Searching for answers

Following a short journey from Chesterfield to Matlock with my wife’s uncle, I parked the car and was greeted by a friend who I’d agreed to meet up with for this pre-season friendly game. The three of us walked through a tranquil park towards a fish and chip shop that my friend had spotted. As myself and my wife’s uncle had eaten before we’d set off, we watched my friend tuck into Britain’s favourite takeaway meal of white flaky fish and chunky potato chips.

Upon entering the three-sided Causeway Lane ground, I was greeted by an elderly gentleman selling programmes. The programme which I purchased contained some interesting information including the fact that Matlock Town are due to play either Huchnall (although I think they mean Hucknall), Holbeach or Lincoln Moorlands Railway at home on 17 September in the first qualifying round of the FA Cup. My wife’s uncle also spotted the name of Vince Adams in the Looking Back article. Adams joined Matlock Town from Worksop 44 years ago. Apparently the significance of this is the fact that my wife’s uncle went to school with Vince Adams.

We make our way to the main stand and took our seats as the players warmed up in front of us. As I’m trying to make out who our new signings and trialists are, Peter Jackson and David Baldwin are deep in conversation by the dugouts. Who knows what they are chatting about? The tannoy announcer presents the two teams to us although it’s difficult to hear what he is saying. However we make out the name of Nathan Joynes in the Matlock Town side who played a couple of games for Bradford City a few seasons ago, whilst on loan from Barnsley. In the starting side for Bradford City is ex-Matlock Town player Ross Hannah who is also our captain for the evening.

The game kicks off and Hannah produces an early left foot right wing cross which unfortunately doesn’t reach Hanson in the six yard box. Hanson is then found in his own penalty area heading clear an early Matlock corner. The Matlock Town supporter sat next to my wife’s uncle informs us that Ian Holmes, the Matlock Town number 9, has re-joined them from Glapwell FC and is the one to watch in the Matlock side. Holmes is soon in the thick of the action and is brought down by Guy Branston. However, the resulting free kick is cleared by Steve Williams.

After the early exchanges City come more into the game with Lee Bullock passing to Hanson who shoots high and wide of the target. Luke O’Brien and young Dominic Rowe link up well down the left flank and from Rowe’s cross David Syers heads the ball into the back of a Matlock player. Holmes then shoots from long range but his shot goes wide of Rhys Evans’ goal. Evans is on trial looking to earn himself a contract with the club who he played for during the 2008-09 season. However, it’s not long before Holmes is on the score sheet as he thumps a header past him from a Bettney cross.

The first half continues with Joynes attempting a lob which goes over the cross bar. This proves to be his last action in the game as he is substituted shortly afterwards. Hanson then goes foraging down City’s left flank and shrugs off the attentions of Featherstone to create a shooting opportunity which hits a post and bounces out too quickly for Hannah to convert into a goal. It is then Branston’s turn to attack at the central defender goes on one of those runs that excite supporters. His left wing cross goes just over Hannah’s head.

With City gaining more possession, Chris Mitchell crosses from the right for Hanson to head City’s equaliser. That’s a headed goal for each number nine. Shortly afterwards, Matlock are presented with a chance to take the lead following a wayward pass from Branston. However, Ryan Mallon shoots wide. As the first half draws to a conclusion Branston, for reasons unknown to me, hurls some verbal abuse to O’Brien. Branston then sprays a forward pass which is nowhere near to a Bradford City player. O’Brien. The ultimate professional, however, doesn’t retaliate and tell Branston what he thinks of that pass.

The second half commences with Mark Stewart replacing Hanson. Stewart is soon into the action as he shoots just wide after collecting a pass from O’Brien. Rowe then pulls the ball back for Stewart but his side footed shot is saved by Kennedy in the Matlock goal. Mitchell produces another telling cross which Syers heads over the crossbar. City are dominating the early exchanges of the second half and Stewart shoots again, but this time Kennedy palms the shot away. Matlock then make a plethora of substitutions and have their first corner of the second half. Thankfully, Rowe is stood by one post and is able to prevent Matlock from taking the lead again. This shows the importance of having men by each post when defending a corner.

Midway through the second half Jackson decides it time for a few substitutions. Recent signing Ritchie Jones makes a surprise, but welcome, appearance following his transfer from Oldham Athletic. Jones slots into central midfield with Bullock reverting to centre back as Branston leaves the field. Trialist Nahki Wells replaces local hero Ross Hannah, who receives warm applause from the home supporters. City have another corner which Williams heads over before Jones tries his luck from distance with a long range effort which narrowly flies wide of Kennedy’s right hand post.

