Changes / Institutional / Retention

There has been much talk since his return to Bradford City that Stuart McCall had changed as a manager and that talk was manifested for the first time as his team came from a goal down against Coventry City to win 3-1 at Valley Parade.

A goal down and not playing well one worried at half time that whatever the City manager was to say to his players it would make matters worse. This, after all, was the criticism most fairly applied to McCall in his first spell as City manager. That he has the capacity to take a disadvantage and turn it into an eight game losing run.

That was the McCall way. McCall created teams that played not just with passion but were fuelled by it. When that passion was applied the result was a team of flair and verve that – like some Hendrix lead guitar riff – worked not because it had passion but because it was passion. When it did not work one ended up with two month sulks.

Which contrasted with Phil Parkinson’s five years at City were the Bantams were bass guitar perfect in their rhythm never to be put off balance. McCall had – in his previous time at the club – sent out teams transformed from bad (or average at least) to good after the fifteen minute break but too often it was the other way around.

City trailed Coventry City to a debut goal from on loan forward Burnley Daniel Agyei who had turned Romain Vincelot and finished well following a frustrated attempt to clear the ball up the left hand side of a lopsided Bantams team.

McCall had sent out a three man central midfield with Mark Marshall given a single winger role that overstates his ability to have an influence on the game. Marshall provided an outlet on the right for attacking play but there was no mirror to that the left leading to the singular problem with clearing before Agyei’s goal and a general problem all first half that City were predictable in dysfunction.

Coventry knew what the Bantams would do and that when they did it it would not work.

Coventry City’s Tony Mowbray deployed his Sky Blues team – still looking for a first win – to press high up the field and lock on City player to player. They played at an intensity which was not sustainable for ninety minutes – legs would tired and tired soon – but that one worried at half time would have broken the home team’s resolve and need only continue to keep the Bantams at arm’s length.

But at half time McCall addressed the problem down the left by pushing Billy Clarke – rancid in the first half, much better in the second – alongside Jordy Hiwula and having one or the other break left when the Bantams had the ball.

This tactical tweak had two effects: It balanced the width of the midfield giving an outlet on the left and it stopped Clarke dropping deep and – as a result – allowed the three man midfield to push forward into the last third. It was the opposite of the charge of tactical naivety but I never bought into that charge anyway.

That the change worked was down to metronomically good displays from the likes of Vincelot, Josh Cullen, Nicky Law Jnr, and Daniel Devine. Players who were able to maintain a level of performance and – by doing so – provide a platform for those who were playing poorly to turn their performances around on on.

This was the hallmark of the Parkinson era and the thing one was most worried about losing when Parkinson left. No matter who took over the knowledge Parkinson grafted into his teams of maintaining a level of performance when performances around you after going bad had to be lost.

How that knowledge has been retained is a mystery or perhaps it has just been recreated. Vincelot’s clean through ball to Clarke after an hour came when the visitor’s legs were too tired to press but the Frenchman had not fatigued physically or mentally. Clarke went for goal but was pulled down and Tony McMahon’s penalty pulled the score level. It was simultaneously reassuringly familiar and entirely new.

Coventry City’s approach of going man-to-man on the Bantams failed following the dismissal of Jordan Turnbull for conceding the penalty and within minutes Mark Marshall arrowed in a diagonal long range strike which is as good as any seen at Valley Parade in recent years.

Marshall’s performance was still a problem though and one which may become pressing as City progress. He spoke following the game about how previous managers had not allowed him to play with freedom and there may be good reason for that. Marshall unleashed is as liable to land a 25 yard screamer into J block of the Kop as he is the back of the goal.

That Marshall is allowed a platform at all is a balance created by the metronomic midfield. My worry is that he does not create enough to provide weight in that balance. His improvement is slow but this goal and this game showed a step in it.

A second McMahon penalty came after Cullen was hauled down in the box – that the midfielders were getting in the box showed the turnaround caused by the switch McCall made with Clarke at half time – and the stand in skipper stepped up to score again before hobbling off injured.

McMahon will miss four to six weeks after history maker Kyel Reid trolled into him leaving him with a dead leg he pushed too far. Reid had a very Kyel Reid type of game. He ran a lot, fell over too much, and should have scored a couple of times but did not and on each occasion recognised his failure with a big smile.

But Reid looked different from a distance and playing for another team: more dangerous sometimes, more cynical sometimes, more desirable maybe too;

Which is enough to make one think on a wet summer August afternoon where what one worried about losing with Parkinson and regaining with McCall began to evanish.

Opening / Generative / Failings

One day after the last game of last term Bradford City was sold to new owners starting a close season which felt like nothing of the sort. Managers went and came, players followed or did not and and so the opening day 0-0 draw with Port Vale which marked a new era beginning felt oddly like a remnant of the old.

Oddly because while the faces had changed the problems remained the same. Stuart McCall replaced Phil Parkinson as City manager and will have been pleased not only with his team’s clean sheet but with how untroubled his goalkeeper was. Colin Doyle’s opening day did not see him seriously tested.

That the defence played as well as it did denied its rapid construction with Romain Vincelot dropping in along Nathaniel Knight-Percival and both putting in fine first ninety minutes. In training in the week Nathan Clarke joined Rory McArdle (injured) and Matthew Kilgallon (to fit) on the sidelines but the famously niggard Parkinson would have been proud of how few chances the City back four gave up today.

The midfield saw Timothée Dieng injured too – that last week in training must have been very exciting – and with Vincelot dropped back Daniel Devine came into make his début as Nicky Law Jnr made his second, or is it third, first appearance for City.

Devine’s first game answered a problem for McCall. As an eighteen year old he was largely able to stand up to the cut and thrust of a physical Port Vale who anchored the midfield with the impressive and tough Anthony Grant but looked confident enough to play on a level with the more senior players around him. He was good in the way that eighteen year old midfielders should be good.

There is a desire to bring in another midfielder to the club and one hopes that that desire is sated by Devine’s performance. It certainly should be. New chairman Edin Rahic has talked about wanting to develop young players and here is the first opportunity. The virtues of development are seen alongside Devine in Nicky Law Jnr who left Bradford City some six years ago as the kind of flimsy attacking midfielder who needed the steel of a holding man alongside him and returned cast in iron.

That may over-dramatise his changes but his usefulness at collecting the ball and taking responsibility for it was a revelation in the truest sense of the word. Law spent much of the first half setting the midfield line and controlling the distance between himself and wingers Filipe Morais and Mark Marshall. He plundered the occasional shot at goal too as did Vincelot who saw a shot just go over the bar, Billy Clarke watched Vale keeper Jak Alnwick push his effort onto the bar too, and there was a slash off the line to keep Alnwick’s goal intact.

But to iterate chances oversells City as an attacking force. Marshall, Morais and Anderson toiled without much return or sign of return. Morais involves himself in much and performed best of the three but never managed to find a cross or through ball or piece of play that created the chances the play up to the final third merited.

Morais on corners seemed a curious thing when one watches this video of all seventeen of Tony McMahon’s assists last season and notes how many of them were corner kicks. McMahon was at right back today, James Meredith at left back, and neither combined on the flanks with the wide men in front of them as well as one might have hope. The season is early and there is work to be done on understanding players patterns but all five fullbacks and wingers used were at the club last season yet seemed more adrift that then players in the heart of the team who were making first appearances.

Marshall followed on from last season with a performance which left one wondering what his aims on the field are. Is he to supply the ball quickly to James Hanson before the defence is formed up or is he to take his time and why – assuming he has one or the other of those instructions – does he not do it nearly half the time?

He is frustrating to the point of bringing down expectation levels when the ball comes to him. His delivery – which I would have argued was the best part of his game when he arrived at City – is so seldom seen that he borders on making himself redundant.

Which is a good word for Paul Anderson who has – in August 2016 – mislocated anything that made him a player to get excited about when he arrived from Ipswich Town. Anderson is a spectator to his own abilities with seemingly no sense of position – he comes forward when the ball goes beyond him, he drops back when James Meredith wants an option – and no output. I’m reminded of Irvine Welsh’s take on the unified theory of life: “At some point you have it, and then you lose it.”

McCall could persist with both Anderson and Marshall and in the hope that the pair will rediscover whatever it was that attracted Phil Parkinson to them and one suspects he will. One of the better parts of McCall the manager was his warm hearted work with players to try improve them. It might be that one longs for the ruthlessness of Parkinson who sliced Gary Liddle out of his team eight months ago having had him as a core member of the team previously.

Perhaps McCall might ring The Macron Stadium and tell Parkinson that he left a couple of things behind? But that is not McCall’s style and it is a real test of the manager who is praised for his man-management that he might manage these two (or three) men into something much more impressive than they showed today.

Football was – for a time – not wanting for attacking midfielders who could play in wide positions. The decline in wing play seems to have altered this and now every player who does not have a position is a number ten rather than an eleven. I’m not a man of faith and faith is required to believe that Paul Anderson will do in his second season what Peter Beagrie did in his.

As it is McCall is stuck with a generative unit which adds too little to be worth the shirts they take up. Add Billy Clarke to the mix and one ends up with a Bradford City team that can defend well, takes the odd pot-shot, but does not create good enough chances. Plus ça change.

Neither James Hanson nor Billy Clarke are the twenty a season striker that are bayed for but I’d argue that with a generative unit that fails to create no player would score twenty in this team. Which is not to say a further forward is not needed but that the real problem lays in creating rather than converting.

Port Vale were happy with their point at five o’clock and the aforementioned Anthony Grant will have impressed the watching scouts but City should not be wondering how this draw was not a win.

Preview / Players

It’s just words I assure them. But they will not have it – Simon Armitage

Something unique at Bradford City as one of the goalkeepers is the only player in British Football to have his transfer fee on his back as a squad number. Number one, and costing just one pound, is Colin Doyle arrived from Blackpool and looks to be starting on the first day of the season.

A commanding figure at six foot five Doyle has had the kind of career that seems to engulf goalkeepers who get used to the bench. He is thirty one and has played less than one hundred games.

Steve Banks – who arrived as keeper coach from Blackpool alongside Doyle – has the faith that the Irishman can step up to the duties of a starting keeper and should he fail then Rouven Sattelmaier gets a chance.

Sattelmaier – City’s first European number twelve goalkeeper – has played more first team games than Doyle, albeit at a lower level, and is three years his junior. The German talks confidently about challenging Doyle for his position.

It will be interesting to see at what point Stuart McCall opts for change – if he does – but the relative levels of experience afford an odd unbalance in confidence levels in Sattelmaier’s favour.

Joe Cracknell is third choice. He wears number thirty. The lesson he might learn is to not to get to thirty having been anything other than a first choice goalkeeper.

Of the five candidates for the central defensive roles Stuart McCall is spoilt for choice. Rory McArdle is initially unfit having had an operation in the summer and Matthew Kilgallon has had not pre-season following his release from Blackburn Rovers and so may not figure in the opening games but Nathan Clarke is able enough in the short term and Nathaniel Knight-Percival impressed on previous visits to and from Shrewsbury Town.

Kilgallon seems to be too high profile a signing to be anything other than McCall’s long term choice in one of the two central defensive positions and Knight-Percival has probably not moved to West Yorkshire with now expectations. McArdle has proved himself to be as close to undroppable as a player could be and there is little reason to imagine he will not carry on at such a high standard.

Which leaves McCall with – when fitness comes – the sort of headache any manager might want of having too many good players. There is the option of playing three central defenders which the new manager did experiment with when he was the old manager but failing that it seems that Kilgallon, McArdle and Knight-Percival have got reasons to perform in a fight for their places.

Which damns Nathan Clarke and youngster James King to a season picking up scraps.

On the left side of the two full backs James Meredith has no competition for his position following Gregg Leigh’s departure although there are moves, we are told, to bring in cover for the Australian. Meredith could be employed further forward should McCall play a three man central defence with wing backs. Should Meredith miss out then someone in the squad will be press ganged to left back.

And that someone is probably Tony McMahon who has played in most positions at Bradford City in his one and a half years at the club and after being – some may argue – the best player last season on the right hand side of midfield he has been officially announced as now being a right back.

A stranger move it is hard to imagine considering Stephen Darby’s position not only as right back and captain but consistent performer over the last few years. It is not accident that Darby’s name – as with McArdle – appears alongside the better moments of Bradford City’s recent history. An acid test of McCall’s second/forth spell at Bradford City is his ability to see this.

Again as with McArdle Darby starts the season injured and is two to three months away from full fitness. McMahon has the position for now.

Darby is important – very important – but McMahon’s abilities are not to be underestimated either. He led League One on assists last season and performed the wide midfield role far better than players who were signed with much more flourish. Finding a place for McMahon in the side is important but to replace Darby is to cut out the heart to add an extra hand – or foot – where it should not be.

Daniel Devine can also play right back, but he can do anything, read on.

Stuart McCall’s situation with midfielders is similar to his central defensive proposition in that he has at least three players who one might argue should have places and two places to play them.

Romain Vincelot continues the Brexit baiting European-ness of not only being French but also wearing number six and playing in midfield – does he believe he is Luis Fernández? – and seems assured a place in McCall’s side while Timothée Dieng who wears a more respectable eight jersey has done enough in pre-season to suggest that the two might combine into a dogs of war midfield. Or should that be chiens de guerre or perhaps coeur de guerre which sounds much more romantic.

However Nicky Law Jnr’s return – the first summer signing of what can justifiably be called a new era – suggested that he was likely to be favoured in a central midfield role. The aforementioned McMahon and Filipe Morais can also play the role and Devine has impressed too.

Devine, King and Reece Webb-Foster who we shall come to later have an interesting position in the 2016/2017 Bradford City squad. Where previously injuries in the Football League were on the whole covered by loan players new regulations mean that such moves can only happen within transfer windows.

This sets a requirement for players like Devine to be kept near the first team squad as cover rather than being sent out on loan, or isolated from the first team squad because the intention is to send them out on loan.

As the aim is to have a Devine, or a Webb-Foster, or a King ready to be dropped into first team action in the way that Wes Thomas or Tom Thorpe was last season then there is an opportunity to have those players blended into the first team squad. And in that context should Webb-Foster show day in day out in training that he can score then his path to the first team is highlighted.

This was not the case under Phil Parkinson where young players would complain about a lack of development – there was no reserve team some of the time – and there was an obvious preference to loan signings over development players. News that McCall is interested in Liverpool’s Cameron Brannagan and is trying to bring back Josh Cullen is interesting in this context.

It would seem that Vincelot and Dieng will start the season in the centre of midfield for City and that Law Jnr, and Devine, will cool their heels waiting for an opportunity or for McCall to try a three man midfield that would take Dieng holding and Vincelot and Law alongside him.

It would be odd if McCall – an advocate of the FourFourTwo – abandoned that formation just as its resurgence post Euro 2016 took hold. His willingness to do that perhaps depends on Brannagan or Cullen signing or the performance of the most disappointing group of players last season.

We shall dub these the creators if only because repeating the words “wingers, attacking midfielder and and drop off strikers” over and over will get tiresome. Paul Anderson and Mark Marshall’s failure to fulfil these roles last season deformed City’s season and to expect both to improve is an act of faith.

Anderson’s first season was interrupted by injury but when fit his play was not especially useful. He is fast and able to send a ball into the box at a ninety degree angle to his running path but as previously mentioned crossing is football’s overrated virtue and not only would Anderson have to play better this season to impress he would have to play differently.

Which means that Anderson – who enjoys a seniority at the club and is expected to perform – needs to not take the easier options he so often did in his performances at the start and the end of last season where he went wide hugging the touchline and hit the ball into the box and to nobody. His delivery was poor and considering the lack of numbers City got into the box that was a problem.

Anderson needs a reinvention. He needs to be the player who uses possession much better than he has done previously. He needs to be the player who can effectively cut inside as well as go outside of a full back and when he does he needs to have more presence of mind to find a target more often or to choose to do something else such as a surge into the area.

It might be that Anderson does not have these attributes to his game but if that is the case then he condemns himself as a very easy player to play against and one which will struggle. Even at League One level football has no time for the player who has but one way to achieve his aim and persistence is only admirable when a player carries on doing something effective.

Which brings us to Mark Marshall who has a similar situation albeit one he has shown more capacity to address. Marshall’s delivery is better than Anderson’s and he shows a willingness to vary his play which makes him genuinely difficult to play against but he is troublingly negligent in the defensive side of his game.

Marshall too often could be accused in his appearances last season with exposing the full back behind him and not working well in the defensive unit. A coeur de guerre midfield might give Marshall more licence to idle in this regard but he is simply not a good enough winger to set up a team to carry him if he does not track back.

Unlike Filipe Morais who offers McCall the type of endeavour that the previous manager loved but not the creative output which the team needs. Morais is being considered more of a drop off striker to play in what is now called the number ten position but was the hole although his effectiveness there seems to be a result of his randomness rather than the teams ability to blend him into a style.

Morais, as with Marshall and Anderson, is a creator who does not create enough and this is where the worries about Stuart McCall’s planning for the season start. The back six players provide a superb platform – arguably better than the one that Parkinson’s side had – but there seems to be a dearth of creators to stand on that platform.

Which leads back to McMahon who – like it or not – created a lot last season and should Anderson, Marshall and Morais not step up their contributions significantly then one suspects that McMahon will need to be taken out of whatever hole he would like to fit into and bashed back into one of the wide midfield positions.

Creation, assists, and defensive ability to not leave the team undermanned this should not be a difficult choice to make but one worries that McCall will have to learn this lesson the hard way. As it stands McCall is putting a lot of faith in players who have done little to merit it.

Should McCall favour a three man midfield then one might see Anderson and/or Marshall deployed further forward as part of an attacking three but that does not seem to solve the problems so much as make them less relevant by shifting the creation to the three midfielders. If McCall opts to play Vincelot and Dieng deep and a row of three creators behind a front man then one might worry about the effectiveness of such an approach but still these players would have to step up their performance.

McCall seems to be prepared to put that faith into Paul Anderson and Mark Marshall and one hopes that his faith is rewarded – much depends on it being – and one expects to see both starting against Port Vale for the opening game of the season and hopes to see the two players who were promised twelve months ago.

Which leads us to the subject of Billy Clarke and the strikers. Clarke’s promise at the start of last season evaporated leaving the top scorer of the year before idling towards the end of Parkinson’s time at City.

As with Anderson and Marshall the problem Clarke presents is that he does not scorer enough to be considered a goalscorer nor does he create enough to be thought of in that role and unless there is a drastic change in either of those qualities then there are problems when he is in the team.

One can try play a passing game routed through Clarke the number ten but to do so is to put undue faith in the Irishman’s sporadic ability to unlock a defence. This is a distinct contrast to James Hanson who one can rely on to beat defenders to high passes on a regular basis.

This was always the unsaid – or perhaps unheard – quantity in the debates over how Phil Parkinson’s side played football. Hanson would reliably win high balls, Clarke would not reliably unlock defences through craft. The argument was more pragmatics than cosmetics and the nature of that argument has not changed with the change of manager.

Get the ball to Hanson and there will be flick ons more often then there will be through balls from working the ball through Clarke. The two can play together with Clarke playing off Hanson but to do that Clarke needs to remain close to the man they call Big Unit and not wander off on esoteric crusades for the ball deep in the midfield.

Likewise to play the ball through Clarke and look for craft to open defences Hanson would need to be more mobile than he is and make the sort of runs which have not been a staple of his career.

Which is where Jordy Hiwula and Webb-Foster present options that are valued if only because they are unknown.

The problem that Stuart McCall has is that Bradford City do not score enough goals. I would argue that they do not create enough chances and the reason for that is that the team was set up defensively after a recruitment issue left the team with a goalkeeper and back four who could not deal with crosses.

The solution to not creating enough chances is in the creative players: the Andersons and Marshalls; and in the strikers: Clarke and Hanson; and the onus on them to make more chances to allow a reasonable conversion rate to result in more goals.

It is not impossible that this situation will have been addressed by a general step forward by the entire team – the defensive posture of last season prized not conceding over everything else – but unless it has or unless the players perform then the strikers will spend the season once more trying to convert a high percentage of fewer chances.

One can expect to see Hanson and Clarke start the season and one can expect before August closes the strikers and the creators to have been augmented. At the moment City and Stuart McCall seem to have a team that his half right which at least is not a step backwards.


This preview might get out of date quickly and if it does it will be updated. Just so you know.

Unbalanced / Vincelot

Shall we begin with the warning, dear reader, that pre-season games are not to be taken too seriously and that not too much should be made of a poor afternoon where Bradford City lost 4-1 to Burnley without much of a whimper.

Burnley are a Premier League side and are built like it and the physical size of the visiting team’s back four against an attacking pair of Billy Clarke and Filipe Morais showed the porosity of options in replacing injured James Hanson. That Hanson when missed cannot be replaced is obvious to all. Play a different way without Big Jim, but do not play as if he is there. Stuart McCall found out today what Phil Parkinson knew in that. There is an obvious need for another forward.

At the back there is a type of order emerging with the Tony McMahon cemented in at right back in the absence of Stephen Darby and Nathan Clarke and Nathaniel Knight-Percival alongside him. They struggled today but signs of a relationship with Colin Doyle in goal were there. Daniel Devine will not be starting at left back but – at seventeen and taking responsibility for the ball that put some of senior professionals to shame – I’d expect to see him starting games this season. Despite playing left back today he was the best midfielder in claret and amber on show.

Which brings us to the afternoon’s issues: one old, one new.

City started the game off brightly but Mark Marshall’s inaction in the defensive third allowed Burnley to score – Marshall gets no credit at all for shouting back at McMahon (his captain, and full back) who balled him out after his mistake, Marshall is too old to be having a strop when his captain tells him what everyone else could see – and within minutes the game was utterly beyond the Bantams. In recent years we have seen Bradford City teams who prided themselves on never being out of games but the McCall standard of over-dramatisation returned and Marshall’s mistake swept through the team as nervousness and before half time Burnley had a 3-0 lead.

McCall’s statement that Marshall could play a key role this season assumed much improvement from the wide player which seems to have no evidential basis. Marshall’s tricks on the wing are impressive but he remains a literal liability. For every two times he does something with his ball skills he allows three chances behind him with he undisciplined performances. This was true last year and was true against Burnley in pre-season. Unless there is a very sudden change to how much he creates, or gives away, then McCall has a problem in the making.

The a different type of the same problem emerges for Paul Anderson. Once again big things are expected from the winger without any suggestion that he will achieve them. Both Anderson and Marshall create a type of possession but by fielding one or both of them McCall foregoes other possession. By telling Anderson to try fly past full backs one is axiomatically foregoing possession in from of the full back. Anderson/Marshall look for zone 16/18 possession and that stretches the midfield.

That midfield today saw a new recruit with Romain Vincelot joining from Coventry City for £80,000 to pre-empt the problem of the afternoon. Timothée Dieng held the middle of the pitch well but Nicky Law – coming forward out of midfield – left Dieng often alone in the middle of the pitch and – without Anderson and Marshall to tuck in – with too much work for one man to do. If McCall is to play Anderson and Marshall – and one would hope the pair would improve in the next two weeks to justify that – then Vincelot and Dieng are in and Law is out in order to create something like a balance.

More balanced would be to play only one of the Anderson/Marshall pairing and allow Law – or McMahon when Darby is fit – to create a tight three in the midfield but some distant worry niggles at my head and leaves me wondering if the changed McCall has changed for the better in learning the virtue of this kind of balanced middle four or if he may have fallen for an idea of attacking players rather than attacking chances.

The season is a long one and when it starts pre-season and its niggling worries are all but forgotten.

Timeline / Reboot

There is a difference between you and me. We both looked into the abyss, but when it looked back at us, you blinked – Bruce Wayne, Crisis

There was a point in the history of Bradford City where the club took one turn, and could have taken another.

To be more accurate these points happen all the time but watching Stuart McCall take a Bradford City through pre-season at Guiseley I ended up thinking back to the days of January and February 2007 when Dean Windass was allowed to leave City and join Hull, and Colin Todd was sacked.

Todd’s contract was up at the end of the season and it was an open secret that Julian Rhodes wanted McCall to replace him. The need for totemic best player Windass seemed to be over with Rhodes convinced that the Bantams had enough points that David Wetherall could not possibly get them relegated in his time as manager (which he did) and had he not Rhodes might have used – not certainly not needed – an investment from then supporter Mark Lawn.

And had Rhodes excersized restraint and kept Todd, or Windass, or both, or taken another option then McCall may well have arrived in June 2007 to the very type of situation he found himself in some nine years later.

But these things happen all the time. Had Notts County’s one yarder in the first round of the League Cup 2011/2012 gone a foot lower then there would not be a Phil Parkinson legacy – such as it is – for McCall to adopt.

