran out.

There is a rumour that Peter Jackson wanted to bring in Danny Cadamarteri from Huddersfield for a second spell at City and that Mark Lawn blocked that on the grounds that having seen Cadamarteri he was unimpressed. This lacks the validity of being a good enough reason to quit your dream job, and again what could one say about a manager who thought Cadamarteri was the answer the City’s goalscoring problems?

Perhaps the biggest question of Jackson’s departure is how well he would have done in the fullness of time. He leaves an unimpressive record behind him of four wins, four draws in eighteen. There was a sense though that Jackson was just getting started and that things would improve. Would they have improved on the basis that Danny Cadamarteri was coming in to point us in the right direction? We shall never know.

Mark Lawn is expected to make a statement today about yesterday which was a remarkable day in Bradford City’s history and Peter Jackson is never shy of the media so will be getting his version out. Both will tell a story and it will probably involve an argument which got out of hand and a number of men who would not back down.

Patience, it seems, was in short supply.

Accrington Stanley and the Bar(ry)ometer

For those seeking a barometer on events at Bradford City’s the club’s trips to Accrington Stanley’s Crown Ground provide just that.

The first meeting between the teams in modern times saw Joe Colbeck – fresh from his return from loan at Darlington – the hero as City ran out 2-0 winners and Omar Daley tore the home side in two. The hard work of striker Barry Conlon brought praise that visit and there was a sense that four months into his time at the club it seemed that Stuart McCall was starting to get the basis of team together.

Three years ago City were outplayed for eighty minutes and then Stuart McCall brought on Barry Conlon and one might riot some how managed to be the catalyst for a stunning turn around that saw City leave Stanley boss John Coleman with a ruined wedding anniversary and City fans happy.

Happy for a time though because it was though that – eventually – City could do better than Conlon and his manager Stuart McCall and so the change was made to Peter Taylor who with huge fanfare took his City team for their first game.

You might remember the wet ground, the late arriving and early departing Mark Lawn with a vandalised car, and the performance that set the tone for Taylor time at Valley Parade. There was a sense of optimism in the air that day that – probably because the display was away from home and followed not long after by a great 3-1 win at Rochdale – which went undented. Recall, if you will, the people who said that Taylor was going to sort out the mess that Stuart McCall had caused. Try not to look at the top of the Scottish Premier Division.

The optimism of Taylor’s arrival was in marked contrast to last season’s trip to The Crown Ground where City were so badly second best that manager Peter Jackson could find not an iota of optimism. Having taken up a team of the Disunited from Taylor Jackson – following Accrington – could not see how the club would claim another point in the season. At that point Peter Jackson thought Bradford City would go out of the Football League.

So Bradford City go West for the fifth time with Jackson having nailed together a team he has more faith in and which built around the optimism which was in such short supply in April’s visit. A team for which improvement is the aim and the assumption that enough improvement will drive promotion. Seeking a first win of the season following Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Oxford and on the last of three trips away from home that started at Leeds the tone for the return to Valley Parade for three back to back home games will be taken from this barometer test.

A device to measure pressure City’s barometer readings have been troubling for some years. This summer – for the first time since relegation from the Premier League – there seems to be a realism in the club’s aims and that has brought with it a sense of optimism that the club is going in the right direction.

There is a question as to how long optimism can be maintained without victories and – along with that – the merits of optimism. Paul Jewell’s side famously gathered two points of the first twenty-one and got promotion at Wolves with many expecting them to fall at the last hurdle. Any optimism garnered on the last four trips to Accrington have done nothing to stop the club going backwards, often by a route of its own choice.

As long as there is progress in the players then – perhaps – there should be an optimism to match.

Jackson goes into the game with Martin Hansen in goal – there is a rumour that the Liverpool loanee is undroppable in his time at City although there is always that rumour about loan players. Jon McLaughlin is working his way through his interrupted pre-season and once again is being viewed as an answer to all problems. Never wanting to disrespect a player who I believe is a good and serviceable goalkeeper worthy of his place in the squad and team but never has a player sat on the bench performing so well. On the bench he is the human traffic light always on red, the unbeatable keeper, the greatest custodian in the club has had.

Three of City’s back four have been unchanged all season – the other position has rotated to three different names. Liam Moore, Guy Branston and Robbie Threlfall are constant, Luke Oliver, Steve Williams and Lee Bullock have changed. Oliver is expected to retain his place having played his part in the build up to Ross Hannah’s equaliser on Saturday. There was speculation that Oliver pushed Duberry, or at least that is what Duberry said, or was told to say by someone at the club, and he is sticking to but he is not doing twenty months for that, no way…

The midfield presents Jackson with options having favoured a five at Leeds and Oxford with Chris Mitchell at the base of Michael Flynn and Richie Jones with Mark Stewart and Jack Compton on the flanks but the improvement seen with Michael Bryan and a 442 might prompt a change in shape that sees one of Flynn and Jones benched. Jones brings a hamstring niggle into the game and perhaps that will see him sitting the match out.

Stewart – a player still finding his feet but showing some nice feet when he does – would then press forward alongside James Hanson who once again showed the limits of his abilities as the only player detailed to attack on Saturday. Given the thankless task as the only pink shirt in the other half at the Kassam Stadium Hanson has an unfruitful afternoon and sure enough garnered criticism for his play in isolation. Conlon used to suffer criticism too, but his replacement was Stanley legend Paul Mullin and soon Barry was missed. An object lesson if ever there was one.

All of which is expected to leave Naille Rodney and Ross Hannah on the bench – impact substitutes in a Conloin stylee perhaps – but gives Peter Jackson the sort of selection problems which Taylor could have only dreamed of where his has a choice of players who all seem to be keen to show how they are improving.

To show a twitch on the barometer, and perhaps a reduction in pressure.

The work in progress

48 hours on from the red hot away atmosphere at Elland Road on a sunny Yorkshire evening, the quaint surroundings of Steeton AFC’s Summerhill Lane ground and a heavy downpour formed the more grounded backdrop to the Bradford City Development Squad’s place of work.

They were here for a friendly against their West Riding County Amateur Football League counterparts – a derby with none of the intensity of Tuesday but with plenty of meaning for all on the pitch. The serious stuff has got going for City’s first teamers, but for almost everyone wearing the lovely pink kit this evening it was an opportunity to prove they are capable, one day, of promotion to the senior squad.

City's Development Squad in development

City's Development Squad in development

Much has been said over the summer about the Archie Christie-led initiative of tutoring a group of younger players, so they can potentially be good enough for first team action over the next few years. But as the football season gets into full swing, it’s likely the Development Squad will become largely forgotten. Indeed some of the usual message board trouble makers have already attempted to criticise City devoting a budget to Christie, while hinting at a rift between him and first team manager Peter Jackson.

But if Jackson really doesn’t care for all of this, he must be desperately short of things to do in an evening. Tonight he, joint-Chairmen Mark Lawn and Head of Youth Operations Peter Horne watched from next to the City dugout while Wayne Allison – surely a Jackson appointment – barked instructions at the team alongside a near-silent Christie. Interest within the club for the Development Squad is clearly strong.

The treacherous downpour and lack of team sheet meant this writer struggled through his rain-soaked glasses to identify everyone who was playing for City this evening. From the first team squad there was Jon McLaughlin in goal for the 90 minutes, Leon Osborne leading the attack and – yes, he is still alive – Lewis Hunt at centre back. Meanwhile new loan signing Michael Bryan lined up on the right flank and enjoyed an encouraging evening.

An up-for-it Steeton made the sure game was competitive, but as City got into their passing stride they were clearly a cut above. Scott Brown, who isn’t allowed to play for the first team until he turns 17 in November, was once again utterly masterful in the centre of the park. The Scottish teenager effortlessly sprayed the ball around with great accuracy and confidence, spotting things others don’t see. He is Bradford City’s secret weapon for either later this season or next, and the potential is huge.

Dominic Rowe took a spot on the right wing and drove the team forward well, though his positional awareness still needs some work. Adam Robinson looks a great prospect at centre back, while the number three (who’s name I wasn’t sure of, sadly) was terrific getting up and down as left back. Up front Osborne showed a much greater level of maturity compared to his petulant display at Silsden a month back, and it was great to hear him offering rookie partner Darren Stephenson advice and encouragement throughout.

It was Osborne who put City in front after he was played through on goal and rounded the keeper. Soon after Stephenson – who earlier had missed an open goal, albeit from a tight angle – struck a second from inside the box. The rain was incessant in the first half and my lack of coat or hat soon had me shivering. Suddenly a comforting arm was placed around my shoulder, before I turned round to see who it was and to accept their offer of a handshake. It was Jackson,  walking around supporters saying hello. The personable style of this man is hugely impressive, I think I’m developing a man-crush for him.

Shortly after a half time interval made entertaining by ear-wigging Allison’s team talk on the pitch, it was 3-0 when a young substitute – who I believe to be Kieran Djilali, on trial from Crystal Palace and very sharp –  finished emphatically from just inside the box, and the rest of the game seemed like a typical second half pre-season friendly where little happens. The cross bar was struck towards the end by City and Steeton’s players looked increasingly agitated with each other; Luke Dean was assured in a less familiar right back position.

A decent evening’s work, though the quality of opposition and basicness of Steeton’s ground symbolised how there is some way to go for the Development Squad strategy to achieve its objectives. This is no overnight route to success, and in things don’t go well on the pitch this season the conviction in maintaining this long-term approach may be tested by some.

But if, as per usual, the first team fails to live up to expectations this campaign, there’s great comfort to be had from knowing that a Plan B is already in operation.

2011/2012 II/IV: The players

They can hardly lose – the players of Bradford City 2011/2012 coming in the season after the team were booed, jeered and dubbed “the worst in Bradford City’s history.”

Set against that the currently players – as a whole – can hardly do worse but with the club stopping focusing on promotion as the only aim and starting looking at Development as the means that end in a higher division then the players are individually charged with achieving personal aims.

So if the City players need to end the season having improved what should each player consider a success for the season, and what standard should they be held against?

Goalkeepers

A good season for Jon McLaughlin is a busy one. The keeper has kept his place in the squad while all around him have been released and retains the favour of supporters but thus far the former Harrogate shot stopper needs to be authoritative in his goalkeeping and commanding of a back four that too often looked nervous in front of him last season.

A good season is to keep the gloves all year, a bad one sees someone come in on loan and leaves McLaughlin looking for a new club after the season.

Martin Hansen‘s dream season is a first month – and then two more perhaps – where he is a brick wall for Bradford City and returns to Liverpool with Pepe Reina allowed to leave and the Danish custodian allowed to take over. That probably will not happen but a good display against Leeds United in the League Cup would help raise his profile and his season is all about showing he can perform in League football.

Defenders

Bradford City are Guy Branston‘s grand project. The defender looks at Valley Parade as his opportunity to add a final achievement to his promotions and play off wins and that achievement is to stamp authority on a team which badly lacked leadership last year. Branston’s sights are set higher than any other player for the Bantams this season and anything less than playing near every game (eighteen red cards in his career suggests that one might expect a suspension of two) and making sure that the men around him put in good performances and win clean sheets.

One of those men is Steve Williams who has two years left on his contract so perhaps this is not the “big year” that is being talked about for the defender but Williams needs to bring a more constant high level of performance. A good season for Williams is few mistakes at the back which tend to interrupt excellent displays, and it is nailing a place alongside Branston at the heart of the back four.

A good season for Simon Ramsden is one without injury. Since arriving at City Ramsden has put in infrequent but excellent performances at right back and central defence owing to injury and it seems that should he stay fit that Rambo will do well. A good season for Simon Ramsden is living up to the promise of his fleeting appearances so far.

For Luke O’Brien this season is about giving up childish things and graduating from being a good young player to being a reliable good player. For this year to be a success O’Brien has to go past his last season of being given the pass which young players to not needing such excuses and putting in mature displays most often.

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

For right back Andrew Burns the season is all about development. City are looking for a loan deal for the young right back to give him a few months of experience. If the season is a success for him he will come back and put pressure on the first team. If he ends with a dozen appearances he will have done very well, half a dozen might be more realistic and is a good aim for the youngster.

Similarly Adam Robinson – who seems set to back up for Steve Williams in the role of mobile defender – needs experience and might hope to get a few months playing in the non-league but a successful season is winning a new deal after his initial first six month contract expires and perhaps getting a half dozen appearances in by the end of the season.

For Lewis Hunt and Robbie Threlfall a good season seems to be finding a new club. How Threlfall fell from the player who people thought was too good for us to one who is thrown out of “the worst team in Bradford City’s history” is saddening and the fact that the club seemed to keep him in preference to signing Jamie Green promises something for the left back from Liverpool but all in all a good season for both is to end it as a professional footballer, and good luck to them both.

Midfielders

No player shows the potential of a successful season better than Dominic Rowe. Rowe is in the team in the absence of Omar Daley and mirrors the winger’s style of play charging at defenders with pace but differs in his type of delivery. While Omar went for the cut inside and attack the centre Rowmar goes around the outside to the byline and delivers.

A good season for a first year professional is to play a half dozen or more games but the likes of Burns and Robinson have players in their way. Rowe has the opportunity to get into the team and make Peter Jackson stop the search for a replacement. A good season for Dominic Rowe is to play a dozen games, get a few assists and a couple of goals but Bradford City – it seems – need more from the young winger.

In other words City need Rowe to have a David Syers season where his first proper year sees him establish himself as a first team player quickly. Syers’ challenge this year is not only to avoid the often talked about “second season syndrome” but to advance his game. As good as he was in his first year when given the opportunity to boss the midfield himself Syers was found wanting. A good season for David Syers is not measured in how many games he plays or goals he scores so much as how many midfield battles he wins. He needs to be everywhere on the pitch, as often as he can be.

Exactly the same can be said about Michael Flynn. Seemingly unloved by Peter Jackson Flynn’s performances have put him back into contention but Flynn has been in the heart of City teams which had soft centres. The decision for the manager is on if those teams failed because of Flynn, or inspite of him, a successful season for City’s number four is to make that decision for Jackson. Like Syers it is not just games played but midfields won which will be decisive for the midfielder in the year, the final year of his City contract.

At the other end of his Bantams career is Ritchie Jones who signed a potential four year deal with the club and has been brought in – aged 24 – to be a big player. Having slipped down from Manchester United to Hartlepool United to Oldham Athletic Jones has reached a place where he needs to stop the decline. League Two offers the base ground for footballers. If one does not make it at this level, one is not a professional footballer for much longer.

For Jones there is a need to make this season the one where he cements a regular first team place putting him in direct competition with Flynn and Syers. A good season for Jones taking the opportunity of being a new face at a new club and making himself undroppable.

Chris Mitchell may end up undroppable because of his delivery from set plays. A fine crosser of a ball Mitchell seems to offer City the sort of delivery which has been missing since – perhaps – Nick Summerbee left the club but arriving as a full back come central midfielder it seems that the young Scot will have had a successful season if at the end of it no one is saying that he is only in the team because of his delivery.

Jack Compton‘s season will have been a success if there is a battle for his services in January. His loan expires in the Winter and should the Bantams be trying to prise him away from Falkirk who have seen something they want back from the left winger then he will have done well. A traditional winger, and very one footed, there are worries about how Compton will fit into a team and a division in which every player has to work hard to get results but a partnership between O’Brien and Compton could have something of the Wayne Jacobs/Peter Beagries about it.

If he can be a regular between now and Christmas, and if he can provide the ammunition for James Hanson and his former Falkirk team mate Mark Stewart then he will have had a good half season.

A successful season for Lee Bullock is filling in. Peter Jackson has said that he wants to keep the midfielder because of his versatility. Bullock has played right back, centre back, holding and attacking midfield and perhaps for Bullock success is not judged in how many games he plays but in how many positions he plays them in. Not only that but how many loan players are forced to come in to cover injuries. If at the end of the year Bullock has filled whatever hole appears in the team he – and Jackson – will have justified his place in the squad.

For Luke Dean‘s place in the squad to be justified the midfielder who lost much last season to injury needs to start establishing himself as a member of the match day sixteen which – looking at the options available – could be tough. One gets the feeling that unless Dean gets a very lucky he will spend the season frustrated. A good season for Luke Dean sees him push ahead of the likes of Mitchell, Bullock and Flynn in the pecking order.

The likes of Alex Flett and Patrick Lacey have more time. They need experience on loan and a fist full of first team games but the onus on those players is to prove that they are worth another deal. Flett’s contract is up at Christmas and so has to impress quickly, Lacey has until then end of the season.

The same should be said about Scott Brown but to do so would be to ignore the anticipation around the young Scot who has a buzz about his early appearances and abilities. It is said that after watching Brown for fifty minutes Jackson got on the phone to get a contract drawn up for the sixteen year old so impressed was he and while it would be far too simplistic to say that the player needs to break into the first team he – more than any other brought into Archie Christie’s Development Squad – needs to start pushing for a place in the first team squad. He needs to make himself the default option when the manager starts looking for options. A dozen appearances would be excellent, but the proof of Brown and the Development Squad is in the number of loan players brought to the club to plug gaps perceived in the squad.

Forwards

Of all the players at Bradford City James Hanson has the longest current commitment to the club. Hanson is signed up for City until the middle of 2013 regardless of performance (Brown and Jones have longer options at the club’s discretion) such is the faith which three managers have had in the forward. Hanson divides opinion in City fans and there is debate about the player but – for me – there are two schools of thought on the player: Those who see him as a superb forward capable of winning battles against almost every player he comes up against and possessing a powerful, able strikers arsenal, and those who are wrong.

Success for Hanson is to be injury free of course – he will not like a season like last year – but it is also to carry on his weekly battles with the defenders of League Two and to create for his team mates. A dozen goals would be a good return but the same number and more of direct assists would illustrate the worth that he should be having in a team.

Benefactor of those assists should be new recruit from Falkirk Mark Stewart who comes to the club with a reputation as an intelligent player with the ability to link up with his fellow forward. A good season for Stewart is eighteen goals, a poor one and people will be making jokes that he is only playing because Jackson needs a Mar… Stewart up front. Perhaps realistically if the club are hoping for promotion in two or three years rather than one then a good season for Stewart is preparing for a second year promotion push rather than being judged on what he does in the next twelve months.

If Stewart fails then waiting is Ross Hannah. The chances of the former Matlock man improving on his 53 goals last season are slim but the striker will look not only to be getting into double figures for goals but will also hope to give Peter Jackson a selection headache. Hannah has to make it difficult for Jackson to decide which of his strikers he should be partnering James Hanson with. A successful season for Hannah is a good goal tally and a enough starts to suggest that Mark Stewart was not the default choice and to earn the extension to his contract for next season.

All of which is also true for Nialle Rodney and more. Rodney has only a one year deal and needs to suggest that he deserves another professional deal. A half dozen goals would suggest that the young man is delivering on his promise but games will be tough for Rodney if City are doing well, unless of course he is the man scoring the goals which bring good results.

Nakhi Wells is in a similar situation. A player who shown impressive touches in his early City career but will struggle to get games if the Bantams are doing well, and if the Bantams are doing poorly may struggle when he was in the team. A good season would be around twenty appearances and a half dozen goals but opportunities are limited.

More limited though seem to be the future for Leon Osbourne and Darren Stephenson. The former seems to have lost his place as the bright young thing and is now a very average player who has not been able to nail down a position and perhaps a good season for him is to establish himself with enough games to have proved a usefulness. The latter – Stephenson – has seen four players join the club ahead of him and will hope to get a loan move to give him experience and perhaps a half dozen games in the first team by the end of the season and the odd goal.

The pieces come together as this time City’s squad will play at Hull

Rarely do pre-season matches live long in the memory; but as Bradford City travel East across the M62 to play Championship club Hull City on Wednesday evening, thoughts of the last such friendly occasion between the two clubs linger in the mind.

It was almost nine years to the day that a bunch of players representing the Bantams trooped out at Hull, but the youthful line up was not a decision manager Nicky Law had been able to make – it was forced upon him.  City were deep in the throes of administration, and it was strongly expected that a Creditors Voluntary Agreement meeting later that week would go so badly that the club’s existence would be ended.

Fearing the risk of injury at a time when they’d suddenly be scrambling for employment, the players – led by David Wetherall – refused to take part at Hull. Tigers’ Chairman Adam Pearson was fuming at the withdrawal of City’s star names, and a bunch of youngsters that included Mark Bower, Lewis Emmanuel, Danny Forrest and Tom Penford went down to a 3-0 defeat. It looked set to be the final game in our history.

Fortunately a CVA agreement was worked out, and Bradford City has trundled on ever since – achieving little but ongoing survival as a club. For Hull, stuck in the bottom division at the time of the friendly and still playing at Boothferry Park, the subsequent rise has largely being meteoric. Perhaps they could have fallen the way of the Bantams too after their two-year stay in the Premier League ended with colossal debts, but with Pearson back at the club to tackle a sizeable mess, Hull have so far had a relatively soft landing from their fall from the elite. They even had a reasonable shot at the play offs last season.

So roles not quite reversed tomorrow evening, and for Bradford City it will be an intriguing work out just under two weeks away from travelling to Championship Leeds in the Carling Cup. The West Yorkshire derby might have being at the back of Peter Jackson’s mind when accepting this friendly invitation – City stepping in at the last minute after Hull’s scheduled home friendly with Feyenoord was called off on police instructions – and the manager takes his squad to Humberside with the majority of its places pencilled in.

Up front Jackson has four strikers with limited experience and he has talked about bringing in a more street wise option. James Hanson was outstanding against Bolton’s David Wheater on Sunday, and will be heavily relied upon as the senior forward rather than considered the raw rookie of two years ago. Mark Stewart impressed greatly against Guiesley and did reasonably well against Bolton, while Nialle Rodney’s strong pre-season has probably seen him overtake Ross Hannah in the pecking order. Pre-season has been slow for the former Matlock striker, though he may be given a longer run out tomorrow.

Midfield remains a concern, but in the centre there is no shortage of options. Michael Flynn’s performances have been hugely commendable and – given how poorly the Welshman played when Jackson was Interim manager, as he struggled to return from injury – it was perhaps understandable that he was seemingly being pushed out the club. Flynn will surely begin the season in the team alongside either Ritchie Jones, David Syers or Chris Mitchell, though whether the alleged six-figure bid for Romain Vincelot which failed is followed up by other attempts to bring in a midfielder are unclear.

Jackson’s revelation that Robbie Threlfall can leave would seem to pave the way for left winger/left back Jamie Green earning a contract, especially as Jack Crompton’s decent performance against Bolton was not enough for the trialist to earn a contract to be City’s left winger. I prefer Green anyway, with his greater defensive focus. With each game that Dominic Rowe starts in pre-season, the question of how big a part of Jackson’s immediate plans he will be appears to be more positive for the 18-year-old. Rowe excites me and others, but we must keep a lid on expectations.

In defence Steve Williams was in brilliant form on Sunday and will hopefully be boosted by the confidence it must have offered. Personally I’m still a little unsure of Guy Branston – he seems similar in style to Luke Oliver which doesn’t always look as pretty as it could. Luke O’Brien has won the left back fight and on the opposite side will probably be Simon Ramsden but may be Mitchell.

Sitting near the dugout for the Bolton game, it was noticeable how Jackson and assistant Colin Cooper spent much of the time shouting at and criticising Ramsden. The injury-plagued defender did look a little rusty, but was constantly picked out negatively for his positioning and distribution before he was eventually subbed, looking somewhat downbeat. It seems the management team are looking for more from Ramsden and, if he can finally stay fit, they will probably get it.

Which leaves the keeper situation. Jon McLaughlin should play his first pre-season game on Wednesday, but the choice of back up to him is unclear. Trialist Mark Howard played the last three friendlies and conceded nine goals – he’s now departed. Rhys Evans and Jon Brain may get the call after their trial spells ended with the door still open. However it appears Jackson is about to announce the loan signing of Liverpool’s Danish keeper Martin Hansen before this friendly takes place.

With just two games to go before it really matters, this game is a chance for those who have impressed so far to further cement their names for the opener’s starting eleven; while for others on the fringes it will be a chance to do some catching up.

Whoever is selected, no one will refuse to play – and this friendly will thankfully be quickly forgotten because of it.

Following the prevailing narrative

Pre-season allows a different view on football.

Nestled at the side of the pitch the players – who will be seen from the height of stands and the back of terraces – are up close and personal in front of a few hundred supporters. Players who look almost like a fleshly blur when at the far end of Valley Parade are right in front of you. Live and loud.

Very loud in some cases. Guy Branston’s “discussion” with the Referee at Nethermoor was the sort of language which very much would be both foul and abusive but not only did the officials do nothing about it they did not even break stride or blink, nor did the players. Par for the course perhaps, and not something one appreciates when watching from the stands.

Football is a sweary game up close and the players have nicknames, and they all end with “y” or “o”.

One thing one might notice about the players this season – not those on the field so much as those watching their team mates – is the fact that they are not wearing suits.

This time last year there was much talk about suits. The problem with Bradford City circa Stuart McCall was that the players were a shabby mess of leisure wear and lounging around and the solution in the new, sensible, and obviously better regime of Peter Taylor was to get the players dressing professionally. To this end Roger Owen provide the money to kit out the Bantams in a nice yard of cloth.

That was the narrative of last summer. The rise of professionalism under Peter Taylor and the need for things like overnight stays which would not see the season out and culminating with the clumsily named Make-Tommy-Doherty-Ride-A-Bus-All-Night-Gate.

Those things are not important now, or so the prevailing narrative of Bradford City tells us, because the key the success is the Twitter team and the Development squad.

The Twitter team aptly describing the trend started by Ross Hannah to use the social networking site to talk about the Bantam in a really, really, really positive way.

Hannah, Branston, Nialle Rodney. They beat the drum proudly for Bradford City and this is a good thing. You can buy the PR and good mood which has derived from reading the daily musings of the assembling City squad but it is safe to say that the people who brought you Santa Dave would not have invested in it.

The Twitter team strikes one as indicative of a good squad dynamic. Of young lads getting on well together and enjoying being footballers. It is many things good, and nothing at all to do with the need for suits which was so important a year ago.

Likewise The Development Squad and the rise of “Woodhouse Grove” as the training facility – a far cry but not a long way from “Apperley Bridge” which this time past year we were being told was suitable – are the essentials in the current story of the reconstruction of Bradford City.

Not that one wants to complain about these things. Almost everything that has happened at City this Summer has been a progressive step which will have improved the club at the end of the season regardless of promotion but the worry is that this time next year if promotion has not been reached will the Development squad be hanging up at the forgotten back of someone’s cupboard next to Roger Owen’s suit?

Will City players be banned from Twitter as their peers at Leeds United and would that move be trumpeted as increased professionalism needed to sort out something shabby. There is a cycle of what we are told is salvation one season being shoved out the door the next.

These things would seem dependant on the prevailing narrative of the club, and that is not a good thing.

The prevailing narrative is a powerful thing and one which governs how we view the club in terms of its progress and how the club view us.

City spun from being on our uppers to putting upwards of six figure bids in for players while Peter Jackson has moved from being the man who does not always say what he means when he swears that he bleeds blue and white to being the arbiter of truth when he says that Omar Daley has not been offered a deal by the Bradford City team he now manages. If it is the case that there is no deal then someone might want to tell Omar Daley that. Regardless this shows how Jackson has changed in perception at the demand of the narrative the club creates.

Like Taylor and his professionalism, and like McCall the Messiah, Peter Jackson as City manager is subject to his own narrative arc. He is cast as Saul, converted by the blinding light to the one true path and ready to make good for the faith not in spite of his wrongdoing but because of it.

So the Development Squad goes to Bradford Park Avenue while the seniors will entertain Premier League Bolton Wanderers in the first game at Valley Parade of the season.

Jackson is seeking a gatekeeper and will use both games to try out someone to perhaps replace the ill Jon McLauglin for the first game of the season. Mark Howards’ attempt to impress on Tuesday night was not impressive and so Iain Turner – a wanted man – will be given the chance to keep goal if he wants it against Bradford Park Avenue, or Bolton Wanderers, or both. McLaughlin’s illness keeps him out of both games. Goalkeeping coach Tim Dittmer has been given a squad number.

Simon Ramsden is expected to make a long awaited return against Park Avenue for a team which is thought to be mostly the development squad and Ramsden will feature at and he is expected to partner Luke Oliver in the middle of a back four with Lewis Hunt next to him on one side and Robbie Threlfall on the other. At times last season that back four could have started games for City. Andrew Burns and Adam Robinson could feature in either game but it seems that Peter Jackson is moving towards Chris Mitchell, Steve Williams, Guy Branston and Luke O’Brien as his first choice backline. Expect those to get a run out against the Trotters.

Jackson’s attempts to pair new signing Richie Jones and player of the season for the season where there was no player of the season David Syers met with mixed returns on Tuesday night and the Bantams looked a sterner outfit with Michael Flynn alongside Jones. Flynn seems to be being edged away from the Bantams first eleven but has responded in what seems to be typical fashion for the Welshman with some gutsy performances suggesting he will not go quietly into the night.

Should he play on the Friday night the future for Flynn may have been decided, if not then he has a chance of staking a claim. The development squad against Avenue is expected to feature Patrick Lacey, Alex Flett, Luke Dean and perhaps Lee Bullock while Bolton will face a midfield of Jones in the middle, the impressive Jamie Green on the left, Dominic Rowe on the right and one of the Flynn/Syers/Bullock mix in the middle.

Leon Osbourne is looking too developed for the development squad but not enough for the starting eleven. Scott Brown could play in either squad. Scott Brown is the future.

Up front Jackson is expected to give Nialle Rodney and Nakhi Wells a chance for go at Park Avenue as he tries to get a deal for Wells with Mark Stewart and James Hanson looking favoured for the Bolton game. Ross Hannah is in the middle, a decent place for a forward. Darren Stephenson, already, is starting to look like like he will struggle to get a chance.

Hannah, of course, is not for playing now. He is to be thrown on with twenty minutes left of the Leeds game in the first week of the season and to snatch a goal. That is his narrative, and deviation from it will cause some upset.

Pre-season preparations hit some bumps – time to panic?

Despite the arrival of two young players last week, there’s little doubt that the very public rejections of Tommy Miller and Gavin Skelton have proved the larger contributors to the current overall mood of us Bradford City supporters. Hot on the heels of Ashley Grimes and Clayton Donaldson turning down opportunities to join the Bantams, the fear is that manager Peter Jackson is targeting the wrong people and could fail to build a squad good enough to fulfil this season’s objectives.

Time is ticking, with the start of pre-season friendlies this week acting as another marker on the road to the big kick off in just under a month’s time. Other teams seem to be making a much better fist of strengthening their squad, while there are some murmurs of criticism that Archie Christie’s Development Squad plans are disrupting the focus away from the immediate priorities.

BfB did put together some research into the speed at which City have historically signed new players during the summer. But of the 114 summer signings made between Darren Moore on 4th June 1997 and the Scottish duo of Mark Stewart and Chris Mitchell on 1st July 2011 – there is no obvious correlation between how soon players arrive and how the team then goes onto perform. On average at this point of the summer, City have completed 50% of their business. The rejections of Donaldson, Grimes, Miller and Skelton would suggest Jackson is still less than 50% of his way through his summer recruitment plans this time around, but it may not mean that it’s time to panic.

For a start it’s worth considering what’s so good about signing players early? Do all the best players get snapped up immediately? Jon Worthington, Gareth Evans, Lenny Pidgley and Jake Speight all got signed up by clubs before July – would we have been happy to have signed them if they hadn’t played for us before?

As an example of the inconsistencies in the speedness of signing players we can look at two seasons where summer signings were made very late on. First in 2006, where Colin Todd had only made three of his eight close season signings with a fortnight to go before the campaign kicked off. The relegation that followed suggests it had a negative effect, though curiously City’s hastily assembled squad began that season in brilliant form.

Then there was the 1998/99 season, where Lee Mills was famously signed barely 24 hours before the season began and Isaiah Rankin a week after. Similarly with Todd in 2006, Paul Jewell had only made three of his seven summer signings a fortnight before the season began. No one needs reminding what the team achieved that season.

But when we do think back to those halcyon days, a lesson we can reflect on is the role players we weren’t sure were good enough went onto fulfil. The star players of that season included Peter Beagrie, Jamie Lawrence, Wayne Jacobs, Robbie Blake, John Dreyer and Darren Moore – some of which we were expecting Jewell to replace. Though Blake, Lawrence and Moore in particular had shown promise the season before, few would have predicted that they and other team mates were capable of scaling such heights as they did. It’s interesting to note that seven of the 11 players who started at Molineux on that never to be forgotten May afternoon were at the club the year before.

Which is why we shouldn’t write off the players who were part of last season’s dismal failures just yet. Jackson may have been keen to get rid of more when sorting out the retained list, but it would be wrong to tar them all with the same ‘not-good-enough’ brush and to assume a complete overhaul is needed if City are to have any chance of enjoying a good season.

A new goalkeeper has been targeted and is probably required. Jon McLaughlin had spells of good form last season, but perhaps isn’t ready to be entrusted with the responsibility of being number one for an entire campaign just yet. At full backs City were well equipped even before right back Mitchell arrived. A fully fit Simon Ramsden will seem like a new signing while Lewis Hunt hangs on; on the left side Robbie Threlfall and Luke O’Brien will continue to battle each other for the first team spot.

At centre backs City still have the talented Steve Williams to nurture. He was outstanding during the first half of last season before suffering a serious injury at Colchester in the FA Cup, but didn’t look the same player on his return and struggled to find form. Nevertheless he has a great future and should benefit from playing alongside new signing Guy Branston. There’s also the much-maligned Luke Oliver, who had a strong end to the season. It could be that Oliver leaves, but if he stays he can be a reasonable back up option.

In the wide midfield positions we come to the biggest problem, as Taylor’s reluctance to sign or keep hold of any wingers left City weak in this area. Should Jackson bring in wingers in addition to using youngsters Dominic Rowe and Leon Osborne, it will almost feel like a novelty to see players charging down the touchline and crossing the ball, instead of the route one stuff that was so often the main feature last year. BfB has heard an extremely intriguing piece of information over who Jackson is trying to recruit as one of his wingers. If it comes off, expect it to cause one heck of a stir.

In the centre City still have the hugely popular David Syers and are clearly looking for a regular partner to play alongside him. If this doesn’t come off though, City could do worse than turn to Michael Flynn. Jackson admitted he wanted to release Flynn at the end of last season and clearly hasn’t being able to see him at his best due to the struggles the Welshman had returning from injury. However if he can recapture his form of 2009/10 season – and with a full pre-season behind him there’s every chance – he can make a hugely positive impact. Lee Bullock is also a decent player to call upon, though it’s difficult to imagine he’ll get too many opportunities this season.

Up front the dearth of goals last season was a major problem, but it would be wrong to blame it solely on the strikers. The service they received was pathetic at times, and rather than them missing opportunities the team struggled to create any for them. Sadly James Hanson has been written off by a lot of supporters and is likely to become a major target of the moaners unless he begins the season well. I personally think he’s still got a lot to offer this club, and is capable of playing at a higher level if he can apply himself.

The summer recruits Hannah and Stewart have never played at this level, so despite their impressive goal tallies there is a big question over whether they can make the step up. For that reason Jackson probably needs to sign at least one more striker – someone with experience.

So a keeper, two or three wide players, a central midfielder and a striker. A host of trialists are attempting to fill some of these roles, but there are plenty of players available now or in the future who Jackson can target. A trickle affect runs through clubs’ recruitment efforts – sign the player you’re targeting, and a squad player is suddenly surplus to requirements and is sold to someone else.

Jackson will get there, and while players publically turning down his advances is not good for anyone’s morale, the squad he already has available is not as bad as we might sometimes think. In recent years City players have generally performed okay but failed to show it often enough. For City and Jackson, the key to this season may not lie in the ability levels of the players he already has and wants to bring in – but in the manager developing the players’ mental capacity to consistently perform to their true capabilities.

Bradford City’s squad and the art of equifinality

The players still under contracted at Bradford City for next season are available for offers as Peter Jackson’s curious remit as City manager continued to baffle.

Following today’s announcement of our retained and released lists, we now currently have a squad of thirteen players contracted to us for next season. I will be willing to listen to offers from other football clubs for all of those players though.

Jackson – the week to week manager – announced that he would be open to listening to offers for any of the current players which when set against the backdrop of financial problems makes some sense although City’s experience with mass transfer listing shows that seldom does a team swoop for the players a manager wants to get rid of.

Indeed when John Docherty Frank Stapleton announced he would sell any of the City squad Lee Duxbury and Lee Sinnott – two of the better players of the day – ended up at Huddersfield which is one rumoured destination for David Syers who with his team mates available for the right money.

“The right money” being the right term because while Jackson says City would listen to offers he stops short of transfer listing effectively ensuring that the buyer – rather than the seller – would be responsible for paying any fees to players as a result of a move.

Jon McLaughlin is City’s only remaining keeper while Simon Ramsden, Luke O’Brien, Luke Oliver, Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams and Robbie Threlfall remain as defenders. Luke O’Brien has been linked with a move to Greg Abbott’s Carlisle United while Steve Williams is reported to be on many a scout’s hit list.

Michael Flynn, Leon Osborne, Lee Bullock and David Syers remain as midfielders and Syers has been linked to both Huddersfield and Leeds United. Jake Speight and James Hanson remain up front and Hanson – it is said – may be joining Stuart McCall at Motherwell.

With City having – it is said – signed up players for next season including Ross Hannah of Matlock Town who watched City’s 5-1 defeat at the weekend then there seems to be planning in place for next term and that planning – one assumes – is being done by Jackson or it is not being done by anyone who would could describe as a football manager.

Indeed someone at the club must have made a decision to offer Dominic Rowe, Darren Stephenson, Adam Robinson and Alex Flett professional contracts, and to give Luke Dean a one year deal.

Rumour is king, we are but feal subjects to its whim but it seems that Bradford City are clearing the decks either for a summer of financial meltdown with the hope of a fresh start at the end of that toil, or just in the hope of a fresh start.

Equifinality would present both as the same as the thirteen players who remain at Bradford City are rendered up for sale.

Hate the team, I mean really hate the team

“Love the club, hate the team” or so went the special demotivational chant as City played Southend United on Friday night and its is almost impossible not to suggest that both players and supporters put in the level of effort that befit the result.

Which is not to criticise anyone who went down to Southend United for Bradford City – both players and fans were on the road for twelve hours that day – but that while some things in life are about the journey others are about what you do when you reach the destination and in terms of achieving a result it could hardly be said that either excelled.

It is said that one of the City players at the end of the game as he was “in debate” with a supporter colourfully told him – as a retort to something equally colourful – that he cared not about the abuse because he would not be at the club next season.

No more dog poo training pitch, no more hostile crowds, no more ludicrous level of expectation, no more revolving door on the manager’s office, no more seeing good players dropped for loanees, no more having the chairman tell people that you have under performed despite all the things listed. One can imagine that if you really hated the team the best punishment might be to trigger one of those contract extensions.

Which is only half in jest. While being a professional football is – no doubt – a superb job most of the time but like any job the minutia of it grinds and that grind must be apparent when after being dragged to and from Southend in a day the only thing to look forward to is more of the same. Certainly looking at Bradford City and they way that the club chooses to direct its resources would hardly fill you with anticipation that next season would be any better.

The club’s public position is that it has no money so there are no improvements in the offing and there is a tendency for the promises made one minute to be broken the next. Lewis Hunt is not involved at the moment, and as a player you will have your own views on that. You might also recall signing for a club which talked about having overnight stays which – seemingly – were not needed for Southend despite one assumes being budgeted for at the start of the season.

Against this backdrop the only real prospect of improvement is not from the club but from the players working together and summoning the individual character to improve and – in short – there is very little reason for them to do that. With many five game away from being out of work the motivation to put a foot in where it hurts (and by hurts one could say “leaves injured to make a trail for someone else in the summer impossible”) must be very low.

