A life more ordinary as Bradford City lose on penalties to York City

The Team

Ben Williams | Tony McMahon, Rory McArdle, Nathan Clarke, Alan Sheehan | Paul Anderson, Christopher Routis, Gary Liddle, Mark Marshall | Luke James, Steve Davies | Josh Morris, Billy Clarke, James Hanson

Let us not, dear reader, waste too much time with the symbolism of Bradford City’s long standing record of winning penalty shoot outs coming to an end at York City. Eventually all sequences end.

Let us look instead at the nature of the performance that led to the penalty shoot out. Once again Phil Parkinson’s team put in a hollow performance. There was a shell of a performance and there were moment of good play and spells of in game dominance but in the core of the display was empty.

City are playing without character and, truth be told, it has been that way for sometime. Bristol City, Preston North End, Swindon Town. These games tell the same story as York does. Playing some good stuff, having chances, but when pressure comes the players – both collectively and individually – failing to show the mental toughness to stop games from going against them.

Which is hard to say about the team and especially hard to say about the team that builds its reputation on having that very quality. Two down at Chelsea, Arsenal equaliser, Burton away and so on.

And of course we have to realise that having a team that showed that level of character was a hard build thing on Parkinson’s behalf. Forged perhaps in the Crawley Brawl and build though an historic League Cup run the opposite of which we have seen this year we got used to having a team that excelled in its mental toughness, and its character, and its spirit.

We are used to that team.

What we have now is the team more ordinary.

That we return from York City recalling a fine volley from Christopher Routis and talking about how serviceable Routis was in midfield is an illustration of that ordinariness. Routis gave City the lead peeling away at a set piece and cleanly striking the ball in after a deep cross.

Sitting in the middle of a 442 with Gary Liddle Routis played some good football and Liddle’s breaking up skills were important and the problem was a collective one of character rather than one of performance it is worth dwelling on the performance for a moment.

Make a square mentally between the central defenders and the central midfielders. Controlling that square is absolutely how teams win football matches. Stopping the opposition playing within that square is what good teams do.

With Nathan Clarke as one corner of that square struggling to get up to speed following his signing and Routis on the other struggling to constantly maintain his corner the square stretched and York were allowed too much of the ball in that most dangerous position.

This manifest itself when Clarke was run at, and Gary Liddle brought down, Reece Thompson was he broke into the box. The gap between Clarke and Liddle was too big and Thompson got to pick his attack. Luke Summerfield scored the penalty.

Later James Berrett would hit a free kick in after being pulled down by Rory McArdle stretching too far and again showing the gap between defence and midfield. Defenders should not need to lunge for the ball in such a way and that McArdle did continues the theme of the mental toughness that is lacking.

Mental toughness, and character, are much to do with how much faith one puts in one’s teammates and at the moment the answer to that question is not much. Rory McArdle will lunge at the ball believing and only he can get the ball away, Gary Liddle will bring down players believing he and only he can make the tackle.

Every goal that goes in comes with a worrying Ben Williams lambast – which seems different in character from Jon McLaughlin’s similar shouts but in a way I struggle to quantify at the moment – which suggests that he has not got the belief in the defenders. The way defenders turn away suggests the feeling is mutual.

The defence of Williams is that he can not be expected to save anything that comes at him – a curious job description for a goalkeeper – but I’m not sure how Williams’ post-goal antics fit within that. On assumes anyone who believes that Williams should not be expected to stop any of the six goals he has conceded this season would also not expect Alan Sheehan to score a penalty. His miss tonight compounded Billy Clarke’s on Saturday.

James Hanson equalised in the last minutes of stoppage time and going forward Mark Marshall looked interestingly threatening while B. Clarke, Luke James and Steven Davies – to be known as Serpent Head or Serps if you will – looked good. Paul Anderson struggled all night.

But one of the marks of the ordinary team, rather than the extraordinary heroics of the last few seasons, is the clenched sigh of what could have been had various strikers done more. It is football’s l’esprit d’escalier.

The penalties favoured York.

So now then

Phil Parkinson has admitted that he allowed Jussi Jääskeläinen to leave the club rather than the Fin signing for Wigan over City. Chris Kirkland is, it is said (although not by me), training with City with a view to filling the number one position. That Parkinson watched Jääskeläinen for two weeks and then decided he was not the man suggests that the City manager is looking for something Jääskeläinen could not give him.

