Living up to the hype…

City’s highly impressive start to the league season continued as they maintained their 100% record to cast aside last season’s playoff finalists Rochdale.

This was the sort of clinical win that really gives us justified hope that City are real contenders this season.

Rochdale proved to be very sticky opponents. In fact they dominated much of the play in terms of possession and threatening attacks. But they critically lacked the killer instinct in front of goal, with £60,000 ex Halifax striker Jon Shaw really disappointing, and justifying Stuart’s unwillingness to part with any funds to secure his signature.

A quick glance at the statistics from the game shows that Rochdale had plenty of shots at goal, but failed to get even one of them on target.

Omar Daley had a good early chance as he took possession of the ball with plenty of space on the left hand side of the penalty area, cut inside to the centre, skipped past a defensive challenge, but blasted straight at Dale keeper Russell. But if truth be told, Rochdale had much the better of the early exchanges.

Their build up play was excellent attacking the Kop , and forced City into one or two hairy moments the back. Too often did Arnison allow crosses to come in from the left hand side and threateningly cross across goal. But Dale failed to deliver the goal that their possession and build up play probably deserved.

City edged in front on 20 when Daley released Peter Thorne on the right hand side of the box. The veteran striker then whipped in a perfectly executed pinpoint cross right onto the head of Micheal Boulding, who headed firmly down to celebrate his first Bradford goal.

Unperturbed by conceding, Rochdale continued to press for the following 15 minutes, but again lacked cutting edge. And they were stunned when Paul McClaren whipped in a brilliant free kick from the left that was nodded in perfectly at the back post by an unmarked Peter Thorne who doubled City’s advantage with a header from close range. The irrepressible Thorne has had a stunning start to the season and is already establishing himself as a legend among the City faithful.

There was still much work to do in the second half, and City did it extremely well defensively. Clarke and Lee grew in stature in the second half, and both Heckingbottom and Arnison carrying out their defensive duties admirably. Heckingbottom in particular had an excellent game – and nearly scored a collectors item goal with a brilliant run in the first half!

Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley didn’t have their most productive games offensively, but in the second half, both showed a desire and willingness to track back defensively to help out their full backs. Their effort did not go unnoticed.

Lee Bullock didn’t really get involved enough for my liking – he had very much an “Eddie Johnson type” game. McClaren seemed to stroll through the game in a pedestrian like fashion without really impressing (apart from the excellent free kick) before going off with a knock.

In a rare second half counter attack, Micheal Boulding raced clear with intent. With Conlon lurking at the back post, Boulding ignored the big Irishman and struck a brilliant low left foot shot that beat the keeper, hit the inside of the post, and rolled across the goal line out for a goal kick. Desperately unlucky was the impressive Boulding , who was always willing to run beyond the defensive back four and produced numerous excellent flicks for Thorne to feed on. Their newly formed striking partnership is looking extremely promising.

With time ticking on , McCall basically extinguished any chance of City scoring again by leaving Barry Conlon on his own up front. TJ Moncur came on as part of a five man midfield that was the kill the game off as a contest. Not even the player that outdid City twice last season – Adam Le Fondre, could change the course of the game. He was unlucky late on with a strike that bounced off the cross bar.

But in truth, on reflection over the 90 minutes, City were comfortable and had quite convincingly cast aside the much fancied Rochdale.

They say the makings of a successful team is how they react to defeat. That hellish rainy night at Legoland has not impacted our team and what we are setting out to do in the league. We have followed up that crushing defeat with 2 wins, 4 goals and 2 clean sheets. And even in the game against Huddersfield, we more than held our own for 60 minutes.

The way the team have battled back at Macclesfield, and now against a very good Rochdale team proves that we really are worthy of the League Two hype this year. We have been excellent in every department, and if we can keep that up consistently this season, there is no doubt we will end up as Champions. Inside of sulking about losing to our local rivals we have put on two excellent displays.

Can we keep it up? I think so. City are the real deal this time round and, given the evidence of our nearly fully fit team so far, you would be foolish to bet on them finishing outside the top three.

The important and exciting thing this season is that every position seems to be covered squad wise so that even if injuries become a factor, we have good players who can step in. If Thorne or Boulding are injured, Topp, Boulding (R) or Conlon (or maybe not?!) can step up. If Omar Daley is showing inconsistent form, Joe Colbeck can step in on the right. If Lee Bullock is out injured again, the hungry Luke Sharry wlll want to grab a first team opportunity with both hands. If Matt Clarke’s decision making is called into question at the back, Mark Bower will slot in bringing his experience at the club to the forefront.