Such is the situation the players – and by extension the club – finds itself in. Fighting for Fourth Division survival with an army of near de-mob mercenaries. If we do have a club next season I do hope we stop this obsession football has with the season long contract and start giving players good, long, proper deals. To get loyalty, you have to give loyalty.

One wonders what loyalty Omar Daley will have left. Daley is out of contract at the end of the season and needs to impress with Rotherham United seemingly changed direction from the management which signed him two months ago and City being without a manager who can be sure of being in the big chair next season. The idea that he might be going to one of the Scottish Cup finalists lingers.

Daley will return to the City team on the left wing as Peter Jackson looks to recall the walking wounded for the game against Burton Albion which is being billed – somewhat curiously – as giving the winner a safe place in League Two next season.

The game is part of a good season for Burton which was ruined by games called off and the team has struggled with the arduous games in hand catch up of which this is the final one. The games in hand which people thought would propel them up the league have not and they hover nervously above the drop.

City hover above them, but are still nervous.

Jackson – who seems to see his hopes of being City’s full time manager evaporate in front of him – is tasked with getting the performance that has been lacking from his previous two matches and will try get the spark from Daley which has been lacking. Daley is expected to be on the left wing opposite Gareth Evans on the right but he could be deployed on the other flank, or up front.

However the Daley and Evans with Jon Worthington and David Syers in the middle seems to best suit Jackson’s style of play with Michael Flynn up front alongside the also returning James Hanson. Jackson’s dropping of A in a quest for more goals seems to have failed drastically. The replacements have looked no more likely to score than the maligned forward but the ball has spent less time in the final third.

Likewise the decision to drop Lewis Hunt is probably not the only factor in the seven concessions in two games but the disturbance to what was a decent defensive unit has helped not one jot. Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien have suffered at right back and Jackson is left looking at youngster Adam Robinson making his debut or someone else filling in. Steve Williams is back to partner Luke Oliver and O’Brien is expected back at left back.

Jon McLaughlin keeps goal.

A win will move City to fifty points – since two teams started to be relegated from League Two no club has gone down with that many – but only twice have teams with 47 points been relegated in those eight years which is motivation for Burton who would reach that total.

One wonders how Burton’s fans think of their club, and if they hate their players.

Note No comments on this. We have no time to moderate them during the day and after the game comments are best directed at the report.

Going through the motions

Following a credible performance and result against Macclesfield on Tuesday night, that all but guaranteed League football for the Bantams next season, it seems that the players’ minds were already on their summer breaks as City put in a below par shift against the promotion chasing Gulls.

Minus goal scorer James Hanson and defender Lewis Hunt, City lined up with Lee Bullock at right back, Luke O’Brien on the left of midfield and with a front line of Gareth Evans and Michael Flynn. The system smacked of square pegs in round holes and was to prove decisive as the ad-hoc line up were found wanting when it mattered. If the mass exodus of fans after Torquay’s third goal is anything to go by, and with the chairmen looking for a financial boost for next season’s coffers, Peter Jackson’s hopes of turning an interim position into a permanent one, have taken a major blow.

The optimism brought by pre-match sunshine and a pocketed dead cert for the 4.15 at Aintree, simmered away gently in the opening exchanges as both sides began evenly, with neither side really threatening the opposition’s goal. The majority of City’s play involved working the ball aerially to Evans and Flynn, in the hope that the giant Torquay backline would mis-time a routine clearance header; unfortunately for City, they didn’t.

Torquay scored the first of the afternoon following a couple of debatable decisions from referee Mr. Miller. Jon Worthington was adjudged to have taken the man before ball in what looked to be a perfectly decent challenge and from the resulting free kick the Gulls were able to work the ball closer to the Bantam’s penalty area. This lead to Steve Williams conceding a soft free kick on the edge of the box and presented Kevin Nicholson with the chance to drill the ball into John McLaughlin’s bottom corner.

Torquay grew in confidence and started to knock the ball around with considerable ease, Gavin Tomlin and Shrewsbury loanee Jake Robinson providing the main threat for the visitors.

The second half saw City replace the ineffective Evans with Jake Speight, a change that was almost immediately rewarded with Speight just unable to stretch far enough to convert a Tom Adeyemi cross. This was to prove a costly miss, as moments later Lee Bullock, when looking in control, was out muscled on the touchline, allowing Chris Zebroski to power his way to the by-line and pull the ball back for Tomlin to accept the simplest of tap ins.

Just as the dead cert was pulling up at Beecher’s Brook, the game was put beyond doubt, as more amateur defending allowed Nicholson to play an accurate cross-field ball to the un-marked Eunan O’Kane, for him to square the ball to substitute Billy Kee, who finished from 4 yards out. Some home supporters chose to applaud a good piece of play, most decided that the exit door was more preferable; a sight that won’t fill our joint-chairmen with too much optimism when it comes to rolling out season tickets for next season.

In a late attempt to get something from the game Peter Jackson switched to 4-3-3 and introduced Scott Dobie which proved to only increase the space at the back for Torquay to counter in. A poor, lethargic performance was epitomised by Steve Williams late shot from 30 yards, City’s second best effort of the afternoon!

The contrast in ambition between the sides could be comfortably measured in light years; one side taking a good run of form towards the automatic promotion places; the other in managerial limbo, lacking direction and desire and with one eye on a beach and the big blue. All of which will alarm the powers that be and do no favours for the interim-manager; Jackson looked agitated for most of the afternoon, gesticulating and remonstrating in his usual touchline manner, towards players who seemed content to take the safer instead of the incisive option.

The club are reaching the point where their future intentions need to be communicated, with the manager, ground, players’ contracts and season tickets all high on the agenda. Until that point is reached it looks like we will have to be content with simply going through the motions.

Does a football club need a manager?

“Jockey.”

I’ve never understood the word when used in a football context. A player can “jockey” another player, I know that much, but to what effect I could not say. I know a man who does though:

The Manager.

Chief amongst the manager’s roles is deploying words like “Jockey” and – according to Fabio Capello – 99 words which communicate with footballers.

Nevertheless, jockey aside, a full knowledge of this subset lexicon would not seem to be hard to grasp. Most of the manager’s role seems to follow from that, or so it seems, with a four four two here and a craft transfer swoop there the manager’s job seems a bit, well, simple.

We have a man called Major Buckley to thank for phrases like transfer swoop by the way. A ex army man he brought the language of the tactical battlefield to football. He also used to year plus fours -the brassneck of the man – as he managed Blackpool, Wolves and Leeds United

The managers job can be boiled down to such simple elements that it is a wonder that anyone bothers with them at all and – in Bradford City – there seems to be a club which has decided to do away with the idea of a manager altogether.

At least a manager as Major Buckley would understand the term. Nominally City have Peter Jackson now and had Peter Taylor before but they would fulfil the role of trainer more than manager. Buckley’s Trainer got the players ready for the next game – essentially Jackson’s remit – while the Major got on with, well, managing.

Which is to say planning. Planning how to be better – including a flank sweep for a new inside right but for the first time as a manager not exclusively in player captures – and working towards those aims. Planning a new tactic, planning a ground move, planning the name of the local underground station in Herbert Chapman’s case. Back then the manager, with so much to discover, went and discovered it.

Which perhaps explains why most clubs seem to have the same tendency as City to reduce the manager’s job. With football clubs having got to a level of maturity where most would agree on the best way to do things many of the roles of the manager of old are done, and maintaining them is taken inside the boardroom now. One of the problems that the modern manager faces is that most of the things that managers of tore used to do to gain a competitive advantage have been done. From giving a ball each to the players to signing The Three Amigos it is hard to find anything new to do.

So – in the absence of innovation – the manager explains to his players the word “Jockey” and trusts to them that his one hundred words will bring significant improvements. Perhaps club’s will do away with the manager altogether. Indeed there was an attempt in the mid to late nineties for clubs to dub the man in the big chair as Head Coach or something similar.

City are in the process of recruiting someone to sit in that big chair although the role and remit of the successful applicant will likely not be that broad. For now Peter Jackson takes the team to Stevenage for his sixth game.

Looking to turn around a home draw and defeat in two away matches Jackson’s claim for the City job was strengthened with the news that Alan Knill had become Scunthorpe United boss this week and it seems the more Jackson does the job, the more it seems to rest with him.

A first trip to Stevenage for league football presents Jackson with a chance to do a double – City were booed for beating Boro earlier in the season – and to continue his itching towards the entirely modest reward of building City away from relegation.

The call on goalkeepers which has seen Jackson favour Jon McLauglin over Lenny Pidgeley is bound to give a steer on new contracts for next year and, it seems, that call is being made by Jackson.

A word on McLauglin who had a game of highs and lows last week but retains a level of popularity with Bantam fans that seems to go back to the idea that he should gave been given a chance rather than Huddersfield Town loanee Simon Eastwood.

It seems a long time ago now that anything that arrived at Bradford City with a Huddersfield Town connection should be automatically rejected by some fans. How times change.

Midfield pair Jon Worthington – back from suspension – and Michael Flynn are reunited with Gareth Evans on the right hand side. Jackson struggles to find a wide man in the set up he inherited with Kevin Ellison injured and Omar Daley out on loan but Leon Osbourne’s performance in the reserves suggests his name.

Certainly Jackson needs to find someone more effective than Scott Dobie on the left flank. The club are interested in Christian Nanetti who rocked up from QPR via Jamie Lawrence’s football academy and Ashford Town as they look to return to playing wide men.

Planning, Major Buckley would say, is for the war and not just the battle. Alas most decisions on and for managers seem to be made on a battle by battle basis. One has to wonder – in that context – if a manager is needed at all. If his role is reduced to one of trainer while the boardroom retain responsibility for the strategy and planning of the club – and putting that plan into action – then is a manager really needed?

Managers arrives talking about transfer budgets and wage budgets and one gets the feeling that Major Buckley and his ilk would have been certain that they would decide how much of the club’s resources should be employed in different areas and gone about deploying it.

Jackson seems likely to favour the back four of David Syers, Steve Williams, Lewis Hunt and Luke O’Brien although would no doubt been keen to point out that injury has forced his hand in selection in the games where the Bantams have been beaten. Luke Oliver has a chance of being fit.

Up front Jackson has seen his team struggle to score although it would not be true to suggest that City had struggled to create chances. Chib Chilaka showed his abilities with a good haul of five in his last two games and Darren Stephenson showed a willingness last week but Jake Speight was missed when he left the game last weekend and is likely to be partnering James Hanson.

Hanson dominates defenders. He does that because he already knows how to “Jockey”. One wonders who taught him to do that, and if the manager who did had anything much to do after.

Jackson’s hopes hang in the balance as the feel-good factor recedes

Suddenly the unifying feel-good factor witnessed at the Globe Arena two weeks ago seems like a distant memory. 180 minutes of subsequently apathetic football have loosened Peter Jackson’s grip on pole position for the manager’s job full time. It may be wrong for his chances to fluctuate game-to-game like this, but this afternoon and last week have hardly offered compelling evidence in support of the interim manager’s cause.

Speaking ahead of this disappointing defeat, joint-Chairman Mark Lawn revealed it is likely Bradford City will make a final decision on the next manager around Easter time. Therefore Jackson probably has at least another four games in the hotseat to build a stronger case than his first five games provide. Few would doubt he has made an impact as he reaches his one month milestone in charge on Sunday, but seven points from 15 is hardly a significant improvement on the six points Peter Taylor collected during his final five games.

And therein lies his major issue to date. There just isn’t enough of a difference to the way City are performing with Jackson at the helm when looking at the widening picture. Initially the Bantams were playing a much more appealing passing style of football compared to efforts under Taylor. Yet both today and last week there has been a frustrating reverting back to direct football that sees the ball punted aimlessly in the direction of Jake Speight and James Hanson. Jackson can argue he doesn’t want his players to perform in this way, but this would hardly generate confidence over his leadership abilities.

Amazingly in a game where they were so clearly second best, City took the lead and for 10 minutes looked on course to sneak an undeserved victory. But a very impressive Shrewsbury side demonstrated why they are in the promotion shake-up by coming back to earn a valuable win. Rarely do dropped points look acceptable when you’ve held a lead in a match; and, although Shrewsbury’s winner came with six minutes left on the clock, the fact City had been unable to curtail their opponents’ dominance from kick off reflected badly on everyone.

Sure there were mitigating circumstances. Much of the pre-match focus was on how Jackson would compensate for the injured Luke Oliver at the back, but ultimately the absence of the suspended Jon Worthington was more crucially felt. City’s midfield four were badly out-gunned for much of the game and lacked the energy and drive to function as an effective attacking force. They lacked a David Syers.

Syers himself was thrust into a right back role he at least looked more comfortable performing compared to his efforts in this position against Northampton a week ago. With Lewis Hunt moved over to centre back to cover Oliver and putting in an extremely strong display, Jackson could argue he’d made the right call. But as the midfield already featured two strikers as widemen, there remained a suspicion all afternoon that there were just too many players lining up out of their best position, tipping the balance in Shrewsbury’s favour.

Particularly as Tom Adeyemi was asked to perform a defensive midfield position which appears more naturally suited to Syers and certainly isn’t ideal for the on-loan Norwich midfielder. For the first 45 minutes especially the midfield four were on the back foot and struggled to find time and space to attack, with Michael Flynn very average again. Shrewsbury hunted in packs down the flanks, forcing Gareth Evans and a much more willing Scott Dobie to defend for much of the half. But with so many players forced deep, the front two of Hanson and Speight were left badly isolated.

In other words, it was the same balance conundrum that Taylor had failed so badly to solve.

Were it not for an outstanding display from Jon McLaughlin, Shrewsbury’s dominance would have been rewarded with a 2 or even 3-0 half time scoreline. After getting away with making a hash of a low cross into the box, McLaughlin maintained his confidence and made a terrific double block from the dangerous Matt Harrold and Mark Wright. Just before half time Nicky Wroe was played clear on goal, but McLaughlin stood up well to make a brilliant one-on-one block. At half time all four sides of the crowd afforded the keeper a standing ovation.

City did begin to improve in the second half, with Jackson pushing Adeyemi further forwards so he could link up with Speight and Hanson. Though McLaughlin was still busy, having to tip over David Davis’ long-range shot and later on keep out Wright’s header. Darren Stephenson was handed a senior debut in place of the woeful Speight, and the crowd’s positive reception to his arrival helped the players to temporarily stem the tide.

Midway through the second half Adeyemi took advantage of a woeful punch downwards from Shrewsbury keeper Ben Smith to volley the ball into the roof of the net from the edge of the area; and for Jackson and City it was looking like a good day after all. Yet the wily Graham Turner made two inspirational substitutions – bringing on Tom Bradshaw and opening-day-of-the-season-City-tormentor Lionel Ainsworth – that re-shifted the momentum again.

City switched off from a throw-in, and Bradshaw struck with venom from distance to beat McLaughlin at his near post with 13 minutes to go. The substitute then won the game on 84 minutes after Jon Taylor had got free of Syers on the left – despite a strong suspicion of fouling the makeshift right back – and crossed for him to tap in.

In between City had effectively played upon Smith’s hesitancy in goal by swinging in some decent crosses that left him flapping. The best chance saw Hanson’s excellent run and cross for Dobie to head home thwarted by a defender on the line. On another day and with a bit more luck City could have won it instead of going on to lose, but then again they had benefited from some good fortune in defeating Rotherham and Morecambe.

In the end the day lacked conclusions. City are just about safe from relegation, but another few points are still required. Jackson could have been packing up his desk at full time, but Lawn’s pre-match comments revealed the assessment will go on a while longer. Lawn also claimed that results are what matter, and one has to wonder whether Jackson’s chances are little more advanced than a game of musical chairs. Will his latest result be win, draw and lose when the music stops – and will that determine the outcome?

Almost every manager I’ve known is popular at first – and there’s always that period where we almost believe they’ll be a superhero in what they are capable of achieving, before over time they prove themselves to be human with flaws that drive their popularity downwards. So while the six other managerial candidates can still hide behind their cape and remain superhero in their potential, Jackson – with some questionable team selections, iffy tactics and average performances – is left to reveal his defects that all the while reduce his chances.

Two weeks after looking a shoe-in for the job – for Jackson, you begin to suspect this story isn’t going to have a happy ending.

The fifth midfield shows as City face Northampton

In a season which promised much and delivered little it has been difficult to bring to mind any reasons to be cheerful as City look to the future but – when those reasons are brought to mind – chief in them is the performance of David Syers.

Signed at the start of the season from Guiseley Syers arrived at Valley Parade looking very much like an unnecessary third wheel in the midfield. With Tom Ademeyi added to an assumed midfield three of Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and Tommy Doherty it seemed that Syers was going to find first team opportunities limited.

His debut goal – the equaliser in a game with Nottingham Forest – did not harm his case but twenty starts later Syers’ honest endeavours have seen him not only elevated from signed up curio to hope for the future but also activate a second year clause in is contract.

Without a manager in place for new season let alone a set of players it is hard to see Bradford City 2011/2012 but were Syers to be within that somewhere and somewhere in the midfield.

The one thing that has united all four seasons of City teams in League Two has been midfield failure with the sum of parts so often being less than it should be. Doherty and co this season should have been a superb set up but not only did they often have the ball over their head under Peter Taylor but when they did get a chance to play they failed to take enough of a grip of matches. Doherty is the poster boy for this season’s midfield failure. A favourite of Taylor, a player of massive ability, but it just did not happen for him.

Nor did it happen for the Michael Flynn midfield under Stuart McCall the previous year. Flynn’s hard work did not cut a swathe through the division although the player himself performed well. In its way that year of midfield was no worse the much lauded previous season with Paul McLaren, Dean Furman and Nicky Law. All talented, none of whom were able to grab games by the scruff of the neck.

Paul McLaren – the senior professional – taken the blame for that but once again is a very talented footballer as was the first League Two midfield boss Paul Evans the fading of whom remains a mystery to me as well as one of the most disappointing player seasons I’ve ever seen.

Four season, four midfields and none of them simply poor at football but all of them coming up short.

Not so – at the moment – Jon Worthington who bestrode the City midfield like no other player at this level since we sank down. Worthington’s first full ninety minutes came last week at Morecambe and has he battled for every ball so did the rest of the team. It was inspiring to watch.

One has to wonder what Worthington – benched under Taylor who signed him – did to not impress the previous gaffer but in his old Huddersfield boss Peter Jackson Worthington has someone who knows the value of a proper holding midfielder.

The Flynn/Worthington midfield is a solid foundation – the Syers/Worthington one could have promise too – and one which has the kind of battering energy which is often seen in the teams which exit this league in the right direction.

Gareth Evans missed a penalty last week after a tireless display of not little ability while Kevin Ellison – who won said spot kick – seems set to take Scott Dobie’s place in on the left wing. Omar Daley has become available to recall from loan by Jackson after his first month at Rotherham and has let it be known to those who know him that he will play for anyone who gives him a contract for next season.

Also letting things be known this week was Jake Speight who tweeted to former City skipper Zesh Rehman spelling out the change in attitude at the club and his support for his new manager saying

speighty28: @Zesh_Rehman yes bro am good thanks! Yeah finally back playing new gaffers class 2 be fair! Its a lot better here now! How is it over there?

Rehman is enjoying Thailand – so he says – and is pleased that Speight is feeling the same as shows in his (that word again) energetic performances of late which hint at – rather than promise – goals. Perhaps the game with Northampton will be the day that Speight gets the goals that his input suggests but football can be unfair. Speight will be up front with James Hanson.

Jon McLaughlin may keep his place at the back after his clean sheet although Lenny Pidgeley hopes to be fit again. The back four of Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien also celebrated a clean sheet and will be retained for the Cobbler’s visit.

Northampton sit below City in League Two – although they too have a new manager in the highly impressive Gary Johnson – and a win for the Bantams would do much to secure Football League status sooner rather than later.

Which would strengthen Peter Jackson’s claim for the Bradford City job long term – and perhaps this time long term could be more than a season – so the likes of David Syers might be able to be considered to be part of the club for more than a season by season basis.

Taylor looks for a repeat of his best week

In the immediate wake of such a demoralising weekend defeat – leaving Bradford City anxiously looking over their shoulders at the form of clubs in relegation trouble – it seemed impossible to believe the players could get anything from a Tuesday night tussle with the League Two leaders. But then City stunned everyone to beat table-toppers Rochdale 3-1 on their own patch.

It was a truly special evening – one year ago this week – with the team benefiting from a spine-tingling level of backing from their own fans which helped them to hit the heights after experiencing the lows at Accrington. Robbie Threlfall’s free kick to make it 2-1 prompted wild celebrations that were only bettered after Gareth Evans smacked an unstoppable volley into the roof of the net with three minutes to go. It was totally unexpected, which made the evening all the more special. A few days later bottom-of-the-table Darlington were defeated 1-0 and the clamour to extent new manager Peter Taylor’s contract grew momentum.

How Taylor will be hoping history repeats itself a year on.

The pressure on the City manager was pushed back up a notch after Friday night’s loss to Port Vale, and with tonight’s game against leaders Chesterfield quickly followed by a visit from second-bottom Stockport this could be a defining week for Taylor. Should City fail to accumulate more than a point from these two games, it might prove enough for time to be called on his rein.

Undoubtedly the Board are in a difficult position at the moment. There was some speculation – not for the first time – that the Wycombe game 10 days ago would have been his last had the team not delivered a much-needed win. It seems highly unlikely Taylor will be offered a new contract in May, but in the short-term the Board needs him to get some results so they aren’t forced to take action sooner – causing financial ramifications for next season’s budgets. Taylor shows no inclination to resign any time soon, so it would cost the club to sack him and find a replacement.

The Board clearly want Taylor to remain in charge for now, but ongoing poor results put them in a difficult position in that they have to balance the budgets against the possibility of the five-time promotion winner looking increasingly less capable of keeping the Bantams in the Football League. Stockport don’t play again until Saturday, so if City lose tonight and then to the Hatters the gap to the relegation zone will be just three points. Panic would ensue.

So Taylor and his employees need this to be a good week, and though the prospects of this evening defeating a side which has lost only twice on the road all season look slim, events a year ago this week underline how quickly it can change. Taylor at least has to believe City can win, and then his next job is to convince the players.

Of course it was only three weeks ago that the Bantams almost did defeat Chesterfield, when they were just 30 seconds of injury time away from a notable victory inside the Spireites’ new stadium. Despite the joy of equalising so late, that draw seemed to trigger a mini-wobble in Chesterfield’s outstanding season as they drew three and lost one of their next four; but a comfortable win at in-form Lincoln on Saturday has re-asserted their dominance and they lead the rest of the division by eight points. They have only lost one of their last 13 games.

The continuing rate of change and injuries seen at Valley Parade all season means that only six of the starting line-up at the B2Net stadium for that 2-2 draw are likely to be in the 11 that kick off the game tonight. Jon McLaughlin has again been consigned to number two behind the more experienced – and certainly more vocal – Lenny Pidgley, A year ago McLaughlin was also watching on from the bench with the more senior but not exactly notable Matt Glennon between the sticks. McLaughlin can look back with pride at the last 12 months, but his progress has not been as spectacular as it appeared it would be when Taylor turned to him over Glennon at the end of last season.

At the back it is disappointing that Simon Ramsden has managed to get injured so quickly again, and one worries if he was rushed back too early to play the full 90 minutes against Wycombe. Beyond that though, and given how many injuries he picked up last season too, one worries that Ramsden’s contract will not be renewed this summer because the manager – whoever that is – needs greater reliability at right back than the 29-year-old’s body will enable him. Lewis Hunt will continue to deputise on the right with Luke O’Brien at left back.

In the centre Steve Williams and Luke Oliver both made mistakes on Friday that may leave Taylor contemplating restoring Shane Duff to the starting line up. Oliver has featured in all but two of City’s league games to date but remains unconvincing at times. Williams’ return to match fitness – results were improving until he was injured at Colchester last November – could make a difference to a defence which has under-performed all season.

Whether Taylor opts for 4-3-3, 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 in the wake of the Port Vale failings is yet to be seen, but whichever he decides it’s to be hoped he selects the right players to suit his system rather than the questionable midfield choices of recent weeks. Michael Flynn’s presence is massive, but despite decent performances in his last two outings there is more to come from him. Jon Worthington was quietly impressing up to the Wycombe game and, if his removal from the first XI continues, it will say much about Taylor’s high player turnover approach. Tom Adeyemi will feature somewhere from the start, Leon Osborne possibly not.

Up front Scott Dobie has shown some good things in his two games to date, but at other times has looked off the pace and in need of improved fitness. Kevin Ellison couldn’t make the same level of impact at Vale Park compared to his memorable debut, but will be a key player tonight. Jake Speight made a big impression on Friday and many will expect him to start, but Taylor may opt to keep the hard-working Evans in the starting eleven ahead of him.

How to approach this week? In a sense tonight is a game to get out of the way. A defeat is widely expected and, looking at the league table, it will be difficult to be too critical of Taylor if it goes the way of the form guide. Yet a second defeat on the bounce would really crank up the pressure on him and the team ahead of Saturday’s game, which is unlikely to prove ideal preparation.

So Taylor looks for some sort of positive result tonight in order to build some forwards momentum or – at least – slow the backwards impetus that is threatening to suck City into non-league. It can be argued that this period a year ago was the best of Taylor’s rein at City. He badly needs a repeat, because otherwise this week could prove to be his last in charge.

Fleeting success

Sadly it seems that success in football – as in life – is always fleeting.

An ethereal thing almost as soon as it is grasped then success is gone, dissipated in the desire for a better success. We look back a decade to Bradford City celebrating staying in the Premiership only to set sights on European football and a “kicking on to mid-table finish” the next season. That year Manchester United won the treble and since have never been happy with domestic success alone since.

It is in our reach that we define our tragedy and doom ourselves to discomfort, or so it is said. Wycombe Wanderers under Peter Taylor were promoted from League Two two years ago and seem on course to celebrate similar success this year having seen this sojourn back to the fourth tier as an unwelcome diversion from progress. There was a time they were happy to be in the League.

What we have we do not value, and we want more or so it seems, and to this maelstrom we welcome Dominic Rowe and Alex Flett.

The (new) boys are back in town

Two of David Wetherall’s junior side Fleet and Rowe have been given squad numbers and the chance to claim a place in the match day squad. At the moment City’s new numbers 31 and 32 are welcomed to the first team squad with open arms and optimistic smiles. “These two,” the mind trots to thinking “could be big players for us.”

The mind is right to do so. That skinny sixteen year old who filled in for Ces Podd in 1982 was in Flett and Rowe’s position and and he turned out well. Watching the progress of players like Don Goodman, Andrew O’Brien and Dean Richards was a source of pride and joy for City fans in years gone by. Soon though this joy of the first team squad will fade.

Because then they will be required to be substitutes, and then “impact substitutes” who change games and then when they start they will quickly be required to make manifest difference on the field. Each time what was considered an achievement would be relegated to being a kind of failure. The rapidity of which this happens is always astounding.

However it is a natural thing – and often a good thing – to press all the players for more. There is a disappointment that comes when a player seemingly plateaus. When he gets onto the bench and is in and out of the team, or when he gets into the team but does not excel in it.

The diary of a journeyman footballer

This situation has repeated itself in City’s recent history. Names like Danny Forrest, Craig Bentham, Tom Penford come haunting from our recent past and no sooner do they than someone advances the ill-advised words “not good enough” evidencing that with the fact that one struggles to find a young player released by City who has come back to League football. Jake Wright and Emile Sinclair spring to mind, few others.

In his diary of a journeyman footballer Left Foot Forward Gary Nelson talks about the effect of releasing young players and how it breaks not only their prospects but their career paths. Nelson ponders on how such players could be expected to turn around their careers after such a sudden and grinding halt advising then team mate Kim Grant to stay at Charlton because the facilities are better and moving down never promises anyone a first team place.

Looking at the current Bradford City team which is besieged with often vitriolic criticism it is hard to imagine how much worse things would have gone had Tom Penford and Craig Bentham been in the the midfield. Football would be a lot better if everyone stopped looking as players as discreet replaceable commodities and started looking at them as raw materials to be crafted with.

Not that Bradford City behave in a way which differs from the majority of football clubs but the majority of football clubs – and Bradford City – are not successful after the traditional close season squad purge and replace. Perhaps this squad purging is generally counter productive for football as well as for the players involved.

Had City decided that we fans would be denied the delights of watching Steve Claridge, Moses Ashikodi, Ryan Kendall, Willy (Not Billy) Topp, Mark Cullen et al and decided that they would retain Danny Forrest since 2005 when he was released would the action of working with and giving the assurance of continued football to the same player then, again, one wonders how would have turned out any different. Ashikodi did not stop relegation, Topp did not fire us to promotion.

The received wisdom in football is that players – and young players – excel or move out and that process is successful in ensuring the best prosper but perhaps the input and development of a football club could see that the players who are under this cream of the crop grow into good squad members and, in time, more?

One wonders if Rowe or Flett will make the bench on Saturday – Peter Taylor is talking about welcoming old heads into the side so probably not – but if they what impact they will be expected to make. Certainly it could be said that this is not the time for throwing in new faces to a struggling team.

The line up

Taylor’s side have not recorded a win since Monday the 3rd January 2011 surrendering play off hopes to relegation worries in the process. The solution to this is – it is hoped – arriving in the form of experienced professionals replacing younger players. Richard Eckersley and Mark Cullen have returned to Burnley and Hull City respectively as the Bantams welcome back to starting line up contention Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt and Michael Flynn.

That trio’s return – and the possible recovery of Steve Williams and the delayed debut of Scott Dobie – could give the City side a radically different look to the previous game.

Jon McLauglin seems to be recemented into City’s goal with Lenny Pidgeley missing presumed “a bit injured, maybe.”

The back four would seem to be set for an overhaul with Lewis Hunt at right back and Simon Ramsden taking Shane Duff’s place as defender and captain alongside either Luke Oliver or a fit Steve Williams. Luke O’Brien is expected to stay at left back.

The midfield three of Jon Worthington behind David Syers and Tom Ademeyi is hard to break up – Syers plays well and Ademeyi retains his place regardless of performance – but Michael Flynn might be expected to return their of in the attacking three.

Flynn’s ability to add to the forward line could see him in place of the departed Omar Daley alongside James Hanson and Gareth Evans but such a move would not open a slot for Dobie or fellow new arrival Kevin Ellison. Taylor has rarely used Flynn as a midfielder.

A word on Daley

A word on Daley who – it would seem – has played his last game for the Bantams. The players inconstancy has been mentioned after his departure and in a way that is somewhat unfair on the winger assuming firstly that constancy is a base requirement rather than a rare thing in professional football and secondly making a criticism of the times he was unplayable on the field. “Constancy” and the pursuit of it is perhaps is the most ludicrous of all football terms. I kid you not, dear reader, when I tell you that I could be Bradford City’s most constant player were I to be given a shirt. I would be constantly very, very poor.

There is something unpalatable about the criticism of players – and Omar especially – for inconstancy. The demand seems to hem players in. Is it better that a player try nothing which may result in something good for fear of looking bad? One of the most encouraging things about watching David Syers this year has been his willingness to be brave in his play, is he mistaken to do that for fear that when something does not come off he will be labelled inconstant?

Which is not to say that players should approach the game in a random manner – there is a constancy of play which is not to be confused with constancy of performance – but rather that the heart of improvement is the ability to try and risk failure.

Give me, for one game, Leon Osbourne leaving players for dead and rifling the ball into the goal and I shall be happy to worry about his ability to repeat that later. I would have players who have a constancy in doing the brave thing, rather than ones who succeed every time at doing the easy thing.

These notions are thoughts of the future and the immediate problem of Daley’s exit is more mundane. Chief in his duties was pressure applied to defending players who attempt to recycle the ball. An opposition corner cleared long by City and Daley chased defenders into an early ball. Without Daley able to apply that pressure – often a facet of his ability to get to the vicinity of a clearance in quick time – then I fear that recycled possession will but the Bantams under increased pressure.

In short that without Omar to chase the ball down, and the threat of his pace, City will end up without a release ball and under pressure more. One of Ellison and Dobie may be able to provide an alternative outlet ball for defenders lashing it away because a failure to do so will result in City defending upon defending, and that has been a problem all season.

Riches

And so – for once – City have some riches (if riches is the right word) of resource to be embarrassed by and Peter Taylor gets a chance to field Flynn in one of a few positions while all Flynn needs to do is return the team to the type of form it was in before his absence and avoiding relegation should be a success.

But a fleeting success at that.

Waiting to get lucky, but not the Andy Gray way

If you are planning something for the end of May, dear reader, the time is nigh where that booking can be confirmed.

Not that the optimistic Bradford City fan has given up on the season – not at all – but rather the focus of that optimism has slipped down somewhat from Champions, to automatic promotion, to play offs and now to the hope that the season will not contain a relegation battle.

Such slight returns are the stuff of football supporters. Seasons that start with a club tipped to go down end in the Premier League, seasons that start being about the promotion end with videos released called “The Great Escape.”

Managing the hard way, but not the Andy Gray way

Peter Taylor was appointed because Stuart McCall was not doing well enough and sits in exactly the same position with exactly the level of criticism. It is hard not to look back at this point to twelve months ago when the “not a proper manager” left the club in favour of the “experienced professional” and wonder how the dust settled so quickly that last season’s debates could be so quickly revisited without hint or irony or apology.

How many people were dubbed naive optimists for saying that replacing McCall would not improve the club? How many people promised an improvement under Taylor and are now saying the same about his replacement?

One would have thought that replacing McCall with Taylor to the net effect on movement towards promotion of not very much at all might have convinced one and all that the manager was not the problem but – having talked to Mark Lawn this week – then it seems fair to say that changing the man picking the team is not expected to change performance massively so much as it is an area which can be controlled when most cannot.

One wonders – assuming that Peter Taylor will be leaving City – what the next manager needs do to be more successful? There are hopes of changes in facilities and so on but those hopes are slim – City are not planning a ground switch as Chesterfield did at the start of this successful season for them – and so what is to be done to turn the club around?

The L word, no, not the one Andy Gray would use

Luck, it seems, is what City need.

Luck in a set of players. That when Player A meets Player B they gel, that they like each other on the pitch and off it. They the players become a team and that the team makes the players better.

Luck augmented by a manager for sure but the rapid changing of managers can not be expected to yield results even if we do know the reason for it now.

With luck the team wins early games, confidence grows and the unit is forged. A team like Chesterfield – buoyed by their new surroundings – go from also-rans to promotion probables on the strength of this.

Does luck exist in football? One recalls Golfer Gary Player’s comments on luck: “The more I practised, the luckier I got.”

Who will play, probably not Andy Gray although I doubt he is busy…

So this group of players – ineffectual for four defeats on the bounce games – go to the team chasing the League Two title and are called upon to create luck for themselves.

Jon McLaughlin shows a safe pair of hands, but he could shout more. Richard Eckersley looks good coming forward but he needs to tell the man in front of him that a full back can not defend on his own. Luke O’Brien on the other side is in a similar position. He motors back and forth well but he needs to tell the player who has watched a second man join in a flank attack that he (winger or wide forward) simply has to get back and defend.

The central defenders Luke Oliver and Shane Duff need to be more mouth on too but Oliver has to realise that as the big man at the back it is his job to organise the defensive line into a line and Duff needs to help him by paying more attention. Both do their jobs well individually – Oliver deserved credit for getting head up and sticking with it – but defending is not an individual thing.

If these lessons are not learnt then something of a cavalry arrives with Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt and Steve Williams all hoping to return to fitness soon. Ramsden and Hunt are hoping to make the bench.

New recruit Jon Worthington sits on top of a back four well and if he were to look at City and decide that a team which has had a half dozen captains actually needs a leader then he would not be far wrong. David Syers has been brilliant this season, he rarely goes missing, but he needs to realise that he adds more to the attack by arriving late than pressing early. Tom Ademeyi shows a powerful energy at times, but a more solid, constant flow in his game would make him a 90 minute, rather than a fits and starts, performer.

Those three might find the returning Michael Flynn takes back a position in midfield but Flynn is more likely to replace Gareth Evans in the attacking three with Omar Daley on the other side. Evans has shown admirable hard work and effort and that should secure him a place in the side, but seldom does, while Daley is Daley and at times unplayable. He needs to defend when told and he does.

James Hanson leads the line. He does that well and without thanks. He needs to get some thanks.

And he needs to get lucky, but not in the Andy Gray way.

The unsolvable conundrum

From the moment the first ball was kicked at Shrewsbury back in August, finding the balance is proving an unsolvable conundrum for Bradford City manager Peter Taylor – and it’s badly unhinging the Bantams’ promotion efforts.

Is it best to take a more attacking approach to matches, committing men forward and asking questions of opposition defences – or should City be more conservative-natured and concentrate on becoming difficult to beat? City are so far proving pretty poor in both areas. Goalscoring has been a problem all season, which suggests they need to be more attack-minded, but defensive instability – just three clean sheets on the road all year – is easily exposed when gaps appear at the back.

Having gained little success from a defensive focus at Oxford and Aldershot, Taylor tonight shifted emphasis back onto attacking by lining up Gareth Evans and Leon Osborne in a three-man forward line with James Hanson. And in the first 10 minutes, where City were on top and attacking the opposition penalty area with a frequency not seen in the previous two games combined, all signs pointed to it proving a success. Crewe looked hemmed in, and Evans and Osborne kept switching flanks and finding joy by running at the opposition full backs.

But it was a false sense of security and, once Crewe settled down and got into their stride, the lack of balance in City’s approach was all too easily exposed. Again.

Crewe took the lead from their first meaningful attack on 15 minutes after Bradford-born Clayton Donaldson got free of his marker and tapped home Shaun Miller’s low cross; but it was the home side’s build up play and comfortableness on and off the ball that was already making a significant impact – and would prove the difference on the night. As promising as City looked going forward initially, the lack of balance it caused elsewhere proved their undoing.

When City had the ball Crewe appeared happy to drop back and wait before exerting pressure on the man in possession. Once City’s over-eagerness to forge a chance saw the move break down – usually through playing the ball to someone not in space – Crewe would pounce and suddenly come alive. The front two of Donaldson and Miller were outstanding in reading each others’ runs and, as red shirts piled forwards, City were easily outnumbered. Evans and Osborne failed or were never asked to track back, and so Crewe always had an extra man in space they could work the ball too. They were exceptional at passing the ball around at varying tempos, and City were chasing shadows.

Jon Worthington, signed on loan earlier the day with Lee Bullock ruled out for the season, looked to pull the strings in the middle and produced some excellent passes at times. But the middle three of he, David Syers and Tom Adeyemi were badly out-gunned. Meanwhile full backs Richard Eckersley and Luke O’Brien were doubled up on and struggled to get forwards when City did have the ball. Numerous chances were created and largely spurned by Crewe – though Jon McLaughlin did make one excellent one-on-one save – and a rout looked possible.

Somewhat surprisingly, City did equalise six minutes before half time after Adeyemi rolled a free kick for O’Brien to cross and Syers to knock across the face of goal, leaving Shane Duff to head home his first goal for City. And though it was undeserved, the fact the Bantams were level offered an opportunity to get something from a difficult night – well, for 30 seconds at least.

Crewe kicked off, City roared forwards but then lost the ball. A long clearance down the pitch should have been cut out by Luke Oliver, but instead he seemed to switch off and suddenly the superb Bryon Moore was clear on goal and finished well past McLaughlin.

Crewe were simply too good for City – the best League Two team this writer has seen so far this season – but the obvious frustration in the visitors almost acted as a leveller before half time. Evans was very late in a challenge, prompting a booking from the referee Kevin Wright and obvious anger from Crewe. Seconds later a strong tackle from Worthington resulted in a flare-up that caused Wright to send off Donaldson for apparently head-butting Syers. No longer could Crewe enjoy the advantage of seemingly having a spare man always available  – City had 45 minutes to make their extra man count.

