A defeat to be proud of?

I have never walked away from Valley Parade, having just witnessed a home defeat, with such pride and optimism for the future.

Crewe and City came into this game with starkly contrasting form. City unbeaten in ten games, league and cup, and Crewe having lost five games on the bounce. Nonetheless, the reinstatement of wiley old Dario Gradi ensured that a very different Crewe side would show up to Valley Parade compared with the team that had heavily unperformed so far this season following their relegation from League One.

The game began well for City – forcing a number of early corners. But it was Crewe who stuck first in devastating fashion. From an acute angle from a throw in, the live wire Calvin Zola produced an unbelievable strike that even some of the home fans applauded. It was the best goal produced at Valley Parade for some years – and was reminiscent of Luke Medley’s strike for City against Wrexham in 2007.

Zola, a real handful and danger every time he touched the ball, performed at a very high level in this game. There is no doubt in my mind that he was the best striker that has been on display at Valley Parade for many, many years. I guess that’s what £200,000 buys you at this level.

City fought back from the early set back with some more pressure, but were then let down by some naïve defending. Joel Grant almost doubled the Alex lead as he charged at Zesh Rehman with pace, who backed off and backed off even into his own penalty area without putting a challenge in, where Grant produced a couple of step overs, leaving Rehman on the seat of his pants. Grant drilled a low shot that cannoned off the left hand post. The warning signs of a 2nd Crewe goal were there for all to see.

And the Railwaymen did double their lead courtesy of Zola again. An uncharacteristic mistake by Steve Williams in possession at the back , left the loose ball to Zola, who quickly reacted and hit a fierce shot that stuck the post and curled into the back of the net. 2-0 inside 23 minutes. It was clear that City’s spirit was really going to be tested.

But they never gave up, and didn’t let the scoreline affect their performance. More City pressure ensued , and Micheal Boulding from six yards out was presented with a chance that was harder to miss that score. But he struck the bar, to the despair of the home fans. Boulding was being given some stick in the Midland Road stand right from the word ‘go’ from one fan in particular (“Thunder” as he was known in the days that we were in the Premiership, the predominant Voice of Midland Road) who slated Boulding for not chasing down a heavily mishit long ball from Rehman. Unbelievable.

And it came as a great relief to City and Boulding when a quality piece of attacking play reduced the scoreline to 2-1. Flynn sprayed the ball down the right for James O Brien ( who had an off day ) who produced a first time cross that Boulding headed into the back of the net on the stroke of half time. Game on.

City again pressed early in the 2nd half, but were dealt a killer blow as ex City Midfielder Steve Schumacher’s long range shot bounced awkwardly in from of Simon Eastwood and flew into the back of the net for 3-1. Previous City teams, even last year’s team, would have given up on this one.

But not this season. Scott Neilson was introduced for Chris Brandon and City reverted to a 4-3-3 which again seemed to work so much better than a standard 4-4-2. The absolute domination of periods of the 2nd half in this formation should surely convince McCall that 4-3-3 is the formation to start with home and away. And Micheal Boulding contributed to another City goal as he produced a quality cross that James Hanson volleyed in quite superbly. City continued to dominate, had shots that were cleared off the line, whistled wide, and a very strong penalty shout which was turned down in favour for a free kick just outside the box which was subsequently wasted.

But time ran out for City. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. And the home crowd showed their appreciation for City as the final whistle drew the game to a close.

McCall has assembled a squad that deliver the minimum requirements that the Valley Parade crowd demand. Effort, passion and determination. And we can even forgive the team for losing a game as long as every player has worked their socks off. It was very evident in this game that every player did. Simon Ramsden in particular had a solid game, but what really stood out was his appetite and commitment to get City back into the game even when they were facing adversity and 2 goals down. He had urgency in his play and even the simple things like making sure the ball was put back into play really quickly when it landed into the crowd was so good to watch.

Chris Brandon didn’t have his best game – but his work ethic and commitment could not be questioned. And McCall has got this from his players all over the pitch. There are no passengers or players not willing to put the work in, and that makes me as a City fan really proud. McCall’s ability to combine good seasoned Pro’s like Ramsden, Boulding and Flynn with non League talent like Williams, Neilson and Hanson who never stop working hard and are getting better by the game, has been the key to the recent unbeaten run and reason for optimism this season.

The key thing though, and only worry, is that we need to get into the playoff’s this year as a minimum as that is the only real sign of progression under McCall in this results driven business. Our home form this season has been too mixed – 2 wins, 2 draws, 2 defeats – and we really need to improve that sequence if we want to turn a fully committed team into a successful one.

The stats of the Crewe game (26 shots on goal, 15 on target, 16 corners) show that the players are giving their all to the cause. Whether they can match their effort with points on the board in League Two remains to be seen – and will be the key question come May.

But as far this team being a team who are enjoyable to watch and give their all to the cause, there is no question in my mind that it’s the best City side I have seen this decade. I just hope that success follows them as it is nothing less than they deserve.

Stuart goes in without his wingers – Bradford City vs Barnet – League Two Preview

Stuart McCall never got to the by-line.

He never skinned a full back and he never cut inside.

Little legs and a low centre of gravity Stuart McCall would have been a rubbish winger but his City team is all about the men on the flanks.

Omar Daley’s random darts have confused enough defences this year to make him one of City’s most dangerous players and the route of lots of chances but while no one else can understand a word he says Referees can and have booked him enough to suspend him.

Joe Colbeck offers something different but still important for City beating men with accurate crosses but injury at Grimsby has him sidelined and Stuart is left looking for new wingers.

Nicky Law did a reasonable job on Tuesday night but did not give the supply line that Colbeck or Daley does and Kyle Nix might be able to do what Joe does but movie left but only on a good day and the Rothstrailian hasn’t had one of those in a while.

So options like Leon Osbourn and Billy Topp in a wide role are getting talked about. Expect one to sit on the bench but Nix and Law to be the guys next to Paul McLaren and the brilliant Dean Furman.

Similarly up front Barry’s heroic header on Tuesday will bring him a place on the bench behind Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding.

At the back Matt Clarke is back and could replace Tom Clarke which would be harsh on the loan player from Udders who did well alongside Graeme Hammer Boot Lee. Tom Moncur and Luke O’Brien are full backs with Rhys Evans in net.

