Peter Jackson goes there and back again as City look for experience

Peter Jackson’s young Bradford City team are more passionate and hungrier than the squad he inherited from Peter Taylor. Take Guy Branston out the starting eleven and the average age of the players is in the low twenties.

The aims that Jackson – and the club – made clear in the summer is that in putting together a young team the manager is creating a future for the club. The last four season – three under Stuart McCall and one under Taylor – have seen four different teams with a half dozen players changed every time. These “overhauls” were the subject of Jackson’s close season planning. They were to become a thing of the past. That is the plan.

Or was the plan. Today news comes out of the club that City are looking for experienced players. Ignore, for the moment, the idea that the Bantams are talking about breaking the budget offsetting that mentally against the £200,000 raised by playing Leeds United which was offered for Romain Vincelot and consider the sort of signings which Mark Lawn is referring to.

Maybe bringing in a couple more experienced players to help the young kids out will help. That’s what we are trying to search for and do – Mark Lawn

Think back less than twelve months to Lee Hendrie’s short time at Valley Parade. An experienced player, one who performed well, and then vanished leaving us with a few more points that we had before he arrived but nothing we could take forward with us. The point of the plans of the summer was to stop short term recruitment. Has this plan really been reversed after five games?

If – as with Hendrie – bringing in old heads gets a few points what impact will it have on the players who were brought in with the promise that they would play

When some players aren’t performing, I know there’s back-up now. We might bring in a young player and put him out on loan. We can still keep a close check on him and bring him back ready to put in the team – Peter Jackson

Which is to say nothing about the fact that the problems that have caused City’s early season form is not the fault of the players but rather of the way they are playing. We could bring in Wayne Rooney but if we whack the ball at him over sixty yards and expect him to do pinpoint knock downs to a single team mate against six opposition defenders then we would get the same return out of him than we do from James Hanson.

Player for player you could swap out someone, and put in someone experienced and not make a massive difference with the players playing in the way – and in the shape – they were in the previous two 1-0 defeats (or rather at the time of concessions in the previous two 1-0 defeats, Chris Mitchell’s midfield role at Accrington was very useful.)

City’s best performance of the season saw a free interchange of the two midfielders David Syers and Michael Flynn with Jack Compton and Mark Stewart. Much of the play which has resulted in few chances has been static with players lacking any dynamics in their performances. Ross Hannah and James Hanson have been pressed against the back line constantly, the midfield has been a straight line, the full backs never getting past the wide men.

Of course Peter Jackson is not standing on the touchline screaming at Ross Hannah to not drop between the lines or Liam Moore to never go beyond Michael Bryan (we hope) but it is the role of the coaching staff to emphasise that need. Perhaps bringing in an experienced player, putting him on the field for a month, and pointing at him while telling Hannah et al that one should “do that” is a way for Jackson to educate his squad but it seems like a big turn around in a short space of time.

Everyone would be a football manager and everyone has their ideas on how a team should play. Mine involve supporting full backs, a drop off striker, one man wide and one tight in the midfield and a holding man to win the ball back. It is that last position – someone to sit deep in the midfield – which Jackson’s side lacks but every other position to play the way I would is covered in the current squad.

The same is true for Jackson. Bringing in Michael Bryan simply duplicated what Dominic Rowe was doing in pre-season. He has four different strikers: One who is superb in the air, one who is rangy and fast, one who drops deep and moves, and one who finishes well and has a stinging shot; but he has no supply to them. Jack Compton could provide that but seldom does he come have options around him when he gets the ball, nor does he get the ball in dangerous positions. Perhaps the players at City could not do the jobs that Jackson wants them to, but they should be given a chance to show what they can do in an organised team.

Poor early season form was expected and the manifestation of that is not especially enjoyable to watch but less enjoyable is the idea that the club is prepared to give up the plans of the summer because of a few bad results.

The 2010/11 season reviewed: part three, how it could have been

A club appoints an experienced promotion specialist who is not known for his attractive football, who comes from the wrong half of the country and the club expect them to lead them in to promotion.

And he does.

On the surface there does not seem to be much similarity between Lasmir Mittel and his friends at QPR who number some of the richest men in the World and the man who used to own a van hire company at Valley Parade but when Rangers appoint Neil Warnock to their job half way through last season they hoped he would do for them what we hoped Peter Taylor would do for us.

QPR are owned by rich people for sure, but they are funded within the same scale as the rest of The Championship. They gave Warnock a bit of extra to bring in the players he wanted, but those players were largely the rank and file of Championship clubs. Similarly Peter Taylor got given the cash to bring in his men. The results though were different. As City struggled all season QPR went top early and stayed there.

BfB talked to QPR fan (and old Uni mate) Dom Smith about the way that two seasons that started the same ended so differently. Smith talks about QPR as a team of entertainers but is quick to point out “Warnock’s appointment was less to do with the style of football it was more about getting someone with experience who would be able to take control of the the squad.”

Warnock made a massive success at QPR while previous managers – who have had the same finances – have failed? Strength of personality seemed to be the key to this – Dom said – saying “When Warnock was appointed it was on the proviso that he got to pick the team and was allowed to pick the players he signed as well. Warnock took control of the squad and was given more control. That wasn’t totally him those as the Mittel Family (and they are the real money in the club) took more of a stake in the club at the same time and took over as chairman as well. Then we just got lucky.”

That luck seems to have been somewhat self made. Players like Helgerson and Shaun Derry went from average to excellent under Warnock’s instruction while Adel Taarabt – the maverick – had the team built around him. “A dangerous thing to do, but this year it has worked.”

One struggles to think of any of the players who were at the club when Taylor arrived who improved during his tenure. The players seemed squashed at the end of his time, the enjoyment seemingly sapped from football. Robbie Threlfall arrived for Taylor’s second game looking great, at the end he looked poor.

Read a few message boards and Taylor is described as “the worst manager in City’s history” which is a little harsh – the kids don’t remember John Napier – but but when trying to come up with a defence of the former City boss one sticks on the point that he failed to improve the members of the squad he inherited. Taylor would probably say that he needed the facilities he was promised in order to do that – a point addressed by the club after he has left – and he might be right in that.

Problems with the style of play – Warnock is a famed long ball man – were unfounded. Dom enthused “We are playing some great football. Kyle Walker, the kid on loan from Tottenham, now at Aston Villa and with the England team is a great wing back and ball winner. Alejandro Faulin is the best passer of the ball in the league.”

One struggles to recall any performance under Taylor’s charge that one would enthuse over. The odd good display by Omar Daley, Lee Hendrie or David Syers were exceptional because they were exceptions. Taylor had taken Stuart McCall’s team and rather than playing to a strength he found, tried to bring in a strength in Tommy Doherty.

Doherty was – to borrow Dom’s phrase – “the best passer of the ball in the league (two)” but when Doherty did not settle into the team (for whatever reason) then Taylor seemed to have no other option. One wonders what would have happened had Taarabt done a Doherty or if Doherty has been a Taarabt.

In so many ways Doherty was the personification of Taylor’s on the field. He put stock in the idea of the ball passing midfielder able to make the killer pass that unlocks defences which – coupled with a tight back four – would have seen City win matches. When Taylor exited City had a mean defence but little going forward. If Doherty was not pinging a single killer pass to unlock a back four to give the Bantams a 1-0 then no one was, and a team that cannot score does not win.

While QPR are well off – and City are not – the difference between Ranger’s season this year and last was not to do with throwing cash on the field as the City board seem determined to do. Smith says “The biggest difference we have had is Warnock’s connection, when we lost both right backs in the same game, he rang Redknapp up and got Kyle Walker in 24 hours, When he wanted Taarabt he went to Morocco to convince him to sign.”

Taylor’s connections brought Lewis Hunt, Luke Oliver and Doherty and while the last name on the list was the marquee player but the other two were squad men. Jon Worthington was signed and not used. Shane Duff never impressed. Lee Hendrie arrived paying tribute to Taylor but did not stay for the former England u21 manager. The loanees who signed – Oliver Gill and Reece Brown spring to mind – hardly excelled. For a man with so many years in the game Taylor was not able to bring in much ready usable talent. While Taylor was joking on Football Focus about David Beckham joining if he wanted to the strings he pulled brought us the likes of Ryan Kendall.

One would not seek to damn Taylor though on the strength of this comparison – this is not saying that he was a bad manager – just to illustrate the different path that could have been taken. Perhaps Taylor got unlucky when Hendrie upsticks, he certainly did with Doherty, and that his best endeavours did not come off this time but might have next, with the same randomness which saw Rangers adopt a similar policy with Warnock and have that reap rewards.

Dom wants to see QPR aim for 17th next season in the Premier League – 17th was very pleasant as I recall – and in Warnock will hope that his luck is different to his last stay in the Premiership.

The comparison is a rough one though, no two clubs are the same, but in Warnock there is a might have been for the Bantams.

The 2010/11 season reviewed: part one, on the pitch – when the wheels came off

There is always one game in every season, one moment in that game, that one moment in that one game in the season when everything can change, when things can either come together or fall apart for the rest of the season.”

The Damned Utd, David Peace

Saturday 8 January 2011, and Bradford City are leading second bottom Barnet 1-0 at Valley Parade. The home side have been dominant since the half time break, twice hitting the woodwork, but a second goal hasn’t materialised. Yet they are well on track for an eighth win in 13 league games; and as it stands only goal difference will keep them out of the play offs. After a bad start to the season, it all seems to be coming together for City under Taylor – who during the week had turned down the Newcastle United assistant manager’s job – and hopes of promotion are high.

But during the second half, standards begin to slip. The players stop working hard for each other, stop getting the little things right, stop pressing the visitors. It’s as if the game had become too easy for them, that they believe that can coast it. It was to prove costly.

That one moment in that one game in the season when everything can change occurs when on-loan defender Rob Kiernan needlessly heads a Barnet cross into his own net. It is a truly shocking moment, and as the home side go onto collapse in the game – eventually losing 3-1 – it leads to a shocking second half to the season. This moment triggers the start of a run that sees the Bantams win just six of their remaining 24 games. Soon we wouldn’t be looking upwards, but nervously over our shoulders.

It would be a ridiculous assumption to make that, without Kiernan’s game-changing own goal that afternoon, the Bantams would have fulfilled those pre-season expectations of at least a top seven finish, but it certainly killed growing momentum and spurred the subsequent nosedive in form. A moment of madness, that instigated a maddening end to the season. That it could have ended much worse than it did is a consolation of sorts, but can’t disguise the scale of under-achievement.

Four months on from that dismal January afternoon, it’s hard to believe we were once able to harbour hopes of promotion. Yet although the season begin woefully, a more acceptable autumn had seemingly set City up for an exhilarating second half to the campaign. Along the way, there’d been some brilliant moments – the apparent season-turning win in the London sunshine at Barnet, the thrilling come-from-behind 3-1 victory over Cheltenham, the crazy second half 5-0 crushing of Oxford, and the jubilant 1-0 success on a rain-soaked Tuesday night at Bury. “We are going up” we sung with growing conviction. “Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army” we chanted with feeling.

Comparisons were made with the last successful Bantams promotion bid in 1999, where the players and management recovered from a nightmare start to climb into the top two and hold their nerve. Certainly the early season results bore strong similarity, as City began with four defeats from their five opening league matches. Occasional signs of improvement – a fortuitous last minute win over Gillingham and credible 0-0 draw at Rotherham – were quickly forgotten as poor results continued. In truth, only the commendable League Cup showings against Championship clubs Notts Forest and Preston provided us any hope that the players could turn it round.

