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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much would you pay to make the difference?

City have got Abel Thermeus on trial and will take the French/Haitian striker back to Fir Park where they called him The Flask and have a Bebo group about his “shiteness”.

Michael Boulding is going to join Cheltenham as long as they take his brother – the Chelt manager is getting it in the neck for agreeing to that – and I for one am glad that Stuart McCall is not taking City into the kind of bizarre deal that used to blight Melchester Rovers. “He will sign for us Roy but we have to sign his brother…”, “No Blackie, we could offer that chance to one of our youngsters who has earned it!”

Hard to argue with Racey and hard too look the parents of all the kids who you have promised a route to the first team if they sign for City when you give away squad shirts to someone’s brother. What do you say when Michael tells you that he things Thorney is feeling it in the legs and perhaps a younger player?

Nevertheless Stuart McCall has confirmed that City are no longer interested in Boulding and the talks for Luke Beckett are still “on hold” and seemingly declared dead as the Bantams put in an enquiry for Leeds United’s Anthony Elding.

Elding – a player tracked before – is a pint sized goal machine putting in a strike every other game when he is on form and Crewe are believed to have bid £150,000 for him which the player rather than the club knocked back. He scores goals at this level and were he available for the free transfers that has brought Paul McLaren or Graeme Lee to Valley Parade he would be a great recruitment.

But £150,000? That would be City’s biggest signing not since Andrew Todd (who – memory serves – cost £110,000 although I could be wrong on this and the next fact) but since £1.7m was paid for Stan Collymore. It is serious cash for a club at this level.

Nevertheless McCall’s summer has been about bringing in a striker – Beckett was the first transfer move – and his missed targets are all front men. Peter Thorne can get goals for sure but is has been clear from day one that he does not believe that Willy Topp and Barry Conlon would be able to mount a promotion challenge without an additional twenty goal a season man.

He has looked for proven goalscorers and gone to the lengths of the Boulding nonsense and the breadth of offering money for Beckett to get his man. McLaren’s wages and Lee’s signing on fee. Brandon’s recruitment and Arnison’s arrival. These things are for nothing if the ball does not go into the net at the right end at lot next year and Stuart wants someone proven to do that.

The £150,000 for one player is a chunk at this level but spread over the recruitment of the summer making all those signings worthwhile it could be a the snip of this or many seasons.

The waiting or popping the question

We wait, us connected with Bradford City, and we wait.

We have been waiting for Luke Beckett and Michael Boulding to decide who they fancy joining next season and Stuart McCall begins to tire of waiting.  The move for Beckett is on hold but one of the player’s other options – Chester City – have been knocked out of the running for the player.  It says much about the power of footballers in the modern game that guys on the bench at third tier clubs can keep everyone waiting.  Nevertheless Beckett can.

McCall is growing tired of waiting for Michael Boulding but the former Tennis professional turned footballer who went out of the league with Mansfield last season seems awash with options for next season and the ball is very much in his court.  He has knocked back City before back in 2001 when he joined Aston Villa rather than opting for to sign with Nicky Law.  Within a week the Bantams were in administration and 19 players were redundant.  One wonders how much this plays on the players mind when he deals with Rotherham agianst the stability seemingly offered at Valley Parade these days.

We wait for Boulding who has his pick of Yorkshire sides near his home and we wait for Darren Moore who is to talk with Leicester City before deciding his future.  In essence The Foxes are offering the same deal as the Bantams – to end his career in promotion – but a division higher and nearer to his home.

This waiting is a good think for City and the people trying to bring Moore to the club.  Without McCall, Wayne Jacobs et al then there is little reason for Moore not to dismiss the club in a division below out of hand.  The waiting is tribute and shows that Moore is taking City’s approach seriously.

The waiting is hard.  The waiting is torture as scribbles on bits of paper with “PA” and “CB” joining “PT” and “JC” in positions in elevens crop up on the desks of City fans everywhere.  The waiting is hard.

We wait for Rob Burch the goalkeeper McCall has talked to and we long to do as he did and pop the question in public view to get a binding yes or no.  Do you, we would ask Darren Moore, take this hope and manifest it in promotion?

McCall’s Signings Start at Huddersfield Now Beckett Agrees Terms

The word is that Luke Beckett has agreed terms with City and is our second capture from those strange lot down the road in two days as Stuart McCall starts making a City team that can go up two divisions.

