Making no excuses

It is all about excuses, and who has to give them.

Take Phil Parkinson for example. He stands accused after the 1-0 defeat at Macclesfield Town of making an excuse about referee Rob Lewis. Parkinson pointed out that his team – who have faced not one shot on target from inside the area in the last 180 minutes with the exception of that penalty – would have had something from the evening were it not for Lewis’ intervention. This was “making excuses” – or so we are told.

We get no excuse – the City fans who travelled to Macclesfield – about why the penalty was given and the Macclesfield supporters who shouted for a red card with some justification got no excuse from Lewis for what they were not sated. BfB tried to get the match report with our usual polite email to the Football League. We were told no. Rob Lewis need not give an excuse for ignoring the Laws of Football.

He may be called to give an excuse for his language towards Craig Fagan. It seems that Fagan asked Lewis about the booking he got and was replied to by Lewis swearing. Industrial language is not uncommon in football but the Laws of the game were used to send off players (and after the game) turning games and even seasons and we were told that there was no excuse for that behaviour. One wonders what Rob Lewis excuse will end up saying to the authorities, if they ask him as a result of the complaint City have put in about the official.

“Excuse” has been the phrase de jour for sometime around Valley Parade for some time. As a club “making excuses” has been verbalised from top to bottom of the club. Mark Lawn – when talking about training facilities – said that the lack of them could be used as an excuse while Stuart McCall and Peter Taylor were both “excuse making” when they talked about various issues which hampered their team’s performances.

Should a manager find something else to blame when the slings and arrows of Referee misfortune rain down on his team? Should he go straight to problem number two stepping over the first issue? When it comes to criticising officials Ron Atkinson had a hard and fast rule: “I never talk about Referees, and I’m not making an exception for that berk.”

What is Parkinson to do? His belief is that a robust team that do not concede will pick up points on the road. Michael Flynn’s red card stopped that robustness at Hereford, the penalty robbed a point at Macclesfield. If Parkinson can put hand on heart and say that he was happy with the performances otherwise then should he make something up rather than saying something that could be called an excuse?

Are we – as Bradford City supporters – really a community which is too immature to handle the interpretation of the game as the manager sees it and do we need to have that game retold to us in a way we find more palatable?

Which is not to say that Parkinson’s approach is to everyone’s taste, that is is great to watch or that it will work in the long term just that it is the approach that he has always used and the one he believes to be right. It is also the approach that many teams come to Valley Parade with and that has caused so many home reversals so it would be wrong to not point to a certain validity in the frustration game. If people are criticising Parkinson for using it away from home then they perhaps may recall if they criticised Colin Todd for not being able to break it down at VP.

The culture we have in the Bradford City community would reject excuses and anything that sound like excuses casting babies down Manningham Lane with bathwater to follow. It is to say that we have no truck with with anyone offering reason, it is the denial of the ability to be analytical.

Imagine if you will – and dear reader imagine it is so rather than questioning the premise if you have a mind to – that the only reason that Bradford City did not return from Macclesfield Town on Tuesday night with at least a point is because of atrocious Refereeing. Would you want to know that? Would you want to be lied to? Would you want Phil Parkinson to make changes to a team which would have performed well otherwise?

The question is yours to ponder, but as Macclesfield Town headed towards the play-off places and people without the ability to do basic mathematics said that City’s season was over they did so with an undeserved result, if you would take my opinion.

To paraphrase: “You train all week, you do everything right, and then Rob Lewis decides the result.”

City go onto Swindon Town to play against popular fascist Paolo Di Canio’s side who sit seventh in the division. The Robins are much talked about for the enigmatic Di Canio’s presence but more importantly they have not lost for five (four wins and a draw) which is a run started at Macclesfield.

City go into the game with Matt Duke in goal behind a back four which will probably see Marcel Seip step down to allow Andrew Davies to be recalled alongside Luke Oliver. Luke O’Brien is likely to come in at left back for the injured Robbie Threlfall and Liam Moore will retain his place at right back.

Adam Reed looks is unlikely to play – his loan deal is up on Saturday and he does not have a clause in his contract that guarantees him a place – so Richie Jones and Michael Flynn will reunite in the middle. Chris Mitchell is hoping for a recall either on the right or in a three while Michael Bryan will hope that Phil Parkinson opts for a flat four in the midfield which would give him a place on the right. Kyel Reid continues on the left.

Craig Fagan will start up front alongside or to the side of James Hanson.

The walking stage as City head to Macclesfield looking to build a running position

Functionalism seems the most fitting label when reflecting on the way Phil Parkinson has lined up Bradford City in the last three games, at least.

Functionalism is a theory that design (in this case tactics and team selection) should be determined by its practicality rather than by aesthetic considerations. Like buying a supermarket brand of baked beans because money is a little tight, aside from the slip up to Hereford, the Bantams have accomplished their objectives in a largely efficient manner. The style will have to come later.

A run of disappointing results had intensified the need to start winning at all costs, and so for now at least the attractive manner of passing football that had featured in the Bristol Rovers and Port Vale games has been shelved by Parkinson. That’s not to say City under Parkinson have become as dour as they were a year earlier under Peter Taylor, but there are certainly similarities in the more organised nature of the way City have played.

As the saying goes, you need to learn to walk before you can run. City couldn’t afford to carry on playing well but losing points, so for now we are watching a different approach that is proving more effective in grinding out results and slowly tightening up a defence which has been far too leaky.

Expect more of the same at in-form Macclesfield tonight. City have only managed to pick up three points on the road this season, and haven’t won in the league away from home since James Hanson’s first half header at Moss Rose six months ago did much to preserve the Bantam’s league status. Parkinson apparently adopted a more defensive approach in the last away match at Hereford but didn’t get the sufficient levels of performance from his players; but it seems plausible he will prioritise not getting beaten this evening over playing in the open way at Port Vale a month ago, which was highly unfortunate to go unrewarded.

Should the slow and steady improvement be continued, it will be interesting to observe when Parkinson begins to give his attacking players more of a free reign to show their flair. Perhaps he has looked back on his early games in charge and concluded he tried to implement that passing, expansive style of play too soon.

As much as we can say recent tactics are more in the thinking of Taylor’s ethos, the former City manager had his team playing in that manner from day one and made no attempt to disguise such intentions. Parkinson, you feel, is different. Complaints about the style of football he played in previous jobs are well-known, but you don’t get to be a scout at a club with the philosophy of Arsenal – like Parkinson was when out of work last season – by being anti-football.

The need to earn wins and push City away from the relegation worries is hugely important, but that doesn’t mean Parkinson has found a formula that he will stick to for the rest of the season.

So we watch recent performances with raised spirits by the results, a few tiny doubts about the approach taken but optimism that what the more stylish football glimpsed previously will be continued when the time is right and with better personnel (e.g. a more solid defensive platform from which to play attacking football). Right now, functionalism is the key. One hopes we’ll have fun this season too.

Macclesfield offer a much stronger test than City’s last three opponents. Without being disrespectful, there is a theory that clubs of the Silkmen’s type – that is to say clubs with low resources compared to others – tend to start seasons well, but fade away when injuries and suspensions become too testing for a small squad. Nevertheless with three wins from four and only one home loss to date, it is not the greatest of timing for City to face them.

A win for City tonight though and we’ll have our own three from four, and the mood around the club will improve dramatically. A defeat and – with tough games to come against Swindon and third-placed Cheltenham – doom and gloom will weigh heavily.

Matt Duke keeps goal despite a constant soundtrack of supporters demanding he is dropped for Jon McLaughlin (odd that, seen as at the end of last season McLaughlin was getting slated). For me, the relationship between supporter and goalkeeper is about trust and, at the moment, Duke struggles to hold ours. As such, every time a goal goes in we instantly question whether he should have saved it. When a goalkeeper has earned our trust, we don’t do that unless they make a notable mistake.

Duke was blamed by some supporters for Michael Jacobs’ thunderbolt strike for Northampton – which seems ridiculous. Equally I can’t understand why Hereford’s goals were labelled his fault the week earlier. He is getting slowly better, and we need to stick with him.

In the defence, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall sit either side of Luke Oliver and Marcel Seip. It was an encouraging home debut from the Dutch defender, who looked better when he didn’t have to think compared to a few occasions when he had time to assess his options. Perhaps he is the opposite of Steve Williams.  Two of the midfield four pick themselves, with Ritchie Jones and Kyel Reid both producing superb second half displays on Saturday.

Who will play alongside them is where the controversy will centre on, if the game is lost (because Parkinson has already seemingly past the honeymoon and has been attracting some strong criticism from some supporters,  so they will need some ammunition). While Adam Reed did okay on Saturday, Michael Flynn is playing far too well not to be recalled on his return from suspension. However, Reed may keep his place in the centre and Jones moved wide right.

If Parkinson does this all hell will break loose, because it means the promising Michael Bryan will have been dropped. Yet the functionalism theory dictates that playing with two out and out wingers away from home is a more risky strategy, and Parkinson does not seem shy of making such a tough call in picking Jones as a wide midfielder to give City a stronger central midfield. Personally I thought Bryan did well in flashes on Saturday, but some of the praise he received seemed a little over the top.

Up front Craig Fagan and James Hanson will continue, with Parkinson a big fan of the pair developing a partnership that showed initial promise on Saturday and at Burton a few weeks back.

There are plenty of other people waiting in the wings, but the likes of Jamie Devitt, Chris Mitchell and the injured Ross Hannah may have to wait patiently until the pressure on the team lessens to the point style can be prioritised again. Rarely has a Bradford City season being about the squad of players, rather than the first 11, in the way that this one is shaping up to be.

I have in my hand a piece of paper…

…or rather a collection of a pieces of paper stapled together in the top left corner. It was passed to me by Archie Christie – it has his first name under the staple – as part of the day we spent with him as an illustration of the work that get done at City.

I’m not going to tell you what is in the papers for reasons which will become clear, dear reader, but I can tell you what it says on the front. Under a large Bantams’ Badge reads the words “Bradford City Match Assessment” and under that – written in pen (although this is a photocopy) read the names “Macclesfield T” and “Northampton T”.

The date reads “17th of September” which was – according to the inscriptions – a dry and windy day.

For years, decades, I’ve heard about football clubs who “do their homework” on the opposition, who “have them watched” and for the first time I have the information (or a part of it) which Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin will be looking over to plan City’s team.

It is a coincidence that paper I got was between is City’s next two opponents but probably not that scout Nigel Brown who authored the document – it carries his name – took in the match. Nigel Brown and Archie Christie talked about arriving at City and finding a filing cabinet marked scouting reports which had sub-divisions for each league and each letter in that league but absolutely nothing in them. If someone had been doing the homework at Bradford City before Christie and Brown then the dog had almost certainly eaten it.

It struck me in the weeks after embedding with him that Christie’s role at the club split down three lines none of which were having that much attention paid to them before his arrival. The first and most obvious was the player recruitment and development side which is an all encompassing one taking in watching players as well as the activities with the Development Squad. Then, most celebrated, is his deal making as seen in George Green’s move to Everton. Potentially Green’s move is the largest transfer between the fourth tier and the top tier of English football ever. Finally there is the homework side and preparing information for the first team’s manager.

Christie started the operation from an empty cabinet and was taking in a game at Halifax Town when he bumped into Brown – Brown told us that most Scouts know each other – and Christie invited him to come in and help with the network. The pair of them assembled a team of around a half dozen scouts up and down the country. There is a private scouting network which clubs can subscribe to which provides information on any team for a fee which might account for where Peter Taylor was getting his information on visiting teams but Brown is sceptical about the merits of that. It struck me that if the aim of scouting teams is to find weaknesses then a report that is freely purchased by anyone will detail faults that a manager would be a fool not to fix. Christie and Brown’s scouting – if it contains a note on how a team can be got at – is known only to City.

The scouts (including Christie and Brown) go watch League Two games, non-league games, reserve games and fill in the type of form which sits in front of me today. The approach is detailed. Reserve games are important in case of suspensions forcing a change to the starting eleven while non-league games (and higher reserve games) allow information about players who may end up being recruited by the opposition. Christie tells a story of Dagenham being undone by a player who had not featured in the first team but cropped up on a Tuesday night on the south coast to frustrate the Daggers.

There was an obvious question about what Christie’s scouting network had thought about the City teams he had faced. Christie did not say anything against anyone who had stalked the halls of Valley Parade before him but the impression I got was that at Dagenham City’s team under Stuart McCall was considered to be nice to look at but soft in the centre and easy to get at, easy to beat. I loved watching Stuart’s side’s play expansive football but I’d have to agree with that analysis.

The empty cabinet is an interesting idea but we know that in the past managers at City have talked about watching clubs – Stuart McCall’s post-game interviews would often include a reference to having seen the team before – but the image remains. John Hendrie once talked about how City would often see unknown faces around the training ground who turned out to be the opposition scouts finding out the team for Saturday.

So one assumes that there must have been paper in this cabinet at some point, files on teams and players filled by McCall (who took a scouting role for Norwich after he left City), Colin Todd or whoever, but the open space tells a story of its own.

That story involves the recruitment of a scouting network to watch teams 70% of which are based in the South. It involves a network of contacts built up who fulfil Brown demanding criteria. Brown worked with Kenny Dalglish at Blackburn Rovers having a hand in the signing of Alan Shearer for £3.5m and the sale of him for “£16.75m” (which is not the figure widely circulated, but the one Brown told us) after “getting the best years out of him.” After working with Dalglish – “He never watched games, loved his videos” – Brown moved onto Wigan Athletic as Dave Whelan started building his tier three club built to compete at the top level from the ground up. Brown is the sort of man you hope a scout is, quietly spoken but deeply knowledgeable and with a steel in his eye for a player. While Christie believes that desire is the thing to look for in a player Brown wants acceleration over five yards. The two are a great combination – Christie calls Brown “Nigel Green” and Brown smiles back. “I can’t do the negotiations like Archie can” he went on to say.