Morecambe at home in early October was arguably the worst performance of the entire campaign, the 1-0 loss failing to do justice to how badly City performed. Having defended so well at Rotherham days earlier, the decision by Taylor to drop strong performers Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien for two young kids signed on loan from Manchester United seemed to deflate players and fans. Meanwhile lanky defender Luke Oliver was still playing up front, which made for largely ugly viewing. Taylor was subject to a torrent of abuse at full time. National media speculation grew that he was one game from the sack.

Then came that huge win at Barnet, and much improved form. Taylor, it seemed, had evolved team selection to finding the right players, and the best football of the season came during October. Omar Daley was deployed in a free role, partnering either James Hanson or Jason Price up front. Lee Hendrie was displaying his Premier League pedigree wide left, while David Syers was proving a revelation in the centre of midfield alongside an in-form Tommy Doherty. At the back, Steve Williams was outstanding while summer signing Shane Duff was, for a spell, able to shake off injuries and impress.

Form slowed a little, but victories – such as over Hereford in December – still occurred regularly enough to keep City in the position of play off dark horses. There were a number of injured players due to return in the New Year, and Taylor confidently talked up the prospects of truly kicking on.

Of course that never happened, and seven weeks after turning down Newcastle Taylor departed the club having seen his popularity sink drastically. We knew before he arrived in February a year earlier that City would be more dour under his management, but not this dire. Lack of entertainment might have been tolerated if the Bantams were winning each week – though that early season win over Stevenage put doubts to that – but losing and playing negative defensive football was a miserable combination. So Taylor left – the b*****ds having ground him down.

His final match in charge – a 3-2 victory over nine-man Stockport, where Gareth Evans netted in stoppage time to send us into raptures – had seemingly eased the threat of relegation. But despite interim manager Peter Jackson winning two of his first three matches in charge, fears kept returning that our league status could be surrendered. Jackson at least had City playing more attractive, attacking football – but results failed to improve. Heavy defeats in April to Torquay, Southend and Accrington left the Bantams too close to the relegation zone for comfort. Jackson – not able to make any signings – was having to make do without key defenders, as the injury problems continued and the club’s financial issues began to come to light.

In the end enough was done to preserve league football, but it remains an enduring mystery how City under-performed to such an extent this season. Taylor blamed it all upon the injury list, and this probably explained how a promotion push never ultimately materialised. But it does not fully justify finishing seventh bottom of the entire Football League, as the lowest scorers in the three divisions.

Taylor had a strong budget, certainly strong enough to do better. The rotten luck with injuries suggests he was right to bring in quantity over quality during the summer, but City were too badly lacking in certain positions. Daley and Leon Osborne were the only natural wingers at the club after Taylor sold Scott Neilson a fortnight into the season. On the eve of the campaign Taylor admitted he feared he was lacking a quality goalscorer and he was to be proven right. There was so much inconsistency to team selection. A curiously high number of players made captain.

Too many chiefs. Not nearly enough leaders.

And not for the first season, we were left to question the number of loan players brought in and lack of longer-term thinking. While club captain Rehman should have handled the situation of being continually left out for inexperienced loanees better, he deserved fairer treatment from Taylor. When Tom Adeyemi scored a consolation at Port Vale in February, there was something unsettling about how pleased he looked about it. Although Richard Eckersley caught the eye at times, on other occasions he seemed more interested in looking good than taking the right option when in possession. For whatever reason, it just didn’t look as though everyone was pulling in the same direction; desperate to achieve the same things.

Ultimately, only Syers and O’Brien can look back on the season with their head held high. Others contributed positively at times, but more should be expected and demanded. Yet still – no matter how awful the league table looks and how much misery we’ve had to endure over the past 10 months – were it not for the one moment in that one game, this season might have turned out oh so differently.

The two Hendries

When John Hendrie left Bradford City in the summer of 1988 he demanded the club pay a loyalty bonus to him as a part of the transfer. Hendrie – it seems – was to be paid for every season he stayed at the club before his exit to Newcastle United for £500,000 and City had to make the payment.

Lee Hendrie left the club on the first of January with the club and the player incapable of making a deal which is normally football talk for the fact that a player wanted – or had been offered elsewhere – more money. Lee Hendrie – the captain a month ago – exits and good luck to him.

The two Hendries provide an interesting contrast. The former showing the days when footballs economics were tipped towards the clubs allowing them to keep a player even when out of contract and the latter highlighting the wandering nature of the post-Bosman rule player. The John Hendrie payment is a quirk of a club trying to keep a player happy rather than keep him under contract, the latter shows how Mark Lawn and Bradford City are sensilbly not willing to try offer the sweetest deal to anyone who frowns.

Much is talked about how City – with Peter Taylor on a one year contract – favour short term thinking but it is worth considering that when players like Hendrie arrive and stay for but three months that the game itself is tipped towards the short term, and while some may think that the club could break that way of thinking, what they are doing is in keeping with the environment.

So Lee Hendrie follows Zesh Rehman out of the club and along with him is Louis Moult. One wonders what Peter Taylor will do with the additional budget. In May 2011 it will be thirty years since my first visit to Valley Parade and perhaps I’m getting long in the tooth with my belief that supporters prefer the players of today to be around next season (or even next month) but the modern football attitude features the phrase “get rid of him” about players so very often that one suspects that the short term contract is most often used for a club to dump a player than the other way around.

City face a Bury team who once again are pushing for promotion under Alan Knill and sit fifth in League Two having just dropped out of the automatic promotion places following a 2-2 draw with Macclesfield Town. The Shakers last win was on 23rd November 2010 when they won away at Lincoln City.

Gareth Evans enjoyed his trip to Lincoln two days ago with a fine strike and a fine performance and he is the player in form looking set to partner James Hanson up front although increasingly predicting Peter Taylor’s mind is an inaccurate science. Jason Price and Omar Daley could also feature – especially if Taylor favours a 433.

Tommy Doherty will look to come back into the midfield although Lee Bullock’s recall may see him keep his place. David Syers seems to feature in Taylor’s teams more often than not and Luke O’Brien’s move to the left side of midfield often bare fruits with Robbie Threlfall back at the back along with centreback pairing Steve Williams and Shane Duff. Richard Eckersley will be right back and Lenny Pidgeley in goal, probably.

Making the most of mistakes

Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, success in football is comes from errors, cock-ups and mistakes.

The best laid plans go wrong and what one is left with, just sort of works. There was no plan in place that after replacing Lennie Lawrence Chris Kamara would spend three months doing nothing and then suddenly go Hell for Leather for promotion, there was no plan that Paul Jewell would end up replacing him and turn out to be brilliant.

Happy accidents then, capitalised on. Normally though it is mistakes by other people which offer the best chance for progress and just as seats were taken at Lincoln City for the first game of 2011 James Hanson was take one of those opportunities. A bad back pass, Hanson on the ball, slips past the keeper and suddenly nothing seemed as bad as it had before.

It was Moses Swaibu who made the mistake. Not his first. It is said he stole a chicken from Asda over the Christmas holiday. “Voting for Christmas” maybe.

Peter Taylor’s team were without Lee Hendrie who had left the club without much fanfare along with Louis Moult who seemed to spend his time at City waiting for someone to make enough mistakes to give him a chance but failing to capitalise on those chances when they arrived. A reduced squad will perhaps give the impression that Peter Taylor has settled on his best team but the surprise return of Robbie Threlfall suggests that the manager still grabs numbers out of a bag to find his team.

Sometimes though his team seems to work. Lee Bullock returned for Tommy Doherty today and gave more of a bite in the midfield and when Gareth Evans was penalised for a handball and Ashley Grimes scored it certainly wasn’t part of the run of play, and it might not have been a penalty either. Evans himself was booked for a dive in the second half but only after he had scored the game’s winning goal barrelling forward and slamming in a great strike to the top corner just before half time.

The win was deserved although had Lincoln had a better striker than Delroy Facey then City might have surrendered the lead. The home side got desperate and Mustapha Carayol was lucky to stay on for a nasty foul on Luke O’Brien.

Brightening City’s afternoon though was the return of Steve Williams who looked insanely good and Shane Duff who played well. Williams came to City when the budget was cut following the failure to win promotion. The chance to bring in Hanson and Williams, match winners today, was capitalising on the mistake. If Peter Taylor can carry on capitalising then the season might not be over yet.

Improvements for the new year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goosebury season

“He came at noon, asking for water.

There is a tipping point in most everything which convinces all that hope and expectation are to be dashed and it seems that that Peter Taylor’s Bradford City career reached that point in a 4-0 defeat at Cheltenham.

It would be wrong to say that the defeat saw the Bantams bested with ease but to suggest that the resistance to the home side was especially dogged or passionate would not paint a true picture either. For a half hour City exchanged blows as one would expect a team on the road to do – a three man forward line hinted at but dragged out of position and Jason Price oddly named captain in what would seem to be one of his final games of a loan spell – but as soon as Marlon Pack scored the home side’s second so rapidly after Jeff Goulding’s first the game was over, and it seemed the tipping point reached.

It has been noted before that Peter Taylor’s the Bantams have a habit of being second by a centimetre that in the end might as well be a mile and at times that was true today although as the second half wore on it seemed that that centimetre had increased to more and so the chasm between what is and what is expected became obvious.

There is a level of commitment required by any team to win any football match and for sure Peter Taylor knows that – the fact that his post-match comments deftly describe the issues which resolved the game so firmly in Cheltenham’s favours serves to frustrate – but his inability to get this group of players to produce that level is the defining principal of the season.

There are times that City have looked impressive this season, indeed when David Syers put the ball in (ruled out for offside) and when Luke O’Brien showed a quickness of foot and guile down the left it was shown today, but looking impressive in spells is common to all clubs, and to all managers at this club, and has never been the stuff of promotion.

Wes Thomas’s fine finish towards the end – the result of a midfield which simply watched the ball rather than fight for it – seemed to push minds further over the brink. City, it seems, are going nowhere and not especially fast.

Which is not prediction (nor indeed a prediction I would make, because I do not deal in them) but rather the opinion crystallised in defeat. It seems that there is too much not right in the Bantams at the moment to imagine enough going right to suggest promotion. Many, perhaps most, over the past month have been optimistic that Taylor’s team would come good when the likes of Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn return and the loan players are swapped around but those ideas seemed to melt like the snow today.

So there is blame – there is always blame – and it is shared liberally around. Peter Taylor stands looking clueless it is said (although I suspect he knows more than most what is going wrong, and probably how to fix it, but struggles to get that fix in place) and it is hard to imagine Mark Lawn giving him a new contract at the end of the season. The merits of changing manager – or should that be the lack of merits – have been discussed at length but probably the most troubling thing is that six months ago Lawn jumped through hoops backwards for this manager and in six months time one worries what the next incumbent will be being given.

Certainly the players take criticism and rightly so – today few of them will have been proud and when one struggles to put in League Two performances one is not far from no longer being a professional footballer – but Bradford City’s solution is not to replace one group of League Two players with another and never has been.

The deterioration of the club over this season is illustrated in Robbie Threlfall. Signed and lauded as superb after some opening displays Threlfall has not lost a leg nor has he suddenly become less able to kick a football in the past nine months. Replacing Threlfall would be punitive on the basis of performances but there is no reason to believe the next man would be better. At some point the hand becomes the wrist and a player like Threlfall is no longer the talent he was, and is replaced, to little or no effect.

At Bradford City ultimately the manager is given the responsibility for the failings. One can create a list as long as your arm of things which Peter Taylor is doing wrong at City and in all likelihood the opposite of them would have been used as a criticism of his predecessor Stuart McCall. Taylor’s team are too regimented, it was said today, and as a result have no camaraderie but McCall’s were too casual and lax not wearing suits. Defeat does not seem to hurt Taylor, but it seemed to hurt McCall too much and cloud his judgement.