Likewise City have had a bid accepted for a defender – believed to be Connor Goldson of Saturday’s opposition Shrewsbury Town although you trust rumours at your peril – but one can not underline enough how the problems with Parkinson’s side are not solved by signing players.

York City looked like middle of League Two team and when the applied pressure to City – just as Swindon did on Saturday – City had no reply. Players became disconnected to other players. The shape broke up. The lack of whatever you would call it: team spirit, belief in one’s peers, confidence; was obvious.

Those things are uncommon. Ordinary teams do not have them in the abundance Phil Parkinson has built them into recent Bradford City teams.

This is Phil Parkinson’s hollow team. As a manager he knows what he wants and he knows this is not it. It will take time, and hard work, to build them back into this Bradford City team.

City beating Dartford in dressing rooms, manager’s offices and boardrooms

Bradford City beat Conference side Dartford 4-1 in the second round of The FA Cup with an ease which would suggest that the Bantams were old hands deposing of lower teams in knockout football.

It was hard to remember that three years ago around half the number of people here tonight saw City beat Burton 3-2 AET in the League Cup that concluded at Wembley in a game which less than half the first team played. Or so it seemed at the time when Gary Jones, James Hanson and Nahki Wells sat out the match.

If one were to look at the litany of failure than was Bradford City in knockout competition in the 2000s one would recall half teams being half interested playing in front of half full grounds.

The very obvious result of 2013’s run to the League Cup final and the transformative effect it had on the club has been convincing Bradford City that using games like this to rest players is a poor idea. Whatever one gains in freshness one loses – or perhaps just fails to gain – in the positive effects of playing teams in knockout football.

Winning games brings confidence. Confidence is what makes groups of footballers in football teams. One recalls how Phil Parkinson’s side found itself after Aston Villa and Arsenal, or indeed after Burton, and one cannot help but think that if anything is to come from this season over and above the middle of League One then it will come from a similar path.

So Parkinson prepares the team properly and sets out the team properly and one can expect that in the dressing room the team was told to take Dartford as seriously as any League One side faced and one also expects that that message has been repeated in at the training pitch. One also doubts that the chairmen will have questioned Parkinson’s decision to push the club forward in Cup competitions. The days of vague mumblings about the cost of progression either on legs or bank balances are over.

The club is changed. When walking onto the field the City team was noticeably unnoticeably changed from last week. Jon Stead was favoured over James Hanson who made a late appearance that would see him cup tied. Billy Knott and Gary Liddle were given the opportunity to continue what looks to be a fruitful partnership in central midfield and Filipe Morais was given the chance to replicate on the right what Mark Yeates does on the left.

Watching Phil Parkinson’s return to 442 the most obvious deficiency is a lack of pace in the side and the most obvious place to add that pace is on the right wing or in the player who plays off the front man. Which is to say where Kyel Reid or Nahki Wells played.

This creates a situation in which Filipe Morais and Billy Clarke approach games attempting to show how useful both can be almost to point to the other as being where the change should be made.

In fact today when City were leading by three or four goals Billy Clarke was upset with Morais for not finding him in the penalty area when Morais bulled away on the flank. The criticism of Clarke is that he does not threaten the goal enough – good approach play in Mark Stewart was the first thing that Parkinson was not satisfied with at Valley Parade – and so the striker looks to add to his tally wherever he can.

Today he did, a close finish after a scramble on ten minutes that set the tone for an afternoon where City would be largely untroubled. Jon Stead got a second twenty minutes later after turning in a low left hand cross from Yeates and all was going well at half time.

Morais’ third took a deflection to take it past Jason Brown in the visitors goal and Yeates finished off which a curled finish after delighting and tearing into a right back Tom Bradbrook who was never able to cope with the Irishman’s direct running and control of the ball. Lee Noble tucked in a nice back heel for the visitors who deserved something for their trouble and approached the game with a good spirit.

City’s back four of Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies and James Meredith coped with a new keeper Ben Williams sitting in for Jordan Pickford who Sunderland would not allow to play. The back four have joined together strongly and Andrew Davies is the keystone. There are rewards for progressing in this competition and Davies’ contract needs renewing. One hopes the one begets the other.

Bradford City go into a third round draw as a reward for the approach to knockout football which seems to have taken root at the club, at least in The League Cup and The FA Cup.