Although it was almost 10 v 10. As the game recommenced following Donaldson’s exit, O’Brien went in strongly in the tackle prompting further outrage from Crewe. Wright, perhaps lost in the moment, mixed up the blonde-haired full back with Evans and issued a second yellow. Uproar followed and, after realising his error, Wright took back the red for Evans and booked O’Brien. On a day where a media pack was expected at Gresty Road in view of female referee Sian Massey having been scheduled to run the line, it was a major embarrassment for the official. “We want our woman back!” was the chant in the away stand.

City looked more purposeful in the second half. Omar Daley and Jake Speight were introduced from the bench, and with a numerical advantage to attempt to maximize Taylor opted for a bold 4-2-4 formation that saw City enjoy more possession and territorial advantage but, crucially, struggle to create meaningful chances. Indeed home keeper Steve Phillips only had to make one notable save, when the utterly-dreadful Speight suddenly had a clear sight of goal but shot tamely. Syers also had a great opportunity one-on-one, but panicked and sliced wide.

Flynn made his grand return from the bench as City pushed more and more players up the pitch, but the threat of the counter attack remained and Moore almost wrapped up the game after forcing a good save from McLaughlin. A half chance for Flynn saw him volley wide, but this was no night for City fairytales. Twice deep in stoppage time Adeyemi, who had a good game otherwise, blew opportunities to set up chances. City huffed and puffed and can’t be criticised for lack of effort. The boos from some away fans at full time were harsh.

But all is clearly far from well and Crewe’s performance was a stark measurement of just how far from promotion challengers City are. The Bantams tried to do the right things in the second half and worked the ball back and forth, but when not in possession too many players lack the intelligence and awareness to make runs and find space to help team mates. The contrast was so notable when Crewe had the ball, as the movement of home players pulled City apart.

Four straight defeats and the gap to the play offs is now larger than it has been all season. With a trip to leaders Chesterfield on Saturday it looks set to get worse before it gets better. Taylor is back to the drawing board of finding a way for City to be more effective offensively and boost the goals for column – without leaving the huge gaps in midfield that Crewe were able to exploit so effectively. But despite raised hopes along the way it is a problem he appears no nearer to solving than he was when Shrewsbury ripped City apart on day one.

Taylor’s future as Bradford City manager beyond May is in major doubt. At best, he is currently wavering on an ever-thinning tightrope – and, as we’ve seen all season, balance does not seem to be his strong point.

Improvements for the new year

It will be away at New Douglas Park, Hamilton that Stuart McCall starts his career post-Bradford City as manager of Motherwell and as the Bantams start 2011 with his replacement Peter Taylor at the helm one could be excused for wondering where the current incumbent of the City job may be in twelve months time.

At Valley Parade in League One would seem to be the most preferable answer but one that seems remote. One can cheerily look back to Chris Kamara’s promotion side of 1996 and recall how over the festive period they looked as unlikely to be upwardly mobile as Taylor’s team but something shifted and Wembley awaited.

This though is the most wishful of thinking and the vast majority of sides who look like they are going nowhere at Christmas end up at that very destination come May, a notable exception being Colin Todd’s City side of four years ago who looked set to sail of to not much until “improvements” were made that relegated the side.

Todd’s sacking is a cautionary tale for the season, Mark Lawn’s Ghost of Christmas past.

Probably not up, probably not down it seems that City are going to bob around until the end of the season when Taylor’s contract is up and in all likelihood so will his time at Valley Parade be. One can assume at this point the same arguments for the sake of continuity and stability on behalf of Taylor as were voiced for McCall and probably the same arguments against it.

For me the key benefit of stability at this time is that the club would save the money spent bringing in staff, new players and new ideas with every change of manager which in the end so often result in so very little.

But Taylor was not hired to build on what is in place at Valley Parade and his remit is not the long term progress of the club it is the short term need for promotion and with that in mind it is almost impossible to imagine him staying if that aim is not reached, and entirely impossible to imagine it under the terms laid out by the joint chairman who appointed him.

So one wonders where Taylor will be this time next season, and suspects it will not be at Valley Parade. Hope springs eternal though and despite the dispiriting 4-0 defeat City go into the new year but six points off the play-offs.

Using last season’s table as an example City would need a points average of 1.56 a game to reach the play-offs and currently we score 1.2 which means that to get to last season’s seventh place total we would need 48 points from 26 games or 1.84 a game which – if extrapolated over a season – would give a club 85 points.

85 last season would have placed a team second above AFC Bournemouth and so the task for the second half of the season is set. City have to do as well as AFC Bournemouth did last season to get into the play-offs. To get to an automatic spot City would need 2.23 points a game which is akin to finishing a season with over 100 points.

One can be one’s own judge on how reasonable an idea that is.

City face Lincoln City with a team as mutable as any. After a 4-0 spanking in which only Gareth Evans seemed to come out with any credit there seems to be not a single place in the side not up for grabs and so predicting who is in the side is predicting which of the players Peter Taylor feels have done least poorly.

A host of faces may be exiting Valley Parade in the next month with Lenny Pidgeley having not shown so much as to suggest that he was worth bringing in over Jon McLaughlin. Richard Eckersley will go back to Burnley to a new boss – Brain Laws having left this week – but Simon Ramsden hopes to be fit again soon to take his place.

Also hoping to be fit to replace loanee Rob Kiernan are Shane Duff and Steve Williams, both of whom may play on New Years Day, and Michael Flynn’s return could see the end of the hot and cold blowing Tom Ademeyi. Lee Hendrie’s contract is up, and he was sitting on the bench for forty five minutes on the 28th which captain Jason Price should be heading back to Cumbria before too long with Evans returning to the squad.

City face a Lincoln City team bolstered by the return of Scott Kerr – former City man who played a blinder in the Bantams 8-2 win over Darlington eleven years ago – but low on points having sacked Peter Jackson to improve the club and then spent a year trying to get Chris Sutton to improve them and failing. No matter what Lincoln do they seem to be a team mired in the lower half of league two.

One wonders if – after his first three games none of which are at Fir Park – Stuart McCall might be tempted to test City’s resolve for players like Flynn, Ramsden or Lee Bullock hoping that they could play a role in an SPL side. More so if McCall has money to spend in Scotland would either of the pair he found in non-league football Steve Williams and James Hanson fancy a move up North? Certainly if I was the manager of Motherwell I’d be looking at both those young players as being able to make that step up.

January will see changes in playing squad, managers changing later no doubt. Improvements to either not necessarily following.

The Bigger Picture or the Little Details?

For the second home game running I’ve walked away from Valley Parade with that feeling that can only be brought on by a convincing home performance and three points to go with it. The little details being a five goals for, none conceded and a climb up the table and the ‘big picture’ looking rosy. Although at one point it felt like that feeling could well have been overshadowed by a very questionable refereeing performance.

I must admit with news of Jake Speight going out on loan to Port Vale I was beginning to question Peter Taylor’s grasp on ‘The big picture’ and the hopeful long term progression of the club; Speight being a player Taylor actually paid for only to send him away in favour of a loan signing. But what can we expect from a club that frequently shows a tendency towards the short term fix.

City fielding short-term keeper Lenny Pidgely over first choice stopper Jon McLaughlan also struck of the short-term approach. Strange again I thought. The big picture was looking blurred.

If the little details can be qualified as today’s game then they in contrast seem to be in sharp focus.

City showed in the second half what they have been lacking for the majority of the season, a killer instinct needed to finish a team off and a real confidence when playing at home. Second half goals from an impressive Omar Daley (who my dad said should’ve been subbed at half time – shows what he knows!), Hendrie, Syers and Moult led to City’s biggest win since the 5-0 defeat of Aldershot just prior to the season implosion of two years ago.

The first half actually passed without too much footballing incident, both sides worked hard but the ball often found itself bogged down in the midfield. City occasionally showed glimpses of good play through Doherty and Hendrie, the latter I feel was sorely missed last week at Burton, but neither keeper was really troubled.

The locus of attention was instead focussed on diminutive referee Mr. Webb (not Howard…) who, along with his assistants, made several confusing decisions throughout.

Notably, in the first half there was a decision where James Hanson was played in behind the Oxford backline; admittedly I initially thought that Hanson was offside, however it appeared to me (in the Midland Road stand) that the linesman held down his flag to indicate that Hanson was in fact onside, only to then raise it seconds later. Confusing.

Unfortunately, this type of inconsistency continued.

Take for example when Daley put City in the lead minutes after half time. A flick back from Hanson saw the Jamaican fire low past Oxford keeper Clarke; obviously overjoyed at finding the net Daley firstly shook hands with a fan and then jumped over the advertising boards to celebrate with a number of the disabled fans at the front of the Midland Road stand.

The ref went straight to his pocket to show Daley the yellow card, much to the home fans’ dismay; it appeared that Daley then talked some sense into Mr. Webb by explaining his actions, a point which most thought the ref accepted until he then pulled out the card anyway, cue loud booing.

Some might argue the ref was only applying the law, but this summed up the over zealous official who seemed more concerned ‘the little details’ such as free-kicks being taken within an inch of the foul than with the overall picture of the game. More on the ref later.

Daley doubled City’s lead in the 56th minute with an emphatic left foot strike beating Clarke at his near post, top corner.

This brought about a big turning point in the match in terms of the home teams’ confidence as City became much bolder with their play, utilising the midfield which had been relatively by-passed in the first half. It was encouraging to see Tommy Doherty put in a good performance, once a gain showing several class touches and vision that we were told to expect at the beginning of the season.

Added confidence arguably led to the tireless James Hanson chasing down a relatively lost cause only to out jump Oxford left-back Tonkin (apt name given the score line), drive into the box, cut inside centre half Creighton who then dropped him. Penalty.

The first spot-kick was well saved by Clarke… but hold on the officials had seen something – Clarke had been adjudged to have been off his line when the kick was taken – the second penalty was rolled home to put City in a very commanding position.

City’s play then proceeded to flow, neat one touch football brought several ‘Ollaaayys’ from the obviously delighted crowd and it was from one of these ‘give and go’ passing moves that the major flashpoint of the second half occurred.

Back to the ref.

Hendrie laid a shortish ball to Osbourne who was hacked by already booked centre back Creighton – Second yellow, straight forward decision where the ref really didn’t have much of an option.

Following the decision a mass brawl erupted between both sides, with even the Oxford keeper getting involved. The initial source of the fight was unclear to me, but something obviously wound up former City youth player, Jake Wright, who made a forgettable return to his former club.

What followed was much conversation between the referee and his two assistants, the up shot saw Hanson given a straight red card along with Wright for what one can only assume was for violent conduct – the fact that neither side really came to blows other than the usual football handbags, again seemed fairly irrelevant to the ‘zero-tolerance’ ref.

Hanson was applauded by fans when exiting the pitch, actions of a guilty man? The ref could have quite easily booked both players and allowed the game to continue, but now it looks like City will be without Hanson for two league games and the FA cup trip to Colchester next week.

With the pitch looking a lot larger following the player cull, City found plenty of space in the Oxford half.

They played with a belief that has seemed so lacking at times this season and were rewarded twice more with a net busting volley from David Syers, following a good run and cross from Mr. Consistency Luke O’Brien; then a late solo effort from fellow sub Louis Moult who curled in an effort from 25 yards.

It seems that the little details are coming together for Peter Taylor, his decisions to replace McLaughlan and favour loan players over Speight appear to be fully justified following such a brilliant result, but it is how he decides to bring these details together to make the big picture that will determine whether he creates a master piece or one to be glossed over.

So to high flying Bury on Tuesday night – a personal derby for myself as my girlfriend writes the match reports for The Shakers – with confidence high. I am looking forward to a really entertaining game as I know that Bury play a good brand of attacking football which we can hopefully emulate in our continued quest for the big picture coming together.

1999, and all that

It’s 10-and-a-half-years since Oxford United last visited Valley Parade – but the remarkable period in City’s history which that end-of-season game was part of ensures the memories remain vivid.

Oxford home was Bradford City’s penultimate fixture of a Division One campaign on the brink of ending in glory. A week earlier, the Bantams had defeated QPR 3-1 at Loftus Road while promotion rivals Ipswich Town incredibly lost at home to bottom-placed Crewe. Fantastic news for City – lifting them into the second automatic promotion spot on Goals For with two games to go – but the Portman Road result was not so good for Oxford, who were battling with Crewe and five other clubs to avoid the drop.

With City facing Oxford at Valley Parade a day before Ipswich’s tough away encounter at 4th-placed Birmingham, there was genuine optimism this was going to be the weekend that City – with a far superior Goals For total (Goal Difference wasn’t used back then) – would seal promotion to the Premier League. The easy part of the bargain seemed an inevitable victory over a struggling Oxford who hadn’t won in five. What could possibly go wrong?

That day was almost a living nightmare. I still have video highlights of the disappointing 0-0 draw, taped from Yorkshire TV’s Goals on Sunday, and even watching years on you can still feel the tension that was rife among the sell-out home crowd. City struggled to rise to the occasion, Oxford refused to lie down. They even created the better chances, forcing Gary Walsh into a couple of superb saves.

The Valley Parade clock seemed to tick by worryingly fast, the atmosphere was flat – we all just seemed too nervous to even attempt a chant. I felt sick in my stomach as the growing sense of realisation we weren’t going to win – and therefore might have messed up our promotion chances – sank in.

In a cruel and horrible twist, deep in stoppage time Stuart McCall was presented with the easiest of chances right in front of us in the Kop. He headed the ball over the bar, and the split-second we allowed ourselves to believe we’d got out of jail gave way to crushing misery. McCall was inconsolable as he left the field – the TV highlights capturing a shot of a ball boy attempting to hug him, only for the skipper to brush him off.

It all worked out wonderfully in the end of course: Birmingham beat Ipswich the following day to leave the Tractor Boys a point behind. A week later came that stunning victory over Wolves, which sealed City’s promotion and lead to wild scenes of jubilation in the away end and back in Bradford. And in hindsight we could look back on the Oxford draw and feel glad we didn’t win, so we got this never-to-be-forgotten moment at Molineux. Oxford were relegated, despite winning 5-0 against Stockport in their final game.

Although I still look back on that afternoon against Oxford and feel sick at the despair we endured, with each passing year of disappointment there’s part of me that longs to experience such disappointment again. True we’ve had some truly miserable times over the past decade, but for City to be up their fighting for promotion and to have some many sleepless nights hoping they could cross the finishing line is a different kind of emotion – and one we’ve struggled to come close to experiencing since.

It’s impossible to find the words that do justice to just how much promotion meant to us that year, but perhaps things have now become so bad that, if and when success does return to this club, we’ll feel just as happy as we did then.

For much of the club’s subsequent fall, there’s been a feeling promotion should be our right rather than the astonishing achievement 1999 was. As such, if we had achieved promotion from League One in 2006 or League Two in 2009, the celebrations would have probably felt more reserved. A sense of entitlement that we were simply fulfilling our right, rather than delirium that our lives could be blessed with something so remarkable.

Perhaps the ongoing frustrations of League Two life and never-ending despair that we can’t seem to bottom out now mean that a promotion from League Two would leave us feeling just as happy as Wolves 99. While the twists and turns leading up to it would at times leave us as emotionally-traumatised as the last time we played Oxford.

All of which seems a long distance away as City welcome Oxford tomorrow while 20th in League Two. Wins over Barnet and Cheltenham lifted spirits and breathed new hope into a season heading down the pan, but the setback at Burton last week has again dampened the mood. There’s less anger than post-Morecambe, but things still feel very on edge. Another defeat tomorrow – or even a repeat of the outcome when City last played the Us – and the pressure will rise again.

The task in hand is far from easy – the Oxford of 2010 do not represent anything like the home banker to City that the 1999 match-up suggested. Like City the last decade has been hugely difficult for United, with the 1999 relegation quickly followed by demotions to League Two in 2001 and out of the Football League in 2006. For three seasons the club enjoyed the highest gates in the Conference but failed to climb out of a division they appeared too big for – sound familiar, eh? – before beating York in the play off final last May.

The manager is another reason to look in the past. Chris Wilder played 45 times for City during the 1997-98 season, before moving to hometown club Sheffield United on transfer deadline day.

After impressing as manager at Halifax, Wilder guided Oxford back to the Football League and is a name who often crops up when debating a managerial change at Valley Parade. Wilder and Oxford have started well and lie in 11th place ahead of their trip to West Yorkshire – though their recent league form is just as inconsistent as the Bantams.

Jon McLaughlin will continue in goal for City – despite another bout of public criticism from his manager after Burton last week and the added pressure of Lenny Pidgeley arriving on trial. The defence will see two changes as the departing Man United loanees Reece Brown and Oliver Gill leave gaps that will be taken by Zesh Rehman and Luke Oliver.

Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien will keep their places, but the disruption to back four selection throws questions over the value in signing the two youngsters for a month and looking to build with them. Or to quote Rehman, “No disrespect to the two lads coming in (on loan), but I don’t think they did anything that I felt I couldn’t do.”

Lee Hendrie is fighting to be fit after missing last week, with Tom Adeyemi set to return and battle with David Syers to play alongside Tommy Doherty. The early signs are that Syers provides the midfield with greater balance, and his last two performances make him difficult to leave out. Leon Osborne is slowly developing into a decent player, but continues to be the target of some supporters.

Up front, it’s hoped Omar Daley will be trusted to return to the free role position he was performing so well, with Jason Price and James Hanson vying to start alongside him and the other making a very good sub. Price has so far won plenty of praise, but Hanson’s return makes him less needed than he was a few weeks earlier when Oliver had to play up front. Timing is everything in football, and it remains regrettable Taylor couldn’t have signed a loan striker earlier than he managed.

Jake Speight, Louis Moult, Robbie Threlfall and Lee Bullock are all battling to return to the side, and could yet play a significant role in the season. And as the visitors remind us of our enjoyable past, it’s perhaps the last trip City made to Oxford which should provide the greatest inspiration.

City won 1-0 in December 1998, to reverse a two-game losing run. That paved the way for a superb run of form – eight wins from the next nine matches – and solved the final piece of then-manager Paul Jewell’s promotion squad conundrum which had seen the team selection evolve after a dreadful start. Robbie Blake was switched from right winger to partner Lee Mills, it all fell beautifully into place. The immediate challenge for Taylor is to shape his squad in a similar fashion and unearth the right formula that will turn an under-achieving team into promotion contenders.

Tomorrow will hopefully see another positive step towards fulfilling that aim – so in time we can party like it’s 1999.

Which way up is the map supposed to be?

The stretch of the M1 we followed to get down to Burton today was fraught with spells of heavy rain and high levels of spray, which made driving hazardous. And then three junctions before our turn off, traffic came to a complete standstill as an accident still some 10 miles ahead left everyone stationed.

In many ways it symbolised the year 2010 for Bradford City.

Faced with little to no movement on the motorway and with the clock ticking to kick off at the Pirelli Stadium, the atlas was hastily opened and an alternative route was worked out by getting off two junctions early. Abandon plan A, see you later non-moving traffic.

But what looked a good idea on paper proved to be almost as big a nightmare. The A roads we plotted as our short-cut were filled with heavy traffic, roadworks and over-used junctions through small towns which caused colossal tailbacks and took over 20 minutes a time to get through. Stress levels through the roof, but in the end we got into the ground just as the players came out for the game.

Perhaps if we’d waited on the M1 while the accident was cleared up we might have missed kick off, just like several City fans and even Burton’s planned starting player, Nathan Stanton, who had to be dropped to the bench. But as alluring and promising as the short-cut appeared to be in solving our immediate problems, the subsequent unexpected twists and troubles with plan B made it difficult to argue we had made the right decision.

Last February, Stuart McCall was forced out of the club he enjoyed highly distinguished spells of success with as a player – and who he still cares so much about he’s now even helping out the under 14s team – because it seemed his progress as manager was too slow and City were at a standstill. He’d made mistakes for sure; but after the majority of fans held up SOS banners begging him to stay in April 2009, he set about building a young hungry team which was just two or three players short of taking City into the direction we wanted to go.

Yet a few defeats around Christmas last year, and the impatience of many fans and members of the board became too strong and all of it was torn up. There had to be another, quicker path to realising the success we craved, it was felt; and rather like the alternative route devised from our road atlas this afternoon, his replacement Peter Taylor looked good on paper.

Ten months on, the evidence is mounting that getting rid of McCall as manager has proven a backwards step for this club. Sure, I know and understand the arguments about how McCall had been given almost three years and the lack of progress was there for all to see. I also agree he had sizeable transfer budgets and failed to make the most of them.  But after he offered to quit in Spring 2009 and after many of us begged him to stay, we saw tangible evidence of him learning from past mistakes which deserved more time to see through. After trying the short-cut approach of throwing money at people like Paul McLaren, he was building a team with great potential that could grow and take the club forwards over the next few years.

Taylor was an outstanding appointment for sure, but as City slumped to a seventh defeat in 13 league games this afternoon the reasons to believe he is the man to revive this ailing club are few beyond those that were apparent last February. The league position, the results, the performances and the level of passion have all declined since McCall fell on his sword.

For a week since the brilliant victory over Cheltenham Town, we’ve all basked in that warm glow of happiness and the positive mood was prevalent in the Burton away end at kick off and even through to half time, with City unfortunate to be a goal down after Jon McLaughlin brought down Lewis Young in the area and was unable to keep out Shaun Harrod’s spot kick on 31 minutes.

And though Burton had played well and hit the woodwork twice, City had been equally impressive and regularly cut through the Brewers’ defence during an exciting opening 45 minutes. Omar Daley, moved to left wing as Lee Hendrie was absent, twice cut inside and forced saves out of keeper Adam Legzdins. The hard-working David Syers had a long range effort tipped wide of the post. Then Daley produced a stunning run from the wing that saw him beat defenders for fun, before wildly blasting over from six yards.

The players were backed strongly by an enthusiastic away following. Confidence was high that we would come back in the second half.

But then, inexplicably, Taylor switched tactics and pushed Daley up front in a 4-3-3 formation, and the players changed from passing the ball around the pitch to direct balls to James Hanson and Jason Price. I remember McCall was often heavily criticised for not changing tactics or making subs early enough in games, but all season long Taylor has chopped and changed early and not for the first time it had a negative effect.

Why ditch a 4-4-2 formation that was working well in all but the scoreline? It sums up the lack of trust Taylor seems to have in his own players and over-dependence on functionality over style. City became one-dimensional, predictable and easy to defend against. Burton grew stronger and James Collins headed home former Bantam Adam Bolder’s cross to make it 2-0, after Luke O’Brien had made one excellent tackle but couldn’t get his bearings in time to stop the cross.

And therein lies the other downside to 4-3-3, which we often saw under McCall last season. By going so narrow in shape, the opposition have extra space to run at isolated full backs, often doubling up on them. Burton’s speedy wingers Young and Jacques Maghoma terrorised O’Brien and Reece Brown, the former at least standing up to the challenge admirably. Meanwhile when City had the ball they had no-one in wide areas to stretch the game, and moves kept ending with Brown crossing from deep and Burton’s defence – superbly marshalled by former promotion hero Darren Moore – easily clearing.

Just like the M1/A road dilemma, switching to plan B so quickly had not worked out as hoped. What of Plan C? Well when your subs bench contains three strikers, a defensive midfielder and two defenders, there isn’t one. With City struggling to provide the forwards any service, all Taylor could do was swap the front three and hope the ball fell kindly in the box. Daley was taken off, a bizarre decision but sadly typical of the level of faith shown in the Jamaican all season. With it, the opportunity to go back to using width was lost.

Burton’s third came after another successful charge down Brown’s part of the pitch – the shell-shocked youngster almost begging for the final whistle by this stage – and Russell Penn tapped home. City’s direct 4-3-3 approach failed to create a single noteworthy chance until a 93rd-minute header from Syers. The pre-match positivity had long since drained to silence and resignation, but not anger.

All of which leaves City having gone two steps forward and taken one step back over the past fortnight, and the longer-term outlook returns back into focus. This writer saw City director Roger Owen in a service station on the way home (but lacked the courage to ask one of McCall’s loudest critics what he now thought of Taylor and the results of the actions he was calling for last January). The two recent wins shield Taylor from the Board sacking him and the recent improvement should not be dismissed readily, but this week the pressure is on again.

The dilemma is whether Taylor’s ways will prove a success in the long-term and to keep patient as it stalls again, or whether it’s best to find a different route. Whatever the future holds, the current problems raise suspicions that, last February, the club took a wrong turn and is now struggling to work out which way up the map is supposed to be.

Perhaps it’s time to face facts, I think we’re lost.

What Price a win for the man who can’t do anything right?

In the week in which is was invited – but declined the opportunity – to give his manager Peter Taylor a statement of public backing a new public persona for City chairman Mark Lawn emerged: The man who can’t do anything right.

As Peter Taylor – buoyed from a 2-0 win at Barnet last weekend but thought to be a defeat away from being fired – seemed to rearrange the deck chairs bringing in striker Jason Price who on arrival was pronounced not fit enough to play Lawn was stuck between the rock of delivering the ringing but seemingly hollow “vote of confidence” in his manager or putting forward a more honest and realistic assessment of the situation at the club.

He gave the latter and in doing so perhaps he wondered how he had ended up in the situation he is. Taylor – a fine appointment the arrival of whom appeased those critical at the exit of Stuart McCall – had become a political millstone around the chairman’s neck. Even when he did the right thing, Lawn perhaps concluded, he could not do the right thing.

These thoughts evaporated over the course of an afternoon which proved only the old adage that there is almost nothing in football that cannot be mended with a cracking home win.

Building on last week’s victory at Barnet and a return to a 442 Taylor sent out a side that saw Omar Daley playing off James Hanson as last season’s player of the season returned from his time out injured with the type of performance that justified the anticipation of his return.

Hanson rounded off an afternoon that saw City enjoy long and deserved periods of control with a low, powerful strike from outside that box that arrowed past goalkeeper Scott P Brown beating him at his front post owing to the pace with which the striker leathered the frustrations of a spell on the sidelines with.

Hanson’s goal came as another fruitful combination with loanee Jason Price came to fruition the half time substitute taking a ball in with the defenders seemingly incapable of getting near the man mountain of a striker who is deceptively mobile and wonderfully haired.

Indeed it was Price’s head – not merely a housing for that impressive hair – which figured in the decisive goal of the afternoon as the Bantams pressured Cheltenham’s defence. The left hand side combination of Luke O’Brien and Lee Hendrie enjoyed much joy all afternoon and it was that axis which saw a cross to Price who powerfully returned the ball across the box to Hendrie who performed a close range overhead kick to give City the lead.

As good a goal as it was – and it was with the style of the finish equalled in impressiveness by Price’s strength at the far post standing as powerfully and solid as the Colossus of Rhodes at the far post and celebrating not with the players who had peeling away in front of the kop but with the Midland Road which has – with the rest of the fans – taken the boisterous forward to heart.

With a brilliant performance Hendrie’s afternoon as captain could hardly have been better but ended with him limping from a ludicrously heavy foul which seemed to have been prompted by the scoreline – “just because you’re losing” – but resulted in no card from referee Darren Drysdale.

Drysdale is infamous for having Dean Windass banned for five matches for a comment made in the car park and is – perhaps – the weakest referee in the entire Football League. He lacks not common sense but logic giving a series of decisions which seem to mis-assess the servility of offences. What can one say about a referee who thinks that being shouted at in the car park is a massively greater sin than a two footed lunge by a player who is angry because his team is losing?

Drysdale’s linesmen seemed to be penning City in giving James Hanson offside three times – each one controversially – although the flow of the home side’s pressure saw Price break though and Brown make an impressive save when one on one which denied the striker what would have been a deserved debut goal.

That Taylor’s recruitment of Price – the half fit player and all that – gave City purpose in the final third it was his bringing in and finding a place for Oliver Gill that did much to help City at the back. Gill and his fellow Manchester United loanee were impressive with the now centreback Gill combining with Steve Williams in a great defensive display.

Gill’s performance – capped with a superb clearing tackle at 2-1 – was even more impressive considering the character he and the side showed when a nothing of a cross was weakly headed by the loanee defender into a no man’s land between keeper Jon McLaughlin and Cheltenham midfielder (and one time Nicky Law target) Joshua Low who finished tidily.

The collective shrug, the recognition that the Bantams were playing well, and the spirit shown to shake off that error and continue what had been a good start to the game, James Hanson lashing over within the opening minutes. Indeed when Luke O’Brien roasted the Cheltenham full back on the touchline and crossed for David Syers to throw himself at for a diving header it was the least that City deserved.

Perhaps then Lawn might have looked over at noted that Taylor was summoning performances from a team of guys on loan from Old Trafford and guys who last season were playing non-league and working part time. Throw into that the guy who played in Hungary last year – Tommy Doherty was immense putting the the kind of performance that was promised when he arrived – and concluded that if it seemed that he could not do anything right in his back or not of the manager in the week then perhaps he could by simply no doing anything at all.

Indeed perhaps Lawn might conclude that if he can’t do right for doing wrong then perhaps he should try doing nothing at all. Lawn started the season with a plan (and perhaps not one I would have approved of, but that is not the point) that Peter Taylor has the remit of achieving promotion for Bradford City this season and until that is not going to happen (and perhaps after) then he will remain manager.

Football teams are made over time and after two wins on the bounce Taylor’s side starts to find a shape and way of playing which brings the best out of its members Lawn doing nothing is a way of doing something and with more afternoons like the 3-1 win over Cheltenham it may yet prove fruitful.

With Price – and a steady nerve – the man who can’t do anything right might just get what he wants.

Where does one see Bradford?

A view which normally shows Bradford, but is foggy, taken this morning on 8th of October 2010Waking this morning in Bradford and looking out over the City one could not notice – as the photo shows – that something was missing. Indeed Bradford, it seemed, had gone.

From the back window of Clayton you can normally see Lister’s Chimney and the view over BD8 but not Valley Parade which as the name suggests is under the eye line, hidden from view.

One has to wonder what has been going on hidden from view at Valley Parade this week. A defeat to Hartlepool United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy came almost without a blip so expected was it after the woeful 1-0 loss to Morecambe at the weekend. Peter Taylor was linked to a move for Calvin Zola – Calvin Zola is not coming – and TalkSport and the Daily Mirror both noted that this weekend’s game was win or bust for the City manager of six months.

Despite the board of many and the co-ownership it seems that Mark Lawn will be the one to make that decision. Lawn famously said that he “had 2,000,000 more reasons to be frustrated” than other City fans and if one agrees to the idea that the more you have money the more you can care about your football club then one can only imagine how Lawn feels watching the things he has put into place to replace Stuart McCall that should have worked failing so miserably now.

Say what you want about McCall’s exit – and we have all said lots – but Lawn’s recruitment of Peter Taylor was a clear way forward and an outstanding appointment of a manager with a great track record. One might argue the length of the contract has caused problems or that the failure to get training facilities sorted out are restrictive to what the manager can do but few would say they should be the cause of a woeful run of form.

Would City be in any different position now if Lawn had given Taylor a five year contract not a three month one? Perhaps, but as Lawn – we are told – is considering paying out Taylor’s contract then the brevity of it becomes useful in this situation at least.

Taylor’s team take on Barnet who struggle at the foot of League Two also. Jon McLaughlin has kept goal no better and no worse than Simon Eastwood did but is more favoured and perhaps that says much about the nature of support at City. What is an offence one season may not be the next.

Reece Brown is not expected to return from injury to be right back so Zesh Rehman will continue while Oliver Gill is supposedly enforced at left back. Shane Duff is expected to return from injury to partner Steve Williams in the middle of Taylor’s defence. Lee Bullock will sit on top of them with Tommy Doherty expected to return alongside him.

If it is win of bust for Taylor then he should probably play Doherty. A weak midfield will lose the game and thus his job and so it will hardly matter if Doherty misses the first game of Dean Windass, Peter Jackson or whomever’s time in charge.

Michael Flynn’s recovery from injury came to a grinding halt at Hartlepool United where his hernia which was thought cleared turned out not to be after his substitute appearance. Lee Hendrie will fall in as the left hand midfielder – let us not say “wide man” and Omar Daley is expected to play on the right with Taylor adopting a 4411 as strikers appear at a premium.

Luke O’Brien seemingly is out of both the midfield running and left back. It is said that there are players in the dressing room who would not be upset to see the back of Taylor but that O’Brien is not one of them. Such shows great restraint by a player who has been ousted from the City team so often. Tom Ademeyi seems to float in and out of the side with little reference to his performance. Leon Osbourne and Robbie Threlfall both seem to have had time in the team which has come to an end.

Luke Oliver will no doubt lead the forward line and while I would not concur with the idea that he should not do that because he is “out of position” – few would have complained if midfielder Flynn had been fit enough to take the position in the attack – the fact that Oliver struggles to play the role effectively is a problem. Calvin Zola was rumoured to be arriving and did not and as Peter Taylor looked around the world of football for a striker to borrow his vision was as blank as the fogged look over Bradford this morning.

James Hanson edges closer to fitness and perhaps Taylor might be able to risk him, Gareth Evans is out for three months. Taylor”s inability to get the levels of performance out of Evans that they player is capable of minimises the effect of this – he was not playing well – but as a player he can do and the frustration of watching good players play badly under Taylor is epic.

City have gone four games without a goal and Taylor has a selection of strikers for the the role off the main striker. Louis Moult, Jake Speight, Chib Chilaka. Name the striker and he is not scoring enough goals. The net seemingly fogged for Bradford City.

Peter Taylor will hope to cut through that fog, to get the win, to extend his stay at the club which looks increasingly like it will be coming to an end with the next defeat. Should that be the case then Mark Lawn’s view at the future at Valley Parade would be as fogged as the view from it.

Where would we go next?

A long time watching as City face Rotherham United

We Bradford fans looking ahead to tomorrow’s game evening at the Don Valley Stadium do not have much reason for optimism.

Following the elation of a very good performance and last minute winner against Gillingham many believed a corner had be turned. Unfortunately despite the fact Northampton were supposedly dead on their feet following 120 minutes of midweek cup heroics City could not kick on. Bradford now go into the Rotherham game only two points off the bottom of the football league and could even be bottom before Wednesday comes. Many see tomorrow as a foregone conclusion and it is understandable to see why- Rotherham are yet to lose at home Bradford City are yet to win away.

Having faced my usual lecture following a visit from my grandfather this weekend about how I ‘should be playing football on a Saturday rather than watching that bunch of fairies’ I couldn’t justify it with my usual response that I enjoy watching Bradford too much because currently that is not the case. His favourite catch phrase of ‘you’re a long time watching from the stands but only a short time playing’ may begin to hit home. My feelings towards watching the offerings of the current Bradford side probably sum up the thoughts of many current supporters.

However, at least we can look back to our last outing to Rotherham’s home in Sheffield with happier memories. After thinking we had had the result stolen away from us in injury time we went straight up the other end of the pitch and forced a corner. On that day we managed 5 shots on target 11 in total on Saturday we mustered a measly 1 shot in the whole game.

Also on that day the scorers were, Michael Flynn and James Hanson for a side skippered by Simon Ramsden and how desperately do Bradford need those three back now. Unfortunately none are ready to face Rotherham which must leave Taylor thinking he is not the lucky manager that Stuart McCall suggested we needed during his unofficial radio resignation. And for those already beginning the Taylor out calls we must hold a certain amount of sympathy with regards to this because based on last season’s showing a Bradford City without Michael Flynn, James Hanson and Simon Ramsden is much like Liverpool without Gerrard, Torres and Carragher. On the other hand though Taylor decided to assemble a large squad over the summer and that does not leave him short of options.

Ramden’s absence will be felt even harder following the injury to his understudy Lewis Hunt who is likely to be replaced by centre half Zesh Rehman. The rest of the defence that will have to contain the division’s best striker, Adam Le Fondre, will depend on what system Taylor decides to line up with. Should he go with his favoured 433 then it is likely Luke Oliver will resume his target man role further forward with Williams and Hunt with Luke O’Brien maintaining his place to the left. However following Saturday’s failings at Northampton he may consider 442. In such a system O’Brien may push up to the left wing with Robbie Threlfall returning to left back. It is probable that Williams and Hunt may still keep their places but Oliver is well liked by Taylor and could be considered. The defence will be completed with ever present Jon McLaughlin between the sticks.

Further forward it is anyone’s guess what possible solution Taylor will try and find to cure City’s inability to not only score but also create chances. The midfield will much depend on whether Lee Hendrie is considered to have gained enough match fitness to start. In this case it is likely that David Syers will lose his place if 433 is continued but a 442 could well see Lee Bullock or Tommy Doherty dropping to the bench. Another option that Taylor will no doubt consider if to keep O’Brien at full back with Hendrie out wide a position that in the Bradford side that a certain cousin of his knows very well. This would allow O’Brien a license to roam down the left side and create opportunities on the overlap as Hendrie is likely to tuck in more central. A further option Taylor has available is to make it his set up all about pace on the flanks and although Omar Daley appears to be out of favour- he didn’t even make the bench at the weekend- Leon Osbourne may occupy the opposite flank to Luke O’Brien.

Finally, the most evident problem in the side, who will be chosen as the men who are supposed to score the goals. Unfortunately Bradford don’t boast a Le Fondre in their side. Instead our strikers this season have got a one goal haul between them in the first 8 league games and that was from a Gareth Evans penalty. Unfortunately Evans seems to be lower on confidence than anyone and a ghost of the player who took on James Hanson’s mantle at the end of last season and was at the forefront of Bradford’s good run in the closing games. His replacements in the last 2 games have been Jake Speight and Louis Moult. Speight has worked tirelessly since his introduction to the side and Moult has come with glowing references from his Premier League parent club, Stoke but appears to go missing for large periods of his matches so far. Many fans claim this is because Taylor plays him out of position and perhaps they may get their wish against Rotherham and see him played as a more central striker in a front 2.

One past Bantam declared that the player he would pick as a striker week in week out was Omar Daley. That former Bantam was Dean Windass and although I’m not too sure I agree with his opinion I would certainly give anything to see him lining up in a City shirt again. If that was the case I’m confident that even at 41, he’d have more goals than the 6 strikers we have played so far combined. After all you can guarantee he’d of had his hands on the ball before Gareth Evans for that penalty!

Despite having a few key players missing through injury Taylor still has many options available to him, the majority of which are his signings. We are now 8 games into the league season and Taylor said it may take him ten games to discover his best side, I worry that if things don’t improve in the next two he will be getting very few more.

Taking the next steps

As Peter Taylor substituted Louis Moult to widespread boos and groans two-thirds of the way into Bradford City’s eventual win over Gillingham last week, it was tempting to ponder just how long the City manager will be around to make such unpopular decisions.

This was the second home game in a row a substitution by Taylor was booed by some fans; and in the other two league home games there was the half time chant directed at him to “sort it out” against Southend, and booing the team off in victory against Stevenage.

Unlike his predecessor, Stuart McCall, Taylor is clearly not someone readily prepared to blame himself and believe those questioning him are right to do so, and one can speculate whether the reason his assistant Wayne Jacobs was sent out to face the media after the game was due to anger at having his decisions questioned once more.

A frosty relationship between manager and many supporters is beginning to develop.

The frustration last Saturday stemmed from the fact it was Moult rather than Luke Oliver taken off by Taylor. After a fairly anonymous start to his six-month loan stint at Valley Parade, the Stoke striker was finally beginning to show glimpses of his potential and was one of a handful of influential players helping City to get on top in the second half. Oliver meanwhile looked clumsy and awkward, the wrong man in the right place of City’s increasingly-frequent attacks. The sight of Gareth Evans ready to come on told us the hook was coming, but in many fans eyes Taylor was taking off the wrong man.