These are the type of advantages and options that we have not had since 1999.

This is our season.

It has to be.

The rest of League Two – Preseason 2008/2009 [II]

The numerous season preview supplements produced at this time of year act as a reminder, if it were needed, that the hopes and expectations we City supporters have for the coming season are not dissimilar to the majority of League Two fans.

Much has been made locally about how last season’s promotion of the MK Dons and Peterborough has left a more levelled playing field, but we aren’t the only ones thinking such sentiments. Some clubs will look to Hereford’s unexpected promotion last season and be confident they can emulate it, others may be hoping it’s emerging young talent can push them forward in the manner of Stockport and Rochdale, while others are upping the wage budget in a bid to go for it. League Two may look weaker without the presence of the Dons and the Posh, but it’s likely to be just as competitive.

When considering who might be in the promotion shake up it’s typical to start with the clubs who have spent money, those who lost out in last year’s plays offs and those relegated into the division last season. The club record £170,000 that Shrewsbury Town has spent on Nottingham Forest striker Grant Holt stands out like a sore thumb compared to everyone else’s summer recruitment. Last season was one of underachievement for the 2007 Play Off Finalists but manager Paul Simpson will begin his first full season with expectations not much lower than at Valley Parade.

Holt made his name at last season’s play off finalists Rochdale, who are likelier to be up there come May. Keith Hill has worked wonders at Spotland and their counter attacking approach impressed last season. Arguably lacking a decent striker, the Dale will hope Halifax’s Jon Shaw can make the step up; especially as midfield playmaker David Perkins, twice the thorn in the side of City last season, has left.

Wycombe Wanderers parted company with manager Paul Lambert at the end of last season and welcome Peter Taylor – with more than a point to prove following a difficult couple of years. They will probably do better than the other semi-finalists of last season, Darlington, who have lost star players David Stockdale and, while not confirmed yet, Tommy Wright. Dave Penney spent big last summer but doesn’t appear to have significant funds this time around.

Elsewhere big things are expected of Lincoln City, who prospered last year under Peter Jackson before his time off through illness. New keeper Rob Burch was sought after by others, including City, while Frank Sinclair could prove a clever buy if he still has the legs. Chesterfield fans seem to dislike their manager Lee Richardson but have one of the best strikers in the division in Jack Lester, Alan Knill will be looking to continue his rejuvenation of Bury and they could be dark horses, while Grimsby has strengthened defensively and will hope young striker Danny North can fulfill his potential.

It’s a sad state of the continuing financial problems many clubs in the lower reaches of the Football League are suffering from that this year’s League Two relegation battle could be determined by point deductions. Three seasons ago Luton finished 10th in the Championship, but the odds are heavily stacked in favour of a third successive relegation and drop into non-league following the 30 points taken off them. Play off form will be needed just to stay up and, with the club still in a mess, that seems unrealistic.

Bournemouth and Rotherham’s hopes of merely beginning this season are still in the balance and respective 15 and 17 point deductions look like a best scenario. That may allow other clubs to breath easier but Chester City, another club with money problems, won’t be counting their chickens as they remember how last season’s dramatic collapse in form almost cost them their league status. Some of the division’s smaller clubs, such as Macclesfield, Accrington and Dagenham, will also be targeting the 50 point mark rather than any loftier ambitions.

Gillingham’s recent financial difficulties make it difficult to imagine they can achieve much beyond midtable but Port Vale, under former City defender Lee Sinnott, will be a better bet for an instant return to League One. The league’s new boys, Aldershot and Exeter, arrive with romantic stories of rebirth and should both be good enough for midtable, where they will surely be joined by Notts County, Barnet, Brentford and Morecambe.

The quality of League Two is derided by some, while others trumpet it as featuring real football and real fans. Last season many clubs enjoyed better form on the road but the ones who did make it to the division above were strong at home, too. This season’s League Two promises to be unpredictable, ugly and beautiful; and those successful in realising their pre-season expectations next Spring will probably be all three.

The long haul

The news which broke this morning that Bradford City is considering linking up with a football academy in Mexico, to identify promising players, has been met with a mixed response from fans. While questions of where this leaves the present link up with Belgian outfit Royal Racing FC Montegnee – apparently not going as well as hoped – are valid, the argument against from some fans is that the likely resource needed to secure such a partnership should be spent on signing new players is both predictable and depressing.