The scouts who Brown and Christie got to join City were tasked with watching City too – the City they watched being the one which Mark Lawn commented on last week – and gave their opinions. Perhaps these informed Lawn’s comments and Parkinson’s changes since he took over. Certainly there were recurrent themes in the reports which Christie and Brown got back and it seems to me that those have been addressed, or have been attempted to be addressed.

The aim of the opposition scouting networking is to provide the manager with everything he could want. It is then up to the manager and his coaching staff to decide how much notice he wants to take of that information. Not all managers are interested but what I have in front of me makes fascinating reading and I could see no reason why a manager would not welcome this with arms open. The Damned Utd (not an historical source but a cracking read) has Brian Clough refuse to look at Don’s Dodgy Dossiers on the opposition, real life tells us he had Peter Taylor watching every inch of opponents.

Without showing the report it is hard to illustrate what it has in it but the circulated version of a report on Newcastle United written by Andre Villas-Boas when he was scout at Chelsea offers similar (although City use numbers and not pictures of shirts) and is indicative of the level of research which goes into preparing for a game.

There is no Bradford City Official Secrets Act (aside from Christie tell us not to go showing the report around, it has not left my office physically or virtually since) but I think it is best if what we know about them stays under wraps for now but I recall watching City over the past thirty years and seeing the odd event that would have been captured in this document and would not have poised a problem. The Paul Merson/Benito Carbone short corner that unlocked City in the Premier League, the wall of tiny Wigan players who created themselves in front of City’s wall at a free kick in the late eighties only to break off and leave many bemused and little else, Peter Jackson and Chris Branston’s antics from a corner at the McAlpine in the mid part of the decade.

Simple things like the fact that a number three might play in central midfield and not left back to more technical and detailed lore. The experience of watching City play Northampton Town at Valley Parade will, for me, come with a crib sheet and I wonder how that will change the way I see the game. When he was Coventry City manager Gordon Strachan was fond of appearing on Match of the Day saying how he and his players had worked all week on doing one thing and – for reasons of their own – the players had decided to do something else. I wonder if I will see the same.

Northampton Town arrive at Valley Parade on the back of a 3-0 defeat by Port Vale which saw questions asked but in generally rude form. They are seventeenth in the table.

City go into the game on the back of a disappointing result at Hereford United and have before them a familiar set of criticisms. Matt Duke is criticised because he could have been better positioned for the goals that Hereford scored (or so it is said) although the best position is always “in the way” and “not in the way” seldom has any merits. Duke’s single clean sheet was last time out at Valley Parade against Torquay United.

Luke Oliver and Marcel Seip are expected to retain the central defensive positions although Steve Williams is returning to the reckoning. Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall will be full backs although looking at the report I might be… No, best not.

Michael Flynn’s two game suspension sees him sit out the match and allows Adam Reed and Richie Jones to take the middle positions with Kyel Reid wide left. Phil Parkinson could be tempted to drop Jamie Devitt to wide right, recall Mark Stewart for that position or give Chris Mitchell his place in the side back. City have missed Mitchell’s delivery in recent weeks. David Syers’ injury and Flynn’s suspension open the possibility of Scott Brown getting a place on the bench.

Craig Fagan is starting to be cemented into the forward line up in James Hanson’s absence though injury. Hanson may return and take a place in the starting line up although if he is not fit Parkinson may continue with his policy of having a man lead the line and another feeding off him and deploy Devitt or Stewart behind Fagan. All link men – the position in question – are judged by a standard of Peter Beardsley and Stewart seems most able to find space and move the ball on then make for an attacking position but Devitt’s game could be tweaked to do the same.

Such talk is the talk of scribbles on paper though – attacking diagrams done on beer mats – and football is played on grass and not paper. Some pieces of paper, however, certainly are worth a read before the boot sets foot on turf.

2011/2012 IV/IV: The teams

Following last season’s disappointment a new air of optimism currently surrounds the much changed, younger City squad compiled by Peter Jackson, but what can we expect from those who the Bantams will line up against in the new season?

With the loss of Bury, Chesterfield, Stockport and Lincoln from League 2 last time out, the division this year has taken on a very Southern feel with the addition to the League of Plymouth, Bristol Rovers, AFC Wimbledon, Crawley Town, Swindon and Dagenham & Redbridge. It seems that away day dedication will be pushed even further this year, with City set to clock up the miles – where are the Peter Taylor over night stays when you need them!?

The Favourites

For the first time since City were relegated to League 2 they have not been tipped for automatic promotion, that acclaim has gone to the league’s big spending new boys Crawley Town. Following last season’s romp to the Conference title and lucrative FA Cup run, only ended by the champions of England, Crawley have flexed their financial muscles once again signing the likes of Wes Thomas (Cheltenham) and Tyrone Barnett (Macclesfield) on huge salaries. Although popularity amongst other teams and fans will be in short supply, this is unlikely to phase Steve Evans who appears to have unlimited funds to see that the Red Devils make it back to back promotions. And with the likes of Dagenham and Stevenage proving that it is not impossible to make that immediate leap, it is unsurprising that the club have been highly backed at the bookies. Former Bantam Scott Nielson is still on the books and will no doubt be on the end of a ‘warm’ welcome when returning to VP, following comments he made after his City exit.

Hot on the promotional heels of Crawley are fellow league new boys Swindon Town. Over the summer they have introduced some Italian flair on the touchline following the appointment of Paolo Di Canio. Expect much gesticulation and passion when the Bantams meet The Robins in the final game of the season (and that’s just from Jackson!). In the close season Di Canio has signed the relatively unknown Oliver Risser and appointed him the club’s captain as well as several established League 1 players. Also don’t be surprised if a few hot prospects from the Premier League turn up on loan over the coming weeks – I’m sure Paolo will still have Mr. Redknapp’s phone number!

Former Torquay boss Paul Buckle will be hoping that he can use his League 2 experience to guide league newcomers Bristol Rovers back into League 1 at the first attempt. Signing the likes of Chris Zebroski (you may remember him drop kicking Matt Clarke in the face!) and Joe Ayinsah (Charlton), expect attacking football from The Pirates who visit VP in September.

As well as the new boys, League 2’s bridesmaids Shrewsbury Town have also been tipped to go well again this year. Following play-off disappointment for the past three seasons “Salop” will be hoping they can go one better and achieve automatic promotion this year. In the close season Graham Turner has signed proven League 2 players such as: Marvin Morgan (Aldershot); Andy Gornell and Joe Jacobson (Accrington) and will be hoping that these will provide the extra ammunition to get The Shrews over the line.

“Local” Rivals

With the loss of so many Northern teams from the division, local rivalries are few and far between for the Bantams this year. Nearest geographically are Rotherham United, who despite the loss of player maker Nicky Law to McGod’s Motherwell, will be hoping for a strong season under relatively new boss Andy Scott. Scott’s first priority will be to keep hold of the much coveted Adam Le Fondre, whilst quickly hoping he can get the best out of hard-working City reject Gareth Evans (‘The goal is that way Gareth…’). The Millers will be trying to make sure that they don’t fall away as they have in previous years despite promising starts. City host Rotherham in November, with the away leg early in the New Year.

One time City managerial target John Coleman, will be hoping that Accrington Stanley will be able to maintain their strong form of last year despite losing their best players to other teams (Ryan, McConville, Gornell). Coleman will have to manage once again on a shoe-string budget and has so far snapped up the likes of defender Danny Coid (Blackpool) and young striker Kurtis Guthrie, whilst former Bantam Rory Boulding still features in the squad. Expect Stanley to finish mid-table this year as the loss of quality players will surely take its toll.

Morecambe (Bradford-on-sea) are entering the new campaign with a rallying cry in the hope to recapture the ‘fortress’ mentality of Christie Park at their new home ‘The Globe Arena’ (incidentally it’s not an arena, it has 3 sides!). Shrimps boss Jim Bentley will be hoping the combative style of former Bantam loanee Kevin Ellison will help them improve on a disappointing 20th position, achieved last time out. A big City following will once again will flock to Morecambe in early September, with the return fixture at VP in mid-January.

Conference Call

Gary Simpson’s Macclesfield Town have been made favourites for relegation to the Conference this year. Despite a comfortable 15th place finish last season The Silkmen are tipped to struggle, with bookmakers offering them at 2/1 to drop into non-league. The Moss Rose outfit will be hoping that new signings Waide Fairhust (Doncaster), former Bantam Jonathan Bateson (Accrington), along with others like the quick forward Emile Sinclair, will be enough to steer them clear of trouble.

Second favourites to face the drop are Cheltenham Town, following their disappointing second half to last season, which left them with a 17th place finish – one place above the Bantams. This is not a sentiment shared by the Robins new signing Sido Jombati, who claims the club should be aiming for promotion. Cheltenham have invested mainly in non-league players, much the same as City, with the hope of bringing success to Whaddon Road next season.

Once again Barnet have been backed to struggle this term, despite retaining the majority of their top performers from last year. Lawrie Sanchez continues as boss as the Bees aim to gain compensation for the move of last year’s demi-saviour, Martin Allen, to Notts County. With plenty of forward options in the form of Izale McLeod, Sam Deering, Steve Kabba and Mark Marshall (remember him embarrassing City last year?), Barnet will be hoping that they can sort out their defence which saw them leak 77 goals last season.

Hereford United will be hoping to make things a little more comfortable this year following their close shave for survival last season. Former ‘physio’ boss, Jamie Pitman, has signed the likes of Delroy Facey (Lincoln) and Stefan Stam (Yeovil) in the hope of playing attacking, entertaining football next term. The Bantams travel to Edgar Street in late October, with the Bulls coming to VP in February.

League Newcomers

Cash-strapped Plymouth Argyle will face a race against time to assemble a squad before the big kick-off on the 6th of August. With the likely take over by Peter Risdale not yet finalised and the club selling off the ground and its land to a third party: ‘Bishop International’ (sound familiar!?) it will be a success just to put a team out for the Pilgrims next season. Already potential signings have swerved away from the financially stricken club, Antony Elding (Rochdale) opted to sign for non-league Grimsby despite initially agreeing to sign for Plymouth. Survival will have to be their first priority and it is hoped that with the re-signing of influential defender Stephane Zubar, others will follow to sign up for Peter Reid’s cause.

The Crazy Gang return to Valley Parade next season and it is expected that they will bring more than 53 fans when they visit Bradford in late-September. Following five promotions in nine years, since their formation in 2002, AFC Wimbledon will take their place in the football league once again. They will start the campaign without last season’s top goalscorer Danny Kedwell, who has signed for Gillingham, but have retained the services of their player of the season Sam Hatton. Boss Terry Brown has signed up several new recruits: Jack Midson (Oxford); Mat Mitchell-King (Crewe); Chris Bush (Brentford) and Charles Ademeno (Grimsby) in hope of maintaining the club’s position in League 2 next year.

John Still’s Dagenham & Redbridge return to League 2 following only one season in League 1. The one-time City managerial target has managed to maintain the majority of his squad, but has lost key man, and former Bantams’ target, Ramon Vincelot to Championship new-boys Brighton. The Daggers are expected to finish mid-table this time out and will face the Bantams at VP in August, with the return fixture at Victoria Road in March.

Familiar Faces

Burton Albion boss Paul Peschisolido has signed several attacking options over the close season with the intention of pushing the Brewers further up the table than their 19th place finish last season. The Nottinghamshire club will be hoping to avoid the fixture congestion that plagued them last year. New signing Justin Richards (Port Vale) should be the main attacking threat and City play Albion away in October, with the home fixture in January.

Dario Gradi will take charge of Crewe for his 26th season at the helm. With the loss of Clayton Donaldson over the summer, Alex striker Shaun Miller will be hoping to fill the former Bradford youngster’s boots and build on his own 19 goal haul last season. Crewe have been internally backing themselves for promotion this year and will aim to get there playing attractive, technical football, the likes of which the Bantams experienced on the last day of the season.

Gary Johnson’s Northampton Town will once again carry high expectations into the coming season, with their expectant fans insisting that they improve on their disappointing 16th place last season. With a glut of new signings, including big striker Adebayo Akinfenwa, the Cobblers will enter the 2011/2012 season with aspirations of reaching the play-offs. City face Northampton at VP in late October and travel to the Sixfields Stadium in April.

Former City man Chris Wilder will be entering the new season in the hope that his Oxford United team can build on their promising first season back in the football league. Ex-City flop Paul McLaren will take his place for the U’s next season and will hope for more consistency in League 2 this time out. Experience seems to be the order of the day for Wilder who has also recruited former Leeds player Michael Dubbery and ex-Bury goal keeper Wayne Brown.

In a repeat of last season, Micky Adams will lead out Port Vale and will want to finish the job he started before leaving for a forgettable stay at boyhood club Sheffield United. Marc Richards remains the main danger man for the Stoke club and will hope that he can find sufficient support from new signings Gary Roberts (scorer for Rotherham from halfway at VP) and fellow striker Louis Dodds. Vale face the Bantams at Vale Park in September and at VP on Valentine’s day.

On the Buses…(or coaches)

Industrious Aldershot will be hoping to build on their solid 14th place finish last time out. The Bantams play host to the Shots on the opening day and will have to be wary of the goal-threat of defender Antony Charles who had success against the Bantams last year. Dean Holdsworth will be hoping that the recent loan deal for Reading’s attacking midfielder Jake Taylor will help get the Shots off to a flier… obviously after losing to City!

Gillingham have made several signings over the summer and diminutive boss Andy Hessenthaler will be hoping that by signing non-league success stories like Danny Ked well (AFC Wimbledon) will be enough to push the Gills one step further than their play-off spot last year. Hot striking prospect Adam Birchall, signed from Hessenthaler’s former club Dover, is already facing a 6 month lay off with knee ligament damage, which will leave the Priestfield club on the look out for another ‘Cody MacDonald’ type player from the loan market.