Football coaches often talk about the importance of going back-to-basics when things go wrong. If, for example, a midfielder produces a poor pass, he is encouraged to make sure he tries something much simpler the next time he receives possession, so he can quickly build up confidence again. When a team is on a run like City have been, it’s understandable Taylor would want to take a back-to-basics approach to selection and tactics. Start getting points on the board, then build up again from there.

Taylor’s approach against Gillingham strongly suggested going back-to-basics. Without James Hanson and after a loan striker turned down a move, the deployment of Oliver up front was all about better-retaining possession in the final third so the team as a whole could gain greater territorial advantage. Oliver was instructed to win and hold up the ball, thus bringing others into the game. Not fantastic to watch maybe, but effective. Basic you might say.

I personally believe Taylor got a better performance from his players than he’d dared hoped, particularly in the second half when Lee Hendrie’s introduction sparked more attacking impetuous and saw City gain a lot more joy from passing it through – rather than over – the visitors.

But this improvement suddenly made the tactic of Oliver up front far less effective, and what City really needed was a forward more comfortable in possession and who could make intelligent runs. The moment where Hendrie dribbled past a couple of players and produced a perfectly weighted through ball for Oliver, only for the tall defender to fail to control it with just the keeper to beat, summed up the sudden problem.

So like others I was willing Taylor to take off Oliver. And although I did not boo, I did groan and feel deflated when Moult was hauled off instead. This was surely a moment where Taylor could have been braver, shown more belief in the way his team was playing. But in the back of his mind perhaps was the risk of Gillingham scoring and City needed to go long ball in the final 10 minutes, where Oliver would have been needed.

But after so many times a City manager has been unjustly slated for his tactics when City have lost a game, Taylor ultimately deserves a lot of credit for the fact his tactics and substitutions ultimately delivered three valuable points.

As City head to Northampton this weekend, it will be interesting to see how much Taylor changes things around to build on the basics which have slowly started to come together since the season’s low point of the 2-0 loss to Southend. Both Hanson and Michael Flynn – another target man option – are not expected to be fit in time, so the chances of Oliver continuing up front would appear high.

But it should be recalled that arguably the best football City have played under Taylor so far, the final five games of last season, saw a 4-3-3 formation employed without a target man. This worked well because of the running and link up of Leon Osborne, Gareth Evans and Gavin Grant. It is that level of football City now aspire to reach again, and to which Taylor could consider evolving the back-to-basics approach from and look to employ at Sixfields.

Oliver’s move up the pitch enabled Steve Williams to return to the central defence against Gillingham, and the impressive display he and the fast-improving Shane Duff produced would suggest Oliver may have to join Zesh Rehman on the bench at some point in the near future. With Jon McLaughlin also looking more composed during the last two games, Taylor is moving closer towards a solid defence which has acted as the bedrock of his previous promotion-winning teams

At full backs, however, there are plenty of unresolved issues. Lewis Hunt and Robbie Threlfall have both attracted a lot of criticism for their efforts this season, but in many ways they are in excellent company as I struggle to recall many City full backs over the years who were not slated at some point.

In terms of Hunt, the criticism he’s receiving has to be balanced by the fact he is a second choice right back at a fourth division club. The wage allocated for this role isn’t going to be high, and so Taylor is limited in the options and ability he could bring in. Meanwhile Threlfall had a shocker at Shrewsbury on the opening day, and hasn’t recovered.

Luke O’Brien, who’s had his own dips of form, is arguably playing his best football of his career so far. The Gillingham half time switch around that saw Threlfall replaced and O’Brien moved to left back is surely likely to be continued while Threlfall rebuilds his confidence. But let’s not forget it is his form, rather than ability, which is the problem.

In midfield there are suddenly stronger options when a fortnight ago it looked a major problem area. Lee Bullock picked up the sponsors man of the match last week and his return to form benefited Tommy Doherty; while the arrival of Hendrie further brought the best out of both. For now Hendrie will probably remain on the bench, or start the game and be taken off, as he builds fitness. David Syers is beginning to look the part and should be fit to start; Omar Daley has been an unused sub for the last two games, and the Jamaican’s future is beginning to look bleak.

Up front there remains a troubling lack of goals, and the poor form of Evans and tentativeness of Moult leaves Taylor with some difficult decisions. Osborne’s first meaningful appearance of the season last week attracted derision, but his form at the end of last season showed promise and it would be worth getting behind the player – who has emerged through the ranks, remember – rather than writing him off so prematurely. For now at least Oliver classes as a forward option.

Northampton are fresh from incredible cup exploits over Liverpool, but in every other way will hopefully be stale. Taylor had joked about asking Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee to make sure the game went to extra time, and the fact Clobbers’ players were on the floor with cramp towards the end of their penalty shoot out win would suggest the Bantams will carry a fitness advantage from no midweek action.

City have so far lost two and drawn one on their travels, and though it is still early days the points return from the trips to Northampton on Saturday and Rotherham on Tuesday will say a lot about the team prospects for the rest of the season. A four-point haul would set City up nicely for upcoming easier-looking games and a climb up the table during autumn.

Achieve that and, come winter, it’s hoped the only frost we’ll be talking about is the stuff which forms on the ground, rather than the nature of the feelings heading towards and from the Valley Parade dugout.

Getting the message

First it was Jon McLaughlin, then Steve Williams and now it’s James Hanson’s turn. The Bradford City striker has joined his team mates in receiving public criticism from his manager Peter Taylor, the reasons for which are less than clear.

Taylor declared Hanson, “probably needs two kicks (up the backside). He hasn’t done himself any favours this year. He’s been a little bit unlucky with the hamstring injury – the imbalance he has got isn’t his fault – but in other areas he could have done better for himself and he knows that.” Last season’s top scorer has missed the last three games with injury, and has only started four matches this season. He’s certainly not hit the heights of last year to date, but it’s not clear what Taylor is disappointed with him for.

Rumours have circulated BfB’s way that Hanson has not exactly been the model professional off the pitch, and it’s been suggested he may not even be injured as reported. The tone to Taylor’s words don’t seem to allude to Hanson’s efforts when playing and give some legs to those rumours, and one is left to wonder whether it is wise for Taylor to make ambiguous comments, or indeed say anything about the situation in the public domain, when it can be left so open to interpretation.

Taylor has also not been afraid to criticise McLaughlin for making goalkeeping errors and Williams for not taking matters seriously enough, and it is quite unusual to hear a City manager talk so openly critically in this way about their players. The main school of thought on public criticism, which emanates from Sir Alex Ferguson’s unflinching stance, is that cross words should remain private and players are defended to the hilt in front of the microphones. We know Sir Alex is a tea cup throwing – or at least boot-kicking – type of manager, but no matter how badly behaved some of his players were, he’s never brought his true feelings to the public’s notice.

In our own working lives, many of us may have experienced similar approaches from our own managers. I’ve certainly had bosses who wouldn’t be afraid to tell me off or give me a kick up the backside when I’d deserved it, but when it came to talking to anyone else would defend me to the hilt and only say good things. Similarly I’ve had managers who wouldn’t be prepared to stick up for me and happily join in offering criticism in front of others, and like most people it’s the former style of management that I respond to best.

The one-to-one relationship between manager and employee/player is so vital. Trust needs to be encouraged from both sides; honesty and respect should be mutually contributed and recipicated. The most important person in McLaughlin, Williams and Hanson’s immediate future is Taylor, and it’s vital those relationships work in a way that sees the manager get the most out of them. Whether that’s putting an arm around the shoulder, or screaming in their face.

No one, apart from the manager and player can truly understand how well those relationships are working, because no one knows what Taylor says in private to any of his players. Public criticism for Hanson can seem harsh or unclear to us supporters reading, as we don’t know exactly what he has done to deserve it. But perhaps we are not the target of Taylor’s words, even if it seems they are meant for us to read. Perhaps Taylor’s spoke many times to Hanson and needs a different way of getting the message home. Perhaps when the Telegraph & Argus dropped through the Hanson’s household’s letter box on Wednesday so too did the penny.

Whatever the reasons for Taylor public criticism and however confusing they appear to us in-the-dark supporters, it’s to be hoped they’ve been made loud and clear to the one person who counts.

Leaps To Feet, Falls Over Sideways…

The bookmakers’ pre-season joint favourites for promotion were playing each other. In their first twelve games of the season they have managed just two wins between them. The visitors had, however, scored eight goals (including five away from home) to the home team’s three, only one of which (a penalty) was a home goal. So Peter Taylor’s choice of main striker should not have come as too much of a surprise. Enter Luke Oliver up front, with David Syers and Gareth Evans on the bench.

One of the big things about Peter Taylor’s renewed contract was that it came with conditions, including that the pitch be completely re-done. Not just a few bits of turf stuck down with dodgy glue. No, the full works, complete with drains, levelling, a new top surface and some proper seeding. And a grand job has been done, it must be said.

With a pitch like that, who needs a striker whose only threat comes from his height? Shouldn’t the home team make best use of that wonderful surface and pass the ball along the ground – preferably toward the opposition goal – as often as possible? Why does the man watching his first Valley Parade game of the season comment about the excessive use of long high balls?

There were times during this game when too many in the amber shirts (my seat is too far away to pick out the claret stripes) felt that the choice was between passing square, passing backwards and kicking the ball high into the air, albeit in vaguely the right direction. I heard Peter Taylor’s radio interview before the game, when he talked about decision making and nervous players, most of whom end up on the scrap heap, he told us. Some of the starting eleven must have taken his words as instructions.

Poor Robbie Threlfall, in particular, didn’t seem to know whether to stick or twist with the ball at his feet. As for running into the twenty or thirty yards of beautiful clean grass in front of him, that seemed to be practically against the rules. It was little surprise that he did not survive the half-time cull and that Luke O’Brien, at least willing to take a chance, moved to full back.

Those twenty or thirty yards of space were helpfully created by Gillingham’s total lack of desire to fill them. The team that has now not won an away game for 30 matches looked like a 0-0 draw counted as a victory in their book. Credit where it’s due, in the 22nd minute they had the one and only effort on target in the whole first half. It may have dribbled gently into Jon McLaughlin’s hands, but it was one more on target than City had in those 45 minutes.

That is not to say that City did not have efforts at goal. The unfortunate Luke Oliver (I don’t imagine it was his decision that he play up front) had two excellent chances in the first eleven minutes. A Threlfall free kick eluded the visiting keeper, only for a feeble header from inside the goal area to miss the empty net. Then a Luke O’Brien cross found Oliver on the far post, only for this header to go some few feet over the bar. I mean no disrespect to the makeshift striker, but a real centre forward would surely have put both of those on target and the game would have changed out of all recognition.

Enter the new star. Lee Hendrie, who had played only Sunday League football since early May and had trained with his team mates for just one day, started the second half, along with Leon Osborne, the unlucky Jake Speight being the other player to be hooked. He may only be fit for half a game at the moment, but Hendrie showed what he can do. He made a difference. One of the biggest differences brought a cheer from the Kop, followed swiftly by a shake of the head from your reporter.

City were awarded a free kick some thirty yards out on the left. The ball had rolled toward the Kop and it was Hendrie’s sprint to fetch it and throw it back that showed what he means to do. This particular free kick was, however, to be taken by Tommy Doherty. He was apparently surprised by Hendrie’s urgency, took an age to amble across from the other side of the pitch and any possible momentum was lost.

Leon Osborne, a product of our own youth system like Luke O’Brien, showed that he was up for the fight. Perhaps he showed it a bit too much and Mr Langford produced his first yellow card of the afternoon as soon as Osborne committed the inevitable foul in retaliation for the several kicks his ankles and shins had taken in the previous minutes. At least the home fans appreciated his effort.

After the game cousin John’s radio interview with Lee Hendrie made great fun of the tamest of shots from the substitute, which probably had just about enough power to have crossed the line in the absence of the keeper. It might have been equally relevant to point out that in the regulation 90 minutes this 61st minute roller was City’s only effort that would have actually gone into the goal.

Seven minutes from time Stanley Aborah kindly sent his free header straight into Jon McLaughlin’s hands and two minutes later a Leon Osborne cross-shot was already going nicely wide before the referee decided that Lance Cronin had actually pushed it further away and that City should be awarded a corner.

In the last minute of normal time Barry Fuller chopped down Osborne once too often even to allow Mr Langford to keep his card in his pocket, but it looked as though Gillingham’s long sought after point was making its interminable journey back with them. Even the three minutes on the fourth official’s board seemed unlikely to produce anything, especially given the Midland Road linesman’s repeated inability to spot Luke Oliver’s shirt being pulled off his back.

However, it was this myopia that indirectly changed the game. In the 92nd minute the home crowd were giving the assistant so much stick for his latest failure that all eyes were in his direction. All, that is, except for those of Tommy Doherty and Steve Williams. Doherty’s return cross saw Williams braver than Cronin and the ball nestled nicely in the net via some part of the centre back’s anatomy. A home goal from open play!
Gillingham finally crossed the half way line again and produced a 93rd minute scramble in the home penalty area, resulting in a City breakaway that ended with an Evans shot going narrowly wide. City had deservedly thwarted the visitors’ plans.

If this is anything of a turning point, the credit goes to those players who put in the commitment and as much skill as they have. The two lads from the junior ranks showed what this means to them. Even if Lee Hendrie is doing nothing more than seeking to convince people he isn’t quite over the hill yet, so long as he impresses in a Bradford City shirt that’s fine by me. And I didn’t see what else the makeshift striker could have given. After all, he is not the new Bobby Campbell.

The scenes after the final whistle were as enthusiastic as might be expected from such a late winner. I was expecting to see Michael Flynn jump out of the stand to run around the pitch with his fist in the air. Instead I only noticed that Tommy Doherty, booed at the previous home game, walked to the dressing rooms leaving his team mates to acknowledge the applauding fans.

On my way home I received a text message. My mate John is in hospital recovering from a stroke. He must have followed the match on his iPhone or by some other technical wizardry. His text read ‘Woohoo!! (leaps to feet, falls over sideways…)’ Two weeks ago there was no way he was even staggering to his feet and he could fall over sideways while being propped up by a heap of pillows. Now that one is what I really call a victory.

Who wants to play for Bradford City?

In the run up to the seventh game of the season Peter Taylor asked a striker if he wanted to come on loan to join the Bradford City cause the deal ironed out with some club or other.

The player said “No”.

Speculation on who the player was is rife but ultimately utterly unimportant but the resonance of the word echoes and the echo forms itself into a thought that Bradford City are a club to be avoided.

One can imagine the situation which Johnny Striker is in at the moment. Stuck in the reserves somewhere the idea of getting a month of games elsewhere is attractive but the team on offer is three places off the bottom of the whole football league and there are going to be few niceties in that situation. Perhaps you’ve played at Valley Parade and felt the boost that away players get when the home crowd grumble or boo and decided that suddenly the stiffs does not seem too bad.

So Peter Taylor keeps his hopes up but – at the moment – Johnny Striker is not arriving and the manager must be wondering why that player does not want to play for Bradford City and when he thought about that he would find his mind drifting to a more pressing question: who, of the current playing squad, want to play for Bradford City.

Which is not to say who wants to pick up a wage, who wants to have a run around on a Saturday afternoon and who wants to give it a good go but rather who wants to play for Bradford City. Which of the current squad who have sequestered but four points thus far this season is prepared to take the responsibility for the quality of the performance.

The Bantams displays have lacked players who have been able to take that responsibility and the results have shown it. A look around the team does not show players putting in poor performances and games are not unusually littered with misplaced passes but easy options are taken too often and games are a little too easy for the opposition.

So the question for Taylor – looking over his squad – is which of these players wants to play a game of football was passion and guts and take on the responsibility for the performance in victory or defeat for Bradford City.

Gillingham expect promotion this year – their chairman will accept nothing else – and City’s chairmen have a similar aim. The Gills are two points higher and are one wonders if the same stages of panic followed by hopelessness is gripping Priestfield. Priestfield – of course – is one of Peter Taylor’s old managerial homes where he made current Gillingham boss Andy Hessenthaler his captain. Hessenthaler as a player the likes of which City could do with at the moment and will look for a similar character in his own ranks having told his players to grown up two weeks ago.

Jon McLaughlin will start in goal for City and the back four of Lewis Hunt, Shaun Duff, Luke Oliver and Robbie Threlfall is starting to build relationships although Taylor will hope they can do it with more speed that the sluggishness of thought that allowed Stockport an equaliser last week.

Taylor has to decide between his 433 or the 442 which got a point last weekend. David Syers and Luke O’Brien are likely to continue on the flanks of Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty in a four while a three would see one dropped. Michael Flynn – the very type of player which the club needs presently – is still out injured.

Append: Lee Hendrie is expected to come into the City team to make a debut probably at the expense of Tom Ademeyi having signed for the club on Firday .

James Hanson continues to be injured while in the absence of the new striker Gareth Evans and Jake Speight are set to continue – Speight the brightest spark of the season thus far – with Omar Daley perhaps getting a place in the three.

The permutations of players though are not the major problem for Taylor so much as the attitude of those players. The will to win, or to carry the can in defeat, is important at this stage.

Six games in to the 1998/99 season Paul Jewell’s Bradford City side had a single point from a draw with Bolton Wanderers. Seven games in and they had two after a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United but the performance in that game against a Blades side inspired by a superb performance by Dean Saunders and a City team that had clicked into place.

The result shook no trees but the performance was convincing – or convinced me at least – that there was something in Paul Jewell’s side that would happen. The wing play of Peter Beagrie prepared to make the game, the sturdy centre forward play of Lee Mills, the anchoring of Stuart McCall.

It is that performance that Taylor needs to find.

I know there was a dog

Those familiar with the work of Charles Schultz – or Aaron Sorkin – will know of the satirical nature of Peanuts characters Charlie Brown and Lucy the the boy’s attempt to kick an American football.

For the initiated Lucy holds the ball and Charlie Brown goes to kick it but at the last minute Lucy pulls it away and Charlie Brown ends up kicking air and falling over yet Lucy is able to convince Charlie Brown that next time he tries to kick the ball she will not pull it away and he will not fall on his backside but she always does and he always does.

Its so sad, eventually in life everything becomes routine

At Bradford City there is a similar routine which began in earnest last weekend in which the Lucy convinces all that a swing at the ball that is sacking the manager will not result in the club falling on its backside but it always does. Following a proper rotten start to the season Peter Taylor has started to gather a band of critics who look to convince all that they should take another run at the football.

Taylor spent most of the week in a fury. Early on he was angry at the way his players were treated by supporters who booed Tommy Doherty after the midfielder’s mistake cost a goal against Port Vale but then he was angry at rumours he had fallen out with Mark Lawn and offered to leave should be be paid off.

That anger faded and was replaced by an anger at The Jamaican FA for flying Omar Daley around the world only to give him an hour of football – City will now no longer play ball with the Caribbean side – and perhaps it was a week of fury that tired out the manager who could barely muster a disappointment at not being able to recruit a loan striker.

Taylor is hopeful of a new face up front to cover James Hanson who is injured for another three weeks but with Gareth Evans, Jake Speight and Louis Moult all fit – as well as Daley and Leon Osbourne to call on – one wonders if Taylor does not have enough up front as City face Stockport County at Edgeley Park.

The strikers are having a curious time of it at the moment at City. Evans’s penalty against Stevenage is the only winner the club have scored in the League this year but Speight has impressed with performances. Moult is – well – not often on the field and as often is the case this seems to be the greatest qualification for a place in the starting eleven.

“I can’t believe he plays Evans over Moult” expressed one irritated soul who must see something in Moult that suggests that the almost non-corporeal endeavours of the Stoke loanee thus far will translate into some huge effect were his given a starting role. The players who are not in the team always seem the solution to the problem but as England wrapped up 4-0 and 3-1 wins using the majority of the players who featured in the 4-1 defeat to Germany perhaps we should treat those concepts with scepticism.

Not that the problems that Taylor has at City are as obviously solvable as England’s – there is no Lampard to drop – and should Taylor deploy Evans leading the line and Speight behind him dropping to a four man midfield when he risks once again sending out a side ill equipped to attack.

The two flank players of Luke O’Brien and David Syers – who should be fit from injury – offered little in the way of traditional attacking play and the middle two of Doherty and Tom Adeyemi have yet to take a game but the scruff of the midfield and there in an increasing worry (aside from the “Doherty is rubbish!” worry that is generally scoffed at by anyone with half a brain) that Ademeyi does not yet have the wherewithal to cope with a robust League Two midfield battle. A switch between Syers and Adeyemi seems possible, if unexplored thus far.

Lewis Hunt will continue at right back with Robbie Threlfall at left back the former Liverpool man hoping that he will never have an afternoon like last week again the best of which can be said that at least he kept involved in the game. The partnership between Luke Oliver and Shane Duff seems to be on borrowed time at the back and Steve Williams appears a superior choice for either. Jon McLauglin continues in goal creating an amusing contrast to Simon Eastwood last season. Fans slaughtered while the manager defended Eastwood, with McLauglin something like the opposite occurs.

Taylor’s side need a win of course – when do football clubs ever not need a win – and one wonders how loud the calls for the manager to be out on his backside will reach should that win not be forthcoming. Perhaps they will be drowned out by a deep sigh of resignation and the words “Oh Good Grief.”

When there’s no end in sight…

Part unfortunate, part self-inflicted. Bradford City’s fourth consecutive defeat carried greater meaning and misery than a mere glance at the fledgling League Two table.

Commentating on The Pulse, Michael Flynn – oh how he is missed on the field – perceptively summed up the home crowd’s inevitable discontent at 2-0 down as more than just unrest over a fourth league defeat in five, but because it caused further prodding of the open scar that is ten years of dismal failure. A decade ago City were facing Manchester United and Arsenal in the space of a week; no one needs reminding of the subsequent bumpy fall, and there’s a lot of baggage that will only be released when overdue success eventually occurs.

But until then, that baggage weighs heavy on this current crop of players.

This was a much improved display by City, easily their best performance in the league to date. Yet the confident visitors ultimately deserved the three points after narrowly holding the edge in most areas of the pitch. Those who write off Port Vale as an average side arguably miss the point of what it takes to succeed at this level.

Sure they were ungainly and a succession of physical challenges perhaps deserved greater punishment – both Marc and Justin Richards deserved second yellow cards – but those who succeed in escaping this division upwards are invariably as good at battling as they are putting the ball in the net. Four years on from Stuart McCall noting City needed bigger players to better compete, the Bantams are still some way off possessing the resilience that grinds out regular victories.

Back in a traditional 4-4-2 formation, City made an excellent start and for once managed to set the tempo of the game; but the narrow way the midfield was lined up and lack of pace in the wide areas limited creativity. Peter Taylor does not seem to favour out and out wingers and, although left midfielder Luke O’Brien and right midfielder David Syers acquitted themselves well, no one seemed able or willing to run at people.

It was all a bit predictable.

The main battle was fought between the two Richards and Luke Oliver and Shane Duff. City’s centre backs stood up to the physical challenge for much of the game, but criminally the whole team switched off from a Port Vale corner on the half hour and Marc powerfully headed home to give Vale a crucial lead in a game where the first goal felt so vital.

City argued strongly that the corner shouldn’t have been awarded following a Vale handball in the box during the previous attack, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of marking. And the decision was evened out minutes later when O’Brien appeared to haul down Gary Roberts inside the area, only for a free kick on the edge of the box to be awarded. Referee David Coote and his assistants gave bizarre decisions against both sides all afternoon. This was his Football League debut and one questions whether appointing him to officiate in front of such a large crowd at this stage of his career was a sensible one.

Although Vale’s goal rocked City for a five-minute period, they regained composure and were unfortunate not to equalise before the break. Jake Speight, making his full debut, continued to impress and one jinxing run from the corner flag to penalty area saw home defender Gareth Owen hit his own bar. Seconds later Speight missed an open goal when he unnecessarily handled trying to control the ball – he just needed to poke it home. Any half time boos were drowned out by supportive applause from other fans for the effort.

But while the atmosphere was much improved following Southend, limited patience meant in the second half the crowd again turned on the team when it needed to stay positive. Listen to opposition managers talk before they bring their team to Valley Parade and without fail they mention City’s crowd. All appear to use it as part of their tactics – how can we get them to turn on their own players? We supporters are being used against our own, and it’s time we wised up to it. As attacks broke down, the groans got louder and when Taylor made a double substitution he was booed for taking O’Brien off.

It can’t be a coincidence that, having got the visitors on the back foot and unable to get out of their own half for a spell, the sloppiness and uncertainty to City’s play returned when frustration from the stands was allowed to fill the air. Though there was no excuse for the craziness of the second goal which killed the game and could have a major effect on City’s season.

It was a comedy of errors. All afternoon Jon McLaughlin and his centre backs had attempted to play the ball out from the back, but the high pressing of the Richards’ usually saw it abandoned. This time the keeper rolled it out and a risky ball was worked up to Doherty, who was quickly closed down. The cultured midfielder attempted a woeful chipped backpass that McLaughlin failed to control under pressure, presenting Justin with a tap in.

The boos understandably rang out, but as the game kicked off and Doherty’s every touch was also greeted with boos a line had been crossed. I’ve no time for people who think it was right to boo City’s number 8, no matter how heat of the moment it was. It was disgusting, it was moronic and frankly it’s time such people found something else to do on a Saturday afternoon.

We cannot allow a culture where mistakes are booed, because every player will simply retreat into their shell and only play safe passes – and City will not prosper.

As I walked back to the car at the end I had a lively debate with a guy I know from the pub who reckoned Taylor should be sacked and Doherty is a waste of space. The Doherty-bashing is growing and I don’t understand it. Our problem is not that we have a player like Doherty in the side – but that we don’t have enough players as good as him.

Some of his passing during the game was stunning, he picked out balls that no one was capable of spotting or producing so accurately. He misplaced some passes and his mistake for the goal – which McLaughlin was hardly blamelessly for -was bad, but City need to build the team around him rather than get rid.

And that’s where the main problem left over from the Southend defeat remained. If 4-4-2 is to be used, a ball winner has to be deployed in the middle of the park so Doherty can do what he does best. But his partner Tom Adeyemi is, at this moment, badly struggling to adapt to this level. He looked poor in possession and incapable of winning the ball back. Dropping Lee Bullock was highly questionable and, until Flynn is fit, he or the impressive Syers should be starting alongside Doherty as they can do the defensive work that then frees Doherty to hurt the opposition with his obvious ability.

City battled to the end, but over the course of the 90 minutes the amount of decent chances on goal was worryingly low. Omar Daley, away on international duty, was badly missed and Taylor must contemplate signing a winger this week to replace Neilson. Gareth Evans struggled to make an impact and James Hanson – officially, at least, injured. Though there’s a whisper his off-the-field behaviour has angered Taylor – was missed. If 4-4-2 is continued, a Hanson-Speight partnership looks the best option.

And as the final whistle blew and an impressive Vale following loudly celebrating a win that keeps them fourth – but only seven points above City – it was the greater team ethic that had won the game, and which City must replicate.  The uncompromising Jon McCombe and Owen at the back, the close tie up of full backs and wingers and the clever inter-change between the two Richards up front – Port Vale were a team of intuitive relationships, which City are not yet close to matching.

Right now the players look too unsure of what each other will do, and only when they begin to feel and look like a team will fortunes improve. It will take time.

But in the midst of louder calls for Taylor to go and criticism towards Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn – the latter the subject of worrying rumours that he’s fallen out with Taylor, which he would be wise to publicly address this week – it has to be remembered this was an improvement. Good enough? No. But something to build on and take into next week’s game at Stockport.

The doom and gloom descends again, the pain of the last 10 years remains at the forefront of the mind. But the calmest people at Bradford City right now need to be Taylor, Rhodes and Lawn. As for us supporters, an atmosphere akin to Rochdale away last season has to be produced at Edgeley Park. It’s not just on the field where City need to become more of a team.

The day after the sky fell in

Last week City had to beat Southend United and did not.

The sky did not fall in on Chicken Licken nor did the walls tumble down but the sense of dejection around City fans was palpable. There is a level of disappointment which goes beyond a moaning about the team or the players to just not talking at all. Rather than getting heads together and saying how this formation or that substitution would have sorted out the problems City fans around Bradford and beyond looked blank and shrugged. What is there to do?

Some carried on as normal – one has to be impressed with the tenacity of the people who are still arguing that everything will be right when Stuart McCall leaves the club when the evidence of swapping one manager for another once again illustrates that the manager was never the main of the problem – but even that carrying on seemed to be half hearted. Making the same noises because they are the noises you make.

Peter Taylor made his noises on the BBC’s Football Focus revealing his disappointment in the season so far, using “they” rather than “we” a couple of times and issuing an open invite to David Beckham to come to Valley Parade where he would get a game although one has to worry that with the three man midfield with two wide players up front if Goldenballs would fit into the Bantams line up.

It is that line up which Peter Taylor is being urged to change for the arrival of Port Vale on Saturday. Taylor deployed a World Cup style 4231 but the three given the role of dangerous players were anything but and the result was a massive hole between the midfield and lone striker James Hanson.

James Hanson has come in for some criticism this week – “just a pub player” someone said. People who think like that are wasting their money even coming to Valley Parade just as people who love Pot Noodles and Big Macs are wasting their money going to Noma. Of the reasons to be optimistic about the future of Bradford City Hanson figures highly and if he is fit he would be the first name on my teamsheet.

Hanson came off at half time last week as City’s 4231 faltered and the whispers are that the striker has not been fit all season. Taylor has the option of deploying Gareth Evans or Chib Chilaka as target man to give Hanson the chance to recover but seems to hold last season’s player of the season in high regard and – as I would – would probably play him every week if he could.

Jake Speight has returned to full fitness and liberty and is expected to make a first start for the club as one of three up front with Evans alongside him and Omar Daley dropped to the bench. Speight and Daley both seem to be charged with offering (for want of a better phrase) an x-factor to City’s line up and presently Daley looks some way away from being able to do that. One could speculate all day about why this is – tougher training, return to fitness, form – but the winger has always blown hot and cold and managing him back to heat quickly has been a challenge for City bosses.

Louis Moult is talked up much considering he is a Stoke City played facing Port Vale but after a poor show last week one doubts the loanee will make the side. Since the moment pre-season finished Moult has worn a City shirt well but not shown anything to suggest he is worth a place in the side. He is all promise and prospect but – at present – Taylor needs productivity.

The Moult Hole last week caused an issue for City’s two holding players Tommy Doherty and Lee Bullock – both of whom are expected to start in a three man midfield alongside probably Tom Ademeyi or perhaps David Syers – who ended up having to come forward to try fill the hole. Doherty has started to look impressive in his distribution while Bullock is struggling to get back to last season’s ways.

The defence seems a mixed bag thus far. Robbie Threlfall’s distribution is missed giving him the edge over Luke O’Brien although the latter has put in some good performances. Lewis Hunt is steady to a fault at right back – nothing gets past him really, he does not get past anybody really – but Zesh Rehman hangs on his shoulder looking for a place in the side. Anyone who things that Rehman he been “obviously the worst player at the club for eighteen months” (as was commented this week) is invited to go stand in the Wilderness Garden behind an eight foot fence on a Saturday afternoon.

None of Rehman or Luke Oliver, Shane Duff and Steve Williams have especially been woeful this term and occasionally some have been excellent. In defence popular wisdom has it that Taylor should pick a team and stick to it but one recalls how Paul Jewell would have three names on his back four and float in one of Ashley Westwood, Jon Dreyer or Andrew O’Brien to partner Darren Moore between Steven Wright and Wayne Jacobs seemingly at random although – perhaps – based on the opposition.

Jon McLaughlin, he plays in goal. He blamed himself for the first goal against Southend allowing the ball to get away from in turning possession over to the visitors. He must have been waiting for people to note his mistake, waiting for the treatment that Simon Eastwood got for similar.

As it happened the sky did not fall in.

Time for Plan A?

As Saturday approaches I have begun my usual guessing game over what team Peter Taylor will choose.

Stuart McCall was criticised on many occasions last season for not having a ‘Plan B’ Taylor it appears has got a plan C, D and E. With the season only a handful of games old Taylor has already used 20 outfield players- that would quite possibly be more had Michael Flynn and Leon Osbourne not been missing through injury- and also 4 different skippers. Taylor has explained his high rotation of players and his reasoning is fair. Firstly he says does not yet know his best side and secondly there have been a high number of games in a short space of time, two of which have gone to extra time and therefore he has looked to give players a rest. However, with 4 games of the season gone, with only 1 win and 8 days since the last game surely now we will see what Taylor believes to be his strongest side.

The only player that has begun every game is Jon McLaughlin and although he was called into question by Taylor following the Torquay match he still remains first choice. There is no doubting that he is talented, assured and confident between the stick and it appears he will not let any previous mistakes affect him too easily. But he is young and needs not only some experience in front of him but consistency too.

Unfortunately his most experienced defender and club captain, Simon Ramsden has had his involvement limited by injury. This has seen his understudy, Lewis Hunt step into the vacant position and he has performed adequately, but no more than adequate. Hunt to me seems a more than able replacement for our consistent captain and yet at the same time his lacklustre, relaxed approach to the game leaves me thinking he could be a lot more than adequate.

In the first game against Shrewsbury he did not appear to be fit, which was unfortunately exaggerated as he tried to handle the impressive Ainsworth. In the following games he still appears to amble over to the touchline whenever he is required to take a throw in, rarely appears to be willing to receive the ball and as far as I can remember has never created an overlap for his winger. In fairness to Hunt we do not know what his instructions have been from Peter Taylor and he may well be ordered to be so conservative and concentrate on his defending- a job which he performs very capably. Even so I can’t help but hope we see a fit Ramsden taking the field again before too long.

The other 3 slots across the back 4 have not had had reduced options through injury and yet are still chopped and changed. I am a firm believer that an understanding between the defence and goalkeeper needs to be established from playing together regularly. How often did you see Sir Alex Ferguson line his side up without Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister when both were available, or Wenger without Tony Adams and Martin Keown or even Mourinho without John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho.

Those partnerships were part of some the most successful defences in the Premier League’s history because they were exactly that. Each player knew what their partner was going to do and their goalkeeper behind also created that same understanding be it Schmeichel, Seaman or Cech. Something our current number one Jon McLaughlin must do with whoever plays in front of him. I don’t doubt the ability of any of our current centre backs but all of them will play the game differently and if McLaughlin has a consistent partnership in front of him then that will allow him to become more confident in his decision making knowing what his two defenders in front are most likely to do.

So far it appears to be any 3 from Steve Williams, Luke Oliver and Shane Duff for the two centre half roles with last season’s captain Zesh Rehman providing back up. I was never a huge fan of Rehman last year, but do feel as though he became a lot more assured and solid when Taylor took over towards the end of the season and is possibly a little unfortunate to be overlooked. For me Steve Williams is a rough diamond and has the potential to play at a higher level. I would compare him to a lower league Rio Ferdinand in his style of play. However, much like Rio Ferdinand at the beginning of his career he is still inexperienced, still learning and prone to a mistake. For that reason I would suggest he needs an experienced, vocal leader alongside him. Luke Oliver, unfortunately, does not possess those qualities and although he appears to be Taylor’s favoured option – he has started every league game so far – I would still favour Duff. I do not base this so much on my own observations of Duff due to the limited amount of opportunity I have had to watch him but more on my second hand knowledge of the player from Taylor himself.

When Duff was signed Taylor acknowledged that it was because he felt that Williams and Oliver did not have enough league football experience and Duff has racked up almost double the amount of league appearances that Williams and Oliver have combined. Further, Taylor described him as a ‘good leader’ in the mould of Tony Adams. It is for those qualities that I consider him to be the perfect partner for Williams.

Left back is also a position that is very much in the balance with a decision to be made between two very different players. Robbie Threlfall probably began the season as the favourite after impressing on loan last season. He’s tall, and can boast of an extremely sweet left foot but has been found out at the beginning of this season while the smaller, quicker Luke O’Brien has impressed. Unfortunately, despite getting himself in promising positions O’Brien’s final ball and decision making in the final third leaves something to be desired.

Still if he could cross a ball like Threlfall he probably wouldn’t be playing for Bradford City. It is possible that following his outstanding first season and deserved Player of the Year trophy Luke O’Brien became over confident and it was a combination of this and the lack of competition for his place in the side that led to his disappointing second season. Now with Threlfall pushing him for the starting berth he has returned more determined with a point to prove and on current form deserves his place. That is of course unless Taylor chooses to deploy him further forward in midfield.

Midfield provides Taylor with a selection headache before he chooses his personnel, is the side more suited to 3 in midfield and 3 forwards or a more standard 4-4-2. We have seen both systems tried so far with varying degrees of success. One thing that can’t be denied is that there is plenty of competition, especially in the centre. For the Stevenage game we set up with 4-4-2 with Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty occupying the central roles. Both players are very good at what they do but are they not too similar? In that game both played very deep and this left a gap behind the strikers and meant they were not provided with enough support. This appears to be something Taylor also identified at half time when replacing Bullock for David Syers.

This would suggest Taylor favours Doherty, and despite being considered to not look fully fit by many supporters, I would agree that he has the edge. Doherty is more mobile than Bullock, a superb passer of the ball and, judging by his performance against us for Wycombe two years ago, he has the ability to dictate and dominate a game. His perfect partner would be Michael Flynn. Last season Flynn was one of our most impressive performers but unfortunately injury has ruled him out of featuring so far. So until Flynn’s return Tom Adeyemi and Dave Syers look to stake their claim. If footballer’s were judged on academic achievement both of these would be in the Premier League however despite both impressing in patches neither can justifiably believe they deserve to be a certain starter.

Out wide the sometimes brilliant but more frequently frustrating Omar Daley looks to have returned from his horrific injury lacking in confidence and a yard of pace slower. Unless Taylor can find a way to help him return to his previous best I fear that his days as the winger who could petrify fullbacks may be over. Following Scott Neilson’s departure that leaves a lack of options on the flank, O’Brien proved he is a more than capable on the left last year but that also means he has to vacate the position of full back. On the other side Gareth Evans is yet to find his best position as either striker or winger. You can guarantee he will give it his all in either position but as a winger he is probably better coming inside from the left as he did against Rochdale last year and therefore perhaps not the solution on the right. Leon Osbourne is yet to return from injury but after impressing at the end of last season there is reason to be enthusiastic about his return. He, like Evans may benefit from a more advanced role as a wide forward and considering the amount of different options we have in terms of central midfielders this would give an compelling argument for a use of a 4-3-3 formation.

That would leave 1 striker from 3 spearheading the Bradford attack. James Hanson, Player of the Season last year impressed all fans with his strength, ability in the air and work rate. Some do worry that he may suffer from second season syndrome and he hasn’t dominated defences in the same way at the beginning of this season. It is important to remember he was injured in the run up to the beginning of the season and will only be beginning to reach full fitness, he has not lost his ability over night and would appear to have the perfect qualities suited to a lone striker.

Big things are expected from loanee, Louis Moult following his arrival from Stoke and he has shown glimpses of fantastic ability in his limited opportunities so far but Taylor appears to prefer using him out wide. That leaves Jake Speight and although he arrived under a cloud he was one of the few positives that were taken from the game against Stevenage and helped him on his way to winning over the supporters. He works tirelessly and was a real handful for the defence, and reports suggest he is going to be rewarded with a deserved start come Saturday.

I had hoped putting my thoughts in writing would help enable me to understand Taylor’s thinking and give me an insight into his possible line-up for Saturday but still I am clueless. I suppose at the end of the day I’m just a fan and that’s why when the team kicks off on Saturday I will take my place in the stands and Peter Taylor will be in the dugout.

So over to you Mr.Taylor, I certainly still have complete faith.

Everything looks bad right now

In the immediate minutes that followed Anthony Grant’s second half KO blow for Southend, the overriding mood in the air was not provided by the vocal anger of many apoplectic home fans – but the melancholy of everybody else.

