Patience is here and there as Bradford City face AFC Wimbledon

When the history of early 21st century football is written, the emergence of clubs with AFC prefixes will surely loom large. Whether they will be portrayed as grassroots revolutions or romantic daydreams only time will tell. At present their impact on the greater game is limited. They are a curiosity more than a threat to the established structure of the game. However, if AFC Wimbledon progress further up the divisions their ethos and ownership structure has the potential to reverberate throughout the professional game. The watershed moment would surely arrive if AFC Wimbledon overhauled the MK Dons.

However, we would do well not to over romanticise AFC Wimbldeon. Multiple promotions, and even a debt controversy, suggest that they are not FC United-esque mid-life crisis, revolutionaries. AFC Wimbledon are a limited company, albeit one dominated by the shareholding of their Supporters’ Trust.

Interestingly they also have an Independent Supporters’ Association, which suggests, in parallel with revolutions everywhere, Lincoln City for example, that factionalism is a fact of football life. So, is Saturday’s match at Valley Parade an encounter between two former Premier League clubs, or a vivid example of how a well organised grassroots football club can rise through the leagues to meet a former Premier League club which has spent a decade fighting crisis after crisis?

All that will fade into insignificance once the whistle is blown at three o’clock. The Dons arrive at Valley Parade off the back of an impressive 4-1 victory over Cheltenham. However, their form, like many in the division, is erratic. It has included a four goal thumping at Macclesfield. Are we in for another high scoring encounter? Few City fans would put money on their defence keeping a clean sheet, so it is probably a question of outscoring the visitors.

City have injury doubts over Kyel Reid, Michael Flynn, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall. Phil Parkinson has shown a reluctance to change the starting eleven during his short stint at the helm. However, perhaps the injuries and the poor second half performance at Crawley will force his hand?

Fortunately, he has options, although it appears that the most popular change among some supporters, Luke O’Brien for Robbie Threlfall, is the most unlikely to happen with the former Liverpool player seemingly the most likely to recover. Undoubtedly the defence requires work. The return of Steve Williams in a couple of weeks appears to be a formality. For Saturday Parkinson’s options are limited. Whilst he has wingers to spare, the back four is highly likely to remain in situ. We can only hope that the defence, and the captain’s Twitter account, have a quiet weekend.

The Dons game is beginning to take on some significance. Despite the team receiving praise for their free flowing football, and pledges that the fans would be content to have attacking football this season, some are beginning to nervously glance at the table. However, a similar glance at the calendar will reveal that it is still September. We have a new manager and a restructured team. Patience is a dirty word at Valley Parade, but show me the options?

Peter Jackson: managerial hybrid or the great divider?

I’ve always looked at the Burnley situation when Owen Coyle left and the fans were calling him every name under the sun. Then they couldn’t wait to get rid of Brian Laws. If you’re a fan, you can’t have it both ways. Be careful what you wish for.” Peter Taylor, February 4 2011

After Stuart McCall – hired due to his passion and commitment – and Peter Taylor – recruited because of his experience and successful track record – both ultimately failed managing Bradford City, does interim arrival Peter Jackson represent a managerial hybrid?

On the face of it and, after a typically showman’s introduction to the media, it would appear Jackson has the potential to offer the best of both worlds. He has been quick to point out that he always puts 110% commitment to the club he is at, and that managing Bradford City is to him extra special. In terms of his outwards personality, he is probably as close to McCall as the club can find to a manager who’ll project how much he cares – and, like Taylor, he’s also successfully guided a club out of this league.

Anyone who once claimed to bleed Blue and White can never be considered as passionate for the Bantams as McCall – who once said that a game of tiddlywinks between City and Town would still really matter. Similarly, Jackson’s managerial pedigree can’t compete with Taylor’s. Nevertheless City’s Board, who have targeted the qualities of passion and previous success during its last two recruitment drives, might see Jackson as the closest to delivering both.

Jackson offers strong commitment to City’s cause, and he has a history of some success. So if McCall’s passion is still considered a good thing and if a track record like Taylor’s is still a desirable quality, there is a strong argument to make for Jackson to be entrusted with the job beyond the next few weeks

However, scratching beyond the surface of Jackson’s managerial record does throw up some doubts, which suggest he may not be the long-term answer for City. His first managerial role at Huddersfield in 1997 undoubtedly started well. Back in the old Division One, the Terriers were cut adrift at the bottom of the league and looked doomed to relegation to the third tier. Jackson made an instant impact after taking over in November; reviving the club and guiding it to a very respectable mid-table placing.

When the momentum was continued in the next season (1998/99), Town topped the league for six weeks before eventually being overtaken by Sunderland and City. As form tailed off badly towards the end of that season, which was far from in keeping with the ambition of new owners, Jackson was sacked. It was no coincidence that he was ordered to pack his desk on the same day the people of Bradford lined the streets to celebrate the Bantams’ promotion to the Premier League.

Yet the Terriers hardly prospered without him and he returned to manage the club four years later when it was at its lowest ebb – two relegations in three seasons, and a period in administration. Jackson famously inherited just eight players, yet guided the club to promotion out of the bottom tier – via a play off final penalty shootout win at Wembley – in his first season back. The following year, in League One, Town narrowly missed the play offs after a superb late run. The year after they made the play offs but were defeated by Barnsley. A year later the club drifted to midtable and he was again sacked.

Which led him to League Two Lincoln and a situation similar to his first spell at Town. The Imps had endured a terrible start and were facing the drop, but Jackson was again able to turn it round and pull Lincoln up to midtable. As he recovered from battling throat cancer, he couldn’t improve on another midtable position the year after. Early on last season he was sacked as the Imps plummeted down the league.

The point of looking back at all of this is to illustrate the recurring pattern of his management. When he takes over a team it usually triggers a sizeable short-term boost and relative instant success, but as times goes by he has proven unable to continue that upwards momentum or take a club onto the next level. He can motivate players for sure; he can improve the quality of the squad by making effective signings. But eventually, it seems, he either takes a wrong turning or goes off the map – and he struggles to recover. He twice left Town better off than when he took over, but couldn’t take them as far as they wanted to go. Though it must be noted that no one who has followed him in the Galpharm dugout has so far being able to do any better.

It can be argued, with some justification, that he was often a victim of the rising expectations his efforts had triggered, but he has rarely made any attempt to downplay them. When Town topped Division One during the early few weeks of the 1998/99 season, he argued loudly and passionately that his team could last the distance – they dropped off. Exactly a decade later he boldly predicted his Lincoln side would earn automatic promotion – they didn’t even come close to the play offs.

All of which offers a huge question mark over what City are looking for in their next manager. If it’s all about achieving that short-term boost of winning some football matches and getting a promotion, Jackson represents a strong candidate. But if we’re looking for the next manager to be here for years and to build up a team – which has in recent times suffered from lack of stability and short-term signings – and climb back up the leagues, one struggles to find enough reasons to believe Jackson is the right man.

And another long-term consideration when assessing him has to be the huge divide of opinion that even his temporary appointment has generated. It is both surprising and interesting that Jackson’s arrival has been very strongly backed by a sizeable number of supporters. Of course he is considered a club legend to supporters of a certain age, but the bad blood his affiliation with Town caused – which, lest we forget, saw him endure some terrible receptions over the years when returning to Valley Parade as opposition manager – has been quickly forgiven and forgotten by many.

Other fans are equally dismayed at his arrival – indeed some supporters are even vowing not to attend games while he remains in charge. It will be very difficult for him to ever successfully unite the fans.

This may not matter in the short-term – especially if Jackson’s arrival prompts the type of immediate boost in form that his introductions at Huddersfield (twice) and Lincoln delivered – but old wounds will prove difficult to heal even over time. Whatever is said now of McCall and Taylor, they were hugely popular choices for the vacancy they filled and, in McCall’s case at least, that helped him retain support during difficult times. In contrast it wouldn’t take too many home defeats for discontent towards Jackson to become notable. Even a promotion from League Two would provide little sentiment if City struggle under Jackson in League One.