Dartford were treated with respect and respectfully beaten. There will be hope of what we might call “another Arsenal” to follow of course but seeing the club having learned something from the last few years one might thing we might settle for another Dartford.

A victorious night for Bradford City in all but result

The Team

Oscar Jannson | Liam Moore, Steve Williams, Guy Branston, Robbie Threlfall | Mark Stewart, David Syers, Chris Mitchell, Michael Flynn, Jack Crompton | James Hanson | Ritchie Jones, Nialle Rodney, Ross Hannah

With five minutes to go in this 1st Round League Cup tie, all seemed as it usually is whenever this derby fixture takes place. Leeds United were winning, thanks to a slightly fortuitous goal, and looking very comfortable in holding on, as their fans chanted about hating Man United to prove their indifference to us. Bradford City’s players were still giving their all but looking beaten, while we vociferous away fans were beginning to quieten and face up to defeat.

Yet for 70 game minutes and a memorable half time interval this evening, it seemed as though the world of West Yorkshire football was experiencing an almighty earthquake in its status quo; and that, even when the after shocks would have died down, things would have never quite be the same again.

This was an extraordinary night for City. Up against their more illustrious neighbours who sit two divisions above, they twice roared into a lead to threaten a cup upset in front of 17,000 supporters and a national TV audience. Up until Ramon Nunuez fired home a Leeds winner with 15 minutes to play, it would be difficult for anyone to dispute that the Bantams had been the better side. After such a dismal showing against Aldershot last Saturday, the best we could realistically have hoped for in this game was a respectable performance in defeat. We got so much more from the players, which overshadowed the pain of another Leeds defeat.

It was evening that will not be quickly forgotten. When Mark Stewart darted into Leeds’ penalty area and past three defenders 31 minutes into the tie, years of disappointment left you glumly expecting his cut back to fall just out of reach for the onrushing Jack Compton and so be cleared. Yet Compton got their first, lifting the ball effortlessly into the back of the net in front of the Leeds Kop – thus sparking delirium.

For a second we froze, not quite daring to believe it had happened. And then, unreserved jubilation; cheering at the top of your voice and lots and lots of jumping up and down while hugging anyone and everyone.

The feeling of happiness was overpowering – we are leading Leeds United at Elland Road. And no matter what was to happen for the rest of the evening, we’d just enjoyed unadulterated pleasure that no one could take away from us. This may not be on a level with promotion or Liverpool in 2000, but it was genuinely one of the most exhilarating moments I’ve ever experienced following City.

And incredibly we got to do it again. Leeds had woken from their inexplicable first half slumber with an equaliser a minute into the second half; but rather than implode City just continued to play with astonishing self-assurance and guile. Michael Flynn was picked out by the outstanding Robbie Threlfall, before charging into the box and striking the ball powerfully into the top corner. This time it was right in front of us, but still the one-second pause to make sure our eyes aren’t fooling us was required. The celebrations seemed even more manic, and when I began to regain self-awareness of where I was I realised my non-stop hugging and dancing with strangers had left me half way down the gangway and a few rows from my seat.

That City went onto lose the game in many ways didn’t really matter. We’d given Leeds United an almighty scare. We’d experienced two unforgettable moments of sheer ecstasy. We’d played with so much courage and commitment that our prospects in League Two this season now seem so much healthier.

Sure, actually winning the game would have topped it all off empathically. But what a bloody amazing night.

A night where it was impossible not to feel a huge surge of pride in being a Bradford City supporter. 4,100 of us ventured into Elland Road, and the passion and energy put into backing the team through constant chanting and cheering is what the football supporting brochure advertises but rarely delivers. The atmosphere was electric, and – it must be noted – so much more enjoyable than our last meeting with Leeds three years ago.

On that occasion, there seemed to be a greater sense of entitlement that we should be capable of beating Leeds, which led to the usual moaning about players and positive backing evaporating when an early goal was conceded. As for the chanting in that game, so much of it was about expressing our hatred of Leeds that it felt more a sideshow than genuinely fun.

Anti-Leeds chants were aired at times tonight, but overall the choice of songs was all about our love for Bradford City and in support of our players. The volume and regularity of the chanting was outstanding, and all around me at least it seemed no one was unwilling to join in stretching their lungs. Much more productive than wasting our energy moaning and booing.