This was all very miserably familiar. A game Bradford City ‘should’ win turning out to be a morale-denting defeat so formulated and repetitive over the past few years that it feels like we’re trapped in our own version of Last of the Summer Wine. Just like the world’s long-running sitcom, it ceased to be even mildly amusing a long, long time ago.

But as many supporters reacted with rage, unleashing levels of vociferous abuse that, even by Valley Parade standards, has not been reached for a good few seasons; it was the silent resignation of others which arguably represents the most concern. Worry not too much of those who text into Radio Leeds and log onto message boards to angrily point the finger, worry about those who may now be questioning their sanity in attending next time.

Prior to kick off I was buying my tickets for Stockport away and found a healthy queue of City fans handing over £20 to watch this evening’s game. With the first two league attendances of the season falling below the 11,000 mark, the hope that the shortfall of season ticket sales would be rectified by pay on the day supporters will be quickly dashed by evenings as wretched as this. Where three seasons ago a similarly woeful defeat to Accrington brought out a defiant spirit amongst supporters, tonight there was not even the slim consolation of an enjoyable atmosphere to keep the floating supporter interested.

Tonight Valley Parade was simply an ugly place to be. The boost of a commendable cup performance against higher division opposition was supposed to be act as the springboard that finally got the season going. When Tommy Doherty superbly played James Hanson through on goal after 10 minutes, we all prepared to celebrate the commencement of a promotion challenge after some false starts. Last season’s top scorer badly screwed his shot wide, and that was as good as it got for City.

Six minutes later Southend grabbed a lead that at the time seemed undeserved and slightly controversial – Barry Corr played through on goal but looking borderline offside, finishing impressively past Jon McLaughlin. But for the remaining 74 minutes the visitors made sure they were full value for the three points.

City’s formation and tactics were hard to fathom, but it appeared Peter Taylor had adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation particularly popular at this year’s World Cup. Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty sat deep; Gareth Evans, Omar Daley and Louis Moult interchanged positions behind Hanson. But the three attacking midfielders/forwards were highly ineffective and left a hole that saw attacks quickly break down. All three were guilty of failing to utilise space and charging down blind alleys while in possession, when they needed greater awareness of what was around them. The uncompromising Southend defence easily lapped it up.

Home pressure was sporadic and little thought was paid to setting the tempo. Southend chased and harried the ball high up the park and hit City effectively on the counter attack by flooding players into the box. Josh Simpson and Craig Easton both squandered easy chances to double the advantage as a ponderous City defence panicked and continually lost sight of runners. Taylor headed to the dressing room at half time with the Bradford End chanting at him to sort it out.

Yet rather than address the trimmings, he uprooted the foundations. If there weren’t many bright spots to the first half, surely the performances of Doherty and Bullock should have been considered something to build on. While at times forced too deep, both showed composure while others hastily whacked the ball up the pitch. Doherty seemed to benefit from Bullock’s close support and everything good came through them. But the dismal performances of Evans, Daley and Moult just ahead left them hopelessly outnumbered and they needed an extra body to help. How Michael Flynn was missed.

But although Taylor made the right decision to bring on Flynn’s understudy David Syers at half time, he oddly took Bullock off in a straight swap. And while Luke O’Brien brought a bit more balance by being pushed to left midfield, with Robbie Threlfall replacing Louis Moult, the taking off of James Hanson – which may have been due to picking up a knock – for Jake Speight saw the problems largely remain. Speight played well, but he was the only one who could effectively hold up the ball.

City went 4-4-2, and a midfield which had played reasonably well but been outnumbered became even more out-gunned, Doherty struggling to exert any influence. Initially City at least carried more purpose and came close through Speight and Luke Oliver, but on 55 minutes Grant fired home from the edge of the area after a free kick was partially cleared and the mountain became even steeper.

There was an element of misfortune, however, as only seconds before the goal City had been attacking with some purpose. But when Syers’ ball to Doherty hit a bobble just before it reached the midfielder, Southend were able to break up the pitch, force a throw in and score. That’s how bad things went tonight, even that much-trumpeted new playing surface let us down.

The anger poured down from the stands, with Daley the obvious target and bizarrely told to “get off the pitch” by some fans in the Midland Road stand. We’ve used all three subs, so are we supposed to play with ten men? But while you can argue he and the rest deserved it, the fury reigning down does not present a productive atmosphere for the players to perform in. It is no surprise that certain players disappeared into their shells and left others to take responsibility. When O’Brien whacked an improbable crossfield ball over that Daley stood little chance of keeping in, it was the Jamaican and not the young defender who received the torrent of abuse.

With 13 minutes to go hope briefly flickered in the shape of the stupid sending off of right back Sean Clohessy, after he needlessly hacked O’Brien having already been booked for time wasting. But there was no way back despite pushing Oliver up front, with ideas long since run out. An awful evening was summed up by second half captain Steve Williams lashing a shot high into the Kop from a ridiculous distance, for no obvious reason than frustration.

Valley Parade emptied long before the end, sparing the players from volume 11 boos. But most will be back. And if City are to live up to the pre-season expectations there is a battle they must overcome – coping with this pressure. Half the people screaming abuse were livid for City launching long balls at the back, the other half were having a go for passing sideways and not getting it forwards quick enough. The players need to learn to ignore their frustrations and play in the right manner. The only people they need to obey are their team mates and management.

Taylor took full responsibility for the defeat afterwards, admitting his team selection had been wrong. And in this situation City have exactly the right man to cope with the pressure and get the players going again. He needs to find a system that works for the players and he has to stick with it, rather than constantly changing tactics and players. He needs to get the most out of the ability of Doherty by setting up the team so he can dictate the play. He needs to select a regular back four that are familiar with each other’s position on the field rather than having to look over their shoulders. He needs to address the worrying lack of chances and goals the forward line is delivering.

But as the sun went down during the second half, it will rise again on Saturday morning. There are eight days to work on the training ground and 42 games left to fulfill expectations. Paul Jewell was in the commentary box this evening, a reminder that, while everything looks bad now, a bad start to the season needn’t prove the end of it.

Empathy but no space for sympathy for Southend United

Southend United have fallen from above the leagues and arrive in the bottom division struggling to stay alive, get a team together and with three games and one draw behind them struggling to get a win. It is a situation which City have found themselves in a number of times and it is hard not to feel some empathy.

Sympathy though will be in short supply. Bradford City need to win.

Not need to win in the two points to stave off relegation or win promotion or need to win in the “win or you get fired” way but with the team having put in a good performance in defeat on Tuesday after three unimpressive displays in the League – and the City about to get a good kicking in the media on Saturday – the early season malaise can be lifted with victory in this Friday night game.

Southend is home to Peter Taylor – he was manager too – although he harbours a reduced affection for the town he called home lamenting the decline of the centre. Empathy.

That Taylor’s time at Bradford City has so quickly started to sour is worrying. The best manager available to the Bantams is being criticised because his team have lost two away matches and heard a parting shot from Scott Neilson about PTs playing style which was booed against Stevenage in the last outing in the league at Valley Parade.

One cannot help but wish that Mark Lawn would occupy himself in stating for all that Taylor is the best manager for the job, that he is here for the long term and that he has the full throated backing of the board but alas Taylor’s remit presently only lasts until such a point where it is considered he will not take City to promotion and – for some people – that point has already been reached.

As curious as it maybe to some but wandering around the places where Bantams fans talk after the Torquay United game already the season had been written off – there is a ludicrousness to that assuming a great team gets three points from home games and one from away leaving the Bantams able to win the next two and be back on a perfect track – and for all one might say that only a madman would sign his name to such a comment those men have started to talk and Taylor’s job is already questioned and who is anyone to silence them?

The Tuesday night performance was a fillip. Taylor’s beamed with pride after the performance of his players on Tuesday night – they played hard and were beaten by a couple of long range laser guided shots – and perhaps most pleasing was the performance of some of the fringe players.

There is a speculation that Taylor has brought quantity and not quality to the club and that may be true – although few would have suggested that Tommy Doherty does not represent quality – but Taylor is betting on the idea that a good team comes not from having a higher eleven inked into your team sheet but from having one and a half dozen players who could all feature at any point.

It is experience like this that convinces all about Taylor. He knows football at this level and how to win at it and part of that is – he seems to say – ensuring that you have a depth of player who all can be used. I would agree with the manager. The notion that – at League Two level – there is an ocean of quality to choose from simply does not agree with the football we have seen over the last three years or longer.

So the performance of David Syers and Jake Speight – non-league signings awaiting their first start for City in the league – will be heartening with both showing their usefulness in the League Cup. Speight is itching to go and his header in the week seemed to bury the last of the decent that surrounded him while Syers performance was understated and on the whole unrecognised.

Syers is a rare thing. A player who shows his enthusiasm through his disciplined play, who shows his passion by sticking to his man. He has filled a huge gap in the side that would have been left when the last of the ideal midfield three of Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and Tommy Doherty departed on Tuesday and as resources in the middle are thin his first start seems to be imminent.

Seeing Taylor deploy Syers as well as Chib Chilaka on Tuesday night in a team which also contained James Hanson and Steve Williams showed the current manager’s commitment to continuing the recruitment of players from outside the League structure which shows an added depth to the squad. Without wanting to afford the plaudits to Syers before he has even started a game in players like Syers, Hanson and Williams Taylor gets a resource in the squad previous managers have not.

These players are the Danny Forrests, Craig Benthams and Jake Wrights of City’s past who have learnt that when you exit your league club you end up in a Supermarket or cutting hair and having been given the second chance you work for need to work harder to maintain it.

There is a lesson for many players who are in the squad, or have been, about attitude and one which Syers is testament to. Work hard and good things will come, and more power to his elbow in that.

Assuming the main midfield three are out then Syers will be alongside Tom Adeyemi and perhaps a press ganged striker or defender although probably Bullock or Doherty will return to action. The three in midfield are to be expected to have more work to do with the two wider players deployed on Tuesday night in a 451 being the strikers of a 433 if you will allow me the vagueness of tactical talk.

Gareth Evans is expected to be one of those strikers, Jake Speight hoped to be another with Omar Daley dropping down to the bench. There are few things in football that thrill me more than watching a winger like Daley charging at men but this season, and this set up, do not suit the Jamaican and one worries about his place in the squad.

Certainly Taylor recognises that as a player Daley offers an abundance of energy which can make an unplayable winger but the restrictions on his play and requirement to have him tuck in to the midfield and come back defensively weight heavy – certainly Taylor does not share the love of wide, wide men that his predecessors Stuart McCall and Colin Todd did. Daley represents is a tough call and one that assumes that City will both carry on with the 433 and Taylor for the foreseeable future.

James Hanson seems to be far too useful to not play in every game he can but he has been carrying an injury all season and Chib Chilaka represents an alternative in holding the ball up up front.

The backline will hope that Southend don’t bring Preston’s laser guided football ad that keeping the opposition to thirty yards will be as successful as it was against Stevenage. Zesh Rehman moved to right back to replace Lewis Hunt and will continue alongside Steve Williams and probably Luke Oliver who seems to have a much worse reputation than his performances suggest. Then again failing him coming onto the field and slaughtering a chicken then bathing in its blood in front of the family stand it is hard to see what Oliver could have do to live up to the reputation that the adequate no nonsense player seems to be developing.

It is said of Oliver that he is without skill – he is a central defender – and that he his a big turning circle which is true but as the defender tasked with going to the ball rather than tidying up behind he is hardly needed to spin on a One Euro coin. The fact that he does what he does and little else seems to take away – in some people’s eyes – from the fact that he does what he does to such a point where he is criticised after the Stevenage game where he is the heart of a clean sheet.

Perhaps he can juggle, dance and sing and that could win him friends but as long as he gets his head to what he can as often as he can and lets Steve Williams tidy up behind him I’m happy. Effort is all in the game but manifests itself in different ways.

Luke O’Brien will continue at left back in front of Jon McLaughlin. Bradford City goalkeepers and Southend United have previous history and perhaps it was that which prompted the move of the game forward an evening considering Saturday’s situation.

Certainly the racist Southend fans who left me threatening messages on my answerphone following the Donovan Ricketts sending off and the ructions that followed would be able to make a weekend of the trip to Bradford but never are the whole collection of football supporters represented by the thoughts and actions of a subset.

Empathy for the plight of Southend United then, but City, City fans and especially Peter Taylor have little room to offer sympathy.

The story, and the story not told

When they come to talk about Peter Taylor’s time at Bradford City they will say that in this season City were – once again – knocked out in the League Cup in the early rounds but after an evening of extra time and anything but the meek surrender that has come in previous exits to high division oppositions the Bantams can feel unlucky to not be in the third round draw.

Unlucky and unfavoured by a Referee in Christopher Sarginson who have carte blanche to the visitors from Preston North End who will remember a couple of great goals from this evening but will look back at the game with a worry that but for being allowed strong arm tactics which many, if not most, officials would have taken a dim view of they would have struggled.

Having bested Nottingham Forest in the first round after extra time City learnt a lesson and afforded less respect to the Championship side getting close and tight to them. Taylor sent out a five man midfield leaving Gareth Evans chasing shadows often but the ball when he could and at one point muscling his way past Sean St Ledger to hit a low shot that cannoned off Andrew Lonergan’s post and bounced away.

City were set up to counter-attack the visitors surrendering space to a crowded midfield and looking to suck Preston on, and spring a ball forward quickly but the problem that City encountered was not that this plan failed but that Referee Sarginson allowed it to be undone through unfair means.

One attack from David Syers – again impressive in the Bantams midfield – was broken up before it started when Keith Treacy rugby tackled the blonde midfielder to the ground with resultant finger wagging while right back David Gray stopped Luke O’Brien going forward with support to out number defenders with a two footed tackle that he was as lucky to only be yellow carded for as O’Brien was to walk away from.

Later in the game Paul Coutts and Gareth Evans would end up both going into a tackle with two feet. Both should have been sent off but Sarginson seemed to be Refereeing using something like pre-season friendly rules and as a result the team that muscled – and got away with – more ended up winning the contest.

Which was hard on the Bantams who matched the opposition stride for stride going a goal behind just before half time when Coutts hit a low drive unerringly accurately from range that arrowed into the bottom corner of Jon McLaughlin’s goal. McLaughlin was still cursing himself for letting the ball squirm away from him in the previous attack when he could have held it but once again made a half dozen superb saves.

As good as it was Coutts’s goal was outdone by Treacy’s winner in injury time which more or less finished the tie off. The midfield hit a powerful high and near unstoppable drive that swung out and into City’s goal. It was a superb strike and City’s heads – on and off the field – dropped after.

The Bantams had a time to win the game as Taylor added James Hanson and Jake Speight to bolster the forward line and then – as a last throw of the dice – threw on Chib Chilaka who showed his usefulness when a Lewis Moult throw in found him in the box and the man mountain shoved off three tackles to poke the ball to Luke O’Brien who crossed to Speight hanging at the front post to equalise.

On the front foot City huffed at Lonergan’s goal and Speight once again looked lively and dangerous. Extra time saw David Syers hit a looping shot that pinged off the bar but not long after Preston scored and the game was gone.

The Bantams deserve the plaudits for an evening of hard work and no little excitement while Preston will worry that without two exquisite strikes they seemed to have no path to goal. On loan striker Joshua King was nullified and were it not for the two well hit long rangers then they offered little else. City crafted more clear chances although a note goes to eighteen year old New Zealander Bailey Wright who came off the bench at half time for Preston and looked superb.

That Preston relied on low percentage football – and physical football – to win the game it the counter balance to City’s win over Stevenage who were they able to ping a shot in from thirty yards would have tonked the Bantams. If City did not deserve that win then – one is forced to say – they must have deserved this one.

Perhaps, perhaps not but certainly Taylor can take pride from his charges tonight and they way they matched a team from the divisions above in their approach. The records will show City went out before the last club had come in – again – but the evening told a better story for the Bantams.

A story which should have been different. Christopher Sarginson should not have allowed a good number of tackles tonight and players should have been sent off. He should have booked other players and at one point got to the stage where a player both straight armed Speight and then cleared the ball seventy yards after the free kick had been given and still was not sent off.

The sight of Treacy obnoxiously slowly wandering to take a pair of corners to waste time and try drag the game out to penalties was just the visitors showing a proverbial middle finger to the official having guessed that the man in black was not about to start punishing them as he should have. The whole game was littered with occasions where Sarginson saw offences that are mandated as cautions and opted not to book. In one hundred and twenty minutes of football these things would have added up.

The disappointment was not that City went out, or that City went out to a team that without two nice get of out jail free lashes from distance, but that the rigours of a Referee prepared to enforce the rules of the game as laid down (including – for those who would paint this as myopia – sending off Evans) would have probably made for a more exciting, better match.

The Invincibles

When taken over a long enough time line most things tend towards a level. Preston North End arrive at Valley Parade for the second round of the League Cup in a way that illustrates this perfectly.

Darren Ferguson – “Sonnov” of you will – was pleased to get his first win of the season for the team which under Alan Irvine seemed to be in permanent residence in the top half of the second tier of English football. Irvine’s side knocked on the door of the Premier League but never went in and the sight of local rivals Blackpool doing just that almost by accident is a hard one for the Deepdale supporters.

Not that one need consider Preston North End a team who should be in residence in the top half of tier two. In the 1980s and much of the 1990s they were a side who populated the bottom two leagues. After the war they were fixtures in the top flight. In 1888/89 won both the inaugural Football League and the year’s FA Cup without losing a game. To paraphrase Wells they started at the top and worked their way down.

Which is the real Preston North End? The Invincibles of the 1880s? The stable top flight club? The lower league side? The Irvine incarnation? If all things tend towards a level what level are Preston North End to end up as?

On Sunday morning the Wikipedia entry stated the club was in the Blue Square Premier with a note that some fan was “planning ahead” making his thoughts on the club’s level clear based – seemingly – on a start that saw them defeated by Doncaster and Swansea. A win over Portsmouth on Saturday might have changed his mind but the illustration of football as short term thinking could not be clearer.

Ignore the last 125 years, it is the last 180 minutes of football that count.

So to Bradford City and Peter Taylor who watched his side concede an early goal and have a man sent off before losing at Torquay United on the back of a win which the manager had to join some supporters in criticising and a defeat at Shrewsbury Town prompted some members of the Bradford City community to write off the season before 270 of the 4,140 minutes of football in a league season had been played.

This runs contrary to the great hope of Bradford City supporters that the maxim that all things tend towards a level will see the club level in the longer term somewhere around the position Preston North End are now – half way down the second tier. That idea holds that the mass of the club is such that eventually – and on a longer time frame – City will rise the leagues through osmosis.

Catchment area, size of supporter base, budget available all factor into that equation which works over a longer term than 270 minutes and there is an idea that the actions which the club and its management (and the management of that management) takes serve to hamper that osmosis rather than aid it. Each of us would have a different view on which actions these are.

The 270 minutes of league football might have delighted Bantams supporters not – in that context – hardly matters. The calculation is done over 1,000s of hours of play not three games but cup football concerns itself with those shorter time frames and the joy of those 120 minutes against Nottingham Forest in the last round of this competition stand as a marked contrast to the league season.

One could put this down to any number of factors but choice d’jour is the idea that the Bantams go from being the big team in every League Two game to the small team when playing tier two sides and the resultant release of pressure allows the team to perform better. It is a hangover from the World Cup thinking and England’s choking where the weight of expectation – for whatever reason it is in place – is a barrier to performance.

When the players are considered to be good by virtue of the shirt they wear they play poorly, when they are considered to be poor they play well that is if you consider the league games to have been poor so far, many do not although Peter Taylor does and post game after Torquay he once again charged the players with the responsibility of performing better.

It is not hard to see why Taylor makes this mental challenge to the players. If they can beat Forest – a team which would be acknowledged as “better” footballers, they can beat anyone. The key to that performance being mindset. That – more than the choice of substitute or formation – is what makes a manager able to effect his team.

Prime target of Taylor’s more public coaching is Jon McLaughlin who the manager singled out as having made a pair of mistakes which caused concessions on Saturday. Having given the young keeper the number one shirt Taylor rides the youngster. Twelve month ago when it was considered that Simon Eastwood was making a mistakes that cost game the clamour for McLaughlin was marked. One doubts that Lloyd Saxton will be given a place in the side for this Preston game, or that there will be calls for him to be played.

At right back Lewis Hunt continues in the place of the injured Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien is expected to come in at left back for the suspended Robbie Threlfall. Taylor could differ from his pairing of Shane Duff and Luke Oliver to return Steve Williams to the side – Williams perhaps being better equipped to to copy with the more finessed play of the leagues above. Zesh Rehman is also in the reckoning.

The midfield three of Tommy Doherty, Lee Bullock and Tom Ademeyi pick themselves with Michael Flynn out for a month although David Syers – impressive in the last round – could be drafted in over the Norwich loanee who has been given clearance to play from his own club or Doherty who struggled on Saturday and is “not thought to be fully fit” which is often football fan code for “player playing badly, but we don’t want to say it cause we like him.”

James Hanson and Gareth Evans have played almost every minute for City this season as two of the front three and with Louis Moult making little impression since the season started Jake Speight than did in the win over Forest one can imagine Peter Taylor may see a chance to change up front.

Speight is struggling with an injury but he is expected to play some part in the two games this week – City also facing Southend United on Friday night – while Moult more than anyone has looked out of sorts so far. A young player with a good few months ahead of him he has time to change that.

Omar Daley has looked out of the fit of the side thus far this season while Chibuzor Chilaka – given a squad number on Saturday – also stands by.

Football viewed from afar

The thing about seeing City twice a year is that you spend the rest of the time trying to guess what the team are like.

You read match reports and watch highlights and your head makes up the rest of the game. You try to guess why the team does well or badly. You add the bits you read to the bits you see and you try see what makes the team good or bad from a long way away.

You get to see the odd game. Torquay is not that far from where we live and so you turn up all happy because you are getting to see the team you used to support week in week out but now you only see a couple of times and when you do you make sure you know all the names of the players and what people think of them, how they look on the Football League Show but seeing them play is different.

Wearing all white they look different to the claret team that kept me up watching Sky Sports News to see the winner against Forest or the one who had struggled to a win last week. I was expecting that kind of dour grinding out of a result. It didn’t take long to change.

I would have thought before today that John McLaughlin was a much more confident keeper than he looked when he stood stock still when tiny Gills winger Danny Stevens ran from the middle of the pitch and put the ball past him but he isn’t. He looked raw and not really the player who had demanded a chance for first team football like you’d believe from reading the talk about City.

Lots of supporting City from down here is about reading. You read the club’s website and you read the Telegraph and Argus. You read Fred Bloggs Bantams, BfB and Bantams Fan. You read Claret and Banter and The Official Message Board and you join in but you know you are cut off from it all because when you watch Zesh Rehman who you are led to believe is the worst sort of rubbish you think you must be watching a different player and when you see the so called bearded wonder Tommy Doherty you can’t see what people see in him at all.

I wanted to see Jake Speight today to see if you could see the horns and tail and I wanted to see more of Luke O’Brien because I liked his hustle last year. Louis Moult was supposed to be the great white hope. He hardly got noticed.

Rehman came on cause Robbie Threlfall was sent off after ten minutes for a handball that was caused by a lot of confusion and seemed a bit harsh but when you only see City a couple of times a year and they have already gone a goal down and conceded a penalty and had a red card then you think that everything is unfair. McLaughlin saved the penalty and then made a couple of other great stops. It is funny to see a footballer like McLaughlin who’s confidence lags behind his ability. Normally it is the other way around.

McLaughlin could have been at fault for the second goal when Chris Zebroski seemed to back the ball into the net but it was hard to tell in the melee. It seemed that the City keeper needed a drink of what they people who watch City drink. They assume that the Bantams are great and just need to play that way, McLaughlin can play great but doesn’t seem to know it.

City never looked like winning the game after the sending off although last year’s hero Gareth Evans looked good and James Hanson was good having two headers which could have been the first the home team conceded in the last fifty years or something. Three wins out of three for them so far. Taylor went to a wing backs formation taking off the disappointing beardeo and the fact that we were in the game as long as we were was something but I was glad for once to not have to be driving all the back to Bradford cause there was not very much to cheer you up.

Its funny but some of the City fans don’t want cheering up or the only way they do want cheering up is by Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes taking what they call drastic action. Over a drink before there was talk about Steve Cotterill and how he should have been appointed rather than Peter Taylor and how much of a difference that would have made. After there were more grumbles but no one really knows what drastic action is including me.

At the game some people got aggressive and there were boos and jeers. This always upsets me cause when I left Bradford I thought that the thing about only going to away games from then on would be that you only got the great support that we had at Tranmere 5-4. Not like that now.

The joint chairmen are in a funny position now. They gave the fans who wanted a change of manager a change of manager when Taylor was appointed so how can they justify not doing it again? Lawn and Rhodes gave the decision making at City over the the people who moaned the most and if those people are moaning again why not do as they say? Apart from the fact that we are three games into the season and have got what almost everyone agrees good manager. You have to wonder how long it is before stories about how nice the suits City wear are not enough to stop the fans from looking at the City board after changing manager time and time again but never changing fortunes.

So I’ll go back to reading (and writing) and wonder what state the Bantams will be in the next time I see them. We used to say it couldn’t be much worse but it always can and even when down and struggling today it never seemed that Taylor could do much other than make sure his players kept their heads and hung in the game. Last year Evans got us a bit of luck in the last minute and today we were in with a chance of that for a long time. It wasn’t to be and it looked unlikely for most of the match.

On Tuesday perhaps Speight will be in the team to play Preston North End and I’ll be back to following City from afar. Funny it is easier to see what is going wrong from miles away or at least it seems to be.

Peter Taylor and Stevenage

Fresh from his team’s heroic cup win over Nottingham Forest, this weekend Peter Taylor prepares for the first of eight games this season against teams he once managed. Since arriving initially as interim manager in February, much has rightly been made about Taylor’s strong managerial track record. But in-between successes at Gillingham, Hull and Wycombe there have been spells at other clubs which didn’t work out.

Tomorrow’s visitors Stevenage were one of them. It was November 2007 that Taylor became manager of the non-league outfit, an appointment which raised eyebrows around football. After enjoying back-to-back promotions with Hull in 2004 and 2005 and then keeping the Tigers in the Championship, Taylor moved onto Crystal Palace in the summer 2006 but couldn’t lift the recently-relegated Eagles back towards the Premier League. He was sacked after barely a year.

Which is when he popped up at Stevenage. Up-coming manager Mark Stimson had resigned to move to Gillingham, with the Boro third in the Conference and having won the FA Trophy the season before. Taylor was supposed to have signed an 18-month contract, partly due to a friendship with Chief Executive Bob Makin; but the apparent coup of appointing the man who famously made David Beckham England captain failed to see the club’s strong position built upon.

Matthew Kett of fcboro.co.uk told BfB, “Before Stimson left, the club was on the up and really looking forward to a good season. His departure led to a lot of player unrest with a number of players following the manager to Gillingham. Taylor walked into all that so it was not the ideal job. He basically had to re-build the squad from scratch, but the players he brought in were not good enough and we ended the season outside the play-offs after being in the hunt for the whole season.

“There were rumours that Taylor wasn’t very hands on while at Boro, but I don’t think his heart was ever in the job really. Taylor’s style of football was very much a direct approach. The players he signed showed this. We signed a lot of players with little or no technique, including Junior Lewis who seems to follow Taylor wherever he goes. He was one of the worst signings that season.”

With the campaign ending so disappointingly, Taylor didn’t stick around. “He joined us signing an 18 month contract, although this was later palmed off with the excuse that it was a 6 month deal with the view of an 18 month deal if both parties agreed,” added Matthew. “His aim was to get us promoted and then see us through our first League campaign.

“Of course, it didn’t work out that way and the end of the 2007/2008 season was one of the worst times to be a Boro supporter. We were losing every other game and the style of football was awful.

“Taylor came across as if he wasn’t really bothered and you got the feeling that he saw the job as a stop gap before going back into the League the following summer. He even had a poor relationship with the local media, once complaining about the length of an interview. It was 3 minutes by the way.”

That summer Taylor moved back into the Football League and Wycombe, guiding the Chairboys to automatic promotion, Stevenage also recovered from a difficult season, and appear to have little to regret about the way things worked out. “I thought Taylor was a good choice at the time and I’m sure that if he really wanted the job and gave it a good go, he could have at least got us in the play-offs,” concluded Matthew. “However, he didn’t seem to want it and I felt that he was just playing out the games at the end. He wasn’t bothered win, lose or draw.

“As you may know, since then we have re-appointed Graham Westley, which wasn’t a popular decision at the time. Westley was previously with us between 2003-2006, but left under a bit of a cloud. Since coming back he has built a good team and got us promoted as Champions.”

So don’t expect a warm welcome for City’s manager from the visiting fans tomorrow. While Taylor’s popularity levels have probably hit new heights in the wake of the way he managed to turn around Tuesday’s League Cup tie, the opinion of Stevenage fans show just how differently sets of supporters can form a view of a manager.

Paul Jewell, for example, is widely loved by us for what he did. Yet Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and – incredibly – some Wigan fans hold a very different view about the man who took City to the Premiership. Conversely Hearts and Charlton fans have more favourable opinions of Jim Jefferies and Lennie Lawrence respectively, compared to how the duo are perceived at Valley Parade.

What it shows, above all else, is how rare it is that managers replicate previous success when moving to different clubs. Few, if any, get it right everywhere they go, and the likes of Taylor have black marks on their CV they’d rather gloss over in favour of achievements enjoyed elsewhere. The times when it does go wrong should hopefully provide lessons to learn and get right in future. And if the spell at Stevenage didn’t work out for their supporters, one hopes we City fans will enjoy some benefits from a disappointing time.

City go into tomorrow’s match looking for their first points of the season, following the opening day defeat at Shrewsbury. Not only was the downbeat mood firmly washed away by Tuesday’s unexpected victory, but the fact it was achieved with seven changes to the starting line up underlines the strength of the squad available.

A spine is emerging. Jon McLaughlin bounced back from a less-than-convincing game at New Meadow to make a string of outstanding saves against Forest – all the more commendable after he suffered an injury in the second half. In front of him the two centre halves Shane Duff and Steve Williams were outstanding. Williams has made a hugely impressive start to the season and has seized the early initiative to become first choice. Zesh Rehman and Luke Oliver will have to bide their time.

Luke O’Brien or Robbie Threlfall for left back? The latter was torn to shreds by Lionel Ainsworth on Saturday , the former had an excellent evening on Tuesday despite also suffering from lack of defensive cover in front of him at times. Simon Ramsden should get his first opportunity of the season in his natural right back slot.

In midfield Tommy Doherty will probably line up alongside Tom Adeyami, who missed the midweek drama. If Robbie makes left back Luke may be pushed to left midfield, as Omar Daley went off injured half time on Tuesday and may not be risked from the start. Lee Bullock was also subbed at the interval, and the surprisingly terrific display of replacement David Syers may have pushed the former Farsley player – who finds out before Saturday whether his trial has been a success – above him.

Up front goalscoring hero James Hanson looked much sharper and fitter midweek, and was badly missed during the first 45 minutes before he came on. The second half of the game was broadcast live on Radio 5 Live, and summariser Kevin Radcliffe was full of praise for Hanson’s display. Gareth Evans was not involved at all and should be back, with Jake Speight or Louis Moult taking the other spot of a likely three up front formation. Speight in particular made a big impact midweek; and though it’s not the kindest of comparisons, his style of play does remind me of Danny Cadamarteri. Keep him away from the Night Nurse.

Stevenage have made a reasonable start to life in League Two, snatching a last minute equaliser to draw at home to Macclesfield before narrowly losing to Portsmouth in the cup. There main point of interest from a City perspective is the return of hero John Dreyer (assistant manager), who should deservedly receive a great ovation when he walks down the touchline.

This is a big afternoon for Stevenage, as Matthew explained, “I’m really looking forward to it. We had a good record away from home and the team will want to impress in their first away game in the football league. It’s also our first trip to a ‘big’ stadium since we played Leicester in the Cup a few years back. The club is on a high at the moment, so expect a noisy if not big away following.”

With special thanks to Matthew Kett of fcboro.co.uk

The Entire Unexpected Entrance of David Syers

Sometimes the difference between success and failure is a hair’s breadth, a slight thing, a nothing. On an evening like the 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest the difference is a chasm easily measured and evident to all.

For forty-five minutes the Bantams looked like a team ready to be beaten with some ease by a Nottingham Forest who represented the toughest draw in the hat in this League Cup first round. The Bantams were pedestrian, static, disinterested and Forest were not called on to be much better. At the end of the match – after the Bantams had scored twice – the change in attitude that had come at half time was the obvious and only reason for the turn around.

Matt Thornhill had finished off a cross which had seen Luke O’Brien left with two men to mark on the far post with Omar Daley – a threat going forward on his first game of the season – a long way away. The cross had come in too easily, the play that build up to the cross was too easy, it was all a bit too easy.

Tommy Doherty and Lee Bullock in the midfield were second best with a physical Guy Moussi and Chris Cohen finding space to play and the Bantams forwards were disjointed to say the least. Louis Moult had a rude awakening playing a pair of Championship central defenders who divided Moult and his partner Jake Speight and kept the one quiet.

Keeping Speight quiet would seem to be impossible. To call the player a handful would be an understatement. Even as the Bantams struggled the new recruit from Mansfield was in perpetual motion stretching defenders who had not a moment of peace. In the opening exchanges there was a problem getting the ball to stick for City up front but at the end of the match Speight had won enough battles with defender Wes Morgan that he was given the yard of space to control the ball.

Speight’s major contribution was winning the free kick which resulted in James Hanson’s winning goal. A ball played into the striker saw him turn Morgan and bare down on goal only to have his legs taken away. Morgan was – perhaps – lucky to not be red carded for the offence which was the culmination of any number of clashes which saw physical tackles resulting on players on the Speight on the floor often.

You can, dear reader, take a view on Speight and why tackles on him that saw him left on the floor resulted in so few free kicks but none would deny that the lively forward was a pain the the Nottingham Forest backside all evening. His flicks, his control, his ability to take control of a ball fast are excellent and he seems set to start causing trouble on the field for City, rather than off it.

The free kick for the foul a Speight was struck at goal by Simon Ramsden – a second half sub who settled into the midfield – with keeper Lee Camp showing the Bantams a half of the net to strike the ball to. Moult obliged and Camp saved only for Steve Williams to force back at goal and Hanson to tidy into the net for his first goal of the season.

Hanson – who also joined the action at half time – rarely lost a header all evening and Forest found him hard to cover. His power in the air – and the accuracy of those won headers – is uncanny. Lets hope no one notices before the transfer window closes and if they do lets value him alongside Adam Le Fondre at £3m to scare suitors away.

It would be easy to note Hanson’s entry – the target man coming on and a switch to a 433 – as being the difference between the opening forty five minutes of lifelessness and the second half of dogged determination. The ball stuck more but more than that the attitude changed and that change was marked in the entire unexpected entrance of David Syers.

David Syers signed non-contract forms this afternoon. He played for Farsley Celtic and Harrogate Town last season and played cricket in the summer. Twelve minutes after coming off the bench in his first proper game he fixed his eyes on a ball that went loose in the box and charged at it to touch the ball into the unguarded goal.

Speight had burst though and Camp had gone down well at his feet and Syers locked onto the ball and would not be stopped, eating up grass as he hurtled towards the ball. Determination evident, delight obvious. Syers – like Hanson, McLaughlin and Williams – shows the drive of a player who seems to appreciate the position he was in before being a footballer and plays in a way to ensure that continues.

Syers brought to the midfield a level of combativeness which had been lacking – he was pushed off the ball by Moussi and roared back with a classy chunk away of a tackle which typified the second half and extra time display – but one doubts that one can put the resurgence down to his entrance. The Dennis Compton of Bradford he may be but there was something else at play.

Nor indeed would one put the turnaround down to buttock/rocket interfacing by Peter Taylor at half time – the players did not come out fired up and angry – but rather there was a belief which started in the dressing room with perhaps a reminder that if the simple things of football were to be done well then the performance would improve.

Indeed it did and by the time Syers scored the Bantams had inched back into the game which – at the end of extra time – they had travelled the mile chasm of performance to win.

It was a win marked with this increasingly belief – this augmenting confidence – which manifested in performances all over the field. It is perhaps unfair to single out players in what was a entire team performance but Steve Williams deserves a mention for an outstanding display where he both rose the test test as a defender nicking balls away in tight Forest build up and a solid head-it-away kind of centrehalf. Shaun Shane Duff alongside him played well, Doherty sat back and moved the ball well. Jon McLaighlin made an outstanding save or two late on which early in a tentative display looked unlikely.

It was a well deserved win over a capable side. The draw for the next round will be interesting but whomever it throws up Taylor will hope City have learnt the lesson. When the players show belief in each other, confidence and faith in their own and their team mates abilities then there are fewer limits than one might think.

So now then

When last we convened for serious business, dear reader, Peter Taylor’s Bradford City had gone a half dozen games wining four and drawing two guiding the club away from the lowest finish since 1966 towards a middle of the league end point.

As we saw in the summer, a lot has changed since 1966.

These four wins: Crewe away and Northampton Town, Barnet and Morecambe at home; form the basis for the optimism with which City come into the season. In the match before the six game run – a 2-1 home defeat to Macclesfield Townthe situation was described thus: “PT seems to be doing at the moment is losing the confidence of the paying customer and relying purely on a reputation.”

Taylor was – it was said – “achieving (results) with Stuart’s squad not his own” and some four months on little in the personnel has changed but one doubts that when Taylor saw the squad he thought there was a problem with the ability of the side and recalling the Bury games before he arrived one would agree.

Nevertheless the attitude at and around the club has changed. Optimism – however founded – is in the core of beliefs on which performance is based and Taylor’s robust team is built on the idea of a long term belief in the success of the season rather than an obsession on individual games. Taylor – as with Paul Jewell – is keen for his side to shake off the hangovers or elation which rolled over from McCall’s side’s games.

So on opening day of the season as City go to Shrewsbury Town Taylor will be thinking not of the discreet entity but rather the forty six game whole.

Jon McLaughlin – who did not play a part against Bradford (Park Avenue) in the week – is expected to start the season as number one keeper. One hopes the young custodian makes no mistakes all season but should he – and one remembers the World Cup again – then one has to wonder if the clamour for his understudy to be given a chance will be as vocal as it was when McLaughlin played second fiddle to a faltering Simon Eastwood.

Should McLaughlin not play then Lloyd Saxton stands by but one doubts he will enjoy the same pressure for his inclusion as McLaughlin enjoyed twelve months ago. Junior Chris Elliott is the Bantams’ first choice.

Simon Eastwood Ramsden is captain and comes into the season as right back with Zesh Rehman and Lewis Hunt available as cover for the position, and for central defensive roles. Similarly Robbie Threlfall is left back elect with Luke O’Brien – his cover – considered by Taylor as much as a midfielder as a full back the very capable young Louis Horne also serves a left back cover.

Many may debate who is expected to start in the middle of the back four. Steve Williams is thought to be highly thought of by Taylor while new arrival Shaun Duff probably has not moved after a decade at Cheltenham to sit on the bench but Duff’s decade in the lower leagues does not suggest that pedigree of Zesh Rehman while Luke Oliver is – well – really big.

If Taylor has a job this season then it is to get the best out of a player like Zesh Rehman who no few people will tell you is a poor footballer – a concept alien to me – but has obvious talents which were the cornerstone of the six game run at the end of last term which the confidence for this year is built from. Likewise Steve Williams’s abilities are not to be squandered although were I to be a betting man I would suspect that the former barber will not be making the cut and Duff will make his City debut alongside Rehman.

You, dear reader, may have different views.