Depressing because it is typical of the short-term thinking that continues to steer, and blight, football. Never mind considering a partnership that in years to come may bear fruit and bring possible substantial reward – why haven’t we signed another striker yet?

Coming in a week where City have baulked at paying a transfer fee for a player who would probably be considered back up in the coming season, to the annoyance of some, it’s perhaps unsurprising City’s Mexico link up has been received negatively be some. I read with some confusion that all of City’s efforts should apparently be centred on a promotion push this season, and that failure is not an option. It appears those in charge, at least, see a future beyond May 2009.

The reaction from some of our supporters is not unusual among football followers these days, as immediate success seems to be all that matters. Supporting a club which is well overdue some, it’s understandable newspaper articles about looking to the future cause frustration; but, as the club continues to move away from the difficult financial problems which have hindered progress in recent years, the possibility of them reoccurring shouldn’t be ignored.

News also broke today that the Football League are going to deduct another 20 points from Luton Town, meaning they are set to kick off the new season a whopping 30 points behind the majority of their League Two rivals. A quick scan at last season’s final table shows only the top seven would have survived relegation with a 30 point deduction – a stat which underlines how difficult it will be for the Hatters to avoid kicking off the 2009-10 season in non-league.

Rotherham and Bournemouth’s fates are still to be determined; the former having being told they will need to pay the Football League a £750k bond to continue – on top of trying to agree a CVA with their creditors. Next season’s League Two already hints at carrying a sense of farce.

It must be incredibly difficult for the supporters of these clubs to watch the Football League hit them with further penalties while claiming it’s, “to protect the integrity of the competition.” A worrying precedence has been set following the Leeds United saga last season and, while there’s a logic to clubs receiving some form of penalty for running up debts they can’t meet, the punishments don’t seem to be fitting the crime.

Are City immune? We may appear to be over some difficult times, but a quick look at the club’s history suggests it may not be the last. It’s vital we live within our means, build up the club on solid foundations and make decisions for the long term good of the club – not short term gambles. Refusing to pay £60,000 for Jon Shaw may be considered as lacking ambition by some, but compared to City’s activities in the transfer market since relegation from the Premiership in 2001 it would have been an extravagant signing.

Clearly money is still not awash at City, but the situation has improved significantly. It would be easy to sink it all into buying players, gambling on short term success and hope it then brings in money; but only four teams will get promoted from League Two this season and football’s competitive nature will mean if City are among them it will be an outstanding achievement rather than our right.

It may seem wrong to hear City talk of extravagant link ups across the world and it may ultimately be ruled out as a waste of time; but, as the lower reaches of the game experiences more difficulties and our local neighbours face up to going out of existence, now should be the time for ensuring we never again end up in such a situation. The merits of building ‘the brand’ in Mexico will be carefully considered – not for helping the club get promoted this season, but determining what it can bring City in the years to come.

I’m not losing any sleep over Jon Shaw

City have not gone for Jon Shaw the Halifax striker who ended up going to Rochdale for £60,000 and I’m more than happy about that.

Stuart McCall made it clear that he would have Shaw as a squad man but not for that price and I could not agree more.  For the cost of buying Shaw Rochdale could have paid a good League Two players wage.

That is the reality of football in 2008 in League Two.  You don’t pay transfer fees anymore cause there are loads players who want jobs and at least one of them will be out of contract so rather than giving his club the cash you might as well give some of it to him as a signing on fee.  Football has been like that since Bosman in most divisions.

We all know this so we can ignore the moronic calls that City should have paid for Shaw and that Rochdale are more ambitous than we are.  The £35,000 we paid for Billy Topp might come to something in the future but as a rule if you are paying for players you are wasting money.

It is not amibition that makes a club spend £60,000 on a player it is gambling.  Gambling on promotion, gambling on a resale, gambling that they have found the difference between a good season and a bad one it is a chance that I’m glad that City are not ready to take especially not on a kid forward who despite some noisey City fans saying was a proven goalscorer has only got goals outside the league and was rejected by Sheffield Wednesday.

Good look to Rochdale and that but I’m glad that City are putting the money we have into senior professionals like Graeme Lee and Paul McLaren and not throwing it after the latest kid to bang in a few goals outside the pro-leagues.

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