Williams and McLaughlin in the reserves win over Gateshead

Both defender Steve Williams and keeper Jon McLaughlin played in Bradford City reserves’ 2-1 win over Gateshead.

The Heed – who are second the the Conference and hoping for promotion to the League this season – scored though former favourite (of mine) Kyle Nix but the Bantams pair of Naille Rodney and Adam Baker gave City the win.

The Bantams gave a first start to midfielder Scott Brown along with new recruit Marcel Seip who played centre back with Andrew Burns at right back.

The win is City Reserves’ third victory of the season in three games having already gone to Rotherham and hosted Hartlepool coming out on top.

Jackson veers between Kamara and Jewell

When the opening weeks of the season were put together by “the fixture computer” – which is to say some ludicrously complex set theory and a few blokes making sure that Hartlepool United get as long a trip away on Boxing day as possible – few people looked at the Bantams’ opening four games with any relish at all.

Aldershot Town looked like they could be tough – they were – and Leeds United away promised little. Following them up with trips on the road to Oxford United and Accrington Stanley and there was a sense that in these opening two weeks it would become apparent if the instant team alchemy which football managers dream of had taken place.

It had not.

Brighton and Hove Albion – now resplendent in a new stadium – and Chesterfield – then resplendent in a new stadium – both seemed to be touched by that alchemy last season with neither favourites for their divisions but both teams clicked quickly and they romped to titles. For everyone else it seemed there was but hard work.

And so there is for Bradford City. As everyone at the club and many in the stands talked about how this season the club would be starting to build long term and to create its own future rather than going all out for promotion. However an unhealthy – but not entirely unforgivable – hope that that future might start with a lightning strike of a team coming together instantly.

The 1-0 reversal at Accrington Stanley confirmed that City have – as was commented within my ear shot on Tuesday night – a long way to go. Having started that “long way” four matches ago that is hardly surprising and is sobering. Those looking at the Stanley team which finished fifth and lost a half dozen players miss the point of what the Bantams – and other clubs – try to build.

A half dozen players leave Stanley but the structures which have had the club progress to the level it enjoys remain, the culture remains, the team spirit remains. In short there is stability which enables Accrington to continue plodding along. This is very much the sort of thing that Bradford City are trying to build.

Bradford City and Archie Christie who arrived at Valley Parade from Dagenham & Redbridge in the Summer as the Bantams interviewed Daggers boss John Still and his backroom team before deciding that Still was the goods in the window and Christie the merchandise out back.

Christie’s plans are the dose of sense which has been missing from Valley Parade for over a decade. The Scot sees City as – perhaps – a better location to repeat what he had done in Dagenham on a bigger scale. The Daggers – fresh from League One – have come far with Still and company at the helm but getting it right at Valley Parade promises more than being a dot on the map of London football.

So Christie builds his development squad with the aim of bringing through three or four players a season who are good enough to press into the City squad. Logic suggests that might have to wait a two or three years to judge such long term plans rather than – as some seem Hell bent on doing – writing them off after that many weeks.

Christie’s work behind the scenes aims to create a stability for City to aid the manager who has struggled in his start to the season. Jackson – the man of Jose Mourinho action at Huddersfield Town – seems a reduced figure in the City dug out at the moment. What – when looking at in the Town dugout – seemed like calculated master strokes (Paul Barnes’ entry in 1998 which turned a 1-0 defeat into a 2-1 jumps to mind) when viewed in the home dug out seem to be random flailings.

Having played a tight passing game in pre-season Jackson’s side too often favour a long punt to James Hanson and while the switches in formation are more noticeable it seems as if Jackson has yet to decide a shape for his midfield.

Consider – if you will – Chris Mitchell who for all the talk of his only being in the team for set plays spend an hour of Tuesday night making sure that when a blue shirt came forward he was standing between ball and goal. He delayed, he stood up, he made sure that Stanley would not get through and all to the tune of people talking about how he should tackle more, even when doing so and failing would have left a bus sized hole in the midfield.

And so it was when Jackson went to a midfield that more evenly distributed the weight between Michael Flynn and Richie Jones rather than had Flynn forward and Mitchell back that Stanley wandered through the middle of the Bantams to get the goal which won the game.

