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.

City XI lose 3-1 to Manchester City XI

On a wet Tuesday afternoon at Valley Parade Bradford City lost 3-1 to Manchester City with Peter Thorne getting his second goal of pre-season in the first half and a clutch of trialist getting a run out as Stuart McCall continues to whittle his squad.

City’s side was best described as a mix of kids, second stringers trial players and the odd full professional such as Thorne who scored midway through the first half to put the Bantams back on level terms. The Manchester City team was mostly drawn from the Academy and can be best described as “a bunch of players who have next to no chance of playing for Manchester City” despite some impressive skills on display.

Impressive for the Bantams was James Hanson who seeks to join Steve Williams in jumping from non-league to full professional with City while Jevgeni Novikov and Jordan Hadfield – who held midfield for City – fight for spaces in the Bantams midfield for next season seemed to shrink with the news that Andy Holdsworth would – should he come to League Two – sign for City over his former manager Peter Jackson at Lincoln City.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City visit Bradford as pre-season continues

The Wool City Derby is not what it once was. This former Football League clash is pre-season for both clubs now and, despite the odd fall out over a loan player, it is a fixture on the calendars.

City tend to take the first team to Avenue and last year won through an imperious display by Paul McLaren. This year others look to make a mark.

Chief of these being Alan Mannus the goalkeeper who was bored against Burnley and will hope to have the scope to impress.

The same is true all over the field where the Premiership newbies were tamed but some players were not able to catch the eye.

One who did was Steve Williams who has come from being the barber of Banner Bridge to slotting in well next to Matthew Clarke. It is worth noting that scrapping at grounds like Avenue is part and parcel of Williams career to date (and for that matter also impressive James Hanson) while the likes of Jonathan Bateson and James O’Brien are used to big league reserve football. How well all can adapt to the low key is perhaps the theme of this game.

Fitness is built-up of course and Stuart McCall will look at his formation having played an enterprising game for forty five minutes on Saturday before shutting down with Jordan Hadfield busily impressive.

These men looking for contracts have an inside track to a team which having moved on high earners can look to sign players, should they be needed.

For Avenue’s part City seem on the whole welcomed to Horsfield Stadium. Rivalry aside most would love to see both clubs doing better to reverse what is a staggering downturn in West Yorkshire football in long, medium and with the seeming loss of Farsley Celtic short term.

How does one put the Wool City Derby back on the Football League calendar? One can only guess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evolution meets revolution when Burnley arrive at Valley Parade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-season begin with new faces but no McLaren

City returned to the rigours of pre-season training with Paul McLaren conspicuous by his absence poorly and three trialists including Macclesfield’s Jordan Hadfield whom is targeted as a holding midfielder in the Dean Furman stylee. Winger Grant Smith and defender Steve Williams also join training.

New signing Simon Ramsden articulated the attitude towards the season suggesting that at his former club Rochdale promotion might have been fun but at City it was expected. Attempts to defuse such feelings after the famed slashed wage bill obviously having little effect.

Ramsden is right though most will expect a challenge for League One and rightly so. City have gone down to the financial notch everyone else in the league was at last year but not below and as such even the uncharitable would conclude we stand at least the same chance as everyone apart from Notts County and they stand a good chance of being this year’s Bradford City or Shrewsbury.

Much however depends on McLaren, Hadfield or whoever ends up in that fulcrum role in the side.

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