The midfield three picks itself when fit – or so we expect – with Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Michael Flynn presenting an impressive engine room but Doherty is not expected to make the game with Tom Adeyemi filling in in that way that might prove hard to dislodge. Michael Flynn is hopeful of playing but Luke O’Brien stands by to fill in for the Welshman. Ryan Harrison and Luke Dean enjoyed wretched pre-seasons with Dean breaking a leg and Harrison struggling to partake in the robust midfield battle.

Gareth Evans is likely to be leading the line in the absence of James Hanson who is suffering a back problem that will most likely restrict him to the bench keeping the former Manchester United and Macclesfield man out of a chance of playing in one of the wide berths. Louis Moult has not looked the same kind of battering ram as Hanson but could be used in the middle striker’s role to hang off the shoulder of a high defence.

It is hard to understand the significance of the two wider roles in Peter Taylor’s mind this season. 433 is a notoriously hard to play formation with a requirement for these two wide players to be able to either track back with on coming full backs or fall into the midfield to create a five while always being aware that should they fall too deep, not break quick enough, and isolate the central striker the formation becomes not only defensive but also utterly ineffectual.

Away from Valley Parade Taylor will no doubt hope to create a bolstered midfield and his selections in these two positions can flex to accommodate that.

Taylor is without the injured Leon Osborne and the suspended Omar Daley for this game but does have Jake Speight, Scott Neilson and Moult. Taylor has seen more of Moult than most others and will know how well equipped the Stoke striker who scored two in his first two pre-season games is to the wide role. Should the gaffer believe Moult can play a wide left role then it seems that he will most likely get that role with Neilson on the right otherwise Speight will make a debut.

As with Taylor bringing an optimistic side into this season there was a time when that looked highly unlikely.

Watching the grass grow

Players sent to prison for a weekend, players sent to prison for twenty five years. Accusations of lies told to City by Jake Speight, from City by Guiseley. Plans coming to pass, plans falling apart. All along though there has been a constant message coming from Valley Parade.

The grass is growing.

City look forward to a season in which increasingly they are tipped for promotion with a grounded optimism based – perhaps – on three years of League Two football on which it was observed that it was not the best but the most resilient sides which got promoted. The sides who were best able to learn from and forget the last result to move onto the next.

So three days after Rochdale City play a final pre-season game and one is reminded how Peter Taylor’s side turned around in the three days between an atrocious defeat at Accrington Stanley to a fine win at Spotland.

That resilience contrasted with Stuart McCall’s side which lived on rollovers and hangovers that took the baggage of one game into the other be it from eight game unbeaten runs of ten game spells without wins. Taylor’s side are less emotional, and from that comes the idea that they will be a more stable creation. Flatter perhaps but easier to play.

Like the grass at Valley Parade which has been the club’s main news focus of the summer.

The turf at Valley Parade has been relaid on the instructions of Peter Taylor who wants a green carpet. Gone are the Peter Beagrie Bog relaid for the left winger to enjoy in the second half, gone are the sandy beaches of the box and in the place comes the luxurious carpeting in City’s new home.

City’s new home and Bradford Park Avenue’s old ground – the other Bradford club spent some time at Valley Parade as a part of the decline to termination at the start of the 1970s – but the Wool City Derby is one of football’s forgotten games last played competitively 1969 with the scores left standing – hanging even – with City having won 20 and Park Avenue 21 of 58.

Park Avenue’s progress up the leagues is slow and City fans debate the merits of that but they start a season in Northern Premier League Premier Division three leagues below the Bantams.

Avenue will most likely field three former City players – Kevin Sanasy, Diddy David Brown and Tom Claisse – with the former player especially interesting to see. A hotheaded player when a Bantam but Sanasy who had some ability and it will be interesting to see how he has progressed.

The Bantams hope to have Michael Flynn fit enough to play a part in expectation of a return for the opening game of the season at Shrewsbury Town on Saturday although Tommy Doherty is unlikely to play in either. Tom Adeyemi, Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien are likely to be the midfield three behind Omar Daley and Scott Neilson supporting Gareth Evans with James Hanson out injured with goalscorer from Saturday Louis Moult starting on the bench alongside Jake Speight.

Jon McLaughlin sits behind a back four of Simon Ramsden on one side and Robbie Threlfall the other with Zesh Rehman and one of Shaun Duff, Luke Oliver and Steve Williams alongside, most likely the former.

Here comes the season

Rochdale and Bradford City took to the pitch with the words of  The Stone Roses’ “This is the moment I’ve waited for” blasting out of the Spotland PA system. And while we all know that moment is really still another week away, there’s a sense of liberation in reaching this point.

The close season is almost over, another lengthy break from football survived. For the sizeable travelling City support, Saturdays have now returned to being about going to the football. 46 league games to look forward to, three cup competitions to take a curious interest in.

We’ve made it. Now let’s get started.

There’s so much analysis and debate about whether pre-season friendlies really matter, but I think what we all want to gain at this time of year is re-assurance that the players are ready and able for the many battles ahead. And in a decent workout against opponents who begin next week a league above, there was much to feel assured about. City were every bit Rochdale’s equals this afternoon, and that was while missing key players.

A few weeks back, manager Peter Taylor  stated this game was ideal preparation for Shrewsbury, and the 4-5-1 formation he employed in the first half offer strong clues to his thinking for the tricky opening day trip to the New Meadow. The sole forward today was the clearly confident Gareth Evans, who has maintained his strong end of season form into pre-season at least. While not best suited to the target man role, Evans was charging all over the final third to make himself available to others, attempting to hold up the ball so midfield runners could get forward and support him.

Apart from a tentative performance from Omar Daley on the left wing, this approach was largely successful with Scott Neilson in excellent form and on-loan Norwich teenager Tom Adeyemi catching the eye with his box-to-box style. Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien largely held central positions in the middle of the park, and the ball retention from City was particularly impressive. Patience took precedence over urgency, as the ball was methodically worked around the pitch. Robbie Threlfall came closest to scoring during the first half, with a long range drive.

Taylor reverted to 4-4-2 after the break, with new strikers Jake Speight and Louis Moult brought on and O’Brien moved to left wing. Within 10 minutes of his first appearance in claret and amber, Moult latched onto Adeyemi’s through ball and firing a perfect low shot into the bottom corner to put City in front. Taylor had previewed Moult’s arrival on Friday by stating he was signing a striker who offered something different to what he had, and his style of playing on the shoulder of the last man is certainly that.

The lead was short lived as former City loanee Chris O’Grady found space, following a partial clearance, to fire a low shot past Jon McLaughlin; with the City keeper initially unsighted due to the number of players in the box. And when a minute later Lewis Hunt – another half time sub – tripped Jean Louis Akpo-Akpra inside the area, a credible win looked set to turn into defeat.

O’Grady’s run-up for the penalty was similar in length to Blanco’s for Mexico against France at the World Cup. As he got closer, he kept adjusting his pace, while McLaughlin erratically moved left-to-right on his line and feigned to commit himself to going to his left. The mind games were won by City’s new number one, who did actually dive to his left and superbly kept out a decently-struck spot kick. It should be noted McLaughlin’s performance was far from flawless, he looked very tentative from crosses in particular. But as confidence boosts a week before a season go, he couldn’t have asked for a better moment.

City shaded the final 20 minutes, with the much-discussed Speight making more of an impression as the game went on. He is quite small with quick feet, but what  really stood out was his strength in holding up the ball. The reaction from supporters near me when he came on suggests he has much convincing to do after what’s gone on, but by the end he’d offered some evidence to justify Taylor’s faith.

Defensively City looked strong all afternoon. Zesh Rehman barely put a foot wrong, Oliver caught the eye with his passing ability. His half time replacement Shane Duff seems to be an excellent acquisition and Hunt, who looks a bit like Richard Edghill, should be adequate back-up for the on-form Simon Ramsden. A big question mark with the 4-5-1 formation, if employed, is the tracking back of the midfield. Certainly Neilson cannot afford to allow opposition full backs to brush past him in the manner Joe Widdowson regularly managed in the first half.

Adeyemi almost snatched a late winner with a superb long-range shot that was tipped over, and when the final whistle was blown seconds later a buzz of satisfaction emanated from City fans as they warmly applauded the players off. The first Saturday back – none of the others are likely to be as relaxing as this.

For as the season kicks off for real at 3pm next Saturday, the expectation levels also return. City are touted as favourites by some bookies, and how that will translate into the weekly battles remains to be seen. What will our reaction be if City lose at Shrewsbury? 45 games still to go, but the pressure will surely increase. And while this workout offered plenty of indications that the players are taking on board Taylor’s instructions, applying it when the grumbles are reigning down from the stands is another matter.

Can the patient passing approach withstand the predictable bellows of “FORWARDS” from some fans?

All we know about this season is that City will win some games and City will also lose some games (the rest will probably be draws), and how the ups and downs are managed will probably determine whether this is the season it finally comes together.

Rochdale may still be a league above us, but that didn’t stop our light-hearted chants about how small and rubbish their set up is compared to ours. We, and others, consider Bradford City “too big for League Two”. But that inevitably creates a level of pressure on the players which their rivals on the pitch simply don’t feel. Whether it lifts or weighs them down cannot be calculated during a relaxing pre-season game, but we’re about to find out whether they have the mental strength to make our dreams come true.

This is the moment, the moment to go back into the pressure cooker.

The start of the most interesting season

This season will be fascinating. Every move will be analysed, every game mark a position, ever result considered as a proof of a concept about building slowly and in a determined fashioned. One can only guess at the outcome too – a team that takes change as part of progress, that sees development as a thing done over years, not over a summer.

It will be a very interesting League One season for Rochdale.

After the best part of four decades in the basement division Rochdale have gained an upward mobility which saw them promoted last season despite having sold – to a club who plead poverty for a figure they did not disclose – their best player in Adam Le Fondre but prospered because of the strength of the unit. Defender Craig Dawson is looking to move on this summer with the club waiting for someone to match the £1m valuation they put on him and – once again – Keith Hill will look to his side’s whole being able to withstand the withdrawal of one of the parts.

Rochdale are an object lesson in the idea of retention. Keith Hill has been at the club since his retirement being in charge of the youth side, then the assistant manager and finally as manager. The squad has long service – captain Gary Jones has played 229 games for the club – and with that has come a resilience.

One could take issue with other things about Spotland but on the field there is much to admire about Rochdale and their progress this term represents a test of their ideals.

Bradford City represent something of a contrast being a club that has firm and fast plans off the field which have seen the club be rightfully proud of being one of only two professional football clubs in the black as well as taking firm action against troublemakers. The commercial side of operations at Valley Parade come on a pace we are told and off the field – despite the legacy of huge debts ten years ago – the club are in rude health.

It just goes wrong when kicking a football come into the equation. It would not be true to say City do not have a plan on how to go forward – they have lots of plans – and they change on a regular basis.

Over the summer Peter Taylor has gone about augmenting what he inherited when he moved into Valley Parade while keeping some things in place. Wayne Jacobs, Michael Flynn, James Hanson, Steve Williams and Jon McLaughlin have all benefited from this as the manager recognises that all retention builds institutional knowledge. Nevertheless Hanson and Williams both arrived as part of the club’s plan of harvesting the lower leagues. That came after the club’s plan of spending £600,000 on talent. Remember City’s Mexican academy? City had a plan that included with Royal Racing FC Montegnee and the development of young players? A side note here is that the Bantams Belgian partners picked up Willy Topp on January three years after City took him from them RRFCM’s grasp.

While Rochdale have been pursuing a single approach, City have had many and perhaps they would have all failed in the long term but having not been given that time who could say?

Taylor’s one year contract evidences this – clearly the best man for the job – with the club hedging bets so that another plan can be sprung into place to replace the current one which at the moment is “the right thing.” If you buy enough lottery tickets then one day you will win, maybe.

Taylor has something of an injury crisis on his hands with James Hanson – who is expected to lead the line for the season – struggling to be fit for the first day with Gareth Evans and a new mystery striker who the manager hopes to sign today – replacing him in the forward one of a 433.

Evans would be deployed as a wider player alongside the likes of Scott Neilson, Jake Speight, Leon Osborne who is injured, Omar Daley who is suspended for the opening day of the season and perhaps Ryan Harrison and Norwich loanee Tom Adeyemi who are midfielders who may move forward.

For Speight the chance to play in front of his new fans and start to build bridges after a summer of sentences and suggestions will be welcome. If every a player needed a good start to his City career it is Speight.

City’s idea midfield three are Flynn, Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty but the bearded maestro is injured suggesting that Adeyemi may be used in the middle although Luke O’Brien may slot onto the left hand side of a three as he did last year. With James O’Brien leaving this week City seem light in the midfield area with those three, the Norwich loan player and youngsters Luke Dean and Ryan Harrison and perhaps Taylor will be looking to replace the exiting Irishman.

At the back the Bantams have some strength and the names write themselves on a team sheet: Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, new recruit Shaun Duff and Robbie Threlfall; Luke Oliver may yet end up pressed into attack once more – that is a pudding that is only for the eating – and Zesh Rehman would seem to be marked to provide cover for Ramsden and the central players.

If Taylor has one aim this year it should be to get Rehman – who has a pedigree of playing Premiership football – to perform appropriately consistency. Rehman put in a half dozen excellent performances towards the end of the last season under Taylor and if the manager is the manager everyone (seemingly including Fabio Capello) thinks he is then it will be in getting performances out of the likes of Rehman which will evidence that.

In goal Jon McLaughlin is expected to get the number one shirt with Lloyd Saxton to wait for his chance as McLaughlin did.

City face Rochdale and then entertain Bradford Park Avenue at Valley Parade on Tuesday before starting the season on Saturday at Shrewsbury. At least that is the plan.

First day back

Like the final stages of the return journey from a lengthy holiday, where the streets and surroundings suddenly become recognisable, Bradford City’s opening pre-season friendly at Eccleshill this evening delivered a mixture of joy and surrealism at the familiarity of it all. Life as we know it is just around the corner again, but the freshness of the ordinariness makes it all seem hard to imagine. Soon we’ll be uttering how it feels as though we were never even away.

City were comfortable winners this evening – eventually. A less than steady first half performance had all the hallmarks of that first day back in the office after vacation, where we’re more keen to show off our suntan and share holiday stories than settle back into the humdrum of work . City struggled to pass around the ball on a ridiculously bumpy surface, and found their non-league hosts more eager and focused to make an impression.

Though that thin line between competitive and combative was sadly crossed in the middle of the first half, where an over-the-top challenge by a home player left City youngster Luke Dean laid on the floor for over five minutes – eventually departing on a stretcher and straight to hospital. The half time queue for the Gents included a City director who told us supporters how Dean not long since recovered from a broken leg (the same one now badly injured) and we all hope a promising career has not just come to a premature end.

Fresh from warning friendly opponents to play these warm-up games in the right spirit, a clearly livid Peter Taylor ordered his counter-part Ian Banks to substitute the player who made such a reckless challenge. Those within earshot of the City manager claim he threatened not to bring out a team for the second half if the change wasn’t made.

But there was a lack of justice about withdrawing the player similar to that seen in the Burnley game two years ago. Why are such actions excused on the grounds it’s a friendly when they carry such potentially significant consequences? Despite Eccleshill hosting City’s reserves this season, if Taylor is still City’s manager next summer there will be no pre-season return to Plumpton Park.

But aside from a few other over-eager first half tackles, the game was played in the spirit it should and Eccleshill deserve credit for an industrious first half display which saw Jon McLaughlin much the busier keeper. City’s new number one tipped one long range effort onto the crossbar and palmed away another shot as the midfield badly failed to grasp control. If there was one minor positive of Dean’s withdrawal, it is that his replacement James O’Brien immediately exerted more influence in the middle of the park.

Going forward City struggled to make an impact. Matthew Tipton made his debut up front and within the first two minutes began lecturing Omar Daley about how he expected to be supported, in a manner you wouldn’t assume a guy from Macclesfield hoping to impress would talk to an experienced international. Daley looked tentative and failed to make much impact, a few dribbles ending with the wrong option taken.

The relative quietness that pre-season games are typical of was interrupted at one stage when Tipton unsuccessfully kept in an over-hit pass. In a league game opposition supporters would sarcastically cheer such a moment, so Tipton decided to produce the sound effect himself. A character, as they say.

Gareth Evans put City in front shortly before half time, when he hurriedly closed down a dithering keeper, who’s attempt to clear the ball upfield smacked against City’s number nine and bounced into the net.  The keepers’ embarrassment was shared by Evans, who looked uncomfortable celebrating that he’d shown him up. The impressive Luke Oliver almost made it two from a corner, as the second half City team warmed up on some grass behind the goal in preparation to take over.

Only the two O’Briens continued after half time, where a much stronger performance ensued. Michael Flynn took over alongside O’Brien in the centre and the visitors dominated the play. There can be few meaningful lessons to take home tonight, but the first half midfield without Flynn and the second half with the Welshman offered a visible reminder of his importance to the team this season.

The forgotten Scott Neilson also impressed, taking players on for fun and regularly bursting into the box. On the opposite flank the development of Leon Osborne seems to continue as he showed glimpses of his talent. It’s a big season for both players, but the early signs are encouraging. With second half captain James Hanson looking sharp and second trialist Lee Morris showing a few nice touches, the play was almost entirely in Eccleshill’s half. Numerous good chances were created with clever football, the woodwork was called into action twice.

Although not really tested, Shane Duff and Robbie Threlfall both caught the eye at the back, and a clean sheet was never in doubt. With a few minutes left, Hanson latched onto a rebound and powerfully fired the ball into the roof of the goal. Full time whistle blown seconds later, the handshakes between rival players and coaching staff was notably warm given the anger of an hour earlier.

So City up and running, but still with a long way to go. The first friendly is always a novelty which quickly gives way to tedium and anxiousness for time to pass more quicker. But there’s something hugely enjoyable about visiting friendly non-league grounds at this time of year, and the chance to drink beer while watching the game in the evening sunshine was a too-rare opportunity.

Football without the anxiousness, worry and inevitable pain. Joyful and surreal indeed.

Learning from Mark Paston

Of all the players who are taking the field in this World Cup I’m most pleased to see the Kiwi goalkeeper Mark Paston.

Paston – who saved the penalty that sent New Zealand to the World Cup – is a former City player and I saw most of the thirteen games he played before injury saw him released by the club. I thought he looked like a good goalkeeper but at the time the Bantams had a tendency to dump any custodian who made an error, conceded more than two or frankly who was no longer flavour of the month.

Watching Paston along with a number of other good keepers come in and then go out again quickly never getting a chance to settle or build up a relationship with defenders formed my opinion on how a manager should treat keepers which is to say the opposite of how Paston was treated at Valley Parade.

Pick a keeper, give him games, back him through mistakes. At the World Cup I would pick Robert Green in the second game were I Fabio Capello because I had played him in the first.

Likewise last season when Stuart McCall favoured Simon Eastwood despite the loan keeper’s mistakes I was – in a way – glad to see it. Not that I thought Eastwood was a good keeper – I did not – but one of the traits I like in a manager is picking a number one and staying with him.

Rotating goalkeepers, competition for the jersey, giving the other guy a go. They are common comments but – personally – I would dismiss them all.

To find a if a goalkeeper is good then it is no good watching him save shots for a dozen minutes but rather keep goal for a dozen games or more. To see how his positional judgement is, see how he builds up relationships with his defenders, see how much confidence he inspires in his backline.

Peter Taylor – as is often the case – would seem to understand this too. He watched Matt Glennon for a good while before deciding with a half dozen games to go that he wanted to see Jon McLaughlin and then gave the shirt to the younger man and superglued it to his back until the end of the season and longer.

So as Paston dips low to make a confident save from Vladimír Weiss as New Zealand start their first World Cup since 1982 I’m happy to catch up with a player I wish I’d seen more of and who obviously found someone who would put the confidence into him and when we see Oxford’s stopper Simon Eastwood it is worth reflecting how much faith the manager put into him, and perhaps how little it was rewarded.

Eastwood got what the likes of Paston, Boaz Myhill and the numerous other keepers that were thrown in and whipped out of the net in those days would have dreamed off – a chance to show what he can do for a half season – and had the Kiwi keeper had that chance then maybe he would have been the success he promised to be.

One hopes that McLauglin gets a similar chance and takes it with no rotating, no chopping and changing and certainly no chance to dumping the custodian because he might make a mistake. Stuart McCall’s faith in his his goalkeeper was right, but he backed the wrong horse in Eastwood and if we learn the lessons of Mark Paston we will appreciate managers like Taylor and perhaps Capello who do select a clear number one and stick with him.

Trusting your goalkeeper

A day after Jon McLaughlin signed a three year contract at Valley Parade, former Bradford City keeper Simon Eastwood completed a free transfer to League Two newboys Oxford United. For six months last season, the pair were rivals for the number one shirt under Stuart McCall, and hindsight suggests it was a call he got badly wrong.

Eastwood left Valley Parade at the turn of the year after a loan spell from Huddersfield that was decidedly mixed, but his place in City’s history has been quickly written up as a failure. A disastrous debut at Notts County set the tone for a spell where he was fiercely under the spotlight, and his position was debated by fans after every game.

Excellent performances – such as at, Rochale (JPT)Shrewsbury and Morecambe and at home to Chesterfield and Notts County (JPT) were often only begrudgingly acknowledged. Mistakes in other games, most notably the opening goal at Macclesfield, where he was angrily barracked by fans behind his goal, attracting heavy criticism.

Eastwood will celebrate his 21st birthday later this month, and the old adage of goalkeepers only truly realising their potential when they get to 30 suggests he might yet have a bright future in the same. Sure Eastwood displayed weaknesses at City, most notable his reading of crosses, but his shot stopping was sometimes phenomenal and he showed great mental strength to keep going at City under heavy criticism.  

But for the excellent Alex Smithies and the fact Huddersfield are financially well enough off to keep their best players, Eastwood might even have had a future at Huddersfield. It will be interesting to see if the move to Oxford proves to be a short term downwards step or the beginning of a decline, but Eastwood has the raw ability and mental strength to ensure it’s the former path.

At City, Eastwood was the victim of circumstances that saw McCall have too low a budget – £500-600 a week for wages – for a shot stopper and the failure to be able to afford a more experienced keeper on loan. It was far from ideal for City to rely on a youngster who’d played only one senior professional match prior to be the first team keeper for 22 games, but McCall didn’t have the finances to give him much choice.

Though he did have reserve keeper McLaughlin. Two months after McCall’s exit, Peter Taylor gave McLaughlin a chance at Burton and the former Harrogate Railway stopper seized it to produce a breathtaking display that earned him a run in the side and the recently-signed three year contract. McLaughlin will begin next season as City’s first choice keeper, and some fans have being quick to slate McCall and argue that the goalkeeping position was a blind spot for him.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and maybe if McCall could turn back the clock he’d have done it differently too, but the history being written about it isn’t quite as clear cut.

McLaughlin is two years younger than Eastwood, and as impressively as he performed during the final five games, he has not yet had the same level of testing as the 22-game run Eastwood enjoyed mixed results from during the first half of the season. Hopefully the six-game end of season spell will act as the springboard for McLaughlin to make a better fist that Eastwood of performing consistently week in week out next season, but there are no guarantees.

Indeed McCall wasn’t exactly presented with compelling evidence to believe McLaughlin was ready last season. I typically take in one or two reserve games per season and, in the games I saw, McLaughlin did not perform convincingly at all – lacking presence and conceding saveable goals. Regulars of City’s reserve games have indicated this was typical during his first season at City in particular.

Finding your feet is what reserve team football is for, but the point is that while McLaughlin was ready to don the gloves at the Pirelli Stadium in April, it doesn’t mean he was last August, when McCall opted to stick with Eastwood.

But beyond this debate, the goalkeeper position is universally one of trust between player and supporter. If we fans trust a goalkeeper, we just let them get on with it. Cheer their name when they make a save, direct the blame elsewhere when the ball ends up in the back of the net. Unless they make a really obvious mistake, the goalkeeper’s performance won’t be scrutinized. McLaughlin quickly won the fans trust at Burton and at home to Morecambe, so for the moment he is only praised.

In contrast, Eastwood never had our trust. We just didn’t have confidence in his ability, which meant every time a goal was conceded the first reaction was to question whether the young keeper could have done better, rather than if the defence was marking tight enough or if it just simply good opposition play. His heroics were often greeted with surprise, and even after a good game there’d be one or two supporters who’d point to a moment where he almost missed a cross or “got lucky” to prevent the trust reaching adequate levels.

There was once a time we fans confidently talked about our strong recent history of goalkeepers. Mark Schwarzer, Gary Walsh, Matt Clarke, Aidan Davidson, Alan Combe, Steve Banks, Mark Paston, Paul Henderson, Donovon Ricketts. Sure, during the Premier League days and the immediate few years after, we had many problems on and off the field, but aside from injuries a poor keeper between the sticks wasn’t one of them.

Many of the above were far from perfect, mistakes were made; but even if some endured dips in form there was general confidence in the incumbent of the goalkeeper jersey most Saturday afternoons.

Even since Ricketts lost his form in the 2006/07 season, trust in goalkeepers has been lacking. The fantastic Scott Loach, who may be a Premier League keeper next season such is the top flight interest, was heavily criticised by a small minority of fans when at City. Rhys Evans came as close to anyone to gaining the full trust of fans, but few were too sad when he was allowed to leave.

It’s fantastic that McLaughlin has earned the trust of supporters, and the hope is it continues into next season and beyond. But if he does prove himself and the praise is showered down upon him, I hope it can be concentrated on his ability rather than as another reason to slate a City legend.

McCall may have helped the keeper by not picking him before he was ready, but above all else McLaughlin wouldn’t be receiving the recent praise and trust had Stuart “goalkeepers were a blind spot” McCall not discovered and signed him from obscurity in the first place.

Believing in evolution as Taylor gets to work on next season’s squad

The back end of May has become a disengaging time to be a Bradford City supporter.  The season has just ended, and it’s way too soon to be looking ahead to the next one. But then the inevitable disappointment of the campaign just gone means few want to spend much time reflecting on its ups and downs.

Meanwhile the play offs are in full flow and there’s a tinge of jealousy towards the clubs who beat us to earning an extended end to the season. Next year will be the Bantams 10th consecutive Football League campaign – pretty much all of them began with perceived realistic expectations of earning at least a play off spot. Each ended in relative disappointment, leading us to watch others enjoy the experience on TV, while at-the-time City managers – Stuart McCall last May and Peter Taylor this time – are often employed as pundits for Sky.

If only, we whisper quietly. Maybe next time, we hope.

But as Taylor surveyed Dagenham’s 6-0 annihilation of Morecambe on Sunday for Sky, his real job has to remain at the forefront of his mind. He, like the rest of us, will enjoy a holiday at some point, but putting together a squad good enough to at least be appearing on Sky at the back end of May 2011 is an objective for which the hard work has already begun.

There’s a notable change of direction to the recruitment plan this summer, and it’s not just because a new manager is having  a go. The back end of May is traditionally a time where a large number of players from the season just past are beginning their search for new employment, as they are released, with the summer then about recruiting better alternatives. It’s an approach that inevitably produces mixed results, but this time the focus is on building rather than replacing.

For besides the questionable departures of Matt Clarke and Jonathan Bateson, almost everyone who could be released is being offered a new deal. It means there won’t be such a huge influx of new signings and trialists, as is often witnessed during pre-season friendlies. Try to form a team of City players who will be at the club next season, and for once you can already name a full XI.

Taylor’s decision to keep faith with most of the existing squad shows that the past season hasn’t been a complete waste of time. A number of players were given their debuts by McCall and allowed to develop, often at the detriment of results.  The rewards are the basis of a squad which Taylor can spend the summer strengthening, rather than the oft-seen approach of starting from scratch.

Evolution, rather than revolution, is in the air. Sure we saw some poor individual and team performances from those who’ll led the club to a dismal league finish and who will be back in June, but the high turnover of players approach of recent years has hardly led to success. The opportunity is there for every player staying to firmly write themselves into Bradford City’s modern history and be loved by supporters years after they leave, rather than appear as a footnote alongside a large number of quickly-forgotten Bantams.

The first priority for Taylor this summer will be to ensure everyone he wants to stay sign new deals – far from a given in some cases. Will the players be offered the same terms to what they are on now, or will they be asked to take pay cuts? Did some sign on relatively low wages and now be expecting a decent rise for decent performances last season? Will other clubs show interest and make better offers?

Keeping hold of Michael Flynn is a must. The Welsh midfielder quickly established himself as the heartbeat of the team in his first season and many supporters would like to see him made captain. Lee Bullock also impressed in the new role of defensive midfielder, even some of his biggest critics in the stands saw fit to recognise his improved performances by laying off.

Leon Osborne took a late season opportunity to avoid the released list; following the example of Jon McLaughlin, who is in pole position to become number one keeper. Next year will be make or break for both, as impressing in a few end of season games is a lot different to doing it for a full campaign.

Steve Williams and Simon Ramsden are signed up for next season, but what of the other out-of-contract defender, Luke O’Brien? Last summer he rejected a long-term contract from City, apparently choosing a one-year deal so he could negotiate improved terms this summer. It was a risky move; although the home-grown youngster had built on a solid first season to take on more team responsibility, many supporters were critical of his performances.

More crucially are the views of Taylor, one look at him as left back at Accrington and O’Brien never got to play in his position again. He was switched to left winger, before moving out of the starting line-up completely for the last six games. This was partly down to Taylor feeling he needed a rest; but with on-loan Robbie Threlfall impressing at left back and apparently set to be offered a contract, O’Brien may need reassurances of his own future before signing a new deal – one which is unlikely to be especially improved on the past season’s either.

Once the existing players are either signed up or departed, Taylor’s initial summer signings are likely to be the loanees he brought in during the final few weeks. As well as Threlfall, Luke Oliver – released by Wycombe – is very probable to return. He impressed as centre back, but the sight of him as emergency forward in April was a grim one that hopefully will only be repeated when City are trailing in a game and time is running out.

Like Threlfall, Adam Bolder will probably have other offers to weigh up, but appeared to enjoy his stay and may be enticed by the prospect of regular football. Ryan Kendall looked an accomplished finisher but offered little more; a competent back-up striker he could prove and he will probably jump at the chance of that, as he isn’t likely to make it at Hull – despite Flynn talking up his potential in their local paper.

With Gavin Grant also set to stay, Taylor should already have a large squad before even beginning to approach players with no previous City connections.  Zesh Rehman, Omar Daley Gareth Evans, James Hanson, James O’Brien and Scott Neilson already had contracts running into at least next season, though whether Taylor would have chosen to retain them all and where they fit in with his plans is questionable. Neilson has barely had a look in while James O’Brien struggled to hit the heights he enjoyed in the first half of the season, under McCall, on his return from a lengthy injury.

There is also the option to sell any of them. Rumours have already started up that Hanson is attracting interest from Championship clubs. If founded, it presents a difficult dilemma for the City manager. Cash in to have more transfer funds to develop the squad, or believe a suitable replacement wouldn’t be available so keep the young forward?

On Hanson’s part, the lure of a move to a higher club and better wages must be balanced with the likelihood of regular football and whether it is better to continue developing at the club which plucked him from non-league. It is quite a dilemma, though it’s rumoured on the message boards that an improved contract has been agreed in recent days.

But whether one or two leave, the sorting out of the futures of out-of-contract players and loanees wanted permanently should then leave Taylor with a clear idea of what is missing. Aside from the odd back up player – McLaughlin and Ramsden will need cover – Taylor’s focus will be on improving what he has – a clear head start on previous City managers who spent the summer desperately filling holes.It will be about evolving a decent but limited squad into one capable of challenging for promotion.

This time, the disengaging back end of May is about ensuring the foundations for next season are more solid than usual.

Good things come to those who wait

Which Bradford City player was never on the losing side during the 2008/2009 season and the 2009/2010 season? I’m sure that plenty of people reading this article will know that the correct answer is Jon McLaughlin.

The former Harrogate Railway Athletic and Harrogate Town goalkeeper was signed by Stuart McCall in the summer of 2008. When he was signed, I imagine that he knew that he wasn’t going to be the first choice keeper. However, at the age of just 17, who wouldn’t take the opportunity to sign for a league club averaging over 11,000 for home games? As the 2008/2009 season drew to a close and it became clearer that Rhys Evans wasn’t going to be a Bradford City player for the 2009/2010 season, McLaughlin was given his league debut at Saltergate. City won the game 2-0 in the Derbyshire sunshine and whilst the City supporters probably knew that day that Rory Boulding wouldn’t become a City legend, McLaughlin gave an assured performance without putting a foot wrong.

Having made a winning start to his Bradford City career and keeping a clean sheet, McLaughlin then played for Great Britain in the World Student Games in Serbia. Although Great Britain didn’t win the tournament, McLaughlin kept three clean sheets in five games. He had now signed another one year deal at Valley Parade but McCall made it clear that McLaughlin wasn’t going to be the first choice keeper again. McCall signed Simon Eastwood on loan from Huddersfield Town and he kept McLaughlin out of the City first team until his loan spell came to an end at the end of 2009. Despite Eastwood being a hero in the JPT victories against Notts County and Port Vale with his heroics in the penalty shoot outs, many City supporters (me included) felt that McCall could have given McLaughlin a chance before Eastwood returned to Huddersfield Town.

McLaughlin had to be patient again and his first start for the 2009/2010 season didn’t arrive until early 2010 when we played Cheltenham Town at home. In a game which we drew 1-1, the Cheltenham goal came from a penalty which McLaughlin almost kept out. City were also down to 10 men in this game after Steve Williams was sent off. Again, McCall raided Huddersfield Town and Matt Glennon arrived on loan. Glennon looked more composed than Eastwood. But again there were mutterings amongst the City supporters asking why we had a goalkeeper on loan when McLaughlin was keeping the substitutes bench very warm.

Fast forward to April 2010, Peter Taylor is now our manager, and imagine my surprise when I arrive at Burton Albion to find Jon McLaughlin starting for City. Burton played very well in that match with their two centre forwards Harrad and Pearson causing the City defence plenty of problems. Indeed, Burton were awarded a penalty in the first half and up steps Pearson. Unlike the Cheltenham game, McLaughlin is able to kept out the penalty and chants of “one Jon McLaughlin” echo from the City supporters stood behind McLaughlin’s goal. The fact that the game finishes 1-1 is largely down to McLaughlin who makes several top class saves.

Peter Taylor shows his faith in the young City stopper and McLaughlin plays again at home to play off chasing Morecambe. Like the away game at Chesterfield last season, City win the game 2-0. However, McLaughlin is busier in this game than the one at Saltergate and more people are asking why didn’t he get his chance earlier on this season when Eastwood appeared to be low on confidence.

McLaughlin ended up playing the final six games of the 2009/2010 season which saw City gain 14 points with four wins and two draws. Like Donovan Ricketts who had to be patient whilst Paul Henderson had his one good season with City, McLaughlin has had to wait for his chance. However, he has grabbed his opportunity with both hands and hopefully will have a long and successful career with Bradford City.

As well as showing all the signs of a good goalkeeper, the one thing that sticks in my mind about McLaughlin is the way that he went up to Simon Eastwood at half time in the away match at Shrewsbury Town back in September 2009. Eastwood had played well in that first half making some notable saves but he was also involved in a nasty collision with the then Shrewsbury player Nathan Elder. At half time, as Eastwood was walking across the pitch at the New Meadow, McLaughlin embraced (in a friendly way) Eastwood. I don’t know what was said by McLaughlin to Eastwood, but to me this shows that McLaughlin is a team player. For a person who is still only 19 years old, he shows great maturity. Let’s hope that the 2010/2011 season is a happy and rewarding season for Jon McLaughlin.

A happy ending of sorts

Who would have believed, as we trooped out of Valley Parade despondently on Easter Monday, that the 2-1 reverse to Macclesfield we’d just endured would turn out to be the last defeat of the season?

That evening anger and frustration were the overriding emotions as the season was seemingly petering out towards a worst league finish since 1966, with a squad decimated by injuries looking increasingly disinterested. But instead the final six games have produced the second-best results sequence of the campaign, offering genuine grounds to feel optimistic about the next one.

Of course we’ve been here before. Strong ends to the season, after promotion hopes were long since dashed, are far from unusual in recent years. And the praise directed at the players now is somewhat tempered by the fact that, when it really mattered earlier in the campaign, they failed to deliver the goods. But still, the way we felt after Macclesfield were clumsily allowed to record that Easter Monday victory is a reminder that players showing little pride in wearing your club’s shirt is one of the most unforgivable crimes they can inflict.

City were comfortable winners at Gresty Road today in an encounter which had nothing riding on it, but that’s not been the case during other impressive recent results. Various League Two clubs entering the closing stages of the campaign still biting their nails have received little but misery from a seemingly guaranteed three pointer with the mid-table Bantams. The good run has left City in a final position of 14th – still a bitterly disappointing under-performance for a club with the resources to do better, but it could have ended much worse than this.

Ryan Kendall – brought on as sub in the first half due to an injury to Gareth Evans – got the only goal of the game mid-way through the second half after a quickly-taken free kick from Michael Flynn afforded the on-loan Hull teenager time and space to fire a low shoot past on-rushing home keeper Adam Legzdins.

But it could easily have been a more comfortable away win. Flynn had forced an excellent first-half reaction stop out of Legzdins; Robbie Threlfall’s long-range effort was too straight to beat the Alex stopper; Adam Bolder’s header was deflected over shortly after half time; Flynn’s low shot from a well-worked corner was blocked soon after City had gone a goal up; Kendall twice should have hit the target with close range half-volleys which he fired over.

Crewe were not without their chances, a free kick just after half time was tipped onto the crossbar by Jon McLaughlin and, seconds after City scored, Calvin Zola had an effort disallowed; but the visitors carried the greater vigour and work rate throughout. The approach play from the Bantams was generally impressive, though a lack of players willing to support Evans/Kendall in the penalty area often meant good passing moves broke down. And with the back four in excellent form – Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams especially solid – a late equaliser never looked likely.

It was a performance similar in approach and overall standards to the previous four. The six-game unbeaten end to the season began unpromisingly with a poor performance at Burton Albion. The point picked up was almost entirely due to an inspired performance from McLaughlin, who was brought in for Glennon, and who kept up his form to the final whistle at Crewe.

No one has had a more purposeful end to the season than the former Harrogate Railway stopper. A year ago on the last day he started at Chesterfield almost as a token gesture. Despite largely playing second fiddle to unconvincing keepers from Huddersfield, he ends this season in pole position to be number one for the next campaign.

And another meaningful moment that day was what initially seemed disappointing news. On-loan Luke Oliver, scorer at the Perelli Stadium, was recalled by Wycombe as the team travelled home. But with the giant defender having been converted to giant striker due to injuries, his leaving turned out to be a blessing in disguise. No longer could City hit the ball directly to a tall frontman in a depressingly ugly style, suddenly they had to play football.

Against Morecambe a few days later Peter Taylor employed a 4-3-3 formation that relied on wide players Gavin Grant and Leon Osborne supporting Evans, and the subsequent success has been significant. All three have shown a great level of work-rate, and the movement has caused opposition defences problems. Evans has recaptured early season form, benefiting from increased faith in his striker prowess, instead of being asked to play as a wide midfielder, and might have equalled injured top scorer James Hanson’s haul but for that early injury today.

For Grant and Osborne, who had yet to convince supporters of their worth, it’s been an especially good period. Grant looks a promising proposition who Taylor will likely sign permanently this summer, while Osborne is showing potential and had arguably his best game yet for the Bantams at Gresty Road. Meanwhile the midfield has began to pass the ball around patiently on the deck again in recent weeks, with Bolder recapturing his form and Lee Bullock and Flynn enjoying strong ends to the season.

