City face Morecambe looking at a new type of football

The grimness of an away day at Burton and the realisation that the Bantams are going to fail to improve on last seasons league position has led to a dark cloud hovering over Valley Parade that threatens to consume all beneath it.

Mark Lawn – who two months ago flexed his muscles to rid the club of what he saw as the curse of Stuart McCall as manager – must wonder how everything he touches at Valley Parade seems to go wrong: Signing Willy Topp, signing Zesh Rehman, “giving” £600,000 to the player budget, replacing McCall with Peter Taylor. It seems that Lawn is finding what many involved in football do and something McCall would underline. That the will to succeed is not enough to ensure success.

Author Mark Twain – on one of his more crabby days – said that it was “not enough in life to simply succeed, other must fail” and this is very true in football. No matter how much work and effort you put in, no matter what you do, if enough other teams do better then you do not achieve the goals you have. Aston Villa are a great success but to win the league they require a lot of other clubs to fail.

As Lawn watches Peter Taylor’s team flounder both in position and play he must wonder how making the best possible appointment has started in this way. He need to ignore these thoughts. Football management is done over the longer term and in stability – the people who denied this as they railed against McCall can hardly point to Taylor’s arrival as proof of concept – and once again the Bantams are in a position of needing to keep faith in a manager, needing to give him time, needing to have stability.

(I knew I would end up writing those words, but I thought it would be more than two months before I did.)

The end of Taylor’s start at Valley Parade has provided difficult to watch but Taylor’s priorities – results over performance – are those that Lawn recruited and these priorities were evidenced in the 1-1 draw at Burton Albion.

As woeful as it may have been to watch the result in the East Midlands was a good one. Peter Taylor’s football is a football of percentages and grinding. It is a football of aiming for two points a game not a win in every match and as a part of that playing as – as one Burton fan said – “the worst team who has played us this season” but getting a point is the aimed for achievement, especially considering the injuries the club has.

Taylor’s football is about percentages and doing the thing that most often gets success. A football about setting an aim and putting in a level of effort to get it. Not 101% flogging players like horses but a measured effort that ensures that a level application can be given for every game. It is a football that is not tied up in the passion and chest beating of a Stuart McCall and in that it is a sea change in attitude for the majority of the players who were brought in by the previous manager.

Any sea change takes time and Taylor will have it if only because for all the criticism of Mark Lawn one would never call him stupid and to have not learnt the lessons of sacking a manager and the short term effects on the club in the last couple of months and to repeat that in another month would very much say he was so.

So the Bantams face a Morecambe side who are going for a play-off place and one can only hope that they have the same equity of Refereeing that the Bantams enjoyed at Christie Park when the roles were reversed. If at the end of the game Morecambe have scored two but had one chalked off despite it being over the line, have seen linesman raise and lower his flag as a striker sprints through and scores and seen one of the Bantams forward get booked, dive all afternoon, stick a knee into someone’s face and then score the winner then empathy with the Shrimpers will be high.

City have no Luke Oliver – who returned to Wycombe Wanderers with Taylor talking about bringing him back in the summer – a wounded bunch of players that includes top scorer James Hanson, Simon Ramsden, Omar Daley and Michael Flynn as well as a few players who are paid to stay at home. City’s striking options are limited and Peter Thorne is on a beech somewhere. Go figure.

Gareth Evans is expected to take the forward role in a 442 with Ryan Kendall or Gavin Grant supporting. The trio of Leon Osbourne, Nathan Clarke and Oliver Forsyth may press for places on the bench. The time is perhaps ripe for Clarke or Forsyth to be given a run out.

Certainly favouring the younger goalkeeper in the form of Jon McLaughlin on Saturday reaped rewards with the keeper saving a penalty and putting in a good display. Defenders Louis Horne, Luke Dean, Phil Cutler and Andrew Villermann and midfielder Ryan Harrison could all lay claims for a shot at the team.

Most likely all those players will have to wait for a chance that probably will never come. Youth development at City – as with most clubs – is far too invested in the preferences of a manager and if the club wanted to start making movements in that area then they could do so. A maximum number of over 23s on the clubs books of fifteen would be one way to ensure the manager is force to blood the younger players as would a requirement to give a certain number of the young players débuts.

Jonathan Bateson will continue at right back while Ramsden is injured – although the full back might be fit for this evening – with Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman in the middle. Robbie Threlfall continues at left back with indications being that he will be offered a deal at City next year. Luke O’Brien is expected to return on the left side of midfield with Lee Bullock and Adam Boulder in the middle. Stephen O’Leary, James O’Brien, Luke Sharry – the right hand side is up for grabs.