The response from the players told its own story. Lining up in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation that saw Stewart moved to the right flank and Chris Mitchell allowed to play in a more natural central role, the Bantams took the game to Leeds in a display carrying genuine attacking threat that, for the first 20 minutes, saw all the chances occur at one end. Flynn and Stewart fired in a couple of shots each which flew wide of the target, while David Syers continued where he left off on Saturday in linking up the midfield and attack with intelligent running and passing.

At the back Steve Williams’ return added a much greater level of assurance, with Guy Branston alongside him producing the kind of committed performance he’s loudly promised to contribute and Liam Moore looking anything but the novice his age and experience suggest he should be. With new keeper Oscar Jansson looking reliable, a solid base worked well in sniffing out a lightweight Leeds attack and helping the team get forward.

Cue Crompton – in much better form tonight – scoring in front of the Kop and the bedlam in the away end. Leeds attacked with more purpose as the half wore on, but at half time the mood of excitement among supporters on the concourse had reached uncontrollable levels – it reminded me of Wolves in 1999. Just 45 minutes to hold on for a result we’ll never forget.

Sadly the dream was punctured by Nunez producing a curling shot that flew into the net a minute into the second half. But when Crompton fired narrowly wide two minutes later and then Syers robbed the ball from Paul Connelly and raced into the box, shooting just past the post, it was clear this City team is made of sterner stuff than others who have worn claret and amber in recent years. James Hanson was a constant menace all night, and his clever off the ball running helped Flynn find the space to make it 2-1 on 57 minutes. The dream was back on.

Perhaps if referee Colin Webster had awarded a penalty when Hanson seemed to be tripped in the box by Patrick Kisnorbo it would have been game over. Perhaps if David Syers hadn’t collided badly with Andrew Lonergan – causing Peter Jackson to have to replace him with Ritchie Jones – City would have remained more solid. As it was, Ross McCormack headed home a second equaliser on 70 minutes when he was left unmarked in the box. Five minutes later, a loose ball took a deflection off Branston, presenting Nunez with a tap in for 3-2. 15 minutes to play, but it felt like game over.

Leeds finally took control and could easily have scored a couple more, but that would have been harsh on a City side who kept fighting but struggled to rediscover their earlier dominance. Nialle Rodney and Ross Hannah were brought on, but neither really got into the game. Deep into five minutes of stoppage time, a half volley chance for Hannah ended with a tame shot easily saved. The final whistle quickly followed.

No boos from City fans when it did. No significant grumbles about the effort and application. Only warm appreciation and proud cheering as the players came over to applaud back. “Why can’t we perform like that in the league?” is a pertinent challenge that it’s hoped the players will respond to in the right way. But with the disbelief of the half time booing on Saturday still a hot topic, thar challenge is one to also be directed at us supporters.

Tonight everyone connected with the club was united in support of the same cause, and it’s gratifying to note just how much was achieved from it. If we could all replicate such admirable efforts towards the bread and butter stuff, the season will surely prove to be more rewarding. Perhaps, like tonight, the club won’t quite accomplish as much as we’d like this season, but surely we will have more fun along the way.

Our footballing world had returned to sobering normality by the end of this game; yet for 70 game minutes and a memorable half time interval this evening, we proven that we have the collective ability to truly shake things up for the better going forwards.

The story, and the story not told

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Lewis Moult, Tom Adeyemi, Tommy Doherty, David Syes, | Gareth Evans | James Hanson, Jake Speight, Chib Chilaka

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 Entire Unexpected Entrance of David Syers

The Team

Jon McLaughlan | Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams, Shaun Duff, Liam O'Brien | Scott Neilson, Tom Doherty, Lee Bullock, Omar Daley | Louis Moult, Jake Speight | James Hanson, Simon Ramsden, 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.

An evening to savour or get out the way?

Driving back up the M6 towards Skipton after Bradford City’s opening day defeat at Shrewsbury Town, a convoy of Nottingham Forest supporters’ coaches crawled by the other way. The passing of ships in the early evening night carried a certain symbolism – for in recent years both clubs have been travelling in very different directions.

It wasn’t that long ago that City v Forest was a regular league fixture. First in Division One from 2001; then, after a one-year break caused by City getting relegated first, in League One. A pair of fairly big fishes tredding in choppy lower league waters, struggling to recover from calamitous falls. Each club specialised in under-achievement, and struggled to adapt to the fact recent Premier League glory days probably wouldn’t be re-lived anytime soon.