That legacy is not to be understated either. Parkinson has left City in rude health. The leanness of the squad in summer which caused so much consternation is purposeful and a feature of the majority of clubs outside the higher reaches of the game where lengthy deals on players are more often liabilities than assets. Only the foundations are secured in League One football these days.

And the foundations off the field are secured.

Parkinson – as far as the story is told – never walked into the boardroom and demanded money the club could not afford for players and given how easily led the boardroom seemed to be that is a good thing. That the squad last season was patched with loan players rather than panic purchases says a lot.

List the players from last season who City owned to still be at the club this season and names like Rory McArdle and Stephen Darby – both absent today and for the start of the season following operations – would be iterated through. Ben Williams and Jamie Proctor would not.

“The owl of Athena spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk” – as Hegel should have said – and it seems that dusk has not come yet for Parkinson.

Rather than a reboot of 2007/2008 and McCall’s first time as Bradford City manager in League Two it seemed that the manager was on the road not travelled, and playing in what could have been.

What was was an entertaining encounter. It would be wrong to talk about Guiseley as more than an extended and expensive training session and so to pick out specifics rather than trends seems to miss the point of the exercise.

Those trends though seemed positive.

The young players who stepped up from the lower ranks which Parkinson ignored and played with the élan of The Lisbon Girls allowed out to party for the first time. Daniel Devine’s name suggests itself.

The trialists looked lively in a way that seemed different to those Parkinson brought in. All looked capable and some looked impressive. The wheat from the chaff comes in spending time with the characters and seeing how they fit into a unit which is what games like this are all about.

It was good to see George Green make a long awaited debut. George Green and the subject of paths not taken is interesting assuming you remember the name.

And of the new signings Nathaniel Knight-Percival did not have much to do while Nicky Law Jnr set up an equalising goal for Tom Hateley (trialist) to score from. That moment when Hateley equalised revealed the game for what it was. The Bantams were happy to kick the ball around but would not go home in a defeat. The gears shifted up after falling behind showed a team working fitness rather than working to win.

And all seemed new. Parkinson has left something good at Bradford City but his exit seems to have taken with it some of the stolid tenancies which mired City’s thinking. All that was good seems good and all that was not seems new.

Which is not something that one would have expected.

Timing / Signing

There is a worry, dear reader, that good signings are being made in League One and that shod of a manager Bradford City are not making them.

This is a problem of course. Without having a manager, a chief scout, and with having chairmen who have just arrived it at the club one doubts that anyone has a list of targets to bring in or if they do that that list is especially impressive.

The most impressive run of signings in City’s recent history came in the summer of 2012 when within a month Rory McArdle, Gary Jones, and Stephen Darby all arrived. Their arrival was Phil Parkinson’s coup and probably had not little to do with the fact that all three had played for Rochdale under Parkinson’s assistant Steve Parkin. One wonders how long a signing like Rory McArdle or Gary Jones takes to make. Jones had been shown around Valley Parade the season before he arrived but stayed at Spotland suggesting a year long chase for him but for all we know Phil might have turned to Steve one afternoon and told him the club needed a good central midfielder and Steve got on the phone.

Nevertheless the worry is that as City stand still signings are being made and the Bantams are missing out.

Using the summer transfer windows from 2010 to 2014 as a five year sample (which excludes last season, for fairness, as I’ve criticised it heavily in the past) Bradford City signed forty five permanent players. This includes loan signings being made permanent in the summer but excludes loan signings. Here is a list of those players.

Of the forty five players signed I’m going to say that fourteen were successful. By that I mean that in the season they signed they started at least two thirds of the league games the club played in the season that follow.

This criteria might seem to err harshly but the question at hand is about if the type of players needed for success are being sucked up while City are managerless and not about prospects or good pro squad men.

Any player who signed but started less than a third of the club’s games is marked as a failure.

A list of the signings between 2010-2014 who started more than two thirds of the games in the following season ordered by day and month (not year)

  • 27 May 2010 – Luke Oliver – 100.00%
  • 30 May 2014 – Billy Knott – 79.49%
  • 7 June 2012 – Rory McArdle – 100.00%
  • 9 June 2014 – Gary Liddle – 100.00%
  • 22 June 2012 – Gary Jones – 100.00%
  • 27 June 2014 – Billy Clarke – 82.05%
  • 4 July 2012 – Will Atkinson – 68.42%
  • 4 July 2012 – Garry Thompson – 68.42%
  • 5 July 2012 – Stephen Darby – 86.84%
  • 13 July 2011 – Ritchie Jones – 79.17%
  • 29 July 2012 – James Meredith – 84.21%
  • 4 August 2012 – Nathan Doyle – 89.47%
  • 9 August 2010 – Dave Syers – 73.17%
  • 29 August 2011 – Kyel Reid – 66.67%

A list of the signings between 2010-2014 who started less than a thirds of the games in the following season ordered by day and month (not year)

  • 16 May 2014 – Matthew Dolan – 7.69%
  • 27 May 2010 – Lloyd Saxton – 0.00%
  • 30 June 2010 – Jake Speight – 31.71%
  • 1 July 2011 – Mark Stewart – 20.83%
  • 2 July 2013 – Jason Kennedy – 11.63%
  • 3 July 2013 – Mark Yeates – 23.26%
  • 6 July 2011 – Scott Brown – 0.00%
  • 8 July 2011 – Patrick Lacey – 0.00%
  • 13 July 2011 – Nialle Rodney – 0.00%
  • 14 July 2011 – Andrew Burns – 0.00%
  • 20 July 2012 – Alan Connell – 21.05%
  • 22 July 2011 – Nahki Wells – 29.17%* See comments below
  • 30 July 2013 – Raffaele De Vita – 13.95%
  • 1 August 2013 – Matt Taylor – 2.33%
  • 5 August 2014 – Ben Williams – 30.77%
  • 5 August 2014 – Mo Shariff – 0.00%
  • 5 August 2014 – Matthew Urwin – 0.00%
  • 18 August 2012 – Carl McHugh – 31.58%
  • 31 August 2010 – Chib Chilaka – 0.00%
  • 31 August 2011 – Dean Overson – 0.00%

I shall let you, dear reader, pick more bones out of those two lists but my interpretation of them are that our recent history points to successful signings being made early – in June – and that the closer towards the start of the season one waits the less likelihood there is that the player will play a significant role in the coming year.

There is, of course, a caveat to all this and it comes in the form of the Parkin/Joned factor mentioned above. That a glut of successful signings were made in June is probably more to do with ongoing relations that it is to do with the time of the signing.

We enter into post hoc ergo propter hoc thinking here. That successful signings are made in June is a factor of having the relationships and structures in place to make those signings. In short if all the work was done (at any point) previous to the end of the last season the signings will come in June.

If we consider the end of July and start of August to be the time when clubs who do not have those relationships make signings based on who is left following the players who are picked off because of Parkin/Jones style relationships (what we call scatter-signing) then City – with no relationship at the moment – would be operating in that way were they to be bringing in player now.

Scatter-signing in June is to replicate the behaviour of August two months early.

Bradford City do not have – or do not seem to have – those relationships or structure in place at the moment. There is no one at the club who knows a Gary Jones to bring in in order to bring him in in early June.

Should Nicky Law Jnr return with Stuart McCall then there would be a June signing because of that relationship but that is not the same as sitting a manager in the office in June and telling him to bring in five faces before the Euro finish.

The clubs who are working on signing Gillingham’s Bradley Dack – who City’s Billy Knott seems to have joined the Gills in anticipation of him leaving – have been working on that signing for months. Even if City’s new manager was to be on the phone buying players today the June signings would probably be out of his reach.

And so talking about not signing players in June misses the point. It is not that the players are not signed it is that – I would say – the structure that need to be in place to bring in a Gary Jones or a Rory McArdle need to be in place before June.

New chairman, new manager, new era and all. We have to accept that Bradford City are forced to sit out the June 2016 recruitment.

Clayton Donaldson and Bradford City: head vs heart

To the unobserved, the battle to secure League Two hotshot Clayton Donaldson’s signature would place Bradford City as rank outsiders. Championship outfit Coventry City, newly-promoted to League One Chesterfield and moneybags league newcomers Crawley Town are among a host of clubs said to be chasing the 29-goal striker; and so the appeal of a failing League Two side which has recently struggled to pay their players would seem limited.

Yet the Bantams have an emotional attraction to Donaldson that no other interested party can match, and newly confirmed manager Peter Jackson is hoping romanticism can override career progression or opulence in swaying Donaldson to head to Valley Parade. Born in Manningham and having grown up in the youth set-up until being shown the door at 15, Bradford City has one distinct advantage over all the other clubs trying to secure his signature – he has actually dreamed of playing for them.

But will that be enough? The psyche of a footballer is one we supporters regularly struggle to understand. While we will all have shared childhood afflictions of wanting to play for our football club, somewhere along the line that passion for one team seems to disappear in professional footballers and an outlook that a club is an employer, rather than an institution, takes over.

Sure we supporters, in our own careers, can sometimes hold a special affection for our employers and be loyal enough not to move on, but a job is a job and ultimately it’s up to our employer to keep us happy or we’ll get itchy feet. Many footballers seemingly view clubs in a similar way.

Yes, it’s a privileged career and most decent footballers know and appreciate that, but one can imagine the sort of frustrations we have with our own jobs and employers being replicated by players: “The wages are rubbish compared to what we could be earning elsewhere”, “I hate the boss”, “I’m sick of how we’re treated.” However special it is to play football, it is, at the end of the day, their job.

So footballers who have gone onto truly live those childhood ambitions of becoming heroes for their club are few and far between. Wayne Rooney still talks of being an Everton supporter, but didn’t stick around at Goodison Park for very long. It’s difficult to argue with his reasoning either, as he prepares to take part in his third Champions League final for Manchester United this evening. But as he hopes to score the winning goal against Barcelona, who’s to say he didn’t harbour childhood dreams of playing in the European Cup final for Everton?

Meanwhile Steven Gerrard, Liverpool born and bred, continues to play for his underachieving team. He’s had some tempting offers to move on in the past and came close to doing so, but he’s forgone career progression and trophies to continue flying the flag for Liverpool – at times truly appearing as though he is walking alone with a bunch of average team mates. His had a great career for sure, but somehow the fact he’s arguably the finest English midfielder of the past decade isn’t widely recognised because he’s not at the summit of his sport. These days he doesn’t even get to play in the Champions League.

Does Gerrard care? Probably, but playing for his beloved team is more important to him.

But it’s not just about who you grew up supporting. Stuart McCall didn’t support City as a kid, but no one would dispute that his feelings for the club are as strong as any of us supporters. Michael Flynn will have even less reason to care, but despite failing to hit the heights last season the way he conducts himself on and off the pitch demonstrates 100% commitment to our cause. Jackson has recently stated he wants to find players who truly want to play for City, and although he wanted to release Flynn he probably has the ideal man to build this vision of a team around.

Disappointingly in recent years, it’s rarely been the case that City players have been bothered enough about playing for the Bantams over another club. Two years ago I personally felt hugely sad that Dean Furman and Nicky Law opted not to sign permanently for City, after successful loan spells. Furman in particular was very popular with supporters, and his reasoning not to stay on at Valley Parade – because he wanted to play at the highest level possible – seemed unfulfilling when he rocked up at Oldham.

Sure it was a division higher, but with crowds at Boundary Park half the size of City it hardly looked a glamorous step up. Instead he could have remained at City, built on his reputation and became a true cult hero at a football club who would be talked about for decades after.

Similarly Law – who was said to have been put off from signing for City by the reduced likelihood of a promotion push that next season (2009/10) – chose Rotherham for the Millers’ greater potential and more lucrative salary. Two years on Law remains in the same division as City – though in fairness he might have been part of Blackpool’s Premier League adventure after Rotherham turned down a bid from the Seasiders 18 months ago – and his career has only minimally progressed.

So what of Donaldson? If you were in his shoes, would you want to re-sign for a club who once rejected you and who seem unlikely to rise up the leagues in the near future, just because it’s your hometown? Would you not want to play in the sizable Ricoh Arena for Coventry against clubs like Birmingham and Cardiff, two divisions higher? Would the no doubt lure of higher wages at Crawley persuade you to move South, talking up how impressed you are by the club’s “ambition”?

There are a number of similarities to City’s chase for Donaldson and the hunt for Michael Boulding three years ago. Boulding had scored 25 goals for a relegated League Two side, and a host of clubs made advances. City, in a much stronger financial position and publically talking up achieving back-to-back promotions, were a leading club in the chase. Boulding signed, but it didn’t work out for a number of reasons. While Boulding argues otherwise, you wonder whether he cared enough about City when the chips were down. Certainly he was too often anonymous in games for my liking.

This time around City, with Donaldson, are somewhere near the back of the queue to sign him. If the decision is taken by the head overruling the heart, the Bantams have no chance. But if the desire to be a hero at the club he grew up supporting – in front of his family and friends – is more important, Donaldson will be coming home.

And for Jackson the pursuit of Donaldson is a no-brainer. Because, if he gets his man, he can be confident Donaldson will be signing for reasons he wants all of his team to personify next season.

The fifth midfield shows as City face Northampton

In a season which promised much and delivered little it has been difficult to bring to mind any reasons to be cheerful as City look to the future but – when those reasons are brought to mind – chief in them is the performance of David Syers.

Signed at the start of the season from Guiseley Syers arrived at Valley Parade looking very much like an unnecessary third wheel in the midfield. With Tom Ademeyi added to an assumed midfield three of Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and Tommy Doherty it seemed that Syers was going to find first team opportunities limited.

His debut goal – the equaliser in a game with Nottingham Forest – did not harm his case but twenty starts later Syers’ honest endeavours have seen him not only elevated from signed up curio to hope for the future but also activate a second year clause in is contract.

Without a manager in place for new season let alone a set of players it is hard to see Bradford City 2011/2012 but were Syers to be within that somewhere and somewhere in the midfield.

The one thing that has united all four seasons of City teams in League Two has been midfield failure with the sum of parts so often being less than it should be. Doherty and co this season should have been a superb set up but not only did they often have the ball over their head under Peter Taylor but when they did get a chance to play they failed to take enough of a grip of matches. Doherty is the poster boy for this season’s midfield failure. A favourite of Taylor, a player of massive ability, but it just did not happen for him.

Nor did it happen for the Michael Flynn midfield under Stuart McCall the previous year. Flynn’s hard work did not cut a swathe through the division although the player himself performed well. In its way that year of midfield was no worse the much lauded previous season with Paul McLaren, Dean Furman and Nicky Law. All talented, none of whom were able to grab games by the scruff of the neck.

Paul McLaren – the senior professional – taken the blame for that but once again is a very talented footballer as was the first League Two midfield boss Paul Evans the fading of whom remains a mystery to me as well as one of the most disappointing player seasons I’ve ever seen.

Four season, four midfields and none of them simply poor at football but all of them coming up short.

Not so – at the moment – Jon Worthington who bestrode the City midfield like no other player at this level since we sank down. Worthington’s first full ninety minutes came last week at Morecambe and has he battled for every ball so did the rest of the team. It was inspiring to watch.

One has to wonder what Worthington – benched under Taylor who signed him – did to not impress the previous gaffer but in his old Huddersfield boss Peter Jackson Worthington has someone who knows the value of a proper holding midfielder.

The Flynn/Worthington midfield is a solid foundation – the Syers/Worthington one could have promise too – and one which has the kind of battering energy which is often seen in the teams which exit this league in the right direction.

Gareth Evans missed a penalty last week after a tireless display of not little ability while Kevin Ellison – who won said spot kick – seems set to take Scott Dobie’s place in on the left wing. Omar Daley has become available to recall from loan by Jackson after his first month at Rotherham and has let it be known to those who know him that he will play for anyone who gives him a contract for next season.

Also letting things be known this week was Jake Speight who tweeted to former City skipper Zesh Rehman spelling out the change in attitude at the club and his support for his new manager saying

speighty28: @Zesh_Rehman yes bro am good thanks! Yeah finally back playing new gaffers class 2 be fair! Its a lot better here now! How is it over there?

Rehman is enjoying Thailand – so he says – and is pleased that Speight is feeling the same as shows in his (that word again) energetic performances of late which hint at – rather than promise – goals. Perhaps the game with Northampton will be the day that Speight gets the goals that his input suggests but football can be unfair. Speight will be up front with James Hanson.

Jon McLaughlin may keep his place at the back after his clean sheet although Lenny Pidgeley hopes to be fit again. The back four of Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien also celebrated a clean sheet and will be retained for the Cobbler’s visit.

Northampton sit below City in League Two – although they too have a new manager in the highly impressive Gary Johnson – and a win for the Bantams would do much to secure Football League status sooner rather than later.

Which would strengthen Peter Jackson’s claim for the Bradford City job long term – and perhaps this time long term could be more than a season – so the likes of David Syers might be able to be considered to be part of the club for more than a season by season basis.

How far with the lesson of Germany reach?

Self flagellation has always been popular in English football and when the national side returned home from a World Cup 4-1.5ing by Germany the press and players had already begun to whip itself in a freeze of internalised loathing showing the defining characteristic of the media approach to the game: That the game is played by England and other sides are the subject of that.

So when England play well – nine out of ten in qualifying – it is because of our abilities and when we lose it is the lack of those which is the problem and credit is never extended to the opposition. Watching Germany ram four past Argentina though could cause cause for a pause. However poor one might feel England were either Argentina (and Australia) were equal to that or – perhaps – there is something worth noticing going on in Joachim Löw’s side.

There has been a consensus that the Germans – who played a central five in the midfield with an average age of just under 23 years old – have stolen a march on the World because of that youth and freshness and there is much to be said for the way that they have blooded their younger players. 25 year old Schweinsteiger is on his second World Cup. So is Wayne Rooney, scratch that idea then.

Much is also made about the formation which Fabio Capello – and Diego Maradona – employed compared to Löw’s Germans and suddenly the word “fourfourtwo” is becoming something of a negative in the English game. One can almost hear now managers up and down the country being charged with the idea that they – like Capello – lack the imagination to play a more exotic tactic and one can expect three months of randomly thrown together formations up and down football.

Freakish results will mark the start of the season as teams who deploy something more “characterful” than the 442 which has fallen from fashion. As Clough said “There is a lot of rubbish talked about tactics by people who would not know how to win a game of Dominoes.”

Not that this will effect Peter Taylor who has signed the players and settled on a 433 at Valley Parade and City can make hay as League Two players are deployed in fanciful ways to little effect. Finding a way of playing and sticking to it is perhaps the most important thing.

On the fourfourtwo one can say that while it may have faults when playing three games every four years in the World Cup in the cut and thrust of two games a week for nine months the simplicity, adaptability and ease of the approach is the reason for its enduring popularity. Week to week football requires not a surgeon’s tool but a Swiss Army Knife, which is what fourfourtwo is.

The German’s 4231 – originally a formation played in Portugal because of the freedom it gives to the kind of attacking midfielder that that nation excels in producing such as Luis Figo, Joao Pinto and his brother Sergio – is nothing especially new.

The lesson of the Germans is not in tactics but in the deployment of players within those formations. The heart of the German side is Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira who play the deep set midfielder role in a revolutionary manner. Popular conception has it that the two in a 4231 should be holding midfielders and ball winners but Löw’s pairing are more box to box players capable of tackling and getting behind the ball for sure but also able to be used as a spring board for attacking play.

For Schweinsteiger and Khedira there is no need to look for a passer after taking the ball – the pair are equipped to play in the three more forward midfielder – increasing the speed of the counter attack and its accuracy. What they loose in not having a Claude Makelele they gain in rapidity of play creating a nod to total football ideology. As Schweinsteiger plays the ball forward so Mesut Özil or Lukas Podolski or Thomas Müller can drop back and tackle.

This is a stark contrast to the approach that many – myself included – have to for example the English midfield which agonises over the choice between attacking players like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and ball winners like Gareth Barry. The roles are as split as centre forward and full back but not for Löw’s Germans.

There is a plan for sure and positions – this is not total football Dutch style – but the less rigid assignment of player roles gives a fluidity which England, Australia and Argentina have been incapable of living with. The jobs are done in that German engine room but – crucially – the players who do them have the ability and remit to do each other’s tasks.

Even Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano – as fine a pair of specialised players as one could see – looked old fashioned and stolid in comparison and as Schweinsteiger surged to the left touchline and set up a second goal it seemed obviously that if Germany could prevent Messi emulating that then Mascherano simply would not attempt it.

The granularity of positions – especially in the midfield – has become something of a mantra for modern football and one recalls Lee Crooks and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson but struggles to think of them both as “midfielders” rather one as a holder, the other as an attacker. The same could be said about Dean Furman and Nicky Law although perhaps not about Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock.

Indeed whatever lessons are emanating from the German side at the moment Peter Taylor seems to have adopted. His midfield trio next season are Flynn, Bullock and Tommy Doherty and none of them fit easily into the idea of being players only able to – or only ready to – performing a single role.

It remains to be seen what lessons the game as a whole take from World Cup 2010 and if those lessons create a path to success but City seem to be ahead of a curve that is coming and should that bring the same rewards for the Bantams as it has for the previously unfavoured Germans then next season could be a good year indeed.

Nicky Law Jnr heads to Wembley and some familiar friends

Two-time Bradford City loanee Nicky Law is this evening celebrating after Rotherham overcame Aldershot to book a place in the League Two play off final. It represents a much happier end to the season than the last for the attacking midfielder, who was a prominent figure in the Bantams side which lost its way at the final furlong. And, if the Millers are successful at Wembley the weekend after next, Law will be up against some familiar faces next season.

For City, last summer was all about the future of seven players; four high earners, who to varying degrees hadn’t lived up to expectations – Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee, Chris Brandon and Michael Boulding – and three loanees, who’d generally impressed and who manager Stuart McCall wanted to sign permanently – Dean Furman, Steve Jones and Law. First he had to do something about moving on the high earners, before he could hope to persuade the three loanees, who’d be in high demand, they should stay at Valley Parade.

It didn’t work out as hoped, with Furman always likely to try his hand at a higher level and moving to Oldham, and Law accepting what appeared to be a more lucrative offer from Rotherham. McCall later revealed Jones might have signed, but with McLaren’s departure not yet finalised the ginger winger opted for Chris Hutchings’ Walsall. Lee joined McLaren in moving on, and all those who began the season elsewhere can end it arguing leaving City was the right move.

Jones certainly didn’t look back, netting ten goals and winning one fans’ website’s player of the season award as Walsall enjoyed their highest league finish for six years. Furman wasn’t quite as successful at Oldham, eventually losing his place in the team as the Latics suffered a disappointing season, finishing just two points above the relegation zone. Still at least Furman was a greater success than Joe Colbeck.

McLaren might have hoped to be battling for promotion on his return to Tranmere, but under John Barnes’ disastrous management the Prenton Park outfit went from narrowly missing the play offs, the season before, to relegation certainties. Physio Les Parry turned it around after been appointed caretaker manager, and McLaren remained a key figure before injury ended his season early.

While Lee began life after City still in League Two, he played a significant role in Notts County’s topsy-turvy campaign that ended in triumph. He at least should face McLaren, Furman, Colbeck and Jones next season. Law, who largely had an excellent season for Rotherham which included earning a spot in the PFA League Two team of the year and a £150k from Premier League hopefuls Blackpool, will hope to join him.

Meanwhile the two other high earners, who chose to stay at Valley Parade last summer, are facing very different futures. It didn’t work out for Brandon or Boulding and both were booted out early. Although Brandon may follow former City striker Danny Cadamarteri in playing in Scotland, non-league is Boulding’s likely next destination.

And as City fell short again this season, the question is whether it was more due to losing those players who have proved key players in better sides, or because failing to remove the final two high earners left McCall short of budget to capture the missing ingredients.

City keep their heads as others lose theirs

Peter Taylor was thrust into unemployment by Wycombe Wanderers last October with accusations of dourness to smart over. But in the three short weeks since becoming Bradford City’s interim manager for the rest of the season, the 57-year-old is proving there’s a far greater edge to his methods.

When Rotherham United’s Adam Le Fondre fired home a stoppage time equaliser from the penalty spot, it appeared a well-deserved victory had been snatched from the Bantams’ grasp and what still looked a credible point in a promotion-chaser’s backyard would be all Taylor would take in support of his case for a longer contract. But heads didn’t drop, and Luke O’Brien charged forwards to earn a corner, which Simon Ramsden planted perfectly onto James Hanson’s forehead to fire home a dramatic winner. Dourness we can all get used to.

It was no more than City deserved for an impressive display which had the influence of Taylor stamped all over it. Organisation and shape have been the two biggest areas of improvement in City since the change of managers, and while both qualities could be filed under the dourness category apparently derided at Adams Park, they’ve helped what has looked an exciting team to watch all season become more focused and effective in its exhibiting of flair.