Barnet are without Jason Puncheon since last year after if wowed then transferred but they do have Luke Medley now which says a lot about where the club seems to be going.

They messed about in the top half of the table for a bit but are bottom half now. Expect a battle but one City can win if the squad can keep in mind the fact that the flying wingers are not replicated.

Not so much Plan B as Style B.

Medley leaves big expectations to someone else

Last season was a particularly great example of it.

Things are going wrong on the field, so in a fit of disgust those supporters determined to find criticism seemingly take a quick scan at the reserves and pluck out one or two names that it is ‘disgraceful’ aren’t in the team. With players underperforming and results not good enough, its easy to look at the unknown and hail them as the saviour to lead City forward from the mess.

Luke Medley was that such saviour last season with the cry of “why isn’t Luke Medley in the team?” usually following each and every defeat. Today’s news that Medley has rejected a new contract offer in order to find a club closer to his native London is another excuse for some to bemoan the young striker’s lack of opportunities last season; apparently the management’s decision to cruelly ‘ignore’ him all season has backfired and someone else will be benefiting from his talents.

The evidence to back up such thoughts centre around that goal against Wrexham last season. As a first touch on your debut, his wonder strike is one it’s unlikely we’ll see emulated for some time. Another promising sub cameo, down at Grimsby in October, underlined his undoubted potential. City were trailing and heading for a sixth defeat in seven when Luke entered the field. His presence and pace helped trigger some late pressure and he won the stoppage time penalty that earned a point. Look at his other appearances though, plus a failed loan spell with Cambridge City, and there’s not a lot to suggest he has yet-developed into a player capable of firing City to a promotion push next season.

Of course the argument goes he wasn’t given an adequate chance to show he could be any more than a player of potential, but it’s one that fails to acknowledge the bigger picture. Luke would have been worth more of a place in the team had those ahead him in the pecking order not been good enough, but were our forwards last season that bad?

Peter Thorne looked a class act at League Two level and certainly not someone to drop; Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu was inconsistent but for the first three months of his loan spell at City, at least, did well; Willy Topp didn’t quite fulfill his big billing but there clearly must be something more in him to justify City paying a first transfer fee in six years and Barry Conlon, for all the blinkered abuse he got from some supporters who no doubt treated the likes of Lee Mills and Dean Windass with the same contempt, generally performed admirably after Christmas.

Throw in Omar Daley, who enjoyed a handful of excellent games in the strikers berth, and it’s not clear who Luke Medley should have been playing above. For all the problems the team suffered last season, the forward department wasn’t really the source.

And now, with Stuart closing in on Luke Beckett and possibly looking into adding another striker, the competition to play up front next season looks even tougher. All of which Luke will no doubt have noted and, living far away from his home and still only young, few would begrudge him looking elsewhere for a better opportunity. Like any youngster coming through the ranks, Luke has had to impress whenever the opportunity came his way and show he can do it in training and reserve games too. Finishing the reserves’ top scorer and his flashes of brilliance in the first team persuaded Stuart he was worth another deal, but had he stayed it seems unlikely he’d have played a bigger part in next season’s campaign.

So he’ll move on somewhere else where City fans will keep a keen interest and hopefully he’ll build on the success of a promising start to his career. Meanwhile, if and when things go wrong next season, another name will be picked from the reserves by some supporters to replace Luke as our saviour.

What It All Comes Down To – Wycombe Beat City in the Final Game of the Season

The first thing to say about this game is that it is proof that City should have got out of this league at the first attempt.

Well perhaps not should have but could have. Wycombe Wanderers are in the play offs but they are no one’s idea of a good football team and if they do go through the play offs I wouldn’t expect them to last a season in League One.

If only… is the theme of the day.

If only City had not had had that really poor spell in October. If only Stuart McCall had got to grips with managing earlier. If only Mark Lawn and McCall had been installed before Darlington had signed nine players. If only…

Delroy Facey’s goal in the first five minutes was a big if only. If City are to move on then this venerable naivety needs to be stamped out by McCall. Leon Knight got a second and City were not that the races. A penalty came when Diddy David Brown was thrown to the ground and Luke Medley scored but next season if City don’t want another season of If Onlys then we need to make sure that when we come to places like this that we put up more of a solid defence. Teams that go places don’t concede in the first five minutes.

But this is end of the season and who cares? We have been in preparation for next year for a while now and this was the Bantams more of less on the beach for the summer.

Eddie Johnson already is away somewhere now we have released him. I’m going to miss the idea that Eddie Johnson more than watching him. I always got the feeling watching Eddie that he was at 80% and that he had no idea how to unlock the other 20% and nor did Colin Todd or Stuart McCall. It was probably because he had come through Man United. Had he been Eddie Johnson signed from Farsley he would have been “could be good”.

Next season McCall has to bring in a good quality of player if the likes of Eddie Johnson get turfed out. He needs two new keepers and I liked Scott Loach but I won’t miss him if he goes for good. He flaps at crosses too much and I don’t like loan players. I like Ben Starosta and I hope he can sign for us next year but if he can’t then I don’t see Simon Francis’s name on the team sheet as often at Southend as I should do…

Mark Bower and Matt Clarke at central defense? Ok then. Paul Heckingbottom? Sure. He is good enough if the players around him are good enough and no one ever didn’t go anywhere because of the full backs. Stephen Wright after all.

Joe Colbeck on the right hand side and Lee Bullock in the middle are not a midfield. Stuart needs to pull out some impressive signings here. He needs to find a Peter Beagrie to supply crosses and he needs a Stuart McCall to win the ball and without wanting to put too much stress on the Gaffer that is the most important position on the field. Whoever he get there needs to work out a Hell of a lot better than Paul Evans.

But if McCall can get a McCall and a Beagrie in then the sky is the limit cause City have an attack that no one else in the league can match. Peter Thorne is smart and finishes brilliant, Barry Conlon has the effort, Willy Topp the skills and Omar Daley who is more of a striker than a winger cause strikers should be greedy has the pace to beat anyone in the league. Something to beat any defence in League Two next season.

So it call comes down to if Stuart McCall can find a Stuart McCall…

The Confession

I have a confession to make. It’s probably going to lead to ridicule from some, while others will question my sanity; but it’s been bothering me for some time and I think I’ll at least feel better for saying it.

I’ve really enjoyed this season.