But while City sunk another league, Forest resuscitated and now return to Valley Parade for this League Cup tie a big Championship gun looking to avoid a giant-killing. The differing fortunes have much to do with finances and Forest’s stronger fanbase – no need for cheap season tickets to entice supporters to the City Ground, even at their lowest ebb. Yet the fact things can change relatively quickly offer hope for City that they too can follow Forest’s journey of revival.

Now which way up should this map be?

The Notts Forest supporters were travelling home from Burnley on Saturday night following a 1-0 defeat. Ah Burnley, remember when we used to be able to look down on our neighbours from just over the border? But then the Championship is now bursting with teams that not long ago we considered ourselves well above: Doncaster, Hull, Scunthorpe, Swansea, Barnsley – and let’s not even get started on Blackpool.

City have not so much been driving in the slow lane, watching others overtake them, as stuck on the hard shoulder with smoke coming out the engine.

Perspective in football is always changing. And it’s nights like this – rather than Saturdays like the one coming up when Stevenage come to Valley Parade, where it hits home how much City have faltered over the last 10 years. Four years ago City travelled to Forest on the opening day of the season as equals, the narrow 1-0 defeat which occurred offered few clues to the great chasm which has since developed. 59 league places separated the clubs at the end of last season, it’s a long way back.

After the disappointment of Saturday, Forest’s quick return up North to Valley Parade this evening is probably looked upon by Peter Taylor as an unwelcome hindrance. The City manager returned from Shrewsbury with plenty of food for thought and, for the first time since he took over last February, faint criticism from some fans over his team selection and tactics.

The flaws of his 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation at the New Meadow were expertly exposed by Graham Turner’s strong outfit and, despite the success City enjoyed from this approach at the back end of last season, there are calls for a return to 4-4-2. But against such strong opposition as Forest, albeit as the home team, it will be a tough dilemma to abandon or stick with the extra defensive benefits the so-far employed tactics offer.

Do City have a go this evening, take the game to quality opposition in an attempt to get them on the back foot? Or is it better to prioritise containing players of the calibre City won’t face during the bread and butter league campaign? Does Omar Daley’s return from suspension encourage Taylor to play two out-and-out wingers to supply crosses for two central strikers, or would that risk a central midfield two ending up over-run by a team known for passing the ball?

A year ago McCall was slated for playing 5-4-1 at the City Ground, though the then-City boss was already in a position where whatever he attempted to do would be criticised by a section of supporters. The surprising level of dissent shown towards Taylor by some fans in the away end on Saturday, and on Message Boards in recent days, would suggest  he’s not in the ‘can’t lose’ position this nature of cup tie would normally represent. A poor showing tonight, and the criticism may get louder.

With such uncertainty over what formation Taylor will play and the possibility of resting players, it would be wasting mine and your time to try to predict tonight’s starting line up. We may see a struggling-for-fitness James Hanson rested up. Both Louis Moult and Jake Speight impressed when coming on from the bench on Saturday, and one or both may get the chance of a full debut alongside Gareth Evans.

Daley is likely to be given a first outing of the season, either up front in a three-man attack or as a wideman. Light relief on Saturday came from a heated argument between two City fans in the second half, triggered by one angrily questioning why Taylor didn’t bring Daley on. When the other person sought to  point out the obvious – the Jamaican was suspended – the exasperated retort was “Yes I know, but why doesn’t he bring someone on like Daley!” The debate raged on about how Taylor didn’t have such an option, and suddenly the importance of Daley in City’s promotion bid became evidently clear.

Also in line for a first appearance is Luke O’Brien. Alongside Zesh Rehman a scapegoat for many fans last season, the duo’s absence saw Scott Neilson and Luke Oliver take over the roles of being singled out for abuse and may now be dropped. Luke still has a lot to offer this club – and after Robbie Threlfall’s dismal performance on Saturday, perhaps even as a left back again – but faces a difficult fight to claim a regular spot. Zesh and Shane Duff may also earn a start. Michael Flynn is nearing a return to fitness, but it’s questionable whether he or Tommy Doherty will be risked from the start tonight.

Like City, Forest go into this season having to cope with heightened expectations following their over-performance in finishing 3rd last season. Manager Billy Davies is robbed of five players due to international call ups – including £2.65m Welsh striker Rob Earnshaw. That may allow one-time City loanee Dele Adebola a rare start, who should receive a warm reception on his first return.