All afternoon at the Don Valley Stadium, the Bantams attacked with a purpose that caused problems for an oddly-nervous backline, largely lacking in the support of its midfield. A purpose that wasn’t about charging down blind alleys or pushing too many men forward, only to then have problems defending a counter attack. The midfield supported the front two of Hanson and Michael Flynn conservatively but dependably. If and when possession was lost, two organised lines of four were quickly in place to shield home attacks.

There is an element of directness about City’s approach; though with half of the Don Valley turf more closely resembling a beach than a football pitch, the conditions compromised passing football. But the mixing up of targeting the two wide players and passing through the engine room of the again hugely-impressive Lee Bullock and debut signing Adam Bolder ensured there was nothing predictable about the approach.

After former Bantam Nicky Law had forced a good early save from Matt Glennon, the territorial advantage and bulk of the chances were won by City in the first half. A defensive mix up almost saw Steve Williams head home, then a few minutes later Hanson blazed over from inside the penalty area when he should have scored. Rotherham almost struck when a goalmouth scramble saw three stabbed efforts somehow not cross the line – two were blocked on it by City players and the middle attempt hit the crossbar.

But City shaded the first half and continued to press after the interval with O’Brien and Flynn going close before City’s number four scored his first goal since Rotherham came to Valley Parade last December, firing home low and hard after Gareth Evans had charged forwards down the right flank and laid the ball into his path. Flynn again had an impressive afternoon in the unfamiliar striker’s role, before dropping into midfield late on. What Taylor’s use of his central midfielder says of the futures of Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne is becoming increasingly clear.

Evans’ role in the goal too deserved credit. Both he and O’Brien must be fearful of their own futures. Long term solutions for the widemen they probably aren’t, but the pair’s attitude towards making it work is admirable. It isn’t always perfect and both were guilty of losing the ball too often, but their obvious attempts to keep hold of it out wide rather than head-down take players on and risk losing possession is helping City’s midfield to support the front two more effectively and it was fitting the opening goal should be provided by one of them.

With Bullock and Bolder easily winning the midfield battle, the frankly woeful Nicky Law was subbed by Ronnie Moore as the home side pushed to come back. The pressure was sporadic, though crosses into the box did cause panic and Flynn and Robbie Therfall made two goalline blocks from one scramble before Mark Lynch headed off target. Minutes later Daryl Harrison fired wide with the goal gaping after Therfall was beaten too easily out wide. It was a let off which had Taylor screaming at his back four in anger over how they’d switched off, but with the clock running down it looked like City were going to hold out.

But a minute into stoppage time the otherwise impressive Williams handled in the box and the referee gave a penalty – a harsh but probably correct decision – and Le Fondre beat Glennon from 12 yards despite City’s stopper guessing which way he’d go. It seemed a crucial goal for Rotherham in their fight for promotion, but despite looking as though they’d got away with an undeserved draw, the celebrations from the home fans was less concerned with their own team’s joy.

Hundreds of Millers’ supporters swarmed to the front of their stand to taunt the City fans nearby, seemingly having no interest with events on the pitch. Their pathetic reaction was more bizarre for how feeble they had been supporting their own players during the game. It was almost near silence, apart from faint booing of their team’s disjointed play. They also had the humiliation of what looked like a bear mascot banging on a drum at the front of the stand in an attempt to get them chanting. While most Rotherham fans are undoubtedly decent people, one has to wonder about the small-time mentality of those who choose to react to their team’s last gasp equaliser at home to a team in 16th by simply goading opposition fans. Maybe we should be flattered.

But with a rising sense of injustice at the way afternoon was to end, just like Alan Partridge needless to say we had the last laugh. A corner was quickly forced and with the match long past the three allocated minutes of stoppage time and with hundreds of Rotherham fans still watching us and not the game, Hanson powerfully headed home his 10th goal of the season to spark scenes of delirium. For the second season in a row, celebrations spilled out onto the running track between the stands and pitch. It was a goal which hurt Rotherham more than it will alter City’s season, oh the faces of their fans.

And despite what must have felt like a huge kick in the teeth when Rotherham scored and the subsequent obvious madness taking place in the stands which saw police rushing to the front to prevent the possibility of trouble, the players kept their heads and made sure they left the pitch with everything they deserved.

That, above everything else, is what Taylor has brought to City. Under Stuart McCall this season the Bantams were playing some exciting football which was great to watch as the players gave everything to the cause, but the results ultimately illustrated its effectiveness. The football isn’t quite as edgy, but the energy is being used in the right way and City look hard to beat, determined and know what their roles are. There is an air of calmness which is transmitting into confidence and belief. Taylor is instigating that calmness.

It’s felt all season long that the Bantams had a good enough squad to challenge for promotion, results like this and at Rochdale are proving that. It’s surely come too late this campaign, but McCall’s legacy is leaving behind tools which Taylor could effectively use to mount a promotion challenge, if given the chance, next season.

Sounds dour.

A tale of two shopping centres

Five months of working in Sheffield does things to a man, brings revelations if you will, brings considerations.

Rotherham has become a suburb of a bigger City – or so it is commonly held down Sheffield way – but the people of the Steel City do not consider themselves to have swallowed up their neighbour but rather that it has been swallowed. “Rotherham: Suburb of Meadowhall.”

The middle of Rotherham is empty, the civic pride drained and the area that once was to be proud, all far too familiar.

The Millers address that pride in some ways – under Mark Robins at the start of this season and continuing under perennial Bradford City ire target Ronnie Moore – the battle for promotion from League Two. How much this pride can be felt by people in the Town who lost money in the administrations the club have twice suffered is debatable. People who lost out when the Bantams twice sailed the to the edge of bankruptcy have not had to watch the club celebrate big money signings the season after having a begging bowl pushed under their noses and being told that debts must be written off.

Adam Le Fondre – formerly of Rochdale – cost a record fee for the Millers while both Nicky Law Jnr this season and Eugene Bopp and Paul Shaw last were taken out of the clutches of the Bantams after we offered all we could and Rotherham trumped that offer. The increasingly iconic Woman with a B&B in Darlington would find such a sudden surge in cash hard to swallow and considering Moore previous position on clubs in administration but perhaps we underestimate the Millers boss who may flog Le Fondre in the transfer window and go around the area repaying those people who lost money. Probably not.

If Rotherham are defined by Meadowhall then they are certainly not to be viewed as a shop struggling in the credit crunch but are more like those chains that live in constant closing down sales presenting the financial face they feel most beneficial. They are able to flash the cash to land Le Fondre and Law but when the Football League ask about their plans to move back to the location they take the name from they talk about financial pressures that forced them out of Millmoor. The Football League have asked for answers from the Millers and given them a deadline for moving back to Rotherham but at present talks are ongoing about such a move and work is not due to begin until “2010/2011” and a site has yet to be found for such a development.

In the meantime the club play at The Don Valley Stadium, a stone’s throw from Meadowhall.

None of which is presented as schadenfreude nor indeed is hard to sympathise with. If Rotherham’s decline is the story of one shopping centre then Bradford’s is another – the much trumpeted Westfield development which sits as a large hole in the middle of the City Centre that begs for regeneration.

Despite much talk from City Hall and various development agencies the regeneration of Bradford City Centre remains a series of big promises with little or no delivery and the Westfield hole being a cautionary tale told by the people who want to save the Odeon building: “Let them rip this down will you? And replace it with more hollow promises that come to nothing!” would sum up their position.

Off the cuff it has been remarked that the hole should be filled with the very sort of joint community stadium which Rotherham limply seek but such thoughts are never turned to football at City Hall, a curious point because one might suspect that those regenerationists might find some like minds at Valley Parade.

At Valley Parade we have our own section who make vague and hollow promises about things improving in the future if only they can knock something down. The debate on sacking Stuart McCall is active and rich but in reading it one is reminded about the promises of the developers who knocked down Forster Square and before that The Swan Arcade which turned out to be utterly hollow.

In this metaphor Stuart McCall is the Odeon Building and his critics promise that regeneration will start following removal, Colin Todd is the Forster Square site and the big hole in the middle of Bradford is where those fans who promised that getting rid of Todd/Square would benefit us in the long run have left us.

Personally I’m not inclined to believe the promises of those who talk about sacking Stuart McCall and would put the promise they intrinsically make that the next manager will get the club rising up the leagues again alongside those of the people who brought us the hole in the middle of Bradford. They are hollow promises, and following them has led both the City and t’ City to this point.

When these clubs go shopping they test the resources that have previously taken one into the Premiership and the other half way up the league below. City’s marshalling of resources is done with a prudence – what was spent is within what can be afforded – while Rotherham seem either unbridled by such a need to trim that spending or do not believe it will be a problem for them in the future.

Assuming that Rotherham are not robbing both Peter and Paul to pay Adam then their ability to exit Millmoor is perhaps another difference between the clubs. While Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes keep within a budget that includes the price of paying former chairman Gordon Gibb to stay at Valley Parade The Millers fair thumb their noses at the former chairman turned landlord and have opted out of their home City precisely because of the cost of staying.

Imagine City leaving Valley Parade to go play at Farsley Celtic to get around paying expensive Gibb’s rent, or, if you want, imagine Wimbledon deciding they do no want the costs and effects of staying in London and so relocating to Milton Keynes. Trying to think of an FL/FA rule that allows one and not the other is a brain pickler.

Ultimately comparisons between City and Rotherham are enough to pickle the mind too. City fans consider us a far bigger team but men over fifty not connected to either club would probably say both of us are perennial lower leaguers. Rotherham have either survived two administrations and losing their ground in much ruder health than City. They did – of course – exit without a CVA the second time which in 2004 when the Bantams were preparing a second escape was penalised not by a 17 point penalty but by being thrown out of the Football League and being forced to start at the foot of the football pyramid. No two administrations are alike.

The Miller’s start to the season attracted the attentions of Barnsley to manager Mark Robins and so the investment in the likes of Le Fondre and Nicky Law Jnr paid off for him. Stuart McCall spent the summer moving players on missing out on the likes of Steve Jones because of an unwillingness to extend the wage bill without an assurance it would covered by a player exit.

Robins looked impressive to Barnsley and Moore may end up taking his team up. All at City talk about an unwillingness to risk the future of the club. In spending money to out bid us on players while under a Football League Sword of Damocles concerning moving back to their home town which they could do but do not what to it seems fair to say that the same is not true for them.

So Stuart McCall – two wins in three – faces Ronnie Moore – two administrations and a clutch of expensive players the year after – and City face Rotherham United at Valley Parade with the Bantams chasing points and the Millers promotion. Moore’s arrival replacing Mark Robbins saw the Millers stutter but since they have regained footing and sit third having drawn 2-2 with Burton last week after losing to Shrewsbury the game before. Nursing a 3-0 FA Cup drubbing (3-0 defeats now officially being considered drubbings) by Luton Town lats game one must go back to the 24th of November and a 2-0 win over model of managerial change Lincoln City for the visitor’s last win, that game seeing Adam Le Fondre score twice has he has a habit of doing. An intelligent player Le Fondre – like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before – is a reader of the game finding and exploiting weaknesses in defences.

City’s defence go into the game on the back of a clean sheet earnt with Matthew Clarke in the side filling in for the injured Zesh Rehman. Rehman is expected back and Clarke’s reward for his performance at Darlington will probably be the bench – few tears drop at Valley Parade because Clarke does not play – with Steve Williams partnering the returning City skipper. Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien take full back roles. Criticism of Luke O’Brien this year baffles me, I think he is performing better now than when he was player of the season and as pointed out he is doing so in the difficult environs of a 433. Simon Eastwood – who looks like he will not be given the goalkeeper gloves at Huddersfield after Christmas with Alex Smithes seemingly set to sign for fun loving Stoke then be loaned back to Legoland – will keep goal.

The 442 deployed at Darlington weighed up against the 433 Stuart McCall normally plays shows the problems City have this year. Not scoring enough goals in a 422 forces the more attacking formation of 433 which ships concessions at the back forcing us to the 442. It loops around and is only broken by players practicing, getting patterns and the continued building a team ethos which was sadly lacking last season. The 433 – which Rochdale dispensed with – will no doubt get a run out against Rotherham and perhaps the decision between which approach to take could win or lose the game in the dressing room.

Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock take two of the places and in the event of a four Scott Neilson and Simon Whaley will take the flanks. In a three James O’Brien could come back in. Stephen O’Leary and Omar Daley are some way off match fitness it is said. Stuart McCall talked up visiting midfielder Nicky Law Jnr who played for the Bantams last term. I do hope that Law shows the same commitment to getting behind the ball as he did at Valley Parade because should he then the Bantams could enjoy an afternoon of midfield freedom.

The three/four in midfield denotes a two/three up front with James Hanson a regular and Michael Boulding failing to impress since his return to the fold culminating in his storm down the tunnel on Saturday. A note here about Dave Pendleton’s excellent article in the current and always grand City Gent about Boulding and the thunderous criticism of him. Excellent points are made about both players and fans.

Gareth Evans is in line for a recall alongside Hanson in either line up. Neilson or Whaley would join in a three.

The blank space

Last week we saw freedom of speech taken to an extreme and it is it is an odd week where people are asking each other “did you see Question Time last night?”

Nevertheless the rights and wrongs of politics aside we can – on the whole – agree that free speech is to be welcomed and that attempts to stop someone saying something because you do not like what they are saying is not.

So there is something worrying in the news that David Conn and the newspaper he writes for The Guardian are no longer welcome at Elland Road because of Conn’s revealing articles about the ownership of the club who went down 2-1 to Millwall.

Conn’s writing had untangled a web of financial strands around the Leeds United chairman Ken Bates and the administration they went through which he emerged as owner of a debt free club following. The complexities are near mind boggling and commenting on them directly would be a presumption that I understood the detail but one thing becomes very clear when looking at stories of Cayman Islands-registered Forward Sports Fund and Guernsey accountants that the world of Leeds United administration is very different to that of Bradford City’s.

Likewise Bradford City’s two administrations were different from each other and both were different to Leicester City’s infamous debt shuffle which is a million miles away from what happened to AFC Bournemouth which was nothing like the Rotherham United into and out while still spending money which could never be afforded at Darlington.

Every administration is different, has different causes, ends in different results. When Bradford City struggled to stay afloat it was said at a supporters fund raiser that it might take the Bantams twenty years to recover from the woes but recover we would. I am of the belief that that statement was in essence true and that last season’s finishing a place higher than the previous season was a significant – if slight – sign of that recovery.

Other administrations see clubs like Rotherham United pleading poverty one year and then the next making offers to players like Nicky Law Jnr and Adam le Fondre whose former chairman Chris Dunphy has a thing or two to say about good governance in the game but oddly allowed a club that did seek protection from creditors to take le Fondre for an “undisclosed fee“. The people who had debts written off in South Yorkshire would probably be keen to know how much cash The Millers were able to find this year that was not there last.

The ownership of Leeds United is unclear but Conn’s articles would seem to suggest that the ownership is structured in a way that preferred Bates in the process and thus is not only illegal but would also be against the promises made by Bates and Leeds to the Football League. The punishments for the legal side of things – should Conn be accurate – one can only guess at and the football sanctions are rumoured to be as stiff as given out to any club in my memory with the Elland Road side facing a two division relegation should it be found that Conn’s conclusions are accurate.

The reaction of Bates to these allegations is troubling for Leeds United supporters as he attempts – one assumes – to give a lesson to those journalists who would dig too deep into his dealings that they will no longer be allowed to carry coverage on his team. Leeds are big business and newspapers – especially regional newspapers who struggle to keep going – can hardly afford to upset the local football side and Bates is infamous for enforcing a hegemony in the local media.

Of course Bates has a right to allow whomever he wants into Elland Road – as Conn attests he owns the League One club – but one doubts that will assuage any worries Leeds United supporters might have at the thought of getting promoted this year only to step backwards and be forced to find a new owner during a financial crisis. They would do well to follow the example of the Liverpool supporters who demand answers from their owners rather than doing as the Notts County fans do as some happily ignore things off the field and the muddiness of that club’s ownership.

Every administration is different, this is a point that is maybe lost on some, but in footballs age of rapid change of ownership the constant which is bought and sold is the good will of supporters. In our administration that was manifested by the half a million pounds raised because there was no other money to keep the club going but in but other clubs cases less scrupulous people – yes less scrupulous even than Gordon Gibb – have become involved and as a result supporters have suffered.

So The Guardian resisted the proposed riposte of leaving a large blank square in the sports pages to highlight the “ban” they are facing but when chairmen start stopping a newspaper from investigative reporting – and when such a ban is allowed to pass without comment from the rest of the media on the whole – then alarm bells need to ring for supporters.

Supporters should want the questions that need to be asked to be asked by the likes of David Conn and that every newspaper does not boycott Elland Road in protest is shame on them. The right for supporters to have their serious questions answered when asked by the highest quality of journalists is something that needs to be protected and when it is attacked by one is should be defended by all.

City visit Shrewsbury as the start begins to end

If the end of last season started with the 3-0 defeat at Rochdale’s Spotland then the end of City’s promising start came at Shrewsbury’s New Meadow when the Bantams lost 2-0.

The Rochdale ghost was buried in the week when Stuart McCall’s men came back from behind to take victory with a goal from Scott Neilson that took enough of a deflection to be chalked up to luck.

Not that Dale boss Keith Hill would agree with that railing against the referee on the evening as not being fit to officiate. Odd that last season’s man in the middle who seemed to want to gift the game to the home side did not incur Hill’s wrath. That kind of myopia would fit right in at Rotherham if – should rumours be believed – Hill replaces Barnsley bound Mark Robbins.

At Shrewsbury last season Referee Jarnail Singh practically proved he was not up to refereeing by once again allowing goals to be scored while players were down with serious head injuries and the sight of TJ Moncur staggering away collapsing with the home side celebrating is the enduring one. Moncur and Lee Bullock were invalided away from right back that day.

Bullock’s return to the City team this season owes a deal to the injury to Stephen O’Leary who continues to miss games with a toe problem following his impressive debut against Port Vale.

Bullock is far from universally loved by City fans and in this post-Joe Colbeck era we enter is the next player to split fans.

Personally I’m conflicted internally on him not especially enjoying watching him in the way I enjoy the robustness of Michael Flynn but noticing the correlation between his name on the teamsheet and City winning. Call it the inverse Nicky Law effect.

Bullock and Flynn are likely to be rejoined by Steve O’Brien in the midfield following the youngsters benching in the week while those tight three midfielders will notice little difference on the right with the aforementioned Colbeck gone but replacement Scott Neilson impressing and exciting in his opening one hundred minutes for City.

Peter Thorne was robbed of the chance to impress by a hamstring injury on Tuesday night but he would have likely stepped down for James Hanson and Gareth Evans to continue a fruitful partnership.

At the back the four of Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien will return in front of Simon Eastwood.

That Rehman missed the midweek game was officially put down to a thigh strain although in all likelihood he was being given recovery time being in that twilight zone between injured and fit. As City’s squad shrinks the prospect of the player carrying injuries into games emerges. A week of rest becomes a rare thing and a player’s season becomes defined by how they deal with niggling injuries that would be rested at a higher level but are played through in League Two.

The counter to that resting is the benefits of confidence coming from playing games and it is that which Stuart McCall believes will get the best out of keeper Eastwood.

Eastwood had a ropey start to his City career but the start is coming to an end and the Huddersfield loanee is improving.

As are City. A win at Shrewsbury would be an impressive return – the home side have not yet lost a half dozen games at this stadium – but would be a fourth win in a row and set up parallels with Colin Todd’s side that collected fifteen points out of fifteen four years ago. A draw would no doubt be welcomed by the management keen to show the ability to be pragmatic away from home as a table begins to form and City begin to nestle into it.

Where we will feel the pain as the cost cut squad is shaped

Seventy minutes into the friendly with Barnsley looking over the City side the shape of the squad for next season post £700,000 cost cut emerged and with it the nature of the squad and season.

Around the field City had replaced first teamers with younger players and Luke Sharry was making a case for being considered a central midfielder rather than a wide man to be back up to Lee Bullock when the thinness of the squad to come became apparent.

Not that you would see this from looking at the front players. Massive kudos to Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne who have both taken pay cuts to stay and form part of a four man team up front with Gareth Evans and James Hanson.

I confess I miss Barry Conlon’s robust style and the idea that Willy Topp might have been good but individually James Hanson and Gareth Evans offer no less than Topp and Conlon – well – is Hanson puts in the energy that Conlon did as his pre-season performances suggest he might then their is no reason why he can not be equally well thought of (assuming one thought well of Conlon that is).

Likewise out wide Joe Colbeck this season is no worse than Joe Colbeck last when he came into the year as a well thought of player of the season aside from the fact that the wide man is on week to week contracts and has had a half year of “atmosphere” at Valley Parade. Colbeck, like Chris Brandon, is an able footballer and Omar Daley (unloved, again, but his importance was shown in his absence) create a threesome of players who should be at the top of the division but starting with one injured City are already down to bare bones and hoping for the impressiveness of young players.

Luke Sharry – as mentioned – could be great back up for Lee Bullock and could be the player he hints at being in reserve games but hoping that Sharry can perform is not the same as dropping in Nicky Law Jnr to cover an injury. At one point last season we had six midfielders out (Colbeck, Daley, Bullock, Furman, McLaren and Brandon) and put together a team that beat MK Dons whereas this season it would be hard to see us being able to withstand such losses.

The hit of cutting costs is felt not as much in the quality of the squad but the strength of it. Good players but one worries if we got injuries and – two seasons in League Two tell us we will get injuries.

Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Matthew Clarke are covered by Simon Ramsden who is covered at right back by Jonathan Bateson. Luke O’Brien faces competition at left back from Louis Horne but both are young players and we are hoping both will transfer potential – to greater and lesser extents – into performances. Good players, little back up.

The signing of Simon Eastwood came with confirmation that he and Jon McLaughlin will be given the chance to fight over the gloves at Notts County and for the first half of the season.

Two inexperienced keepers is worrying – I have seen few good teams without a settled goalkeeper – as is the gap at number four.

City are closer to finding someone to fill the hole only in seeming to have decided that Grant Smith, Joe Keehan and a few others are not “the man”. Last season Dean Furman only signed at the end of August and perhaps in a month we might all be marvelling at John Fleck running riot in midfield.

Perhaps not though. This morning comes news of a bidding war for Leeds United’s Fabian Delph between Spurs and Aston Villa which City would take 12.5% of and as last season’s other big money side Shrewsbury Town sell Grant Holt at a £100,000 loss while Joe Hart – who they get £500,000 for should he play a full England game – so City are in a position of trimming the cloth today but perhaps being affluent tomorrow. Sign up a rookie keeper now and it we are in the top half at Christmas and find ourselves well off go get someone else perhaps.

Last season was budgeted as promotion or Delph leaving – this season it is assumed (sensibly) that neither will occur and the cloth is cut accordingly. Delph may stay until Christmas, until next summer, until he retires and City do well to not push out boats on the strength of his transfer status.

Nevertheless it is probable that at some point City will have over half a million coming in to the club and perhaps the season is shaped by staying in and around contention for as long as possible until that occurs. Should Delph leave at Christmas then the Bantams could move through the league in the last four months just as we did last year – only in the other direction. Similarly is we get that windfall on the last day of the Summer transfer window we are left with a squad and money hanging over us Notts County style for months.

There is a school of thought – which I subscribe to – that money in League Two is largely wasted and the teams rise and fall through spirit and morale.

That and keeping fingers crossed than injuries do not hit as hard this year as last.

Time for pre-season optomism?

There are times during the season where it’s neigh on impossible to get some City fans to say anything positive – but the prevailing mood amongst many so far this summer has been as dark as any last-gasp home defeat.

Some have gone as far as to believe the club faces a grim relegation battle next season, others can’t hide their envy towards clubs we were once able to look down our noses on. Within the last week though, it seems the new season is increasingly something to feel excited about. The fixtures are out, the majority of players we wanted to keep have agreed to stay and Zesh Rehman and Gareth Evans have joined Simon Ramsden and Jonathan Bateson on the ‘Players In’ list. It poses the question, is it time for pre-season optimism?

Those supporters who’ve taken a glass half empty look towards the future can fairly argue they are only following the club’s lead. At the end of last season, a gloomy picture of the playing budget for the next emerged. Manager Stuart McCall has consistently spoken of players needing to take wage cuts and played down the chances of capturing some of his transfer targets. Meanwhile the joint-Chairmen, Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn, have only been noticeable by their silence. No proclamations of targeting back-to-back promotions, no news of novel initiatives such as Lawn’s trip to Mexico last summer.

Undoubtedly, the uninspiring messages have been deliberate. Expectations over the past two seasons – much of which triggered by management and boardroom – have proved too high for the players to cope with. The feeling was that City had to get promoted in each of the last two seasons, but the much lower level of hype this time around may be about reducing the pressures of failure. The ambition is surely the same as the last two seasons, but the confidence in achieving it third time around is guarded against making public declarations.