There, I’ve admitted it. Chuckles from some, accusations I’m some sort of clap-happy supporter willing to embrace mediocrity from others; but I’ll go even further and say I’ve not enjoyed a season this much since the first Premiership campaign eight years ago.

I know that many people, not least Stuart McCall, continue to refer to this season as ‘disappointing’ and finishing 9th or 10th after such high pre-season promotion expectations isn’t good enough. I accept the team have ultimately failed and that another year in the basement league is a sad state of affairs. I understand all of this, yet I can’t bring myself to feel as miserable about it as others appear to be.

So what have I enjoyed? Well certainly not the numerous disappointing home defeats. The Mansfield debacle can be summed up by the pathetic winning goal conceded, the Bury performance was that of a team over-confident from a six game unbeaten run and watching Rochdale run rings around us for the opening 45 minutes left me embarrassed to celebrate Peter Thorne’s underserved equaliser. Since relegation from the Premiership we’ve seen so many lame home defeats which, while the opposition has consistently changed, have felt remarkably similar.

I’ve not enjoyed it that we couldn’t make a better fist of challenging for promotion. Many have pointed out that Stuart had the fourth biggest wage budget at the start of the season and should have done more with it, but it’s obvious his lack of knowledge of League Two when taking over set us back. Having only six senior professionals on the books to start with meant a lot of strengthening was required, but it’s a situation that shouldn’t be repeated this summer.

Of course the biggest reason City haven’t mounted a meaningful promotion challenge was that woeful eight game winless run in autumn. With the pain of the previous season’s relegation not fully healed, it was particularly depressing to see City struggle so badly. This run of form included the 3-0 Accrington shocker and the memory of Eddie Johnson carelessly giving the ball to a blue shirt to score inside two minutes that evening is still vivid.

For real heartbreak though, the 2-1 defeat at Morecambe a week later takes some beating. We should have won, but the careless efforts of certain players that night cost us with the Morecambe winner coming in injury time. Five defeats in a row, the journey home that night was almost unbearable and is undoubtedly one of the most painful moments of my time supporting Bradford City.

But for all those disappointing moments, the number of brilliant ones has been greater for me. From the moment Stuart walked to the Valley Parade dug out for the first time, on the opening day of the season, to a rapturous reception against Macclesfield, you felt we were in for a special season. It may not have worked out that way but, the huge crowd that day, repeated at the other 22 home games, has been. One day I’ll stop staring at the Kop to my right, when at games, and not be thrilled by how full it looks. If next year’s season ticket offer comes off and it’s even fuller, it’ll be a nice sight to get used to.

The largest crowds in the division haven’t always resulted in a good atmosphere, but there have still been some hairs-on-the-back-of-neck moments. Apart from the Barnet game a few weeks ago, the Tuesday night kick offs have all felt special. The superb atmosphere in the Kop while City surrendered to Accrington should have brought shame on the players, and the atmosphere for the midweek wins over Chester, Shrewsbury and Rotherham was also fantastic. It was great to end the home season against the MK Dons, with plenty of noise emanating from both ends.

And it’s the atmosphere on the road which is ultimately why I’ve enjoyed this season so much, with performances undoubtedly better than at home. It’s been great fun travelling the country to visit the various League Two grounds and the chanting from our fans during the games has often been non-stop, from the moment the players came out to warm up until the final whistle, regardless of the result. If the evidence of visiting supporters to Valley Parade is anything to go by, our fanatical away support must stand out compared to most other League Two clubs.

This has helped produce many special moments, such as the second half at Darlington where City played their promotion-chasing opponents off the park and we celebrated each goal wildly; chanting non-stop through the half time break at Stockport, despite being fully exposed to the strong wind and rain; Scott Loach’s miraculous double block from a penalty against Macclesfield; the comeback at Notts County; Wetherall Day at Rotherham. I’m sure those who were there won’t forget Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu’s 95th minute penalty equaliser at Grimsby, which prompted manic celebrations that spilled onto the pitch and saw Stuart run over to us and appeal for calm. It was one of those moments supporting your team where you completely lose it and temporarily forget where you are.

Quality football might not have been in as regular supply as we’d have liked, but there have been some great moments to enjoy. Luke Medley’s first touch in professional football; Omar Daley’s performance at Accrington; Willy Topp’s promising debut against Shrewsbury; the transformation of Joe Colbeck; Peter Thorne’s hat trick at Notts County and brilliant goal in the Meadow Lane meeting; Barry Conlon’s penalties (until he missed); the emergence of Matt Clarke into a solid defender; the superb second half of season form from David Wetherall that leaves you wondering why he is calling it a day.

My ultimate highlights of the season both centre around Lincoln City though. The Boxing Day Valley Parade game was an emotional afternoon carried out superbly by both clubs and sets of supporters. Barry Conlon’s late winner may have been comical, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went crazy when I realised the keeper had improbably allowed it in. Emotions also ran high at the Sincil Bank meeting in September and the atmosphere in the away stand that evening makes it one of my all-time favourite away games. The singing was non-stop, so passionate and so enthusiastic. It might have become the norm since, but that evening was particularly special.

The 2-1 victory that night lifted City to 9th at the time and the final league table will suggest little progress has since been made; yet the potential of what City can achieve remains and there will be strong optimism it can followed through next season. It often appears to be the case we spend the summer believing it’s going to be our year, but in Stuart we can be confident we have a manager quickly learning and with a huge passion to lead this club to glory in 12 months time.

A better season hopefully awaits, but I hope I’m not the only supporter who’ll take fond memories from this one.

The Warm Up

This week Bradford City released details of next season’s friendlies, though for the past month it’s felt as though pre-season for the 2008-09 campaign has already begun.

With little to play for but pride, recent games have lacked intensity and significance, tempo has slowed and goals haven’t been cheered quite as feverishly. The management’s focus is more on which areas of the team require strengthening and players are campaigning to be part of those plans. The ambition when we line up against Guiseley and Burnley in July will be similar to Saturday, it’s now all about the big kick off in August.

That the season petered into little more is down to the failings of the current crop of players, many of whom are still battling to convince manager Stuart McCall they shouldn’t be shown the door in two weeks time. Since the Mansfield debacle in March there’s been a notable improvement in effort and attitude, but it’s the consistency question mark which remains. Seven of the 14 players involved in Saturday’s come back win over Grimsby, the third home success in four, are still waiting to hear about their immediate future and a further five will feel they still have to convince that they should be regulars next year.