It is hard to find anyone who could say that Mitchell has played well but taking him out of the position he was in brought problems and a pragmatist such as Jewell would see that as justification to have him in the side while the Chris Kamaras – given to flights of fancy – would think that another player who could add more going forward might be trusted to that role on the hope that both could be done. It was such a fancy which Jackson gambled, and lost, on on Tuesday night.

So Jackson flits between: a defensive midfielder behind three more attacking players, a tight three midfield with one winger and the unit of five which worked well at Elland Road; but so far he struggles to maintain a shape in a way which gains the upper hand in games. The first half against Leeds and Jackson had everything going right, when Leeds changed he seemed inactive.

On Tuesday night with scores level Naille Rodney came on for Ross Hannah to play a withdrawn role and the midfield to press on which seemed to leave City with far too many players drifting between the Stanley midfield and defensive lines and no one grabbing the ball. Bit by bit Jackson drifts towards Kamara and his hit and miss deployments of players and tactics and one worries that – like Kamara – it might be possible that Jackson finds the right combination at times and then moves away from it not knowing what is good.

In that one recalls the dogmatic Paul Jewell who stuck with the team he wanted to play after it had returned two points from twenty one in 1998. Jewell had an idea of how he wanted his team to play, and who he wanted in that team, and the same at the moment (and at the time) can not be said about Jackson.

So the City manager goes into the game with injuries ruling out David Syers, Lee Bullock and Simon Ramsden but with pressure to make changes to a team which has but one of the five points Jackson might have targeted.

Jackson is under pressure to drop James Hanson for reasons much discussed but doing so would strike one as popularist rather than practical – especially considering the team’s tendency to hit the ball long. Mark Stewart played no part against Accrington a week after looking superb against Leeds United but Naille Rodney – willing worker – has staked a claim and may get the chance. Ross Hannah was praised for his rewardless efforts on Tuesday but one doubts that he will be selected against Dagenham. Perhaps Jackson will use a 433 having tried it against Carlisle United in pre-season.

The midfield could see Jack Compton on the left and Michael Bryan on the right with Michael Flynn and Chris Mitchell in the middle but Richie Jones looks like a capable player waiting to find a role to fill and should Jackson not want a defensive minded midfielder then he may slot in next to Flynn. Bryan started Accrington well but faded.

At the back Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall are making good at full back – Luke O’Brien’s continued absence is the stuff of conjecture but it seems that Threlfall has made good his chance and is playing well which is more than can be said for Guy Branston who has struggled to put in consistent ninety minute performances since arriving. He is partnered by Luke Oliver who played a superb game at Stanley and if Steve Williams does return to fitness then dropping Oliver would be a very tough decision, although one Jackson would make if he had a clear back two in his mind the excluded the former Wycombe man.

Martin Hansen continues in goal. He shouted on Tuesday night, a couple of times, and that is an improvement and something the keeper can work on. A young lad Hansen has years of improvement in front of him and should not chuck his gloves over just because he has let in a few goals.

Nor should the rest of us.

Accrington Stanley and the Bar(ry)ometer

For those seeking a barometer on events at Bradford City’s the club’s trips to Accrington Stanley’s Crown Ground provide just that.

The first meeting between the teams in modern times saw Joe Colbeck – fresh from his return from loan at Darlington – the hero as City ran out 2-0 winners and Omar Daley tore the home side in two. The hard work of striker Barry Conlon brought praise that visit and there was a sense that four months into his time at the club it seemed that Stuart McCall was starting to get the basis of team together.

Three years ago City were outplayed for eighty minutes and then Stuart McCall brought on Barry Conlon and one might riot some how managed to be the catalyst for a stunning turn around that saw City leave Stanley boss John Coleman with a ruined wedding anniversary and City fans happy.

Happy for a time though because it was though that – eventually – City could do better than Conlon and his manager Stuart McCall and so the change was made to Peter Taylor who with huge fanfare took his City team for their first game.

You might remember the wet ground, the late arriving and early departing Mark Lawn with a vandalised car, and the performance that set the tone for Taylor time at Valley Parade. There was a sense of optimism in the air that day that – probably because the display was away from home and followed not long after by a great 3-1 win at Rochdale – which went undented. Recall, if you will, the people who said that Taylor was going to sort out the mess that Stuart McCall had caused. Try not to look at the top of the Scottish Premier Division.