Last season against City, Davies opted to play several first team players. Chris Cohen and Paul Anderson ran the show that evening; though after going onto become key players in their ultimately failed promotion bid, they may now have been elevated to the status of needing to be rested ahead of a home game with Leeds this Saturday. Their exclusion would increase City’s chance of causing an upset.

Tonight’s game will be a useful exercise in how City measure up to one of the best sides in the Football League – and how much progress there has been towards bridging the gap over the last year. But while a cup run will be welcome in this season especially, Taylor is likely to be prioritising Saturday’s game with former club Stevenage. A repeat of that famous win over Forest in 1995 will be most welcome, but only if it helps the team in their quest for promotion like it did that season.

But ultimately we should fear defeat this evening and the start to the season becoming worse before it gets better. A year ago after losing at the City Ground McCall declared “the season starts here.” Taylor may end this evening uttering something similar.

No apology needed

There will have been much to occupy Bradford City manager Stuart McCall’s thoughts as he made his second return journey up the M1 in days on the back of a heavy defeat. A degree of pride was restored on route to yet another early exit from the League Cup, but the aggregate 8-0 score from the two trips to Nottingham tell of a shocking start to the season that sees pressure building ahead of its first home game. At the final whistle Stuart told his players “the season starts here”, but the fear remains that the last few days are a taste of what’s to come.

City were much better at The City Ground compared to the general feebleness evident less than a mile away at Meadow Lane on Saturday. Mindful of playing too open again, which had contributed to the heavy opening day defeat, Stuart opted for a 5-4-1 formation with James Hanson taking the left wing spot when City were on the defensive and fellow debut signing Gareth Evans asked to take on a lone assignment that was supported by Hanson when City were on the attack.

The objective was to frustrate a talented Nottingham Forest side, who passed the ball around quickly and accurately only to be frustrated – for 47 minutes at least – by a well organised Bantams backline which was able to plug gaps. In a dull first half the only chances of note were a Lewis McGugan free kick Simon Eastwood did well to tip wide and a Lee Bullock header over after some promising City build up play.

Essentially, it wasn’t pretty from City. The notion of playing defensive football and only one striker is something which upsets a number of City fans, who will happily roll off the number of times it hasn’t worked and tell you they’d rather watch City go for it and lose. But, considering the gulf in the two sides, there was plenty of encouragement to be taken from how well City contained their Championship counterparts and a feeling that, with more practice, such an approach can pay dividends in some away fixtures this season.

Steve Williams made a very impressive full debut and Simon Ramsden, switched to the centre, demonstrated his versatility and made one crucial first half tackle when it appeared Forest might score. Zesh Rehman – captain for the night – recovered from a torrid afternoon on Saturday to look more assured and debut full back Jonathan Bateson got forward well when he could. In midfield Michael Flynn looked promising covering the back four, though the formation didn’t seem to suit Joe Colbeck who was anonymous for much of the night.

It’s up front that will have given Stuart some of the strongest encouragement for playing this way on the road again, with Evans performing a brilliant job holding up the ball and allowing others to get forward. Stuart’s previous attempts to play with a lone striker have been hampered by the lack of striker who could adequately play such a role, but Evans’ effectiveness and work rate suggests he now has that striker. The downside of City’s tactics was that, predictably, they were less of an attacking force in the final third, with the number of black shirts getting into the box when on the attack too few for possession to be fashioned into decent chances. Still as Evans battled hard and Hanson showed some good dribbling skills, Stuart may have been tempted to glance ruefully over to Meadow Lane on his left and wonder what he might have done differently last Saturday.

The other problem with defensive tactics is when the opposition score and the urge to find a plan B, though how well City did in almost coming back at Elland Road last season when sticking to 4-5-1 shows it’s far from game over. Two minutes into the second half Forest claimed the lead when Nathan Tyson found space on the left and crossed for Paul Anderson to head home. City might have equalised after Evans brilliantly held up the ball and picked Hanson out, but his burst through one-on-one with Paul Smith was cut short by a late flag for offside.

Any encouragement sought from the move was extinguished by Forest instantly going 2-0 up after Tyson again provided a brilliant cross which was tapped home by Dextor Blackstock. The impressive McGugan added a third after another flowing move and the night ended with further misery after Bateson’s none-to-clever lunge on Tyson was rewarded by a red card and the Forest striker having to be stretchered off.