Meanwhile some other clubs are spending significant money or at least talking about it. Rotherham have seemingly changed overnight from a club who end each season with an asterisk next to its name in the league table, due to points deductions, to big spenders. The seemingly terminally under-performing Notts County are set to acquire Middle East backers who are talking of lifting the club to the Championship within five years. That City and Shrewsbury began last season in similar positions of apparent affluence compared to others but still failed is forgotten by those who believe City can’t compete. But if a smaller budget rules a club out of triumphing over others, how on earth are Exeter City kicking off a League One campaign at Elland Road in a few weeks time?

Much of City’s finances depend on the future of the so-called ‘Big 4’ – Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee, Michael Boulding and Chris Brandon – who arrived last summer to widespread excitement. Their continuing employment is said to have severe repercussions over who else can be brought in alongside them, leaving McLaren, Lee and Boulding encouraged to take up their release clauses and Brandon free to talk to other clubs despite having another year left on his contract. Had any of these players not managed to disappoint last season, it would have been interesting to see how much their high wages really are an issue.

It’s not just getting them to move on that’s caused unrest among fans, but that plans to bring in new faces have apparently had to be delayed until their futures are determined. A couple of weeks ago Nicky Law’s decision to spurn City for Rotherham was seen as the fault of these players, by compromising Stuart’s ability to match the Millers’ offer. The arrival of Gareth Evans, who has turned down other offers, contradicts this and suggests City do still have the resources to compete.

That said it’s far from ideal that Stuart is trying to build his team for next season while not knowing if some of the positions are filled. It’s claimed Lee and McLaren are attracting interest from other clubs but, given the wage budget-cutting measures at City are far from unique in the bottom two tiers of English football, it s improbable all four will receive attractive offers to move onto pastures new. Will they be prepared to take a pay cut and stay? It seems unlikely and, while footballers can largely be tainted with the same brush of money-grabbers, it’s doubtful we supporters would volunteer to take a pay cut in our own employment and these players won’t find it that much easier to pay the bills than most of us do.

Of the four, Boulding and Brandon’s continuing presence in Claret and Amber next season would be the most popular – yet even if they all stayed it might not be the disaster some fear. We’ve seen plenty of players over the years disappoint during their first season but become well-liked players in time – Peter Beagrie and Claus Jorgenson spring to mind – and, given their previous careers, if they were joining us this summer as new signings we’d probably be excited to welcome them.

At least the futures of the rest of the wanted squad members have been largely sorted. For a club which ultimately only narrowly missed out on a play off place and can largely thank a dodgy run of form for undermining a top three challenge, tearing everything up and starting again makes no sense. With Omar Daley not expected back much sooner than Santa, Joe Colbeck’s role will be more significant. Despite suffering a disappointing campaign, only five League Two players set up more goals for their team last season. Lee Bullock and Matt Clarke get more stick than they deserve, and will hope to maintain their best form for longer periods next term. They may be at different ends of their careers, but Luke O’Brien and Peter Thorne were two of City’s best performers next season and can once again play a key role this time.

One player we won’t be welcoming back is the aforementioned Nicky Law who, along with fellow loanee Dean Furman, was one of the bright spots of an ultimately disappointing season. When on form Law looked too good for League Two level and, if not City, his next destination was surely at a higher level. Instead he’ll be plying his trade at Rotherham and, while the son of the former City manager might claim he doesn’t owe the club he was on loan to any loyalty, the fact it wasn’t long ago he was thanking its manager for saving his career leaves a bad taste. Still, his previous relative obscurity should give us confidence in Stuart’s ability to unearth more gems like him.

Whether there are many more like Furman is another matter. Said to have been offered a deal by Stuart, his acceptance or rejection may determine the level of pre-season optimism. If it proves to be the latter decision, it will surely be due to the offer to play at a higher level, which in its own way may make the pain easier to bear compared to Law’s defection. Whatever happens, the success of Law and Furman should give other clubs’ more talented younger players the encouragement to follow in their footsteps if offered the chance to move to BD8 on loan.

Furman signing would leave City’s central midfield looking strong, though there are still other areas of the team for Stuart to build. More faces will arrive, the pre-season friendlies will commence in three weeks time and pretty soon it will be time to head down to Nottingham for the season’s start. Between now and then, the excitement should only grow.

The reality of the last two campaign is we’ve felt better about our team when they’ve not been playing, through the summer, than during the season itself. Pre-season optimism can be dangerous, foolish and, when looking at the mood among other clubs, too wide-ranging to have any meaning; but during these long summer days it’s all we’ve got and it would be preferable to countdown to the start of another 10 months of ups and downs by at least looking forward to it.

It never Rehmans but it pours

The youthful small army that carried the “Zesh Rehman Fan Club” banner will return to Valley Parade to see their hero next term after that Pakistan captain signed a two year deal at Bradford City in a flurry of pen being put to paper.

Rehman joined Stuart McCall’s budget Bantams at the same time as Luke O’Brien, Joe Colbeck and Leon Osborne confirmed they would be staying and the shape of Stuart’s City team for next season emerged looking oddly familiar and increasingly like last season’s side.

Frank Fielding of Blackburn is said to be the number one choice for keeper. Fielding impressed as a loan player when at Wycombe but few would suggest that the problem with last term was Rhys Evans. Jon McLaughlin is on permanent stand by and now that first team squads include seven substitutes he can expect to be on the bench every game at least.

Likewise Simon Ramsden will line up at right back rather than Paul Arnison but the position was not leaky last year and left wingers did not constantly enjoy joy leaving one to wonder what will be different. Rehman and Matthew Clarke will make a good enough back two. I countenance little debate on Clarke’ abilities pointing instead to the fact that City’s back four are not longer bullied by big forwards as proof of that particular pudding.

McCall has a chance to make a difference with left back Luke O’Brien and right winger Joe Colbeck. He has one player doing nothing and another who is young player of the season and his aim must be to get O’Brien to have a better season than Colbeck did in his post-award year and to get Colbeck back onto the form that won him that gong.

It is man management and the City McCall and his management team get or lose for one they gain for the other. With Omar Daley out until Christmas – and it is the opinion of this parish that losing Daley that caused the nosedive last year – getting Joe Colbeck to terrorise defences becomes of paramount importance especially with Peter Thorne signed up for another season.

Thorne’s ability to play two games a week is questionable and so City chase Gareth Evans but at the moment their is a huge Barry Conlon shaped hole in the forward line. Michael Boulding has taken on the air of Ashley Ward with a mythical and specific way of playing that would suit him and probably few others getting the best out of the channel running forward. Boulding moved late in the summer last season, perhaps he will again.

Chris Brandon signed early but is not leaving in the same way. Interest in Brandon is low to none as befits a man who started only four games last season and while the left flank man is one of the expensive exiters do not be surprised to see him line up for the start and many game next year.

As with last season though the middle of the midfield is mutable. The attacking midfielder question of Lee Bullock or Nicky Law Jnr is answered with one signing and the other joining Rotherham United so once again the fundamental question about Stuart McCall’s team is who will be his Stuart McCall?

Since our number four left for Sheffield United anchoring, holding midfielders have come and gone from Valley Parade and few have settled in what is – in the humble opinion of this writer – the most important position on the football field.

Dean Furman is wanted by us and Oldham and Paul McLaren will do well to find another club. Nathan Doyle is no more likely to get games this year at Hull City than he was last and some would have him in on loan.

So we look at Bradford City 2009/2010 and see a gap up front next to Peter Thorne, a question mark over the midfield and a new keeper we are not sure about. Much to be confident about but still issues that need addressing.

So much of the same.

In the middle of things

BfB struggles. A server move hit us two weeks ago and nothing has been the same since.

Things that used to work no longer do, comments are broken, Jason could not log on, links that were added vanished, errors littered the front page, the guy in charge of shouting at the people who hosted the server (me, in other words) lost his job and things dragged on without an update for ages.

Things dragged on at Valley Parade too. Simon Ramsden came into the club to play right back and a war of words started between Rochdale FC and City boss Stuart McCall with Keith Hill – manager at the Spotland club – accusing the City gaffer of lying about how much was offered to the right back who joined City and stating that the Bantams were telling the current squad that they could afford to pay x while offering y

If McCall wants to make anything of it then we have dealings with Rochdale’s solicitors. They were very zealous in the past. The date of Tuesday night on 23rd of February 2010 should be interesting.

If McCall has wrongly told some to sign up for less then they have believed him with Matthew Clarke, Lee Bullock and Peter Thorne putting pen to paper. There was much upset about Nicky Law Jnr going to Rotherham United but I would suspect that shouting loud enough to the players leaving Premiership and Championship clubs this summer on frees would find far too many players who are in the Law/Kyle Nix attacking midfielder role and what City need is to retain Dean Furman.

Furman seems to be interesting Oldham Athletic. I’m not surprised. Oldham are also said to be trying to get Benito Carbone but face competition from Walsall. The Saddlers are managed by Chris Hutchings – obviously Carbone’s time with the former City boss for four months in 2000 was not wasted.

Some have said that Carbone might come back. The stuff of dreams. Dreaming is good. Carbone seems to be constantly at the end of his career but City are – at the moment – in the middle of a close season of uncertainty. Oldham have sniffed around Graeme Lee but he – as with the other big earners Chris Brandon, Paul McLaren and Michael Boulding – shows no signs of going. One hopes if they do stay this unwillingness or inability is not held against them. As Jim Jefferies’s time following Hutchings at Valley Parade showed the only thing worse than having high earners on the wage bill you can not shift is having high earners on the wage bill you can not shift and you leave in the reserves.

If Lee, Boulding, McLaren, Brandon line up for City next year lets all make sure that we get good value out of the money we have to pay them even if we are in the middle of getting rid of them.

McCall is in the middle of trying to bring in Gareth Evans from Macclesfield Town but worries about the potential cost of the 21 year old striker. One wonders what Keith Hill would say about City’s abilities to afford Evans. How City’s pursuit of the young Evans or the 37 year old Carbone will end is not known but City seem to be in the middle of building another squad which the bookies think will challenge for promotion next season.

The Bantams though are talking down chances. A League Cup first round tie at Nottingham Forest is viewed on as unwinnable and the opening game at Notts County is “tough”. A look at the City squad with the addition of names linked reveals little when viewed through the prism of last season’s “World Beaters” and how the wheels fell off the wagon with weeks left on the season. Put simply any eleven players pulled together for a League Two campaign could be the next Brentford and the fact that the Bantams join Lincoln and Shrewsbury in the fixtures shows that spending money is no guarantee.

So in the middle of the mid-year break it is hard to say which way the Bantams will go next term. Things at BfB still do not work properly but they will be fixed in time. Such is the problem with writing in the middle of things. It is not knowing how things will end it is the shape of them when they do.

McCall’s next City squad starts to take shape

Pakistan skipper Zesh Rehman has been offered a deal by the Bantams but longest serving player Mark Bower has been freed as Stuart McCall starts building his squad for 2009/2010.

McCall’s side’s failure to make the play offs has led to budget cuts – that is the short and not especially representative version of long story – and as a result four senior players have been freed with Bower joining out on loan Barry Conlon, oft injured Paul Heckingbottom, bit player Keith Gillespie and – surprisingly – Rhys Evans out of Valley Parade with the goalkeeper being rumoured to be interesting League One clubs including Leeds United.

The City boss has also prompted Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee and Michael Boulding to try find other clubs – something they can do owing to oddly one sided clauses in their contracts – but worries that should they not do the wage budget will be restricted. With times tough for many, if not most, clubs at the moment it is hard to see who will take the players on. Michael Boulding was not short of offers this time twelve months ago but traded from a position of being the leading scorer in League Two, likewise Paul McLaren negotiated with City as the most creative man in League One. Now these players go to a depressed market with a line on the CV that is read as a failure to make the top seven in League Two.

Do not be surprised if we have not seen the last of this trio.

Another trio who McCall would like us to see more of are Nicky Law Jnr, Dean Furman and Steve Jones whom the manager is trying to recapture on loan. Matthew Clarke, Lee Bullock, Luke O’Brien, Joe Colbeck, Leon Osborne Jon McLaughlin, Luke Sharry and Matthew Convey have been offered contracts while Kyle Nix is welcome back to preseason one assumes to await news of an exit for Lee, Boulding or McLaren. McCall will talk with Peter Thorne tomorrow.

All of which leave City with a weakened version of this season’s team should these machinations come off. McLaughlin seems to be fancied to be the new keeper having kept a clean sheet in the final game of last term. At 21 he is young but League Two is – increasingly for City – a learner’s league.

Paul Arnison has a two year deal and one assumes will stick at right back although his unwillingness to relocate from the North East is rumoured to have caused problems for McCall. Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke in the central defensive roles with Luke O’Brien at left back is an inch worse than Graeme Lee partnering either one – Lee came out of the season with more credit than most in this writer’s opinion – but Rehman is a cultured player and one who one could have confidence in. Clarke will continue to have his critics for both not being able to spray a Glenn Hoddle pass – which defender can? – and for his defensive lapses but since he replaced Bower in the side City have stopped being bullied by the usual big men forward lines we face.

Without wanting to delve into the stats of how many six foot two plus players have won headers in City game against Clarke vs Bower anecdotally one would suggest it is obvious that Clarke has plugged that gap. That he has other failings is a problem but in a League where physical prowess – bigness, if you will – is often the route to goal it is that no being bullied which is important rather than Bower’s more intelligent style of defending.

As with Andrew O’Brien before him Bower’s style suits the club less the further down the leagues we are. O’Brien’s man marking is superb on Thierry Henry but wasted in the Championship and Bower’s foot in play could – and would – do a lot at a Barnsley but does not at Valley Parade. One would have confidence that Bower could nick the ball from big men frequently but McCall obviously worries that the long serving defender would spend the rest of his time on his backside having been flattened and getting little sympathy from Referees.

Hearts are heavy though when a player with a service record like Bower’s leaves a club. He has given the lion’s share of his career to Bradford City having signed up on the 13th of May, 1999 four days after promotion and broken into the side a few years later with honest displays. He did his bit in administration and beyond and few City fans would not hope that he can establish himself somewhere else for the five or six years he could have in the game.

Uniting Dean Furman and Lee Bullock would seem to be the key to McCall’s midfield for next season with the City manager keen to see the Rangers midfielder back in the position he dominated last term – he played few games than Paul McLaren but made a more significant impact and was certainly more memorable – but Ibrox boss Walter Smith may have different ideas. Bullock is a useful player who has only shown his effectiveness in short spells while at Valley Parade. Next season McCall seems set to offer the former Hartlepool United midfielder the chance to make the position his own.

However McCall has struggled thus far in his management career to find a player to fill that number four shirt and role which he himself took at Valley Parade. Furman won the place from Paul McLaren whose season could be described as “middling”. McLaren did not take the mantel of senior professional with enough zeal and as a result on occasion looked a peripheral figure – especially when compared to Furman – just as Paul Evans the season before had failed to make the McCall slot his own.

Returning to Hoddle momentarily it is said that when England manager Glenn was frustrated with the players inability to match the magic feats of his own passing and one can only imagine the frustration that McCall – a player who lived by taking games by the scruff on the neck – has watching two players who have no shortage of talent in Evans and McLaren failing to control matches. Is Furman a better passer of a ball than McLaren or a better tackler than Evans? One could argue not but he has more cunning, more guile and it seems a stronger character that allows him to have more of a constant effect over a ninety minutes.

Defensive midfield – Furman’s nominal position and the one McCall had – is perhaps the most crucial role on the field and Furman represents a safe bet for City. We have seen that he will not shirk in the role unlike the previous two candidates who were on the face of it excellent choices for such a position and thus he is a tried and tested option for a job which I would argue the failure to fill correctly has cost us over the previous two season, and probably longer.

It should be noted that Luke Sharry has had a productive season and while not ready for the number four role should be expecting to feature in a dozen or more games next term.

The scenario on the flanks remains as it was this season: Joe Colbeck, perhaps Chris Brandon, Omar Daley when fit, Nicky Law should he return and Steve Jones if he is interested. Returning Colbeck from the jaws is poor form and the critics that wait for such to attack him is of paramount importance for McCall as establishing Omar Daley as a threat on the left was this term. McCall flits between preferring a pair of wide players such as Daley, Jones and Colbeck and wanting one wide and one more tucked in as Chris Brandon or Law offers and one can expect that method of trying to fill the middle of the midfield to continue.

Brandon has been unable to provide much of an indication as to his effectiveness this season and – based on last season – given a choice between him and Law one would take the younger man from Sheffield United. Should Brandon be edged out of Valley Parade – and indications are that the club would be able to keep him – then Kyle Nix would be an able replacement and I for one am surprised that the young Rotheraussie has not been offered a new deal offering the heart and ability the former of which was often lacking last season.

In August Stuart McCall would hope to line up with Joe Colbeck, Dean Furman, Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon across the middle and few would suggest that represents a major shift away from this term with improvement inferred from consistency with all four players having spent long periods injured. Allowing whoever is in the number four role to build up a relationship with the defenders to feed the ball in ending the long hoof of the end of last term and with the three midfielders around him who would take the ball is crucial and Furman can be trusted to do that. If he is not retained we re-enter the lucky dip of trying to bring in a cog to be the most important part of our machine. Like good goalscorers – they don’t get given away.

Peter Thorne will talk to Stuart McCall in a conversation about “legs” and if the striker still has them and McCall will hope to move Michael Boulding on to no great distress from I. For all his hard work Boulding failed to build a partnership either with the forward he was alongside or the players supplying him from midfield. Barry Conlon officially left the club and Willy Topp is long gone leaving the City boss looking for three or four strikers for next term.

In this respect McCall is in the hands of the trio of players who may leave. Should Lee, McLaren and Michael Boulding all exit then pressure on his budget would be loosened and the City manager could get to looking for a goal getter or two – one would suggest he tries to find a fast one, a skilful one, a big one and one who can finish again but that is how we entered this year – but should this not happen then the Bantams manager will be left looking at scraps to find a feast. The ramification of Barry Conlon and Matthew Clarke’s fall out with McCall obviously preclude Conlon’s return despite a half dozen goals for Grimsby Town and one wonders if allowing the fighting Irish to leave is not going to haunt the Gaffer as he starts looking for players with passion, strength and a good track record and finds that Barry’s name comes top of the searches.

In such a situation Rory Boulding becomes an option although reports on him are mixed on the little brother while Leon Osborne and Sean Taylforth are no one’s idea of the player to lead you out of League Two. All three could be world beaters but the fact that they are – should Thorne not be retained – all that is in the cupboard for next term shows the problem Stuart McCall will have in building a side for next term.

In the season John Hendrie talked about the need for another striker and McCall tried Chris O’Grady and Paul Mullin in that role but ultimately when cutting the cloth to keep the club in business the side suffers and the forward line would seem to be where City are to take the hit.

So McCall is charged with three summer tasks. He must get the players he has offered new deals to to sign – some are given reduced terms – and will use the carrot of a smaller squad and a guaranteed place in the starting eleven achieve that with the likes of Lee Bullock.

Secondly he must work on ensuring he has the right man for the number four role with Dean Furman being nominated as the prefer choice. Filling this position is or paramount importance.

Finally he must find a set of strikers who want to play for the club and who have the ability but for some reason – probably as with Thorne it would be age – are not at a higher level and do not expect massive wages. Rumour has it David Wetherall is being moved to youth team coach. Wetherall never really got on with Dean Windass…

A tortured ending

This was supposed to be the perfect setting for the final scene of a glorious story.

Almost exactly two years since relegation to League Two was confirmed by a dismal 3-0 reverse at Saltergate, the resurrection of Bradford City was going to be sealed on the same spot. After the Derbyshire Police dogs had finished scaring away some of the chavviest opposition supporters you’ll ever see, City’s players would be presented with the League Two Championship trophy, or maybe only second or third would have been achieved which would still have given cause for wild celebrations. At the very least, we’d have sealed a spot in the play offs and be looking ahead with anticipation.

And if a film director was to tell the story of City’s triumphant 2008/09 promotion on the big screen, they’d begin it with a flashback to April 2007; to Steve Schumacher telling supporters to ‘eff off, to caretaker manager David Wetherall in tears, to tabloid newspapers proclaiming the club was going bust.

But there is no fairytale ending, not this time, yet again. It was an ending that saw City coast to the sort of 2-0 victory the backbone of promotion-winning sides are built upon. But the infrequency of such occasions – this was City’s first away win since beating Gillingham 2-0 in February and they have only won once more on the road, at Rotherham, during the last six months – is as much behind the anticlimactic ending as injuries and bad refereeing decisions. It was the sort of victory to raise spirits and prompt a good sing-along, but there is ultimately no feel-good story to the league campaign it marked the conclusion of.

City’s hopes of ending with a promotion party were effectively ended at Dagenham two weeks ago, and the feeling since has been one akin to a particularly stinking hangover. The glaring morning sunshine has forced the ramifications for failure into the spotlight. There is remorse towards what was done when the champagne was flowing, regrets when emptying the pockets and finding ATM receipts that recall how much money was spent along the way, despair at decisions made and the consequences that now must be faced. Even the good bits of news – of Stuart staying – can’t be cheered as feverishly as they perhaps deserve. The mind is occupied by so many what ifs and if onlys – and the best way of asking some now-unwanted guests to leave.

The line up for Saturday’s final game had a somewhat unusual feel, especially when remembering who had been left at home. There was no Rhys Evans, the keeper who began complaining about the lack of a new contract as long ago as February and who might now be taking Stuart McCall off his Christmas card list.

There was no Graeme Lee and Paul McLaren, two of those champagne signings who’s continuation with City next season compromises so much of the playing budget.

There was no Chris Brandon and Steve Jones, the former of whom’s City career is rumoured to be over before it ever begun.

There was no Peter Thorne, who we hope will be still scoring goals for City the next season.

There wasn’t even David Wetherall – the central character two years ago – which will do little to dampen rumours of him leaving.

But there was a team which displayed commitment, energy and guile. Jon McLaughlan took Evans’ place in goal and looked comfortable with everything thrown his way, though it must be acknowledged Chesterfield’s Jack Lester-less attack were toothless and failed to force a meaningful save from the former Harrogate Railway keeper.

Matt Clarke was recalled to partner Zesh Rehman at the back and was typically robust and strong. Occasional bouts of sloppiness apart, he and Zesh dominated their penalty area and would make for a good backline to start next season with.

Joe Colbeck was brought back on the right and looked more confident and lively than in recent weeks. A group of pathetic morons – apologies but that’s the politest term I can use – chose to chant “you’re not fit to wear our shirt” towards last season’s player of the season. That was during a rare moment they bothered to watch the game, such was there main interest in goading Chesterfield supporters. Joe did not resort to a Schumacher-style response, though that would have been too kind towards them anyway.

Up front we got to see the Boulding brothers and while the focus was mainly on younger brother Rory – making a belated debut and showing promise with some good link up play – Michael’s performance particularly caught the eye. This was every inch the player Stuart had worked so hard to pursue last summer, making effective runs here and there and charging at home defenders in a manner that suggested no one had told him this was a meaningless game. Michael was playing while the other two with clauses to leave were not, it’s to be hoped he’ll be willing to take a pay cut and remain a key player for next season.

After a first half of nothingness was shaded by City, with Colbeck shooting wide and an unmarked Lee Bullock directing a header the wrong side of the post, the visitors really stepped it up after the break and should have edged in front with Rory Boulding and again Bullock passing up presentable chances; but then Rory did well to set Nicky Law away down the left, who charged down the byline and delivered a purposeful low cross which was met perfectly by the on-rushing Dean Furman to fire City in front.

“Sign him up” was the chant towards Furman. When we reflect on where it went wrong this season, the injury that forced the influential midfielder to miss those crucial games against Morecambe, Lincoln and Dagenham will feature high up the list. In the last two games Furman has been simply outstanding and, if the rapturous reception he received at full time proves to be the last time we see him in a City shirt, we should at least be thankful we were given a season to enjoy his talents. Who knows what the future holds, but it’s not far-fetched to ponder that the next time we properly see him he could be playing for the host Country in the 2010 World Cup.

Chesterfield’s response was limited, with the only Blue passion coming from supporters chanting for manager Lee Richardson to be sacked. Drew Talbot should have equalised but fired woefully wide after charging through on goal. That would have been undeserved and, with four minutes to go, Michael Boulding sniffed out half a chance and smashed the ball into the net.

By that stage younger brother had been withdrawn and his replacement, Leon Osborne, arguably made a bigger impression after linking up impressively with Boulding senior and playing some intelligent passes. He also made clever runs, took up useful positions and might have grabbed a first senior goal had he not shot as hastily when a sight on goal opened up.

Kyle Nix also came on after Law, who was a menace on the left, took a knock. Law received a great ovation as he hobbled past the City fans with more “sign him up” chants. The odds are short on neither he and Furman being here next season, but even if one of the two could be persuaded to continue their fledgling career at Valley Parade next season there’d be cause for joy.