Southend will enter the new season hoping to gain the consistency that saw the play-offs elude them last year. Shrimpers boss Paul Sturrock has made several signings to complement last seasons top performers Antony Grant and Barry Corr. City will once again travel to Roots Hall on a Friday night (Decemeber) and will host the Essex club, again on a Friday night, in April.

Torquay boss Martin Ling will want his side to go one better this year to soar into League 1. In order to replace target man Chris Zebroski the Gulls have signed former Morecambe hitman Rene Howe, and have strengthened their midfield with the signing of left-sided trickster Ian Morris (Scunthorpe). City travel to the English Riviera in mid-February (Brrrr…) and host the Gulls at VP in early October.

Bradford City beat Macclesfield 1-0

Peter Jackson’s Bradford City beat Macclesfield Town at Moss Rose Ground 1-0 thanks to a first half goal from James Hanson.

The ninety minutes saw City enjoy the lion’s share of the game losing Hanson after an hour to injury. The win moves the Bantams to 15th in League Two on 47 points nine ahead of Barnet in 23rd. Last season’s 23rd placed club Grimsby Town were relegated with 44 points.

BfB has no report – transport problems – but will be back on Saturday as City face Torquay United at Valley Parade.

The usual answers to the usual questions

If there’s one recurring theme over the past decade of utter Bradford City failure, it is the futility of sacking managers. So often, it seems, a change of who occupies the dugout has been presented as the only solution to chronic under-achievement, but never has this course of action worked out in the way it was hoped. And as Peter Jackson struggles to revive the Bantams after taking over from Peter Taylor six games ago, it seems that once again the supposed remedy hasn’t cured the problem.

Jackson’s record now reads won 2, drawn 1 and lost 3. The 38% win ratio is exactly the same as Taylor delivered over 32 games. The league position remains unaltered, and is unlikely to improve enough over the final eight games to avoid a worst league finish since 1966. The cold hard facts are that removing Taylor as manager has not improved City’s fortunes in the short-term.

Of course that doesn’t mean Taylor was doing a decent job after all. He was the one who badly utilised an increased summer budget and who must assume a huge amount of responsibility for such a dreadful campaign. But the players clearly must shoulder much of the blame too, and Jackson’s failure to revive them – other than an initial short-term boost – shows that the idea under-performers could quickly become over-achievers simply by switching around who selects the formation is flawed.

Or put it another way – changing managers mid-season generally doesn’t work.

Any time this viewpoint is expressed, a counter-argument inevitably arises that points to examples of other clubs who have been transformed by giving their unpopular manager the boot. The latest one to use could be Martin Allen, who since taking over at seemingly relegation-doomed Barnet has achieved a very good come-from-2-0-behind draw against the leaders and incredibly vital win at Burton.

Indeed listening to Allen’s Burton post match assessment offered some fascinating insights. Allen has decreed that the players should simply enjoy the rest of the season, forget worrying about what they eat and the tactics of the opposition as they will simply play five-a-side in training every day. Such a dramatic change in approach has clearly worked so far, but whether Barnet stay up or go down one doubts the players will begin next season eating pies and neglecting the tactics.

It is a short-term trick because Barnet need a short-term miracle. Inspirational management perhaps, but hardly a model for other clubs to copy unless in a similarly hopeless position.

Allen’s Barnet revival is still the exception rather than the norm, and for a section of City support and members of the Boardroom to believe the Bantam’s fortunes can be altered by sacking whoever the latest unpopular manager happens to be, mid-season, after so many repeated failures remains a bone of contention. I write this as someone who had lost support for Taylor – though was not in a rush for him to leave mid-season like others. I believe Taylor would probably have turned things around had he remained, albeit no where near enough to mount a late play off charge and to be deserving of a new contract.

So what to make of Jackson? It seems unfair to dismiss his chances on the basis he has done no better than Taylor with the same set of players, because of the repeated failure of changing managers mid-season. Put Jackson in charge last summer with Taylor’s budget and a fairer comparison could be made. That is implausible of course, and Jackson looks set to be overlooked in favour of someone else who in time we hope will be a success, but over this recent six-game period is unlikely to have done any better.

City have put off putting season tickets on sale until the managerial appointment is belatedly made, and it appears the Board is looking to generate the type of feel-good atmosphere a new manager usually triggers in order to convince those yet to renew to sign up for next season. Unless Jackson can win two of the next three games between now and the big decision – starting tonight at Macclesfield – it seems highly likely someone else will get the job, as Jackson cannot provide that feel-good boost.

Is season ticket sales a fair consideration when choosing the next manager? Probably not, and it is worth recalling the negative reaction to Paul Jewell being appointed permanent manager after an underwhelming end to the season in a caretaker capacity, back in 1998. Then-Chairman Geoffrey Richmond was able to observe up close the qualities in Jewell that would become so prevalent to the rest of us that following season, after he was able to build the team he wanted rather than being stuck with a squad inherited from his predecessor mid-season.

Yet the short-term impact was a reduction in season ticket sales. Richmond remarked a year later on the decision to appoint Jewell, “We lost a couple of thousand season ticket holders…my mailbag was horrendous that summer.”

With such limited investment for next season, it’s a fact of life that the modern day Bradford City has to consider season ticket sales when deciding who to appoint. A poor return from the next three games, and it would take a very brave Board to appoint Jackson as manager next season. The loss of season ticket holders could prove even worse than in 1998.

So Jackson needs a result tonight and, after Barnet’s win over Burton, so do City. Avoiding relegation seemed all but assured after the Morecambe win, but one or two more wins are needed from the last eight matches to ensure there is no shocking ending to this disastrous season. City have two games in hand, starting tonight, but Burton’s failure to make the most of their games in hand following a winter of numerous postponements is a stark lesson of the dangers on relying upon them. When City’s home game against Burton was called off in January, Burton were considered play off candidates. Instead they face a nervous end to the campaign which City themselves hope to avoid.

Expect some changes tonight, with Luke Oliver set to return at the back and Lewis Hunt pushed to right back. Hunt has impressed greatly in the centre, but a back two of he and out-of-form Steve Williams is hardly the strongest and the commanding presence of Oliver should help a defence which has looked marginally better with him in it all season. Luke O’Brien continues at left back with Jon McLaughlin in goal.

In midfield it seemed Jackson had found a greater balance a few weeks ago as the previously overlooked Jon Worthington impressed, and the fact the last two games have ended in defeat with Worthington not involved is hardly a coincidence. Expect him back tonight alongside Tom Adeyemi or David Syers, with Michael Flynn probably dropped to the bench. Gareth Evans finds favour as a wideman but struggles for his best form, while Leon Osborne or repeated underachiever Scott Dobie will be wide left.

Up front James Hanson has had a disappointing second season and a growing minority of critics have, as usual, displayed goldfish memories in forgetting how good he can be. Who he will partner tonight is unclear, with Dobie, Jake Speight and Chib Chilaka vying for an opportunity.

The sight of Oliver up front in the closing stages on Saturday underlines how their are no new answers to the club’s predicament. Jackson must make the most of what he has, in order to earn the opportunity to show what he could really do.

Macclesfield Town game off

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

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

Silkmen chairman Mike Rance hit a disappointed note saying

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

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

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

Thinking about when Bradford City need to replace Peter Taylor

There is an increasing desperation about Bradford City’s scramble for points to turn a season that was tipped for first place into one that avoids last or second last and one is reminded about the Liverpool legend Bill Shankley’s approach to his side’s seasons.

His lessons seem amazingly apt for City – a team which bookmakers and the board believed were going to be promoted as Champions. “First,” the Scot would say, “get the points to stay up and then take it from there.”

Hindsight is easy, but the club talks about promotion to the Championship until it is forced to face the reality of attaining a number of points to stay in the Football League. This happens season on season and perhaps it is time to learn from that when thinking about where things have gone wrong.

Tuesday night could not have been clearer as to where the team faulted following an ill advised shift to 424 that exposed David Syers and Tom Ademeyi in the midfield. After game Peter Taylor did not name the man he felt was responsible for the second Lincoln goal but spoke specifically about someone having not done the job of covering Syers – Ademeyi, one assumes – and from this cascade worries about the manager’s credibility in the dressing room.

Supporters are important to a club – and so is supporter confidence – but more important is the confidence of the players that following their manager will lead to success. When this is lost – when the players no longer believe that doing what the manager says will win games – then seldom does a team perform well. This – more than anything else – what the throw away phrase “lose the dressing room” means.

Going back years to Terry Yorath’s departure as City manager captain Mark “Two Fingers To The Elland Road Kop” Aizlewood was quick to defend the manager insisting it was the players who were to blame for the results and making a note that Yorath was doing the right things, but that they were not coming off for the team.

He still believed, Yorath still “had the dressing room” so to speak.

Jake Speight – when at Port Vale on loan – was quick to say how much he favoured Mickey Adams’s techniques over Peter Taylors citing the fitness levels brought by both managers. Speight is an edge case – disgruntled for some reason which I would not care to speculate on – but he clearly does not believe that what Peter Taylor is doing will bring success to the club.

Players will do a lot for a manager they believe in. If Taylor has taken Tom Ademeyi to one side and told him that he should have been standing five years behind Syers against Lincoln in case his only midfield partner lost the ball then Ademeyi could be excused for wondering that if he were there who would be covering the rest of the midfield?

That thought in his head – as it is in mine – it is hard to imagine how belief in the manager’s instructions can be sustained.

Which is not the same as militancy in the players nor should it be mistaken for that. Omar Daley was booed off after seventy minutes of Tuesday night’s game ostensibly for the crime of following his manager’s instructions.

Daley was hemmed in, seemingly told that he needed to reduce the gap between himself and the full back (which has been a massive problem and a massive gap) and critically to not go past his full back to be hit with the kind of ball into the channel behind the full back which he so enjoys running in, and he performed that task to the best of his abilities.

He seldom looked happy with the task he was given – it is not his natural game to have the ball fed into his feet, get clobbered by the defender, and then lay it off – and his body language is more expressive than most but he was obviously doing what was asked of him.

Booing him for that – to me – is akin to booing Luke Oliver for playing up field. To boo a player for doing what he is told is a call for militancy in the dressing room and for a player to turn to the manager when given the instructions to play in a way he does not like and tell the manager to shove it.

However any one of the ten other players on the field watching Daley trundle off to boos for doing what he was told to do will have looked at Peter Taylor in the dug out and again had cause to question their belief in the manager and his methods.

The methods are not working, they will not be changed, and the players are suffering. How long until they stop believing they ever will? Have we passed that point already?

Increasingly it seems that Taylor’s flaw is in his intractability in his approach to the squad. Taylor has a way he wants the team to play but he does not have the players to achieve it not because they are especially poor (or because they are especially good) but because they are not suited to the manager’s methods.

Taylor’s system at the start of Tuesday night required the two wide strikers to get the ball back to goal, lay it off and follow play on and in Gareth Evans he has a player who can do that as can the injured Leon Osborne but Daley is less able to.

Any manager has a choice of approaches in this situation. He either resigns himself to not playing with these two players because he only has Evans who can fill the role and uses a different tactic or he plays the way he wants to play, and tells the players to adapt.

The key concept being if the manager looks at the squad and picks that approach, the tactics, the formation to suit the players he has or tries to make the squad suit the approach. Taylor fails squarely into that second camp so rather than stopping playing long balls when James Hanson is injured Luke Oliver goes into the forward line.

The players then are given a bargain. Play the way I tell you to, because that way lays success, and should success not follow and the players end up abused, booed and called “not good enough” they are given the challenge of a continued belief in the manager’s methods which are failing and leaving them as fall guys.

The return of Lewis Hunt, Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn to starting line up contention provides something interesting to discuss but hardly provides Taylor with more options as to how to play, because he does not change how he plays on the basis of who is available. These players will come in and slot into the holes already mapped out or they will not come in.

So Jon McLaughlin continues in goal with – perhaps – Hunt at right back over Richard Eckersley. It is significant that Taylor picked up many players he has worked with previous because he knows that they have a belief in his methods (which have succeed in the past) and thus a belief in him.

Simon Ramsden may return in the place of captain Shane Duff rather than Luke Oliver who has an uncanny character to pick himself up after mistakes instantly and not let them effect his game – the irony being that if he made fewer mistakes that characteristic would make him a very good footballer – and Luke O’Brien will continue at left back.

The midfield three will see Jon Worthington anchoring behind a two – probably Ademeyi and Syers – with Michael Flynn replacing Daley in the forward and being more suited to the tasks afforded to that role. New recruit Scott Dobie is also set to come into the side but having not seen the former West Brom player since he was a much younger player it is difficult to suggest what sort of game he plays. Will the 32 year old be a balance for Gareth Evans – who returns to his former club sporting a tan which is impressive for Bradford in February – or will he be an alternative James Hanson continues that thankless task role. Time, and Taylor, will tell.

And City need three points, or one point, or just some points at some point in the future.

Sitting below City and having been beaten at home by Bury 4-2 in the week Macclesfield are the sort of team which Peter Taylor believed that his approach and formation would be steamrollering on the way to promotion.

The question now is if the players still believe it too, believe that doing what Peter Taylor tells them will bring enough points to stay in League Two at least.

Because if they do not then the club need to replace Taylor as quickly as possible.

One of those days…

Bradford returned to Valley Parade for the first time in November and the first time since their 5-0 victory over Oxford but somehow did not manage to repeat a similar score line against Macclesfield today.