So the criticism that Taylor changes his team and his captain seemingly at random with Lee Hendrie having been dropped from both roles despite seemingly performing well in them is valid but no one would thank him for having a settled team if it lost. I am struck by the feeling though that they would lose less often if that were the case.

Indeed my personal gripes with Taylor are common to many a manager. Too many loan players who never give enough to the cause coupled with a tendency to drift away from the tried and tested especially in the four-four-two.

The achieving results in football matches are all that matters and today it seems that there was a swing in belief that Peter Taylor does not know how to achieve in football matches.

And Peter Taylor knows more about in achieving results in football matches than anyone else in a decision making role at the club does. One has to wonder when Taylor looks at this season and decides that while he has done what he can – indeed that he has done what he does to achieve promotion at other clubs – things have not gone as he would have liked. Building winning teams is not making sorbet, sometimes you follow the same recipe and the outcome is different.

But when does Taylor stop believing that City will go up? Does he believe we will?

I mention this for a good reason.”

The football feedback cycle

Watch a game, mull over a game, talk about a game, argue about a game, mentally bet that something different next game, watch a game…

Thus the goes football feedback cycle.

One week you watch a player stroll around the field and spend the drive home wishing him gone, you post your views, you get into a bit of banter about it and next game when that player gets a hat-trick you are proved wrong. It is feedback.

You watch a manager’s team one week and think it will never get better and next week the team has turned things around, or the team has not and the feedback you get is that you were right all along. That is feedback and football thrives on it in these days.

Twelve years ago when BfB started brewing I made two assumptions both of which turned out to be massively untrue. Firstly that the close season period would amount to three months off and secondly that people would be logging on at six or seven on a Saturday night to read about City games.

Both these ideas were untrue. BfB’s biggest days have all come in the close season: signing Carbone, almost going out of business, appointing Stuart McCall as manager; and Saturday and Sunday are the quietest time of the week, nothing compared to Monday morning.

Supporters of all stripe love to talk about things because of the feedback cycle. It keeps everything interesting and dynamic. In the close season a signing is considered a result – Liverpool fans looked at Joe Cole signing the club as a similar kind of sign of progress as winning at Old Trafford – but during the weeks of the season it is the metronomic ticking of results which completes the cycle.

So in a situation where City have played one game in thirty five days – and that game was overshadowed – the feedback cycle becomes broken. Propositions and hypothesises are put forward but never tested, thoughts are expressed but never tried out. There is talk but without anything to inform the talk then much talk just becomes hot air.

Hot air being the problem of late. Frozen pitches have been calling off football matches up and down the country and less than a half dozen games in the bottom two divisions have been played in the last few weeks. The games that have been played have been changed – perhaps – by the weather enforced break. Two of League One’s promotion chasers have been the only match on days and both Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday have been unexpectedly beaten as pattens are broken and rhythms hard to rebuild.

The Bantams go into the game – and we assume that Cheltenham’s promises that the pitch will be playable will ensure there is one – with a few players coming back from injury although with usable training facilities being limited recovery might have been hampered. Rob Kiernan and Luke Oliver were both struggling to be fit for Boxing Day but should play. Shane Duff and Steve Williams are all suggesting themselves for a return while Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn are both hoping to return early in the new year.

Lenny Pidgley – who is out of contract soon – keepers goal behind Richard Eckersley, two of Duff, Williams, Kiernan, and Oliver and at left back Luke O’Brien will play.

The midfield sees Tom Adeyemi approaching the end of his loan spell at Valley Parade which has been a mixed while Lee Hendrie also has the chance to exit. The midfield at Cheltenham is expected to line up Adeyemi, Tommy Doherty, David Syers and Hendrie while Omar Daley and James Hanson will be the forward pair – although the option from drop Daley back to make a five in the middle is always there.

Last season City went to Cheltenham without a goal and ended up being the better half of a nine goal thriller which turned around the start to the season. After thirty five days of thinking City boss Peter Taylor must be hoping for a similar impact as he mulls over his squad and the changes he may make to it in January. At least, after tomorrow, he will have something to add to the feedback cycle.

The case for the defence

Peter Taylor takes his Bradford City time into the definitive Christmas period with a string of defensive injuries and a decision to make over Zesh Rehman.

An injury to Rob Kiernan stretched Taylor’s defensive resources seeing the Bantams manager push striker Jason Price into the back four while Rehman – disciplined by the club – sat in the stands.

Simon Ramsden is expected to miss the entire Christmas programme but Steve Williams, Lewis Hunt and Shane Duff could all feature at some point but the City boss has thin ranks for five games in two weeks. Three full backs are fit in Richard Eckersley, Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall and three central defenders in Kiernan, Luke Oliver and – should be be brought back into the fold, the transfer listed Rehman.

Rehman’s possible exit aside Taylor’s squad is enter a period of flux. Keeper Lenny Pidgeley, David Syers, sometimes skipper Lee Hendrie and a host of loan players may all leave the club leaving the 2011 Bradford City that Taylor attempts to push to promotion much different to the late 2010 version.

Hendrie, Syers, who it is believed has attracted interest from up the leagues after his first four months in professional football, and Tom Ademeyi could all leave following the Christmas period and – to strengthen City’s appeal to those players – five good results would no doubt strengthen the Bantam’s case to those they wish to keep. All three players are expected to make a midfield with Tommy Doherty.

There is no indication that James Hanson will leave City although it was thought that Coventry City were watching the striker before they signed Marlon King. Hanson strikes one as the kind of player who will have convinced the entire City crowd on his exit. Like Ron Futcher, Dean Windass and a host of other players before him once Hanson is gone and City return to seeing the ball cleared with some ease when put towards the strikers then Hanson’s critics will see their error.

And formally apologise to the rest of us, just like the people who jeered Dean Windass provoking his exit, and our relegation.

Hanson will line up with Omar Daley in the forward line at Crewe.

Crewe – who are making much of Clayton Donaldson in their forward line – sit two points off the play offs in 9th having come off a 3-3 draw with Stockport last time out.

Dario Grady says that Crewe are looking for new defenders. Aren’t we all?

The diary of not watching football

Roger Owen took a break from writing what will no doubt be lengthy programme notes on the Referee who last took charge of a City home game – more on that later – to tell City fans and those who would come up from Hereford for the game at the weekend that the club are doing everything they can to get the game on.

Indeed Owen’s notes to the website are full of the sort of information which pre-empts the demands of football fans after a game is called off. When looking at the clear piece of driveway in BD14 which my car is parked on I could suggest that it should be easy to host a football match and it would, but the approaching roads.

So Owen strikes a note of justified caution, but hopes to get a game on. Back in December 2003 when City’s game with Crystal Palace at Valley Parade was called off the club nearly went out of business not for the want of a long term strategy or plan but for the need of short term cash flow. Julian Rhodes and Gordon Gibb had to find around half a million pounds to pay the wages and it is said by those who say such a thing that the demands one placed on the other was the fracture of that relationship.

Fractured relationships seem to be the order of the day at Valley Parade. Zesh Rehman and Peter Taylor have seen their relationship fractured and it would be remiss of me at this point to not recall a comment made at the start of the season about the pair.

The judgement of Taylor’s job at Bradford City would be in what he could get out Zesh Rehman – so I said – because in the player City have a footballer with enough talent to convince many to sign him (an a talent which has been demonstrated at City any number of times) but and approach and attitude which wavers.

“An inconstant performer” would seem to sum it up and should Taylor get a player like Zesh Rehman playing more good games than bad then – using Rehman as a sample of the squad – City would no doubt be doing very well.

We are not and Taylor seems set to wash his hands of the player seemingly ready to say that he is not able to get the performances out of him which other managers have. That is a disappointment for all, and a worrying thing from a manager.

Taylor’s relationship with Jake Speight – currently on loan at Port Vale – showed signs of cracks when the player went to prison and when he criticised Taylor’s methods for not including enough fitness training.

Speight was not – unlike Rehman – transfer listed for his outburst which seemed more critical than Rehman’s which was questioning. However letting it be known that player who is on loan is not wanted is no way to run a business and perhaps if the veneer of a business front was wiped away the striker would be just as on his way out as the defender.

These thoughts play in the mind in the weeks after abandoned games. City’s trip to Aldershot was shelved and the club had a blank week owing to an early FA Cup exit leaving Accrington Stanley at home as the last time the Bantams took to the field.

BfB has it from “a good source” (which is not Wikileaks, or Wookieeleaks, and is worth trusting) that following that game Referee Tony Bates rang John Coleman that Accrington Stanley manager and apologised for costing his club the game. On an evening of elbows, pitch invasions and an official who could not bring himself to give the decisions laid out in the laws of the game Mr Bates feels that he should talk for sure but not to apologise to us paying supporters who watched him make a mockery or a match but to the manager who (one assumes) was behind that pantomime football.

Which sums the arrogance of Referees up to a tee. Supporters are but cattle, and are treated with a lack of respect which means that we are not even afforded the decency of an apology after the official feels he has put in a poor performance although apologies are offered even if those apologies would provoke incredulity.

Nevertheless Roger Owen is not known to keep his attitudes about officials and Bradford City to himself – we all recall his reaction to the 3-0 defeat at Carlisle United – and so one can assume that he has spent the last three weeks preparing his thoughts. Certainly it would be interesting to know what City think of the fact that had Mr Bates had not felt he erred that night that the Bantams would have lost the game.

Losing games slipped back into City’s habits, especially at home. Peter Taylor’s side have lost four at home which is twice the number Stuart McCall’s side which finished 9th two season ago ended the season on and a look at last year’s table suggests that over a half dozen home defeats is probative to promotion, to say nothing of season ticket sales.

Taylor’s cause is not helped by a significant injury list which the manager hopes will ease when Shane Duff and Lewis Hunt return to fitness for the Christmas period.

Hunty should be joining in at the end of the week. To me, he’s going to be a couple of weeks after that, which is good news.

“Hunty.” One recalls Roger Owen paying for suits and making a big play of increased professionalism at Valley Parade and I’m not sure how that fits in with one playing being transfer listed for saying he thinks he should be in the side over a player that the manager refers to by nickname. “Hunty”, still, could have been worse.

Should the game go ahead then City are expected to field Lenny Pidgeley in goal. Richard Eckersley at right back, Rob Kiernan and Luke Oliver at centreback, Luke O’Brien at left back. Tommy Doherty and David Syers in the midfield with Lee Hendrie on the left and perhaps Leon Osbourne on the right although Omar Daley is at times deployed there. Daley or Jason Price in the forward line with James Hanson.

That red card, this red card and the enemies of football

If one were Referee Anthony Bates one might probably like to forget this cold night in Bradford and one would do well to hope that other did so too.

Indeed in a 1-1 draw that saw little in the way of impressive football and much that stood in the way of it one might have looked at the much talked about advertisements for season tickets which were plastered around the ground and wondered if any sale of what was on show on this evening might have been a hard sell.

Accrington Stanley’s commitment to the unlaudable aim of getting a point from the game was initially laudable and in a packed midfield they did much to frustrate a City team which was hampered by a poor selection of players by Peter Taylor.

Omar Daley exited the side to allow Jason Price and James Hanson to lead the line but without Daley dropping between the lines, and with Lee Hendrie and Leon Osborne too far on the flanks to provide outlets for the midfield, the Bantams were troublesomely squared off. The midfield central two survived an uneven first half by Tom Adeyemi but whenever he or Tommy Doherty looked for an outlet the attacking unit were unjoined, and thus ineffective.

Adeyemi’s unevenness, and the character he showed to recover from some poor spells, should have been truncated after 21 minutes when Accrington’s first serious (or frivolous) attack when lone striker Terry Gornell picked up a loose ball and tried to flick it around the City midfielder only to see the top of Adeyemi’s arm sweep the ball away.