So beaten, but it was difficult to fault the players’ efforts if not their quality. A Forest-supporting friend told me afterwards that his side’s second half performance had been their best for some time and the consolation for Stuart is that City won’t be facing opposition of this calibre in the league. Yet still these are worrying times, pre-season optimism is ebbing away and City go into two successive home games without yet having managed a goal.

But while others can lose their heads with worry – a visit to City’s official message board finds one fan demanding Stuart be sacked should City lose to Port Vale Saturday – the man in charge must not lose his. As Stuart’s thoughts of the defeat occupied his mind travelling back up the M1, the so-far positive stance he’s adopted in defeat is far preferable to the miserable persona of the end of last season. The only worry when hearing he was planning to play more defensively-minded at The City Ground was how much he talked of it upsetting supporters in the past – as though he’s previously stopped himself doing it for fear of upsetting some geek on a message board.

No matter what, Stuart is still widely-loved for his close relationship with this club, but a certain detachment is needed from him in order to worry less about letting people down and focus solely on doing the right thing. City may be out the cup, but against higher division opposition on top form it’s difficult to muster any meaningful reasons to criticise Stuart for that. Instead, like Stuart, the focus should be on the next game and the much work needed ahead of it towards getting the season belatedly going.

Not a great night in City’s history, but the biggest positive may prove to be that Stuart is not attempting to apologise for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourteen days of difference between Bradford City and Huddersfield Town

Huddersfield Town line up for a League Cup second round game against Sheffield United looking at a break from the league to give them the same kind of boost they had when they beat Bradford City 4-0 two weeks ago.

In the two matches after that, Town have recorded a single point and go into the game against the Championship side on the back of a 3-1 home defeat to MK Dons after which Stan Ternant admitted he had “picked the wrong team“. This, coupled with the single point on the opening day leaves Town – retroactively many people’s favourites for promotion – struggling with two points.

Meanwhile, back at Valley Parade, not a goal has passed Rhys Evans since the fourth strike from Huddersfield and two Bantam goals in each game have put City in a commanding position in League Two’s embryonic table.

All of which contrasts sharply with the mood and the nerves after the Town defeat. The thought now that City might not have enough in the locker for a promotion campaign – “Its not nice watching your team getting beat, but i am sure you will get plenty of practice this season (sic)” as one Town fan who commented to BfB said – has been put to bed by Saturday’s impressive win over Rochdale.

Much is talked about Stuart McCall’s abilities as a manager but this is – on the whole – in the context of his recruitment abilities and the results his teams get which to date have been mixed but the first gold star in the golden haired manager’s portfolio comes from his minimise-and-move-on that followed the thrashing at Legoland. “It happened”, McCall’s manner said after, “Get over it.”

So City’s midweek is taken up watching Barry Conlon put five past Grimsby’s kids and casting an eye over the newboy from Brazil Italo Maciel while Town line up against McCall’s former side looking for a victory but knowing that the league form must take precedence. A slow start can be navigated around – City won promotion after two points in seven games in 1998/99 – but the League Cup is an unwelcome distraction from getting the campaign on track.

The gulf that separated the teams fifteen days ago could – at the weekend should Millwall and Hereford win and Aldershot Town lose – be reduced to a single space spanning from the bottom of one division to the top of another.

Now who would have thought that fourteen days ago?

Bragging rights and how to claim them

…and then the kick off and things started well for the Bantams with a fluidity of play that was inherited in possession from Saturday seeing the midfield pair of Lee Bullock and Paul MaLaren compete and then get the better of the centre of the park giving City ball.

The strike pair of Boulding and Conlon offered the midfield few outlets with Boulding too little a target and Conlon dropping off to take the ball into feet too close to the Town middle.

When it worked for City the pair linked with the big man finding the tricky feet of the little one and the nearest either side came to a break through came when Boulding got into the box and fired a rebound into the side netting. It did not work well very often.

That the League One team were restricted was in a large part down to Graeme Lee who for fifty odd minutes was the best player on the field by some distance. Fifty minutes in and Lee had is post concession hands on knees when a cross from the left had been tucked home by Jon Worthington.

Worthington headed home running between Lee and Matthew Clarke after Paul Arnison had been double teamed without Omar Daley’s help at the back. Daley had his other sort of game tonight following Saturday’s excellence and Joe Colbeck returns at the weekend.