The first half performance will have done them few favours. A bright start soon turned into a poor one as the visitors, also lacking in promotion or relegation concerns, took an early lead. There was little on when the recalled Omar Daley knocked the ball back to Darren Williams, but the right back was quickly closed down by Nathan Jarman and lost possession. Ciran Toner was then able to charge towards the area and cross low for Peter Till to tap home.

In reaching the ball first, the Grimsby midfielder injured himself by colliding with Luke O’Brien and departed on a stretcher as Daley and Williams argued over who was to blame for conceding the soft goal. Daley’s pass hadn’t been the wisest choice, but Williams had time to clear and will be hoping Stuart doesn’t decide his future on this performance.

The goal knocked City’s confidence and Grimsby began passing the ball around confidently. Very little happened though, in truth, and City’s disjointed efforts were just as threatening as the more cohesive Mariners. Midfield was the area where City struggled with Tom Penford particularly disappointing. Penford is arguably the best passer at the club but was too often guilty of looking for the killer pass which would often be too optimistic and be cut out by blue shirts. This was typical of the whole team who seemed desperate to get a shot on goal after a few passes, when patiently playing simple passes and waiting for openings would have been more effective.

Eddie Johnson was back up front and showed some nice touches, but lacks the physical presence Peter Thorne needs in a strike partner. Daley and Joe Colbeck both had their moments while Kyle Nix was heavily involved in play, with things not always going right. The visible frustration the young midfielder displayed in front of the Kop after a Daley shot flew wide showed just how desperate to remain at City he appears to be.

There could and should have been more goals in the first half. A Grimsby defender handled the ball just inside the area from one attack, which triggered the linesman to raise his flag for a penalty then quickly change his mind. Nick Hegarty looked to have added a second when his low shot creeped towards the bottom corner, but Ryan Bennett’s decision to make sure it did meant the goal was ruled out for offside. Daley also charged through on goal, only for the flag to go up late. City improved in the final 10 minutes but couldn’t find the breakthrough, the half time boos felt a little harsh.

The second half saw progressive improvement as City laboured and finally drew level. Thorne had headed a chance just wide but soon grabbed his 15th goal of the season after latching onto a weak backpass and taking the ball round keeper Phil Barnes, before firing home the equaliser past the defender on the line. Stuart, who after the game praised Colbeck for pressurising the defender into making the poor backpass, should be keeping Thorne in bubble wrap during the close season so the 35-year-old is fit and firing from day one.

Stuart had been about to introduce Conlon for the struggling Penford, but delayed the change a few minutes as the initiative became firmly with City. Conlon made a big difference when he did come on, as did moving Johnson back into midfield. Stuart’s decision to try Johnson up front during the last few games has prompted much debate over his best position but he continues to look far more effective in the centre than battling up front. Meanwhile Conlon became much more involved than Johnson had been and his presence triggered more regular attacks.

The real star of the show was Nix though. It seemed everything good about the second half involved the Australian-born midfielder, who showed great energy levels. For every corner and free kick he was straight to the ball to get City going and also set up plenty of attacking moves that he would later get involved in again as the ball was knocked around. Nix has his faults, notably lack of pace, but has looked very impressive since switching to the centre. Whether he would be a regular next season is still uncertain but his fantastic dribble from deep and delicate chip attempt at Barnes, which the Grimsby keeper just tipped over, was a convincing case. He will surely be rewarded with a new deal.

Something which looks less likely for the two other subs Alex Rhodes and Luke Medley. The latter made a bigger impact after coming on for Thorne with seven minutes to go and played a part in the defining moment of the game. Half way through injury time, his pass into the area was chested down by Johnson and left for the on rushing Colbeck, who unleashed a superb powerful drive that flew past Barnes. The young winger has enjoyed a strong second half to the season which has featured a handful of goals; finally he’s now scored one at Valley Parade.

The half time boos were replaced by warm applause at the end, and while myself and the wife’s experience of a group of aggressive Grimsby supporters walking back to the car suggests they considered themselves unfortunate to have lost, the reality is that Scott Loach, rumoured to be staying at City on a season-long loan, had little to do in the second half.

If this run of one defeat from eight can be stretched a further two games it will have been an excellent end to the campaign. The Champions-elect, MK Dons, come to Valley Parade next Saturday and will offer a clear marker of how far the current squad are from the best at this level than the league table, distorted by that wretched autumn form, appears to show. In reality for City though, it’s just another warm up game for the next campaign.

A Time for Reflection

This game was never going to get the pulse racing. Evidently, It was a fixture that failed to inspire a large number of City season ticket holders – with Liverpool playing Chelsea in the Champions League viewed from a warm living room sofa the choice made by many.

With both sides safe from the perils of the relegation zone, and no chance of getting into the playoffs, City and Barnet predictably played out a 1-1 stalemate.

Barnet in truth were the better side and carved out the better chances, three of which brought the best out of Scott Loach. They took the lead in the first half when a thunderous effort from Barnet midfielder Thomas smacked off the crossbar. The rebound fell to the lively Birchall who reacted first to the rebound before beating Loach at his near post. Later in the half, Barnet should have doubled their lead, but Loach stood up brilliantly to block a one on one effort.

Whilst City did command much of the possession, not much of it was put to good use. The game took on the role of being an exhibition type match as the players went through the motions. Nevertheless, it was still a relief when Eddie Johnson nodded down Joe Colbeck’s accurate corner to grab us a point in the second half.

The main purpose of this game was most certainly to be to run the rule over those players “fighting” for a new contract at Bradford. With midtable obscurity the destination for both sides, it did seem like a good night to reflect on the current squad. It was time to reflect. Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, you can be sure we will see plenty of new faces arrive at the club before August. My views on our current crop of players might not be shared by all, but having seen a large percentage games home and away I felt the need to want to share these with fellow BfB readers:

1 Scott Loach (Goalkeeper)
His form for us has raised eyebrows in the Premiership. Whilst there is no doubt Loach is an accomplished keeper, he is still someway off being a Premiership regular, but is no doubt one with a bright future in the game

2008/2009 City prospects
We would love to see him back next season, but seeing him back here next season is highly unlikely to say the least. We will have to go shopping in the summer to purchase a reliable, experienced new No 1.