It was a penalty – scored by – Phil Edwards but for Anthony Bates to award a penalty for handball he had to have decided that Adeyemi’s offence was deliberate the rules of the game making it clear that only deliberate action is to be considered handball and thus the City man had denied a goalscoring opportunity and should have been sent off.

Bates gave the penalty as a statement that the offence was deliberate, then failed to send the player off saying that the offence was not.

That Accrington Stanley enjoyed the better of the next fifteen or twenty minutes in which they mustered four shots at Lenny Pidgeley’s goal perhaps suggests that at the time they should have been attacking City’s ten men and perhaps manager John Coleman will be fuming over that decision which may very well has cost his side a win.

Peter Taylor decided that his team needed to step up to earn a win and slipped Daley on for Osborne with instant results. Daley made a nuisance of himself and Accrington struggled to cope with a now three man forward line. A well worked ball into the box saw Jason Price leap and take an elbow to the face but as the ball bounced towards one time City keeper (and narrowboat owner) Ian Dunbavin James Hanson stuck his foot in where the ball bounced and after a keeper striker smash the ball fell to Price who tidied the ball into the goal.

Penalty? Foul on the keeper? Nothing? Something? Anthony Bates might want to skip over that minute of football and just note, as we do, that Jason Price equalised for Bradford City.

The Bantams on top now and a Richard Eckersley ball over the top bounced for James Hanson who took the ball into his body and was pulled down by the last defender Kevin Long and once again Bates was left having given a decision which mandated a specific punishment – Long having committed a foul that denied a clear goalscoring opportunity – but opted to give a yellow card.

So City, on top of the game, should have been facing ten men but for the non-decisions and Law ignoring of Bates. Taylor’s switch had given City the edge and caused problems which took Accrington twenty-five minutes until they threw on Luke Joyce to plug the danger from. One might be tempted to suggest that two wrongs made a right but these wrongs were not errors of judgement or mistakes – this was not a Ref seeing one thing and it turning out later he was wrong – it was him seeing offences and then ignoring the mandated punishments.

But as the blood boiled at Bates one could not help but feel some sympathy for him at the end and trudging away from the draw into the kelt of Bradford that sympathy stretched to whomever had blighted my sight with the so horrible season ticket advertisements.

As City pushed for a winner there was – seemingly – a campaign of gamesmanship involving the Accrington Stanley players going over too easily and staying down, and involved Accrington Stanley Physio invading the field without Bates’ permission, staying on the field too long, using no urgency to leave it.

This reached a nadir when as O’Brien looked to take a free kick Anthony Bates’ attention was draw to the fact that Accrington’s Physio had been on the field – again without permission – for sometime and delayed the restart for minutes giving a defender treatment. The momentum lost and the game dragged out without much interest.

Playing for a draw might be dull, but using gamesmanship to drag it out harms football and people who do it in the way it seemed Accrington’s staff were – are the enemies of football. Supporters, and anyone who had come to watch a football match, needed referee Anthony Bates to stamp his authority on the evening. They needed him to send the Physio away from the bench (Yes, he can do that) for entering the field of play without permission but what other tools does he have in his arsenal to cope with such obvious gamesmanship?

What control does the Referee have over a team which goes from playing for a draw to simply trying to avoid playing at all? What authority would he, or could he, take?

Sadly Bates, however, seemed to be determined that he would show no authority at all.

Just what The Doc called for – Tommy returns

Tomorrow evening Bradford meet the side directly above them in the table albeit only on goal difference. The players, manager and fans alike though will still be wondering how they don’t have a 3 point advantage going into this game over their opposition following their impressive defeat to Macclesfield on Saturday. Had Bradford managed a second half turn around they would be sat 2 points behind Torquay in the last playoff spot and as Torquay face a tricky trip to Wycombe tomorrow evening you would be fairly confident that come Wednesday Bradford would find themselves at least level on points with the play off positions.

However, we can’t have another season talking about if only and the current table doesn’t read as horribly as it did earlier on in the season despite two defeats on the spin. Both defeats have seen encouraging performances from City and recent displays have certainly cheered the Bradford faithful up.

What of Accrington Stanley though? Who are they? Or has that joke become a bit old now. There are certainly a couple of faces that Bradford fans won’t need any introduction to. Jon Bateson and Rory Boulding. Just in case the latter passed anyone by he was signed as part of a deal to convince his brother Michael to join us and he spent a couple of years playing reserve team football without ever being in any danger of threatening a regular place in the first team. In fact should he play tomorrow he may complete more minutes on the Valley Parade pitch than his two years as a player here. Jon on the other hand was well thought of by the fans here and many were sad to see him leave. He was unfortunate to be back up to Mr. Consistency, Simon Ramsden and although he always proved a very capable understudy when called upon the level of performance from Simon Ramsden would always see him reinstated immediately after injury or suspension.

In fact Jon may be slightly disappointed that he isn’t still around because the long term injury to Ramsden would have seen him feature regularly in the campaign this year and I believe he would have impressed more than Lewis Hunt earlier on this season. Once again both Ramsden and Hunt are missing and following Richard Eckersley’s man of the match performance on Saturday he will maintain his place at right back. He will most likely remain in an unchanged defence with Rob Kiernan, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien alongside him. The four weren’t tested much on Saturday by Macclesfield but a lack of experience is a worry and the awkward playing style of Oliver regularly sends a shiver up my spine. Although I may be being harsh because I can’t really find fault in his performance from Saturday and in fact was impressed on a number of occasions with his passing and tackling, I still feel the sooner Williams and Duff return the better. O’Brien on the left hand side looks to have regained the form that won him player of the season two years ago and will continue to keep Threlfall out of the side despite his return from injury.

The midfield is likely to see only one change as ‘The Doc’ returns from suspension. Taylor believes if Tommy Doherty was an athlete then he would be in the Premier League. If that’s the case then we as Bradford fans should thank God that he’s not an athlete. So thanks Stuart! He will replace Lee Bullock in the middle of the park. The fact that the Taylor now picks one over the other confirms for me what I believed was the problem for much of the early part of the season. A team requires a balance and if you have one midfielder lacking in mobility then you need another to do his running for him. The only possible solution was to drop Bullock and replace him with someone younger and more able to get round the pitch, not only did Bullocks lack of athleticism inhibit the team to put more pressure on the opposition but also The Doc’s ability to dictate play from the middle of the park. Having Bullock alongside him gave him one less option to find in front of him when he looked to play the killer pass. I’m not saying that Bullock is a poor player but just that The Doc is far superior and having the likes of Dave Syers or Tom Adeyemi alongside him allows him to dictate play from a deep position and showcase his undoubted abilities such as his incredible eye for a pass. Tomorrow the role of The Doc’s assisting nurse will fall to the increasingly impressive Syers with Adeyemi once again taking position on the right and Lee Hendrie on the left in a narrow midfield. Syers has an engine the likes of which I have never seen in my time watching Bradford City, I am not fortunate enough to be old enough to have witnessed Stuart in his first spell at the club but the way I imagine him is similar to the way Dave Syers plays for us now. Perhaps after all the promising auditions of Tom Kearney, Steve Schumacher and company we have finally found someone who won’t be ‘the next Stuart’ but rather someone to be as successful and impressive as Stuart was in his time here.

A front two will consist of Omar Daley alongside one of Taylor two big men, James Hanson and Jason Price. Price is available after today extending his loan deal until January 3rd, but the decision on which of the two gets the nod will depend on whether Taylor thinks Hanson is ready for another start in a matter of days after claiming he wasn’t fit enough for 90 minutes against Macclesfield. Should Hanson be considered fit enough then it is unlikely he will be replaced but Jason Price is a more than capable replacement if needed.

This game could prove to be a huge point in Bradford’s season after they struggled for confidence in the early part of the season it will be interesting to see how they react to two undeserved losses on the trot. If a performance anywhere near the level of the second half on Saturday is reproduced then there can only be one winner and once again Bradford will find themselves within touching distance of the play offs.

A footballing evolution

The theory of evolution over creationism may be passionately disputed by some, but in football it seems there’s only one type of advancement which ultimately shapes the natural order of league tables.

Managers create their squad for the coming season during the summer, but it is rarely a seven day miracle. Instead there seems to be a constant narrative they all go through in shaping and evolving their team selection, in an effort to ensure their club achieves its realistic goals. What looked the strongest possible team in August very often doesn’t prove to be the case as the games come thick and fast. Survival of the fittest is often about which manager gets his team selection right the quickest.

One can see the process of evolving the squad after the campaign has got underway in Bradford City’s two most successful recent seasons. The forever-talked about promotion of 1998/99 was delivered by a strong squad, but a disastrous start which saw City regularly beaten if not bettered had manager Paul Jewell changing around the team until it eventually clicked and started producing consistently strong results.

As he surveyed the scene at Molineux having clinched promotion at Wolves, Jewell might have reflected on how the previous August he wouldn’t have expected to have relied so heavily on Robbie Blake, Wayne Jacobs and John Dreyer in order to achieve his goals. Similarly a year after, when Premier League survival was achieved, Jewell’s squad had evolved to the point that previous heroes Blake, Lee Mills and Gareth Whalley were somewhat discarded along the way.

For most teams it doesn’t usually end up so gloriously. Over the course of shaping the squad, managers may discover – self-inflicted or otherwise – that they don’t have the players to fulfil expectations.

Sometimes a team starts perfectly only to fall away, with the manager struggling to work out where it’s going wrong and desperately trying to fix it. Often the solutions are realised too late or are the best of a bad situation. Colin Todd, for example, belatedly managed to shape his 2005-06 City team into a winning one and the club enjoyed a strong end to the season – but it had come too late to change the fact pre-season expectations of a play off spot had not been delivered.

In the modern day and particularly at the top end of football, squads rather than just 11 players are crucial in clubs achieving their aims. Part in response to increased intensity of matches, part due to a higher number of injuries than in the past, teams that succeed can’t afford for the absence of players to undermine their prospects. Of course every team has players they struggle badly without – witness Chelsea’s heavy defeat to Sunderland on Sunday with John Terry and Alex were injured – but never has the team been less about the individuals.

Peter Taylor’s has this season moved Bradford City to as close of a squad game as we’ve ever seen at Valley Parade. So often we’ve welcomed a new batch of players in the summer who’ve shown initial promise; but as the strikers went on goal droughts, the wingers revealed their inconsistency and defenders began to tot up mistakes, the season’s objectives were all too soon not going to be met.

This summer’s recruits by Taylor haven’t all worked out so far – rarely, if ever, in football does a manager not make bad signings – but as his recent evolution efforts have lifted the club out of nosediving form, the benefits of a squad approach are becoming clear. City are progressing through the sum of their parts.

Take the defence as the most obvious example. Convention in football is that you must have a settled back four in order to build understandings and prosper. If and when on-loan Burnley full back Richard Eckersley makes his City debut, he will become the 12th different defender deployed this season. That’s three separate sets of back fours.

Yet while City’s defensive record this season is far from exemplary, they have kept four clean sheets in their last eight league matches – and in another three only conceded one goal each time – despite a whole range of different defenders playing. Even the goalkeeper has changed; but even through so much enforced chopping, the backline has remained largely strong.

And the evolution of tactics has seen some curious changes. In the last two league games on the road – Bury and Wycombe – it’s been notable that the towering Luke Oliver has been instructed to attack any high balls into his penalty area, with central defensive partner Steve Williams (at Bury) and Rob Kiernan (at Wycombe) marking the spare striker and on hand to mop up any Oliver slips. Traditionally we view central defenders as marking a man each, but the effectiveness of Oliver in the air is being used to greater effect. Few would rank him our best defender, but in terms of this role he does it better than anyone.