For now at least Jackson is in the driving seat for the job. Lose the next two games, and he can blame it on the situation he inherited and propose alternative solutions. Win the next two games, and the clamour for him to get the job full time would be difficult for the Board to ignore. Imagine City get four points from the games with Gillingham and Rotherham, many people are calling for him to get the job but someone else is appointed? At some point down the line, the new manager would have a dodgy period and Jackson will be brought back up into conversation as a fantastic opportunity wasted. The Board would be heavily criticised for sending Jackson away.

Ultimately, it should all come back to properly evaluating what’s required for this role and what the expectations should be. Is it all about getting a promotion and then addressing other issues from a position of greater strength, or should the club be striving to follow longer-term thinking and focus on building on and off the pitch? Is all that’s required from the new manager a promotion next season, or are we looking for someone who’ll be here for years to come – channeling as much thought into matters such as youth development as he does targeting three points the following Saturday?

If the former is the objective, Jackson’s name deserves to figure high up the list of potential successors to Taylor. But if it’s the latter, the best answers probably lie elsewhere.

Taylor gets a final chance to write his history

Peter Taylor exits Bradford City after Saturday’s game with Stockport County which is described by joint chairman Julian Rhodes as “possibly one of the biggest in the club’s history” but the judgement on his time at the club will not follow until the end of the season.

Taylor’s time at City has been marked with upset over negative play and managerial mistakes as well as the manager criticising supporters who he revealed today were the cause of his decision to leave but his position in City’s history will be written in May when he is either written off as an experiment gone wrong or written in stone as the man who had Bradford City relegated out of the Football League after 106.

An assessment which would be harsh for sure – you do not go from the Premiership to the Football Conference in just over a decade because of the guy who got the job twelve months ago – but one which will no doubt be made. Taylor’s only input into this writing of history is the tone he sets in his final game.

The final game with Stockport who – in something of a minor irony – have helped to seal the manager’s early exit. Mark Lawn and Rhodes talked about their requirements for the medium and long term when thinking about the next appointment but it cannot have escaped their notice that by changing manager Lincoln City and Saturday’s opponents have turned seemingly moribund seasons around with revivals.

There is something to be said for that approach too. It is football in the ludicrously short term – the financial position being what it is and relegation hovering City may only have a short term left – but increasingly it seemed as if the players had lost belief in Taylor and that they might benefit from another voice in the dressing room.

Be it David Syers and Tom Ademeyi being given the midfield roles against five Lincoln players, Scott Dobie being given the job of chasing high balls or Luke O’Brien and Lewis Hunt playing full back without anyone supporting them when they are doubled up on the players are coming under criticism for decisions made by Taylor, and on occasion that criticism comes from Taylor.

That they stop thinking that following the manager will lead to success is a problem addressed by Taylor’s exit, although after that one suspects the problems will begin and that chief amongst those problems will be finding a new manager who has the same effect on City which Steve Tilson has had on Lincoln to some degree or another.

If the benefit of Taylor’s exit is a change of voice in the dressing room then there seems little benefit in appointing Wayne Jacobs until the end of the season but the assistant manager has twice taken control of the club as caretaker in the past. The two week gap that follows the Stockport game suggests City will have time to bring in short-term appointment and that a caretaker taker will probably not be needed.

Names suggest themselves: Phil Parkinson and Brian Laws mentioned in one breath, Dean Windass and Terry Dolan in another. Martin Allen has previously impresses Mark Lawn and could get a chance to do again but those problems are for Monday. Saturday is more pressing.

The effect of Taylor’s departure on that game is hard to measure. The City players responded to Stuart McCall’s departure with a loathsome display at Accrington Stanley in Peter Taylor first game. In his last one might expect the squad to be equally nervous although perhaps they will feel they have something to prove to the outgoing manager. If they spot a trenchcoat in the main stand they may feel they have something to prove to the incoming manager too.

Taylor is likely to stand by the players who have figured in the majority of his squad although there is a sneaking feeling that he may employ a 235 1911 style in a final flash of “attacking football.”

Assuming he does not Lenny Pidgeley will keep goal behind Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver who more than most will be effected by Taylor’s departure one suspects and Luke O’Brien. A middle three of Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and Tom Adeyemi seems set to continue – one has to wonder why Jon Worthington was brought in – while the forward three could feature a return for James Hanson alongside one of Scott Dobie or Gareth Evans, and Kevin Ellison.

These players are tasked with winning the game – an everyone in for a pound offer which sadly was not extended to the visitors should see a few more bums on seats – and starting writing what could prove to the the last chapter in the 58 year old manager’s career.

A win and graceful retirement to Newcastle United’s backroom awaits, a defeat and he starts to become the man who killed a club.

Macclesfield Town game off

City’s trip to Macclesfield Town has been called off owing to a waterlogged pitch which is captured by this photograph from Shane Duff who tweeted “Can’t believe they made us travel. Back to Bradford for training.”

The Moss Rose Ground has been subject to heavy rain over night which has left the pitch unplayable.

Silkmen chairman Mike Rance hit a disappointed note saying

We’ve been pumping water from the corners for the best part of two hours, but the water levels are so high that is was always going to be a losing battle. I understand Bury and Altrincham are also off and such has been the downpour I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more matches get called off.

Should Barnet win at Northampton and Stockport win at Torquay then Macclesfield would drop into the bottom two with Burton Albion – due to play Bury – put at the bottom of the division having played eight fewer games than Stockport. That is 17% of the season – including a game at City – which Burton have to play.

City will drop below either Lincoln City or Hereford United depending on the result of the game between those teams who play today but no further leaving the Bantams 19th going into next week’s home game with Peter Taylor’s former club Wycombe Wanderers.

The most obvious defeat in the book

Walking away from Valley Parade after some defeats you hear the same murmurs on everyone’s lips. People trudging away after games like the 3-2 reversal to Crewe last season all mumbled phrases like “How did we lose that?”

Walking away from this 2-1 defeat to Lincoln City that continues Bradford City’s flirtation with the possibility of non-league football next season the reason for the defeat was obvious and the responsibility lay clearly with manager Peter Taylor.

No head scratching from Taylor one hopes and no moving around of the blame from player to player – although some of them could have put in better displays – but forty minutes into the game the City boss must have joined the majority of the supporters in thinking that the Bantams had the game all but won.

Lincoln City arrived on the back of three straight wins and seemed to believe their own press standing off and waiting for things to happen as City made play. The Bantams started brightly with a move down the left finding David Syers in the box and Syers’ playing over to James Hanson who scored his second in two games.

From then the City looked massively in the ascendancy with chances coming freely. Omar Daley air shotted in the box, Tom Ademeyi lashed over the bar but it seemed more of a “when” than an “if” another goal would come.

Some players were out of sorts – Daley and Gareth Evans seemed under instruction to stay closer filling the gap between full back and flank, whatever you think of Daley few would put him on a pitch and tell him to not try run against his man – but City were winning and winning well.

And then it fell apart. A quickly taken free kick went out to Gavin Hoyte and was swung over to Delroy Facey who hung for an age on the far post to head in with Jon McLauglin screaming at his defenders for not clearing while his defenders stared back to blame the keeper for being rooted to his line. The defenders were right, McLauglin was at fault for the goal but not the loss.

Although something happened to City after the goal that was ugly to see. The character which is brittle at the best of times shattered and as Lincoln emerged from half time full of belief City seemed to have been sapped of it.

Ali Fuseini came on for Lincoln and they stepped up taking control of the midfield and looking increasingly threatening. City’s middle three were scrapping with the visitor’s four and needed bolstering.

Which is when the game was lost and it was lost by Peter Taylor. The City manager – seeing his side struggling to regain midfield control – removed Jon Worthington who was putting in a good display as a foot in midfielder and added, well, no one.

As with the defeat at Crewe last week Michael Flynn came on and joined James Hanson in the forward line leaving Taylor’s side with something like a 424 which was utterly ineffectual. The four of Lincoln City were walking past the two of Syers and Adeyemi with such ease.

On this point I struggle. How could Peter Taylor – in football all his adult life – have thought that the way to win a game was to surrender control of the midfield? Adeyemi was more miss than hit while Syers put in his 100% but Taylor’s tactics – his tactical switch – required these two players to put in an insane level of work with two players against four while City’s four forwards looked down the pitch at them.