The scorer of the first goal against Morecambe was Rehman, who had his name booed when it was read out before kick off. City’s captain has also rediscovered his form and looked excellent over the last few weeks, including when asked to play the less comfortable role of right back. Back in the centre today with Matt Clarke gone, he barely put a foot wrong recovering from his only obvious mistake to retain possession when it appeared he’d overrun it. Taylor has arrived at City with a reputation for employing dour tactics, but the freedom Rehman and Williams have been afforded to play the ball out of defence is a long way removed from the row Z approach League Two is known for.

All of which has helped City end the season looking more of a cohesive unit than they have all season. And what’s really encouraging for the 2010/11 campaign is that most of the players appear to be staying. While there has been calls for a culling of the squad, the good work Stuart McCall had initiated is being continued and developed.

Sure, there are positions Taylor needs to strengthen this summer and the lack of depth has been shown to be a problem all season, but the nucleus of a good side is already here and the immediate priority has to be securing the signatures of Flynn, Simon Ramsden, Bullock and others to maintain it for the next campaign.

Is it a good enough squad to build from? The table shows a big improvement is needed next season, but the 62 points the Bantams ended with is only five less than last season. Not a bad return considering the playing budget was slashed by a third.

As the final whistle blew, the players, subs and management walked over to applaud the travelling fans with great gusto, and in return received a warm reception. There was a real bond between players and supporters, exemplified by Flynn’s example; and even though things haven’t worked out this year, the signs are the players genuinely do care about playing for Bradford City.

We’ve seen the opposite when seasons have tailed off badly, and we know how horrible it feels to know the players you’re cheering on couldn’t care less about your club. The last six games might not have involved anything to play for, but at least the current crop have shown playing for City still matters to them.

But the final word should go to the away support. Some 700+ City fans travelled to Crewefor a fourth division game with nothing riding on the result. The atmosphere, from the pre-match pub sing-along to applauding the players off the pitch at full time, was outstanding. On the day Mark Lawn publicly declared cheap season ticket deals are over and questioned whether the Bradford public had the appetite for watching affordable professional football, he and others should keep in mind the strong hardcore of support this club enjoys and ensure efforts are concentrated on maintaining and building it. Rather than solely worrying about floating supporters who cannot be relied upon when the chips are really down.

During the final 20 minutes, almost everyone joined in the continuous chanting of “We’ll always remember – the 56.” It was hugely moving, bringing tears to some supporters’ eyes and immense pride in everyone.There may not be a great deal to remember about this season, but at least we can be proud of the manner we’ve remembered our past.

A Jon Bateson season that finishes at Crewe

Jonathan Bateson has been released by Bradford City after only nine months at the club and if ever a player summed up a season it is the young right back signed from Blackburn Rovers and released to an uncertain future.

The players released are Bateson, Rory Carson, Matthew Clarke, Matthew Convey, Matthew Glennon, Steven O’Leary and Luke Sharry and few of those names surprise. Matthew Clarke always seemed to be on the edge of leaving the club and Peter Taylor is expected to try sign Luke Oliver as a replacement. It seemed that only one of James O’Brien and O’Leary would stay and it was O’Brien.

It is Bateson – however – who sums up the season. A decent pre-season prompted optimism which was burst down in Nottingham with the team beaten 5-0 and 3-0 in four days and Bateson sent off for a two footed lunge on his debut.

Following that there was a tough comeback. Hard work and effort that brought lots of positive reports which struggled to be transffered into the results everyone wanted. Bateson was labelled as having great potential which his manager Stuart McCall’s team looked capable of putting in great displays but seemingly incapable of winning great results.

Bateson struggled to win a place in the side as other players such as Simon Ramsden established himself and the idea of Bateson winning his place started to seem more and more remote. Sure he could put in a good display when needed but it always seemed that he was settling in to the middle of things, despite the odd Johnstone’s Paint win.

So a change in manager brought in optimism but not a massive change in position because it seemed that the season had been cast in the middle. Zesh Rehman dipped his toe into playing right back and Bateson appeared again showing some stability but the die has been cast and stability saw out the season into mid-table.

Changes were made. Bateson exits.

So Peter Taylor finishes three months as City manager with a end of season middle of the table game which could see the Bantams reach 13th or may drop to 16th. Of the players released only Clarke featured in the side last week and he is expected to be dropped to allow for a Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman middle with Simon Ramsden and Robbie Threlfall at full backs in front of Jon McLaughlin.

Matt Glennon’s release is a big thumbs up for McLaughlin who seems set to be City’s first choice keeper next season.

Also looking at being nailed in for next season is the three of Adam Bolder – who may return to Millwall with Taylor wanting him back – Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn in the middle. Gareth Evans leads the line with Gavin Grant and Leon Osbourne supporting.

And no room for Bateson. Not been his sort of season.

Knowing what you have at Chesterfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is something there about knowing what you have.

Re-introducing Mr Motivator

Michael Flynn’s full time routine of walking around all four stands applauding Bradford City supporters was until last month a constant feature of the campaign. And though the injury picked up against Notts County was bad timing with his contract soon to expire, the team’s subsequent patchy form will have kept the influential midfielder in manager Peter Taylor’s thoughts before this inspirational, goalscoring return.

With the game approaching the third of four minutes of stoppage time and a draw looking to be the result, Flynn broke Barnet hearts and lifted Bantams spirits by quickly hauling himself off the ground – after an initial scrambled attempt had been blocked by visiting keeper Jake Cole – and coolly firing the loose ball into the net, though may have been offside. Flynn had made a shock return to the bench from where he was brought on by Taylor after 59 minutes, with City a goal down and struggling for leadership. He was at the heart of the fightback, and should remain at the heart of City’s midfield for next season.

For in recent weeks Taylor has been able to see Bradford City with Flynn and Bradford City without; and, though others have made a reasonable fist of filling his boots, the extra qualities he brings beyond football ability have been notable by their absence. He may not be the captain, but Flynn is one of the team’s leaders and visibly offers constant instruction and support to team mates, who look to him for guidance. City surely need the playing ability of Flynn next season, and they will also need his courage.

In truth Flynn’s winner was unmerited by City. Barnet arrived at Valley Parade with lingering relegation worries and an impressive away backing, and set about demonstrating that oft-seen lesson of the difference effort really makes. Football is so often about motivation, and for long periods of the game the greater incentive for winning was a more telling factor than respective abilities. Barnet often seem to save their best form for games with the Bantams and looked an accomplished and skillful team for large periods. In contrast, City just didn’t look interested.

Long before Albert Adomah fired the Bees into a 28th minute lead, there were warning signs that purpose was lacking in home efforts. It could be seen in the little things such as limited off the ball running when City had possession, a reluctance to chase lost causes, hesitation when closing down away attacks and laziness of simply hoofing the ball towards the forward line of Gareth Evans, Leon Osborne and Gavin Grant.

Barnet in contrast had energy and greater commitment, attacking with intent and impressing in their on and off the ball movement. Adomah’s goal was stunning, coming after a Bantams set piece had broken down and a quick counter attack, which exposed the high number of claret shirts who’d committed themselves up the field. The ancient but still effective Paul Furlong flicked the ball into the path of Barnet’s always impressive winger – no offence to Bees fans, but how is Adomah still at your club? – who volleyed the ball home. Jon McLaughlin – otherwise in great form again – might have expected to do better.

And though James O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall both came agonisingly close with long range shots either side of the goal, the Bees were good value for their lead at the half time whistle – which surprisingly wasn’t as heavily booed as such occasions typically generate. Just like Tuesday, Valley Parade looked notably empty – way below the “official attendance” announced. Perhaps resignation has taken over outrage; but perhaps more worryingly for the season ticket sales, many have simply had enough and already left.

But slowly in the second half, City began to crawl their way back and the manner they did was the most encouraging. League Two is much about direct football, but City stuck with a passing approach that is more pleasing on the eye and more encouraging than the limited long-ball style endured in recent weeks. Osborne twice blew great opportunities to equalise and frustrated by his over eagerness to dribble into crowded areas instead of looking for a pass, but as Flynn came on the side was switched from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 and greater fluency resulted.

Barnet sat back on their lead; perhaps aware relegation rivals Grimsby had quickly fallen 3-0 down in the second half of their must-win game with resurgent Torquay, and that they just had to hold on to be mathematically safe. But though City’s efforts weren’t always effective and the game still had a sense it was drifting away, Flynn’s presence seemed to spark greater motivation.

Steve Williams was enjoying one of his best games of the season in terms of distribution and lead well from the back. Threlfall was largely successful in muting Adomah’s threat. Evans continued to demonstrate astonishing levels of commitment, always the spark behind the more threatening attacks. Lee Bullock, arguably City’s best player, rarely wasted possession and made some great tackles.

And the introduction of Luke O’Brien for the disappointing Grant tipped the momentum firmly in City’s favour. Taylor shifted Osborne into a free role behind the front two of Evans and Flynn and the tempo increased further. City weren’t just pressing hard, they were cutting through Barnet with some of the most impressive quick-fire passing moves of the season. One such attack sent Evans charging forwards in a wide position, although his cross was too far ahead of Flynn, the ball was picked up by Luke O’Brien, who lashed home his first ever Valley Parade goal in front of the Kop stand he once cheered the club from when growing up.

The final ten minutes were frantic, the passing continued to be quick and decisive. From one move Flynn could only direct a header straight at Cole, from another Adam Bolder sent a looping header which crashed back off the crossbar. Yet despite being pinned back, Barnet almost snatched a winner when a counter attack set up almost the exact same opportunity as their goal, with Furlong flicking the ball on and Adomah firing across a powerful volley. This time McLaughlin was able to pull off an incredible reaction stop which saw the ball deflect onto the bar. It was the save of the season, bringing memories of Donovan Ricketts in his City prime.

Soon after Flynn struck the winner and what may have been a deserved defeat instead became a highly fortunate win. It’s a win which leaves Barnet still needing to pick up a few more points to be safe – though on this evidence they will be fine – and it’s a win which leaves the Bantams in 14th, and maybe still capable of a top half finish.

More than that, it was a performance which eventually demonstrated the players do have the desire and talent to play for this club, and deserve to be considered when new contracts are decided. For long periods they played at a tempo akin to pre-season, by the end they played as though their lives depended on it.

It’s no surprise who was the catalyst behind the sudden motivation, and who at the end was back in his routine of applauding the fans. He and his fellow super sub should be first in line when new player contracts are handed out.

Reflections on a chapter still waiting to be ended

As uplifting as Tuesday night’s victory was, the meaningless end of season nature means that it may be the events before kick off against Barnet which capture the most attention. At 2.45pm the 1984/85 Bradford City Division Three promotion winning team will be presented to the crowd. 25 years on from their fantastic achievement, they are sure to receive a warm reception; but it will be the presence of one of its biggest stars in particular which adds intrigue.

Stuart McCall from the Panini 1990 Sticker AlbumLess than three months after resigning, Stuart McCall makes his public return to Valley Parade. He will join other celebrated names on the pitch, he will be warmly cheered and probably hear his name sung from all four stands of Valley Parade. Then he’ll sit in the stands, as a guest of honour, to watch a team he was in charge of only 10 weeks ago.

After staying firmly out of the spotlight, McCall made a guest appearance on BBC1’s Late Kick Off show last Sunday. It might have been expected he’d be asked a question or two about his views on City’s form, though with results disappointing probably had a quiet word with presenter Harry Gration before about avoiding the topic. He’s not a person likely to stir matters, he’s too nice a person to have an axe to grind. But as low as he must have felt when quitting Valley Parade in February, he must also be able to allow himself to feel better.

For 10 weeks on not much has changed at Valley Parade, and though Tuesday’s impressive win was a welcome shot in the arm for Peter Taylor, the interim manager has impressed without taking the Bantams further forwards. The slide was at least arrested, but the argument McCall simply didn’t have the resources to make a better shot of promotion has been supported by the continuing up-and-down form.

Instead McCall can sit back and look on his old charges with some pride. Gareth Evans may never reach the legendary status the man who signed him achieved at Valley Parade, but his incredibly high levels of work rate and passion, showed all season but especially impressively on Tuesday is closely follow his example. After a mid-season dip, Steve Williams’ form is returning to the heights he achieved at the beginning of the season. Williams has greater potential which can be unlocked next season, a great find by McCall.

McCall will be disappointed to find James Hanson, his other non-league gem of a signing, is still injured – but a measure of his impact is how much the former shelf stacker has been missed since limping off against Bournemouth. Then there’s the potential of James O’Brien, Jonathan Bateson and Jon McLaughlin, who all excelled in midweek and can all play key roles next season, and the clutch of youngsters who’ll probably start from Taylor’s bench, eager for a chance. Youth Development Manager Peter Horne was full of praise for the way McCall focused on the youth teams when in charge, he can take some credit if they emerge into senior contention although the manager may wonder – as many do – why at the start of the season McLaughlin was not favoured and Simon Eastwood was.

If McCall is able to meet his former players, he might also have some words for captain Zesh Rehman. The debate over the merits of the Pakistan defender continues to rage despite the man-of-the-match contender performance and goal in midweek, which followed an encouraging display at Burton last Saturday. It’s a debate which some of us supporters feel unsure whether to add to and risk inflaming or quietly hoping it all calms down. For his part Rehman ignores the abuse which – distressingly – he has got used to during his career.

Having spent most of his career bathed in success McCall would not have been used to criticism or abuse as a player and any wisdom he could pass on to the man he made captain would be based on the last two years of his management. Talking about McCall in a superb interview the City Gent released this weekend Peter Taylor likens his first management role at Southend to McCall’s time at the Bantams and speaks about the healthy distance he has between himself and the job that he learnt from the experience.

Watching Robbie Threlfall could give McCall chance to raise a smile – he was on the former boss’s shortlist and his delivery once again proved telling on Tuesday night – and one doubts he will find anything to dislike in Adam Bolder. McCall’s teams were defined by the presence, or absence, of hard-working midfielders such as he.

One wonders if McCall will be rueful when watching the game seeing the directness of Taylor’s side. McCall’s teams were more committed to playing the beautiful game beautifully than Taylor’s are and perhaps that is a regret for the former manager. Had he used the strength and height of James Hanson as Taylor does, had he told his defenders that Row Z – rather that attempts to start attacks from broken up play – offered the safest policy would things have turned out differently for the former gaffer. Will they turn out different for Taylor?

Taylor sends out a team to play a struggling Barnet side who look over their shoulder at Grimsby’s slow trundle towards them with an increasing worry. The London side are not in squeaky bottom time yet, but a defeat at Valley Parade would draw that day closer.

Taylor’s side is still beset by injuries with first team players Simon Ramsden, James Hanson, Omar Daley and Michael Flynn all edging slowly out of the treatment room. Taylor is expected to play the same eleven who started on Tuesday night with McLaughlin in goal, Bateson, Williams, Rehman and Threlfall at the back a three in midfield of Lee Bullock, Bolder and James O’Brien with Gavin Grant and Leon Osbourne supporting Evans up front.

Evans shows the routes to success

Few victories reward the heart more than the hard fought for victory and as City put a spell of bad form behind them with a determined performance over a Morecambe side which arrived at Valley Parade with four wins from as many games.

Peter Taylor – shod of his target man with both James Hanson out and Luke Oliver back at Wycombe and back on the bench – deployed Gareth Evans as a front runner with support from the pace of Leon Osbourne and Gavin Grant and was rewarded with good set of performances from his forwards but especially from Evans who perhaps put in his best performance in a City shirt.

The summer signing ran his legs down to the knees in an evening of working channels and following passes down to the touchline often with no support and no target to aim for in the middle. Evans ran, harried, held and often was chunked to the ground by a Morecambe side who has – some might say – conspired to have him sent off at Christie Park earlier in the season.

Indeed it was one of these chunkings that saw Evans have his legs taken away for a free kick on the bye-line which was floated over by Robbie Threlfall, headed on by Steve Williams and finished at the far post by Zesh Rehman.

Rehman peeled away to thank Peter Taylor enjoy the culmination of an improvement in his performances that saw him not only score what turned out to be the conclusive goal tonight as well as put not a foot wrong at the back. Whatever Zesh was doing wrong a month ago he is going doing right now, although his is still Asian and if that is why his name was booed as it was read out – and if you are one of the people who did the booing – then please would you not come to my site again because you are not welcome.

Adam Bolder – on the other hand – seems to have earned the ire of the support for reasons which elude me. A midfielder who arrived as one too many loan players in my opinion but has done a decent job filling the not inconsiderable hole left by the injured Michael Flynn Bolder put in a healthy shift of work tonight never shirking a tackle, never stopping running in a game in which the Bantams more or less owned the midfield area.

Aside from the usual reservations about loan players one could not fault Bolder’s application in a Bantams side that first and foremost built a platform for victory by defending stoutly and with a deep set midfield. In the closing minutes Gareth Evans was given a through ball and powered forward with it as if it were first minute not last to square a ball to Bolder who sidestepped and jinked and danced his way around the odd defender and goalkeeper Barry Roche to place into the goal and win the game.

Gavin Grant turned in a best display in a City shirt, Steve Williams looked confident, Lee Bullock controlled the positioning of the two lines of defence and there was little not to be pleased with from the way that Peter Taylor has managed to impose a structure onto a disparate group of a few first teamers – only Rehman and Bullock started the first game of the season – reserves and loanees.

System and structure are all, and are imposed well even against a Morecambe side who had a winning habit when arriving.

The visitors – however – appeared almost scared to play with eleven men looking as if they were worried about the expectations of a lofty position. They sidestepped the responsibility to create play and were restricted to a fistful of chances which Jon McLaughlin dealt with well.

So City rise to fifteenth and are mathematically safe from relegation but perhaps the lesson from tonight is more about how Taylor will manage City next season. A system put in place and players detailed how to play in it giving a variety of approaches and a number of routes to success.

City face Morecambe looking at a new type of football

The grimness of an away day at Burton and the realisation that the Bantams are going to fail to improve on last seasons league position has led to a dark cloud hovering over Valley Parade that threatens to consume all beneath it.

Mark Lawn – who two months ago flexed his muscles to rid the club of what he saw as the curse of Stuart McCall as manager – must wonder how everything he touches at Valley Parade seems to go wrong: Signing Willy Topp, signing Zesh Rehman, “giving” £600,000 to the player budget, replacing McCall with Peter Taylor. It seems that Lawn is finding what many involved in football do and something McCall would underline. That the will to succeed is not enough to ensure success.

Author Mark Twain – on one of his more crabby days – said that it was “not enough in life to simply succeed, other must fail” and this is very true in football. No matter how much work and effort you put in, no matter what you do, if enough other teams do better then you do not achieve the goals you have. Aston Villa are a great success but to win the league they require a lot of other clubs to fail.

As Lawn watches Peter Taylor’s team flounder both in position and play he must wonder how making the best possible appointment has started in this way. He need to ignore these thoughts. Football management is done over the longer term and in stability – the people who denied this as they railed against McCall can hardly point to Taylor’s arrival as proof of concept – and once again the Bantams are in a position of needing to keep faith in a manager, needing to give him time, needing to have stability.

(I knew I would end up writing those words, but I thought it would be more than two months before I did.)

The end of Taylor’s start at Valley Parade has provided difficult to watch but Taylor’s priorities – results over performance – are those that Lawn recruited and these priorities were evidenced in the 1-1 draw at Burton Albion.

As woeful as it may have been to watch the result in the East Midlands was a good one. Peter Taylor’s football is a football of percentages and grinding. It is a football of aiming for two points a game not a win in every match and as a part of that playing as – as one Burton fan said – “the worst team who has played us this season” but getting a point is the aimed for achievement, especially considering the injuries the club has.

Taylor’s football is about percentages and doing the thing that most often gets success. A football about setting an aim and putting in a level of effort to get it. Not 101% flogging players like horses but a measured effort that ensures that a level application can be given for every game. It is a football that is not tied up in the passion and chest beating of a Stuart McCall and in that it is a sea change in attitude for the majority of the players who were brought in by the previous manager.

Any sea change takes time and Taylor will have it if only because for all the criticism of Mark Lawn one would never call him stupid and to have not learnt the lessons of sacking a manager and the short term effects on the club in the last couple of months and to repeat that in another month would very much say he was so.

So the Bantams face a Morecambe side who are going for a play-off place and one can only hope that they have the same equity of Refereeing that the Bantams enjoyed at Christie Park when the roles were reversed. If at the end of the game Morecambe have scored two but had one chalked off despite it being over the line, have seen linesman raise and lower his flag as a striker sprints through and scores and seen one of the Bantams forward get booked, dive all afternoon, stick a knee into someone’s face and then score the winner then empathy with the Shrimpers will be high.

City have no Luke Oliver – who returned to Wycombe Wanderers with Taylor talking about bringing him back in the summer – a wounded bunch of players that includes top scorer James Hanson, Simon Ramsden, Omar Daley and Michael Flynn as well as a few players who are paid to stay at home. City’s striking options are limited and Peter Thorne is on a beech somewhere. Go figure.

Gareth Evans is expected to take the forward role in a 442 with Ryan Kendall or Gavin Grant supporting. The trio of Leon Osbourne, Nathan Clarke and Oliver Forsyth may press for places on the bench. The time is perhaps ripe for Clarke or Forsyth to be given a run out.

Certainly favouring the younger goalkeeper in the form of Jon McLaughlin on Saturday reaped rewards with the keeper saving a penalty and putting in a good display. Defenders Louis Horne, Luke Dean, Phil Cutler and Andrew Villermann and midfielder Ryan Harrison could all lay claims for a shot at the team.

Most likely all those players will have to wait for a chance that probably will never come. Youth development at City – as with most clubs – is far too invested in the preferences of a manager and if the club wanted to start making movements in that area then they could do so. A maximum number of over 23s on the clubs books of fifteen would be one way to ensure the manager is force to blood the younger players as would a requirement to give a certain number of the young players débuts.

Jonathan Bateson will continue at right back while Ramsden is injured – although the full back might be fit for this evening – with Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman in the middle. Robbie Threlfall continues at left back with indications being that he will be offered a deal at City next year. Luke O’Brien is expected to return on the left side of midfield with Lee Bullock and Adam Boulder in the middle. Stephen O’Leary, James O’Brien, Luke Sharry – the right hand side is up for grabs.

The season begins to sort itself out – Rochdale can be promoted tonight while Notts County’s Luke Rodgers is finishing the season he started by diving against City by moving to New York – but the Bantams have much work to do before next term.

Universal effort needed as City head towards their lowest league position in 44 years

In attending away games, there are certain irritants you get used to regularly experiencing; tedious travelling, getting lost around town centres while struggling to spot floodlights arching over buildings, hideous visiting supporters’ toilets, unwelcoming home fans and hit-and-miss food. In addition the home advantage factor increases the likelihood of seeing your team lose, subsequently making the journey home that much longer.

Yet one thing I’ve always struggled to accept when watching City on the road is lack of effort from the players. If I’m going to travel many miles and spend lots of money to cheer you on – often meaning the entire day has been given up for it – the least I should be able to expect is a minimum level of passion.

With great difficulty, I can accept heavy or unlucky defeats and the pain of questioning my sanity being there, but I’m only ever left to feel stupid for going if the players I’m cheering on are blatantly going through the motions. At least they’re paid to be there, and are being paid to do a job we’d all give our rights arms to be good enough to do.

Saturday’s trip to Burton was largely a brilliant day out – the sunny weather and choice of Bloc Party and Kings of Leon on the stereo meant the car journey flew by; the ground was impossible to miss and very impressive, featuring that rarest of qualities in new stadiums – character; the Burton stewards and staff were over-friendly and the food and away bar facilities inside enjoyable. But once more, the afternoon was let down by suspect passion from those wearing Bantams colours.

It was a strange performance,with a very wide spectrum of respective efforts from each player. If there was a sliding scale illustrating the difference, it would feature Jon McLaughlin and Gareth Evans at the top of the high effort barrier – closely followed by Zesh Rehman – and Gavin Grant right at the opposite end. Other players fell somewhere in the middle, with some efforts to commend and others to question.

When taking over in February, Peter Taylor had been able to harness a team ethic to City’s approach which took much of the good of what Stuart McCall had left behind. Injuries in recent weeks has robbed Taylor of the team’s spine, and many of those who’ve remained available have failed to grasp the mantle. How Michael Flynn, James Hanson and Simon Ramsden in particular have been missed. Many fans have again openly questioned the commitment of Omar Daley in recent weeks, they should have watched the 90 minute performance of Grant at the Perelli Stadium.

City were highly fortunate to take a point from this game, despite taking the lead in the second half. Jon McLaughlin put in arguably the best goalkeeping performance of the season, impressively keeping out numerous Burton attempts at goal which included saving a first half penalty. Matt Glennon has failed to make a notable impact since signing in January, and after this display McLaughlin should keep his place for the remainder of the season. First choice keeper for next season he has the potential to be.

But McLaughlin aside, the resistance was limited. Robbie Threlfall has impressed greatly to date and looks likely to sign during the summer when his Liverpool contract expires, but at Burton he was badly showed up by the outstanding Cleveland Taylor. All afternoon, the Burton winger easily dribbled the ball around the young full back, while Threlfall was repeatedly caught out by a ball played from midfield over his head to unoccupied space Taylor was charging into. It was a poor performance, which made the sight of Luke O’Brien relegated to the bench all the more frustrating.

And though the rest of the defence were generally solid – Zesh Rehman back in good form and Steve Williams enjoying a decent end to what can be considered a memorable season, though Jonathan Bateson struggled at times – the midfield allowed Burton to pass their way through too often. Lee Bullock was among the more committed players, but Adam Bolder and Steve O’Leary were again disappointing as Taylor lined City up in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation.

When Bolder has been on form he’s looked very accomplished – the Millwall loanee’s second half performance at home to Aldershot perhaps his stand out game. But recently that form has dipped and he has struggled to make any impact, at times looking disinterested. It’s been a funny season for Steve O’Leary, who impressed during City’s opening home game against Port Vale before injury ruled him out until the New Year. Despite an encouraging belated second start, away at Rochdale, opportunities have been limited under Taylor.

Although starting the last two games, he is giving the impression he knows he has no chance of an extended deal this summer, and so has nothing to play for. It was no coincidence City began to play better after the more zestful James O’Brien replaced him.

And though Grant and Luke Oliver did well for City’s goal, the rest of their efforts were not good enough. Oliver is a defender playing up front, so allowances have to be made, but he is not good enough to play such a role despite his height and goal return over the last game and a half. There was also something curiously flat about his goal celebrations in front of the City fans, as though it didn’t mean a lot to have put his temporary club into the lead.

His performance was hindered by how isolated he was from Evans and Grant, but, other than his effectiveness in the air, he lacks the hold up or passing ability to make a positive contribution as a frontman. A defender up front is a rare but not unprecedented occurrence at Valley Parade, remember Andy Tod? If the now-recalled Wycombe defender returns next season, it will be solely for his defensive ability.

While if Grant is still at Valley Parade next August, it will surely be due to past form witnessed by Taylor rather than the very fleeting glimpses of ability shown since signing for City on a non-contract basis. He looks tentative and slow to react to situations, and very unwilling to chase lost causes. But for his excellent run which lead to the goal, he offered nothing towards City’s cause and was deservedly subbed.

End of season is perhaps the time to try out players like Grant, rather than signing them up without properly viewing them only to regret it later. But end of season is also the time to try out youth players and, despite Taylor saying he will look to blood some in over the final few games, this was a missed opportunity to try out players who would have been guaranteed to show more commitment. Tuesday’s home game with in-form Morecambe looks less the occasion to risk them and, with City still to face promotion chasers Chesterfield and Northampton, further opportunities are limited.

Of course any player has to earn the right to get into the team, and young players shouldn’t be promoted to the starting line up ahead of more experienced players on the sole criteria they are more likely to try harder. But the lack of effort shown by some of the senior players City are relying on is worrying and there’s a risk of next season’s plans being disrupted if this campaign is allowed to end on the low note it’s heading towards.

Because as this draw saw City drop down another place in the league table, recent from is pushing the Bantams towards a lowest league position since 1966 – 44 years ago. To more than one generation of City supporters, it could be argued this team is the worst we’ve ever seen. In 1976 City finished 17th in Division 4, beating or least equaling that over the final five games of this season will be the smallest of consolations.

But not exactly much to market the season ticket offer on. There are three home games before the £186 offer comes to an end on Sunday 9 May – 11 years to the day City’s last promotion was achieved – but there is little beyond blind faith to suggest the Bantams will be celebrating a rise to League One come next May. Perhaps more than ever bold action is needed to entice supporters who may not go to games often right now but who might be persuaded into buying a season ticket; free entry to the Northampton game?

The players need to do their bit. Whatever their motivation may be, they need to find it or else stay on the sidelines. Certain players are almost carrying the team right now – that City didn’t lose to Burton was due to the commitment of some, but that City didn’t win is due to the lack of commitment from the others.

It caused more damage to the league position, but even more significant is the damage this poor form could cause to realising next season’s forecasted budgets.

Square pegs in round holes

Just as Fabio Capello faces the decision about playing Frank Lampard in the England midfield with Steven Gerrard, Peter Taylor faces the decision of who to play up front for Bradford City. With the recent departures of Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding along with James Hanson being injured, this task has been made harder. Today at Burton Albion, he opted to play the lanky defender Luke Oliver up front on his own. He was occasionally joined by the hard working Gareth Evans and Gavin Grant. But this for me was the wrong choice as the first half produced very few attacking moves from Bradford City with too many long hopeful balls pumped forward which the Burton defence dealt with easily. Infact the home defence was superbly marshalled by their centre back James. With Bradford playing a 4-5-1 formation, we had an extra man in midfield but both Bolder and O’Leary sat too deep (a role performed well by Bullock) whilst the Burton midfield passed the football well. The former Scunthorpe winger Cleveland Taylor was a constant menace to Threlfall who was eventually booked in the second half.

The fact that the half time score was 0-0 was largely down to the excellent display by Jon McLaughlin who was making only his third appearance for Bradford City. He made several good saves including one from the Burton striker Harrad. After O’Leary tripped a Burton player, McLaughlin then guessed correctly diving to his left to keep out Pearson’s penalty. Chants of “one Jon McLaughlin” echoed from the away supporters. How nice to hear for a player who has had to be patient for his opportunities.

McLaughlin continued his fine display in the second half keeping the score at 0-0. Then on the hour mark, the ineffective Grant produced his one moment of decent play and following his mazy dribble the ball eventually found it’s way to Oliver’s head and he calmly looped the ball over Krysiak and into the Burton goal. So Bradford led 1-0 which was an injustice on the Burton side who had been the better team.

However, with time running out, the Burton left back and former Derby player, Boertien (who was named man of the match by the Burton stadium announcer) broke down their left and crossed for the impressive Harrad to score a deserved equaliser.

By this time, Luke O’Brien had replaced the ineffective O’Leary and Jamie O’Brien had replaced the poor performing Grant. The two O’Brien’s added more purpose to the City midfield. Indeed Jamie O’Brien showed his battling qualities by chasing down what seemed like a lost cause in the closing minutes of the game. This resulted in him dispossessing a Burton defender and delivering a cross which unfortunately went over Oliver’s head. And so the game finished 1-1.

A special mention goes to Zesh Rehman for a better display from him although he was playing in his more familiar role of centre back today rather than right back. However, an improved performance in the second half by Bradford City could not hide the fact of how poor we were in the first half. It’s not Luke Oliver’s fault that he is being asked to play up front. However, I hope that Taylor, who apparently mingled with the City supporters an hour before the game which is nice to hear, opts for a 4-4-2 formation on Tuesday night against Morecambe with a recognised striker operating alongside Gareth Evans. Maybe we might even see Oliver Forsyth who has been scoring plenty of goals for the youth team this season under the watchful eye of David Wetherall.

Now there’s another round peg for a round hole!

The articles of association football club Bournemouth

The story is that in 1972 – Britain having ditched the hour shifts of summer time and gone decimal – some of the directors at Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic F.C. decided that the modernity that swept the land needed to encompass the football club on the South Coast of England.

So taking a lead from the naming conventions of the continent and the playing strip of AC Milan the club – which had just been promoted to the third tier – was renamed AFC Bournemouth and nothing was ever to be the same again, so the story goes.

Of course things were the same. AFC Bournemouth, Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic F.C. and further back Boscombe F.C. have similar league histories going up sometimes, going down sometimes but generally doing well for themselves as a steadfast member of the bottom half of English football.

Perhaps there was an idea that the AFC element would alter that patten – that following a more exciting European model – might move Bournemouth on in the world. It was a plan and in retrospect it seems like a far fetched one – but it is a plan to take the club forward never the less.

Planning is the talk of Valley Parade at the moment. It is said that after a meeting this week with Peter Taylor and the trio of the boardroom Mark Lawn, Roger Owen and David Baldwin that the interim manager is pleased with the plans that the club have hastily put in place at his behest and a gambling man would bet on the manager remaining in charge next season.

The club’s planning over the previous decade and a half has been – in places – dreadful from the days of signing Dan Petrescu and Benito Carbone and having them change in one place and train in another to the wandering blindly into giving up the club’s biggest asset in Valley Parade to the current, much discussed situation.

Let us not rehash these problems, dear reader, but concur that they exist and consider how they could be circumnavigated.

Having spend much of yesterday in and around Fanny’s Ale House in Saltaire within a stone’s throw of the buildings of Shipley College I recalled the Business 101 class I took back when The Doc was still City boss – which was rather grandly called The Organisation In Its Environment – and the lesson that said that businesses were guided by a set of principals.

The businesses – as a rule – were plc’s of which the Bantams are not but the principals which took the similarly grand name of Articles and Memoranda Of Association were in place to define to any and all what that business was about.

They divide into two sets being Articles – the aims of a company – and the Memoranda – which are the objectives. In short what the company is trying to do, and how it is trying to do it.

Aim: “Bradford City aim to offer season tickets to supporters at affordable prices”. Objective: “The club will ensure that season tickets price going to games in line with similar activities such as a trip to the cinema”.

One has to wonder if such a constitution exists at Valley Parade – they may do – and if such a constitution could be made public. A set of principals that tell supporters exactly what they are supporting and tell those involved in the club at all levels what they are signing up for.

If Peter Taylor does sign up to be City manager next season them signing players from the current set up will occupy him. Of the team that is expected to take the field at Dean Court tomorrow a half dozen of them are contracted to stay at the club and the rest are looking to impress.

Matt Glennon and reserve man Jon McLaughlin are both out of contract and one doubts that the senior man has done enough to ink his name on a contract. New manager’s often mean new goalkeepers.

Zesh Rehman is contracted to be around next season, Simon Ramsden has no deal but most would keep the latter – who returns to fitness – and release the former. The topper most of the achievements Taylor could have is to get Rehman playing like a player capable of operating at a higher level once more.

Taylor is said to be a massive fan of Steve Williams and one can see him being around next season and the same could be said for the massive Luke Oliver who seems to have stepped in front of Matthew Clarke who – it seems – is playing through his last days at Valley Parade.

Robbie Threlfall has no deal at Liverpool and one suspects no future there – when was the last time The Reds brought through a local lad? – although his performances have suggested that he is worth a deal from the Bantams if no one else offers him anything.

Ten years ago a player coming out of one of the top clubs would cost anyone interested £500,000 n the assumption that the Liverpools and Manchester Uniteds only took the best rather than the current situation where they take – well – whomever they can get their hands on. Now they are simply lads like those who City release and are looking for contracts at whatever level they can get one.

Not that Louis Horne or Luke O’Brien will be looking for deals. They both seem set to stay with City next season with O’Brien growing into his left wing role he will continue in tomorrow. The right hand side has Omar Daley and Scott Neilson with one injured and the other out on loan. Gareth Evans – another who is staying – will take the right hand side with Gavin Grant looking to get a chance to impress following his return from injury.

The middle two perm from the three of Lee Bullock, Adam Bolder and Michael Flynn with the latter moving up front to cover the repositioned Evans and Taylor no doubt wanting all three around next season. Certainly the ability to not have to change central midfield tactics with Bullock’s now spent suspension has been a boon and if all three can stay then Taylor has more of a chance to keep continuity in that area of the field.

James Hanson could hardly have had a better season seeing off Michael and Rory Boulding to establish himself as City’s leading striker and there seems to be more chance of his being snapped up from above than leaving to someone below. Ryan Kendall is looking for a club next term but even with his goal scoring antics last week he is to stay on the bench to allow Flynn to join the attack.

Rounding up the others Jonathan Bateson, Jamie O’Brien, Leon Osborne, Luke Sharry and Stephen O’Leary are all looking very much like they will struggle to get new deals partly through a lack of chances in the case of the injured O’Leary and O’Brien and partly through a failure to gasp those chances. The tragedy of the season is Luke Sharry’s first half against Port Vale where a promising player failed to take his chance with two hands while Leon Osborne has never had the impact to suggest he will have a future with the club.

Nevertheless as the club winds down the season going neither up nor down then all these players may get a chance to impress. It is ironic that as the Bantams weigh up who will get a deal and who will not their opponents AFC Bournemouth have had to rely on exactly that sort of player and sit third battling for a play off place with Notts County and Rotherham – teams adapt at spending other people’s money – with any plan they ever had to progress thrown out of the window.

Eddie Howe spins gold from what he has, but he has nice training pitches.

Update Since writing Bradford City – and me – have had various injuries. Simon Ramsden is definitely out giving Zesh Rehman the right back role. Gareth Evans has an injured foot that will allow the right hand side to go to the aforementioned Sharry perhaps and hopefully the youngster can make the impression he hints at. Gavin Grant could also feature.

Ryan Kendall will almost certainly get a game with Michael Flynn’s injury ruling him out while Matthew Clarke has a calf injury that ensures that the Williams/Oliver partnership can play again unless Rehman moves inside and Bateson can feature at right back.

I have a bad knee and am limping around the house getting on Mrs Wood’s nerves and wincing every time I walk. I have no idea where the knee tweak came but I have not suffered a heavy tackle or ran for a ball and as I hobble around the house I reflect on the idea that at times players are expected to get on with the game when they are feeling as I do, or worse.

This leads me to recall this story about former Arsenal man Perry Groves who when playing in a reserve game at Luton Town was hacked fairly viciously as he stormed down the left wing. Groves lay on the floor in front of the fistful of Lutoners who attend second string matches one of whom shouted “Get up off the floor you ginger puff” in the direction of Groves.

Groves, his leg being magic sponge, gingerly rose to his feet in time and turned to the stand to tell the supporter a cold hard fact.

“Mate,” said Groves, “That really hurt.”

Honest

Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on your point of view – I know I saw it in a movie this Christmas – and so as City trundle into 2010 at home to Cheltenham one is given cause to reflect on the utterances that come from Valley Parade and the relationship they have with that most precious of things: The truth.

Lee Clark – manager of Huddersfield Town – has made it clear that he has recalled goalkeeper Simon Eastwood from his time at Valley Parade after what is charitably described as “an up and down” time at City while Stuart McCall suggests that City let the shot stopper go in favour of bringing in a more experienced man. That one club did not want him to stay and the other wanted him to go seems to say enough about the keeper’s time as VP shot stopper.

Eastwood will be replaced in goal – in all likelihood – by Jon McLaughlin who is not the experienced man McCall is seeking but is well fancied by many fans the majority of whom have not seen him play. Blind faith in City players always heartening though and the months put into Eastwood’s development which could have gone into McLaughlin seem to have been waste but sometimes a gamble pays off and other times it does not and Eastwood is set against the success of three other rookies in Scott Neilson, James Hanson and Steve Williams.

Which manager is telling the truth? Perhaps both are, perhaps both are not. Probably both tell half of it. McCall was unsure about keeping Eastwood until he had someone else lined up, Clark wanted him back for fear for his development which is stunted. The truth depends greatly on your point of view it seems.