In midfield we saw previous manager Stuart McCall move away from traditional wingers by lining City up 4-3-3 last season; but despite Taylor restoring 4-4-2 in recent weeks, wingers don’t form part of his set up. For so many previous seasons, City have lived and died by the form of their widemen. The lack of consistency and ease opposition teams can double up on wingers has limited their success. While as England proved so dismally on Wednesday, the use of wingers can leave the centre of midfield overrun.

Taylor hasn’t played out-and-out wingers all season. During those difficult days in August and September, it looked a poor policy as City struggled to create meaningful chances, but now the logic of wide midfielders rather than wingers appears sounder. Lee Hendrie and Tom Adeyemi, widemen of the last two games at least, have been able to come inside and help City become more defensively solid when they don’t have the ball. The more narrow four also encourages closer range passing, which is harnessing the ability of Tommy Doherty.

The closest the Bantams now have to wingers  are the full backs, who have a licence to roam forward knowing the midfield will cover for them.

Not only are the defence and midfield working closer than we’ve seen for many years, the forward line is linking up well with the team. Omar Daley’s City days looked numbered under Taylor, but his impact since moving to a free role playing off the targetman has been terrific. Taylor is not the first manager to deploy Daley up front, David Wetherall moved him up top for the final game of the 2006-07 season, at home to Millwall; but he is the first to ensure Daley’s talents aren’t wasted by being too far up the pitch.

Daley is regularly popping up all over the final third, dropping deep to get the ball and charge at defenders. For the opposition a major problem – who on earth is supposed to mark him?

This switch was a great leap forwards in the team evolutionary progress, because Daley has the space and freedom to take up the wide positions traditional wingers would normally occupy; and, if City played out-and-out wingers, it would probably reduce his effectiveness.

A target man is vital to City’s approach and, with the greatest respect to stand-in Oliver, it’s no coincidence form has truly lifted off after forwards James Hanson and Jason Price became available to perform that role. Hanson’s fitness remains a concern, and so Price has aided the squad approach by being available to stand in when needed.

Like Jewell at Molineux in May 1999, would Taylor have thought his team would look like this last August? We’ve seen Louis Moult, Jake Speight, Gareth Evans, Lee Bullock, Robbie Threlfall and Scott Neilson fall by the wayside, and the best hope Moult and Speight now appear to have of getting in the team is to be able to perform Daley’s free role when he is not available. For Evans the future is surely wide midfielder.

The strength of City’s vast improvement is reflected when looking at the injured list. Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn are big players for this club, but Taylor and the rest of the team have learned to cope admirably. For now things look good, but the competitive nature of League Two means the evolution of City is unlikely to be complete. In time the opposition may formulate effective plans to contain Daley, for example, and there is the very real threat that Lee Hendrie, Tom Adeyemi, Williams and Price will depart in January.

However Taylor’s squad approach – his stated philosophy during the summer of having two players for every position – is so far working. It’s clear he’s brought in players who he didn’t plan to start every week, and the lack of public discontent suggests every player knew the score pre-season.

For the Macclesfield game, the team will remain largely the same to that beaten in unfortunate circumstances by Wycombe last Saturday. Lenny Pidgley will continue in goal in front of Zesh Rehman, Oliver, Kiernan and Luke O’Brien. The midfield will see changes with the absence of Doherty, and the smart money is on a David Syers and Adeyemi central partnership with Hendrie and Evans/Leon Osborne wide midfield. As Hanson is still bugged by a slight injury, expect Price to start in what could be – but is highly unlikely to be – his final game on loan, with Daley as a partner.

Potentially as little as three players who started the opening game at Shrewsbury will be in Taylor’s starting XI tomorrow. There are many good reasons for this, with evolution one of the biggest.

No Doc in the house this Saturday

Tommy Doherty’s sending off at Wycombe will see the cultured midfielder miss the next league match. With the treatment room containing too many defenders and strikers’ James Hanson and Louis Moult sitting out Saturday’s defeat, the last thing Peter Taylor needed was problems in the middle of the park. Resources are stretched, but City can’t allow a lengthening absentee list to adversely effect results.

Exactly a year ago Stuart McCall’s Bantams side were recovering from a slow start, but still struggling to close the gap on the promotion pace-setters. Taylor’s City are now remarkably in almost exactly the same position. After 16 games, City are two points worse off than last season, but the gap to the play offs – four points – is identical. McCall was unable to reduce that disparity as autumn rolled into winter, picking up only seven points from a possible 15 in the run-up to Christmas. Over this same period, Taylor will hope to avoid a similar stuttering of form.

The upwards momentum which led to four wins from five games has been slowed somewhat by the two defeats down south, but two home games in quick succession offer a great opportunity to close in on the front-runners. With ground excellently made up over the past month, a realistic aim between now and Christmas is surely to break into the top seven positions.

With each victory to make up for the season’s poor start, the climbing of the table towards a position closer to where the club expects to be has restored degrees of optimism. But when a defeat sees City slide back down the league like on Saturday, success can again seem a dispiriting long way away. Typically when a team makes a strong start it can afford a few dodgy results and still maintain its high position; for others to catch up and overtake them, it usually takes promotion form.

The four wins from five was a good start and places City third in the form table, but realistically the Bantams need to keep going on runs of successive wins if they are to at least make the play offs come May. The Wycombe setback now put to bed, it’s crucial the winning habit is quickly rediscovered and maintained over the coming weeks.

The coming of two home games over a Saturday and Tuesday – like we now have with Macclesfield and Accrington due in town – usually prompts much anticipation and expectation towards picking up wins, but City’s record of converting such fixture sequences into maximum points is poor. The best sequence in recent times was a 1-0 victory over Morecambe and 1-1 draw with Barnet at the end of the 2007/08 campaign. Usually City endure defeats and draws, the last time a Saturday Valley Parade win was followed by a Tuesday home success was the Crewe and Crystal Palace victories in January 1999. Four months later City were promoted.

So while these two quick-fire home games look a great opportunity to grab two wins in quick succession, history suggests it will be a tough task. That said Macclesfield haven’t won away for almost two months, while Accrington sit at the bottom of the form guide having failed to win their last seven games. For any team with promotion ambitions, these two games are opportunities which cannot be passed up.

But City will have to negotiate the Macclesfield game without Doherty, and his increasing influence during recent weeks leaves a big hole for Taylor to fill. There are options on the sidelines at least, but all may involve a slight element of compromise to the team’s overall set up.

For Doherty is relied upon as the tempo-setter of the side, and City don’t have anyone with quite the same vision and passing ability to compensate – at least not with Michael Flynn still injured. Lee Hendrie could be moved to a central role as the next best thing, with Leon Osborne, Gareth Evans or even Luke O’Brien asked to play wide left.

Alternatively Osborne or Evans could play wide right so Tom Adeyemi moves to the centre with David Syers. That would leave a very inexperienced central midfield pair; so quickly building an understanding over who would take up the more offensive and defensive side of the partnership would be crucial, otherwise the opposition might overrun them. The duo performed well together when City were reduced to ten men on Saturday.

Finally there is the forgotten Lee Bullock, who has not started a game since the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy loss to his former club Hartlepool. Last season Bullock was converted to defensive midfielder and showed his best form since joining in January 2008; but he has struggled to hit such heights this season. A recall could free up Syers to play a more forward role and to be asked to dictate the tempo rather like Doherty, though this could be a big ask of a player who has still only made nine starts in professional football.

Such considerations will occupy Taylor’s mind for much of this week, but he at least will be thankful to have a range of options to cover for the loss of Doherty. As Doherty benefits from an unscheduled break, the challenge to the players is to ensure he isn’t badly missed.

Pack up your Junior Lewis in your old kit bag and smile

Peter Taylor is taking his Bradford City team – Tommy Doherty, Luke Oliver, Lewis Hunt and all – to the scene of some success when he returns to Adams Park to take the Bantams into a game with the side he last tasted promotion with, Wycombe Wanderers.

Taylor took Wycombe out of League Two two years ago but a few months later was out of work with the Chairboy supporters talking about styles of play and unpopular players who were popular with him and Taylor given his P45 that would – eventually – see him pack his Junior Lewis in his bag and head North to Valley Parade.

Perhaps – one might think – the end of Taylor’s time at Wycombe was similar to the start of this season for City. It would be presumptuous to talk without having seen the games that followed promotion but our experiences at City tell us that when a Peter Taylor side is not winning matches then it is an ugly thing. Taylor has the triumph of footballing form over function.

Good for us then that Taylor’s side is winning – and it is worth noting that last week’s defeat was easier on the eye than I have perhaps given credit for Taylor’s teams being – and winning well. Spankings of Oxford United and Cheltenham have been backed up with excellent wins at Barnet and Bury with only the second half at Burton being a blemish.

To suggest there is a single key to Taylor’s team’s turnaround would be simplistic. Certainly the return to the starting line up of James Hanson has done much to aim the cause but it has been noted that when City are playing well often Lee Hendrie is at the heart of things and Omar Daley is not – he is at the front of things where he can do the most damage – and perhaps it is the change in formation and approach rather than personnel which has motivated the improvements.

When Leon Osbourne is terrorising defences – and he does from time to time – then Taylor is doing something right and allowing the young winger to play in a way where he is supported. When Osbourne is stuck on the flank like a lemon the chances are that the players are not pulling together.

So City progress nicely as do Wycombe who sit in fifth place and trundle away nicely in the division missing Taylor very little. They look at his return with suspicion – there is a debate on if the man who took them to promotion deserves booing – but mostly they will look for three points against a team who they will see if not as a rival for promotion then as the sort of team they need to get a result from.

City will field Lenny Pidgeley in goal with Zesh Rehman at right back rather than the injured Lewis Hunt who is returning to fitness soon but not this soon. Steve Williams is out for four weeks but Shane Duff returns to partner Luke Oliver – a player so unpopular with some of his own fans that they believe a different set of rules should apply to him which protect him less than others – and Luke O’Brien continues at left back.

Tommy Doherty is well thought of at Adams Park and next to him is one of David Syers, Lee Bullock and Tom Adeyemi and for a moment one wonders if Michael Flynn will ever be fit again, and where he would slot into the team if he was. Lee Hendrie – who is considering staying with City or moving to to MLS – is on the left. One hopes he stays, but the club knows better than to chase players with contracts.

Hanson takes the forward line with Omar Daley alongside should be be fit. Louis Moult stands by to replace him.

So there is it – Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army and all and it is curious to think that some two years ago City went to Adams Park and lost 1-0 as both teams hunted promotion. The game was close that day but Taylor’s side edged it. That was Peter Taylor’s Wycombe Army, before he had his bag packed for him and headed North to us.

A fickle thing, this management, and the protagonists of its story are as much enforced mercenaries as anyone in the game.

The modern day FA Cup

The FA Cup is back for another season. Cue up that increasingly-grainy footage of shocks from 30 years ago, let us revel once more at Rocket Ronnie’s goal and don’t forget to keep reminding us that the FA Cup is “the greatest competition in the world”. Again and again.

In recent years – and largely due to the permanently sunny outlook ITV Sport always seems to take – we’ve had to get used to a modern day FA Cup cliche. It’s deployed every time something remotely exciting happens as a moment of mini-triumph for the commentator: “Who said the magic of the FA Cup is dead?”, or for a variant “The magic of the FA Cup is well and truly alive.” Either way this competition has magical powers. So don’t question it. Okay?

Of course the magic of the FA Cup has waned in modern times, and anyone who wants to argue it is still the greatest competition on the basis of showing old footage and over-hyping modern day David v Goliath clashes is either foolish or has advertising space to sell. But even if you face up to that reality, it doesn’t mean the FA Cup is dead. More than it needs to stop living in the past.