How did Peter Taylor expect this to work? That City would do better with less of the ball? Isn’t the idea that having more attackers on the pitch will give more goals but those ideas one of those things that people stop believing along with The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny? Yet there we were, with four players watching two trying to hold the midfield together.

Lincoln scored of course – and by mugging Syers who had no back up – with Fuseini bursting through and producing a save from McLaughlin which Gavin McCallum powered the rebound in from. From then on – and even after Mark Cullen was thrown on and Gareth Evans pushed back into midfield – City never looked like they believed they could get back into the game.

So it proved, and while some might want to talk about the players “not being good enough” I can only say that I do not believe that Messi and Maradona would have been able to win tonight when put as two men against four. Games are won an lost in the midfield, and it was Taylor who lost it there tonight.

How does one categorise this? Before “the players weren’t good enough” we used to hear the phrase “tactical naive” banded around but never given a meaning. There was talk about “Plan B” and not the merits of change for the sake of change, of change without enough thought of the effect of that change.

Taylor was an outstanding appointment to the job of Bradford City manager – Mark Lawn found someone who had success and repeated success – but he has made mistakes concluded with by a substitution which hobbled his team, that exposed two young players in Ademeyi and Syers, and that threw points away.

At the end there were chants calling for Peter Taylor to be “out” – they were not widespread but by no means single voices – but rather sacking the manager I’d rather the experienced manager stopped making massive, misjudgements and started doing his job properly.

The silly season ends and now Taylor must ensure the real one isn’t over

Omar Daley is off to re-join Stuart McCall at Motherwell; James Hanson is going to replace Andy Carroll at Newcastle; City are using the unexpected windfall to sign Rotherham’s Adam le Fondre; Robbie Blake is returning to the club on loan.

The transfer window always gets a little silly and, as top Premier League players were exchanged for ridiculous sums of money in the hours and minutes before it closed, it was tempting to believe some of the magic dust would sprinkle off at Valley Parade as the outlandish rumours swirled. As it was the January transfer shake-up ended with the more grounded arrival of Scott Dobie on loan until the end of the season.

That anyone has arrived at all speaks volumes about the club’s ambition for the rest of the season. Manager Peter Taylor has already overspent on his transfer budget and, as Lee Hendrie departed the club a month ago and Jason Price rocked up at Walsall, the low-key arrival of Mark Cullen looked for a time to be the only reinforcement to boost a failing promotion bid. Then came Jon Worthington and now Dobie.

Throw in the return to fitness of Michael Flynn and – not far behind – Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams and Simon Ramsden, and Taylor has a number of different options compared to the players he had to select for the trip to Lincoln exactly a month ago. Now the challenge for Taylor is to ensure his new recruits make a positive difference, before it’s too late.

Because make no mistake, tonight is a massive game for City. Returning from the awkward trip to Chesterfield with the unexpected bonus of a good performance and a draw – albeit it in ultimately devastating circumstances – offers a small chink of light that the season isn’t over just yet. And if Taylor retains ambitions of managing City beyond May, he needs to get a run of wins that can claw back the 9-point deficit from the play off pack.

Saturday was a disappointing end; but Taylor has the experience and ability to ensure his players build on the positives and take their better form into tonight’s game. And if City can repeat their New Year Day victory over the Imps and follow that up with three points at Macclesfield on Saturday, the build up to the visit of his former club Wycombe the weekend after could be filled with optimism over the season having an exciting end after all.

But the margin for error is thin, and Taylor cannot afford for yet another slip up this evening.

January was a dismal month for City, but the temporary opening of the transfer window has enabled Taylor to reshuffle the pack and he will hope to now have a more reliable hand to call upon. The experience that Worthington and Dobie offer could prove significant, and Taylor will hope they can make a stronger impact than the now-injured Tommy Doherty and departed Price.

Certainly Dobie offers something different to Price, who ultimately was too much like Hanson for the pair to forge an effective partnership. Goals have been a problem all season and Dobie’s scoring record doesn’t leap off the page, but his know-how will hopefully at least help City to be more effective offensively and create more chances, so the back of the net is found more often.

After the success of Saturday, Taylor is under-pressure from some to play the same starting line up – apart from Daley replacing the injured Leon Osborne. Yet the 4-5-1 formation used at the B2Net stadium was more focused on containing dangerous opposition, and with the onus on City to attack at home it seems unlikely they will line up in the same manner at least.

Jon McLaughlin will keep goal in front of a back four which performed well on Saturday – Richard Eckersley and Luke O’Brien as the full backs with Luke Oliver and Shane Duff in-between. In midfield Tom Adeyemi may be pushed back into a wide position if Taylor elects for 4-4-2, with Worthington making a positive impression as a deeper midfielder and likely to partner David Syers. Michael Flynn will be pushing for a first league start of the season, but is set to continue from the bench for now. Daley will play out wide.

Up front, Hanson and Evans will probably link up with the former scoring a morale-boosting header on Saturday and the latter enjoying probably his best game of the season and showing signs of recaputuring the form displayed at the end of the last campaign. Dobie – who is taking the 11 shirt worn by Scott Neilson and Hendrie already this season – may be brought in to start instantly, though there is a question mark over if he will have international clearance in time and he hasn’t had a lot of football at St. Johnstone lately anyway. Where his arrival leaves Cullen and Jake Speight in Taylor’s thoughts is unclear.

Lincoln – demoralised and staring at the non-league abyss on New Years Day – are a club reborn. Three straight wins have made up for the six winless games that preceded it. They are two places and three points below City and, if they are in relegation trouble, a victory over the Bantams tonight would truly send the alarm bells ringing at Valley Parade.

So Taylor battles to keep the season alive and meaningful –  but not for the wrong reasons. And though it won’t be Adam le Fondre spearheading the attack, he is banking on his new faces and those returning from injury providing the club a much-needed lift.

And Taylor needs that lift to happen straightaway, otherwise he’ll be left effectively working his notice.

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.

Taylor’s revival avoids a pressing problem

Only a fool would consider sacking Peter Taylor as Bradford City manager now but five games and twelve points ago it seemed that the City boss was a game away from his P45.

The game changes quickly and probably having lived his life in it this comes as no surprise to the 57 year old manager. One has to wonder what he made of the pressure he was coming under and the asked for and not received backing. No matter. For now, Taylor is safe.

Safe because only a fool would sack him now and Mark Lawn is no fool – indeed he did not act when other itched five games ago – but he is also no expert. Indeed looking at Bradford City at the moment and making a list of which person at the club knows enough about football to be qualified to make a call on the job that Taylor is doing and one is forced to conclude that at the head of the list is the manager himself and the gap to the others is startling.

Wayne Jacobs and Junior Lewis – and a few of the players – have some knowledge on the field and Mark Lawn, Julian Rhodes et al have some off it but like the vast majority of football club chairmen they were set the task of assessing the all round performance of the manager without the required domain knowledge to make a decision.

Take as an example Liverpool – a great reference for many things – who when replacing Rafa Benitez with Roy Hodgson did so with the idea that they were replacing a lame duck with a soaring eagle. At the moment Liverpool struggle and it seems not that Hodgson is doing an especially poor job but that Benitez had been doing a rather impressive one taking the team to second place.

In essence there was no one able to tell the difference between a good manager doing well with a bad team and a bad manager hampering a good side or – as is the case with the vast majority of situations a hard working manager doing his best only to be replaced by another hard working manager doing his best.

Indeed the idea of a good manager is questionable. Nigel Clough built Burton a season at a time over ten years and created a strong club which managed his departure without much of a blip. That is to me the measure of a good manager, not a win percentage figure.

Yet chairmen are constantly forced to look at the win percentage, the most recent trophies in the cabinet, the flavour of the month. Hodgson got the Liverpool job for taking Fulham to a cup final, Steve McLaren got the England job for similar. The list of managers sacked from doing the long term job because of poor short term results contains some impressive names.

Sir Bobby Robson – after all – was replaced at Newcastle United by Graeme Souness because he failed to secure Champions League football and Peter Reid was given the boot by Manchester City for not finishing high enough up the Premier League. United spent a year in the second tier, City ended up in the third.