The optimism of Taylor’s arrival was in marked contrast to last season’s trip to The Crown Ground where City were so badly second best that manager Peter Jackson could find not an iota of optimism. Having taken up a team of the Disunited from Taylor Jackson – following Accrington – could not see how the club would claim another point in the season. At that point Peter Jackson thought Bradford City would go out of the Football League.

So Bradford City go West for the fifth time with Jackson having nailed together a team he has more faith in and which built around the optimism which was in such short supply in April’s visit. A team for which improvement is the aim and the assumption that enough improvement will drive promotion. Seeking a first win of the season following Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Oxford and on the last of three trips away from home that started at Leeds the tone for the return to Valley Parade for three back to back home games will be taken from this barometer test.

A device to measure pressure City’s barometer readings have been troubling for some years. This summer – for the first time since relegation from the Premier League – there seems to be a realism in the club’s aims and that has brought with it a sense of optimism that the club is going in the right direction.

There is a question as to how long optimism can be maintained without victories and – along with that – the merits of optimism. Paul Jewell’s side famously gathered two points of the first twenty-one and got promotion at Wolves with many expecting them to fall at the last hurdle. Any optimism garnered on the last four trips to Accrington have done nothing to stop the club going backwards, often by a route of its own choice.

As long as there is progress in the players then – perhaps – there should be an optimism to match.

Jackson goes into the game with Martin Hansen in goal – there is a rumour that the Liverpool loanee is undroppable in his time at City although there is always that rumour about loan players. Jon McLaughlin is working his way through his interrupted pre-season and once again is being viewed as an answer to all problems. Never wanting to disrespect a player who I believe is a good and serviceable goalkeeper worthy of his place in the squad and team but never has a player sat on the bench performing so well. On the bench he is the human traffic light always on red, the unbeatable keeper, the greatest custodian in the club has had.

Three of City’s back four have been unchanged all season – the other position has rotated to three different names. Liam Moore, Guy Branston and Robbie Threlfall are constant, Luke Oliver, Steve Williams and Lee Bullock have changed. Oliver is expected to retain his place having played his part in the build up to Ross Hannah’s equaliser on Saturday. There was speculation that Oliver pushed Duberry, or at least that is what Duberry said, or was told to say by someone at the club, and he is sticking to but he is not doing twenty months for that, no way…

The midfield presents Jackson with options having favoured a five at Leeds and Oxford with Chris Mitchell at the base of Michael Flynn and Richie Jones with Mark Stewart and Jack Compton on the flanks but the improvement seen with Michael Bryan and a 442 might prompt a change in shape that sees one of Flynn and Jones benched. Jones brings a hamstring niggle into the game and perhaps that will see him sitting the match out.

Stewart – a player still finding his feet but showing some nice feet when he does – would then press forward alongside James Hanson who once again showed the limits of his abilities as the only player detailed to attack on Saturday. Given the thankless task as the only pink shirt in the other half at the Kassam Stadium Hanson has an unfruitful afternoon and sure enough garnered criticism for his play in isolation. Conlon used to suffer criticism too, but his replacement was Stanley legend Paul Mullin and soon Barry was missed. An object lesson if ever there was one.

All of which is expected to leave Naille Rodney and Ross Hannah on the bench – impact substitutes in a Conloin stylee perhaps – but gives Peter Jackson the sort of selection problems which Taylor could have only dreamed of where his has a choice of players who all seem to be keen to show how they are improving.

To show a twitch on the barometer, and perhaps a reduction in pressure.

The road from Falkirk to Bradford and on

The Team

Martin Hansen | Liam Moore, Lee Bullock, Guy Branston, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, David Syers, Michael Flynn, Jack Compton | James Hanson, Mark Stewart | Naille Rodney, Nakhi Wells

At half time as Peter Jackson looked around his dressing room at a team two goals down to Aldershot Town on the opening day of the season he might have been heartened only by the fact that no matter what happened in the next forty five minutes – or the next forty five games – things would probably get no worse.

Being booed off is nothing new at Valley Parade (although it remains the province of the fool) and it was that sound which rang in Jackson’s ears and perhaps the City manager’s mind went back to the moment when Chris Mitchell delivered a ball from deep wide on the right and David Syers arrived late in the box to head over but probably he was thinking about how his side had inflicted two blows on themselves.