Stuart McCall’s point of view after the Shrewsbury Town game last week was that it was referee Peter Quinn who won the game for the visitors and not the side from Shropshire. Certainly the vocal comment on Quinn’s performance would suggest that there was a broad agreement with the City boss although other demanded McCall stop using “excuses”

As a position to be in McCall stood on invidious ground. He faced criticism that had City not missed early chances – Simon Whaley’s pinging a shot off the bar being judged in the same way as Gareth Evans’s fluff – then the Referee’s interjections would have been irrelevant (or so the logic goes) and thus McCall is excuse mongering.

How the City gaffer does not point out that appeasing an official for making two such massive errors – errors unsupported by his non-flagging linesman in the most serious case – on the basis that one of the teams had not already scored is avoidance of a much higher order I do not know. When it comes to excuses the “he got two decisions wrong but it was our fault for not having scored” borders on the masochistic.

McCall was not able to be honest after the game – although he tried with his “Shrewsbury have not won that” comment – and nor were BfB our Rochdale honed sense of what will get us sued preventing us from writing the original article that said “Player X and Player Y are cheats, plain and simple.”

I have sympathy for Peter Quinn for that reason. Some of the Shrewsbury Town players were far better at cheating than they were at football and if someone needs to be giving out excuses it should be Paul Simpson for playing those players at all. An honest man would not. To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand – or so Dr Who says.

Simon Ramsden is expected to return for City at right back displacing Jonathan Bateson – who had his best game in a City shirt against Shrewsbury – with Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams being reunited as Matthew Clarke starts his suspension. Luke O’Brien continues to play the season red cardless one of which will be high on the impressive Louis Horne’s new year wish list.

Omar Daley is expected to be kept on the bench once more as he returns to fitness with a stacked January of rearranged away trips in mind – Daley’s pace is incredibly effective on the road – giving Scott Neilson the right wing place opposite Simon Whaley who also impressed against Shrewsbury. Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn continue in the middle.

James Hanson and Gareth Evans continue up front with Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding injured. Hanson continues to win admirers while Evans struggles to impress all. Personally I can forgive Evans the fluff against Shrewsbury – I recall Benito Carbone doing the same against Southampton – because of the striker’s reaction.

Head up, on to the next chance, honest.

Eastwood returns to Town

Simon Eastwood will return to Hudderfield Town following a curious loan deal at Valley Parade that saw the shot stopper both hero and villain and enhance and tarnish his reputation as a potential replacement for Stoke or Everton bound Alex Smithes in the Terriers goal.

Eastwood’s start and lowest ebb at Valley Parade came in the 5-0 defeat to Notts County while his brightest day was against the same club in the penalty shoot out saves he made to knock the then big spending club out of the JPT.

He has at times been described as a liability but has also kept the scoreline in some games respectable with impressive goalkeeping that points to the reason why Bradford City scouts would have been impressed with him in the first place.

Eastwood – like so many young players – is good at playing football but not yet a good footballer. In the last month of his stay at Valley Parade he was noticeably more vocal than he was in his opening weeks showing that the keeper was learning the necessary skills to go from being good at diving and jumping to being able to command a defence.

In thinking of Eastwood I recall the two goalkeepers who wowed for City in the Premiership. Matt Clarke was like Eastwood – full of springs and leaps – while Gary Walsh commanded a defence and had superior positioning that meant he had no need to dive headlong to palm a ball away, he was standing where it would be and could calmly claim it.

Eastwood is a Matt Clarke goalkeeper but to get on the game one needs to be a Gary Walsh. Managers need reliability from their keepers and Eastwood’s errors robbed McCall of that. His wanderings as the ball came over undermined the confidence of the defence and did nothing to help build the understanding that the triangle between centrebacks and keeper needs. One only find this out with regular week-to-week football and the ability Eastwood has to make some impressive saves justified the risk.

Eastwood has much work to do in the next few years improving the mental side of his game if he is ever going to be more than a goalkeeping acrobat.

Considering the limp that Eastwood continued with following an unnecessary and rather violent challenge from Dave Hibbert towards the end of the last match perhaps a replacement for Eastwood would have been needed anyway. City perhaps continue with Jon McLaughlin in goal or perhaps go into the loan market for another custodian – an experienced man in goal could do much to settle a defence which has talent but not organisation – and should the choice be the latter have only a couple of days to replace Eastwood before Saturday’s game with Cheltenham.

The chase continues as City welcome Hereford to Valley Parade

As was learned two years ago, the chase is rarely fun in football.

Bradford City’s first season in League Two was defined by a poor start which left too much ground to make up during the campaign’s final two thirds. Good runs of form had led to hopes of a late play off push, but each defeat felt that more significant as the chasing pack remained out in front. A contrast to the emotions of last season where a strong start kept City in the top seven for virtually the entire first three quarters of the campaign, meaning defeats felt more careless then terminal.

The slow start to this season has left City with catching up to do again. Although the eight-game unbeaten run in the league saw the gap close, the last two defeats have seen it widen again. Stronger conclusions can be drawn from the league standings with each passing week, and the 13th position the Bantams currently occupy – albeit only four points off the play offs – make less than enthralling viewing. Saturday’s visit of Hereford offers the chance to kick start the chase.

The two defeats have prompted a slight puncturing to the growing mood of optimism, exposing the fickle nature of some City supporters with a small number re-commencing with questioning the ability of manager Stuart McCall and prematurely writing off the season as another destined to end mid table. It’s easy to have faith when things are going well; the most encouraging outcome of the recent setbacks is that only a minority of supporters have lost theirs.

Nevertheless Stuart will know as well as anyone the grumbles will increase if another weekend goes by without a win and, with no reported new injury concerns, will have spent much of this week contemplating a few dilemmas ahead of picking a team to bounce back. The biggest question raised by supporters’ concerns goalkeeper Simon Eastwood and the slim balance he offers between stunning saves and stunning cock ups. Both goals at Dagenham could be blamed on the Huddersfield loanee, further testing Stuart’s patience.

As is often the case in these situations, the level of criticism has gone somewhere past sensible. While few supporters would be willing to argue Eastwood’s case, he has not been as bad as some are making out. The cries for Jon McLaughlin to take over ignore the reality that barely 1,000 supporters have seen him in competitive action, or that he began this season with the same level of senior professional experience as his young rival and has shipped in more than a few goals for the reserves. He may be a better keeper, but no one can know for sure and his name might as well be Jon McAnyone-else. It’s an all too familiar type of argument in recent years, you could almost rehash some of last year’s debate about Matt Clarke and Mark Bower, replacing their names with Eastwood and McLaughlin where applicable.

The back four too is prompting unease, with Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman impressing at times but struggling to retain their command through a full 90 minutes. The smart money is on Simon Ramsden eventually moving over to centre back for one of the pair as the season progresses, with the promising Jonathan Bateson brought in at right back. Luke O’Brien continues to hold his own at left back.

In midfield Stuart must decide whether to continue employing the three across which works well on the road but less so when City are the home side, or go back to a more traditional 4-4-2. Lee Bullock’s superb performance against Crewe didn’t prompt the level of praise it deserved while Michael Flynn is matching him in the consistency stakes. James O’Brien is a bit more hot and cold, but is surely worthy of a longer deal when his temporary one expires at the end of this month. Chris Brandon may be brought in to make a four man midfield, although has plenty of convincing to do after a woeful showing against Crewe.

Up front Michael Boulding is expected to have shaken off the bug which ruled him out of playing at Dagenham and be back in contention. Conspiracy theory fans were happy to speculate that his late withdrawal from the matchday squad at Victoria Road was due to him being upset at Stuart for relegating him to the bench following three goals in three games, though if even the tiniest grain of truth was found in this rumour it would look worse on Boulding than it would be considered a harsh managerial decision. The fact Stuart stated after the match Boulding would have started if fit also blasts more than a few holes into the unfounded speculation.

Which may mean an instant starting eleven recall for Boulding, but more likely he will be on the bench with James Hanson, Gareth Evans and Scott Neilson up front. After a bright start Neilson has struggled for form of late, though the difference he made when coming on against Crewe and lack of alternatives makes it unlikely he will be benched for now. It’s worth noting Stuart began the season with Joe Colbeck while still waiting for Omar Daley to recover from injury, with Neilson signed up on Joe’s departure but probably expected to be back up when the Jamaican returns. Neilson has another month at least to prove his worth on a more consistent basis.

Visitors Hereford were last here during Christmas 2007 and the questionable refereeing decisions which paved the way for a 3-1 away success that day left City languishing in 16th place with 24 games to play and prompted Stuart to effectively rule out City’s promotion chances. Promoted to League One that season before coming straight back down, Hereford are improving after a slow start but are yet to register an away win.

For both, the league table reveals there is much work to do in climbing among the promotion runners and then staying with them. Defeat may not be a disaster tomorrow, but the chase would seem that little bit tougher.

Reserved judgement

It’s not just the legions of empty seats that invoke feelings of eeriness and suspicion during reserve team fixtures. For the Bradford City and Huddersfield Town players involved in tonight’s West Yorkshire derby reserve match,  the wide range of people stood watching by the side offered different reasons for their attention.

Impressing the two reserve team managers in the dug out might be the obvious priority, but to the wily this was secondary to catching the attention of the more senior personnel watching from further afar.  For Town, that was manager Lee Clark and assistant Terry McDermott, who plonked themselves amongst the spare crowd nine rows back, with a clear focus on events in front. Then there was the various parents who were clearly present, trying to keep warm and concentrating more on their lad impressing than which team would triumph. Finally, and perhaps most hidden of all, were scouts and the like eyeing up potential signings for their club. A certain Darlington Assistant Manager by the name of Dean Windass was sat in the Valley Parade media section for the first half, leaving one to mischievously contemplate whether the player he might be checking out with a view to his boss Colin Todd signing on loan might be Matt Clarke. Imagine Mark Bower’s reaction if the former Quaker defender, brought to Valley Parade by Todd, was to steal his place again!

But if those in the stands and in the dug out had differing focuses to their watching briefs, the agendas of those on the pitch are rarely collectively on their team triumphing. This was a typical Bradford City reserve outfit that can broadly be broken into four groups. There was the trialists, who usually capture the media attention. Tonight Tomi Ameobi played his third reserve game for the Bantams in his bid to earn a contract. Displaying a good show of strength and decent turn of pace, he impressed in small doses but failed to do enough to suggest he’d climb in front of City’s five strikers and play a first team role.

Also making a third trialist appearance was Clive Moyo-Modise, who had previously played for Rochdale and was close to signing for Stockport over the summer. The London-born winger demonstrated some nice skills to beat players, but his final pass was lacking. He kept losing the ball in promising positions and such a performance in a typical City first team game would attract vicious abuse from supporters. Those empty seats can be a forgiving bunch.

Of more interest is another group – those knocking on the door of the first team. Leon Osborne has made three substitute appearances for the first team this season and, with a lack of regular wingers at the club, may continue to receive chances before Omar Daley’s return. In the second half especially tonight, Osborne looked a menace playing down the left flank and a series of threatening crosses deserved more than to fly past some timid attempts of others in getting on the end.

Luke Sharry is a player I’ve enjoyed watching in reserve and pre-season friendly games. Tonight he again suggested he could take control of the midfield for spells, cleverly using the ball and reguarly picking out the right pass. His best moment came when he robbed a Huddersfield midfielder and played the ball to Ameobi, before finding space to receive back possession and hitting a long range lob which bounced off the cross bar.  Something is perhaps still lacking in his game and that may be gathered by the experience of going out on loan, but the day when Luke finally gets to play a first team game at Valley Parade can’t be too distant and, if and when it happens, it won’t just be his parents full of pride.

Jon McLaughlin is also being talked up for the first team with Simon Eastwood continuing to worry. Tonight he made some decent saves and couldn’t really be blamed for the three goals that flew into his net, but he still falls short of presenting a strong enough case for taking the first term jersey other than the fact he’s not Eastwood. With the on-loan Town keeper scheduled to return to Town in January, his chance may soon come.

But if Leon, Luke and Jon are on the way up, the third group would consider themselves on the way down. Not too long ago Michael Boulding and Clarke were first teamers, but having lost their place they face a battle to impress that stretches beyond playing well in a reserve match. Tonight Boulding and Clarke were judged as much for their attitude as their ability to score or keep out goals. Boulding appeared disinterested at first, but  the spark which makes him a good player was reclaimed as the first half wore on and he cancelled out James Berrett’s opener for Huddersfield with a shot that deflected past Matt Glennon. Withdrawn at half time, he will hope to continue where he left off if given the chance to come off the bench against Chesterfield on Saturday – opponents he scored twice past last season.

Clarke also impressed with the way he leaded the back four, barking instructions constantly and notably offering advice to central defensive partner Louis Horne. In the second half an upset Clarke got into an argument with McLaughlin over the keeper’s lack of dominance in his area, invoking memories of the numerous spats Clarke had with Rhys Evans last season.

Which leaves the final group of players – the younger ones, who competed keener than most throughout. 1st year apprentice Alex Flett took Stuart’s coverted number 4 shirt and put in the kind of all action display that suggests he can one day follow in his manager’s footsteps. At left back, Andrew Villermann got forward effectively and stood up well to the dangerous Lionel Ainsworth. With Luke O’Brien the only left back on the books, the scenario of Villermann or Horne getting a first team game before the season is out is far from unlikely. Phil Cutler also looked confident at right back.

Huddersfield took the lead three times – Rory Boulding bundling home City’s second equaliser following a corner after Berrett’s second – with Ameobi having the decisive touch at the wrong end after poking a Town free kick into his own net. Yet Huddersfield fielded a  strong team which included the tough tackling Jim Goodwin and Gary Roberts, who had ran riot against City’s first team in the League Cup tie last year. Midway through the first half Town reserve team manager Paul Stephenson barked instructions at his players, before looking over to Clark in an obvious attempt to seek approval. That’s the suspicion of reserve games, who exactly is trying to impress who?

For City’s four groups of players, their level of success differed.

Togetherness

The six minutes of injury time at the end of the second half seemed to last forever but when the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the game there was much relief in the away end where about 500 Bradford City supporters had cheered their team on to their fourth consecutive victory. The players and management team approached the City faithful and responded to the applauds from their supporters at the end of the game. Michael Flynn, scorer of City’s second goal even had a kiss for his good lady (I assume it was his wife) who was in the away end.

The key characteristic to this fine 2-1 win was the togetherness shown by the City team. This was especially displayed by substitute goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin who put his arm around current first choice keeper Simon Eastwood as he walked off at half time following a nasty collision with ex-Brentford striker Nathan Elder. Indeed there were chants of “there’s only one Simon Eastwood” from the away supporters which has certainly not been heard at Valley Parade yet following his loan move from Huddersfield Town. However, Eastwood produced a couple of excellent saves in the first half including one in the opening few minutes from an Elder header, when the home team started strongly.

City scored with virtually their first attack of the game on the quarter hour mark and it owed alot to the impressive Flynn who out fought Shrewsbury captain and ex-Plymouth and Sheffield Wednesday player Graham Coughlan to the ball. Flynn having won the ball crossed from the right and Gareth Evans was there to produce a clinical finish to put Bradford one up. This goal seemed to settle the Bradford players down with Jamie O’Brien and Lee Bullock playing well in midfield. With about ten minutes of the first half remaining, City doubled their lead thanks to a wonder strike from Flynn. He was about 25 yards out when he unleashed a long range shot which gave the Shrewsbury goalkeeper, Phillips who was making his home debut, no chance with a goal that would have been shown a dozen times on Match of the Day if it had been scored in the top flight. This goal will hopefully banish those memories of the saved penalty kick in the Lincoln home game.

City went in at half time 2-0 up and although we had played some good football, we were probably fortunate to be two goals up. Like the first half, Shrewsbury started the second half stronger although Flynn produced another long range effort which Phillips was equal to this time and tipped the ball over for a corner. Shrewsbury continued to press forward and hit the woodwork. However, just when you thought that it could be City’s day, up popped ex-City loanee striker Hibbert who scored with a glancing header to reduce the arrears. At this point, there were mutterings in the away end and you thought that City might throw away a two goal lead. However, the defence stood firm with Rehman, who was injured in a clash of heads with Hibbert, continuing to develop his partnership with Steve Williams. The former non-league player is getting better with every game that he plays and although it is still very early on in his City career, Williams is looking very assured in his play and reminds me of Dean Richards.

As the game progressed in to the final stages, Simpson saw his shot hit the woodwork as the City goal led a charmed life. However, it would have been harsh on the Bradford players who showed plenty of determination and periods of neat passing to come away with only a point. We’re only six games into this season but who would have predicted that a City team without Thorne, Michael Boulding and Brandon would come away from the New Meadow with three points?

The Bradford City management team deserve a lot of credit for spotting the potential in players such as Ramsden, Williams, Neilson, Flynn, Jamie O’Brien, Hanson and Evans. I’m not getting carried away, indeed I predicted a mid-table finish for us this season before a ball had been kicked, but it’s so good to see these young and hungry players starting to form a strong unit.

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.

Five Questions About Bradford City in 2009/2010

Five questions about Bradford City in 2009/2010 were asked to a whole bunch of people connected to City from City officials to long time fans, from mascots to midfielders and naturally to BfB writers. Some people replied, others didn’t but these are the questions and then the answers…

  1. What are your hopes?
  2. …and your fears?
  3. What or who will be the most important thing for City this season?
  4. …and what or who will surprise us?
  5. And finally, how do you see next season ending?

Dan Horsfall
New BfB writer

What are your hopes? We are here as a club this time next year, with you asking this very same question. It’s a few years since we dodged that bullet, but I still feel pretty lucky whenever I realise that we, Bradford City, still exist. A shot at the play-offs would be nice as well.

…and your fears? Our big (league 2) club mentality cannot be shaken; ‘small’ clubs still see VP as a place where the bus should be parked (on the edge of the box), our fans still expect promotion and get on the players’ and manager’s backs. Macca leaves after Christmas, season over, tickets for the subsequent year never really take off.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Zesh Rehman. Is he the ingredient that will alchemically transform our fortunes? Probably not, but he will be hugely important at the heart of our defence.

…and what or who will surprise us? How hard the division will be. It has been a poor division in the past, but this season you can think of maybe 10 teams who will fancy their chances of promotion. Not just the obvious, but the Rochdales, Daggers, Crewes – there will not be many easy away games. I also think Boulding could put in a decent shift, which would make all the difference.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? Sneak the last play-off place and enter the showdown as a team with confidence.

Jason Mckeown
City Gent and BfB Columnist

What are your hopes? As disappointing as last season turned out, it shouldn’t be forgotten it was the closest City have come to gaining promotion for a decade. But for that end of season collapse, a play off spot at least would have been achieved. Hopefully City can build on the positives from last season and finish in the top seven if not top three.

…and your fears? That a slow start to the season results in too many supporters turning on the team and manager Stuart McCall, feeding the sort of negative atmosphere that has undermined efforts on the field in recent years. Last season supporters were too quick to turn on the team. It was easy to sing and do Mexican waves when City were 5-0 up against Aldershot last March, but where was the backing for the players when Port Vale went 1-0 up two weeks later? Let’s get behind the team in victory and defeat, remembering it’s a long season.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The ability to bounce back when things go against the team is vital. During the first half of last season we saw some brilliant fightbacks, for example at Accrington and Luton and at home to Chesterfield. During the second half of the campaign the spirit was lacking and there were too many collapses. When City fall behind, the players need to retain the courage and belief to come back.

…and what or who will surprise us? When reading about a new signing, the words “former Man United trainee” strikes heavy in my heart. I think of Eddie Johnson, Ben Muirhead and Ashley Westwood – all players who looked decent at times but ultimately came up short, appearing to lack something. Gareth Evans arrives this summer with that ex-Man U tag, but I remember been impressed by him when City beat Macclesfield at Valley Parade last season and think he could prove a shrewd signing. Could Evans become the first number 9 widely-liked since Lee Mills? Now that would be a surprise.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? Even though other teams in this division have bigger resources, there’s nothing to fear. A play off spot or even better should be achievable.

Lenny Berry
The City Gent, Mascot Legend

What are your hopes? My hopes are to at least get a play off position this season bit disapointed last year to say the least.

…and your fears? My fears are that we start of not so good and the rot sets in. Its all about getting stuck in.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The most important thing I would think is keeping there head above water financially and 2nd promotion. Come on you Arabs we have a great mascot! lol

…and what or who will surprise us? Lot to choose from on that account with so many new players about looking at some of the young lads to give it a go and show the 2nd division its not all about money.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I think we may end like I said in Q1 think maybe end up in the play offs at least. Looking forward to doing my stuff.

Tony Pasquariello
City Fan

What are your hopes? Today, 3rd August 2009, I have been to pick my season ticket up, and there was an air of optimism around the ground(everyone from the people in the ticket office to the people in the club shop were buzzing about the forthcoming season) Last season was a season of what-if’s. “What if we had done better against this team?, what if we had beaten/drawn against this team?”. In reality, last season we were 2 points, yes 2 points off the play-offs. But that is LAST season, and we need to build on that position.

…and your fears? My fear is that the team seem to be lacking a leader. An actual battler in the centre of midfield. No offence to the midfielders that go out there week in, week out, but someone in the centre to take a game by the scruff of its neck and turn it around. The captains armband has been given to Peter Thorne in recent matches, but realistically, he isn’t going to play every game.

Also, with new signings, a team takes time to gel, to work out how each other plays etc, and if it is not done quickly, this can sometimes prove costly. Pre-Season has gone well, only 1 defeat, but there still doesnt look to be any sort of leadership in the middle of the park.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The single most important thing for City this season will be the fans getting behind the team 100%. Win or Lose. On the few occasions I managed to get to VP last season, I actually heard people Booing their own team!!

…and what or who will surprise us? I think that some of the younger players will be featuring in the squad more this season, and I think they will be the ones to look out for. Players such as Luke O’Brien, Rory Boulding, Jon McLaughlin and James Hanson. Players that have been on the fringe of the first team but have not seen regular first team action, I believe that it will be their year to shine.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I can see this season being the year for us. We need to capitalise on the success we had last year. We are 3rd Favourites for promotion! Come on lads you can do it!!!

Dave Pendleton
From Bantams Past

What are your hopes? We’ll surprise ourselves and do very well.

…and your fears? That the moaners will turn on the young team – in particularly the keepers.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Stay positive.

…and what or who will surprise us? If the fans remain positive…

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I can’t shake off the feeling that we’re in for more of the same. However, trying to keep in the positive mood, a late surge grabs us the final promotion place and Valley Parade goes insane!

Luke Lockwood
Young writer

What are your hopes? I hope is that we are competetive in the league and on the last day of the season are still competing for a promotion/play off spot to keep the excitement running until the end. And I also hope we manage to finally end the curse of the cups and manage a little run with a tasty third round away draw against one of the big boys.

…and your fears? My fears are that once again we miss out on even a play off spot, the fans turn their backs on our beloved Stuart and Luke O’brien scurries off on a free transfer with us receiving no more than a small ‘compensation’ fee. Furthermore Omar Daley returns at christmas but has lost his electric pace, without which he would be a very mediocre player, and Peter Thornes ageing limbs stop him from playing regularly or finding the net.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Whoever takes the starting berth next to Lee Bullock in midfield. I’m not sure what we need is another Stuart but someone who can weigh in with a few goals. More of a Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, with Bully doing the ugly stuff. (Since writing Flynn has signed which seems to answer Luke’s worries)

…and what or who will surprise us? Mr.Eastwood in goal. I am unfortunate enough to live with a Town fan, who also works at club and from what I have heard Eastwood is regarded highly by our ‘friends’ down the road but they consider Smithies to be the best young keeper in the country and have just given him a 5,000 pound a week contract to fight of interest from Everton. Also Joe Colbeck, once before when everyone doubted him he went on to become player of the season. I expect him to do the same once more unfortunately due to his contract not being renewed it may result in us losing him.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? The league to me is so open this year and impossible to call. I think we will finish in the top 7 though, but miss out on the automatics. A big day out at Wembley to finish with and a sense of deja vu against Notts County!

Tom Warden
Singer/songwriter and freelance writer

What are your hopes? As they have been for the last 3 pre seasons, my hopes are to get out of the basement division, that we can avoid the traditional slump that seems to spoil every season and that we bantams might have something to celebrate after much frustration and disappointment.

…and your fears? I am afraid that we have not, as of yet (Again, Flynn’s signing came after this was written), filled that hole in the centre of midfield. It is an area where last year we were too often bullied out of games and should this happen again confidence may drop and the team may struggle. The defence and forward line look strong but it is someone to get stuck in and do the dirty work that we may be lacking, if only we could clone Stuart in his heyday…

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? First of all, the fans. At too many times over the last few years abuse has been thrown at the players far too readily. We are supposed to be the 12th man, spurring our men on, not hurting their confidence because they put in one bad cross. By no means should we be blinkered but we should not be alienating players who can make a difference by getting on their backs. Shout until you’re hoarse and do your best to inspire, then if it goes wrong you can’t say you didn’t do your part. Secondly, whoever plays in goal. At the time of writing, we are going into the season without a recognised goalkeeper, Eastwood or McLaughlin may well step up but if they dont have what it takes, we are in trouble from the very beginning.

…and what or who will surprise us? I’m going to stick my neck out and say we’ll be surprised by the non-league boys. Hanson and Williams will be relishing the chance to play league football, especially at a club with ambitions of promotion and should be hungry to impress. Hanson’s record especially is impressive and with the improvement in quality at non-league level, making the step up is no longer the daunting prospect it once was. These guys should show the passion that has been missing in recent years.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I see absolutely no reason why we cannot be looking at a top three finish. Injuries permitting we have a strong XI which is capable of beating any opposition in what I think will be a very open league.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Everyone pitch in as City play Chesterfield in pre-season

There is a fantastic story about Harry Redknapp debating with Ron Greenwood how much he we be paid as a retainer by West Ham over the summer of his contract. The story – punch line “Yeah but Bobby Moore ain’t a better player over the summer” – is from a bygone age in the game where players who picked up £100 a week during the season got paid a retainer, rather than a wage, in the cricketing months.

All my footballing life I have felt the squeeze of the close season. It used to stretch out like an acre of time in front of one after the FA Cup final but now – even in World Cup less Summers – it is reduced to as close to a month as possible and that month is all speculation. Valley Parade – if memory serves – used to close in June. It does not now.

This was the way of things. Two years ago when he arrived at Valley Parade Stuart McCall managed a fortnight on holiday which represented the downtime but with the news of McCall’s remaining at the club, with Jon McLaughlin being given a run out and contract offers being discussed 2008/2009 is the first season to not have finished when the next one started.

Chesterfield – a sell out in anticipation of a play-off play-off which is not happening for either side – is a pre-season friendly. McLaughlin gets a run out and Lewis Horne may find himself given a debut while Leon Osborne may be called back to first team action. They are without Jack Lester with the former Grimsby striker – albeit no Barry Conlon – suspended. It is that kind of long afternoon.

It is a long afternoon to bid farewell to some that many might not want to have a good journey but would like to see away. The disappointment of the season is laid at the door or the senior players and the likes of Paul McLaren, Michael Boulding, Graeme Lee and Chris Brandon are to be offered reduced deals. Everyone will have their own opinion on who is to have roast beef and who is to have none but ultimately – perhaps – the finger pointing shows a lack of collective responsibility which has dogged the team’s performances all season.

“McCall and his staff” – a phrase one hears increasingly as the importance of the backroom team is suggested – have the collective responsibility and show it by sharing pay cuts. One hopes that a new spirit is cast in this time of retention that says to the players who do want to remain – Kyle Nix vocalised such a desire this week – that they must do so for what would be known as “The right reasons”. McCall expanded the points saying

“I will be taking a voluntary pay cut and some of the staff might have to do the same. It is horrible to have to tell people that but it will have to be done in the next couple of days. Even the lads that we want to stay will be getting a reduced offer.”

Only be at Valley Parade if you want to be at Valley Parade.

City’s side for Saturday – McLaughlin aside – is anyone’s guess and the future is cloudy but a future it is. Stockport County face a shaky future and Darlington perhaps no future at all. Whatever comes next season then City fans can and will know that it has been shaped in some way by last week’s pro-testament paid to the manager.

That much – at least – we take into pre-season.

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.

That Neville Southall feeling

John McLaughlin’s injury – he will miss the game that should have have been his debut away at Barnet at the weekend after he and Darren Byfield clashed in a closed doors friendly with Doncaster Rovers and the keeper was knocked out – leaves City looking for an emergency keeper and sends fans minds racing back to a Sunday Sky TV day in 2000 when Bradford City were left scrabbling for a keeper and ended up with Neville Southall in goal.

The history of City’s need then differs to now. Stuart McCall the manager decided to have three keepers at the club: Rhys Evans, McLaughlin and youngster Matthew Convey; for financial reasons more than footballing ones – an extra goalkeeper costs, unsettles and is not often used while when McCall the player reteamed with his former Goodison Park team mate Southall in 2000 for the home game with Leeds United it was because of a set of circumstance that while common place in the madness of that Premiership season were curious to say the least.

Gary Walsh had lost his place to Matt Clarke who had in turn been injured – both those custodians having been impressive to say the least – and Aidan Davison had taken on the gloves superbly but with Clarke heading back to fitness – or so we were told – in the week before the home game with Leeds which represented a first top flight Valley Parade clash with our rivals in many lifetimes and a chance for an in form City to snatch some bragging rights.

That week saw the transfer deadline pass on Thursday and at the time Clarke was expected to be fit although Paul Jewell had seen the need to go looking for another keeper alighting at Elland Road. Recollections become rumours here and this story lacks hard confirmation but it is said that Jewell asked Chairman Geoffrey Richmond for money to spend on a promising keeper he had seen and Richmond gave him £200,000. Jewell made a bid – £180,000 – for the second string keeper at Elland Road and had it accepted on the proviso that the player – Paul Robinson – did not play on Sunday.

If that is true then one can only assume it was brinksmanship that saw City walk away from the deal. Perhaps – three months before the club’s meltdown began – it is an indication that something was rotten in the state of Denmark. Nevertheless Clarke was – it was said – fit to play until Sunday morning when it was announced to supporters, Sky and all that he had fallen down the stairs at home and was not fit.

Rumour became fact – “Clarke lives in a bungalow”, “he was never fit” – but on that Sunday morning a young keeper named Danny Taylor prepared to glove up to make his Premiership debut in the West Yorkshire derby.

Apologies to Danny if this is incorrect but the description that followed is as simple as it is brutal. Taylor bricked it.

Jewell watched as his youthful keeper quivered in the dressing room in the hours leading up to the game and knew that he had no chance to putting the player – who now runs a barber’s shop in Bradford – into a Premiership game. His only other option was 41 year old goalkeeping coach Southall.

I heard a story about Southall once that broke a man’s heart. The Everton keeper played before obscene wealth in football but still must have made a few quid but whatever he made he had squandered forcing him to – as the story I heard goes – beg his agent for public relations work to pay the bills. Before playing that game for City Southall had been in goal for Torquay a month or so before because in the frankest terms he needed the money.

So Southall took to the field and the rest is a history cruelly told. My recollection is that Southall had three saves to make all game and only got to one of them – his mobility was limited to say the least and it seemed that he could not dive – leaving Leeds to score twice with the reply of a stunning, Match of the Day title making Peter Beagrie goal. The Guardian noted after the game that City had the spirit to suggest that they might be up for a relegation fight that they eventually won. Leeds went on to the Champions League and – as a result of ridiculous investment based on that – to where they are now.

Southall – perhaps the greatest goalkeeper Great Britain had produced – became a laughing stock. It was an unfair end to the career of a legend of the game.

Unfair too on City. Leeds fans would argue the point but I believe that on that day the Bantams were the better side and that with a keeper able to perform would have been left celebrating a win over them from Elland Road. Fate is fickle but adversity bred a spirit in that side that saw Liverpool and the last day of the season escape.

Fast forward nine years and the Bantams are looking for an new keeper in the days leading up to a game that could not be further from a Premiership derby – away at Barnet – but is perhaps no less important as Stuart McCall’s side mount a promotion push and look to maintain momentum. Evans’s strain and Convey returning from loan at Salford City injured along with McLaughlin’s enforced absence after being knocked out are things that few could cater for.

Perhaps though – if there is a moral to the Southall story – it is that success in football is often subject to the arrows or outrageous fortune.

The back up waiting for the call

Reserve team manager David Wetherall’s pre-match team talk would have played heavily on it.

Barely 48 hours since the first team had suffered its first significant setback of the season; this was an opportunity for fringe players to stake a claim. Manager Stuart McCall, watching in the stand, has repeatedly talked about how the strength of his squad means those in the team have to maintain standards or lose their spot and, while a radical revamp is not expected nor encouraged, this performance may help lead to that theory being tested ahead of Shrewsbury.

Despite the game ending in a 1-0 defeat, it was a decent performance by City’s second string against a youthful Leeds side; with chances and territorial advantage stacking up in favour of the home side. After his decent substitute cameo against Bournemouth, Barry Conlon continued where he left off impressing with his hold up play and passing. Strike partner Rory Boulding matched his work rate and was at the heart of City’s two best first half chances. The best of which resulted from his excellent hold up play which allowed Blackburn trialist David Ryan – who showed promise, if a little rawness – to cross the ball and Sean Taylforth to strike an effort against the post after Leeds keeper Alan Martin had fumbled. Minutes before Boulding had cleverly flicked the ball into Conlon’s path, who fired over.

That chance had also been created by Luke Sharry, who had a promising game in the centre of midfield. Tenacious in the tackle and strong going forward, the 18-year-old was at the heart of much of City’s best play. He consistently sprayed passes across the pitch to spark attacks and his only weakness was his failure to play the simple ball when the opportunity allowed. The fact Dean Furman did not figure suggests the on-loan Rangers midfielder features in Stuart’s thinking for Saturday, but a first team debut for Sharry cannot be far away.

In the second half Willy Topp replaced Conlon and impressed on his return from injury. As with his first team appearances to date, the Chilean can be guilty of taking too much time on the ball and causing moves to break down through lack of awareness; but his touch and dribbling skills excite and it’s to be hoped he can finally get over the little niggles which have blighted his City career and make an impact in League Two.

The chances still mainly went City’s way, with a glorious pass to Luke O’Brien by Sharry allowing the left-back to charge forward and cross for Topp, who couldn’t plant his header beyond Martin. Kyle Nix looked industrious as ever, alongside Sharry, though Taylforth and Leon Osborne will not be threatening Colbeck and Daley’s places in the team on this showing.

Neither will goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin, who inexplicably fumbled Sam Jones’ long range shot into his own net for the game’s only goal. The former Harrogate Town player will be hoping Stuart wasn’t paying attention at that point, particularly as he had little else to do to all evening as he tries to convince that he could be called upon if Rhys Evans gets injured.

City continued to apply pressure and Boulding forced a great save from Martin when through on goal, but the visitors defended well. Perhaps it wasn’t as strong a performance as many of the players would have liked to have put in, but when it’s Stuart’s turn to deliver his next team talk he may be warning a few to watch their back.

The silly season

A comment posted this week on one of the various City-related message boards read, “No wonder people aren’t buying the season tickets…how pathetic City, c’mon pull your fingers out…

It’s not the first time City have been labelled ‘pathetic’ by one of their own, and it certainly isn’t going to the last. The reason for this supporter’s particular anger was the lack of signings so far and belief that all targets should be on board before Sunday’s season ticket offer ends, to encourage floating fans to purchase in time.

They were not the only fan to state such views this week and, if he bothered to read these bulletin boards, Stuart McCall could be forgiven for scratching his head. Usually the role of a manager is to bring in the right players in time for the next season. It would be easier to understand why City were considered ‘pathetic’ if it was the week before the big kick off or if these supporters had only just started supporting the club and never experienced a close season, but when have City ever sorted even half of their summer signings by June 15?

Undoubtedly this a frustrating time of year for football supporters; by June most of us have forgotten the previous season’s frustrations and are anxious for the next one to begin. With pre-season friendlies not starting for another month, there is little to get excited about other than new signings. Each day I, as I’m sure do many others, anxiously check the City-related websites for news of who might be coming in, and the loading up of The Telegraph & Argus website to find a tame news story about something unrelated is unsatisfying.

One such piece appeared earlier this week, where Stuart McCall spoke about finding Holland’s first Euro 2008 match inspiration for how he’d like City to play next season. A comment underneath the piece complained that, “Instead of McCall watching the Euro’s, he should be on the blower to players and their agents he has already spoken to and firmed up his offers.” Imagine that, Stuart McCall being allowed to relax and watch TV in the evening instead of spending every second chasing his targets? Disgraceful stuff, hasn’t he just been on holiday?

Not that we City fans can even agree on what makes a good signing when they are made. It’s been amusing to read opinions of the various targets and types of players Stuart should be chasing. There are many fans who think we should be after, “young, hungry non-league players.” Sure there is a risk they might not be up to it, but they will be so grateful for the opportunity they will always give 110%, unlike some of the current shirkers in the squad. Clearly not everyone agrees and the signing of Harrogate Town keeper Jonathan McLaughlin prompted sarcastic remarks from some along the lines of, “ooh wow I’m sure that will encourage everyone to rush out and buy a season ticket!

It would be fair to assume that those calling for City to sign ‘hungry non-league players’ are the same people who, when City were in the two divisions, were calling for City to sign ‘hungry, lower-league players’; but now we are firmly stuck in the lower leagues, why don’t we look to sign those ‘hungry, lower-league players’ instead?

Then there are the former players, with calls from others to sign up any former Bantam potentially available. As great as it would be to see Nathan Doyle, Simon Francis or Robbie Blake back at Valley Parade, such hopes are largely unrealistic. Even if they were available would they want to play in League Two? I was particularly worried to read comments that City should sign free agent Gareth Edds, until he signed for Tranmere. Why would we want to bring him back? Wow, that would get people rushing out to buy season tickets (oops, it’s contagious!).

But it’s one definite former player City are targeting which leads to the other major difference of opinion over who City should sign. Darren Moore was at Valley Parade for talks this week and, while it seems unlikely he’ll be rejoining this summer, you would have thought City fans would be in universal agreement this was a good move. Forgetting the fact he was a hero of our last promotion winning side, here is someone who was playing Premiership football last season and is wanted by around 14 other clubs. But no, according to some, he’s too old.

In what feels like a jump back nine years to a time when our team was considered a laughing stock by the national media, our squad is suddenly too old and we need to, “lower the average age.” At 34 Moore is coming towards the end of a successful career, but like second summer signing Chris Brandon (33) and other target Luke Beckett (31), he is hardly over the hill just yet. One would have thought that, with Dean Windass and Peter Thorne both joining City at 34 years of age, this would be the one club who’s supporters appreciate that playing careers last longer these days, and age is just a number.

“Oh and don’t forget Darren Moore wasn’t really that good for us and left because he was a disgraceful money grabber.” The truth about these two criticisms is somewhat different, of course.

In our promotion winning season Moore was one of our stars, making over 50 appearances. He had one particularly poor game at home to Huddersfield and was dropped, yet he quickly won back his place and made the PFA divisional team of the season. Even if he was ultimately considered not good enough for a team promoted to the Premier League, it hardly makes him a poor signing for a League Two club now.

As for money grabbing, imagine if the organisation you work for started performing outstandingly, partly thanks to you, and they brought in new employees on larger salaries. Wouldn’t you expect to be rewarded too?

Should we get Beckett or Boulding to strengthen the forward line next season? Are Carlisle pair Paul Arnison and Zigor Aranalde the full backs to bomb forward in the manner Stuart wants next term? Is Lewis Emmanuel really worth another go? Whoever we sign it’s guaranteed some will be delighted, while others will offer reasons why it’s a bad move.

The wait for summer signings can be frustrating, amusing and exciting, but no matter how many different opinions are offered it should be remembered it’s one person’s view which ultimately matters – which the rest of us need to have faith in.

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