Looking back at the last three decades of City managers and noting the only common factor in success – the two promotion winning managers were appointed from within – and one sees many examples of this practice of a chairman who knows less about football than the man sitting opposite him, trying to make a judgement on the man opposite him.

Gordon Gibb was wowed by Bryan Robson, but how could judge between Robson and Todd the two men in for the job? Gibb had some experience as a junior footballer but how did that qualify him to know which of the two potential gaffers would be the best for the club?

Plenty of people would tell you that Mark Lawn make a mistake when appointing Stuart McCall, or when sacking him, but most would agree that when appointing a replacement and trumpeting that man’s years in the game and experience the joint chairman was basically saying that he did not really know what he was looking for the first time, now he thinks he does.

He is not alone. Most chairmen hire managers on promises and sack them in disappointment that those promises have yet to deliver a promotion or a trophy and at no point are they qualified to judge anything other than what can be seen from the league table. The decision to move on Taylor from Hull City and replace him with Phil Brown ended up in promotion (and relegation) but the club rode on what the current City manager had built and Brown’s magic wore off in the top flight.

Chairmen lack the domain knowledge to make decisions on their managers. They can be unhappy at results but most lack the calibration to know if those are bad results with a good team or good results with a bad one. Lincoln City have replaced Chris Sutton who was gaffer for a year replacing Peter Jackson with almost no net result at all. Sutton’s side did no better than Jackson and – one was forced to conclude – that the factors in play at Sincil bank are deeper than the dug out.

To borrow a phrase Mark Lawn needs an experienced assistant. Someone with football experience at boardroom level. Most chairmen do. They need someone next to them who knows the difference between a manager building something and one who is doing badly. Someone who can tell them that things are going well at the training pitch, that the young players coming through have real potential, that the manager is doing his job well.

They do not have this, and so they sack on form and results.

Only a fool would sack Peter Taylor now, and in retrospect the decision to not make a decision on him five games ago looks a great on indeed but Mark Lawn – in common with a great number of football chairmen – needs to bring in expertise to give him the ability to make that call should it ever arise again.

2010/2011 Fixtures released

The fixtures for the 2010/2011 season are out and rather stunningly City are playing everyone in League Two twice – once at home and once away – and full luscious details of this can be found at the Bradford City website.

The things that stick out from the list are the opening game trip to Shrewsbury Town which presents City as the first game for Graham Turner’s first proper game in charge while Peter Taylor faces one of his many former clubs as Stevenage Not Borough rock up to Valley Parade a week later for their first ever league away game and – I’m sure all will agree – it is a nice place to break your duck for the former non-leaguers.

Boxing day sees City face Chesterfield at home but new year’s day promises a trip to Lincoln City. The last day of the season City are facing Crewe again although this time it is at Valley Parade and the play off final is still down for the 28th of May at Wembley which – of course – it will not be.

The last days of Rome

On arriving at a club we often hear how a new manager has made five or six changes from the previous gaffer’s last team and on watching Stuart McCall’s side of players rag-tagly out of positioned for the first half of a a sixth winless match on the trot at Lincoln City’s Sincil Bank one could not be struck by the notion that should the Bantams have a change in the big chair sooner rather than later then his first job would be to put players back into position.

Simon Ramsden moved into midfield, Omar Daley up front, Chris Brandon wandering around in “the hole” and after the two goals that proved decisive Michael Flynn in the forward line. Players out of position seem to be the precursor of manager removal.

That City boss Stuart McCall got his first half team so wrong caused an unsolvable problem for the Bantams which could not be fixed after forty-five minutes. The second goal saw Brian Gilmour slice through the centre of the same flat footed, square defence that was exposed at Notts County on the opening day of the season.

The pairing of Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke is chalk and chalk. Two players who can clear the ball out without the pace to clean up behind them and they were exposed by Gilmour to get the second. The first goal came from Brian Gilmour setting up Chris Held for a close finish and came as City’s heads were down following more linesman “fun”.

That the official had been subject to some vile abuse from three or four City fans at the front of the away end may have played on his mind when Omar Daley rounded Steve Watts to burst towards the penalty area only to being sent sprawling – Decision: Free Kick to Lincoln – is little excuse for a wretched afternoon of poor decisions. His role in the first, match swinging goal came from keeping his flag down as Gareth Evans felt the force of both Watts’s hands in his back.

He was a poor linesman – perhaps making errors, perhaps seeking redress – but no one deserved the level of homophobic abuse hurled at him by a shameful handful of City fans who tellingly pulled scarves over their faces when later a scuffle broke out when another supporter was ejected.

Horribly City’s players put heads down after the foul on Daley was not given and after dominating for the opening half an hour and having a great run by Luke O’Brien well saved and a Gareth Evans shot eke wide found themselves quickly two goals behind. Problems were evident, City had crumbled like ageing marble statues.

The problems – however annoying the re-occurrence of them was – were addressed at half time in the dressing room and City came out with Ramsden back at right back, Rehman off and Steve Williams on and Michael Boulding adding to the forward line. Cue a forty five minutes of near constant Bradford City pressure.

That that pressure resulted in only a single goal when Michael Boulding finishing smartly after good work by Luke O’Brien who – as with Matthew Clarke – had as good a second half as he did a poor first was partly the goalkeeping of Rob Burch but mostly City’s difficulties in breaking down a backs to the wall second half from the home side which one rarely sees from a side on their home turf but won them the three points.

(A note here on recent weeks: Lincoln, unlike Bury and Cheltenham, did not feel the need to cheat and the game was all the better for it.)

The Bantams tried, tried, tired to breakdown the home side who were playing like an away side but it was to no avail. At one point Matt Glennon was in the forward line and even the BBC called the Bantams unlucky but ultimately McCall had made a big mistake with his team selection but had seen the problem and fixed it. In the end it was too late, but it was not mistaken by those who saw it for too little.

These people – the six hundred or so who travelled to Lincoln – came not to bury Caesar, but to to praise him. There were the odd pocket of people voicing anti-McCall sentiment but on the whole as the Visigoth sacked the streets a single word rang out from the Bradford City support not too a man but to a point.

“Stuart, Stuart, Stuart.”

The one sided derby with Lincoln City

The most damning jibe between modern football fans comes when one declares that having assessed the situation that passed between two once competing clubs that the former now no longer considers the latter a rival.

This happened first at Old Trafford who sneered across to Moss Side at City saying that United’s main rivals were now the likes of Real Madrid and AC Milan and not the Blue half of the City at all. This week might have given cause for redress on that but the insult rankled with those at Maine Road.

Indeed the same was said in the direction of Elland Road a few years later. Manchester United were concerned with putting one over Barca and not with Leeds United the supporters of whom took some delight in mocking this attitude in the recent FA Cup win. Goes the song: “1-0, but it’s only Leeds.”

Sympathy for Leeds in this situation dries up when one recalls how the Whites apply the same thinking to Bradford City – and Huddersfield Town, who join the Bantams in considering Leeds and not each other their closet rivals – with one interesting debate on the subject on a Leeds website featuring our much missed writer Roland Harris in which our boy tried to explain that the reason why City disliked Leeds more than Leeds disliked City was down to the fact the Leeds were simply more obnoxious. Paraphrasing here but Roland’s argument went along the lines that if you go around cutting people up on the motorway then the offended parties will feel more negative to you than you do to them.

Nevertheless the rivalry turn off is the brickbat of the modern game and is liberally thrown around as clubs look to establish a local dominance in what is increasingly a centralised game.

All this said, I don’t consider Lincoln City to be a rival.

It is not because we have outgrown them or gone past them (only to return) or any of those freely and liberally thrown around comments but rather because never in my life have I considered the two clubs to be rivals in any way and considering our shared tragedy in the fire of 1985 I had thought we were – well – friends.

theimp.tk‘s Nathan Jackson would seem to think differently saying to highlight a common theme on his site of antagonism between the Imps and the Bantams

As much as I’d love to beat Bradford at Sincil Bank, I can’t really picture a maximum haul against a side who are fairly decent travellers.