Taylor had opted to go with a 442 formation but as 2 central midfielders, Hendrie and Adeyemi occupied the wide men roles there was an emphasis on the full back being encouraged to attack. With this in mind Richard Eckersley came in to make his debut ahead of the more defensive minded Zesh Rehman. Fit again James Hanson returned in place of Jason Price and Lee Bullock came in for the suspended Tommy Doherty and took on the captain’s armband too.

The resounding win over Oxford seemed to still be fresh in the memory as they began the game attacking with confidence and the decision to recall James Hanson appeared to be well justified as he began winning everything in the air and in doing so also finding a City shirt with his knock downs. The pressure resulted in a couple of early half chances and top scorer David Syers showed his confidence following recent impressive displays attempting a 25 yard half volley that travelled at a high speed unfortunately straight into Hanson’s back.

A further chance from a corner fell to a City shirt in a crowded box but although the effort managed to evade the numerous bodies it was straight at the Macclesfield keeper, Veiga and gave him a relatively simple start to what would be a busy day. Then came the best chance of the early exchanges. Pressure high up the park from James Hanson won him possession down the right hand side and he quickly switched the ball to Syers 20 yards from goals. There were calls from the crowd encouraging Syers to shoot but he kept his composure and patience to wait for the onrushing Luke O’Brien and he played a perfectly waited pass into the path of O’Brien’s run but O’Brien blazed over wasting the chance while one on one.

Despite City’s early pressure there was a hint of nervousness about Bradford’s defending and the young, inexperienced back line possibly missed the leadership qualities of Shane Duff. On a couple of occasions they appeared slow making their way out of the box and lacked a certain calmness in the early stages. This cost them 25 minutes into the match as a poor clearance from Rob Kiernan was deflected into the path of Macclesfield’s Draper. Draper fired the ball low towards goal from the sort of distance you’d be encouraging an opposition player to shoot, however on this occasion the drive found the bottom left hand corner of the goal out of Lenny Pidgeley’s reach. Not exactly the tonic to calm a nervous looking defence! Bradford’s problems nearly double straight from kick off as the defence fell asleep and Macclesfield went through one on one with Pidgeley, but the goalkeeper made himself big and gave the striker little target to aim at forcing him to attempt a chip which drifted over the bar. The defence received a real dressing down from Pidgeley immediately after but it was he who was at fault moments later as he came for a cross which he didn’t make fortunately the Maccelsfield attacker failed to make good contact either and the ball drifted wide.

Injury time possibly saw possibly the chance of the half as a Bradford throw on half way saw Daley turn his man well and surge towards the opposition penalty box. Syers once again showed fantastic energy and must of run 50 yards to keep up with the lightning Jamaican but when receiving a pass from Daley he opted to shoot first time and was only able to scuff it wide from inside the box.

As the half time whistle blew it was difficult to be disappointed with the Bradford performance but easy to be frustrated by the fact they were a goal down. It did feel as though that if they could just find another gear in the second half then they’d come away with a result.

City appeared to do just that starting the second half with a real urgency and a good performance began to turn into a great one. The first opportunity came from a superb Luke Oliver pass perfectly weighted over the defence to Omar Daley. However, Daley failed to bring the ball under control first time which forced him wide and his attempt to square the ball to a free James Hanson is diverted wide by a Macclesfield defender. City though continued to apply the pressure and an almost identical pass once again found a City shirt inside the Macclesfield half, this time it was Syers. His first touch was good and his second equally good as he fired a shot towards the roof of the net. Veiga was equally good though and managed to tip the ball over to keep what was appearing a very fortunate lead for the away side.

Many more chances came and went for the Bantams who were being driven on by a crowd who sensed the equaliser was only a matter of time. The first was a move started by Adeyemi delivering the ball out to the right flank where Eckersley was growing more confident in his attacking duties. Eckersley carried the ball forward before returning it to Adeyemi who had continued his run to the right side of the box. The Norwich loanee though appeared get the ball stuck under his feet a little and took one too many touches as he was forced wide giving him only Veiga at his near post to aim at. Syers had another chance on the edge of the box but this time needed no help from the keeper to put it over the bar, then Daley found his way to the byline and this time managed to find James Hanson’s head only a few yards out but a defender managed to deflect it wide.

You began to sense that the feeling from the crowd was changing from believing it was ‘only a matter of time’ to being certain that it was ‘just one of those days’. Still though City continued to apply the pressure good link up play down the right hand side from Eckersley and Daley found Syers waiting on the edge of the box again but his effort was tame and straight at Veiga. Syers was doing everything but put the ball in the back of the net, as Macclesfield broke away he was in defence to make the important tackle and as City attacked he was right at the forefront of it. The next chance once again came his way meeting a cross from the left this time with his head only to be denied by the cross bar. Hendrie and Hanson both had opportunities to equalise before Syers boundless energy once again found him in the opposition box with only Veiga to beat. His shot looked certain to be curling into the corner only for Veiga to get the slightest of fingertips to it to push it wide.

5 minutes were added on but even if Bradford had begun this game at the start of November and continued playing until today they may have been denied! Their luck was out even the efforts of Pidgeley to sprint up the pitch quicker than Omar Daley for a corner was not enough and Maccelsfield came away with a very fortunate 1-0 victory. The effort and endeavour showed by Taylor’s players made a mockery of any rumours that some players were unhappy playing for the manager and they were greeted with a positive reception from the majority of the crowd.

The sponsors named Eckersley as man of the match and, although he became more confident and threatening as the game wore on, the fact that Syers had been overlooked was almost as astounding as the result itself. Had he managed to convert a couple of his many chances then it would have been almost the perfect performance and the Huddersfield scout in the crowd wouldn’t be returning with a report on Macclesfield’s danger men for the cup but asking sugar daddy Dean Hoyle to open his cheque book once more. For that reason at least we can be grateful he didn’t secure us three points and we can still return to Valley Parade on Tuesday night confident that a similar performance will surely earn us three points against Accrington Stanley.

A footballing evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Doc in the house this Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

League Two 2009/10 review – Rochdale, Notts County and Bournemouth’s scrap for promotion and the moral high ground

Even during Keith Hill’s finest hour, the Rochdale manager couldn’t resist taking a swipe.

As Dale celebrated sealing their first promotion since 1969 by defeating Northampton in mid-April, Hill looked ahead to his side’s up-coming Tuesday night visit to title rivals Notts County – which represented their last realistic chance to overturn the Magpies leadership – and declared, “If we can’t catch them, I’m sure the tax man will.”

The Meadow Lane club’s own promotion celebrations had been somewhat tempered by their Board having to fight back against critics’ claiming County had cheated their way to promotion, and Hill received an angry reception from Magpies fans during his team’s subsequent 1-0 loss. But as County attempted to defer the blame for signing players on wages they couldn’t afford onto the previous Munto Finance regime, Hill had a point.

Rochdale’s promotion was more than just the triumph of a small club finally experiencing their day in the sun; Chairman Chris Dunphy and Hill believe it was an achievement for doing things properly. League Two has long being a home to basket case clubs on the brink of financial ruin, often playing up to the nation’s media to attract sympathy about the unbalanced nature of English football. But for clubs who are more prudent in managing budgets and paying the bills, such tales of woe are becoming increasingly wearisome.

For Rochdale there is some gleeful irony in swapping divisions with neighbours Stockport this summer. In Hill’s first full season in charge at Spotland the two clubs reached the League Two play off final, with Stockport triumphing at Wembley. Less than 12 months later, Stockport entered administration after over-stretching themselves financially in recent years. Given that over-stretching had led to promotion at Dale’s expense, the perceived injustice was easy to understand.

Not that Dunphy and Hill are alone in feeling angry. Earlier in the season Macclesfield chairman Mike Rance, who’s club get by on the smallest gates in the division, talked about the unlevel playing field which sees others overspend to the detriment of the Cheshire club’s chances. “Last year, in August, Darlington came here and beat us heavily with a team we couldn’t afford, turns out they couldn’t either.” he told the BBC’s Football League Show. “And this year Notts County came here first game of the season with Sven and beat us heavily with a team we couldn’t afford, clearly they couldn’t either.

“Until the game sorts that out then it’s not going to have any integrity. I think it’s very important we play on a level playing field and some sides just don’t, and we find that disappointing.”

Though no League Two club has gone into administration this season, the emergence of other clubs from difficult times to enjoy some success has left others feeling bitter. While the media has heaped praise on the rebirth of Bournemouth, Rotherham and Accrington, Dunphy and Hill kept up their indignation which had previously led to them calling for clubs who go into administration to booted out the Football League.

Rotherham may have lost their stadium and failed to pay all their creditors during three consecutive seasons of points deductions, but this campaign put financial problems behind them and spent relatively big. This included signing Dale’s star striker Adam le Fondre for an undisclosed fee. Hill’s thoughts on this matter were kept private, but ahead of a trip to Bournemouth last October he hit out at the South-coast club over how unfair he felt it would be if they were promoted. The attack failed to spur on Bournemouth, who lost the game 4-0, though ultimately they did finish above Rochdale.

Meanwhile Accrington faced a winding up order last autumn and had to rely on their local community to donate money into collection buckets. Two months after that crisis was averted, relegation-bound Grimsby reportedly had a six-figure transfer bid for Stanley’s top scorer Michael Symes turned down. It’s hoped the nine-year-old girl who emptied her savings into a bucket to help Accrington last autumn understands the reasoning of “faint play off hopes”.

But while Notts County have pulled back from the brink of administration earlier this year, the wolves may still be at the door. Rumours of having to soon go into administration keep cropping up, and at best County will surely need to ship out their high earners who will still command a wage bill too large for League One. Tough times may lie ahead; Sven’s ‘project’ was yesterday’s dream.

And though Rochdale – who themselves may not be whiter than white – ultimately triumphed alongside in-debt County and Bournemouth, in time others who did not gain promotion this season may eventually look back on Nott’s triumph and begin to feel aggrieved, should the Magpies go on to enter administration.

Dale have shown that more conservative principles of balancing the books and slowly building can eventually succeed; but for more to be encouraged to follow their lead, there must be greater deterrents from taking shortcuts and gambling on success.

Monday, Monday

On Easter Monday evening, BBC 2 showed the whole of “EXTRAS”: Series 1 – fine if you are a fan of Ricky Gervais’ cringingly uncomfortable humour otherwise one to avoid.

Earlier on that same Monday, Bradford City, with its own team of “extras” put on a cringingly uncomfortable performance that brought to mind Ricky’s follow-up and the catchphrase “You havin’ a laugh?” only it wasn’t funny!

In fact Monday’s performance ranked among the worst I have seen this season (fortunately I don’t go to away games) and that was a view echoed by many as I made my way back down Midland Road.

O.K. so the weather and the pitch were poor to say the least and the enforced absence of some of the few remaining crowd “favourites” did nothing to help the situation but none of these excuse such an abject performance.

Now before I go any further I need to say that I have refrained from contributing to BfB since Stuart left – not because I had taken my bat home but to give Peter Taylor a fair chance to make his mark on the side. I had decided that I would follow his lead and wait until the end of the season but yesterday proved too much for me and my resolve failed…. because I care!

Peter Taylor is the best option for Bradford City and its future success I have no doubt about that. But despite all the right noises and some ruthless removal of players, the performance on the pitch is still important to me and Monday was just not good enough.

Much has been said about Taylor’s teams being dour and difficult to beat. Monday’s was dire and too easy to beat. The revolving door policy regarding strikers has proved nothing except that what we have is better than what has been brought in. When the opposition put five in our box for most attacking moves and we are left with Gareth Evans working to almost no avail waiting for support it seems to show that defensive responsibilities are overriding attacks even at home.

The sight of a loan centre half playing as a lone striker proves that none of the “extras” brought in by Taylor can cover for James Hanson in either threat or fitness and, no disrespect to James, but he is an inexperienced player in his first league season. Such a sorry state we find ourselves in.

Do we blame the replacements or is it the style of play that renders them inefficient? Monday’s wind did not help but I lost count of the number of aimless long balls pumped forward with little hope for the front men. This has become increasingly characteristic of Taylor’s teams and goals from open play, whilst spectacular, have been rare.

Without the threat of an outlet player, the all eleven back defensive strategy simply keeps us under threat longer. We don’t look like scoring many and from what I have seen and read on this site the successes we have had are more down to opposition misses rather than defensive strength. (Darlington and Dagenham could so easily have inflicted home upsets if we are being honest.)

Monday’s midfield seemed caught up in the “give it away” panic that permeated the team with only Luke O’Brien showing any vision and perhaps laying down a marker for a more central midfield role next season. We missed him in the second half. At the back we were far too easily outmuscled and mistakes were once again punished in a way we seem unable to replicate when they work in our favour.

As for the despicable treatment of Zesh all I can add is that for once the boo boys were put firmly in their place by those who realise the good he has done in games despite an erratic season.

So if they were bad, it was a meaningless game so why does it matter? Well this week saw the introduction of the second low-rate offer on season tickets – something for which those charged with the running of the club should be given credit. But if the aim is to attract another 5,000 or so to invest in a season ticket then the team should be busting the proverbial gut to demonstrate what such good value they will be getting. How many of the not yet committed would be keen to sign up for another season of what we saw on Monday.

The lack of commitment by some players may well be a valid area of criticism but commitment has to work right through the club and the supporters. Peter Taylor has been accorded the role of manager but to me there is a lot of the “Emperor’s new clothes” about his current situation. Too many seem to feign blindness to the reality of the situation and the way it has been handled. If you want commitment from players and commitment from fans you need commitment from the manager.

Despite all the right noises that commitment is not as yet forthcoming. All the talk about looking at players for next season that has perhaps excused some performances of late that would, under other circumstances, have been loudly derided has a hollow ring to it. Here today, gone tomorrow players have been the norm of the last month or so but we still don’t know if we have a manager for next season. Am I being unduly pessimistic or just realistic? We should soon know but in the meantime it is doing club, players and fans no favours.