In a first half with a single shot on goal City had conceded a second after a fairly harmless cross came in and Martin Hansen – on loan from Liverpool – confirmed the worrying lack of communication he had shown thus far in his City career. Hansen came out late, flapped and goalkeeper, ball and all landed on Robbie Threlfall and rolled into the goal.

Threlfall’ inclusion at left back marked a rapid turn around from the position he was in two weeks ago when it seemed he had played his last game for the club. His afternoon saw him struggle to connect to Jack Compton who ran the left wing in front of him and for forty five minutes did so with little to no impact.

Compton – on loan from Falkirk – struggled to get into the game against a massive Aldershot defence who seemed to leave no room on the field for the winger. Very one footed with a worrying tendency to try beat men rather than play the ball without the saving grace of Omar Daley which saw him actually beat them Compton was battered around the field and one can only imagine how the reality of League Two football differed in his mind from the second tier of the Scots game.

Compton’s struggle was common for the other players who had arrived from Falkirk. Mark Stewart found space in the final third hard to come by – Aldershot’s brawn and numbers over skill approach to defending paid off but only because City’s giving away of goals rather than their ability to carve out chances – and was withdrawn after seventy minutes.

Third member of the trio Chris Mitchell was deployed on the right flank opposite Compton and alongside Syers and Michael Flynn and it was Mitchell’s loose play on the right which allowed for Aldershot left back Anthony Straker to have the freedom of Valley Parade to swing the ball into the box. Some good work from Alex Rodman saw a low centre to Danny Hylton who finished.

The lessons were obvious for all: Miss your chances at your peril, and pressure the ball because goals are scored not in the six yard box but three passes before.

So Jackson in the dressing room must have wondered what the likes of Falkirk – and for that matter Liverpool – teach the players and if a spell at the University of Bradford City will change anything. Oddly though while hearing his team booed off in his first game must have stuck for the City boss one doubts that he will have found back four of Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Lee Bullock and Robbie Threlfall wanting. The goals aside Aldershot were restricted to pretty much nothing and should have been down to ten men following two bad challenges in a minute by Jermaine McGlashan which seemed to suggest that we were still using pre-season rules.

As it was Jackson did not have wait long for improvement with the second half showing a City side offering more and more through Compton who – joined by Mitchell – started to improve. The side showed little sign of having blended together, but showed signs that it might. David Syers put in a robust display in the midfield and Michael Flynn pushed forward. After an hour it seemed that City had a chance to build a momentum to get back into the game but – disappointingly perhaps – Jackson seemed to watch this chance come and go.

Which is not to criticise a manager for not having Plan B but as City got on top the opportunity for Jackson to push on Naille Rodney into a forward three seemed to present itself but was acquiesced. Rodney came on and slotted onto the left with Compton going to the right and the removal of Flynn seemed to let the Shots off the hook.

There is a theory on Flynn that suggests that he could be improved on but often the evidence of games is that City with Flynn are more dangerous that City without the Welshman and as Aldershot breathed easier the number four was sitting on the bench probably wishing he had not killed Jackson’s dog or whatever it is that sees the manager so keen to sideline him.

Mitchell moved back to central midfield and started getting more of a grip on the game but very obviously his delivery – very dangerous – is needed on the field more than his play on the right hand side and the midfielder needs to get more of a presence for League Two football. Compton’s play is distressingly reactive but there is plenty of scope to work on that and as a player he shows some ability. It was Compton’s who put in a tidy mid-height ball play from the right with his left foot that resulted in City’s injury time goal.

It was too late for sure, and of course too little, it it was well deserved by James Hanson who facing a backline of massive men gave the defenders a tough time and showed a mental judgement which marks an improvement since his arrival at the club two years ago. Give him a good ball and he raced to where it would be, rather than waiting for it to drop, and when Compton put the ball back to Lee Bullock and his mid-height ball in saw Hanson read the play before the defenders and peeled off to head a smart finish. He deserved a goal, but some will disagree. My thoughts on Hanson are that if you are not able to appreciate his efforts today you probably should be watching another sport.

And perhaps the Falkirk Three are nursing bruises and considering how different the sport they are playing is from the one they ended last season in. The learning process has started and one could see the improvement in all three – and in other players – as the game went on but as long as the road from Falkirk to Bradford might be the road from Bradford to success may be longer.

Longer but – with effort and the attitude which saw players up their game in the second half – achievable in time. This would be a first step.

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