Jackson’s optimism about City’s form is welcome but his distaste is simply curious and goes beyond my comprehension. Answers on a postcard please, for I am none the wiser.

Wisdom, or the lack of it, seemed to be in short supply at Sincil Bank earlier in the season when Peter Jackson was fired seemingly for the crime of not having The Imps competing for the play-offs. The Sincil Bank board had a plan: they were going to hold interviews and ask anyone who came if they had a plan and someone did in the form of one time best pal of Lee Power Chris Sutton who took the management position and within a couple of months was declaring the Lincoln were in a relegation fight.

The stunning thing about this turn around from promotion contenders to best best in a relegation dog fight was the way the degradation has been readily accepted. Sutton’s press is good on the whole – the popular media love a face they recognise from nights at Wembley watching England – but as his team struggle one has ton wonder how a spotlight has not been put on those who made and influenced the decision to remove Jackson from the big seat and replace him with such massive uncertainty which would seem to have the club sailing much closer to the relegation winds than one would have thought possible at the start of the season.

Or, as one Lincoln fan put it recently:

Who’s bright idea was this? And where is that person now to explain just what Jackson was doing wrong that Sutton is doing right?

Indeed.

Naturally the person – and I have no idea who he is – probably heard and used the word “gamble” which is cropping up more often at City than it should do for a club that last gambled on six week of spending in the Premiership and lost the ground as a result. When Jackson was fired there was calls for the same to happen to his former City team mate and current Bantams boss Stuart McCall and naturally the fear for those who nail colours to a mast against such a move is that the Bantams would follow Lincoln’s slump. None of which is to say that Sutton is or will do a poor job, just that those people who suggested that a new man couldn’t do any worse than Jackson seem to have been proved wrong.

As City enter the second half of the season which – should Stuart McCall’s predictions of it all resting on the next four weeks be accurate and should the next four games go the same way as the last four – looks increasingly like resulting in a lack of result then one suspects that the Bantams and the manager might be set for a summer parting of the ways which were it not for the squabbling and back-biting from the terraces could have been dignified. No such luck.

A summer revolution leaving the likes of Coventry City target James Hanson, Scott Neilson and Steve Williams in place presents an attractive proposition for a new gaffer (if we must, I’d rather not but that is another story) but one wonders what the reaction would be if a similar downturn that followed Jackson’s exit came with a new City manager. If within a few months of the mob getting what they want the new manager is – like Sutton – talking about winning a relegation fight.

Do not worry, dear reader, for I’m sure at that point public apologies and remortage funded player investment will follow from people who promise that improvement will follow with come forthwith.

On the pitch City spent so much time off that frankly at BfB we forgot who the players were in some cases and why they might not be playing in others. Who is suspended, who is injured, who has roast beef, who has none. We fail to recall these things with a reliable level of accuracy.

City should start with Matt Glennon in goal following his début at Bury and Glennon will have the reformed back four of Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien ahead of him following Ramsden’s midfield sojourn at Bury. Ramsden’s return is brought about by the return from injury of Lee Bullock to start another round of being book for having two legs while Michael Flynn partners him in player of the season form. Stuart McCall’s usual 433 vs 442 question arises and in a three one could expect Chris Brandon to play in a forward laying position while in a four Brandon may be left and Omar Daley make a start on the right.

James Hanson – who has not a yellow card to his name this season – may recover from injury to return up front as Gareth Evans struggle for form with one or the other set to partner Michael Boulding.

Another day, another message board discussion

Bradford City director Roger Owen is not a happy man. The man who was rumoured to be the target of Stuart McCall’s We All Stand Together comments has reacted with some anger to criticism which suggested that the recent call off against Notts County was as much down to a fall in standards at Valley Parade as it was falling snow.

Owen – who has a rising profile at Valley Parade – addressed City fans saying

I have been prompted to speak in light of some really quite hurtful comments … relating to the capabilities of those at the Club who worked so hard to get Saturday’s game on.

His further comments make fascinating reading. City tried to get the game on because Notts County were in financial trouble but not because they thought the Meadow Lane club could do with the money but rather because should they get it – they might have signed someone by the time the reply is staged. One might have suspected that such unsporting – if as Owen says valid – reasons are applied to the staging of games but perhaps one would not have expected those things to be verbalised in a public forum and doing so seems a little crass.

The comment which have sparked Owen’s ire come from – of course – the club’s Official Message Board and Owen joins Mark Lawn in demanding a removal of anonymity from that place as a way to make people more accountable for what they say. One has to wonder who these calls are aimed at? When a decision was made to stop fake name and anonymous positing on this website we wrote some rules and got about our business. Lawn’s prompts came about a month ago and one wonders why they are no further toward fruition.

One also wonders what the effects of removing anonymity from the Official Message Board would be on those who would happily have their comments attributed to their correct name. If BantamHead89 writes something offensive or insulting about the manager, the players or the groundsmen what of the is the come back that he should expect if the club know that BantamHead89 is Jimmy Smith from Terrace Street in Idle? Would he be banned for matches? Have his season ticket removed? Will Jimmy face a visit from Matthew Clarke and James Hanson on a dark evening to “discuss his views.”

While one ponders that question is it worth considering the background of the problems the club has with the supporters it interfaces with through the Official Message Board which has always been troubled but never more or less so than any other club. When Lincoln City sacked Peter Jackson and his assistant Keith Alexander Iffy Onoura the number two used his FourFourTwo column to discuss how after returning home from a 14 hour day he had put in on behalf of the Imps he had read on a web forum how he “did nothing.”

The Bantams OMB says similar things about Wayne Jacobs and does so under the heading of the word “Official” and were that all there was to say about the web forum which once again is dragged into the fore of the conversation of Bradford City then it would be easy to say that the whole thing should be shut down. It is not.

Spin back six years and the OMB was the lifeblood of Bradford City as the club headed to oblivion of a second administration. The community around it was a significant factor is raising what was at the time the largest amount of money put together by football fans in defence of their club’s future. Community – with almost no exception – is a good thing and the community which has emerged around the Bradford City OMB is no different.

That that community comes under the banner of “Official” is a problem for the club – many have asked what any person would do were they to read that their own employer carried negative commentary about them – and one which Lawn is right to try address but his carrot and stick approach of removing the anonymity in exchanged for continued use addresses some of the problems the OMB might have in terms of the level of debate being brought down by brickbat attacks from faceless people but does not capitalise on what the OMB could be.

The OMB is a community – like it or not – and it is probably the biggest community of Bradford City fans assembled outside of VP on a match day. It puts City Gent and BfB into the shade in terms of numbers and impact. City are forever answering issues that arise from comments on the Official Message Board be it a negative as it was today or responding to questions obliquely asked on that forum but they have never commented on an article on this site, or on the other non-official sites.

As a community the OMB is significant but Bradford City do not get the most from that community – not by a long way – and they are not alone in that. Having played a significant role on projects for Premier League clubs trying to address the question of how best to leverage the community around the club into a workable web presence I would suggest that there is not a football club in this country that “get” the web and what to do with it.

Owen and Lawn are right to try remove anonymity from the Official Message Board – the instinct of having supporter be accountable for what they say is a good one – but the OMB is a problem for this club and other clubs on the whole because football clubs still have not decided what to do with the Internet and how they best can use it to further the idea of a football support for all that carries on all week long.

What should happen next?

Football is a game dominated by the word should – in its margins, in its illusions and even in its contradictions.

A team defending a set piece should never concede – listen to the regularity of managers declaring it “unforgivable” their team conceded from a set piece – yet the team with an attacking free kick or corner should produce a meaningful threat on goal. A winger charging forward with just a full back to get past should beat their man, yet when the same team’s full back faces a winger in similar circumstances they should always stop the route to goal.

And so it was at Valley Parade on Tuesday night where a story of two penalties saw the outcome of the match decided by achievement and failure to do the should . Bradford City’s Michael Flynn should have scored the first half penalty – despite a wonder save preventing him – while Lincoln City’s Rene Howe did what he should from the exact same spot in the second half, firing his penalty into the net. It was a game that, based on chances and territorial advantage, the Bantams should have won, but instead they ended the night beaten when they should not have been – on this occasion should have won and should not have lost proving to be two separate things.