2 Darren Williams (Right Back)
Williams has not done a lot wrong this season. He has generally been quite solid defensively, and will feel slightly aggrieved to have lost his place in the starting line up to Ben Starosta. Stuart feel’s that Starosta offers more attacking options down the right than the more defensive minded Williams.

2008/2009 City prospects
Williams only has a one year deal, but I feel he is worth another one for his defensive capabilities. McCall may decide to sign another right back permanently to provide competition again in this position.

3 Paul Heckingbottom (Left Back)
Heckingbottom’s return to Valley Parade has gone well. He hasn’t had any competition for his place, but luckily he is enough of a professional to not get complacent and let his performances drop. He has been excellent defensively and is always fully committed to the cause. A model professional.

2008/2009 City prospects
More of the same. He is a good left back at this level.

4 Paul Evans (Central Midfield)
Evans’ return to the club has certainly not gone as planned. After an ok start, he has turned in some quite awful performances in recent months and is surely going to be given his P45 in the summer. His usually reliable passing game has gone to pot, seemingly he is now better at passing to the opposition than to his team mates.

2008/2009 City prospects
Free Transfer

5 David Wetherall (Central Defender)
It pains me to say that I am actually relieved that big Dave wont be part of our back four next year. There is no doubt his loyalty to this club is commendable, but too many painful memories of our badly organized defense since the turn of the century have overshadowed our towering defender’s ability. He has always been dominant aerially – but this season his decision making, for once, has been called into question, as well as his lace of pace becoming more of an issue as the seasons have gone on.

2008/2009 City prospects
Another fans favourite taking up a coaching position within the club.

6 Mark Bower (Central Defender)
Well its been over 10 years now and Mark is still with us. He is a much better player than he was when he was signed up back in 1998, and his consistent displays have earned him respect. He was dropped for Matt Clarke earlier in the season, but overall I think Bower has had an average campaign. He really needs to push on next season to ensure our defense doesn’t leak those extremely costly late goals.

2008/2009 City prospects
A regular at the back , but really needs to step up to the plate in Wetherall’s absence, lead and organize.

7 Omar Daley (Right Winger/Forward)
Very much a footballing enigma, Omar Daley still has a lot to prove. Signing him up long term earlier in the season is very much a protection on our asset who possesses the highly desirable attribute in the modern game – blistering pace. However, Omar very frequently flatters to deceive. Either by making the wrong decision in the final third, or lacking the ability to finish a flowing burst forward with a deadly finish. I remember when I first saw Omar Daley play – back in 2003 when we visited Reading and he lined up for the opposition. His skill was there for all to see, but his finishing and decision making was abysmal, and he was substituted by their manager at the time Alan Pardew. And now, in 2008, he almost seems like the same player. There is no doubting however, that on his day, he can win us matches in this division. Lets hope he can finally have the season of his career next time round.

2008/2009 City prospects
Daley will continue to delight us, and make us cry. Some finishing practice in the summer would be advised if he has ambitions of being our number one threat next season.

8 Eddie Johnson (Central Midfield/Forward)
Johnson may well have done enough in the last month to earn himself a new contract. I don’t think he is good enough as a midfielder to command a regular first team spot as he quite often drifts out of games without you even knowing he is on the pitch.

2008/2009 City prospects
Will probably get a new one year deal. Should be used as a utility squad player.

9 Barry Conlon (Striker)
Conlon has divided opinion amongst fans from Barnsley to Plymouth. He is like marmite – you either love him or hate him. Whilst I appreciate the effort he occasionally puts in to the cause, the guy cannot finish. We have a number 9 who cant finish. Some of his finishing is so woeful it would make Ade Akinibiyi wince. Yet I have the feeling that somehow Stuart rates this guy and will hand him a new deal. I , for one, am praying that wont happen.

2008/2009 City prospects
Offer of a contract is 50/50. I wouldn’t offer him anything more than a lift to the nearest airport.

10 Peter Thorne (Striker)
Thoroughly deserved his new deal. The class act of the side. He looks after himself, is intelligent and a keen eye for goal. His goal record speaks for itself. His all round play is also admirable and shows why has managed to play at a higher level for so long.

2008/2009 City prospects
If we can keep him fit, look for 20 league goals from Thorne next season.

11 Alex Rhodes (Winger)
Rhodes has showed glimpses of good form this season, but I fear his inconsistency will prove to be too costly.

2008/2009 City prospects
No contract offered

12 Matthew Clarke (Central Defender)
Excellent form at times this season. Makes the occasional rash decision, and thus needs to work on refining his approach slightly. Will really look for him to sharpen up his act next year and dominant League Two strikers next season.

2008/2009 City prospects
A regular at the back

15 Joe Colbeck (Winger/Midfielder)
It quite often crossed my mind in the first half of this season that Colbeck would never make it at City. Yet, he has surprised me. I used to hate him. Absolutely hate him. I thought he would go the way of Danny Forrest and Joe Brown. But his loan spell at Darlo did him the world of good. He is now performing more consistently (especially away from home!). He battles. He whips in a good cross. Add more consistency and more of a footballing brain to his play and he can really help us next year.

2008/2009 City prospects
Expect some good things from Colbeck next year – he needs to prove that he can perform in front of the Valley Parade crowd.

18 Tom Penford (Midfielder)
I feel he has done enough to earn a contract. If he can be a bit more attacking minded he will have the makings of a good player.

2008/2009 City prospects
Will get a contract. Needs to stamp his authority on the team next year and chip in with some more goals.

20 Scott Pheland (Midfielder)
Not good enough. Not strong enough for this league (or any other)

2008/2009 City prospects
Free transfer

22 Kyle Nix (Midfielder)
Decent player. Needs to figure out his best position, stick to it and make it his own or he will only be a bit part player. Always battles for the cause.

2008/2009 City prospects
Worth a one year deal. He will hope to nail down a regular spot in the team next year, but may have his work cut out if Stuart brings in alternatives.

23 Willy Topp (Striker)
We certainly haven’t seen the best of him yet. I fear he may not be the right kind of player for this division. Shows some nice touches and skill but not shown us an end product yet.

2008/2009 City prospects
Make or break season for our 35k investment. He has had time now to settle in.