City’s reaction to going a goal down was poor. Huddersfield’s realisation that getting tighter to the two midfielders would reduce up to hopeful balls to a struggling Conlon and an ineffective Boulding blunted City and from then on every time the Bantams gave the ball away there was danger.

One doubts Huddersfield will be as clinical and cutting as they were again all season but the magnitude of the scoreline had more to do with them enjoying the sort of game where players like Robbie Williams who have been blasting free kicks wildly for 12 months bend them top corner but when a team gives the ball away as often as City did they are asking to be punished and so it happened.

Composure was lacking and heads went down. The parity of performance, let alone score, of half time was hard to recall.

Peter Thorne came on but he finishes moves made by others and by that time such inventiveness was lost leaving Stuart McCall wondering where it all went wrong and more importantly how to put it all right again.

Football is a game of simple things the most basic of which is the need to keep the ball.

So bragging rights to Huddersfield fans or rather some of them. No, not the missing 7,500 who stayed at home but those who were replied to the customary chant from Bradford to our neighbours of “Have you seen the Premier League?” with the grotesque “Bradford bastards burning down.”

Sing it, don’t stop the guy next to you singing it. Don’t jeer the people who do sing it. If you fall into any of those camps you’ve got no right to claim any brag to anyone.

Huddersfield Town vs Bradford City – League Cup First Round 2008/2009 preview

Having won on the first day of the season Bradford City go into the first local derby in sixteen months with tails high and a wound to heal.

The last visit to City’s least favourite rivals at the end of the 2006/2007 was one of the low lights not only of that season but of the fall from the Premiership which we hope to have now turned around as Huddersfield recorded a simple 2-0 win against a lifeless City side under David Wetherall’s management.

A season and a bit later and investment and management sees City looking upwards for the first time and Stuart McCall getting an early chance to measure himself against a team from a higher division,

McCall faces a Huddersfield side managed by a former assistant boss from Valley Parade whom he played under – Stan Ternant – who thanked goalkeeper Matt Glennon for a last minute save that stopped the lead they had taken through Andy Booth from being turned around to defeat in the 1-1 draw with Stockport at the weekend.

As with McCall’s City Ternant has stacked experience in his side with the likes of David Unsworth, Chris Lucketti and Luke Beckett – almost a Bantam joining Booth and Danny Cadamarteri who was a Bantam and a really wretched one at that. Added to that are a selection of youngsters who have come through Town’s set up and one could expect that as a higher league team they may be tempted to give some squad players a run out.

Former Town boss Bill Shankley said that were Everton playing in the back garden he would close the curtains but knew that winning the Merseyside derby gave his Liverpool team important bragging rights and such factors may change the teams put out.

McCall is expected to give the majority of the side that started at the weekend in the win over Notts County but may be tempted to give Michael Boulding a first start over Peter Thorne who suffered cramp after his two goal haul. Either that or Willy Topp will be given a chance to emulate his hero Edinho – well, my hero – and score at Town’s ground. Barry Conlon is likely to retain his place.

Chris Brandon is missing for a return to the club he has just left and Joe Colbeck misses the final game of his suspension leaving Omar Daley free try continue his impressive start. Kyle Nix on the left with Paul McLaren and Lee Bullock in the middle although McLaren’s tender ankle may give Luke Sharry a start.

Paul Heckingbottom, Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke make up three of the back four the other is right back Paul Arnison who splits opinion for reasons that pass my understanding. Playing behind Omar Daley is a hard enough job for any full back with the winger far too often allowing a man to go past and double up on the full back. Not only did Arnison’s direction keep Daley closer than any full back has previously managed but he got forward and supported Daley to boot.

Add to that his assist on the first goal and one wonders just what a full back has to do at Valley Parade be considered to have performed. Stephen Wright, Gunnar Halle, Gus Ulhenbeek, Darren Holloway and Darren Williams have all been been pillared at points yet Simon Francis and Nathan Doyle were loved. Similarly Heckingbottom is criticised for things that Andrew Taylor and Luke O’Brien are not. It would seem that the forgiveble players – loanees and young lads – play as full backs do and are excused and full time seniors are never forgiven should a single winger go past them.

Rhys Evans keeps goal and Stuart McCall bites his nails on the touchline. This is a chance for the Bantams to notch a scalp on what we are hoping is the way back, to win bragging rights and to build the morale that can keep the league performance ticking over.

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