There are many theories as to why the FA Cup has lost its prestige – the poor attitude of big clubs and too much football on TV the most quoted. But my personal view is that it is the victim of the successful evolving of league football during the past 20 years. In the Premier League the increase to Champions League spots has pushed down the qualification places for the Europa League (formerly UEFA Cup). This suddenly makes achieving a European spot a realistic objective for more clubs, with hopes able to stay in tact for most of the season.

And in the Football League, the introduction of the play offs in the mid-80s has also devalued the FA Cup. Every team can tangibly dream of reaching a play off spot, and even if you’re stuck in mid-table come Christmas the possibility of a late surge remains alive. Before the play offs, many teams’ seasons would be over before January and, as long as they weren’t in relegation trouble, there’d be nothing to play for with over a half a season left. So the FA Cup meant much more.

In short, the death of midtable meaningless across English football’s four divisions has killed the prestige of the FA Cup. And it’s time traditionalists stopped ignoring the facts and gave up banging on about the so-called magic, so the FA Cup can also evolve for the modern day. The resurgence in popularity of the League Cup in recent years should act as inspiration.

All of this ignores the fact that, for Bradford City at least, this should be considered a special year for the FA Cup. This club doesn’t have an especially successful history to be proud of, but a century ago this season came the Bantams’ finest hour as they defeated Newcastle United 1-0 to lift the FA Cup. Numerous special events are planned to commemorate the landmark, including a new City book to look forward to. It is right to celebrate such an achievement which, in the modern day, looks so absurdly unlikely the club will ever repeat, but how big an appetite there is for a worthy FA Cup run this season to honour that past is debatable.

Tomorrow City begin their FA Cup campaign at Colchester, and with league form suddenly taking off this tie is in truth an unwelcome distraction. Ask pretty much every City fan if they’d rather win tomorrow or at Wycombe in the league next Saturday and yet another early exit would be gladly sacrificed for the chance to close the gap on the play offs. Sure, we’d love to get to the third round and the chance to play David to a Premier League club, but not at the expense of it distracting the players from the all important bread and butter stuff.

Manager Peter Taylor is likely to make some changes given a busy week and important league matches to come, but with momentum so important in football it’s hoped his selection won’t differ too greatly from the side which is building understandings and has won four out of five games. Lenny Pidgley will continue in goal and, with injuries to Shane Duff, Simon Ramsden and Lewis Hunt, expect the same back four which has kept City consecutive clean sheets for the first time since May. Robbie Threlfall could, however, be afforded a first start since getting injured against Gillingham in September.

In midfield Lee Hendrie may not be risked as a minor knock has kept him out of the games at Burton and Bury. Expect Tommy Doherty – still struggling with an injury – to join him in sitting this one out. Doherty’s influence is growing with each game, but the minor complaints from some fans are also being maintained.

After Saturday’s accomplished display he was criticised for lack of pace, on Tuesday the fact he failed to acknowledge us visiting supporters as we chanted his name when he was subbed has caused a bizarrely-angry reaction from a minority. If memory serves me correct, Doherty is yet to speak publicly since signing during the summer and appears to be a shy, retiring sort of fella rather than an arrogant prat who believes he is above thanking his supporters.

Tom Adeyemi and Leon Osborne will likely continue on the flanks, with David Syers possibly joined by the forgotten Lee Bullock in the centre. Almost unnoticed and way ahead of predictions, Gareth Evans returned to the bench on Tuesday after getting injured last month. With the success of the strikers, it appears Evans’ most likely route to a regular starting place is a wide midfield spot, probably for Osborne.

Up front on-loan Jason Price and Louis Moult have been cleared to play and Taylor may favour this partnership to give Omar Daley a breather and to allow James Hanson to continue his recovery from injury. Chibuzor Chilaka will also be pressing for a first start, but after Moult’s first goal last week it would be cruel not to give him a go.

League One Colchester are going great guns and in superb form – so an early exit from the FA Cup seems likely for City. That is hardly the way to honour the heroes of 1911; but the modern day view to take is that the best way to recognise this centenary would not be a cup run but to achieve success in the league.

How Peter Taylor turned around Bradford City’s season

The contrast could not have been greater. A month to the day since Bradford City departed the field to yet more angry boos in the wake of a dispiriting home loss to Morecambe, jubilant scenes greeted the final whistle at Gigg Lane as the Bantams recorded a fourth win from five. The immediate future looked bleak on October 2, now it appears hugely exciting.

Midway through the second half at Bury, a massive argument between the two benches over a strong home challenge prompted a boisterous chorus of ‘Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army’ from the large travelling support. Compare that to the scenes at full time against Morecambe – part of which were captured live on the excellent Bantams Banter podcast that week, where in the words of Tom or Dom: “Taylor’s being booed, he’s just walked onto the pitch and is being absolutely annihilated.” – and for the City manager to still be employed is an achievement in itself.

After the Morecambe loss City had slumped to 23rd – or a ranking of 91st out of 92 professional teams who play in England. It was a new low point of a 10-year slump which has featured numerous “it can’t get any worse than this” moments. But 31 days later the Bantams have climbed to 10th position – a remarkable recovery after it had appeared the only way we’d be exiting League Two would be via the relegation trapdoor.

And for that Taylor deserves a huge amount of credit. In the wake of the Morecambe loss, tabloid speculation took hold that he had to win the next game or would be dismissed. Taylor and City pulled back from the brink, winning 2-0 at Barnet in a thrilling manner. But even then it seemed Taylor’s future remained right on the knife edge and, as Cheltenham took an early lead at Valley Parade the following Saturday, the end appeared close.

City recovered to win while producing their finest display of the season so far; and though a 3-0 setback at Burton once again raised question marks, victories over Oxford and Bury have firmly pushed away the pressure of the sack. Now to keep going.

Above all else the turnaround has been achieved by placing a greater emphasis on the quality Taylor has available. The less-than-inspiring end of September/early October, which featured defender Luke Oliver up front and seven hours without a goal, saw City play some quite dreadful long ball football. It was back-to-basics, desperate tactics seemingly aimed at grinding out results. It was also horrendous to watch.

At Barnet Taylor went back to 4-4-2 and employed Tom Adeyemi alongside Tommy Doherty, to provide the cultured midfielder with greater support – and City struck two quality goals in the second half to win the game.

Doherty’s early games were relative quiet and unassuming, with the summer signing attracting the kind of criticism gifted players like Nicky Summerbee and Gareth Whalley received for their shortcomings. He looked quality from day one, but struggled to get team mates on the same wavelength and to make the sort of clever off-the-ball running he has the ability to ping a pass to.

In recent weeks it has been a privilege to watch someone of such talent making a big impression, and his performances against Cheltenham and Oxford have drawn comparisons to Whalley. I feel we are very lucky to have such a superb player for this level; he is pivotal to Taylor’s side.

Now that he has settled in and built up fitness, Lee Hendrie is also making a huge difference to City. He scored the crucial second goal against Cheltenham in what was his best all-round performance for City. Hendrie clearly has a clever football brain and the vision to spot things others don’t see. Here until January at least, with each excellent performance the likelihood of another team coming in is growing.

But for now he is not only helping Doherty increase his influence, but setting a superb example to others in helping Taylor evolve the team’s shape. Hendrie is not an out-and-out winger, but a wide midfielder able to tuck inside and help central team mates. His good habits appear to have been taken on board by Leon Osborne, who is growing into his right midfield role, and the shape of the team looks more solid, particuarly when City don’t have the ball.

The third creative player who’s authority has grown is Omar Daley. Deployed up front alongside James Hanson or Jason Price, Daley has revelled in the trust his manager has placed in him and is causing all kinds of problems in a free role. He regularly pops up all over the final third of the park, and this is proving difficult for defenders to pick up.

Balancing out this trio’s flair is the ball winning and athleticism of David Syers or Tom Adeyemi, who carry greater defensive responsibilities. Syers has looked strong going forwards in games, but Taylor is clearly looking for more positional discipline and the more withdrawn style he displayed at Gigg Lane on Tuesday is likely to be more the norm than the attacking midfielder who has already scored four times this season.

With the defence continued to look solid, in keeping with the start to the season where goals against wasn’t a huge problem, City are looking tougher to beat and capable of scoring regularly – particuarly with full backs encouraged to carry the ball forwards. The balance has been achieved, enabling the flair we were beginning to fear would never be a feature of Taylor’s management to become the telling factor.

So City march on; and though there is no guarantee the upturn inform will continue, the manner of recent displays suggests Taylor has found most of the answers to the strong questions been asked of him a few weeks ago, and that he can continue building from here.

Now who thought that would be the case a month ago?

The optimist and Omar Daley

If you are the type of supporter who rarely views games away from Valley Parade – and with 11,000 at home and about a tenth of that number following City away that includes a great many of us – then the next time you see Bradford City they will have played three games and shaped much of the season.

City take on Bury at Gigg Lane on Tuesday night and on Saturday week Peter Taylor takes his team back to former club Wycombe Wanderers and sandwiched between is an FA Cup first round game at Colchester United and do so having won three of the last four games.

Rollocking good wins over Oxford United and Cheltenham as well as a ground out display at Barnet have seen Taylor’s City team turn around. Those nine points – were they not firmly ensconced in “the bag” – would have seen City at the foot of League Two and probably the manager out of a job. Oxford United’s supporters insistence that Taylor would be “sacked in the morning” seemed a little wide of the mark five goals later.

Indeed five games after the 1-0 Morecambe Taylor – should he get a result against Bury and other results go the way he would want – then the Bantams would be tickling the play offs.

Not only that but wrapping five past Oxford – and beating Cheltenham – could hardly have been more enjoyable. Taylor side have – on occasion – played entertaining and winning football.

This balance of enjoyable and winning is especially relevant agianst Alan Knill’s Bury side. Last season City faced Bury twice in the space of a month and twice Bury manager Knill stated after the game that his team was outplayed and twice saw his team victorious the second time being in Stuart McCall’s final game as manager.

Those performances typified the end of McCall’s time at the club and formed much of the problems that Taylor had at the start of this season. McCall’s City played well but got beaten, Taylor’s side just got beaten but as things turn around for the current City manager he must hope to not suffer the same outrageous fortune as was suffered at Gigg Lane last year. Now City have slipped into a knack of out playing the odd team it is enjoyable that that is being reflected in the result.

(As a note about mentioning of Stuart McCall in this and other context. I grow tired of hearing and pretending that one of the most significant figure in the last few decades has no significance. If you don’t like mentions of Stuart McCall when that significance is called upon on this site – or if you want those mentions to be aggressive – then please feel free to take a number, stand in line, and kiss my arse.)

Enjoyable being a key word for Saturday’s win. The joy painted over the faces of the players as they roared into Oxford was marked and one can not help but wonder if the likes of Omar Daley and Lee Hendrie might have wondered when in treatment rooms for extended stays that those days would ever come again. Daley’s celebrations earned him a booking but few would deny a player who has suffered so much his moment in the sun.

Few I say but some would. As a player Daley is frustrating for sure but the level of criticism that pours forth to him would suggest he is something other than the player capable of winning games as he did on Saturday.

They key – perhaps – to understanding the Daley game is the oft said idea that he takes the wrong option which often means he takes an option which does not come to fruition (not always the same thing) and there in is the frustration of the man. Arriving four years ago Daley was rightly accused of laziness – his woeful defending coast City dear against Leyton Orient – but in the years which have passed his development has been noted.

Yes, he takes wrong options but he is brave enough to make a decision, to take an option, and that speaks to his character and his improvement. Football is full of players who will take your money and try make sure they never look too bad and as a result never do anything that good – j’accuse Andrew Taylor – but Daley risks standing out for the wrong reasons in order that he might at times stand out for the right ones.