31 year old Beckett has been on his holidays with a contract in his back pocket that will run a year with another year if either side thinks things have gone well which usually means he is being paid a fair price and shows City’s aims this season. Promotion or rip it up and start again.

Beckett joins Chris Brandon in making the short but glorious trip from Huddersfield and as with Brandon he has been linked with City before with Colin Todd opting to sign Eddie Johnson rather than Beckett two years ago.

Beckett’s role in the team can be summed up as Barry Conlon with goals and we can expect to see him partnering Peter Thorne up front next season with Conlon and Billy Topp fighting for positions. As Conlon showed this year this is a league where scrapping is needed and Topp might have to wait 12 months until League One before he starts to be a regular.

Brandon is a hard working midfielder but he is not Stuart McCall’s new Stuart McCall so he has to be balanced with another box-to-box midfielder like which might be Lee Bullock but Hartlepool fans consider Bullock an attacking midfielder. Brandon could join the midfield on the left flank tucked in to balance out Joe Colbeck as a flying winger on the other side but perhaps Stuart will go with Bullock and Brandon with Kyle Nix on the left and Colbeck on the right.

It seems that as Stuart starts his signings City are getting options and perhaps the gaffer is going to go for four quality forwards, six quality midfielder and let the pieces fall into place rather than fixing his team in his mind in June as he has had to last year because of having too few quality players.

Bend It Like Beckett

Observing from a distance, it’s often felt there are two sides to City’s potential new signing Luke Beckett.

On the one part is his undoubted goalscoring ability, which sadly we’ve suffered from too often in the past. 163 goals from 346 career starts (+49 sub) is a phenomenal record and the majority of City fans will be licking their lips at the prospect of a Beckett-Peter Thorne partnership next season.

Yet there’s also an impression that Beckett is a player who struggles to settle anywhere. There are no hints of a disruptive character or stories of any bust ups, indeed some supporters have fought to keep him in the past, but since been released from Barnsley a decade ago Luke has been the subject of eight permanent or loan moves. At most clubs he has flourished, but he doesn’t seem to stick around for too long. The exploits of Dean Windass and Thorne may be helping City build a reputation as a place for ‘mature’ strikers to flourish and, if Beckett can replicate that success, it’s to be hoped he’ll consider Valley Parade more the happy home that he appears to have found elsewhere.

City’s unfortunate habit of conceding goals to Beckett began in March 2002, where his 10th minute strike for Stockport proved enough to inflict one of the most embarrassing defeats in recent history. Three years later the now on-loan Oldham striker struck the decisive goal that kept the Lactics up on the final day of the season, their claret and amber opponents fortunately having nothing to play for. Beckett was back on loan at Oldham the following season, his move to Sheffield United in November 2004 proving a major disappointment, and his temporary employers continued to prove City’s bogey team. 6-2 aggregate home and away victories were recorded – Beckett grabbed three over the two games.

That following summer manager Colin Todd infamously spurned the opportunity to sign Beckett in favour of Eddie Johnson. History could argue it was one of his worst decisions, but while Beckett ended up at Huddersfield he didn’t really set the place alight. Peter Jackson used his entire transfer budget securing Beckett, but his preference of playing 4-5-1 regularly left Beckett on the bench. Town’s number 18 still enjoyed a decent scoring record over his two seasons at the Galpharm, but the club’s progress has stuttered and his third Town manager in that time, Stan Ternent, has allowed him to leave.

The challenge for Stuart McCall, as it is with every player, will be to get the best out of Beckett next season. Their paths have already crossed at Sheffield United, so Stuart already has a good idea of the type of character he is. The season that has just finished felt familiar to recent others in the problems encountered up front. We seem to be able to get one regular goal scorer, but getting two fit and firing together is one reason why City failed to challenge for promotion again. Stuart needs to get the midfield supplying the ball to both strikers in areas they can hurt the opposition and work on discouraging performance levels dropping off.

With Barry Conlon, Willy Topp, Luke Medley and Omar Daley all capable of playing up front, Stuart looks more spoiled, relatively, in this department than any other City boss in years. A scenario similar to how his mentor Neil Warnock managed his strikers, heavy rotation, is easy to imagine. If this works, fine; but it can be a dangerous game and lead to loss of form and confidence.

Disregard an injury-plagued 2003/04 campaign and Beckett’s 12-goal haul this season is the worst of his career. Looking set to drop down a level and with a point to prove, we look set to finally be able to cheer at the sight of the Sheffield-born forward hitting the back of the net.

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