25 Luke Medley (Striker)
His wonder strike against Wrexham gave us hope. But he has something very much “non-league” about his play. His failure to make it at Cambridge City speaks volumes. The occasionally glimpse of desire, ala Grimsby away, isn’t good enough of the course of a whole season

2008/2009 City prospects
No contract offered.

32 Lee Bullock (Midfielder)
Solid defensive midfielder. Decent player in this league.

2008/2009 City prospects
Should nail down a regular place in the centre of the park

36 David Brown (Striker)
Predators goal against Macclesfield. His ability on the training ground will determine whether Stuart wants to keep this youngster.

2008/2009 City prospects
50/50 on a new contract, but I would probably release him due to his lack of physical presence.

Something to cheer

Football, least we forget, is all about goals.

A miserable afternoon of failed effort and frustration can be wiped away by the sight of the ball crossing the white line. The result that appears in the following day’s newspaper is all that matters and all of us would gladly swap a good performance for a good result.

So when City equalised with the final kick of the ball at Blundell Park on Saturday, the disappointment of what had gone on before was eclipsed by wild celebrations and a pitch invasion so enthusiastic City manager Stuart McCall had to run over to the away stand and appeal for calm.

Were such celebrations justified? The build up to this fixture included whispers of ‘six pointer’ and ‘must win’ for two sides desperately short on form. Imagining the game would end as 1-1 draw before kick off would have certainly felt disappointing to the 1,000+ City fans who journeyed to Cleethorpes. On Saturday evening I met with friends, plus received text messages from others, who supported different teams and all seemed to be of the opinion that ‘only’ drawing with Grimsby was a poor result. “Can Bradford sink any lower?” was one text message I received. Well yes and no was my reply. Of course it can get worse than this, but it probably won’t.

From the moment former City striker Isaiah Rankin’s outstretched foot collided into City goalkeeper Rhys Evans’ shoulder, as the two players contested a low cross, it was easy to imagine a sixth defeat in seven was on the cards. Evans was left in a lot of pain and, although he tried to play on, had to come off shortly afterwards. With Donovan Ricketts sat in the stands rather than sat on the bench, City had to see out the remaining 70 minutes without a recognised goalkeeper.

Mark Bower was elected back up keeper and swapped centre back duties with Matt Clarke, who made an impressive first league appearance of the season, replacing the injured Evans. It was easy to be fearful of conceding every time Grimsby poured forward but, curiously, City actually began defending better, as though they knew they had to protect Mark Bower’s goal at all costs.

The half time mutterings from some fans were of disapproval at Stuart’s decision not to include a keeper on the bench, although no one knew at the time that Ricketts was in fact injured, which was why Stuart didn’t include him in the 16. To be fair to Bower, he didn’t put a foot wrong in goal and even produced an excellent tip over from a second half free kick.

The goal that he did concede was easily preventable though. Matt Clarke picked up a loose ball in the area and appeared to ignore the calls of Bower charging up behind to leave it for him to collect. Even then this would have been okay had Clarke’s clearance not been so woeful. The ball went straight to Grimsby’s Shaleum Logan and the on-loan Man City full back produced a delicate lob over the back peddling Bower which flew into the net.

The dreaded moment had happened, although in some ways it felt like a positive. I’d personally felt sick to the stomach every time Grimsby poured forward for fear of our non-keeper conceding a soft goal. Now that had happened and it was up to City to come back.

The next fifteen minutes saw heavy pressure from City with Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu looking a real threat and twice going close. Kyle Nix and Paul Heckingbottom also had chances, before City seemed to run out of ideas and Grimsby got on top again. It appeared as though the game was lost with City’s season-long difficulty of finding the back of the net continuing.

Two substitutions changed that tide with Alex Rhodes impressing after replacing Nix. He whipped in some of the best crosses of the game, although no one was able to get on the end. Barry Conlon, with two previous brilliant performances, was a major disappointment. He failed to hold up the ball adequately and couldn’t seem to get in the game. Conlon was hauled off to a mixture of jeers from some fans and cheers from others. Supporters’ views of our big number nine clearly remain mixed and those who don’t rate him were given more ammunition after this performance. It’s becoming clear that Conlon’s biggest failing is his lack of consistency.

Conlon was replaced with Luke Medley who, like Clarke and Rhodes, proved an effective substitute. He was a handful and soon had the ball in the back of the net after a Grimsby defender and goalkeeper Barnes collision left him with a tap in, only for the referee Dave Foster to controversially rule it out. It was the latest in a string of decisions City failed to get from Foster but then, perhaps conscious he was wrong to disallow the goal; he appeared to start favouring City.

As the game moved towards stoppage time and City looked beaten Medley chased a through ball which Barnes came out to collect in his hands, but just stepped over the penalty box line in doing so. A free kick and, after a pause, a red card; neither team were going to end the day with the keeper they started with.

The free kick was well saved by sub keeper Gary Montgomery before Wetherall headed the rebound over and it appeared the game was lost. Then Medley chased another lost cause, managed to win the ball and ran through to the penalty area. He was blocked by Justin Whittle and the referee blew for a penalty. Fans were already running on the pitch in celebration. The tension was huge, but Ndumbu-Nsungu kept his cool to fire home the spot and cue the wild celebrations which again spilled onto the pitch.

Unlike others I didn’t really believe this game to be a six pointer. City might be low down the league at present, but I believe we’ll soon be climbing up regardless of if we had have lost on Saturday. With the backdrop of no goalkeeper, a point was something we would all have probably settled for after 25 minutes and it was just a relief to see that the efforts of the players, most of who played below their best, was rewarded with something. Defeat would have left us back to square one after the promising Darlington draw last week.

So while wild celebrations for a point at Grimsby might seem unusual to some, it was perfectly understandable to every one of us present who had suffered a tortuous 92 minutes where every time the home side came forward you felt they would score, where you wished Ricketts had been available, where it looked like City were going to fall short yet again and where we were facing a long journey home debating and pondering what’s gone wrong.

Before that, six games of nothing to cheer. The performance against Darlington felt good, but it wasn’t a cause for celebration. The only thing good since Bower’s winner against Peterborough, our last win, was when Bower again scored against Morecambe and we thought we were heading for a win. That feeling lasted less than half an hour and soon after we were feeling even more pain.