For now though, there is no celebration. The players came over to thank us supporters at the end, and the generous applause they received in return was well deserved. It can’t be forgotten that when it really mattered, these players choked. But at least a degree of pride has been restored following the last two performances and we don’t need to go into the summer feeling as miserable as we did a fortnight ago.

This victory won’t have cleared that hangover and the next few days promise to be particularly difficult, with tough decisions on player and staff futures needing to be made. Credible rumours are growing that Mark Bower and Evans have already left and it’s clear others will follow.

Quite how many do could yet be the key for next season, for there is enough quality and enough determination already in the dressing room to put right this season’s wrongs. The challenge is to keep those players and find new stars to deliver alongside them.

It’s also to be hoped that next season we get a more sympathetic script writer.

The budget announcement should not spell doom and gloom

In recent years, there’s being a growing obsession with playing budgets and the comparison to others. Every season one or two sides gain promotion on a shoestring budget, the achievements of which are used as a stick to beat failing clubs with larger ones.

At City we know this more than ever, manager Stuart McCall enjoyed what is widely recognised to be the largest budget in the division, but has not been able to use it well enough to claim even a play off spot. Meanwhile clubs such as Exeter and Dagenham have achieved more with less. Champions-elect Brentford have spent money they don’t have on gambling for promotion, though it remains to be seen if they will fall the way of Stockport next season.City have gambled to a point as well this season, and now we have to face the consequences.

There’s no doubt Stuart has had the luxury of a large squad to choose from this season, and the news the playing budget will be cut by a third for next season is understandably prompting concern. The noises coming from the Chairmen hardly seem the most positive, though given how often big budget results in big failure in football, it shouldn’t mean approaching next season in trepidation.

It’s traditional for City to release a high number of players at the end of each campaign and, with cuts to make and new signings to think about, Stuart’s attention will already be on which of his players deserve another contract in the likelihood of him staying on as manager. Rhys Evans made it known some months ago that he would like a new deal and the stability concept that has seen many of us argue for the man in the dugout to stay can also apply to the man between the posts.

All five of Stuart’s present centre backs could leave this summer, with captain Graeme Lee one of the four players with a clause in his contract allowing him to leave due to the club’s failure to go up. Lee has been criticised, but is a good League Two player and seems a committed enough person to stay around to me. Matt Clarke is unloved by many and it must be acknowledged that the previously struggling back four looked stronger in his absence on Saturday. Zesh Rehman took his place and was outstanding. His loan is up, but so is his contract at QPR. If it came down to a choice between keeping one of the two my vote would narrowly go to Rehman.

When Mark Bower signed the four year deal which is about to expire, back in 2005, it was for a club with ambitions of a quick return to the Championship. He is likely to be City’s highest earner, a position not befitting someone who has made only four appearances this season. If the long-serving defender is offered a new deal, it will be for far less money. Simon Ainge and Paul Heckingbottom are likely to depart.

In midfield Paul McLaren is another with a clause to leave and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he took advantage of it and, with rumoured high wages, it would probably be for the best. Lee Bullock is out of contract but may have done enough in his last two impressive Valley Parade appearances to convince he could be a regular next season. Chris Brandon is rumoured to face an uncertain future, which is a shame as we’ve yet to see the best of him due to those injuries. Kyle Nix’s surprise inclusion against Rotherham looks too little too late, while we could only dream of keeping Dean Furman and Nicky Law. The former is reckoned by some Rangers fans to be ready for first team football at Ibrox next season, the latter’s future may depend on whether Sheffield United earn promotion to the Premier League. Even if surplus to requirements at Bramall Lane, he can play at a higher level than League Two.

Joe Colbeck’s sub cameo was uplifting and it’s unthinkable that he will be allowed to leave, Peter Thorne too has another year left in him and the 17 goals he’s bagged so far this season is impressive considering the number of injuries he’s picked up firing them in. If he stays, his decreasing fitness reliability means he cannot start the season as the main striker. Michael Boulding can leave but probably won’t. Rory too can go but again probably won’t.

Of the other loanees, Steve Jones was outstanding up front against Rotherham, but his inconsistency is maddening. Nevertheless an attempt to keep him should be made. Paul Mullin will not be missed by anyone but there’s little doubt another big forward will be signed up in his place. Keith Gillespie’s time at City will be quickly forgotten.

Stuart will be on the look out for new signings, but it shouldn’t be a case of ripping things up and starting again. This team has ultimately disappointed but it was the closest towards delivering promotion than any others we’ve had in recent years. Stuart has the summer to consider why it didn’t prove close enough and find the answers to ensure it goes closer next time.

For, while expecations may dampen for next season, there is no need to believe we can’t make a better fist of challeging for promotion with fewer resources. The economic climate that will start to truly impact on football next season, should result in clubs in a stronger position to negoiate with players over contracts. A smaller squad will hopefully result in a settled team. Injuries may undermine efforts, but the emergence of Luke O’Brien should provide confidence to try other youngsters. There may be less loan signings, but that would be no bad thing.

Stuart will hardly be left with a shoestring budget to build next season’s team, success as manager will come from making less go further.

Why can’t you do that every week?

“Why can’t you do that every week?”

Is that what would supporters ask of the the players, the manager, the club after the season at Valley Parade ended without promotion but with a fine win.

Bradford City’s problem – and the problem that has driven Stuart McCall to distraction and seen the 45th game of the League Two season finally rule City out of promotion or the play-offs following Dag & Red’s win over Notts County – is that the team team has been incapable of withstanding setbacks within games.

Goals ruled out, mistakes made, goals conceded all seeing the squad’s brittle morale crack. Think the collapses at Rochdale or Barnet, the reversals at Notts County or Morecambe. Defeats that came after when the team was incapable of withstanding the slings and arrows of fortune. In the swirling atmosphere of this day no such upset occurred and the Bantams powered to an impressive 3-0 win over an credible Rotherham United side who made a good fist of a game where ultimately they were lucky not to lose by more.

That the atmosphere was good was owing to the swell of opinion that Stuart McCall remain as City manager becoming vocalised and realised in a demonstration in favour of the gaffer. Save Our Stuart messages were held up, chants were made and the players responded with an intelligent and effective performance.

McCall sent out what – should he be true to his threat to resign – is his last team at Valley Parade with Kyle Nix recalled to create a four man midfield alongside Lee Bullock, Nicky Law Jnr and Dean Furman. Matthew Clarke was dropped in favour of Zesh Rehman and Steve Jones partnered Peter Thorne in the forward line. In the week – while paying tribute to Wayne Jacobs – McCall said he wished that his other signings had worked out as well as as his number two. Matthew Clarke, Michael Boulding, Paul McLaren, Chris Brandon and a few others are thus charged and as a result they cool their heels on the sidelines.

Those who did play did McCall proud with a display of tight passing at pace that could rank as the home performance of the season. After ten minutes pressure brought a corner which was cleared and returned goalwards by Dean Furman beating all on its way to goal except Peter Thorne who’s slight deflection continued the ball’s progress into the net. Rotherham’s defence were incandescent suggesting that Thorne was offside – visitors number four Danny Harrison could have been playing the City striker onside although confusion was king in the stands and on the field. The goal stood perhaps because Furman’s shot was going in and the Referee decided that a goal would have been without Thorne (entirely against the rules) or perhaps Harrison was playing Thorne on side or perhaps the Referee got it wrong.

Rotherham felt angry at the first and flattened by the second where Nicky Law Jnr got down the right – McCall’s diamond shaped midfield saw Law on the right hand side but not the right wing and he and Nix on the left hand side were able to keep in contact with the strikers which has proved a problem this term – and crossed low and firmly to Thorne who hit a close range finish after cutting in front of defender Nick Fenton. Thorne’s crisp finish left keeper Andy Warrington flat on his back, seemingly resigned to defeat.

Flat footed Fenton became flattening Fenton when – rather unprovoked – he lunged into Law as the City man shielded the ball out for a throw-in. That the visitors defender was yellow carded showed – perhaps – the end of season nature of the game rather than reflected the seriousness of the foul which was out of character of a well natured game.

The Bradford City team this season has not struggled when on top of a game exchanging blows with the South Yorkshire side but not being breached. A third almost came after half time when on a break – lovely to see a team come attack at VP – when Thorne crossed to Jones who saw his finish clawed away by Warrington. A second counter ten minutes later saw sub Joe Colbeck find Jones with an impressive pass and Jones sprint in on goal to finish the game.

Good performances were all over the field for the Bantams. Rhys Evans looked solid, Paul Arnison and player of the season Luke O’Brien got up and down the flanks and Rehman and Lee were solid against a lively attack which – when he came on – were dangerous especially in the form of Drewe Broughton. Also telling was the fact that Dean Furman took the all from the back four and used it well rather than allowing the back four to pump the ball long.

All of which came under a blanket of positivity from the assembled Valley Parade audience who got behind the team – really got behind the team – and the effects were seen on the field. Rotherham – who have enough points to have finished in the top three this season – were no soft touch but the Bantams bested them and while Thorne could have hat a hat-trick testing Warrington twice more The Millers were enterprising and could have got one back and – as we have seen – caused the wobble that has seen this promotion bid fail.

If they keep it up they will be challenging for the top three next season. The same is true of the Bantams on all levels. It seems to be that today and two weeks ago the represented a consideration on how the level of support and the level of performance are not just yoked together but that the one (not can but) will inspire the other.

The players took a lap of the field to applause – nothing compared to what everyone was expecting with the promotion which was expected – and Stuart McCall followed to a clear statement – “Stuart must stay” – from the supporters who had lifted the team to a fine win.

What would the players, the manager, the club say to the supporters who had created an atmosphere of inexorable victory:

“Why can’t you do that every week?”

A question of spirit

With 10 minutes to go at Christie Park, Bradford City had a one goal deficit to overcome and – with Shrewsbury’s defeat at Bury confirmed – a one point deficit to turn around in order to climb back into the play offs. That the players could only muster the feeblest of efforts towards reversing the former leaves belief in achieving the latter all but obsolete.

The third of the three main contenders for seventh, Chesterfield, can push the gap to four points by winning today, but on this evidence it might as well be 40 such is the apparent lack of stomach for the fight. It wasn’t so much losing the precious advantage Matt Clarke’s 37th minute header had earned City by half time, but the lack of confidence and belief to come back after falling behind. The qualities which had been on display in the first half were forgotten and, as Graeme Lee dithered about with the ball in his own half in the 90th minute, allowing his attempted launch forward to be charged down, the questions over leadership were raised louder. How Stuart McCall the manager needed Stuart McCall the player.

All of this should not eclipse the sense of injustice of seeing Peter Thorne’s header early in the second half incorrectly disallowed after the referee Nigel Miller appeared to overrule his own seemingly decent view of it crossing the line, after slipping out of Barry Roche’s hands, by going with the assistant’s judgment that it hadn’t. There was also a hint of offside to the build up to Morecambe’s equaliser, which ultimately resulted in Danny Adams crossing for Stewart Drummond to head home. But instead of heads complaining, they dropped – with dire consequences for the Bantams faltering play off push.

Sure there was fight, determination and willingness to go in for the 50-50 challenges, but largely only from those wearing red. Morecambe’s commitment was curious in that their own play off hopes appear improbable, but with their tails up they became dominant and were rewarded by Rene Howe’s spectacular strike. At the final whistle players and manager Sammy Mcllroy celebrated in a manner that suggested they believed a trophy presentation would shortly follow. It may be patronising to suggest they treated the occasion as their cup final, though it might be the closest either side gets to one in the coming weeks.

It wasn’t so much you couldn’t see it coming, but after an encouraging first half performance there was every reason to believe a much-needed first win in over a month was on the cards. Roared on by a sell-out away following which took up two-and-a-half of the four stands, City started in a positive manner and worked hard to retain possession and get forward. The recalled Joe Colbeck brought energy and pace outwide, which had been lacking from Keith Gillespie during the last two home games. Nicky Law, back from the start after a rest last Saturday and in place of the injured Dean Furman, added drive. Paul McLaren looked composed alongside him while Chris Brandon showed some nice touches on the left.

Morecambe, backed by an equally vociferous support, pressed hard and their forwards Michael Twiss and Howe provided some uncomfortable moments for Lee and Clarke, but the goalmouth action was mainly at the other end. Paul Mullin latched onto Thorne’s flick on, but saw his low drive tipped wide by Roche. Then Colbeck’s endeavour in closing down Adams allowed Thorne a shooting chance with the ball rolling narrowly past the far post. The lead provided by Clarke’s header from Law’s corner was well deserved and, with Zesh Rehman looking more the part at right back and Luke O’Brien getting forward well, the platform for victory was seemingly there.

Yet the battling qualities slowly evaporated after the interval. Morecambe’s equaliser came after 10 minutes of decent football from City which included the disallowed goal, but the threat wilted and the pressure began almost entirely coming from Morecambe. Evans had to make one excellent low save and was clearly frustrated by how quickly possession was surrendered by those in white shirts. In recent weeks one of the team’s biggest failings has been the failure to win second balls and the casualness in which home players were allowed to charge forward through a rapidly non-existent midfield led to some tense moments. Howe’s stunning shot from well outside the area left Evans with no chance as it flew into the corner.

But, unlike last season when the Shrimpers had come from 1-0 down at half time to go 2-1 up in stoppage time, there was still time for City to come back.

The desire and fight to do so, to not only salvage something from the game but keep the promotion dream alive, gave way to a seemingly weak surrender. The basics were forgotten and too quickly the team resorted to booting the ball forward from the back in a manner that reeked of desperation, instead of finding the composure to use a midfield which had been so effective in the first half at creating chances. Colbeck might as well have left the field – no reflection on his performance or desire, at one stage he booted the ball in frustration – such was the unwillingness of team mates to do anything but hit and hope.

Stuart’s changes, which had been so effective last week, did little to swing momentum back in City’s direction. Some City fans choose to boo the City manager after he replaced Thorne with Michael Boulding at 1-1 though, after been part of such a stand off when playing for City – when he was taken off away to Sheffield Wednesday in January 2000 to a chorus of “you don’t know what you’re doing” – involving then-manager Paul Jewell, he should take it with a pinch of salt. Thorne had done okay, but the decision to bring on Boulding looked logical to me at least. Steve Jones came on for the tiring Brandon but was too starved of the ball to be a threat, though he might have snatched an unlikely equaliser after heading wide of Roche’s goal. Lee Bullock came on for Law and Stuart received more abuse from fans nearby.

It’s easy to point the finger of blame for defeat at Stuart, who may now be four games away from leaving the club and possibly management for good, but the players cannot be exempt. The spirit is alarmingly lacking and there’s too much of an acceptance for allowing things to go against them. Maybe they can’t make each other play better, but the personal responsibility to at leave give their all should be a minimum obligation in return for the living their club provides them. Only a few could argue they did that in the second half.

Equally of concern is the regularity of losing points on the road. This was City’s 12th away defeat of the season, a record which matches the dismal relegation season two years ago and which has only been worsened during the even more traumatic relegation of the 2003/04 season, since exiting the Premiership. Only Aldershot and Chester have been beaten away from their own patch more often and the final two away games – at Dagenham and Chesterfield – don’t inspire great confidence of City improving.

On Monday they are at least at home with a quick opportunity for the players to redeem themselves. The ability of the squad to turn the situation round isn’t in great doubt, but the mental strength and desire sadly is. There are 360 minutes of the regular campaign for the players to demonstrate they want to end it with a chance of taking their team into League One – those who fail to should be first in line to exit Valley Parade during the summer.

The worst punishment

Putting aside debates over Stuart McCall’s ability for a moment, everyone should be horrified by the prospect of the Bantams manager leaving this summer. A managerial vacancy in May will mean the play offs have been missed and a resultant punishment no one connected with City will relish – more of the same.

Today’s 1-0 defeat to Port Vale was a bad advert for League Two and sadly something its biggest crowds have had to become used to. Not so long ago visiting teams came with clever game plans that often worked, this season the majority show up with limited aspirations of avoiding defeat. Five across the midfield, time waste as often as possible and, on occasions home players get through, bring them down by any means necessary.That they succeeded owed more to City’s lack of confidence than any better parking of the bus compared to others.

The only goal of the game came four minutes after the break through a neat low finish by David Howland, but the chance came seconds after City had been on the attack and Keith Gillespie, making his full debut, had produced an ill-advised short pass to Dean Furman which had too much power to control and allowed Paul Marshall to break forward. Graeme Lee stood off him too long and, when he did eventually put in a challenge, the ball spun into Howland’s path from which he beat Rhys Evans.

It was the only time Vale troubled City’s goal, though the territorial advantage the Bantams enjoyed didn’t manifest itself into many chances. Lee might have made up for his hesitancy for the goal with three attempts that were cleared off the line, Clarke had a decent half volley attempt which was straight at Valiant keeper Jon Anyon, Furman blazed over and Steve Jones stabbed a few efforts wide – but at no point in the game was momentum built up to the level of heavy pressure.

The biggest concern for Stuart will have been that the final whistle did not herald only the second home defeat of the season, his team looked beaten long before it. Confidence is draining from certain players who, only a matter of weeks ago, were in excellent form. Low confidence for City typically results in a more direct approach and an over-desperation to force a goal which was evident even during the early stages. The lack of composure in hurrying the ball forward rather than passing it around patiently meant possession was quickly gifted back to Vale, who tried their hardest to boot it back in the direction it came.

Stuart has faced the conundrum all season of two central midfielders being out numbered by three opposition and seemed to have found the solution in the boundless energy levels of Furman and Nicky Law, but even the on-loan pair looked jaded and unable to influence the game. Out wide Gillespie and Jones battled hard and caused problems, but the double-marking tactics left them struggling for space and the efforts of Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien to support were undermined by the former’s favouritism of his left foot and the latter’s struggle to handle the counter attack threat from his side.

Up front Paul Mullin made his debut after signing on-loan from Accrington and, though he showed some good touches and battled well, offered nothing Barry Conlon does not on a good day. The hope for Stuart will be that he has higher consistency levels. Michael Boulding looked useful with the ball at feet but finding space is a problem he’s faced at Valley Parade all season. With the ball invariably aimed at Mullin, he was forced to feed off scraps. Stuart introduced Chris Brandon and Lee Bullock from the bench, but neither had any impact.

Fortunately for City, this impact on the league table has been just as slight, with only Rochdale winning and the gap to third still only a mountable six points. Realistically the play offs are the target but the worry is this further dent on confidence will make it even harder for the players to achieve that. Next week’s game at Chester becomes even more must-win and, with The Blues winless in 17 and having fallen into the bottom two for the first time, it will be a pressure game for both sides. Losing is unthinkable and would bring the reality of missing out on the top seven and another season in League Two closer.

That we are even here in the first place owes a little to today’s whistle-happy referee who did as much to ruin the spectacle as Vale’s Marc Richards and his kicking the ball away time-wasting efforts. It’s almost two years ago to the day since Steve Bratt was last officiating at Valley Parade and on that afternoon he stopped a resurgent City effort against Blackpool by ridiculously sending off Steve Schumacher just as the Bantams were completely on top. The score was 1-1 but the game ended 3-1 to the Tangerines with the hapless referee later admitting he was wrong to dismiss Schumacher – in between City were relegated from League One.

Back at the scene of the crime, Bratt played completely into Vale’s hands by continually stopping play and awarding some bizarre free kicks. On at least two occasions City players were fouled, only for Bratt to give the decision the other way. He also displayed ridiculous inconsistencies with the advantage rule, at one stage pulling the game back ten seconds after a Vale foul hadn’t stopped Boulding charging into the area with just a defender and keeper to beat. No wonder the Vale players were so quick to shake his hand at the final whistle.

Stuart was yet to be installed as manager on Bratt’s last visit; as assistant to Neil Warnock, he had just witnessed Sheffield United lost 3-0 at Chelsea. The bright lights of the Premier League quickly became distant after the five successive defeats early into his City managerial career, last season. His immediate task is to make sure that record isn’t equalled next Saturday, as well as restore hope we might escape another year of punishment.

McCall – and City – return to Valley Parade amid the clouds for the visit of Port Vale

When last we departed Valley Parade optimism was the order of the day with calculations over how many of the nine points on offer from three away games City would win.

Zero points it turned out, and as a result Stuart McCall’s next step on the field at VP following the two fists punching the air at a 5-0 win is under the clouds of his statement in the week that should the Bantams fail to make the play-offs this season he would leave.

This has been discussed here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here and here, and here and here.

I believe managers are important but that players also have responsibility for performance and while it is ultimately the gaffer who carries the can for three defeats or missing the play-offs it is the players who remain at the club and – because of that – are culpable.

There is an obvious discussion over the future of disciplined pair Barry Conlon and Matthew Clarke with rumours having them leaving the club before deadline day. Conlon and Clarke has struggled for popularity at Valley Parade and these problems are manna for their critics.

Conlon is as he always has been, an example for the players who believe that they can give anything less than everything on the field of play. He is limited in talent but big on heart.

Clarke is more complex with the results of his addition to the team being manifest apart from his performances. Some believe he is a liability, a poor defender, the maker of mistakes yet since his coming into the back four City have stopped being bullied by big fellas at the back and become more solid defensively at Valley Parade.

The sight of Mark Bower, a return for whom is talked about to replace Clarke, bouncing off some six foot three forward who wheels away celebrating a goal after was all too common before Clarke found his way into the side and it is that which plays on the mind when the idea of replacing one with the other comes up.

Naturally Clarke may not be the only reason that City have – for want of a better phrase – added biggness at the back and with Zesh Rehman at the club he may not be the best but for all his problems the practice of playing Graeme Lee in David Wetherall’s role next to a commanding central defender has worked for City and that has been in no small part down to Clarke.

Nevertheless The Lee/Rehman central defence partnership with Paul Arnison and Luke O’Brien along side them seems to be the next logical option. O’Brien’s form has dropped before he was dropped but he and Arnison’s forward motion with the ball is important to City going forward. Wise man say no team’s biggest problem is ever the full backs.

Most problems in football come from – and can be traced to – the central midfield pairing. Certainly Stuart McCall was the solution to any number of problems as a number four and in Dean Furman he has a player who is cut from similar cloth. Is Furman “doing enough”, does he stand and to be counted and take responsibility for the teams performance as a player in that fulcrum role should? He does as best he can but perhaps a partnership with Nicky Law Jnr the pair lack experience.

I would prefer Furman with Paul McLaren in the midfield but in all the talk of McCall leaving no one has suggested he should be replaced by Michael Wood – alas I was hoping they might – and the manager is the manager and has the right to make his decisions.

Certainly though Law is a fine player when things are going well buzzing around impressively and adding to the forward line. When not on top of a game is Law capable of winning the ball back and turning the game back to us? Sometime, but only sometimes.

Perhaps this is why Law has started to feature more on the flank or towards the attacking lie than previously and why Lee Bullock – an able player but one who like Law seems to be at his best when we are at our best and not one who like his manager could take a game by the scruff and turn it around.

The play-off chances – ergo the future of the club – probably hang on which of these four midfielders McCall picks.

The flanks are much of a muchness. Chris Brandon seems set to start on the left hand side for his first kick off at Valley Parade while Joe Colbeck, Keith Gillespie and Steve Jones compete for a single berth on the right flank unless Jones is required for forward duties.

Peter Thorne missed the midweek game with a sore neck and Stuart McCall will hope to have the player fit for Saturday (Thorne will not play) lest Jones or Conlon is ergo Joes or Conlon will be (Conlon leaves) deployed alongside Michael Boulding.

All believe that this is a must win game with an irony that should City get three points and a fistful of goals then the Bantams could end the day back in fourth as with the end of the last game at Valley Parade.

If that is case – and because the possibility of that being the case exists – perhaps we should wonder about our reactions to the bad clouds that circle. If the result of the last fourteen days were to be that we were in the same position now as we were then when optimism was the order of the day then was this self-flagellation necessary and what long term effect will it have had?

Yeah, but if it wasn’t Stuart…

I have come to the conclusion that the debate on Stuart McCall is impossible to have in an emotional vacuum that is presented with the opening gambit “Yeah, but if it wasn’t Stuart…”

The City boss is Stuart McCall and – when Peter Jackson became persona non grata in the 1990s – he is the only club legend we have. Sacking him, or pressuring him into leaving because it amounts to the same thing, is a permanent severing of that relationship. For confirmation one need only to look how Andrew Stuart McCall Junior turned his back on Elland Road after the way that Leeds United behaved towards Andrew McCall Senior. “I’ll know that a few thousand people in Bradford want me to put one over Leeds.” said the then Rangers midfielder before 1992’s European Cup Battle of Britain.

Nevertheless it is perhaps worth exploring that question of “Yes, but if it wasn’t Stuart” as we come to terms with the manager’s statement that should the Bantams not make the play-offs this season then he will not be in charge next.