The first half showing from the home side was notably more impressive than anything mustered so far this season. Overcoming a tentative start, the ball was passed around with greater urgency and attempts on goal belatedly began to be unleashed with regular occurrence. Of course City should have scored from one of a number of presentable chances, though the slightly lowered confidence and slightly heightened apprehension due to not yet finding the net this campaign contributed towards making what would normally be relatively simple opportunities more difficult to take.

The clearest opportunity of them all was that spot kick from Flynn. While the penalty taker should always score in such circumstances, penalty misses are a fact of life and it’s difficult to attach too much blame on Flynn’s effort given Lincoln keeper Rob Burch’s impressive athleticism in keeping it out. Nevertheless what happened between the referee blowing for the spot kick and Flynn beginning his run up was troubling, with Flynn, Gareth Evans and Peter Thorne all seemingly fighting over who should take it.

Which doesn’t reflect brilliantly on manager Stuart McCall. When debates rage over the great managers of this sport, one of the most common features among the success stories is a meticulous attention to detail and level of planning. If, as the evidence of the argument suggests, City took to the field without a designated spot kick taker it would appear certain preparations were overlooked by the management staff. Nothing wrong with Flynn being the penalty taker, but his thoughts while preparing to take the spot kick should have been focused solely on which direction he was going to dispatch his effort, not on fighting off team mates from taking the ball off him.

Thorne’s role as captain is also open to question. He may have only been part of the discussion to moderate proceedings between Evans and Flynn – his last penalty kick for City was a tame and costly effort – but if he was arguing his case to take it, his subsequent failure to do so leaves question marks over his authority. A penalty miss is forgivable, but the decision for who was to take it should already have been made on the training ground.

But if Lincoln should have trundled off at half time two or three goals behind, their second half response was a lesson for everyone. The Bantams continued to press forward, but a half time tactical switch from Lincoln, which saw Andy Hutchinson replace Scott Kerr, exploited a weakness in the way the home side were lined up. The Imps time wasted, fouled at every opportunity and took steps to keep slowing and stopping the game, but retained an ambition to get forward on the counter attack that was to prove decisive.

Stuart should have spotted Lincoln’s intentions sooner, twice they broke through and almost took advantage of slip ups at the back, but steps to close the gaps were not taken and eventually punished. Both the quick-fire goals were the result of defensive slip ups, with every member of the back four seemingly culpable at differing points, but they can justifiably argue that a lack of cover from the rest of the team left them too exposed to Lincoln’s attacking pace.

Chris Brandon is showing himself to be an effective, if sometimes frustrating, player going forward. In an effort to make City less predictable and break down defensive-minded teams like Port Vale and Lincoln, he’s been afforded a free role to roam around the pitch stimulating attacking moves. James Hanson has lined up on the left side of midfield, with the instructions to support the attack rather than play a traditional winger role. Yet when City were not in possession the positioning from both caused problems, with both Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien left too exposed. With Lee Bullock and Flynn also neglecting their defensive responsibilities after the break, too many home players appeared only concerned with breaking the deadlock. This could be gotten away with against a Vale side short of attacking purpose, but with Peter Jackson successfully able to spot the flaws a game City should not have lost was.

All of which leaves questions over the way City lined up. Playing Brandon is such a role looks good and will surely lead to goals in time, but is allowing one member of a hard working but limited team the freedom to charge around with few defensive responsibilities a luxury that can be afforded? With the relatively higher wages and undoubted higher level of ability, Brandon is hardly a player Stuart can ignore, but his role in the team may have to be adapted at the sacrifice of roaming around to find a match winning pass in order to be a more integral part of a side that is harder to beat.

The second half was far from doom and gloom, with City’s response to going 2-0 down encouraging given the heads didn’t drop and the chances were created – watch a re-run of the many home defeats in recent years and compare. Even a consolation goal might have made a significant difference to the mood ahead of a tough trip to Cheltenham on Saturday, where defeat is entirely possible and will see pressure growing ahead of the next home game against Torquay.

This in turn leaves Stuart under increasing scrutiny. With each impressive performance and League Two-busting signing from Notts County, the 5-0 opening day defeat appears less of a shock. Few could have expected a result at Nottingham Forest in the cup and the Port Vale game was generally encouraging, but defeat on Tuesday came when City should have won and while that is largely down to chances that should have been taken it also is also partly down to Stuart, who should be doing better at maximising the advantage his team appeared to have.

So what should happen next? A heavy cloud of doom and gloom has descended on BD8 since events at Meadow Lane, and shows little sign of shifting just yet. City badly need a goal, which will be the start of bad luck reversing and the unquestionable high effort being rewarded. A win at Whaddon Road makes the world a brighter place, a follow up victory over Torquay would raise the status of the start of the season from ‘bad’ to ‘indifferent’. Stuart has to prove himself good enough, the players have to prove themselves good enough, but we supporters should also consider ourselves part of the team that must turn it around, too.

It’s time to crank up the volume and back this club louder than ever – at least that’s what should happen.

The simple

Bill Shankley said that Football was a simple game – made complicated by fools – and so in that spirit we shall, dear reader, keep this short and simple.

City lost to Lincoln City 2-0 after missing a penalty which would have turned and excess of possession into the goal advantage required to win the game. Michael Flynn saw Rob Burch save his spot kick but impressively Flynn – who had a great game at the hub of things for City – did not let his head drop.

Heads though were lost when the Bantams were paggering into the visiting team and got caught on a break with Simon Ramsden being penalised. The Referee was so sure that Ramsden’s last man foul was a penalty that he gave him a, well, a yellow card.

It was that sort of refereeing all night long. Spineliness, gutless, worthless and of a sort to create a terriable game of football.

The penalty went in and heads were lost with Steve Williams erring and a second goal going in. Gareth Evans could have got one back but Burch – a keeper Stuart McCall wanted to sign but was outbid for – saved well twice and City completed a fourth game without a goal.

One thousand and one solutions then for the problems City are facing and one will be taken which guarantees perhaps only that the vast majority of people will be left unhappy.

Unhappiness being the order of the day – to each his own grumble – but until that penalty went and and as that penalty was saved City did not do a lot wrong.

Scant consolation as the most simple thing – Shankley may say – is that unless you score more goals than the opposition you will not win games.

Tonight was simple: they scored theirs, we didn’t. From that the complications begin.

Opportunity for forgiveness

Forgive the tedious Easter analogy, but after Bradford City’s promotion hopes appeared to have been firmly nailed to a cross on Good Friday they have being partially resurrected after Chesterfield’s slip up against Darlington the following day. The gap is still only two points – and there are four games left to claim the elusive seventh spot.

Four games is not much. The phrase ‘now or never’ has been overused in recent weeks, but the failings of others keep it relevant. One can only imagine the mood among Chesterfield and Shrewsbury fans right now with no one able to grasp the opportunities and steal a march. Surely someone’s form is going to pick up at just the right time, why can’t it be City’s?

Lincoln at home is not easy, but far from impossible. With the Imps’ faint play off hopes effectively ended by drawing at home to Luton yesterday, they probably represent the easiest of City’s four remaining matches. Equally they are less likely to keep ten men behind the ball, time waste and frustrate the crowd in the manner a lot of visiting sides have this season. Manager Peter Jackson would love nothing better than a win over his old club and that should allow City more space to attack.

The big question, which has failed to evaporate during the weekend sunshine, is of the squad’s appetite for the fight. Friday’s weak second half surrender was worrying, but there were still positives to take from the first half performance. With Dean Furman still out, I would personally stick with the same starting eleven and give them the opportunity to put right what they lost. With Stuart’s habit of rotating his team, the possibility of freshening things up appears more likely.

Rhys Evans will keep goal behind a back four which, in the centre, struggled badly on Friday. Matt Clarke was brilliant against Brentford but calamitous at Christie Park while more should be expected of Graeme Lee than witnessed during recent games. Zesh Rehman at right back is troubling, given the on-loan defender’s preference for cutting onto his left foot, but he was much better at Morecambe and would expect to keep his place. Paul Arnison might be unlucky to be on the bench but his last start, where he was torn to shreds by Rochdale’s Will Buckley and had to be substituted, remains vivid. Luke O’Brien was one of the few players who could walk off Christie Park with their head held high on Friday.