As the season struggles to a close we need a lift of some kind to generate the ticket investment for the coming season. If those of us who have already committed feel this way how can we promote the future to those who remain undecided? Much sense has been said on this site about the need for a plan and the need to be open about it.

Tell us the plan, commit to it and just maybe we can forgive last Monday.

Pride in your football club

Like going for a meal at a restaurant as part of a large group, only to be stuck sat next to someone you don’t really know or like; Bradford City and Macclesfield Town laboured through 90 minutes of tedious and repressed interaction – conscious that more fun was been had across the rest of the table and around the room.

35 Football League fixtures took place up and down the country today, only the Championship game between Derby and Ipswich carried as little meaning as this fixture. The easter weekend is traditionally a time for nail-biting, but such drama was absent from the menu of a clash between teams who began the afternoon 16th and 18th. Pride was all that was at stake, the enthusiastic cheers from the visiting fans and players at the final whistle indicated which club found greater pride in winning at Valley Parade.

Instead the clash of the day was between supporters of the same club. When Zesh Rehman allowed himself to be caught in possession on the edge of the area just before half time, former Bantam trainee Emile Sinclair was able to skip through and fire a low shot past Matt Glennon which brought understandable groans of despair from home fans. But when seconds later Rehman’s next subsequent touch was greeted with loud booing from some, it seemed once again Valley Parade had descended into an arena where those who moan the loudest are allowed to represent everyone.

Yet the internal anger at seeing City’s captain booed poured out from the main stand through loud cheering and applauding  when Rehman prepared to take a throw in, and quickly fans from all four sides of the ground were joining in to drown out the boos. It was an uplifting moment triggered by those who so often have to remain silent and allow the volume of anger to dictate subsequent decisions. It was acknowledgement that, while yes Rehman had made a bad mistake and has clearly had a poor season, the undoubtedly high level of effort put in on and off the pitch this season does not warrant such a reaction.

It was about supporters showing pride in their club.

For those who did boo Rehman’s every touch during the final five minutes of the half, what is there to say? Of course they have as much right as anyone to express their views, but booing your own player is putting personal views on team selection ahead of the greater needs of the team and club. It is just as counter-productive as the mistake by Rehman in how much it helps the team.

There’s also a high suspicion it is influenced by some form of resentment about the community efforts Rehman has spear-headed, and mis-guided opinions about why he is even at the club. All season long some fans have half-joked that the Pakistan international only starts games to attract Asian supporters, to the point some even seem to believe it. It is insulting to the player, it is insulting to Stuart McCall and Peter Taylor, it is insulting to the other players, it is insulting to everyone connected with the club.

And so a player who gives his all but struggles for form is singled out for booing in a game where the commitment of many others in Claret could be questioned. City were poor across the pitch, with the lengthening injury list costing Taylor the spine of a team and ripping much of the heart out.

Wide men are in short supply, resulting in central midfielder Steve O’Leary taking an unfamiliar right wing spot and looking far from comfortable. With left back Luke O’Brien struggling to make an attacking impression on the left wing, a predictable route one approach was taken by both sides – the visitors ridiculously over-reliant on the long throws of Matthew Lowe.

Ryan Kendall and Gareth Evans started up front, but the partnership looked disjointed and awkward, with neither able to effectively read each other’s games. A wonder goal against Dagenham aside, Kendall has barely had a kick in the three home games he’s been involved in so far and was withdrawn at half time.

So with the ball not sticking up front or outwide, it was half of direct balls knocked back and forth, only punctured by Rehman’s mistake which gave Macclesfield the lead. Big changes were needed and Taylor shuffled the pack by withdrawing the left back playing as left winger and pushing back the striker in his place; bringing on a right back and moving the central defender at right back to the centre, so the other central defender could push up front; and bringing on a winger to play up front with the defender.

Players out of position is a fact of football life, but City’s square pegs in round holes approach is as much self-inflicted as it is necessitated by injuries.

But the impact was instant, with the former Silkmen Evans charging down the flank and firing in a low cross that substitute Gavin Grant – the winger moved up front – dummied to enable Luke Oliver – the defender pushed into a striker role – to fire home.

It should have provided the momentum for a third Taylor home victory, but the lack of urgency instead enabled Macclesfield to hit back and inflict a first home defeat. Shaun Brisley was allowed the time to run to the byline by the switched-off Robbie Threlfall and Steve Williams, and fired a low ball across which former Lincoln striker Ben Wright fired home.

City had 29 minutes to find a second equaliser, but failed to dictate the tempo and looked unconcerned by the obvious time-wasting efforts of the Silkmen. Evans, one of the few players to demonstrate the necessary commitment, shot narrowly over from distance, then Adam Bolder had two chances in the area but wasted them both. It was an especially poor second half showing from the on-loan midfielder, who kept taking the wrong option and failed to show enough appetite to drive City forwards. Michael Flynn was badly missed.

And the 11 players which ended the game had an unfamiliar feel when thinking back to just a few short weeks ago. Taylor has been able to bring in his own players and allowed others to leave, but the Bantams look no better for the changes even accepting the lengthy injuries. If the club has saved significant money from allowing Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding to leave early, it may be in the best long-term interests compared to pitching them in this meaningless game. Yet the availability of either might have made things different.

While the lack of wide players makes Taylor’s decision to allow Scott Neilson to spend a second month on loan at Cambridge all the more baffling. What is really been gained from his exile at the Abbey Stadium when City don’t have enough fit wingers to select? 18-year-old Ryan Harrison was awarded a senior debut, but nerves appeared to get the better of him. Overlooked fellow sub Leon Osborne may reflect upon this as the afternoon his Bantams career was effectively over.

And though it doesn’t really make much difference to the season that City lost this game, the loud cheering of those visiting fans at the final whistle was significant. It mattered for a club like Macclesfield to win at a club like Bradford City, it should matter to Bradford City to lose to a club like Macclesfield, or anyone. It should be a privilege to play for this club; but to many of the players who allowed the game to drift away, it looked anything but. This should hurt, but it doesn’t seem to.

So City suffer their first pointless easter since 1998, where caretaker Paul Jewell’s chances of the full time job looked to have been ended by an uncommitted squad drifting along in mid-table. This time around there is no such doubts about Taylor’s future – the contract offer will presumably remain on the table until it’s signed – and the hope is a similar scenario will lead onto the kind of promotion success City were on the brink of achieving by easter 1999. Six games to go and City’s players are allowing the season to drift into nothing, but this club and its supporters deserve better than that.  

There is nothing to play for but pride, but pride in playing for Bradford City should be stronger than this.

That game, this game

City’s game at AFC Bournemouth ended 1-0 to the home side who march on towards promotion while City – well – City just march.

The Bantams are directionless in a season which is over to the greater extent – certainly no one connected with BfB desired a trip to the South Coast for what was effectively a dead rubber and so no match report is offered for the game, although perhaps we can reflect on a truism of football: that games are must often won by the team that wants to win them the most.

Certainly when Brett Pitman put in his 41st minute goal at Dean Court and the Bantams only riposte was a Gareth Evans ping off the bar then it became somewhat obvious that the Cherries were going to get the win because they put in the effort to do it. Which is not to accuse the Bantams of having put in a less than 100% effort just that time and time again effort is one thing, motivation another.

Recall, if you will, City’s trip to Wolverhampton on the last day of the 1999 season. Had that game occurred in the meat of the season then few would have expected that even in those glorious 9 months we would have secured a win – a similar success at Portsmouth was considered one of the outstanding results of the year – but because the Bantams needed to win, we did.

Likewise when City played Portsmouth in the previous season in a game Pompey needed to win of avoid relegation which would eventually befall Manchester City so the South Coast side were victors. Bradford City beat promotion chasing Charlton and QPR in the last four days of the season ending May 1997 seemed a remote possibility but happened.

The team that needs to win most often wins and so it was yesterday. Tomorrow the Bantams entertain Macclesfield Town – a club who saw their season horribly interrupted by the death of manager Keith Alexander – who sit below the Bantams in League Two. There is little requirement for either side to win the game with only lower mid-table positions to play for and so Peter Taylor is charged with trying to motivate a squad that has little to play for.

Little to play for a fewer players to play with. James Hanson and Ryan Kendall both limped away from Saturday’s trip to the South Coast and join Omar Daley and Michael Flynn as potential strikers all – prospectively – out of contention. The merits of paying Michael Boulding and – especially – Peter Thorne to stay at home comes into sharp focus if Gavin Grant – a player who is not paid at all – is to start up front for City.

Playing against his former club Gareth Evans should also take a forward role assuming these injuries continue with Leon Osborne – or perhaps Luke Sharry – taking the right hand side. Lee Bullock and Adam Bolder play central, Luke O’Brien left.

Zesh Rehman got a plus point on Saturday with an off the line clearance and continues at right back in the absence of Simon Ramsden with Luke Oliver and Steve Williams in the middle and Robbie Threlfall at left back. Matt Glennon in goal.

The football culture, Keith Alexander and Rotherham United

Don’t send me flowers when I’m dead. If you like me, send them while I’m alive – Brian Clough

Search Facebook on Wednesday afternoon and you would find the group We Hate Keith Alexander

Football did not come to a sobering halt with the news of the death at 53 of Macclesfield Town manager Keith Alexander and perhaps did not even skip a beat but rolled on to watching England beat Egypt with the players wearing black armbands and Clive Tyldesley waxing lyrical about a man who’s team one doubts he could place on a map.

The booing of John Terry went on regardless, clubs like Farsley Celtic – the very type of low level club that as a player and manager Alexander served so diligently – continued to struggle to keep going, the people at the “We Hate…” group carried on swearing and being obnoxious. For all the shock and sadness of the death of an iconoclast manager football did not miss a beat, and that is a shame.

Alexander is lauded in death, but hardly appreciated. Tyldesley called him the type of man who is so important to football at the lower levels but is part of the very machine that tries to grind out that level of the game. Alexander’s death is shocking, but his work in life was no doubt sadly frustrating.

A man who gave his life to a the levels of game which seems prepared to allow that level to wither and die. Hardly an appreciation.

Gareth Evans will show appreciation. Evans credits Alexander with helping turn his career around at Macclesfield following his release from Manchester United and indeed it is over a tackle by Evans that the “We Hate…” group emerged.

The group – started by those lovely Notts County supporters – is hardly unique indeed the very discussion of football seems to be conducted by a not insignificant section of fans in this kind of hateful, disturbing way. A search for “Stuart McCall” turns up groups like “stuart mccall’s a ****” and “I HAT (sic) BRADFORD CITY AND STUART MCCALL BUMS DAVID WETHERALL” alongside calls for the former City boss to be given the job of Prime Minister.

Why is it that a section of football is so ready to communicate in such hateful terms? Mark Lawn considers this so much of a problem on Bradford City’s official message board that he wants to take steps against it by removing the anonymity of that site although the Facebook experience suggests that that will not be a total remedy.

Indeed as tributes were pouring in about Alexander some England fans at Wembley were booing and jeering John Terry who has been the subject of shocking abuse as football continues the culture that allows abuse to sit alongside criticism as if the two are natural bedfellows, leading to a suggestion that the one will bleed into the other.

BfB was asked to not criticise Mark Lawn and – when the joint chairman’s car was vandalised after the Accrington Stanley game – there was a suggestion that (what I consider to be very valid) criticism by one person becomes abuse by another that becomes violence.

This week a reader asked that the site not “fall into the trap of criticising Taylor after two weeks” following a news story about Scott Neilson going out on loan while Gavin Grant comes in and in a welcome and friendly exchange I details how Taylor will be criticised when he does things that people do not like – such as bringing in too many loan players, a continued bugbear of mine – and praised when he does things that people consider right such as switching back to 442 or retaining Wayne Jacobs.

No one need create a “We Hate Peter Taylor Group” because of it and no one has to vandalise a car.

Football culture has a continued problem with the inability to separate criticism from abuse and perhaps if we want to pay tribute to the memory of Keith Alexander we might look at how servants of the game such as he are regularly the subject of abuse which is as disturbing when he was alive as it is now he has passed on and see what we can do to change that.

Should the FA want to pay tribute to Alexander they might also look at the state of lower league football and the finances that sees Sheffield Wednesday – no one’s idea of a small fry club – the latest team to be talking about administration. The gold rush of the Premier League seems to be coming to an end and the clubs involved seem to have frittered away that wealth and perhaps there needs to be redress in show the money is distributed that would give managers like Alexander more of an even hand. A wider discussion for another time.

The abuse of managers and the struggles of club’s to stay in business comes to the fore when Bradford City face a team managed by Ronnie Moore. Moore had wanted City to be thrown out of football for going into administration but has since, no doubt, revised a view that would have seen his current club Rotherham United bounced out of the game.

I think Moore’s view was out of touch, unsympathetic and needlessly harsh but I understand the frustrations he had in trying to sign players and being outbid by the Bantams and feel that football could have learnt from that. Indeed City were out-offered by The Millers for Paul Shaw,Pablo Mills and – later – Nicky Law Jnr which suggests that even the smaller points Moore made have been ignored.

Rotherham are smarting from a 4-0 defeat at Rochdale in the week and have slipped to fifth from the lofty position Mark Robbins took the club to at the start of the season. The Miller’s Don Valley Stadium has seen only seven wins this season – two or three fewer than their promotion rivals – and seems to be as unwelcoming for the “home” support as it is for the visitors. The place is bitterly cold and the pitch not good for playing football on.

Not that that will stop Peter Taylor’s strong men at the front with the Bantams playing an increasingly air based game. Mark McCammon – who turned down Rotherham to join City – and James Hanson can expect the ball to come direct and to look for wide men Gareth Evans and Luke O’Brien for lay-offs to allow for delivery. Goals from under five passes are the order of the day, especially on pitches like the Don Valley.