Three away defeats in a row have blotted out moving fourth after a 5-0 win at Valley Parade and we are forced to ask what would previous incumbents of the manager’s job at Valley Parade had done in the circumstances that McCall admits, and few would deny, hurt him as much as anyone.

David Wetherall certainly faced his darkest day when the Bantams were so easily swept aside by Huddersfield Town 2-0 in 2006. Wetherall’s response was muted to say the least but as a caretaker – almost house sitter – manager one can expect little else so we move back to the last permanent City manager Colin Todd.

Todd was not popular with the same people who would have rid of McCall, and more besides, and approached his time at Valley Parade as casually as could be. A man who had seen the highs of football and is soon to be glorified as such on the silver screen viewed his time at City with the dispassion of a hired hand. Not that one could say that Todd did not care for the club and his charges but that he cared because of his professional pride rather than being felt from the heart.

Perhaps after three away defeats Todd would have said that winning away from home in football is hard and not to be expected and while he hoped we could improve our form and that he would do everything to ensure we did, he worked under tight restraints. Of the managers I shall mention today Todd is perhaps the only one I would rank above McCall in terms of what one might call “management ability”. Todd was going to leave at the end of the season he was fired in and one can speculate that he had grown weary of the constant unbalance of expectations and resources.

“The job gets harder every year” the man from Chester-le-Street said.

Another man from Chester-le-Street would have lost no sleep over Bradford City’s three defeats on the road. The heart that Bryan Robson put into playing for England and Manchester United was sorely lacking from his time at Valley Parade. When, it seemed, the excuse of administration offered itself Robson accepted that his then second step into management would be a failure and marked time until the end of the season making no enemies and ensuring he would be continue to be thought of as a good guy, a nice bloke.

Bryan Robson would not have lost any sleep over three defeats.

That Nicky Law might be doing now is, one hopes, a result of worries about his son’s place in professional football next season. Law Jnr is much trumpeted but, as with perhaps all the Bradford City players, he is hidden under this criticism of McCall while not putting in as much as he should. Nicky Law Snr’s time at Valley Parade can be defined in a single comment – “At some grounds the crowd is worth a goal for home team, here it is worth one for the opposition.” – and while that became the epitaph of his career as the Bantams manager it is as true today as it was then.

There is a poison in the support at Valley Parade, a cancer, that undermines any work that is attempted and that cancer is so significant than now results are not viewed to their ends but rather to the reaction of the reactionaries. I am told this is the same at all clubs but an appeal to how ordinary and how unremarkable we have allowed ourselves to become is no comfort.

As manager Law would no doubt have made the right noises about how to solve the problems of defeat but perhaps been incapable of solving those problems. As a manager he suffered the same problems of reducing resources, and had boardroom in-fighting to contend with to boot, but one suspected he saw the job as his big chance and in contrast to Robson he would have faught with all the strength he could muster against that chance dwindling.

Law’s predecessor Jim Jefferies reacted to defeats with a retreat, back to Scotland and the safety of the middle of the SPL. His character shall never recover from the smut of it being said that when they going got tough, he went. The impression from Jefferies, who was no fan of Stuart McCall and attempted to drum him out of Bradford City for the sake of winning over the dressing room suggesting a style of management that demanded fealty rather than respect, was that ultimately he cared not for the future of the club as long as he was ensured his pay out to leave a club that five months later would be making redundancies.

A stark contrast to McCall who did all he could to help in 2004 when the club faced closure and, when prompted in 2007 by Mark Lawn’s stabilising investment, answered the call and took on this his role as Bradford City manager. One wonders too about the long term interest and investment of Lawn in a situation in which his choice for manager resigns on the grounds that the effects of the job are too great.

So to answer the question “Yeah, but if it wasn’t Stuart” I would say that if it was not Stuart then I worry whom it would be. If it was not Stuart I worry that we would have someone who cared less, who did the job for the financial situation or personal betterment, who slept well knowing that the football club paid him today but another would tomorrow.

If it was not Stuart then I would worry that we would go once more down the ridiculous route of believing that the next manager, whoever he may be, will be better than the previous despite all the evidence to the contrary. If one will talk about rose tinted spectacles then one would do well to explain that contradiction.

Primarily though I would say that if it was not Stuart then Bradford City would be worse off because the chances of any successor being a vast improvement on McCall’s abilities are slight while there is a certainty that whomever should follow McCall as manager of this club whenever that change comes will care less about the club, will put less effort into the club, will engage less of his heart into ensuring the clubs improvement and will have less reason to engage whatever abilities he has into the progress of the club and in those very real, very important ways will be guaranteed to be a lesser manager than Stuart McCall.

McCall will hope City can start the way they finish

In eleven days – and three away games – time the promotion hopes for Bradford City will be much clearer but as a signal of intent and a send off on that decisive Odyssey the Bantams could hardly have been more emphatic.

Indeed it seemed 75 second after kick off when Peter Thorne was wheeling away following the opening goal of the game that the seven days since the defeat at Notts County could have been a lifetime of a span.

Thorne reclaimed his scoring touch darting into a hole that Michael Boulding had made in the defence to get on the end of an excellent low cross from the left by the increasingly useful Steve Jones and pushing the ball past a hapless Nicky Bull who would not get near any of the five goals he picked out of his net this afternoon.

Following on from Thorne’s goal City never wobbled. A minor incident involving Rhys Evans coming out of his goal as City failed to follow stay up centre back Anthony Charles which resulted in a not that threatening snubbed out shot at goal.

This was as much of a chance as the visitors had to get back and within minutes Bull once again picked the ball out of his goal following Dean Furman’s deflected strike which was just return following a corner which saw Matthew Clarke shoved unceremoniously from under the ball in what was an obvious penalty denied.

That it was denied was no surprise with Referee Graham Salisbury in charge. Salisbury had once denied City a goal against Yeovil following a defender pass back and sent off Jermaine Johnson in the same game in what was the wingers last game for the Bantams. Salisbury makes a habit of sending off City players but today restricted himself to ignoring that penalty and allowing Marvin Morgan to get away with the kind of loose arm across the face on Clarke which is exactly the sort of thing that he sends City players off for.

Nevertheless – and to paraphrase Sean Connery – losers moan about the Referee and winner go home with the match ball. Or the prom queen. Dean Furman deserves both for another superb display controlling central midfield. Much of how City do in the forthcoming games at Rochdale, Bournemouth and Exeter will depend on how much Furman can break up play as he did so well at Valley Parade today.

With his club Rangers making people redundant and looking for ways to save a bob or two I would not be at all surprised to see Furman starting SPL games next season – nor do I think he would look out of place – but in the years since Stuart McCall the player left the club and Stuart McCall the manager returned we have (any club would) been crying out for a replacement and in Furman we have one.

My erstwhile colleague Jason sings the praises of Nicky Law Jnr who delivered the perfect corner for Peter Thorne to glide through the air to head in the Bantams third, again Charles – conspicuous with his Afro – stood still as his man reeled away in celebration.

Rochdale’s defeat to Bury at midday had seen the Shakers go third and Rochdale drop to fourth. A 5-0 win would put City fourth and at the start of the day the task was to keep fifth as the Bantams supremacy continued it looked feasible.

A note at this point to the school who had turned up with a banner in support of “Bradford City and Zesh Rehman” and a country flag in tribute to the defender who unfortunately for the kids spent ninety minutes on the bench watching another excellent display by Paul Arnison at right back.

Arnison has not enjoyed universal support from City fans but it seems that when he plays the Bantams have another dimension and the support that Arnison offers to right winger Joe Colbeck is important.

Colbeck is getting back into the swing of things and looked dangerous in the second half rampaging forward getting a reward with two minutes to go putting in another low cross that skimmed past Charles and to sub Barry Conlon who touched the ball past Nicky Bull from seven yards out (Edit: The cross was by Nicky Law Jnr). Target man Barry using his head to stay on side by coming onto a ball which seemed to elude Shots left back Anthony Straker who chewed the linesman out all second half and never was spoken to about it unlike JJ three years ago.

Spoken about but never seen was Chris Brandon who – some two thousand years after signing for City and getting injured – made his début coming on for Michael Boulding seconds after the hard working striker had been unlucky not to add the fourth that Conlon got and would have had the fifth with what would have been his first kick for his home club following Colbeck’s low cross but Rhys Day stuck out a leg and Aldershot’s afternoon was all over, as was the game.

The Bantams up to fourth and on to the road to far off places on the South Coast following a short trip to the team we jumped over in Rochdale. When City return to Valley Parade in two weeks time the reminder of the season will have been shaped.

Realists would say that to expect more than a point away from home is too high an expectation and should City get three from three or less then it would seem that scrapping for play off places is the order of the day.

If we can score at a rate near two points a game – two wins, a win and two draws, one of each even perhaps – then we would be looking at the ability to challenge for the automatic promotion places and the play offs would be fall back.

The criticisms of City’s manager – as with the defeats – seem a long time ago with proposed successor Peter Jackson spending the afternoon watching his Lincoln City get pounded by Grimsby. McCall has got City into a position where the finish to the season defines the season.

Last year the Bantams approached the last months looking to find form and a run, the last promotion side the Bantams had were looking to hold onto faltering form. McCall’s City are well placed and pick up points at a consistent rate on the whole. The season enters end game with the Bantams firmly in the position where should we perform well then we can manufacture our own destiny.

He will hope that the finish the season as we started this game and that the start of that finish is as complete as the finishing today. As a signal of intent this – the tenth home win of the season – is as telling as they come.

What should happen next – Bradford City vs Aldershot Town – League Two 2008/2009

It’s March, which in recent years for City fans has meant either anxiety over surviving relegation or disappointment at having nothing to play for.

It’s been exactly 10 years since credible promotion hopes have lasted this long into a campaign and there’s a sense of excitement at what might lie ahead. City welcome Aldershot to Valley Parade tomorrow and then travel to promotion rivals Rochdale and Exeter a few days later. It’s time for our bums, to quote Sir Alex Ferguson, to start squeaking.

Credit for what the management and players have achieved so far this season is often in limited supply from some quarters, but they have delivered more than other recent City teams in getting this far. Though there is perhaps one mental block that it’s still questionable they’ve overcome this season which will be put to the ultimate test tomorrow – the comfortable home win.

City should win tomorrow, although should is a dangerous word. In our first season out of the Premiership we should have beaten Stockport, Millwall and Sheff Wed at Valley Parade. We should have earned home victories over Gillingham and Walsall in 2002/03, Derby and Rotherham 2003/04, Torquay in 2004/05, Bournemouth in 2005/06, Northampton 2006/07 and Accrington 2007/08 – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When we should win, we invariably slip up and it’s such habits which could be looked back on with regret if promotion is not achieved come May.

City’s home record is much better this season and only Bournemouth have taken maximum points, though that was a game we should have won. There have also been draws with Luton, Barnet, Dagenham and Accrington which the team and us supporters went into confident we should win. Aldershot may have a woeful away record and go into their March with nothing to play for, but they should not be taken lightly as any points dropped by City would undermine whatever’s achieved in Lancashire and Devon next week.

After a much-needed and well deserved win over Macclesfield Tuesday, manager Stuart McCall will have a more confident squad to choose from and is likely to keep it similar. The biggest question lies up front with Peter Thorne rested and now vying for a recall and Stuart debating whether to hold him back for Tuesday. Barry Conlon came in and had his best game for some time while Michael Boulding was much improved after his frankly pathetic showing at Notts County. One may drop to the bench and the other may face that prospect a few days later.

In midfield the partnership of Nicky Law and Dean Furman did more than most to earn the Macclesfield win and both are a joy to watch at present. Furman has revealed his celebration for Tuesday’s winner was dedicated to the injured Omar Daley which is not what you might typically expect from a loan player, it also seems to go against rumours of dressing room unrest which have been circulating.

Steve Jones frustrates me for his less-than-committed attitude and it will take a while to forget the disgraceful manner he left Zesh Rehman to be slaughtered by Myles Weston at Meadow Lane last week. He is popular with some fans and can be excellent when he wants to be, but his style of running down blind alleys and woeful crossing is a little too reminiscent of Ben Murihead 2003 for my liking. He will keep his place on the left with Joe Colbeck continuing to find form and fitness on the right. The flurry of games over the next fortnight make it a good time for Chris Brandon to be almost back as it may prove too much for last season’s player of the season to start them all.

The defence should continue as they were. On Tuesday Graeme Lee appeared to be the target of the boo boys with previous victims Matt Clarke and Paul Arnison passed over, probably due to how well they both played. Such ‘support’ has yet to be directed towards Luke O’Brien, who was much better after a slight wobble of late. Rhys Evans keeps goal and will be proud of a home record that has seen him beaten only once – a deflected free kick – between the sticks at BD8 in nine games.

Aldershot seem to be enjoying the kind of season newly-promoted teams regularly enjoy in starting well before drifting off towards the end. They’ve won one in 11 and none on the road since November, although did cause Gillingham a few problems recently when they drew 4-4 at the Priestfield. They also inflicted City’s first defeat of the season back in August.

Which means there is that usual danger lurking behind thinking City should win tomorrow. We’ll turn up that bit more relaxed, get behind the team that bit less and get frustrated that bit sooner. A home win wouldn’t be earth shattering but, though we’re not used to games meaning something in this way come Spring, we shouldn’t forget that picking up maximum points as often as possible is what’s vital at this stage – whether it’s a fixture we should or shouldn’t win.

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.

Significant? We’ll soon know

The impact of this dismal defeat on Bradford City’s season will ultimately be discovered during the next few weeks, although the immediate signs are far from good. The distance from the automatic promotion spots has increased furthermore and it would be optimistic to believe City can even make the play offs given the evidence presented at Meadow Lane. Hot on the heels of the Barnet debacle, a season of promise is suddenly falling apart.

This was supposed to be different. What happened at Barnet a one-off with manager Stuart McCall admirably stating he wouldn’t allow it to derail what the club is trying to do. By 3pm in Nottingham that had translated into giving all but Joe Colbeck – still struggling for fitness – the opportunity to redeem themselves. With strength in depth there should be no assumption on anyone’s part that their place in the team is secure. Sadly it appears too many aren’t paying attention to what’s over their shoulder and did nothing to repay their manager’s faith. Tuesday’s starting line up against Macclesfield will be very interesting.

City’s performance didn’t start off badly and for the opening 10 minutes there were plenty of indications the team was going to respond well to last week’s hammering. Matt Clarke headed a decent chance over and there was a crispness to the passing and movement with the recalled Lee Bullock adding some bite to midfield and Nicky Law, switched to the left-side, a threat.

Then on 11 minutes a City free kick was swung into the box, the ball was cleared to the edge of the area where Graeme Lee battled for it but lost out to a home player who then put Jamie Forrester through on the counter attack. Only Luke O’Brien seemed to be back for City and his tentative attempt to close down the former Leeds striker allowed the ball to be rolled into Jonathan Forte’s path to fire home. A worrying way to be caught out considering City were the away side.

The test was getting bigger for the Bantams, though the goal against the run of play was initially met with a resumption of attacking intent. Yet slowly the passes began to break down, the off the ball running featured less, County’s double-marking of the widemen tactic began to have a greater effect. Dean Furman flashed an effort narrowly wide and Peter Thorne might have done better after he cleverly worked some space but fired weakly past the post with Steve Jones in a better position. Everyone seemed to be waiting for someone else to conjure up something.

Something came at the other end instead with the impressive Forte striking again after some good close control – though the ball should have been cleared before it reached him and even then he was afforded too much time and space. A third followed just before half time through former City loanee Delroy Facey. He is best remembered for poor shooting skills and generally not caring when temporarily employed by City, a description which could be aptly applied to Jones here.

Although he certainly wasn’t the only one to display a disturbing lack of fight. Quite what has happened to the impressive defensive efforts which had seen just five goals conceded in 11 games is a deeper mystery than a niggling injury to Evans, who again did nothing wrong. Clarke and Lee were both shaky, particularly the latter who seemed to play in a trance as he often cheaply coughed-up possession and struggled to clear his line. Not a captain’s performance. O’Brien had a difficult first half and, though Zesh Rehman started his loan spell looking a class above most of his team-mates, he is worryingly sinking to their level.

In midfield Bullock and Furman are good players but did not make a cohesive partnership. A moment in the second half where they both went for the same ball summed up their disjointed influence. Thorne and Michael Boulding have forged a good partnership previously, but neither did much in possession other than lose it. Not surprisingly there was an angry reaction from the 1,200+ travelling fans with the dreaded “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” aired as the players trudged off at half time to face an equally upset Stuart.

The second half was slightly better with some players – O’Brien, Law, Furman and Thorne – restoring a degree of pride. Joe Colbeck was brought on for Boulding with Jones switched up front and there never appeared too much danger of County extending their lead. Perhaps most concerning for Stuart though was the lack of urgency and belief towards engineering an unlikely comeback. It was as though the game had been written-off and the second half was about preservation of a first team shirt for Tuesday. There were occasional good moments and Bullock and Furman did go close, but it was still largely poor.

Thorne did at least find the net with five minutes to go after good work from City’s best second half player, Colbeck. As consolations go it was pretty good too as it allowed last season’s top scorer to finally end a near four-month drought. A seventh goal in four games against the Magpies could prove significant if it leads to a return to the scoring form that his team so badly needs.

Not that Thorne, along with his team mates, could escape the angry abuse of many City fans at the final whistle with the atmosphere long-turned ugly. Passion is one thing but telling players to f*** off is a little strong no matter how deserving they were of receiving it. There was clearly a look of shock on many players’ faces as they attempted to applaud supporters. Reacting in the right manner now is going to be critical.

All season long there has been this feeling that City are going to gain promotion no matter how many soft goals they conceded and how many average performances they put in along the way. There was plenty of time to find top form and plenty of ability in the squad. Well there is no longer much time left and we cannot hope players will find their best form soon. It must happen now – and carry on.

City have not looked as less likely to gain promotion as they do right now and it has to be hoped this will be the moment the penny drops. No longer can the players think it will happen, they must make it happen. Six points from the next two home games will only be a start and they must then kick on in crucial away fixtures at Rochdale and Exeter. And then keep going.

Should that be achieved this defeat might be looked back on as significant because players would have learned some harsh lessons, got back into the promotion hunt and proved they were fit to wear the shirt. For now at least, few fans will be holding their breath.

How fragile is this life as City prepare to face Notts County

If perspective were needed on last week’s 4-1 defeat by Barnet then City did not have long to wait for it with Darlington’s unexpected fall into administration on Wednesday.

As the Bantams navel gazed the Quakers stared into the abyss counting the cost of ambitious plans and living beyond their means.

The defining sight of more football financial madness – for me at least – was Liam Hatch the on loan striker who the club could ill afford coming off the bench to try score against an injured Rhys Evans.

Evans was not to blame for the goals at Barnet but in the context of another administration it is not hard to see why City decided not to have another senior professional keeper on the bench. If that decision costs City on the field then perhaps it – and thinking like it – saves the club off it and thus it should be applauded.

Notts County turn up in financial talk often. The club that once lent Juventus a kit saw investment plans fail this week and have a murky future but as Bantam fans take a seat at Meadow Lane it is worth remembering that the yearly rent as set by the council there would pay for City at Valley Parade for just four days.

Notts struggle this season but are probably not to be troubled by relegation and the resurge of AFC Bournemouth which makes the foot of the table interesting. Last week though proves that if you think the three points are there for the taking they are almost certainly lost.

Lost too for City is Omar Daley who will probably not play again until Christmas and is a huge miss especially away from home where his pace sprung many a counter attack.. Steve Jones fills his place in the squad and sympathy for the over aggressive Darlington declines.

Jones and Joe Colbeck will take the flanks although there is some suggestion Nicky Law may go on to the wing to allow Paul McLaren to return alongside Dean Furman with the South African being considered to have come out of last week’s game with head high.

The back four seems to pick itself but Paul Arnison will hope that a shakeup would see him back at right back. The full back will probably sit out again to allow Zesh Rehman’s power to be deployed opposite Luke O’Brien and alongside Bradford City’s tribute to the Huddersfield boss Graeme and Matthew. Rhys Evans is believed to be fit enough to keep goal and kick goal kicks but the City press officer – Mr. S. McCall – is perhaps understandably keeping quiet about that.

Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne – the scurge of County with a hat-trick at Valley Parade, one at Meadow Lane and two in the first game of the season – will be paired up front. Daley’s injury and reports from the reserves on Rory Boulding suggest that Barry Conlon’s usage as third striker aside City have little pressure on the front two with Steve Jones being perhaps the only option outside the three regulars.

Such is life though living life within one’s means. City – in this week – should be celebrated for this.

City lack the steam to go the distance against Darlington

If there was a time for Bradford City to win the evening’s clash of promotion chasers at home to Darlington then it was in the opening twenty minutes when the visitors – who has not played since the end of January – looked in danger of being swamped by a bright Bantams side looking to carry on with the three game winning run.

At ninety minutes most City fans were happy with a point.

City’s early flourishes seemed to push through a rusty Quakers side with Peter Thorne looking mobile and enjoying some dominance over Steve Foster and Michael Boulding probing dangerously but the Bantams bluster never found a way through and was met with some aggressive challenges by the visits with Neil Austin and Jason Kennedy both pushing the boundaries of a lenient Referee in Staffordshire’s Tony Bates.

Bates allowed rustic lunges to go in checked and Darlington – either to their credit if you have come down from Durham or not if you like your football matches to contains as much, well, football as possible – played those rules the fullest.

The tackle that ended Omar Daley’s night – and with medial ligament damage perhaps season – was Austin going in my opinion past what should be considered fair but not in Bates’s. Certainly Daley’s being carried off on a stretcher seemed to signify a drop in the Bantams game and the shaking off of the rust of the visitors. A couple of minutes later when Rhys Evans reached to stop a ball going out for a corner and limped back to goal matters were worse.

Evans struggled for the remainder of the game and Luke O’Brien – putting in an uncharacteristicly sloppy if still solid performance – started taking his goal kicks. City went close to scoring when Peter Thorne saw a shot loop off a defender and bounce back off the bar and Michael Boulding seemed shot shy when trying to squeeze between the two big defenders of Durham in the Bantams other chance of note but dominance that had started the game had gone into a game shared.

Nicky Law Jnr and Dean Furman struggled to keep control in the midfield in the second half as the visitors got up to speed and then began to show the reserves of energy they had and while Furman performed manfully once more Law was out battled and shoved out to the left wing for Lee Bullock’s return in the middle.

Darlington’s shift up through the gears showed their freshness over a Bantams team playing another in the march of matches that is League Two but resulted only in a single chance of note – Pawel Abbott forcing a great save out of the hobbling Evans – and some approach play that was snaffled out by a masterful three of Zesh Rehman, Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke.

One can only imagine what Dave Penney – Darlington manager – made of his teams attitude to Evans’s injury which seemed to provoke a series of long range and rather weak shots. Either he told them to play that way or he will have been tearing his hair out at the wastefulness that saw them have 11 shots at goal but only one that could seriously be considered a chance. “Evans has a bad leg”, one could have summed it up, “But he has arms!”

Clarke has an odd time at City. He chunks the ball long to groans but would argue that he is no one’s David Beckham or Glenn Hoddle and that what he does do – superb chance saving tackles and providing strength at the back – he does very well. He was my man of the match tonight for sure and is part of a back four that has gone four games without conceding.

All of which looked unlikely at half time when Lee Bullock was practising saving shots from Barry Conlon and a shirt was being prepared for the number eight to make him number one. Back then very few City fans would not have settled for a point come nine thirty.

A point is what we got.

The rule of thumb for loan players

Dean Furman’s display against Wycombe Wanderers was as close to being the complete midfield performance as I have seen at Valley Parade since Stuart McCall left for Sheffield United.

Furman was the exception in my rule of thumb – expressed often on this publication – that the club should favour players we own over players we are borrowing. Furman’s future is very much about bedding into the squad at Ibrox rather than staying at Valley Parade although there is little harm in asking if we can borrow him in 2009/2010.

Furman’s midfield partner Nicky Law Jnr I did not exempt from that loan player rule, nor Zesh Rehman, nor Steve Jones. All three were impressive in the Wycombe win, none of them belong to Bradford City.

However unlike Furman all three of those players are contracted to play for the Bantams until the end of the season and are then looking for new deals.

All of which embarrasses the rule of thumb which says that the wanderering loanee has no reason to put in the fabled 110% for City when he will be back at his home club in a month and Valley Parade will be a distant memory.

Remember names like Ian Moore, Kevin Wilson and Mike Newell? No, Neither do I and it is because while they put in some work they lacked the extra mile that the likes of Barry Conlon put in.

Conlon is out of contract with City at the end of the season as is Rhys Evans. Both are looking to impress Stuart McCall and have something on the table for next season and in a way they are in the same position as Jones, Rehman and Law Jnr. Not on loan but with playing for Bradford City and with three months to impress their way into a new deal.