So while I can’t speak for everyone there, I personally celebrated wildly because every time I’ve been to watch City lately there’s been little to cheer and I was at last able to let out some of that frustration. This was for getting stuffed by Accrington, for losing late on against MK Dons and Morecambe, for watching City slump from play offs to relegation candidates and, in the process, become something of a laughing stock.

This season has seen a magnificent level of support from City fans and the huge numbers at Valley Parade and on the road is far more deserving of the performances and results we’ve been watching of late. We’ve been desperate for something to cheer and we deserve something to cheer.

Football is about goals and, while a 93rd minute equaliser against Grimsby Town might not sound much, it felt fantastic just to be celebrating something.

The long road back

This was how it all started for Donovan Ricketts with Bradford City.

After been signed by Colin Todd in July 2004, a wait for a work permit meant his place in the team was initially taken by trialist Paul Henderson. Ricketts was consigned to a near full season playing for City’s reserves before finally earning his chance when Henderson rejected a longer contract.

Through everything that has happened to the Jamaican international in recent weeks, that original determination and patience to wait for a chance with City should not be forgotten. As Ricketts lined up for City reserves against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night in front of the very goal where a week earlier he made a mistake too many which cost him his place, there’s a sense that the Jamaican goalkeeper won’t be pushing to exit the Valley Parade door just yet.

The long road back from zero to hero in City fans eyes began with a decent clean sheet against Forest’s second string, with The Don putting in an encouraging display and making three excellent saves. With just a smattering of fans present to analyse his every move, Ricketts’ confidence will have improved a notch as he successfully dealt with everything Forest presented him with. He was even able to loudly berate others for not doing their jobs so well.

Another of City’s recent villains was also in action for the second string. Last Saturday’s substitute cameo against the MK Dons saw Joe Colbeck claim two unwanted assists as 70 minutes of good work by the team was thrown away by some kamikaze defending. Joe to probably benefited from playing away from the glare of a growing army of critics and looked lively once again, if lacking an end product. Defending is clearly a weak part of his game and twice he switched off to allow Forest to roam forward, fortunately without the same consequences as Saturday.

As with any City team on a bad run over the years, supporters start chucking in the names of players not featuring and demand to know why they aren’t been given a go. Of those in the second string available right now, Craig Bentham gave a confident and assured display in the middle of the park to suggest he could do a job. His route to the first team is currently blocked by several others, but against Forest Bentham bossed the middle of the park. He got his foot in, can pass the ball and did the simple things really well. Given the captain’s armband, he dictated the play and was at the heart of City’s best efforts.

As for a striker coming in to score the goals lacking, supporters shouldn’t be expected too much from those not in the team. Nathan Joynes held the ball up well but didn’t seem to take up many threatening positions. Luke Medley came on as a second half substitute and, while his touch was fantastic at times, his attitude didn’t seem quite there. Luke appeared to be playing for himself and on a few occasions good moves were broken down by Luke’s desire to do bits of skill that made himself look good, rather than play the ball to others in good positions. He has some talent, but his performance made it understandable why Stuart isn’t throwing him into first team duties just yet.

The Chilean striker Willy Topp did play and showed some excellent touches. He clearly has some talent on the ball and produced a couple of exciting twisting runs while beating defenders for skill. He also seems to have a good first touch, although it might take him a little longer to adapt before he’s ready to make an impact in the first team.

Other youngsters showed some promise on the night as City should probably have won the game. They created the better chances in the second half, although were grateful for a blinding Ricketts’ save in the final minute.

If those on reserve duty can maintain their decent performances, keep improving and show patience; their chances of a first team spot will surely come around. If they need any inspiration they need only ask Donovan Ricketts.

The Thorney issue

A few years ago, a City supporter submitted an article on this website stating that Andy Gray’s ability level was that of a pub footballer. This view came during a period when Gray was struggling to recapture his previous season’s form for City where, converted from a winger to a striker, he had managed a career-changing 15 goals that would belatedly signal the end to the dreaded tag of unfulfilled potential. As part of a City side speedily hurtling towards the relegation trap door in 2003-04, he was unable to match his previous season’s exploits managing just six goals.

Very shortly after this article appeared, Gray was sold to Sheffield United and his career continued to head upwards with a £1 million move to Premiership Sunderland a year after. This proved a step up too far but Gray has since re-established himself as a decent Championship striker with Burnley. Last Saturday he scored twice as Burnley won 3-2 at Colchester. Layer Road is hardly one of British football’s most beautiful stadiums, but it’s still a better level than the local park behind The Queen’s Head.

It’s this sort of striker debate which has been typical with Bradford City in recent years. Finding a pair of decent goalscoring forwards has proved difficult and is ultimately why the Bantams have been unable to climb back towards Championship level. Those that have toiled up front since have nearly all split opinion among supporters. Some arguably should have had more of a chance, others undoubtedly gave everything but came up short, too many rarely looked like scoring and just one player has managed double figures in a season since Gray departed.

Not since the legendary Mills and Blake partnership in 1998/99 have City been fortunate enough to possess two regular goalscorers at the same time. Only Dean Windass has consistently done the business, yet finding a suitable strike partner was a problem never solved while he was banging in all those goals during his second spell at the club. This over dependence meant that City were never able to lift themselves above midtable and, when Deano departed last January, no one was able to fill his void with dire consequences.

Different division, different management, different bunch of players and many more supporters; but so far the familiar problem has remained. In the five games to date, five goals have been scored. Not the worst of records but, when analysing the performances and number of chances the team has created to date, this figure should be at least double. In the home games at least, City have been largely dominant and created a host of chances. Unfortunatley, the strikers in the middle haven’t been able to convert them and, with each miss, have split supporters’ views once again. Perhaps the biggest question hanging over Stuart’s squad as we enter the second month of the season is if there is sufficient firepower to enable City to push for promotion.

Dividing views more than most is Barry Conlon. He arrived at Valley Parade during the summer with a reputation as a decent goalscorer at this level, but with a disconcertingly high number of former clubs. Conlon has so far looked very much your average target man, but unfortunately a little too average. He holds the ball up well and has good awareness at bringing others into play, but he seems to lack the goalscoring prowess and his efforts on goal have been generally tame. Confidence is a big part of this and his previous record suggests he usually manages double figures each season. Yet without a goal so far he looks more likely to match Andy Cooke and Danny Cadamarteri in the regularity of his City goals.