Recent signing Andrew Burns joins the action replacing Lewis Hunt and shortly afterwards Luke Dean and Scott Brown replace Syers and Mitchell. Wells then shoots from distance but fails to alter the score line. Hanson can now be seen sat in the main stand with fellow players Flynn and Osborne, who are both rested tonight following their appearances at Silsden two days earlier. With the game approaching the final few minutes, both teams have a chance to win the game. First a Matlock substitute drags his right foot shot wide, then in the final minute Wells is played in by Jones but Kennedy makes another smart save. The game finishes 1-1.

As we make our way towards the exit, Branston is seen having his photograph taken with a City supporter whilst Matlock’s forthcoming fixtures appear on a chalk board on a wall behind one of the goals. Another chalk board next to the turnstiles notes that the attendance was 364. These quirky little things are what I love about pre-season friendly games at non-league grounds.

Whilst Matlock Town gave City a good work out and looked like a team that will do well in this season’s Evo-Stik Premier League, Peter Jackson was left searching for answers as to how Bradford City will be able to break down teams in the forthcoming Division 4 campaign.

The long road back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Thorney issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inking In

Farsley Celtic are the success story of West Yorkshire football. Standing in their cobbled together ground seeing a club punching over its weight going for it against a twenty-two man Bradford City team one cannot helped but be impressed with what is going on at City’s new nearest neighbour. If Bradford City or Leeds United punched this high then Championships would be won.

Farsley mean business and were in race trim. Gareth Grant had something to prove against City and roasted Luke O’Brien at left back and City’s first half middle which included Everton trialist Scott Phelan whent from control of the game to a worrying back foot. Simon Johnson up front was fed by Joe Colbeck and slid over a ball for Peter Thorne to get a debut equaliser but Damien Dunne gave the home side a decisive lead.

Four days later and Colbeck – persistant target of both critisism and plaudit even amoust the thousand who travel to pre-season – impressed in a 2-0 win over North Ferriby United ripping into the home side’s full back and firing over a string of excellent crosses. Joe Colbeck with end product is almost everything. The rest comes from Peter Thorne and Barry Conlon who both look like the burley sort of striker that City will need in League Two. Thorne got his second – adding to an opener by Omar Daley – and City had both good win and good workout.

Wins and workouts aside the modern friendly is about squad shaping. Conlon and Thorne are Bantams and they will surely be joined soon by a return of Paul Evans who slotted back into Bradford City colours aptly. Evans taking a free kick blasted at goal is a sight one thought one would never see again and one is so glad that the midfield engine seems set to return.

Joining City seem to be Nathan Joynes and Thomas Harban on long-term loans from Barnsley. Harban looks an interesting player with decent ball skills. Joynes – a forward – is superb until the finish which “lacks polish” to say the least. Simon Johnson moves on to Hereford having not impressed McCall. Joynes seems to offer the same. One wonders if the fear of a two year contract should City win promotion is behind that one.

Former Hartlepool United and Sunderland right back Darren Williams has been offered a contract. He is not Darren Holloway. Repeat it softly to yourself before you go to sleep dear reader.

Kyle Nix is to be told on Monday what his future is. It is six to half a dozen if he will stay. McCall seems to want Scott Phelan and Phelan – a full back at Goodison moving into midfield – looks worth a punt. As with Nix he finds out today as McCall – two wins and a defeat into his City career – inks in names to his team sheet.

The No News Cycle

Stuart McCall must have spend a longer time behind a desk this month than he has in the rest of his career as he starts putting together the process that will see him put together a squad. When David Wetherall took over as City boss he had to sit out a few games to cope with the change. McCall – a fine coach by his Blades reputation – will be getting used to the soft leather of the Valley Parade big chair.

Perception of the job of football recruitment is different from the reality. McCall goes through targets sent to him from all over Europe on DVDs and through website links which here at BfB we are often mistakenly presented with. No one ever says on their CV that they slack off after seventy minutes and everyone looks sublime.

Wheat is split from chaff. Two 21 year old Barnsley youngsters called Thomas Harban and Nathan Joynes are coming to City on trail with a view to a loan – the Mark Lawn cash is not to be splashed as much as one might have thought. City have made an offer for Scunthorpe’s left back Lee Ridley and go head to head with Cheltenham for the player.

For that there is good reason. An old anecdote about a former team mate of McCall has the player asking for a free transfer in March and his boss agreeing the he could go in the Summer but that they would list him at deadline day only to get a £250,000 offer “and not a penny more even though you could get it”. The footballer’s value is tied into unfathomable and many a manager has frittered away a fortune on players who offered no better than those available for next to nothing.

Next to nothing seeps out of Valley Parade and season ticket sales continue. This is the calm. The storm brews.

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