Rehman and Law – as with Furman – are doing as much and putting in as much effort as Conlon (perhaps almost, who puts in more?) and Evans (I would argue that Jones is giving all he can too, although it is less evident owing ot the type of player he is) towards Bradford City winning matches.

Balancing the squad, building inclusion for the loan players and not putting the current squad’s nose out of joint, settling players who lack stability. All man management jobs failure in which shows on the field.

So perhaps the key to a good loan player is length of time they are at the club – I’m a firm believer that the longer someone is bedded into a club the better they will play – and the length they have left on their current contract but I suspect it is in equal parts about finding the right personalities.

It would seem that the current selection are just that and credit to that goes to the management team at Valley Parade.

Worry about it next season – Bradford City vs Darlington – League Two Preview

There is snow in Bradford so City’s game with Darlington might not even take place but let’s assume it is doing and look at the Bantams chances of winning on Sky tonight.

City lost the away version of this fixture 2-1 at Darlington in front of Sky’s cameras after a last minute goal cancelled out Omar Daley’s great equaliser and at the time it was said that City were not doing that well. Fast forward to now and the Bantams are rooted in the play-off and want to be back in the top three.

Darlington are in a similar position having gone from that game to a spell in the promotion places but now are fourth. A win for them would put them top three. A win for City would see them move about the Quakers into fourth.

City are fresh from a 2-0 win over Grimsby at the weekend in what was an odd game. A late goal gave City a score line that flattered them but great goalkeeping stopped it being a thrashing so perhaps 2-0 was the right result. Either way City never looked like not winning the game over the Marriers and Dean Furman’s return in the midfield had a lot to do with that.

Ah Furman. “He is our best player” someone told me on Saturday which isn’t true really cause he is not out player at all but while he is here he can play some commanding football and is good value for a place in the team. The same can be said about Nicky Law who scored and makes a good partnership with anyone really. What we do next season when these kids have gone and the likes of Paul McLaren and Lee Bullock are a year older who knows but I’m tempted to say that is next year’s problem and if these two bright young things want to take us to promotion then let them.

Joe Colbeck is back and he set up Barry for what should have been the second goal on Saturday which Steve Jones ended up with instead. Jones should step down for him although Omar Daley having a real stinker on Saturday doesn’t help his cause for staying in the side. What do you do about Daley? He scored the goal at Darlington he scored the goal against Rotherham last year, he does some brilliant stuff but when he isn’t on song he is frustrating to watch and sucks the ball away from the side.

He will probably get the nod tonight and that is a good thing. Heavy pitch, snow on the ground, Daley running at defenders who are falling on their backsides. Might work.

Peter Thorne? Where is Peter Thorne? What happened to him? He used to score and look dangerous. Now Barry Conlon gets more goals and on Saturday’s form more chances to miss. Thorne needs chances making to do much good but I worry. Both Thorne and Michael Boulding plays thier parts on Saturday but neither bagged goals or looked like doing and considering the dominance that worries me. I wasn’t that worried with Boulding put in Jones for the second of when Thorne pulled of the defender to give Nicky Law space to go through for the first but I’d like to see Peter Thorne doing more than pulling off defenders.

Stop tittering. This is serious. Peter Thorne is probably not an automatic choice any more but he and Boulding are still good for the front two places.

Also serious is Zesh Rahman who came in to add another big guy for heading away duty and should keep his place alongside Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke and Luke O’Brien. Rhys Evans was bored on Saturday. Probably won’t be tonight.

City on the way forward again

City bounced back from their Gigg Lane fiasco with a convincing, but nerve wrecking win over Grimsby Town in this crucial game at Valley Parade on Saturday.

Tuesday night’s heartless display in a promotion six pointer had seen the Bantams slip to 9th position – a couple of points outside the playoff places – which made a win in this home fixture absolutely essential to keep pace with the chasing pack, jostling for automatic promotion and playoff places.

Wholesale changes were made to the starting lineup, with top scorers Thorne and Boulding recalled up front, Law and Furman in centre midfield, with Jones reverting back to his right wing role, and O’Brien welcomed back from illness at left back with Rehman switching to right back.

And the players selected – very much in contrast with Tuesday night – did not disappoint with confidence, effort and excellent play in defence and attack all over the field.

City had numerous first half chances to break the deadlock. Zesh Rehman, on his home debut, was thwarted twice from set pieces by Grimsby keeper Barnes with two excellent saves from powerful headers.

After homing in on goal Omar Daley pulled back an excellent ball to Nicky Law who took a touch to bring him within 10 yards of the goal, and just as it looked like he was certain to score, Barnes excellently kept out his left foot strike. And Steve Jones once again was frustrated in front of goal when his strike hit the outside of the post, as another nail biting afternoon ensued.

A key moment happened on 20 when Thorne flicked on to send Boulding in the clear, but his run was abruptly ended by a rugby tackle from Grimsby defender Atkinson. The referee judged him to be the last defender and swiftly sent off the Mariner’s man.

There was then only one question on everyone’s minds. Would City be able to break the deadlock? and grab 3 points at home, ala Morecambe, or would they be massively frustrated by a side who clearly lacked the City team’s more skilful individual players, ala Chester and Acrrington Stanley.

The answer, thankfully, was that City did manage to get that crucial goal that set them up for three very important points. From the moment that Grimsby went down to 10 men, it was apparent that only one team were in the running to score goals. Town were toothless in attack, even with 11 men, but to give them credit they didn’t just park their team bus in front of their goal – they did try and get the ball down and play.

The second half was another tale of City struggling to break down a dogged defence. Omar Daley flashed a fierce shot just over, and Steve Jones was looking dangerous every time he picked up the ball, but once again his shooting and ability to deliver an end product let him down again. Nevertheless, he was a threat, and did not give up persisting and produced some exciting wing play. One moment saw Jones lay an excellent ball all the way across the line that just needed someone to tap in – but no City player was on hand to read the ball played.

City’s defence looked very secure with Matt Clarke particularly outstanding and Zesh Rehman produced a very promising display. He looks a very good acquisition.

The crucial goal arrived when Boulding layed the ball over to Nicky Law, who drove forward in trademark fashion towards goal, and released a shot that slipped under Barnes to send the Valley Parade crowd wild and put an enormous amount of relief in the air. Barnes had kept out trickier shots, but the power on the shot from the industrious Law beat him.

Funnily enough, despite having literally all the play in the second half, City’s goal triggered Grimsby to apply a small amount of pressure and force 3 corners which were all handled excellently by the defence.

15 shots on target for City told the story of this game, and as Grimsby again tried to sneak a point in the dying seconds, the ball was cleared and City were presented with a 3 on 1 chance.

Joe Colbeck, on as a late substitute, continued his recovery from injury by releasing Jones in the dying seconds who confidently rounded the keeper and tapped in with his left foot to wrap up the points in this important home game.

Too often this season have City been unable to win games at home that they should be winning. Having only lost one game at home all season is admirable, but as admitted afterwards by Stuart McCall, home draws (7) have been too common so far this season and have impeded our chances of pulling away from the teams around us.

And so to Darlington’s visit to Valley Parade on Monday (weather permitting). The Quakers won a big game away at Dagenham today, but that will no doubt have taken its toll physically, not to mention the long trip back from London up north. It would be a good time to play them with confidence high and the Sky cameras ready to take in the action. What better time to prove that we have what it takes to get promoted this season.

An interesting area of debate at this stage of the season is, would you settle for a guaranteed playoff place at this point, but not be allowed to go up automatically? I wouldn’t. I firmly believe we are one of the three best teams in this division if we play to our potential and we should not have to go through and take a chance in the lottery that is the playoffs. Looking at the remaining fixtures, Brentford and Wycombe both have to visit VP over the next few months, which will prove to be crucial games – but surely gaining maximum points against the likes of Macclesfield, Aldershot and Port Vale in games like today against Grimsby are what will determine whether we give ourselves a chance of finishing in the top three. Our away form doesn’t concern me too much at all as we have performed pretty well away from VP ( with the exception of Bury away), its all about the final eight home games for me. Win a high percentage of those instead of costly draws against defensive minded teams and promotion the easy way (automatic) should be assured.

Getting back on the bike – Bradford City vs Grimsby Town – League Two preview

Those of us at Kenilworth Road on Saturday and at Gigg Lane on Tuesday will fully appreciate the range of emotions which supporting a football team can inflict upon you.

We left Luton ecstatic after an action-packed afternoon of football – one of this writer’s best ever – which threw up the improbable plot twist of Barry Conlon’s late penalty that left us cheering wildly and hugging each other. Minutes earlier we were in despair as it appeared we were on the wrong end of football’s cruellest way of losing – the last minute winner. Barry made the journey home that little bit quicker and the manner of City’s second half performance left plenty of optimism for the rest of the season.

Then came Tuesday.

In recent years we’ve all had to become battled-hardened to the despair of defeat and the frustration when things go wrong – but consolations can be taken when the team was unlucky, the referee let us down or some players still gave us something to cheer. On Tuesday there was nothing as we suffered from the most galling way of watching your team lose – because they simply didn’t show desire, passion or commitment to the cause.

And that’s why Tuesday hurt so much.

It hurt to see players you’ve spent much of the season sticking up for when others have criticised appear unwilling to put their body on the line when the chips were down, such as Paul McLaren. It hurt to see players with unquestionable talent look disinterested, like Omar Daley. It hurt to see players you’d seen do a good job Saturday fail to repeat what was asked of them, like Steve Jones. It hurt, because other than Rhys Evans no-one should have walked off the Gigg Lane pitch with their head held high.

The arguments over what went wrong are wide-ranging and see many accused but unsurprisingly the guy in charge, Stuart McCall, is at the centre of the criticism. How could a man who would never have given anything but 100% when a City player, who if we cut open might just bleed claret and amber, allow such a shambles to happen? What about his coaching staff Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall who, while not without their critics on occasions during their playing career, were never accused of lacking effort? 1,800 City fans packed the away end and backed the players ferociously for 90 minutes, and while that doesn’t mean we deserved to watch a winning team it should at least have been rewarded with a committed one.

But that was Tuesday and just as quickly as the mood turned from euphoria to exasperation it’s to be hoped it can be changed back tomorrow. There is nothing that Stuart and the players can do about what happened at Bury now, but they can at least begin to repair the damage. The recent good run of form of visitors Grimsby – unbeaten in three – may make this less of the home banker it looked a fortnight ago, but just like City’s one win in nine it ignores the bigger picture. This is a bunch of players which have lost 13 of their 26 league games so far, scoring fewer goals than anyone else in the division.

City simply must be targeting three points.

Team selection was a huge bone of contention on Tuesday night and the only thing which can be said with certainty about tomorrow’s team is that it will feature Evans in goal. Luke O’Brien missed Tuesday through illness and should reclaim his left back spot with loan defender Zesh Rehman eyeing up the place of either Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke or Paul Arnison but probably having to settle for a place on the bench for now.

In midfield Joe Colbeck is pushing for his first start since getting injured at Grimsby in October and looked more sharper when introduced on Tuesday than he did Saturday. That should mean Daley, outstanding in the second half at Luton, is switched back to the left and Law moved into the centre with either Dean Furman, McLaren or Lee Bullock alongside. My vote goes to Furman with a message sent to McLaren that one excellent performance should not be followed up by an average one.

Up front Stuart must play one of if not both Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding. Thorne was not great at Luton but is never going to recapture his form if he keeps been brought in then dropped again while Boulding, facing an old club, was unlucky to lose his place too. I’ve written several times over the last 18 months that Conlon’s biggest failing is his lack of consistency and relegation to the bench should be the only reward for such a sub-standard display at Bury. Many fans, and Stuart, have kept faith in the likeable Irishman and he has some making up to do. The fact Jones was hauled off at Bury adds doubts about his loan spell from Burnley been extended when it runs out on February 9, which few City fans would argue for.

Grimsby’s leading marksman only has four goals but we all remember Adam Proudlock’s hat trick at Valley Parade seven years ago. After a slow start to the season former City loanee Mike Newell took over as manager but his influence has been limited and the Mariners are one of a clutch of clubs grateful that Bournemouth and Newell’s former employers Luton aren’t making a better fist of overturning points deductions. A ‘real’ league table would show Grimsby propping up the rest.

In many ways 3pm Saturday cannot come quick enough as we get climb back on board the emotional rollercoaster. No one wants to feel as bad about their team as many of us City fans do right now and such hurt and anger needs heeling. It won’t automatically make everything right again in the world of Bradford City, but a home victory tomorrow would certainly be a good start.

We badly hope to experience that ultimate high of achieving promotion this season, it’s now down to the players to show they want it too.

Where is it going wrong?

On an evening when there was much to trouble manager Stuart McCall, the immediate reaction of his players to going behind to Bury striker Andy Morrell’s 76th minute strike will surely have worried him the most.

Having allowed a game to drift from been in a position of relative control to one they were losing, the City players collectively appeared to lack the determination and drive to make the best use of the remaining 14 minutes and get back into the game. There were some golden chances created – and spurned – right at the end, but it was a case of too little too late. Like the game, City are now in danger of allowing their promotion hopes to drift away.

Through November and December City were guilty of been unable to use the advantage of a strong league position to drive forward from the chasing pack, but as that run of form now stretches to just one win in nine they are struggling to even keep up. The season-worst position of ninth now occupied was not in mind at the start of the season, where ambitions of going up as champions appeared realistic.

It would be premature to panic, but the negatives of the evening require urgent addressing. City came into this promotion six-pointer on the back of an excellent second half display at Luton and the elation of Barry Conlon’s late penalty equaliser, but any intentions to carry on where they left off were undermined by some questionable selections from Stuart which saw Dean Furman, excellent on his return Saturday, and Peter Thorne relegated to the bench. On Saturday Stuart had made his intentions of seeking to freshen the team clear, but even allowing for strong options these two players particularly need a run in the side.

Conlon was recalled ahead of Thorne and while memories of his excellent performance at Gigg Lane last season might have been in Stuart’s thoughts, the strike partnership with Steve Jones failed miserably. At times they were too isolated from each other and the Irishman badly needed Jones nearer to him to flick the ball towards. Launching long balls to Jones was especially futile and the on-loan Burnley forward was almost completely anonymous.

Lee Bullock was brought in to replace Furman and had a quietly effective game in the middle, with City at times passing the ball around neatly but without the pace and creativity we’d seen on Saturday. Once again too many direct balls were played forward from the back and one is left to wonder how a team who began the season playing some excellent football has lost its way in recent weeks. Resting Furman, who had provided energy and dominated the midfield alongside Paul McLaren at Kenilworth Road, clearly did not help matters and, while playing Law out-wide had been effective on Saturday justifying trying it again with Jones up front, Stuart’s failure to adequately address the fact it wasn’t replicated this evening leave concerns about his tactical acumen.

When City weren’t struggling to work out what to in possession they were been asked plenty of questions by a dangerous Bury forward line. Andy Bishop is well known and provided Matt Clarke with a tough night while Elliott Bennett and Mick Jones also caught the eye. Jones and Morrell both missed some good opportunities in the first half as City had to deal with plenty of dangerous balls into the box. Morrell in particular wasted one guilt-edged chance while Rhys Evans, easily City’s best performer on the night, made a couple of decent saves. The best City chances fell to Clarke and Conlon, but efforts flew wastefully wide. Omar Daley looked a threat on the right and was clearly singled out as the danger man by the home side. Zeshan Rehman enjoyed a decent debut in the left-back spot with Luke O’Brien ill, though no-one will want to see the impressive youngster lose his place to an on-loan defender no matter how good his pedigree.

Stuart must have had words at half time as the Bantams came out much stronger after the interval and had Bury begged back in their own half for the first 15 minutes. There were lots of throw-ins and a few corners, but crucially a lack of chances. The ball wasn’t whipped in with the same urgency as the home side and, with the strike partnership still struggling, the deadlock rarely looked like been broken. A couple of decent crosses should have been better attacked by Conlon, while slack marking from a free kick presented Bullock with the chance to prod the ball home, but it trickled tamely wide of the post.

But here was the time when managers need to be making a difference and those who believe Stuart isn’t able to make effective changes were given further ammunition tonight. Taking off Jones for Joe Colbeck was a good move though it was questionable whether Daley, who’d drifted out of the game, should have been moved up front in Jones’ place when there were two strikers who’ve shared 21 goals this season kicking their heels on the bench. It’s also curious as to why Conlon was kept on given how limited his influence on the game had been and the impression he was not giving 100%. Barry is of course loved for giving everything he has, which often make up for some of his failings – without that work-rate tonight he just looked a poor player.

By the time the first change was made Bury had reclaimed the ascendency but the major difference between their good spell and City’s was how often they came close to scoring. Evans made two brilliant saves and Morrell missed another sitter, but City’s luck did not hold out after a brilliant run from Bennett resulted in Morrell firing the ball into the net. Stuart quickly reacted by bringing on Furman and Boulding,but it took too long for decent pressure to be exerted on Bury’s goal.

As the clock ticked Boulding forced an excellent save from Mark Tyler and a scrambled effort from Law appeared to be blocked by a combination of a defender and Conlon on the line, who then had the opportunity to fire it home but turned and volleyed well wide. Evans came up from a corner and from it Colbeck had a chance on goal, but the rustiness of such a long injury lay-off may be partly to blame for the scuffed effort which rolled wide. On another day one of these chances would have been taken and a draw wouldn’t have been unfair, but over the 90 minutes City didn’t do enough and only had themselves to blame.

When City were picking up better results a few weeks ago they were doing so with half a team on the treatment table which won plenty of admiration, despite the fact performances weren’t convincing. Now Stuart has the majority of his injured players back and one of the most talented squads in the league to choose from, and with it the expectation levels are rising once more. Performances have been marginally better but getting the results to go with it are probably only going to happen if Stuart worries less about pleasing everyone and picks his best team as often as possible.

Because the season cannot be allowed to drift any further and, while it might not be fair to put too much pressure on the team, they have now fallen into a position which makes obtaining six points from the two home games this weekend essential. The tools are largely all there, now Stuart must show himself to be a good workman.

The points adding up as Rehman signs – Bury vs Bradford City – League Two Preview

The Barry Conlon penalty at Luton Town was scant reward for City’s second half endeavours when Stuart McCall unveiled what I’m sure his critics will be calling Plan B.

McCall – sent to the stands for complaining about a decision to award a free kick on an afternoon that saw many a bizarre refereeing decisions – enjoyed the best and worst of times facing criticism for abandoning his FourFourTwo principals for forty-five minutes and then seeing his side utterly dominant in the second half thanks in no small part to the ball winning of Dean Furman.

Furman’s display added to an impressive set of midfielders with Nicky Law spoken of as undroppable, Paul McLaren making significant contributions including the first goal on Saturday and Joe Colbeck returning for the last fifteen minutes adding to the already impressive Omar Daley. McCall struggles to make a best fit of those five names without the additions of Steve Jones, Chris Brandon and Lee Bullock. His selection for the middle is an embarrassment of riches of his own making and should he return to the four in the middle on Tuesday night for the trip go Gigg Lane then one can only guess who will be excluded. For my part Colbeck, Furman, McLaren and Daley would be my four but every City fan will twist that Rubik’s Cube in different ways.

A different sort of puzzle is the reason why the mean defence of City on Saturday suddenly started to leak goals – or a goal rather – a specific cross in and head in which the Bantams have not seemed so venerable to since Gary Shaw and his two and a half minute hat-trick.

What caused the Bantams to go from unit to untied is not known although the presence of Zesh Rehman – a central defender signed on loan from QPR on Monday – in the directors box might not have been the most settling sight for Matthew Clarke to see although in all likelihood the three goals from balls lumped into the box and the absence of Barry Conlon’s clearing head were not unconnected.

Coming out of contract at the end of the year Rehman looks to impress in his loan until the end of the season. The Birmingham born Rehman has played six times for the Pakistani International side and become captain in the 7-0 reversal by Egil Olsen’s Iraq side – if our path since we relegated his Wimbledon side has been winding imagine what road has led the Norwegian to be manager of a nation which in the time since we were in the Premiership tortured its players for poor results.

Rehman – who has played right back but favours the middle has his potential debut at Bury for Bradford City which is interesting in many ways much beyond football, and for that matter politics. Simon Schama would call it the future of the British Empire but – for the moment – we shall call it an interesting signing when one considers how stable the back two have been over the last month.

Mark Bower exits to Luton as Rehman arrives and BfB never favours playing loanees over our own players with one feeling sorry for City’s longest serving player. Rehman’s signing made sense if he plays and does well and makes sense if he adds to the right back berth uncovered since TJ Moncur’s return to Fulham but there is a nervousness that City’s second Asian player and first Pakistani is something of the Beckham of Bradford designed to get bums on seats from the locals of BD8 rather than cheat sheets.

Perhaps it might be nice to do both. Certainly it cannot do much harm and Rehman need only prove as useful as TJ Moncur or Steve Jones to be justified in the context of the season. If he proves to be in the bracket of Nicky Law and Dean Furman then he is available at the end of the season.

One might suspect that City needed not to strengthen at the back but bolstering up front with goals hard to come by over Christmas and January – until the second half on Saturday – but still Peter Thorne struggles to find the net and Michael Boulding and Barry Conlon were left cooling their heels. With chances created will follow goals and considering the options in midfield those chances should be created.

Bury for their part are in reasonable form sneaking to third in the table with the kind of mix of draws and the odd win that City get. The Shakers still possess the highly rated Andy Bishop whom Stuart McCall was impressed by and boss Alan Knill informs all that he has yet to have a firm bid for the player. They sit a point above the Bantams but have a poor record against promotion rivals – recent losses to Shrewsbury and Wycombe and a draw with Darlington – all of which points to an interesting game and a telling one.

Should the Bantams win then we will – at least – slip above Bury and could end the night second while a defeat could leave us tenth but with Rehman’s incoming and Bower departing being – seemingly – the last movement of the transfer window after McCall declared himself happy with striking resources then it would seem that they City manager has the squad in place that he wants – or at least can have at this point – leaving the players to get the results to back up such faith.

City leave with a point and much more for the journey ahead

How to make sense of this one?

Six goals, two red cards and the frustration of a poor referee were shared out between Luton Town and Bradford City on an afternoon of unpredictable twist and turns. City were feeble but also fantastic, woeful and wonderful at the back, slow then scintillating going forward and, though the point gained makes it six draws in eight, the players and management should have taken far more from it than they have from any game so far this season.

Twice the match seemed to have been lost by City. They couldn’t have made a worse start after going behind on three minutes when Asa Hall headed home a corner which had as much to do with clever off-the-ball running from Chris Martin (not that one) as it did poor marking. That had been Luton’s first attack after City started well with Steve Jones, moved up front to partner Peter Thorne with last week’s strike partnership of Barry Conlon and Michael Boulding relegated to the bench, causing problems and Nicky Law and Thorne going close.

The pattern of play continued after the goal with City pressing forward but not threatening enough with their attacks. The best chance fell to Matt Clarke – who never scores and rarely even threatens to – when dismal marking from a corner left him with a free header which he sent well over. Thorne and Jones also had attempts saved but the slow and laboured build up to City’s play and failure of Omar Daley and Jones to make an impact left players unsure at times over what to do. This was emphasised when Graeme Lee attempted a wild shot from distance with almost his entire team in front of him, which flew well over.

But then it kicked off. City were again on the attack when the ball was cleared to Ian Henderson who charged down the flank only to be stopped level with the edge of the area by a superb tackle from Luke O’Brien. Unfortunately a linesman with a perfect view begged to differ and flagged for a free kick which provoked an angry response from City players and led to the referee Trevor Kettle issuing a warning to substitute Mark Bower for yelling at the linesman. O’Brien was booked with the linesman trying to persuade Kettle he was the last man and the resulting free kick was met by Akanni-Sunday Wasiu who tapped home. Not good marking from a defence distracted by the falling out over the decision, but it should also be noted it was poor goalkeeping from Rhys Evans who was upset enough with his first half performance to spend the interval on the pitch practising.

By then his manager had been sent to the stands, not for arguing with Kettle about the decision to award a free kick, as angry as he was about it, but from encroaching out of his technical area in an effort to speak to him. I read and hear lots about the Respect campaign and have tried not to believe, like others, that it’s simply a load of PR buzzwords with no substance; but if officials are confident enough in their decisions why shouldn’t they be prepared to talk them through with those who question them? As City trooped off at half time 2-0 down without having done a lot wrong, concerns about which direction the season was heading were raised. City had done okay, as they have all season, but now they had to find that extra something and show their credentials.

Which they did.