The season begins to sort itself out – Rochdale can be promoted tonight while Notts County’s Luke Rodgers is finishing the season he started by diving against City by moving to New York – but the Bantams have much work to do before next term.

The budget

Grey haired man outlines the options of the future in a time of growing austerity not knowing if he is going to have a job in a couple of months Peter Taylor did not come out of his contract negotiations holding a red box aloft but his discussions with Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are all about cuts and spending.

The two sides have the same aim – promotion – and Taylor’s discussions on the role centre around his judgement on if that aim can be achieved with the resources the club can make available to him.

The wages given to Chris Brandon, Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne – Brandon never have taken a pay cut from the £1,500 a week he signed for City on – are freed up giving Taylor wiggle room but he would struggle to do as Tuesday night’s opponant’s Notts County did and assemble an expensive squad that trundles on to promotion.

The fact that Taylor’s City players went toe-to-toe with the likes of Kasper Schmeichel and Luke Rodgers and got a creditable draw shows the belief that the new manager is building in his team. Belief is everything in football at this level and while Rodger’s looked like – perhaps – the best player to appear at VP this season has as much to do with his confidence as it does his abilities on the ball.

Taylor’s job is to try build similar confidence into the likes of Gareth Evans and – when he returns – Scott Neilson it is a tough job. County seemed to improve the performances of their squad using the tried and tested Clough/Francis (see below) method of telling the players who did not cost a lot that they are as good as those who did by virtue of being in the same team as players who are used to operating at a higher level.

Taylor – looking at the scouting network, the current squad, the money available in the summer – has to decide if he can do something similar without the ability to bring in the headline grabbing players. If anyone can, he can, but it is an ask.

John Still – manager of Dagenham and Redbridge – is not so much used to making silk purses from sows ears but the sows ears he stitched are very effective with the Daggers hanging just outside the play-offs having just beaten Macclesfield 3-1. Still’s teams are known for the willingness to play the ball long and Saturday should illustrate the difference between Taylor’s directness and the long ball game.

Matt Glennon plays for a contract and did well on Tuesday. Simon Ramsden hopes to be at right back although Jonathan Bateson looks to fill in with Zesh Rehman not impressing during the week. Luke Oliver and Steve Williams have both impressed and should retain their places with Robbie Threlfall at left back behind Luke O’Brien on the left side of midfield.

O’Brien’s future at City is on an edge at the moment. Does he revert to left back next season or keep in his midfield role? Certainly his time out of the backline seems to have allowed him to rebuild his confidence and built a stronger flank – the oddity of League Two is that good left footed attacking players tend to get snapped up to move to a higher division sharply so one ends up with right hand side’s being attacking and lefts being defensive.

Lee Bullock is still suspended leaving Adam Bolder and Michael Flynn in the middle. Omar Daley found it hard to put a foot right on Tuesday night but his effort and heart was in the right place and to build his confidence he needs to be played through bad games.

Mark McCammon has gone home so James Hanson will start and Ryan Kendall may get a start over Gareth Evans if only to allow the manager to have a look at him as he assesses if he, Bolder, Glennon and others are part of his budget for next season.

The price of success

As the interesting encounter that ended goalless the Notts County fans sung that they were going up and while they are almost certainly correct the health that their club find themselves in at the end that process is debatable.

The debate centres not around the usefulness of the County side – without the risible Lee Hughes in the side the Magpies are an easier team to judge objectively and they have few flaws – but rather the effects of assembling that side.

£20,000 a week gets – in Kasper Schmeichel – a keeper who was capable of pulling of two super saves with the Mancdanian pushing away a Michael Flynn power at goal in the first half and diving headlong to push away Gareth Evans’s inventive attempt from range and angle but Matt Glennon also enjoyed a clean sheet, also made a decent save or two but set back his club a twentieth of the price.

Indeed as City look at next season and how to start looking at a team that can compete under Peter Taylor who most would agree can be trusted to do that then it is worth noting that the cost of Notts County’s keeper for a season is more than the Bantams pay for Valley Parade while Meadow Lane costs the same for a season as the custodian does a week.

County’s side brims with confidence after a mid-season wobble and this is typified in Luke Rodgers – playing today after an eleventh hour reprieve of his red card on Saturday – who played as well as anyone who has visited Valley Parade this season and it is credit to Luke Oliver and Steve Williams who were partnered in the defence for a first time that the lively striker was kept down to a single headed chance which flashed wide.