Unsurprisingly he has attracted a lot of criticism. Although, just like Andy Cooke, there seems to be a section of supporters who appreciate the undoubted effort he puts in. One thing is for sure, he’s going to need to improve his performances. With his height and physical ability he should be capable of giving opposition defenders a really hard time and his hold up play should at least allow others to come forward. On occasions Conlon has looked isolated and received the ball too deep. Hopefully as the whole team get to know each other better this will improve and Conlon will receive the ball where he can hurt people.

Very much vying for cult status, Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu has made a decent impression so far. He has a really good touch and is also strong holding the ball up. He has more pace than Conlon and has shown the odd burst of acceleration that’s put the opposition on the back foot. However, just like Conlon, he hasn’t really got into enough good positions to shoot on goal. How many goals he will score, at least until his loan move ends in January, remains questionable. In many ways Guylain and Conlon are very similar players but hopefully they will play together more effectively as they become more familiar with each other’s runs. Hopefully G (or Dave depending on your nickname preference, personally I like Dave!) can add that little bit missing and score a few goals for us.

So far, Nathan Joynes and Luke Medley have played the back up role. Joynes started against Shrewsbury but was unable to make an impression. Meanwhile Luke couldn’t have made a bigger impact with his first touch! The youngster’s wonder strike against Wrexham has made everyone sit up and take notice. There will inevitably be a lot of expectation on the striker’s shoulders, remember Gareth Grant, Danny Forrest, Kevin Sanasy and Joe Brown? Hopefully Luke can build on his superb start and fulfil his potential. While technically not our youth player, its still been a long time since City had a young striker who became a first team regular and scored lots of goals.

At Barnet, Stuart played Omar Daley up front in the second half and the Jamaican international will barely believe he has yet to score this season after hitting the post three times so far. After his much trumpeted arrival in January, Omar has yet to really find his form and, while he was very impressive in pre-season, we all hope he can do better than his displays so far this season. The hope is that Daley can nail that right wing position and consistently deliver there. He has looked reasonably effective when thrown up front, but is arguably needed more out wide. It’s both nice but a little unusual to think Eddie Johnson is our top scorer so far. Despite a slow start, Eddie is looking comfortable in midfield and it would appear that he has waved goodbye to a career as a centre forward.

Which just leaves one more forward on City’s books and one who has yet to play. Peter Thorne’s summer signing felt like a huge coup but it’s been hugely frustrating waiting for him to recover from injury. After suffering two years at Norwich that were dogged by injury, there are some fears over how much we will see him wear Claret and Amber and some of our more lunatic fans are calling for City to get rid of him already. Given the injury problems he has endured, it would seem City are being sensible in not rushing him into first team action.

When he is ready though, he may find expectations are pinned firmly upon him. The more our other strikers fire blanks in front of goal and points are lost as a result, the greater the pressure on Thorne to deliver. It may take him a while to get fully fit, but the signs during his brief reserve and friendly appearances are encouraging and his past goalscoring record suggests he knows where the goal is.

It seems likely that Thorne will figure at some point this week against either Doncaster or Lincoln. As City’s slow start continues, everyone will be keeping fingers crossed he can deliver. Although at the same time we need at least one from Conlon, Dave, Joynes and Medley to be able to consistently deliver alongside him if we’re going to start climbing the table and threaten at the right end.

Otherwise, with a certain East Yorkshire club splashing out £1million on a striker last week, how long will it be before rumours of a former regular City goalscorer returning on loan start up?

The Medley Moment

The days have past since the blast of Luke Medley’s left foot that change the course of City’s 2-1 win over Wrexham – probably more when all is told – and allowed Stuart McCall to taste victory at Valley Parade as a manager for the first time but the taste in the air is just as sweet.

Medley has been talking about his first kick – nice to have your first kick be one of the best goals at Valley Parade in years – and McCall has been speaking of relief now the pressure of hunting the first win is over and everyone else has fallen into line, rightly so. Like the first springs of love if you can not enjoy an eighteen year old lashing in a debut goal with his first kick then you can not enjoy anything.

Medley’s goal came from an impressive pass down the left flank by Kyle Nix whose contribution to the first win of the season can not be under-estimated. Pulled from Sheffield United by McCall Nix lost the headlines but did much to convince of his worth coming in on the left flank and getting to grips with the lack of width at Valley Parade to use the ball well pushing inside to the hardworking midfield of Eddie Johnson and Paul Evans. Evans was once again Imperious. The best player in League Two wears Bradford City’s number four shirt.

Nix’s ready supply of creative movement balanced out Eddie Johnson’s hard working but ultimately unprobing midfield work that is a worry. Johnson’s graft deserved a reward and as Nix tried to beat one too many bodies on the edge of the Wrexham box at the start of a second half that followed the Bantams best of the first twenty then even run of the last forty-five Johnson snapped onto the lose ball and hit hard and definitely into the lower left hand corner of the keeper’s goal. Johnson – like Andrew Cooke before him – had his goals celebrated for the obvious effort he puts in. Any player who works that hard deserves a reward.

Conversely what is to be said of Omar Daley the most enjoyable dribbler one could hope to see but often found wanting when pointing in the opposite direction. McCall obviously wants Daley’s attacking flair and more often than not – although not always – Daley does enough coming back to merit his inclusion but rather unfortunately for all when the winger is required to track back he is rather ineffectual in his efforts. Exhibit A is the noodle limbed wafted at a ball crossed by former Bantam Michael Proctor to another Neil Roberts who headed an equaliser. There is a call to be made on Daley and one suspects that McCall might accept his deficiencies at the back for his forward play and – for once – I’m not sure that is entirely the wrong idea should Daley maintain a level of effort.

Defensively City worried over Darren Williams – who will miss four weeks injured after falling in the first half – but a shorn Simon Ainge looks to be made of the right stuff for the step up and impressed at right back. The back five look anything but uncrackable and one hopes that long term unification could bring more solidity. Perhaps one is worrying over nothing, Donovan Ricketts was rarely troubled.

McCall will be troubled by the ratio of chances to goals – Barry Conlon works very hard but never looks like finding the goal – but will hope that the likes of Medley can make do until a rhythm is found and his team looks on the brink comes of age.

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