His enjoyment on Saturday was shared by all who had bitten the tongue when frustrated by his running in the wrong direction who did not lambaste him but just hoped that next time would be another of those times, and it was.

Lenny Pidgeley is expected to make a second start for the Bantams after a good debut and the back four of Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams who was peerless on Saturday, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien will continue in front of him.

Tom Adeyemi was something of a passenger in the first half against Oxford and David Syers’ hammer finish from the bench suggested the one over the other. My call would be Syers to play alongside Tommy Doherty but when you are in the position that Taylor seems to be taking City into one does it by managing players and whatever he is doing with Syers is clearly working.

Lee Hendrie and Leon Osborne play on the flanks in what is this writer’s favourite type of midfield. Four men with one fast and wide and one tighter and more on the flanks. It is the same balance of a midfield as Jamie Lawrence, Stuart McCall, Gareth Whalley and Peter Beagrie.

Up front City wait for a call from the FA to find out if James Hanson will be suspended following his red card on Saturday which City have appealed and Jason Price stands by to start in his place. Omar Daley is alongside, finding his niche.

So three games on the road begin and an optimist would say that City will be back at Valley Parade with 23 points, a place in the second round of the FA Cup and a triplet of great performances that got great results. That optimist probably never grumbles at Daley either, probably enjoyed Saturday more than most too.

The Bigger Picture or the Little Details?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, this type of inconsistency continued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the ref.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1999, and all that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which way up is the map supposed to be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me, Wayne Rooney and the entire Bradford City team

It is hard to write a 9,000 word user testing report on a website without the W key on your keyboard but nevertheless that was the situation your humble writer found himself in this week.

More of that later. Wayne Rooney, one time England and Manchester United star who has seen his stock and status fall to the level of simply “player” is angling for a move away from Old Trafford. Words like “betrayal” are floating around with United suggesting it had been harbouring – a curious choice of words – Rooney from many a storm for years and his exit is an act of disloyalty.

It is not know which of the Bradford City players stayed loyal in their hearts to Peter Taylor during the long weeks of defeat but a five o’clock last Saturday the team exited the field as one.

The 3-1 win over Cheltenham Town was as impressive as the plaudits suggested. One swallow, it is said, does not make a summer but to extend the adage when you start seeing the swallows you get a feeling the sunshine is not far behind.

There is a magic to football that is impossible to quantify but that was seen at City over the last two weeks. Players meshed together into the team that they could not have looked further from being in the 1-0 defeat to Morecambe.

What had Peter Taylor done on the training ground to take the hapless and bring back the, well, hap? What was the difference in those two weeks?

Over in Manchester Sir Ferguson has a similar problem with his want-away forward who for all his talk of million pound a month contracts has looked slovenly since the end of last season. The kind of turn around City have managed in performance is very much the one which Rooney and his England colleagues failed to manifest. Rooney, the Luke Oliver of the piece, is still in the hangover.

Ferguson’s talk of disloyalty from a player who was famous once a blue and thus always a blue falls on deaf ears. Rooney might have been marketed as Manchester United but like the vast majority of players up and down the land he is a hired hand.

United pay him, he puts in his effort. An amicable exchange and what can be expected perhaps. To care, not just work but care, instantly for a club simply because they pay your wages: only Jason Price can do that.

Which is not to say that players are not invested emotionally, Price’s roar as Lee Hendrie scored City’s second last week was heartfelt and perhaps he of the hair is on a mission to move The Bantams up League Two, but that the gap between what is expected from those who are hired and delivered by those people in situ is the stuff of management, or magic, or both.

Indeed the broken W key is not the stuff of motivation and, as a contractor and being the loan player of the web design world, one was left with the idea that money is paid on bringing one into an organisation but that that money is not most efficiently spent owing to a saving elsewhere.

Perhaps Jason Price felt the same looking at the training ground at Apperly Bridge and perhaps the small fix – I got a new keyboard for the not too shabby iMac – was heading for match day and a Valley Parade in impressive voice.

Certainly little has changed with these events over time. Rooney is neither a better nor worse equipped mammal for kicking a ball about and City’s training pitch is no better or worse than it was before the Morecambe game.

Nevertheless changes have been afoot and Peter Taylor will hope they are long lasting.

Taylor takes the team to Burton Albion in good form. Jon McLaughlin keeps goal, Burton have a keeper in Kevin Poole who is over twice City’s stoppers age.

Reece Brown is expected to carry on at right back while Oliver Gill and Steve Williams played well enough to suggest that that partnership will not be broken up. Luke O’Brien at left back enjoys a rare support for a hometown player, a stark contrast to the unfounded criticisms of last season.

Both Gill and Brown are due to return to Manchester after this game and while Peter Taylor has indicated that he would like another month from both should they go back they would to a changed Old Trafford. Brown’s brother Wes was considered a United stalwart but in the last month has fallen out with Alex Ferguson while Oliver Gill’s father David is facing increasing pressure because of the situation with Rooney. Gill Senior is seen fronting up the board who are using money which could keep Wayne to pay the interest on their own loans.

The midfield of Tommy Doherty and David Syers had guile and enthusiasm and keeps Lee Bullock and Tom Ademeyi out of the side for now.

Taylor drew Doherty to him at the start of the season with the same kind of loyalty which is talked about as being lacking with Rooney. The midfielder struggles through injury for his manager, does not let him down.

Doherty seemed to be City skipper in waiting but despite the armband floating around the dressing room freely the Ulsterman has yet to take it up. Rather Lee Hendrie wears it and performs in a way that befits previous owners Luke David Wetherall and (shhhh!) Stuart McCall. Hendrie’s goal last season was celebrated for many reasons one of which must have been the idea that the player who has lost years to injury would never enjoy that feeling again.

As Hendrie impressed on the left Leon Osbourne continued to be useful on the right. Osborne’s emergence as a reasonably exciting player pre-dated him as a useful one and Taylor, who seems to take a special interest in the winger, will be pleased the faith shown in him is being repaid with practical displays. Osbourne, more than any City player, seems to do what he is told most often.

A settled midfield four seems set to stay as is which a few weeks ago seemed a remote prospect as did the return of James Hanson – brilliant last week – who is likely to be paired with loan signing Jason Price.

The impact of Price is hard to understand. As a player he performed well but not so much to suggest he would establish near instant cult hero status. Expect to see a wig on every third fan soon and why not? Too often City fans allow the negative side to outweigh the positive and allow the fun to seep out of the game. City fans are not alone in that as the growling Manchester United supporters are testament too.

Sometimes you have to appreciate what you have and ignore, if you can, a broken W key.

Everything but the popcorn

It’s claimed there are only seven basic plotlines for every film every created. The unpredictable nature of football is such there’s rarely any regular narrative to how 3-5pm on a Saturday afternoon will go, but there was undoubtedly a feel-good factor and Hollywood ambiance to Bradford City’s weekend win over Cheltenham.

In hindsight, come-from-behind victories provide the greatest feeling in football. Like any regular film there’s a spell where it seems all hope is slipping away and that the heroes of the tale will fail, but then they show great reserve and style to triumph in the end. When Cheltenham went a goal up after seven minutes on Saturday, it was easy to believe we were going to endure another miserable afternoon. Instead there was a happy ending, which everyone can claim they played their part in realising.

Often in recent years, when City have conceded the opening goal my thoughts of gloom has quickly shifted to fear. Very often we fans will rally behind the players in the seconds that follow the visitors scoring, but as soon as the next attack breaks down or misplaced pass goes out of play the groans will begin and very soon we’ll be in booing territory – which helps no one least of all the players.

Yet on Saturday, in a rare and quite brilliantly-unexpected twist, there were no boos or groans – just continuous support. The players had started the game well, and although there was a slightly rocky feeling during the minutes that followed going a goal down they quickly picked themselves up and continued doing the right things.

And we fans continued to back them, even those who usually start up with their moaning half an hour before kick off. There’s no doubt this widespread bout of positivity will have helped the players – for once the opposition manager’s tactics of turning City fans against their team had failed – who came roaring back to win the game.

Perhaps you’ll have your own reference points as to what made Saturday seem almost surreal. For me it was observing a loud mouth moaner a few rows in front of me actually leading the rest of us in awarding James Hanson a standing ovation when he was subbed towards the end. I couldn’t believe my eyes, this was a guy who normally spends the full 90 minutes slagging off each player one-by-one and never gets out of his seat when City score. The number of times he and others have spoiled my afternoon by polluting the air with boos and complaints, on Saturday I almost wanted to hug him such was his refreshed attitude.

Welcome aboard everyone, to singing from the same hymn sheet – now can we do it like this more often?

Like any good film where the main characters overcome the odds to succeed, it was the quality on display that provided the greatest enjoyment of the afternoon. Cheltenham looked a well-drilled side early on. Keeping everyone behind the ball, then breaking forwards when in possession and passing the ball around very impressively. But our players finally stopped lumping it forward from the back and began passing it too. Another unexpected joy.

Jon McLaughlin rolled the ball out to Oliver Gill or Steve Williams; they passed it backwards and forwards between themselves and Reece Brown and Luke O’Brien. Tommy Doherty and David Syers dropped back to then take on possession, Leon Osborne and Lee Hendrie worked hard to find space. Omar Daley’s free role in the first half showed real promise at times, and he caused all kinds of problems as he popped up all over the park. Even James Hanson showed great movement in the positions he took.

The visiting defenders were dragged here and there by on-and-off the ball running, the passing from almost everyone was exceptional and I can’t remember the last time I felt so gutted to see the half time whistle arrive. I bet Cheltenham were mightily relived.

The style of football was brilliant to watch. Let’s face it, we’ve seen some crap this season and at times we’ve been lucky if we’ve gone home having seen a credible shot on target. But here was City playing football in the style we’d like them to, with top quality players like Hendrie and Doherty pulling the strings and reminding us of how beautiful this sport can be to watch. And as we continue pressing with the ball on the deck I found myself wishing everyone in my life who regularly tells me Bradford City are crap and that lower league football is a dreadful standard could be sat next to me for this one afternoon, to be proven wrong.

It was only fitting that, on such a superb day, the two goals which clinched the win were stunning efforts. It capped a memorable day that can not only provide everyone renewed confidence that the season isn’t a dead loss yet – but that Taylor is the right man for the job and that under him results don’t have to take precedence over style.

It all came together at last – the fans, the players, the management. It was glorious and it was memorable and it will hopefully become the norm as everyone finds their form and belief.

A happy ending to a great afternoon – providing tangible belief that Bradford City’s season could still have it’s own Hollywood ending too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where does one see Bradford?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where would we go next?

Injury to Evans continues Taylor’s problems

Gareth Evans has been ruled out for three months following Saturday’s intersection with an adversing board leaving Peter Taylor scrambling for attacking options.

James Hanson is thought to be weeks rather than months from fitness while Michael Flynn – often used in an attacking role by Taylor in his early games at the club – played against Hartlepool United in the 1-0 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy defeat last night.

Flynn came on for Omar Daley who adds to the attacking options which also include fit again Leon Osborne, Louis Moult – a player who is said to be enjoying his time at Valley Parade not one bit – and Jake Speight who on arrival at half time on Saturday as a replacement for Luke Oliver to rapturous applause seemed to suggest that the morality issue surrounding him on his signing for the club has now been given a perspective by some City fans.

Recalling the calls for Speight to be sacked at the start of the season the applause perhaps means “Beating up women is bad, but not as bad as being Luke Oliver.”

Oliver – like Flynn – is used nominally out of position as a striker although perhaps it is the success of Flynn’s performances that sees the one criticised and the other not. Either way it seems that Oliver’s time up front is coming to an end with Taylor reported to be signing Crewe’s former Newcastle and Tranmere striker Calvin Zola on loan this week.