In midfield Nicky Law Jnr is likely to continue alongside Paul McLaren, though Lee Bullock will be pushing for a rare start. The fall in popularity of Bullock is curious in that he’s done little wrong but get injured, but every time he comes on as sub there are loud groans. Joe Colbeck was a surprise starter at Morecambe and did very well, he should retain his place and hopefully those fans who like to spend 90 minutes calling him the “worst footballer ever to play for City” will have their clueless minds occupied elsewhere. Chris Brandon looked decent but is still struggling for fitness, leaving a strong possibility of the less-than-committed Steve Jones or the forgotten Kyle Nix taking his starting spot on the left.

Up front it’s to be hoped Peter Thorne’s early departure from the field at Christie Park will enable him to be fit to start alongside Paul Mullin. The on-loan Accrington striker had a decent first half on Friday but poor second. Questions continue to be raised over why he was brought in and Barry Conlon shipped out, though reliable sources suggest it had little to do with football and that such questions might be better directed at the Irishman and his attitude

Little had been made of some fans choosing to booing Stuart for taking him off for Michael Boulding and that’s probably appropriate. After Bullock was brought on, two supporters in the Main Stand choose to stand up and shout abuse at Stuart, who was within earshot. Yet while others might have agreed, everyone else stayed seated and it should not be a case of believing those who make the most noise represent anyone but themselves. A poll on the club’s message board found 68% of fans have lost belief in Stuart – at the time of writing, a mere 25 people had voted.

The game follows a minute’s silence that means as much to Stuart as any one else inside the stadium. After it he’ll hope his players put in a performance fitting for the occasion.

The path to forgiveness starts now.

The games are the thing

There is football and there are things next to football and the two are oft mistaken for each other.

There is the game played over ninety minutes and the rest of the week of discussion and debate, of extrapolation and interpretation and these things should not be interchanged for each other.

The Easter weekend – Sir Alex Ferguson’s oft talked about “moving time” – is a space in the calendar of the game where it is the former that is concentrated on. Four days and two games and at the end of it a much clearer indication of the outcome of the season is had. There is no permutation of results this weekend that can rule anything out or anything in and the lack of six days worth of pontification time allows the mind to focus solely on the game, and those who play it.

In the thick of it it is hard to tell if the players of Bradford City have been too much talked about this year or too little. They have been responsible for some shocking performances but the fiercest critics have focused on the manager as a reason for this. The blame for last year’s trip to Morecambe and the weak surrender was put squarely at the door of the players.

Of the sixteen players who were in City’s squad that night only two could hope to be playing in this game – Rhys Evans and Nicky Law Jnr – and both have been away and returned since. One is still at the club: Nix; Two are injured: Daley and Heckingbottom; Three are out on loan: Ainge, Bower and Conlon.

That the squad of players going into the game with Morecambe and Monday’s match with Lincoln City bares little resemblance is – depending on your point of view – a vindication of Stuart McCall as a man prepared to make changes of a vilification of him. At Easter such questions do not matter. It is about two games of football.

Winning two games of football which would go a long way towards winning a play off place for City but what is the point of discussing, of thinking about, that situation without amassing the points – six, four, three, two, one, none – over these two games. After then we can and will talk more but now – and for four days – football is a game of action and not words and is about players and not managers.

Rhys Evans starts in goal with Paul Arnison expected to continue sitting out to allow Zesh Rehman to play right back opposite Luke O’Brien and next to Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke. Last week’s tight four midfield with Keith Gillespie, Dean Furman, Paul McLaren and Chris Brandon is subject to change – Joe Colbeck on the right is a mystery still unsolved – while the forward line seems to be Peter Thorne and either Michael Boulding of Paul Mullin.

Finding that something extra

The biggest worry for Bradford City manager Stuart McCall is that these are the sort of games promotion-earning sides win.

It’s not always pretty and a fair amount of luck is involved, the home side will play well and carve out some good chances which are either wasted or foiled by excellent defending. All that was missing for the Bantams was a late winner to turn one point into three. Instead a winless run stretches to five games and the chasing pack climbs that little bit closer.

Not that anyone should be panicking. This was a decent performance against a Lincoln side who have improved considerably since the last time they locked horns with City a year ago to the day. A recent come-back win against Accrington prompted manager Peter Jackson to revert to 4-4-2 and they matched City in most departments quickly closing down the ball and knocking it around confidently themselves.

Dany N’Guessan impressed on their right providing Luke O’Brien with a difficult afternoon where the defensive support from Omar Daley – who we’ll come back to – was lacking. The other three of City’s back four were outstanding with Matt Clarke continuing to rediscover form and Graeme Lee getting his head on almost every ball launched into the area. Paul Arnison had surely his best game in a Bantams shirt yet and was hugely impressive in shutting down the threat from Lincoln’s left and getting forward. With Rhys Evans also solid, home chances were limited.

Further up the pitch things were more patchy with Paul McLaren and Nicky Law involved in a hard-fought midfield battle which they just about edged. It doesn’t always look pretty and sometimes the simple ball must be played rather than the defence-splitting 40-yard pass some fans demanded, but both had good shifts. Steve Jones too was a menace on the right and his pace is blistering at times, though his final ball did sometimes disappoint.

As for Daley, it didn’t start well and got worse. We know the Jamaican is better than cutting inside and looking to pass the ball almost every time, instead of charging at the full back and enabling others the opportunity to get into the box. We know he is better than standing half-interested when the ball is been fought over just in front of him and may suddenly land at his feet. We know he is better than falling over easily and rolling on the ground long after the referee has dismissed his appeals for a foul and his team mates are having to deal with a Lincoln breakaway. Jackson had called upon the Premiership experience of Frank Sinclair to tame Daley and the former Chelsea man was the clear winner of a heated battle.

But still Daley was involved in much of City’s best moves. After ten minutes he’d burst thrilling into the area only to be seemingly tripped just as he rose his right leg to shoot, but referee Neil Swarbrick waved away the penalty appeals. Shortly afterwards Michael Boulding broke forward well and was pulled back inside the box, only to receive the same verdict from the Lancashire official. Boulding had done much to keep the scores level at that point having headed a Lincoln effort off the line and later dragging a shot wide. Law took free kick duties after Lee had been forced off for treatment and flashed a curling effort just wide.

In the second half Lincoln spurned two great opportunities with midfielder Lee Frecklington guilty of blasting over with an empty net the easier target and then forcing Evans into a stunning block. Boulding too should have done better after a superb charge forward by Jones saw the on-loan man whip a great cross onto his head. Rob Burch did well to tip his header onto the post, but a little more power from Boulding would surely have resulted in the net bulging.

With both sides looking even Stuart made changes to try and force the winner; Peter Thorne was brought on for a disappointing Barry Conlon and then Dean Furman – back from injury – for Boulding with Daley moved up front. Some of the physical presence was lost, although Daley saw a long range effort superbly tipped over by Burch. Daley was then involved with the game’s moment of controversy moments earlier after latching onto Burch’s weak clearance and charging through, only to be hauled down by a defender who appeared to be the last man but who got away with only a yellow card. Like last week City had a referee keen to let things go – Lee Beevers, who had already been booked in the first half, deserved a yellow card for a nasty high challenge on Jones just after the break – but the hope was, like when City had been on the wrong end of a similar incident against the MK Dons last month – the resulting free kick from Lee would sail in. Instead it smacked against the wall and the chance was wasted, it was that sort of afternoon.

As with last week’s blank against Chester, a goal could easily have come but just as the defence seems to looking stronger the attack isn’t looking as sharp. Boulding was a willing runner, but Conlon needs to show more and was once again caught offside and gave away free kicks too often. It doesn’t currently look a good strike partnership, but then it did earlier in the season. Thorne is certain to start against Morecambe on Sunday – Stuart rotating his strikers with two games in three days – and a return to goalscoring form for City’s top scorer is badly needed.