Scott Neilson’s loan move to Cambridge United is a strange one. His replacement – Gavin Grant, who made a debut at Aldershot and was himself subject to abuse from his new supporters – is a non-contract player and should he wish can leave Bradford City whenever he wants. Neilson cannot return to the club for a month regardless and one has to wonder why the experience that is given from playing for the Bantams should be given to Grant and not to Neilson.

Peter Taylor wants Neilson to get some first team games but leaves him out of our first team. As a player he is obviously capable and has shown us such. The instability the club has been put into is underlined by the idea that one of the squad could simply wander away at the drop of a hat.

Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock both had chances to get an equaliser against Aldershot in the week and were unlucky not to do so. The pair can point back to the 4-2 defeat at Valley Parade earlier this season as proof that they have been able to boss a midfield against the Millers – goals scored from wherever you want, or offside, are not proof of a good midfield – and should prepare for battle. For all Nicky Law’s abilities “getting stuck in” was not one of them.

At the back Luke Oliver – all six foot seven of him – is expected to make a debut in the place of Matthew Clarke with Steve Williams retaining his place. Robbie Threlfall and Simon Ramsden continue in front of Matt Glennon.

Filling the holes to make Bradford City’s promotion bid wholesome

Stuart McCall’s managerial career has so far been characterised by openness and honesty, and the Bradford City boss’ frustration was typically exposed by his body language after watching his team dominate for 90 minutes against Macclesfield Town only come away with a 2-2 draw.

Having walked over to applaud travelling  City supporters following the final whistle, Stuart turned away and began shaking his head in a manner which revealed a lack of satisfaction despite the Bantams recovery from 2-0 behind. The half time advantage enjoyed by the Silkmen had been clawed back within the second half’s first 15 minutes, but despite continuing to press hard for a deserved winner, the ball just wouldn’t cross the line for a third time. City had almost double the shot count and forced double the amount of corners, yet as Stuart shook his head and headed back to the dressing room he must know his team lacked more than just a bit more luck.

Defensive shortcomings continue to undermine City’s cause. Having begun the season conceding eight goals in two matches, the leaks have been somewhat filled but the Bantams remain far from watertight. Four minutes into the afternoon at Moss Rose, a seemingly overhit clearance by home keeper Jon Brain was allowed to run between central defenders Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman and Colin Daniel headed the ball over the onrushing Simon Eastwood and into the net.

All three City players appeared culpable with Williams missing the chance to head clear, Rehman’s indecisiveness causing him to move too late towards cutting out the ball – in the process allowing Daniel to run through – and Eastwood seemingly too quick to rush out his goal when staying on his line might have offered him a greater chance of saving the effort. The sun was probably in Eastwood’s eye – someone forgot to bring along a goalkeeper cap – and he had been warned, conceding a similar goal when warming up with Jon McLaughlan. The goal was messy, the goal was feeble and such goals have been conceded too often during the campaign’s first three months.

Macclesfield had only three purposeful attacks during the first half; the second of which required Luke O’Brien to clear off his own line after poor marking from a corner and the third saw another goal conceded after Emile Sinclair crossed low for Hamza Bencherif to bundle home. That was four minutes before the end of a half City had otherwise dominated and if the Bantams are to make the step up from mid-table to promotion contenders the team’s backbone is going to have to become stronger.

Simon Eastwood has played 18 times for Bradford City and Simon Eastwood has conceded 30 goals. The young keeper’s form may not be the sole reason for City’s defensive shortcomings, but his numerous slips ups – punished or otherwise – breed uncertainty across his defensive colleagues. At times he has made superb saves which have earned City points, but in almost every game he seemingly presents an unnecessary opportunity to the opposition and continues to fail in commanding his area. Last week Stuart spoke of retaining the on-loan Huddersfield youngster beyond January but, while it’s clear he is potentially brilliant goalkeeper, the concern is the rate of improvement he’s shown since the start of the season hasn’t been quick enough to suggest he should be trusted to continue it through a whole season. If Stuart has the budget for a replacement now – and that could be a big if – he may consider his options ahead of next Friday’s trip to Meadow Lane.

Meanwhile Rehman endured another difficult 45 minutes and, despite pushing Lee Bullock close for man of the match against Hereford last week, his recent form is erratic. Up against the imposing Ben Wright, who was the focal point to Macclesfield’s route one game plan, Rehman at times allowed himself to be bullied and on other occasions got too tight in trying to prevent Wright from laying off the ball. During one home attack Sinclair was offered the chance to run at Rehman. With little cover behind City’s captain, Rehman dived in to make a challenge which might have seen him win the ball or risked him giving away a free kick, on this occasion he was left on the floor with Sinclair sprinting away. Merely standing his ground and holding up Sinclair seemed the more sensible option. Rehman and Williams are building a promising partnership, but the redemption of Matt Clarke to first team duty may not be the unthinkable option many fans considered it to be at the start of the season.

Defensive failings aside, City carried the game to Macclesfield and spurned numerous first half chances. Scott Neilson shot just wide, James Hanson headed over, Gareth Evans was denied by a good defensive block and the best move of the half saw Michael Flynn superbly play Neilson through one-on-one only to be denied by Brain’s strong reaction save. Macclesfield were reduced to playing like an away side, on the counter attack, with the impressive Sinclair – once a Bantam – enjoying a fascinating battle against Luke O’Brien which the young defender emerged from with plenty of credit.  The boos from some City fans at half time were born out of frustration, but were still inexcusable.

But though the 4-3-3 formation had proved reasonably effective again, Stuart switched to 4-4-2 in the second half introducing Michael Boulding for the flagging – and again unimpressive – Chris Brandon to partner James Hanson and pushing Neilson and Evans into wide positions. If the goal City were now attacking had inadequately been protected by the visiting defence in the first half, the hosts fared little better playing in front of it during the second.

Brain has previous with City after laughably allowing David Brown to score the only goal in the league meeting two seasons ago, and displayed hesitancy in everything he did. His first three involvements in the second half saw him misjudge a long punt forwards which bounced over his head and just wide of the goal, palm a weak Hanson effort back into a dangerous part of his penalty area when he should have scooped the ball up and slice a back pass clearance out for a corner. Each mistake encouraged City further, each mistake added to Macclesfield nerves. It seemed implausible Brain would end the game with a clean sheet.

Sure enough City got back into it after Hanson headed home James O’Brien’s corner and eight minutes later Flynn’s low long range effort was parried by Brain straight into Williams’ path to tap home and spark wild celebrations. The momentum growing, City continued to pile on the pressure and a more dominant City 45 minutes of attacking football has not been seen since City recovered from 2-0 and 3-2 down at Luton last January. James O’Brien saw a free kick sail just wide, the lively Neilson brilliantly cut inside but shot too straight towards Brain, Flynn typically attempted another long range effort which went narrowly past the post, Boulding spun his marker but the resultant strike lacked pace and Rehman saw a scrambled effort cleared off the goal line. In the second half only Luke O’Brien and Jon Bateson failed to muster a shot on goal.

As City pushed on, gaps emerged at the back and Macclesfield enjoyed a five minute spell of pressure which saw Wright head against the post and Ross Draper shoot wide, but the one way traffic soon recommenced and Evans almost managed a headline-stealing winner against his former club when his great run and deflected long range shot bounced off the crossbar. The half time booing was replaced by a standing ovation for the players at the final whistle and it was difficult to recall a more impressive half of football from City all season.

So many positives to take; but although League Two results elsewhere show the leading pack isn’t sprinting away, that the impressiveness of City this season hasn’t placed the Bantams among them can no longer solely be attributed to that slow start. Stuart needs to find a way of shoring up the defensive holes or risks them ultimately sinking the club’s promotion chances.

In no mood to speak as City go to Macclesfield

The week had started with a chatter around BfB with articles upon articles about the sending off of Lee Bullock last weekend, about the game in which he was sent off when the Bantams beat Hereford, about the stewarding of the game and on to suspensions and how they work and Leeds and what is going on there.

It was like old times, a little too like old times, and thus it arrived in the form of US Sports Academy in Alabama and an obnoxious report. Mark Lawn speaks for us all saying

“If they want to mention the fire and quote what actually happened then by all means do, but to connect it with hooligans is wrong and for him to actually do that is derogatory to the people who lost their lives.”

What is to be done about such massive mis-representation. The Bantams supporters simply do not have the numbers of Liverpool supporters who so often find themselves in similar situations and cannot mount the boycotts and rapid responses. People write the odd letter and they fire off emails and they are right to do so but unlike the Comeuppance Steve Cohen had visited on him we will never cause a quake that can shake financially and so are left to appeal to whatever good nature might be found in places like Sport Journal.

Mis-representation then that sours a week and very little in the way of a solution aside from this suggestion. Misinformation in the form of the Sport Journal or When Good Times Go Bad 3 is not going to go away nor will the clips be removed from You Tube and the likes. They will not be removed but misinformation can be competed with and better with information.

Information similar to Paul Firth’s book on the subject – well researched, truthful, honest – which stands in competition to the misinformation to allow those curious to find that truth. The club could do this but better that it works with supporters – the same supporters who are rightly activated and appalled by events like this week – to create a web resource of information for those who want to know the truth and put right shocking, shameful, disgusting lies.

So to Macclesfield and the mood is soured. The Bantams are looking to build on last week’s hard win despite the absence of the suspended Bullock who will be replaced by James O’Brien who signed a new 18 month deal with the Bantams following three months of excellent play after his arrival from Birmingham City while Chris Brandon – who is said to be keen to press his abilities in central midfield – will make a three with O’Brien and Michael Flynn.

The midfield three will have Scott Neilson dropping back from a three up front to join in with James Hanson and Gareth Evans – who faces the club that he credits with turning around his career after his release from Manchester United – in the forward line.

Jonathan Bateson will retain his place at right back with Simon Ramsden still injured. Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams are in the middle and Luke O’Brien at left back. Simon Eastwood is in goal.

Thanks to Deano addiction now has a purpose

Being a supporter of a football team (and having read Paul Firth’s excellent article, I use the word ‘supporter’ very carefully) is a careless addiction. Little did I know when my Dad carried me through the Kop turnstile as a four year old, that the slippery slope towards addiction had begun.

As is often the case with addicts, I’m not entirely sure when the ‘want’ to go to matches became a ‘need’ to go, but perversely, I’m fairly sure it was around the time that I stopped actually enjoying games involving my beloved Bantams. As anyone who has read Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, or indeed for anyone who follows City, will appreciate, football matches are not wholly enjoyable experiences.

It probably says quite a lot about our society that many of us persist in aligning ourselves with this painful ritual for forty weeks of every year. It’s the anticipation that I find so difficult to understand. The week prior to matches is spent in glorious anticipation of the weekend’s fixture; the previous weekend’s torture conveniently moved to another part of the brain.

After all this anticipation, the match itself should be a release. It isn’t. It’s a further build-up of tension and frustration, usually followed by disappointment, which reigns until the anticipation of yet another match kicks in. Victories are appreciated, but rarely enjoyed – the avoidance of the disappointment of defeat overriding the joy of victory… such is the strange and perverse world of the football supporter, or perhaps that’s just me.

But sometimes, just sometimes, one of those games comes along. A game that I enjoy. Strange as it may seem, I found yesterday’s victory over Macclesfield thoroughly enjoyable. Perhaps expectations had dipped following the previous weeks’ debacles; perhaps the disappointment hadn’t given way to anticipation prior to kick-off; perhaps others felt just like me.

Or perhaps the answer is much simpler than that, and perhaps his name is Dean Furman. Here is a player who should be a crowd favourite for his effort alone. Yet Furman marries his endeavour with great skill and all the attributes of a complete midfield player. I thoroughly enjoy watching this guy play football. He clearly is too good for League Two but unlike other loan players who think they are too good for this level (and aren’t), playing for Bradford City seems to mean something to Furman.

I love the way he moves the ball, the way he passes, the way he tackles, the way he shoots. Common themes run through his play: a purpose, a determination, a grabbing the situation by the scruff of its neck and coming out on top. None more were his attributes displayed than two instances last night. Firstly, as City attacked the Bradford End, Macclesfield broke away with men over. As the ball was pushed past Furman he took down his man with no great subtlety and received a deserved booking. Not his greatest moment in many respects, but he did what was best for Bradford City in that situation and that’s just fine in my book.

Secondly, and more obviously brilliant, was his goal. Picking up the ball in midfield he drove with purpose at the blue wall in front of him, rolling the ball in to Boulding, who for once held off his man, before expertly playing the ball back into Furman’s path. The midfielder finished off expertly with his left foot to cap another brilliant performance. We look a really good team when we play with tempo and purpose. Dean Furman is the epitome of these attributes.

Last night’s performance was refreshing in the wake of a couple of horror-shows. I think (though I’m not entirely sure) that I may have still enjoyed last night’s performance had we not won, but I went away with a smile on my face following a great performance and a great victory. Another few smiles before May and we may be able to celebrate the avoidance of the disappointment of not gaining promotion!

It rains on the just and the unjust alike

A lesson: Nothing is every as bad or as good as it seems.

Two defeats on the road were supposed to have derailed the Bantams promotion bid however at the end of a frighteningly cold bordering gale evening City sit fifth three points away from the automatic promotion slots with a home game on Saturday.

That City ended the game was in large part down to Stuart McCall sending the Bantams out with a game plan and the players sticking to it.

The conditions saw every ball that went over shoulder height blown and blustered off course and given an element of unplayability which which was only countered with low, passing football which the Bantams steadfastly adhered to.

In the opening minute Steve Jones – who enjoyed perhaps his most disciplined, most useful game for the Bantams – got on the end of some useful play by Nicky Law Jnr on the left and took a heavy challenge in box. The referee ignored Jones’s half hearted appeals and his limp away but the scene was set for the ninety minutes of near constant City forward motion.