Zola has attracted interest from Burton Albion and Southend but is expected to join City. The player cost £200,000 from Tranmere Rovers and was impressive enough last season to see Peterborough United offer £1m for him. Crewe – under the returning manager Dario Gradi – have returned to the passing football which City have turned away from.

Scorer of an impressive goal at Valley Parade last season Zola would seem a perfect fit for a loanee at Valley Parade but – should he be a success – finding the money to sign him would be not only difficult but also a huge backing by the board of manager Peter Taylor.

Should Zola not arrive then David Wetherall’s reserve side offers the sizeable Darren Stephenson who could be asked to step up to the first team. It also offers Chib Chilaka who is raw for sure but has strength. Chilaka’s impact since arriving may perhaps be measured by the fact that the first version of this article simply forgot him.

So Taylor’s fit options for the role of target man are the raw Chib Chilaka, out of positions Oliver or Flynn, the reserve Stephenson and – should he sign – Zola while his choices for the two play off roles are Daley, Osbourne, Speight, Moult and Lee Hendrie – the midfielder failing to get defensive side of the ball enough to suggest that he might be better dropping back from the attack rather than coming forward from the midfield.

However another defeat without scoring demands a response from Taylor and the exit of Evans helps him not. If a combination is not found soon, and the lack of goals continue, then one would be excused to ask what the much trumpeted management skills of Taylor are for if it is not this problem?

Our old friend Rafa has little to do with Morecambe

The school of thought – pretty much doused after the signings this week of two month long loan players – has it that if Peter Taylor did not get four points from his next two games that finish at home to Morecambe then he would be sacked.

The point at Rotherham United gave him one, anything less than a win would see him out the door. Probably not but that was the rumour which has since been replaced by the idea that if things have not improved for the Bantams by the time that new recruits Oliver Gill and Reece Brown return to Old Trafford then Taylor will be out of the door.

When Taylor became City manager – and let us not speak the name of the man he got it from for fear of offending the delicate ears of some readers who comment whenever it is mentioned – he was trumpeted as an outstanding appointment taking over from “someone” who speculation had it would have been fired could the club afford it.

Indeed at the time whose name I do not wish to recall was leaving this club at Gill and Brown’s good friends down the M62 Liverpool it was said that Rafa Benitez would be given his P45 if only the club had the funds to do so, or if the two owners could make up their collective mind about it. Rafa left that club in the summer about the time Peter Taylor was signing his season long contract with the Bantams and ended up at the San Siro and Inter Milan.

There were many scratched heads at the appointment and predicted a fall from grace for the treble winning Inter side who are now leading Serie A and romped to a 4-0 win over Werder Bremen in the week as Rafa’s replacement Roy Hodgson’s side struggle in the Premier League. Talk to those who concern themselves more with the fortunes of Liverpool FC and they will point the finger of blame at the Americans who own the club rather than the managers.

Nevertheless it is worth considering Benitez’s progress for a moment and comparing it with to events which have unfolded for Peter Taylor. Inter Milan were obviously in rude health having won every competition they entered last season while Liverpool are obviously not and were Hodgson to have returned to the San Siro and Rafa remained where he was one is tempted to suggest that very little would have been different.

So Taylor – a manager with a good track record – struggles at Bradford City and is rumoured to be a draw away from being fired and one wonders how much different things would have been were anyone else rather than Taylor been manager.

None of which is to say that managers have no capability for effecting change but rather that they are not the sole agent of it and – if they are not given the time, resource and remit – they will be as battered along on the winds of fortune as any supporter.

Take, as an example, Chris Sutton who was the manager of Lincoln for a touch under twelve months that ended this week. Sutton inherited his side from former Bantam Peter Jackson when they were placed twentieth and left this week with the Imps placed twentieth. The fact that he was not able to improve or make worse Lincoln in that time suggests that the problem is something other than the manager.

Rafa carries on Inter Milan’s success and looks to continue it, Roy takes on Liverpool’s decline and looks to arrest it while Peter Taylor gets to grips with what is going on at Valley Parade and one hope that he is allowed to fully grasp that task.

Taylor brought in the two defenders from Manchester United with heads scratched as to why they are needed. It seems that Reece Brown will come in at right back to cover injuries and that Oliver Gill might take the other full back slot over Robbie Threlfall leaving Shane Duff and Steve Williams to carry on their partnership at the back in front of Jon McLaughlin.

Such would be harsh on Threlfall who like Taylor impressed in his first three months and then had some tough times. Perhaps Threlfall will be reflecting that he and Taylor are currently enjoying the same fortunes and while Taylor is given a month, he is not. It is said that there are people in the City dressing room who say they would no be upset were Taylor be moved on but these are the kind of rumours that no one could substantiate and few would believe if it were not for the displacement of the team’s performances and the search for reasons for that.

Zesh Rehman – who launched his own foundation this week – is rendered almost obsolete by this decision too. What does one make of a situation when both right backs are injured and a loanee is brought in over the next man. Indeed what does one make of Rehman’s time at City which has seen some good performances, and some good periods of play like the end of last season, but have never seen him cement a place in the side.

A former Premier League player and one with the ability to play well Rehman joins a lengthy list of players signed by the club and later seemingly rendered useless. Supporters and the club have a tendency to lay these failures at the door of the player – be he Dan Petrescu, Michael Boulding, John McGinlay, Paul McLaren or Bruno Rodriguez – but the constancy of this sign and deteriorate through various managers, boards and years is something not to be dismissed so lightly. Rehman is another player that – it seems – the club have failed to get the most out.

The midfield starts to return to a shape that was anticipated at the start of the season with Michael Flynn almost ready to return. Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Tom Ademeyi have struggled from game to game although Ademeyi looked good on his return in the week but it seems that he would be the one to step down when Flynn returns. Lee Hendrie seems to have a long road bad to fitness done in half hour steps from the bench while David Syers deserves much credit for his introduction to League football and as he returns to the bench he should do so with great heart and promise.

Omar Daley returned to the forward line in a swap with Jake Speight and impressed although the idea that Taylor will only play one of the two lively forwards is frustrating. On paper the pair would seem ideal for channel running and getting close to the big striker but – perhaps to avoid predictability – Taylor prefers to have two who might win the ball up front and Gareth Evans and Luke Oliver providing weight to the forward line.

Morecambe sit 22nd in League Two – a place below City – and were bested 4-1 by Bury in their new home this week. They are the sort of team that City are always expected to beat and for once for Peter Taylor the expectations do not outstrip the things in his control, o el control del hombre de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme.

A long time watching as City face Rotherham United

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking the next steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A timely reminder

Being a Bradford City fan has hardly been something to shout about over the last few years. Since the end of our Premiership dream a decade ago, we’ve suffered more than most supporters – administrations, relegations, dreadful football, questionable management and not even a decent cup run to speak of (unless we count last season’s assault on the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, where a penalty shoot-out victory over the mighty Notts County sparked a farcical pitch invasion).

We’ve watched teams who are traditionally our equals, Burnley and Blackpool, reach the dizzy heights of the Premier League whilst we have tried to get ourselves enthused about trips to the likes of Accrington and Aldershot.

What many of us had believed would be a short stay in the basement division of English football has turned into a four-season nightmare, which has shown little sign of ending anytime soon. The realisation that we are now a ‘proper’ League 2 club isn’t easy to accept.

The opening weeks of this season haven’t given much cause for us to believe we will be popping the champagne corks come May – before Saturday our 6 league games had heralded a total of 4 points and 3 goals. The various City-related message boards have been a hotbed of negativity (some of which is difficult to argue against), Peter Taylor has already been forced to deny rumours of a boardroom rift and every move he makes – whether it be giving a short-term deal to Chib Chilaka or appearing as a pundit on Sky – seems to be scrutinised to the maximum.

The fact a section of our support booed a 1-0 victory on the second weekend of the season says it all – the phrase ‘doom and gloom’ could have been invented for our club.

At Saturday’s game versus Gillingham it felt as though some of our supporters had seen enough. Ian Ormondroyd remarked on The Pulse prior to the match that the stadium and surrounding areas had a quieter feel about them and the area in which I sit was significantly less populated than it had been for a while. Although the actual attendance of 10,722 was only slightly down on previous weeks, the general feeling of malaise within the stadium made it seem almost cavernous at times. Those that did attend saw little in the opening 45 minutes to suggest anything other than another disappointing afternoon was on the cards.

The introduction of Lee Hendrie and Leon Osborne at half time seemed to have a slight galvanising effect on the team, if not all of the supporters. For much of the second period a goalless draw looked to be the only possible outcome, despite some uncharacteristically positive play from City. Whilst the atmosphere in the stadium showed a marked improvement on that of the first half, it wasn’t anywhere near the intensity we all know it can be – it didn’t seem to feel as though we could actually win.

Last week I, like millions of others, watched Arsenal practically destroy Portuguese side Braga in the opening round of the Champions League. After the Gunners casually knocked in goal after goal, seemingly scoring with every attack, I half-jokingly remarked, “I wish I supported a team like Arsenal.”

I’ve followed City for over 20 years and there is no way that I would ever switch allegiance to another team, but I watched that Arsenal performance with a mixture of pleasure and envy. I very much doubt that Bradford City could ever turn in a display like that in my lifetime and we are unlikely to ever have players who can match the skill of Cesc Fabregas or Andrey Arshavin.

Yet as I watched, I noticed something. With 10 minutes to go the Emirates Stadium was emptying rapidly. By the final whistle it must have been half full at the most. This reminded me exactly why I don’t support a team like Arsenal – who wants to be in an environment where success is treated with such apathy?

On Saturday, Steve Williams’ 92nd minute header provided a timely reminder of what supporting Bradford City is all about. As followers of our team we endure countless hours of sub-standard football, primitive facilities at away grounds and diabolical refereeing decisions but the sheer euphoria of a late, late winner makes it all worthwhile.

The scenes of jubilation inside Valley Parade were fantastic to witness after so much recent disappointment and the positive atmosphere among our supporters leaving the stadium made a refreshing change.

The win may have only lifted City 3 places up the table but there are 39 games still to play, which we can maybe begin to look upon with (extremely) cautious optimism. Nobody can argue that there aren’t still problems for our manager to address, such as the lack of experience up front, but for now we should enjoy the fact that City are unbeaten in their last two outings.

Whilst walking back to my car after the game on Saturday I heard that well-worn footballing cliché ‘the season starts here’ more than once. Let’s hope it really does.

Leaps To Feet, Falls Over Sideways…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One out, one in as City have Hendrie on the wing

Lee Hendrie – cousin of John and former Aston Villa player – has signed for Bradford City today as Peter Taylor looks to add to his his faltering squad.

At the same time young goalkeeper Chris Elliott has gone to Harrogate Railway on loan.

Hendrie left Derby County in the summer after a nine month spell that saw him play only ten times. Previously he is known for his time at Aston Villa and Sheffield United as well as for Peter Taylor’s England u21 side.

After failing to win a contract with Reading Hendrie is a free agent and joins a City team which seems to have a role custom made for him. A midfielder who likes to drift forward Hendrie would fit into Peter Taylor’s 433 most probably in the place of Tom Ademeyi alongside Tommy Doherty and Lee Bullock and perhaps his signing is a signal that the manager is looking for more experience in his starting line up to reverse recent results.

Hendrie is expected to play a part in the game against Gillingham at the weekend. He has taken Scott Neilson’s vacated number eleven shirt.

Hendire is 33 years old, Elliot is 18.

Who wants to play for Bradford City?

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

The player said “No”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is that performance that Taylor needs to find.

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