The problem for Stuart is the lack of options he currently has. Daley was poor but it would have been mad to haul off a player who can be such a threat even when not on top form – a Chris Brandon or Joe Colbeck waiting on the bench and the situation is different. Kyle Nix can play out wide but doesn’t have the pace which is needed on the break in tight away games such as this. It will also be interesting to see if Stuart succeeds with his plan to capture a fourth striker and what sort of different option they will present. Jones can play up front and, with him playing so well right now, a permanent move could give the City boss those additional options. Such thoughts will occupy his mind with the January transfer window due to re-open next week.

For some supporters, debates about his own capabilities seem to be all the rage. Astonishingly the final whistle was met with a smattering of boos from some City fans and I had the ‘pleasure’ of listening to one supporter rant that “he has to go”. Go online and you’ll find some fans argue we should sack him and appoint Jackson. No, there’s no punchline to follow – they are being serious. No doubt such arguments will continue but it should be remembered it’s very much a minority making a disproportionate amount of noise.

This was a disappointing result and slightly disappointing performance, but the game itself was great to watch and the atmosphere largely fantastic. I’m tired of people spoiling games by booing and screaming abuse and I’m tired of these people having more of a say over how this club should progress than they deserve.

The half way point of the season will be reached after Sunday’s game and City should end 2008 in a great position to make 2009 its year. Finding that extra is the immediate challenge and Stuart will look for the answers in January – from both the transfer market and the treatment room.

Only the usual conclusion can be made

Just like video goalline technology, winter breaks and the declining tradition of the FA Cup – the opinion “it’s a poor league” is one uttered on an annual basis.

In City’s case, it doesn’t seem to matter which division we are in – even during our second season of the Premiership the national media spent a few concentrated weeks deriding the standard of the top flight – or how well we are doing, the opposition are always poor and City firmly part of such mediocrity. It’s a viewpoint the vast majority of supporters also hold no matter who their team is, every league is always poor.

When looking at this season’s League Two table it can be tempting to trot out such well-worn phrases. Discount the points deductions of Luton, Bournemouth and Rotherham and the gap between top and bottom would be a measly 22 points after a third of the season. Everyone can beat everyone and, while that makes for an exciting and unpredictable league, it also leaves the playing standards open to accusations of poorness.

It’s been said that, unlike last season, there are no outstanding teams going to runaway with it like MK Dons and Peterborough; though a look at the League Two table this time last year offers few clues that was going to be the case. MK Dons had its noses in front, but Peterborough was back among traffic. This year Darlington and Wycombe hold the same advantage of the Dons, though the chasing pack remain closely on their tails. The six-point advantage both enjoy over ninth-place Bury is in contrast to a year ago where fifth-place Peterborough was seven behind MK Dons. Meanwhile the eventual Play Off Finalists, Stockport and Rochdale, were 15th and 17th respectively, a fact which will give Aldershot, Port Vale and Notts County inspiration this season.

Above those three are 12 clubs which retain credible aspirations of promotion, which illustrates just how competitive a league it is. That Wycombe remain unbeaten is a great achievement and the Buckinghamshire club will be hoping to turn a few more draws into wins to build on its impressive start. It remains to be seen how they will react to that eventual first defeat, but Peter Taylor has clearly been able to take the club forward after the good work of Paul Lambert last season.

Like Wycombe, Darlington lost in the play off semi finals last year but have responded strongly. Dave Penney is rumoured to be interesting Huddersfield and isn’t universally popular with Quakers fans, but on the evidence of games against the Bantams they look stronger this season. Much depends on if they can keep the impressive on-loan Billy Clarke, who’s Ipswich contract expires in January and is seemingly surplus to requirements.

Currently top of the of the six clubs on 27 points is Shrewsbury. Having spent big money on Grant Holt during the summer the Shrews are looking particularly strong at home and have a manager experienced enough to guide the club in lasting the distance. Rochdale has climbed after a slow start, though don’t quite appear as strong as last season. Brentford’s Andy Scott is cementing a reputation as one of the game’s bright young managers and Gillingham, relegated last season, are improving. The biggest surprise is Exeter still being up there, though the newly-promoted Grecians have suffered heavy defeats to City and Chesterfield suggesting they aren’t strong enough to last the pace.

Doubts which were also raised at Bury and Dagenham, which seem to be coming true as both fade away following impressive starts. Chesterfield and Lincoln, who both started slowly, are closing in and have the expectation and quality to force themselves into the top seven above.

Which just leaves the Bantams. Predictably Saturday’s defeat has lead to some fans writing off our chances of achieving anything better than a play off spot, but the injury situation which Stuart McCall is currently contending with is clearly going to slow things. Omar Daley is the only out-and-out winger fit and, while the Jamaican’s performances are remaining highly consistent, the lack of a similar threat on the other flank for a team which bases much of its style of play on the widemen is reducing chances for the forwards.

There are question marks still over the defence but, in general, the team has been able to respond to weakness at the back with potency going forward. The next few games may be a battle and not wield as higher a number of points as we’d like, but if City can approach Christmas in a similar position to now, with Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon due to come back, the prospects of a good run of form at the turn of the year are good.

It would take a brave man to bet on who will finish in the top three spots come May right now, but clearly the next segment of the season will be vital in reducing the number of possibilities. Next Saturday Lincoln entertain Shrewsbury; the Tuesday after Gillingham face Rochdale, who’s game after is Darlington away; City travel to Brentford the following Saturday; the Saturday after sees Shrewsbury host Wycombe. With the Christmas fixtures including Rochdale v Shrewsbury, Darlington v Chesterfield and Gillingham v Wycombe, the chances of anyone running away with it seem unlikely.

It’s a league where you don’t want to take your eyes off anyone, even if we are all ‘poor’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New season, new excitement – Pre-season 2008/2009 [III]

So the wait is nearly over and the 2008/2009 season is nearly ready to begin. Thousands of football supporters up and down the country are looking forward to the start of a new season. August 9th for a football supporter is like January 1st to a non-football supporter with many hopes waiting to be either realised or dashed. Forget the Premiership and the latest WAG getting photographed and appearing in a newspaper or magazine, the real football stories are going to come from Division 4 (not League 2) this season.

We, the Bradford City faithful, are expecting big things this season with many seeing a top 7 finish as a minimum. I for one would love to see us get promoted for one man and one man alone and that is David Wetherall. The loyalty that David showed to our club is a rare commodity experienced in football today. Stuart has made alot of signings this summer bringing in the likes of Rhys Evans, Michael Boulding, Chris Brandon and Graeme Lee. It will certainly be a different looking starting 11 this Saturday when compared with the team that started against Macclesfield on the opening day last season. Gone are the likes of Ricketts, Williams, Evans, Johnson and Ndumbu-Nsungu.

Once again we should average the highest home attendances in our division but big crowds doesn’t automatically equate to success on the pitch. For example, take Accrington Stanley who averaged less than 1,700 for their home games last season and came to Valley Parade in early October last season supported by 149 people in a crowd of 13,346 and thrashed us 3-0. We are one of the favourites to gain promotion this season but after nearly a decade without experiencing a promotion I’m taking nothing for granted. Call me a pessimist or a realist.

Make no mistake there are plenty of other teams in the same division as us this season who believe that they’ve a good chance of promotion. Aldershot and Exeter City, both promoted from non-league, will be looking to maintain their upwardly momentum. Wycombe with Peter Taylor, Lincoln City with our former captain Peter Jackson and Shrewsbury with Paul Simpson all have managers with a proven track record in the lower divisions. Rochdale and Darlington will both be looking to repeat their play off form from last season too.

One thing is for sure this coming season, there will be highs and there will be lows and it will be interesting to see if Michael Boulding can replicate his goal scoring record from last season with a team that got relegated too. Matt Hamshaw was probably the provider of many a cross for Boulding to latch on to last season so let’s hope that the likes of Colbeck, Nix and Daley can supply plenty of quality crosses this season (although let’s remember that Colbeck is suspended for the first 2 games). What about Evans, our new goalkeeper. He played 4 games on loan last season with us and although we didn’t win any of those games, he certainly played steadily against Darlington at home, Morecambe away and Grimsby away before being forced to retire at Blundell Park.

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