Macclesfield Town – managed by Keith Alexander in a way which is not impressing the locals – threatened little in the game and not at all in the first half when they played with the wind behind them. Alexander’s game plan involved long balls to strikers Gareth Evans and former City young player Emile Sinclair and very little else.

Alexander’s opposite number in the Bantams dug out had the luxury of better players more capable of using the ball on the ground and more of an idea of what to do in possession. Dean Furman – booked for cutting down an attack cynically – resisted the urge to cross a wide ball and drove into the box cutting back to Steve Jones who whacked a shot against the bar. Michael Boulding and Barry Conlon almost beat former City trialist Jon Brain with headers. City pushed.

Eventually – after half time – that pressure resulted in a well crafted goal when Furman tucked a ball into Boulding who held it up manfully and released back to the midfielder who slotted in on the hour.

The Bantams never looked like surrendering the lead with Joe Colbeck – who previously in the game had struggled to blend back into the rhythm of the rest of the side – started to regain a dangerous edge on the right wing and Nicky Law Jnr’s tireless midfield running opened the visitors up a number of times. Peter Thorne – a late sub – Barry Conlon and Jones could have added to the lead.

The single goal was enough and the Bantams climbed the table. It was thanks to McCall – if you believe the manager carries the can for all ills and thus gets credit for all good things – or his players who not once failed to seize the responsibility they failed to show before should you be of the mindset that those who kick the ball are in charge of all.

Me, I like to think that there is a synergy in a football club and that tonight City identified a way of playing and stuck to it and were rewarded. It was not the greatest win, rain and wind is not the hardest problem to solved but they proved too much for Alexander of Macclesfield but McCall of City untied the knot.

It rains on the just and the unjust alike and football managers are beset with being judged on the results of games such as this that hang in the balance.

Nothing is ever as good, or as bad, as it seems but things certainly seem better for City..

McCall looks to show the guts as City face Macclesfield at Valley Parade

Today we discuss: How much are the clubs managed like the manager?

It is often felt that a manager maketh a team in his image from the attacking entertainment of Newcastle United and Kevin Keegan to the sturdy charges of Steve Bruce at Wigan Athletic the manager’s template becomes the team’s tactics. Certainly a glance down the table suggests that that theory is enjoying prominence save the odd exception – Arsene Wengers’s players are much better than he ever was – with the likes of David Moyes creating a stocky team and Martin O’Neill a determined and able one.

This has not always been the case. Bryan Robson’s meat and potatoes Middlesbrough – and his potatoes and nothing much else City sides – were a million miles away from the most exciting midfielder in the country he was when he skippered England while the playing on his own winger that was Paul Jewell begat a side built around playing for each other.

Stuart McCall’s Bradford City team have turned in – it is widely felt – two gutless performances totally at opposite to the way the midfield terrier himself used to race around the pitch trying to kick every ball. McCall showed more passion in the last minute of a 4-0 defeat at Coventry than some of his charges did at 0-0.

It must be galling for McCall to watch players who put in less effort although few would doubt the City manager had an engine near unparalleled in the game and how McCall reacts to the realisation that his finest quality is also one of the rarest defines his relationship with the players. Unerring passer Glenn Hoddle’s famed disgust at the lack of technical skills in the England dressing room that included David Beckham led to his exclusion of the pre-iconic winger from his 1998 World Cup side but – as one of those players put it – “We can’t all be Glenn Hoddle.” It seemed the England manager had not realised that.

So Stuart McCall looks for a response for his players who were criticised last week for not taking enough responsibility for the performance and have failed to redress that balance. McCall points out – to deaf ears perhaps – that as disappointing for all that the team’s 3-1 defeat at Notts County was it was not the overwhelming that the scoreline and resultant negativity suggests. “They have only had four shots and three of them have gone in” said the City boss.

The negativity is something that has grown since this fixture – Bradford City v Macclesfield Town – opened last season and is a fact of life for a football manager. There is an old adage repeated in Syd Fields book on screenwriting where nine of ten people stopped when walking down an L.A. street and asked “How is your script coming on?” replied “Brilliant, but how did you know I was writing one?”

Blindly as football fans of any colour or stripe if they are happy with their club’s manager then perhaps it would be all but one in ten who grumbled back to you. Most football supporters talk much about the need for stability at their club but alas it always seems that there is an element who believes that that stability starts with the next manager.

A wider point on management is that it works best when allowed to enact longer term planning, a specific one is that our management has started to manifest the first improvement in demonstrative results in ten years and an even more specific point is that ludicrousness of the thought to replacing our gaffer with someone who is fairing more poorly at a club in our division.

City start two home game – two more – that promise to be season defining but ultimately success and failure in both will not guarantee nor deny promotion with Macclesfield being followed by Aldershot Town on Saturday and do so with a squad that has questions over fitness as much as attitude.

It escapes no one that since he lunged for a ball against Darlington Rhys Evans has conceded seven goals where previously he was keeping clean sheets but the goalkeeper seems to be City’s only option between the sticks and is not held liable for the goals on the whole either. The defence that was solid is not anything but and there are calls for Paul Arnison to be restored and Matthew Clarke dropped for Zesh Rehman to be put into the heart of the defence. The experiences at Luton Town suggest that three – not two – big lads to head the ball away is no bad thing and while he has performed well for most of this season the fact that this debate on who should form the back four never includes Luke O’Brien is curious. The lad has done exceptionally well since he broke into the first team but accepting the three big fellas rule then it is he or Arnison and not both.

The midfield is a problem area. It is a scant month since Nicky Law Jnr had to be acquired at all costs and now it seems he is part of a team who are not fit to wear the shirt – or so supporters sang on Saturday – and the continued use of loan players in the middle and fear that some – well, only me perhaps – had that it would make a soft centred team are realised. Not that Dean Furman, Law and Steve Jones are to shoulder all the blame for the last two results. Perhaps those three players – with the detachment that being a transient singing gives you – look at the past 180s minutes and say “Teams lose away from home, that is football, you make up for it with a couple of wins at home.”

The loss of Omar Daley and perhaps use of Chris Brandon shapes the midfield as would – if they were true – the rumours of an absence for Paul McLaren. In the never that humble opinion of this writer McLaren and Furman would be City’s best engine room with Joe Colbeck on the right and Steve Jones the left which is tantamount to admitting that until Brandon is fit we are playing with ten men – or one man hobbled – but virtue of having to play Jones on what is very obviously an uncomfortable position.

Peter Thorne – having scored his first goal in four months – is expected to be joined by Barry Conlon up front with Michael Boulding doing little to engender good will in the first half on Saturday. There is something of a debate on the need for another striker at the club which perhaps encapsulates the entire problem with City not just this last two weeks but perhaps going back years.

Players- and for that matter managers – are never given the expectation that they can and should improve but rather are aimed at to be shunted away and replaced. I don’t think that City need a new striker, I think last season’s top scorer and a guy who once cost £3m should take responsibility for playing well.

That is what Stuart McCall would have done. That is how this club should be managed like the manager.

A team game

Among the strong bluster of disapproval which resulted from Tuesday evening’s Carling cup nightmare at Huddersfield, there was one line of criticism which particularly stood out.

In response to manager Stuart McCall’s post-match omission that their League One opponents had been a class above during their 4-0 triumph, some argued that this shouldn’t have been the case because the summer recruitments – the majority from the division above – should leave us with a team which could hold it’s own in England’s third tier. Given the club’s ambition is be competing at the top end of League One next season; doubts were raised at the team’s ability to achieve it.

No one would argue Tuesday was anything other than woeful, but it was the way City collapsed having fallen behind – rather than his players capabilities – which will have concerned Stuart the most. It’s a squad still needing time to gel and, as a test of what it is capable of, playing Huddersfield was too much, too soon. Everyone can see we have good players, but it will take time to become a good team.

The basic surroundings of Moss Rose proved ideal for rebuilding battered pride and switching focus back to the season’s main objective of promotion from League Two. City will face tougher games over the coming months than a poor Macclesfield side could offer, but this comfortable victory will help build confidence for them.

Right from kick off, with City quickly winning possession and straight on the attack, it was clear the players were determined to make up for Tuesday’s disappointment. Two early goals made for a comfortable afternoon as City went up and down the gears, rarely threatening to lose grip of the game. If a more emphatic scoreline looked probable at one stage, it was still an impressive 90 minutes from the Bantams.

Unlike Tuesday, City played like a team. A team with an impressive forward line; Peter Thorne again the hero with a second double strike in two starts. The first a looping header from a delightful cross which flew into the far corner, the second a poacher’s effort after poor control by Silkmen defender Sean Hessey allowed him the chance. Last season’s top scorer had to wait until November to net his first goal and, with four already, the prospects of a bigger return this campaign look good.

Alongside him Michael Boulding looked more the part after an underwhelming full debut at the Galpharm. He made some impressive runs and took up clever positions. It might not be the kindest comparison, but he is the first City striker since Michael Branch with the ability to run the channels, popping up all over in and around the penalty area. The former Aston Villa striker had chances to open his Bantams account, most notably hitting the post in the second half.

A team with wingers who excite if also frustrate. Joe Colbeck returned from suspension and, while quiet by his standards, set up Thorne’s opener and played a part in his second. Omar Daley was back on form and terrorised Macclesfield’s shaky backline on several occasions. Just like against Notts County the week before, he almost scored from a mazy dribble which began in his own half, just taking too long to get in his shot after reaching the penalty area. Opposition managers will become increasingly wary of Omar’s threat on the break and, like Boulding, he was unlucky to see a second half effort come back off the woodwork.

A team with a capable central midfield. Lee Bullock hasn’t torn up any trees during his first two games this season, but caught the eye with an impressive display. Paul McLaren continues to play things simple and some his best work isn’t always noticed. It might not work every game, but the duo controlled the tempo and set up several attacks.

A team looking solid and mobile at the back. Macclesfield, who’s first half wretchedness was probably best summed up when, on the end of heavy pressure in their area, a defender managed to clear the ball to their striker on half way only for the flag to go up, showed more fight in the second. Substitutes Izak Reid and Francis Green made a difference, the latter unlucky not to pull a goal back after his shot was tipped over by the impressive Rhys Evans.

The home side had a strong penalty shout rejected, but otherwise found City’s defence too strong. Paul Arnison has been criticised for his performances so far, but defended efficiently and got forward well. On the opposite side Paul Heckingbottom has made a bright start to the season while Matt Clarke continues to look solid, his distribution improved from Tuesday.

But it’s his central defensive partner and club captain Graeme Lee who fans were raving about at the final whistle. His best moment in an outstanding display came in the second half when, with Macclesfield adopting manager Keith Alexander’s trademark tactics of pumping the ball into the box, he headed the ball clear four times in quick succession. Just like Peter Thorne with Dean Windass, Lee is showing there is life after a club legend and his on-looking predecessor, David Wetherall, would have been proud.

All of which ensured Macclesfield were out of ideas well before the end and City could have easily had two or three more to reflect their superiority. Billy Topp – who’s dominated the post-Huddersfield discussions – came off the bench for his first appearance of the season and looked sharp. A look at the unused subs is another reason to feel optimistic.

This is a team which isn’t fully there just yet, there were still moments where players could have done better and understandings still need developing. In the closing stages Evans and Daley had an argument after the Jamaican gave away the ball in a bad position and Lee, as captain, had to get involved. Daley has managed to lose his cool at some point in each game so far and while that might be a concern it’s also a sign he cares. As does the way Evans and Lee argued with the winger and other players helped to later calm him down by talking to him.

What sort of season City will enjoy is still unclear, but the indications are positive from the two league displays so far. This is team with great potential and, when it is up to full speed, should prove difficult to stop. Tuesday’s shocker will take time to forget, but this team looks capable of celebrating something far more significant than a place in the second round of the Cup come May.

The things we think and do not say – Macclesfield Town vs Bradford City – League Two 2008/2009 preview

Let’s try that again.

Bradford City are the favourite to go up from League Two this year after bringing in a clutch of quality players to add to a strong squad that finished last year.

It never happened.

That strong squad recorded City’s first opening day win since 2001 last week when Notts County were beaten 2-1 at Valley Parade. The first game of the season is always tough and as up for it as the likes of Omar Daley – impressive on the right wing – was that day the Magpies were equally as motivated to get a good start. Every first day win is good.

What about the first round of the cup? Move on. Minimise.

Stuart McCall was part of a City team that won promotion to the Premiership after losing the first game of the season at home to Stockport County so Peter Thorne’s two goals will not have convinced the Gaffer that City are assured promotion – just that they are three points nearer it.

But when, where will the next three points come?

Rhys Evans retains his place in goal despite that night – I thought we were not mentioning that night… -but McCall may look to the axe elsewhere. Paul Arnison does not deserve it by TJ Moncur may get a chance over him.

Right wing? Moncur? What is going on Stuart?

Graeme Lee, on the other hand, is immense and keeps his place as – one suspects – will Matthew Clarke – He has had better nights… Mark Bower never used to give the ball away as often as that. Paul Heckingbottom is playing well but and the fact that Chris Brandon is in training but not match fit will probably mean that Kyle Nix keeps his place.

He was quiet in the second half. He is a great player but so easily falls out of plans.

Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren will continue in the middle although their was a worry as they lost the control of the midfield they had after an hour in the first game.

Faded. The middle of the field was open and he just ran straight through them. They are both pushing thirty, maybe they don’t have the legs. Minimise. Move on.

Last season’s player of the season Joe Colbeck – he is not tainted – is expected to make a first start ahead of Omar Daley on the right wing and Peter Thorne will return up front alongside Michael Boulding who makes his first league start with Barry Conlon dropping to the bench.

But Barry did things and Boulding was so… nothing. He is great – I’ve seen him be great – but he needed to do more that night…

McCall looks to continue the good league form and build on the win over Notts County.