Chances were thin on the ground, mud was thick and it got the better of Omar Daley who struggled manfully trying the things he tries but having little effect. County’s passing game through midfield never seemed to get going and again that was credit to some excellent work by the Bantams with Adam Bolder and Flynn creating a midfield pairing that showed no ill effect for the loss of suspended Lee Bullock. Perhaps there is a message for Taylor and the Bantams next season that in having these three quality midfielder – and as Bolder settles it becomes clear he offers a similar (and high) quality as Bullock and Flynn – allows the team to play the same dug in performance even when one of the core players is out.

Can City afford to pay three players for two positions? Perhaps not. Certainly County have done that this season and try trundle on to promotion and the uncertain future because of such extravagance.

Taylor’s resource management – should he accept the club’s offer of a contract – needs to be more parsimonious. The eye he has cast over the City squad and assembled loanees seems to have suggested that what was at City on his arrival needs augmentation and not overhaul. Loanees Mark McCammon and Gavin Grant would seem to have failed to impress while Oliver, Bolder and Robbie Threlfall have shown well. Ryan Kendal made but a cameo but certainly the likes of James Hanson, Luke O’Brien, Gareth Evans have all risen to the challenge that Taylor’s new faces suggested.

How to turn results like this – and it was a good result and could have been better with the Bantams always looking within a chance of taking a win – into a promotion campaign is a matter of much discussion, not least of which will be between Taylor, Rhodes and Lawn as the three month manager winds down one season are – perhaps – prepares for another.

Everything changes

Ninety nine times have Bradford City entered the FA Cup since the 1910/1911 season – give of take the odd World War – and ninety nine (well, ninety really) times we have failed to win the competition once more. Next season it will be a century since the Bantams – Jimmy Spiers et al – picked up the old trophy and considering the club’s centenary was something of an horrific damp squib with staying in business put above celebration perhaps the club could look at throwing a proper party in May 2011 to mark that anniversary.

Bringing the FA Cup to Valley Parade as anything other than a visitors seems a remote prospect to say the least though. City are in the bottom tier and the height of our ambitions at present ranges from getting though the season without a visit from the administrator to starting a return up the leagues which some would say will cap out in the Championship.

The ambitions of League Two clubs are simply not that high.

Aside from Notts County the huge spending of which City caught the eye of the storm in a 5-0 defeat at Meadow Lane. That day marked something of a low which the Bantams went on to recover from slowly until a point where we sit in the middle of the league waiting for consistent victories or the return of Omar Daley – or perhaps both.

Since that opening day City have recovered while County have done well although probably not as well as expected. The likes of AFC Bournemouth and Rochdale battle out at the top of the division and County’s idea of rolling over the division with Premiership stars came unstuck when Sol Campbell wandered away from a defeat at Morecambe never to return.

The were asked to name the people behind them beyond “Middle East Investors” and they did citing themselves as packed by various people who would not be named in public – although the FA knows and approves of the people named as The Munto Group – although it did emerge that they were from Japan and Pakistan neither of whom are in the Middle East.

Campbell left and rumours had it that director of football Sven Goran Erikkson would follow until the Swede saw manager Ian McParland replaced by Sven’s former assistant Hans Backe. The club seemed to be waiting for McParland to do something the merited the sack and – the 2-2 penalties defeat to City aside – the manager was doing well enough to keep the position. Without a reason to sack him County seemed to just decide to get rid of him anyway.

The Bantams are talking much about a desire for revenge following that 5-0 defeat but one expects that that revenge for an obnoxious club who lionise a man in Lee Hughes who definitely does not deserve lionising and in Luke Rodgers have a player who is as skilled at cheating as he is at football will come further down the line when the Munto Group’s flexible definitions of truth come back to haunt the supporters.

Stuart McCall is expected to keep faith with Simon Eastwood – providing Huddersfield Town do not mind his being cup tied – in goal despite mounting and justified criticism. Jon McLaughlin would take the clubs is Town seen Eastwood keeping goal after Alex Smithies leaves in the transfer window.

Jon Bateson – who was sent off in City’s last trip to Nottingham continues to fill in for Simon Ramsden at right back in a settled defence of Simon Williams, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien.

Chris Brandon is out with a hamstring strain allowing Lee Bullock to return to the side in a midfield three of Bullock, Michael Flynn and James O’Brien the latter of which is becoming an unsung hero of the Bantams side. Scott Neilson drifts between midfield and attack on the right.

James Hanson – who Stuart McCall justified pumping the ball to at Macclesfield with the immortal line “Well, he was winning everything” – continues up front alongside the hard working Gareth Evans.

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