Return us to hope Stuart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoiding the Brown Stuff

On occasions this season, it’s been difficult not to arrogantly believe that we’re better than this.

I refer not only to playing in the basic surroundings of opponents like Macclesfield Town, who’s tiny and unremarkable stadium is a different league to our Valley Parade home, but of the quality and manner of football we play. It’s not that we don’t produce pleasing on-the-eye passing that belongs in a higher level than League Two, the first half of the midweek Shrewsbury home win a perfect illustration, but on other occasions we can be reduced to playing the limited kick and rush style that England’s bottom professional division is reputed for.

Saturday’s fortuitous victory over Macclesfield was certainly a performance more about hope than confidence, haste rather than control, fluster rather than fluency. It‘s very easy to be critical of so many elements of the performance and most things Stuart will have learned from a cold February afternoon will probably be negatives.

Had City lost, and they could so easily have, the journey home for us 900 away fans would have been largely spent complaining and telling each other how the season is over. Yet for all the criticism City’s performance might justifiably warrant, the fact is we won. As the final whistle blew the players were warmly applauded from the pitch and I couldn’t help but have a mischievous grin thinking of how the victory had been earned.

How many times in recent years, particularly last season, have away teams rolled up to Valley Parade and undeservedly won? As our season went so badly wrong this time last year, I would often read through the Monday’s Telegraph and Argus match reports and look at the stats. City would invariably have had more shots and corners and I knew we had deserved to win, but the only statistic that would alter the league table was the final score. We can acknowledge some familiarity in thinking how Macclesfield fans would have gone home cursing their side’s luck and bemoaning the lack of firepower.

On Saturday that lack of firepower could be squarely blamed on former City striker Michael Symes. The on-loan Shrewsbury man would have been keen to show us the talent we rarely glimpsed during his two year Valley Parade stay, yet the hat trick of chances he squandered in quick succession midway through the second half could all be characterised by the weakness of the attempt on goal. Each time Symes had the time and space to do better and each time Scott Loach was able to make a comfortable save. When Symes burst through again and sent over a low cross that should have been a tap in, he misjudged the situation and the ball rolled harmlessly across the goal.

But if one keeper’s bad mistake handed the win on a plate, it was the other keeper who sealed it. Loach earned many admirers following his midweek debut but his performance at Moss Rose was something else.

All this came during a strong period of home dominance following an uninspiring first 60 minutes from both sides. City never seemed to be able to get going and force a spell of pressure, other than the occasional flurry of corners. Macclesfield played a high defensive line which largely succeeded in stopping City getting forward. When we would win the ball and attack, too often we would lose the ball just inside the Macclesfield half.

Part of this was down to the unnecessary level of urgency when we have possession which is regularly seen away from home. It’s as if we must be on the attack instantly as long passes are launched forward hopefully or balls released for our wingers that they have little chance of reaching. We usually seem to be able to play in a much calmer way at home and you wish City would try to execute their tempo on the match. Surely it’s better for us to be passing the ball around in our own half, rather than letting the opposition do so?

A lack of a target man also didn’t help. We badly needed the ball to stick when our forwards received it but this is less Peter Thorne’s and certainly Willy Topp’s game. The latter produced some good touches and looked a threat, but ultimately we’ll need more from him as he learns the English game. In hindsight Barry Conlon might have been a better option to start the game.

Without a target man, we could still have succeeded with wingers stretching the game and running at the home defenders so they drop back. Joe Colbeck’s display, easily his worst in recent weeks, ensured that the suspended Omar Daley was missed. It’s not Kyle Nix’s game to beat opposition full backs for pace and it all meant that City’s attacks were sporadic and limited. Topp had the best chance when he forced a mistake and had a run on goal, only to be crudely chopped down on the edge of the area. A couple of headers from corners were cleared off the line but the first two thirds of the game had 0-0 written all over it.

Cue Macclesfield’s sudden onslaught which left City hanging on and pushing their luck. Remarkably, in the middle of this heavy period of pressure it was the Bantams who scored. Again it was a long hopeful ball up the field which substitute David Brown, on for Topp, willingly chased. Macclesfield keeper Jonny Brain ran out to clear but complexly missed the ball, leaving a grateful Brown to fire it into the open net. It might not quite have been the way he dreamt it last night, but new signing Brown could not have asked for a better start from his first six minutes of professional football. The young striker impressed with his pace and was a nuisance to the opposition. He’s certainly a small lad and won’t win many headers; watching him play alongside fellow substitute Conlon looked the ultimate little and large partnership.

But if one keeper’s bad mistake handed the win on a plate, it was the other keeper who sealed it. Loach earned many admirers following his midweek debut but his performance at Moss Rose was something else. Macclesfield continue to apply heavy pressure after the goal and Matt Clarke, who’s not looked as solid the last four games, got away with a bad miskick in front of goal. From another attack Loach produced a superb reaction block from a low shot only for Macclesfield to be given the ultimate opportunity to score after Colbeck fouled Danny Thomas in the area as the ball ran loose.

Loach might have only been playing his fifth ever senior game, but he’d been here before saving a penalty at Macclesfield while on loan at Morecambe. He made history repeat itself by getting down low to push away Canadian midfielder Terry Dunfield’s penalty and, even more impressively, reacted to block Neil Ashton’s powerful rebound attempt. Cue wild celebrations on the terrace behind and City players rushing over to congratulate their new team mate. A week ago none of us had heard of Loach, but after another good save we were chanting his name.

Those saves spelled the end to heavy pressure and, despite one late scare where City scrambled the ball off the line, we held out with David Wetherall once again outstanding. Conlon and Colbeck, who curiously improved after giving away the penalty, both went close to adding a second. A lucky win no doubt, which ended with Loach hugging fans at the front of the stand, but it was a game that City would probably have lost earlier in the season and this alone can be judged as progress.

Suddenly the table makes far better reading; City are 10 points from the play offs and still have a couple of games in hand over most teams, there was even an optimistic chant about City going up this season. Recent form has been excellent and, with four of the next five games at home, sandwiched between a trip to struggling Notts County, there’s a great opportunity to push on.

So I now look forward to reading Monday’s Telegraph and Argus match report and noting that the shot count will not be in our favour, but that the scoreline appearing at the top of the page is all that matters. We’ll need to be better than our efforts at Moss Rose but, if we’re celebrating any achievements come May, it’s winning games like this which will have provided the platform.

Finger off the Pulse

There are several things I’m looking forward to about my trip to Moss Rose for the Macclesfield game on Saturday. A visit to a ground I’ve never been before, the hope that the pub where we enjoy our pre-match pint will be as good as the one at Accrington, hopefully City will play well and grab three much-needed points and, while the away stand is apparently roofless leaving me anxious about the weather, there’s a chance to have a good sing song.

Another part I’m looking forward to is not following the match from home like I had to for the Wrexham game. Of course it’s not the same when you’re not there, but it can be deeply frustrating relying on the media to let you know what’s happening. Listening on the radio, every opposition attack sounds dangerous and the roar when the home side score reaches you before the words of the commentator describing the bad news. Even when we score, excitedly jumping around the room isn’t the same on your own.

And it’s the negative approach of one local radio station that especially leaves me wishing I could afford every away trip. It’s only over the last couple of years that I’ve bothered to tune into The Pulse for commentaries as Radio Leeds, with three teams to cover, can’t be relied on to feature every City game. The first time I listened to their commentary team, Tim Thornton and Ian Ormondroyd, I thought City must be playing abysmally given how much they slated the performance. I was therefore very confused when the draw received a more favourable write up in media reports elsewhere.

Since then I’ve listened to commentaries on a handful of occasions and learned that Tim and Stix’s negative attitude is no better than some of our more miserable fans watching in the stands. Everything we do is rubbish, our tactics are clueless and our players are hopeless. Switch between coverage on The Pulse and Radio Leeds and you would think you’re listening to a different game.

Last season Tim Thornton’s post match interview with Colin Todd after the Cheltenham home draw was considered so unfair on the under pressure City manager that it led to him boycotting radio interviews for a month and BCST’s Phill Marshall taking the unusual step of blasting Thornton in the matchday programme. I had the misfortune of listening to The Pulse’s commentary of Todd’s last game at Gillingham, where they complained and ripped apart everything City did. If Julian Rhodes had also been listening, it was no wonder he sacked Todd the following Monday.

A year on and, despite a new man being in the hot seat, the familiar moans and criticisms fill the airwaves. I understand Thornton is a passionate City fan of many years so fair to play to him, he is certainly no worse than some of the resident moaners who attend Valley Parade every fortnight singling out home players for abuse. For Ormondroyd I find his opinions slightly embarrassing. He is a supposed to be a good friend of Stuart McCall’s, so to hear him slate the City manager’s tactics is disappointing. Of course he’s paid to give his views and no one expects him to say false nice things, but surely a more balanced perspective isn’t too much to ask for?

It’s also worth noting that Ormondroyd’s day job is Football in the Community Officer for City. I’m not sure if he is directly paid by City or the organisation for this work, but it seems wrong to have a person who represents Bradford City in the community to be publicly questioning another most weekends. I wonder what Stuart would think if he knew what Ormondroyd was saying behind his back?

I’ve heard some City fans stick up for The Pulse commentary team because they “tell it like it really is”. Their outlook may appeal to a section of supporters unhappy about the way this season has gone, but it’s contradictory to that of a side unbeaten in five.

The draw at Wrexham produced some very mixed reactions from fans and those particularly upset with the result kept using the argument “they are bottom of the league.” I think it would be a useful exercise to revisit this draw at the end of February and see how City and Wrexham have done since then. That ‘disgraceful’ draw may look like a decent result, or it may not, but with Wrexham improving it was never going to be the easy game some imagined.

Personally, if City dismiss Stuart anytime soon I would like to see Ormondroyd given the manager’s job so that I can take text The Pulse to slate his tactics. Until then I’ll continue to attend as many City away games as possible, where I can make my own mind up at to whether things are as bad as The Pulse would have us believe.

Welcome To The Wild, Wild West

After eight minutes Francis Green of Macclesfield – obviously not having been shoved a copy of the mythic script that goes with events such as Stuart McCall’s first game as Bradford City boss – screwed a long range low drive past Donovan Ricketts for the opening goal of the season at Valley Parade which would ultimately end in the Bantams 14th – but least disheartening – consecutive home game without a win.

That the Bantams rarely looked like conceding to a Macclesfield Town side that opened with first day endeavour and ended with the kind of two lines of four and willingness to shed blood for the cause – not their blood of course but blood nevertheless – said much about City’s task this season. A lesson in what is in front of the Bantams in more says that one.

City had the lion’s share of the ball, the game and the chance. Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu – GNN if you will – equalised for McCall’s side after Barry Conlon had seen his penalty saved just before the half time whistle blew. GNN was booked for his shirt off celebrations following his rebound pounce which – while technically correct – baffled many including no doubt Carl Regan who had given away said penalty for a two footed tackle on GNN eight yards from goal when the Congolese player had nothing but the keeper to beat. Regan got the ball but the two footed lunge has long been outlawed in football in the same way that the head tackle – while a very effective way of making sure man and ball are separated in Rugby League – is strictly forbidden.

Eight yards out, GNN clean through. The rules of football make it very clear that just as GNN must be booked for removing shirt in celebration Regan must be sent off. Welcome – one and all – to League Two: The Wild West of football.

Remember the John Ford movies where Sheriff Gary Cooper or John Wayne on a better day would dish out justice not on the basis of law and what was written as write and wrong but more on the grounds of what would keep the peace of the town. Referee Graham Horwood wore no star badge but as with officials at this level behaved in the same way. Luke Dimech handled clearly in the penalty area before the goal but he probably didn’t mean it so play was waved on. Gareth Evans and Terry Dunfield spent much of the second half trying to break Donovan Ricketts in half but this is League Two yeah? The peace was kept with smatterings of yellow cards but consistency was never considered above the dramatic flourish for effect no matter how many times David “Premiership” Wetherall bounced a ball off a visitor who on refusing to retreat or standing over a free kick is mandated for a booking Horwood was having none of it because this is League Two and we have our own way of doing things down here.

Green’s goal aside City have a way of doing things which was mostly pleasing. McCall is building a team with a directness about it and that team plays off the excellence of is avatar Paul Evans who was everything that the number four shirt at Bradford City should be today: Passionate and able to raise his team mates around him, skilful and able to play a generous ball, strong on pitch and on the ball. Evans is this team’s Stuart McCall with bending free kicks two of which came out of the locker today and both could have resulted in goals and it is a pleasure to watch him play once more.

City’s thirteen today featured not one bad performance. Barry Conlon holds a ball up with power and while he looked less likely to trouble the net that Lee Mills a player in his style has been missing for sometime. Alex Rhodes on the left wing is still getting up to speed – or so we are told – but is a great find thus far with a less speedy more skilful display. He is more Beagrie than Muirhead and all the better for it. Omar Daley tried – nice work their Stuart – and Eddie Johnson received a half time rocket and got more involved after the break. The back four were not at fault all day and Donovan Ricketts had little to do which was a good job considering the ear snappingly horrible sound of him falling and needing his foot strapping up – an injury rather shamefully exploited by some nasty tackling by Macclesfield player. Invaliding goalkeepers out of the game should not be a part of football at any level but Ricketts continued with few tests on his agility.

All that was lacking was the second goal for the Bantams despite Conlon’s smart play feeding Daley who dragged his shot wide. More clear cut chances would have sealed a win no doubt but such things will come and on the day when the Bantams walked into what was in many ways the last chance saloon – this McCall/Cheap Season Tickets/Mark Lawn thing has to work or what it the future for the club – they emerged on the road to gold.

The path to that gold may depend rather too much on the random peace keeping of the Sheriffs.

Recent Posts