A quick goal was essential and came when a Law corner caused panic and Paul McLaren, former Hatter, was on hand to prod the ball over the line. What followed was near total dominance from the Bantams with Lee forcing a great save from Conrad Logan after a trademark thunderbolt free kick. The pressure told when Law received the ball on the edge of the area and rolled it back to the recalled Dean Furman, who took a touch and then fired home a crisp shot for his first ever senior goal.

There was no letting up as City, well in control, produced wave after wave of attack. Jones came alive up front with some clever runs, Daley was back to his blistering form and left a trail of defenders in his wake as he cut inside and set up attacks and Law, occupying Daley’s usual left wing spot, was a revelation out wide. Free from the defensive responsibilities of playing in the centre, he stretched Luton by taking up some excellent positions to be fed the ball to and had the vision and confidence to set up chances for others. Furman and McLaren were easily winning the midfield battle and Luton were reduced to sporadic attacks on the break, which were mostly mopped up by a much-improved defensive effort superbly led by Lee. The only time Luton got through saw Evans make a brilliant save, the half time training session appeared worthwhile.

And the chances created. Daley went on a magnificent run from inside his own half beating players for fun before shooting just over, Thorne nodded just wide, Law flashed an effort just wide, Furman went for goal again and was just over, sub Conlon headed just over, Jones’ half volley just saved. The only thing that wasn’t just was the scoreline as City deserved to be out of sight.

They also missed two easy chances when first Daley’s brilliant attempt to steal the ball off the full back and quickly cross left Conlon with the sort of chance Harry Redknapp’s missus could have scored and then a great run from Jones saw the on-loan winger get to the byeline before shooting from a difficult angle when pulling the ball back would have left City players queuing up to tap it in. Such profligacy appeared to have come back to bite when, as the 4th official held up the board to reveal how much injury time was to be played, Clarke gave away a stupid free kick on the edge of the area from which Kevin Nicholls whipped the ball onto Hall’s head to send into the far corner. Absolute heartbreak.

As many City fans streamed out of the grotty away end there were still further twists to come. First Luton keeper Logan decided to celebrate his team’s ‘winner’ by running up and gesturing towards City fans before going into a dance routine that was not so much provocative as embarrassing. Cue many fans rushing to the stewards to complain. Personally I have no problem with a player making gestures to us as long as we can do it back, so I’ll take this opportunity, having missed it at the time, to insult and pick on his personal features in a way which will upset him the most – Logan is terrible dancer.

The game restarted. City tried an attack which was cleared and the ball went up to a Luton player, who was offside. Cue a long wait for the free kick to be taken as Kettle lectured a home player and when Arnison finally pumped the ball into the box you stood there believing you’ve seen this sort of moment at the end of the game so often before and ultimately it will end up in Logan’s hands and he’ll probably wiggle his backside at us as he lies on the ground clutching the ball for five minutes. But it squirmed into the area and as Jones went for it he was faintly clipped from behind and rolled over and Kettle pointed to the spot.

Cue massive protests and a sort-of-brawl between both sets of players which ended with Martin receiving a red card. Meanwhile Logan was all over penalty taker Conlon whispering sweet nothings into his ear about how the Irishman was going to miss. Four minutes later Conlon finally got the chance and showed remarkable coolness to convert the penalty and prompt wild scenes of celebration. Don’t let any of Conlon’s critics tell you his 10th goal of the season was “only a penalty.”

The final whistle blew and as we struggled to get out breath back Stuart came over to applaud us and gestured towards the players to signal they deserve our appreciation, which we did. Meanwhile the referee and his officials had to run a gauntlet of abuse from home fans as they leave the pitch and it was distressing to see them try to protect themselves from a shower of objects thrown at them. Some arrests were made and outside there was also trouble. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the 30-point penalty such a response was shameful and any Luton fan who didn’t throw an object but disagrees is just as bad. If the Respect campaign is going to work the FA must not be shy in punishing Luton Town Football Club.

I received a text just before the end of the game from a Leeds fan saying he had sympathy for Luton’s plight and we often hear how it wasn’t the fans fault, so why should they be punished? The actions of a minority of their supporters yesterday, not to mention their behaviour at Valley Parade earlier in the season, leaves me waving them cheerfully goodbye on their route to the Blue Square – and I hope they take their dancing keeper with them.

But the focus of this report is on City and what a fantastic game of football, easily the best since that afternoon at Prenton Park in October 2004. They looked down and out at stages but showed tremendous character to keep coming back – character which needs to be bottled up and used during the second half of the season.

In keeping with the craziness of the afternoon, City have dropped from fourth to seventh while moving a point closer to second and first. There was much which didn’t make sense yesterday, but one thing I do know is that if City can reach the heights of their second half performance for the rest of the campaign they will be celebrating promotion come May.

Joe Colbeck is Barack Obama – Luton Town vs Bradford City – League Two Preview

I didn’t hear the snap of Joe Colbeck’s foot over at Grimsby and I could not tell who was down at first but I know he is coming back.

My mate Russ came back to City last year some time. He has been off in Siberia or somewhere and was not a massive follower of City anyway but we had a ticket free and along he came and during this game he looked out at City’s ginger right winger who became player of the season later that year but wasn’t then and he said “Is that that piece of [something] Colbeck.”

Russ was filled in with what had happened in his absence and that Colbeck was now considered to be something of a tidy player and I pointed out that some of us thought he was all along that day the lad had a stormer and all was good in the world.

So if during Russ’s absence Joe Colbeck went from popular boo boy to glorious hero what has happened during Colbeck’s break? Well he has become so important to City that you could be excused for mistaking him for a second coming.

Colbeck is great and everyone cannot wait for his return to Valley Parade and that surge of good feeling is important just as all the Obamamania is great just because it makes everyone so damn happy but unlike Barack Obama Colbeck faces a trip to Luton and a game with Bury before his inauguration [But who is to say the American political process would be worse if all candidates had a final hurdle of having to impress on a Tuesday night at Gigg Lane before being sworn in? – Ed]

Colbeck will probably be on bench duty for the Luton game and return for Bury on Tuesday night leaving Steve Jones to carry on his weird wing play where he never seems to do enough, tackle enough, get stuck in enough but seems to have played well at the end. The Burnley winger started his City career as Stevie, Jonesey or Jonesio and now is just Jones which says a lot about him. He flatters to deceive.

Jonesinho will play right wing to Omar Daley’s left and Paul McLaren, who used to play for Luton and feels some sympathy for them apparently, and Nicky Law will play in the middle. Now stay with me on this one but I think that Law should be dropped for Dean Furman who wins the ball better and winning the ball gives us more possession and that leads to more chances. I know Law has some of the same magic as Colbeck about him but tough calls have got to be made to get four or six points on the road before we get back to Drawey Parade and it is time for a change and that would be the one I make.

That said Lee Bullock might get back in the side. Why not? We won all the time when he was playing.

Paul Arnison, Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke and Luke O’Brien are a mean defence and Rhys Evans tends to look bored during most games so little has he to do so that end of the park is going well. Up front City need to give Chris O’Grady a try out.

Just kidding.

O’Grady is in the last week of his loan and it looks like Leeds are not going to be giving us tonnes of money so either the Oldham man will be going back to be one half of this scrap or Stuart McCall will confound us all by giving him a longer contract. Until that he is a not that important bench sitter.

Being fair to O’Grady he has hardly had a chance at City featuring off the bench for fifteen minutes at a time but then again Billy Topp never got a chance and that was cause he did knackers all in training to impress the boss. If the mark of a striker out the door at City is that they do nothing when coming off the bench Toppy style then O’Grady is not around for long and Stuart will be looking at signing a new loan player until the end of the season. In a way O’Grady has been the perfect replacement for Topp. The net effect of having him on the field is the same but he has none of the thrills of Toppy because he is not from Temuco City hes from Roverrum.

That or Rory Boulding will get a chance to do nothing from the bench, but probably not. The only player in the last few years to do anything from the bench is Barry Conlon who will probably be back to sitting on his backside to watch Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding. City’s strikers are my worry at the moment. All three of them score goals but at the moment I find myself lacking confidence that any of them will find the net.

It is not that logical I know cause only two years ago we had one source of goals in Deano Windass and nothing else but at the moment we are lacking the fox in the box who scores with every touch or we are lacking Peter Thorne firing on all cylinders.

Luton have zero points but should have thirty apparently. Either way they are a mid-table outfit who think that they have been hard done to and have great vengeance and furious anger which they aim at anyone who doesn’t feel they have been badly treated. If Leeds last season is anything to go by the slog to zero points will signal a general foot off the gas-ness and last week’s 5-1 drubbling by Darlington could have been just that. They have Lewis Emanuel, who I always liked as left back, but he is out injured.

It doesn’t matter anyway cause whoever is right back I hear will be torn apart by Joe Colbeck anyway, just for a change.

10 Years of BfB

It was the odd goal that made it interesting and it came late – a penalty – when Issy Rankin was felled in the Crystal Palace penalty area as he “danced his way to glory” and Fonz cool Peter Beagrie put in the spot kick. Was it a penalty? The newspapers the day after said it was.

At least that was what was reported in the first BfB match report some ten years ago today.

An image of the front page of the first upload of BfBBack then BfB was called – foolishly – The Boy From Brazil and Other Stories and was by no means the first representation of The Bantams online. The Internet Bantams mailing list covered conjecture and rumour, Someone’s personal site (who shamefully I have forgotten the name of) had followed the club until the writer moved South and The City Gent had a site and message board.

BfB served different aims. In fact it had three aims which were achieved to greater of lesser extents. First it was my personal calling card to get a job in the industry and to that end it worked with months, secondly I wanted the site to represent many opinions and today over 100 fans have had articles on the site and third I wanted – rather idealistically – to raise the level of debate between City fans. Judge this aim by our comments on the current site and that has gone well, look at the official site message board and we have made not a jot of difference.

Looking back at the first updates of BfB it is very much a product of the early days of the consumer Internet – not sure about its place in the world. It refers to itself as a “Netpaper” and has a concept of pages being released on different days.

Back then BfB had issue numbers – it was updated once every couple of days through dial-up after my parents had gone to bed to avoid my Father complaining about phone bills and wires – and issue eight from Saturday 6th February, 1999 told us about a trip to Watford, a Leeds interest in Lee Mills and an article about the cost of buying season tickets. It featured images until the lawyers from the FA came with serious legal letters and action against us, my being suing off the face of the Earth only being avoided when Chairman Geoffrey Richmond stepped in on my behalf.

Richmond was a hero back then and rightly so. He had not put a foot wrong since arriving in 1994 and had the club in the black every year to date. Read BfB in 2001 (apologies, the images for this version of the site have been lost) and Richmond is still well regarded. The site had changed then moving to the current address from a Freeserve page and taking on a new look following a stop in January 2000 and restart without my personal input beyond code a few months later as theBRADFORDCITYsite which introduced our readers to the penmanship of one Roland Harris. By August 2000 BfB had returned and I was back writing it.

The decline of City as a Premiership club made for interesting day to day reading and the site showed this moving from the articles format of the original site and to a more diary – blog, if you will – format which took the news of the day and gave reaction to it. Richmond – previously mentioned in glowing terms – was never criticised and retroactively the site is criticised for this although at the time I tried desperately to find someone who could make a counter-point against the chairman but could find no takers. In the ten years of BfB that is a sea change in the way that football is followed. Back then it was impossible to find someone with a bad word to say about those that ran Bradford City FC, now it is increasingly hard to find people who are not anchoured in a negativity of some sort or other.

Nevertheless the site was well read having gone from a readership of 100-150 in first year to something around the 400 mark at this time. With everything at the site going well – certainly better than it was on the field where the Bantams who were now managed by Nicky Law following the departure of Jim Jefferies – and a version of new site was launched.

The 2001-2003 BfB moved away from aping the club’s claret and amber colour scheme and started to create its own identity. In 1999 when the Bantams had been promoted to the top flight the BBC prepared a map of Premier League club with links to the 18 official sites and the two clubs that had no online presence – ourselves and Liverpool – had links to “unofficial” being BfB and Kop Talk.

I loathe the term “unofficial” and never use it to describe BfB. Former Arsenal man David Dein described sites like Arseweb and BfB as being “Pirates” as if as football supporters need permission or an “official” sanction to discuss their clubs. BfB is now and has always been a place for debate and that debate does not need the sanction of a club or a league to be deemed official so I reject the idea that without that our opinions are “unofficial”. They are the official opinions of the people who hold them and they need be nothing else.

The 2001-2003 version of BfB sets most of the trends that would be recognisable as being of the site for the next half a decade. The attempts to create a branding to differentiate from the (still feeble) official site, the news yoked with reaction and links to deeper full articles, the overtly wordy style that (we hope) treats the reader with intelligence, the low yield advertisements that mean we never got rich.

This version of the site detailed the struggles of Nicky Law (Hey kids, he is the current Nicky Law’s dad) to arrest the decline of the side and the arrival of Gordon Gibb who blustered and achieved very little while at the club.

Of all the versions of BfB over the last ten years this has been the most delightful to work with. The right hand side’s navigation between deeper information and the left’s wide space for text created rich areas for content that handled information large and small. To this point every part of BfB had been hand coded and the closest thing the site had to a content management system was a scribble of paper on my desk that tried to detail the links that various pages had.

At this point the site had a healthy 800 readers a day – this was around 10% of the home attendance although the aim of BfB, and one we have never reached, is to get 25% – and was a senior players in a plethora of new football websites.

The web then was seen as a place where everyone could express whatever they desire and they were doing. BfB would often be contacted by a couple of sites from whomever we were playing to exchange links and discuss the game which lead to our first of a fistful of major fall-outs when Roland Harris decried the people of Wimbledon and favoured a trip to watch City in Milton Keynes.

Aside from the spat between Harris and the football supporting people of Merton this represented something of a watershed moment for the site when we read criticism of BfB from other City fans. While we were being dismissed as not being representative of what “proper City fans think” by some it was striking that the site had moved out of being the parochial province of being “the fans site”. BfB has never tried to be the voice of the fans or to represent all Bradford City supporters but rather to present the voices of those who wanted to avail themselves of it.

The worst of these fall outs came when City played Southend United and Donovan Ricketts was sent off for giving the finger to some supporters who had racially abused him. For three days some Southend “supporters” bombarded the mail box and a percentage of those mails were threats which were eventually added to with abusive phone calls and threats of further “action” were I not to print an apology to those racists who had goaded the City goalie.

No apology or retraction followed nor did any of the threatened “action”. These disagreements – including one recently with Luton Town supporters, Bolton fans upset at John McGinlay being called Fat, Oldham fans in anger that we questioned the sportsmanship of their side who scored while we had players prone – change little over the years with a minority taking offence and blowing hard for two or three days before the Monday morning when something else takes the attention.

The lesson of ten years working on BfB and in the Internet industry is that often what seems important between a person and the screen late on a Saturday night is paled in the reality of the morning sun. At BfB we are serious, but we try not to take everything too seriously.

BfB begot Cabin Pressure – my business – which allowed minute by minute coverage of Bradford City on a new site which ran from 2003 to 2007. It featured some rather graphically pleasing icons and was build using a CMS I had written. It was this site which covered the club on the decline to League One and Administration Two. On the day when the club faced going out of business forever 22,000 unique visitors came to BfB to follow the progression and to find out – thanks to the close links with the fund raising of the Supporters Trust – what they could do to help save their club.

Perhaps this day was manifest destiny at work. Whatever had caused me to start BfB and keep it going for the years to those days and all those from the links that the site had enabled it to become a hub of information and action for those looking to save the club. I credit the likes of Mark Boocock, Mike Mason, Cath Tomlinson and Richard Wardell (and others) with having committed massive amounts to keep the club going in the summer of 2004 I hope that they would not mind BfB and the writers we have had taking the credit for creating an environment which offered a stream of communication to mobilise fans in support of their efforts.

If there is a purpose to sites like BfB then it is that. BfB – and many other sites for City and other teams – give an outlet for fans to discuss the club in the gaps between Saturday afternoons and to give people and outlet for passing their opinions around with some credit. Over 3,500 full articles have appeared on BfB and only two have been rejected in that time. Every writer has given a name and stood, colours nailed to the mast, saying “this is what I believe in and these are my thoughts.”

I’m proud of that.

So enjoy the retrospective of the first five years of BfB and visit the three archives – also take a look at the 1998 prototype for a Bradford City site which would become BfB. The site moved on until 2007 when two things occurred to change it. Firstly I moved to working at an Ad Agency and could not maintain a day to day update schedule moving back full circle to the article based update that I, Jason, Omar, Paul and Roland (and others) man today and secondly the nature of City’s position in League Two does not demand the constant update of news. On Tuesday and Wednesday in the week at Valley Parade not many things happen and while were the club in the Premiership January would be a hourly transfer update life is more sedate at City.

More sedate and covered elsewhere. The BBC, the official site and the T&A have up to minute coverage of The Bantams and there is no need for an independent site like BfB to try compete. What we offer, what we can offer, what we want to offer is the expert opinion of people who have watched games, who do know our players, who care about the club.

At present we get around 1,500 visitors on a good day and we have the best collection of writers we have ever had. Things are going well and for that I say thank you, dear Reader, for reading.

  • 1999’s BfB An example of the first version of as saved on 6th February 1999.
  • 2001’s BfB Two ears later on 11th July 2001 this was the last edition of the second incarnation of the site.
  • 2003’s BfB The last version of the third version of the site as saved on 13th September, 2003.
  • 1998’s Prototype The first stab at creating a Bradford City website from mid-1998. It did not work on Netscape 4 – what did?

City stumble as fingers are pointed – Bradford City 1 Accrington Stanley 1 Match Report

City stumbled through their 7th home draw of the season against lowly Accrington Stanley.

It was the kind of game and result that we have seen too often this season at Valley Parade and we all know might well prove very costly when the promotion run winds up at the end of the season.

Stanley took an early lead on 5 minutes when a free kick was awarded dead centre, 20 yards from goal. The City wall seemed to move out of the way of the ball that Ryan stuck thumping straight through and beyond Rhys Evans to put visitors ahead.

Then the referee and his officiating team proceeded in trying to ruin the game. City had at least three decent penalty shouts in the first half, all strongly turned away by Mr David Webb. The one that holds most strongly in the memory was approaching half time when the ball was drifting towards Boulding and a blatant left hand was stuck out by a Stanley defender to stop the course of the ball – and with Mr Webb 10 yards away he failed to see what 12,000 others did and waived play on which resulted in Boulding being denied by a save from close range.

Just to prove further his inept decision making skills (demonstrated at home to Bournemouth earlier this season) – Stanley were also victims early in the second half. A strong run by Paul Mulin looked to have him racing clear one on one with Evans. Matt Clarke shot back and made a very heavy challenge on Mulin to deny him a shot. It was such a strong challenge it was a borderline penalty – but Clarke did get the ball – it was an excellent tackle. But this good piece of play was interrupted by Webb who proceeded to book Mulin, seemingly for diving or simulation. Utterly astonishing. I have never felt the need to write to the FA regarding the standards of officiating (and that really is saying something given the standard seen at Valley Parade over the last decade) but Mr Webb’s performance on Saturday was so incomprehensible that I will be spending Sunday night drawing up a letter of complaint that I am sure would be backed by 12,000 others.

City drew level early in the second half thanks to an exciting and very strong run by Nicky Law who crossed from the right to leave Barry Conlon with a tap in at the far post to restore parity.

The equaliser should have proved the catalyst to set up a City victory – but, in truth, Stanley keeper was not tested nearly enough as the game drew to a disappointing close.

Not many City players came out of this game with much credit. Conlon did well to convert his chance, but was too often beaten aerially and failed to have much of an impact. The defence held fairly firm and they passed the ball among each other pretty well.

The midfield was full of also rans, Nicky Law withstanding. Steve Jones is an experienced pro who has good pace but fails to deliver an end product, cross or shot. Omar Daley played ok in patches, but wasn’t always the inspiration that we needed him to be. Paul McLaren seemed to take quite a few steps back in terms of performance level – after a few good games recently. He just didn’t influence the game. And one of his main strengths – set pieces – seem to be left to Nicky Law which I really cannot understand. If McLaren is not going to take dead balls then why is he in the team?

The signing and player that annoys me most at the moment is Chris O’Grady. Was he a panic buy? I cannot see what Stuart sees in him. Admittedly, I have only seen him in action for 30 minutes in a City shirt. But I have watched him closely in the warm up’s twice and he just doesn’t seem like he has anything special or talented to offer whatsoever. McCall revealed afterwards that O’Grady didn’t train on Friday due to illness. Then why play him on Saturday? He came on to absolutely no affect with enough time on the pitch to make an impact. Is he capable of making an impact? I really don’t think so.

The idea of a loan signing is to improve on the squad that we currently have but I honestly would rather give young Rory Boulding or Leon Osbourne a run out instead of this mis-fit. And stories about him not wanting to take a wage deferral during his at Rotherham really leaves a sour taste in the mouth – give someone else a chance. I am not one to ever jump on Stuart’s back over any signing – I have liked the vast majority of players he has brought and has faith in – but O’Grady playing and being given a chance at Bradford City really doesn’t make sense to me.

A glance at the other results from League Two on the day show all have slipped up apart from Darlington. It would have been a perfect time to grab three points and move up into equal second place. The rest of the promotion contenders in this League are all stuttering – all failing to break from the pack (with the slight exception of Wycombe) , which has ensured that the top three is still a realistic target.

However, many more displays at home like this and we surely cannot expect to stay where we are.

Hopes now are pinned on the return of the influential Colbeck and the long anticipated debut of the possibly crucial Chris Brandon. What is for sure is that we do need something extra in this team to ensure promotion this season. The key to any successful promotion push is winning your home games, especially those against “lesser opposition” – something that this current City team is not delivering on.

Fingers of blame are pointed at McCall and his management team, which does morale no good, but the frustrations are understandable. Stuart will be and should only be judged in May but in the next few crucial months lets hope he can find within his team that little bit extra that make ambitious and talented teams successful in the long run at winning games and grinding out three points when they are needed most.

The midfield cup runneth over – Bradford City vs Accrington Stanley – League Two Preview

Stuart McCall must look back to the start of December and find it hard to recall how he struggled when Tom Clarke was recalled by Huddersfield Town to find midfielders for his Bradford City team that bobbed along in the promotion hunt – never falling below the play-off, never being able to cement a top three place – with injuries and suspensions robbing him of that favoured phrase of the commentary “six first team midfielders”.

With the return of Joe Colbeck to the training squad – if not to the team – and Lee Bullock to contention then McCall could field a six man middle should he wish. Certainly with great form from Paul McLaren and Nicky Law Jnr the central two positions are covered and Bullock – along with Dean Furman – are sidelined. Steve Jones has not played since extending his loan deal at the club and is likely to start on the right hand side with Colbeck looking for a gap to return.

Omar Daley is set for the left side of midfield and behind him is Luke O’Brien who is not only becoming talked about as a player of the season candidate but is also developing a good relationship with Daley in front of him.

On the opposite side Paul Arnison will look forward to playing with the more thorough Colbeck than the attacking minded Jones while Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke and Rhys Evans stand on a record of four consecutive clean sheets.

Looking to continue the last ten minutes at Accrington are the perm two from three of City’s strike force with Peter Thorne fit once more and Barry Conlon expected to step down. Michael Boulding will play alongside. Stuart McCall talked this week about the need to keep the number of strikers at the club down to a reasonable level and playing two up front leaves – in my estimation – five slots for players so as to avoid the demotivation of being too far from the first team. The main three City strikers are augmented by Chris O’Grady and Rory Boulding and it would seem that – unless he has an eye on a replacement for the loanee O’Grady – McCall has as many forwards as he wants.

He certainly has the firepower from those forwards should they be fed as evidenced by the last ten minutes at Accrington when Conlon, Thorne and M Boulding all added their names to the scoresheet to turn around the thought lost game. The onus is on the midfield – so full of options – to create chances.

Changing teams – AFC Bournemouth vs Bradford City preview

This game has been called off because of a frozen pitch.

A pitch inspection at 12:00 today will tell Stuart McCall, Bradford City’s players and the supporters if a trip to AFC Bournemouth will be needed this weekend and while weather on the South Coast is questionable City’s desire to put right the only home defeat of the season is not.

The Bantams were bested by Darren Anderton’s inspired display for the Cherries as they had new manager Jimmy Quinn installed. Since that day both Quinn and Anderton have left the club and with them seems to have gone the form that saw them win 3-1 that day. They have suffered three defeats in the last three games and previous to that were knocked out of the FA Cup by Blyth Spartans. Struggling with a deduction it is hard to see where the points will come from to keep them in the Football League.

All of which is demoralising and something that – when the game is played – City will hope ot take advantage of. The Bantams are looking more in race trim of late but with a 4-0 and three no score draws in the last four are obviously struggling to find the net. News that Peter Thorne is back in training is heartening as is the word that Joe Colbeck will play a reserve friendly game next week. Thorne’s finishing is always welcome but the added thrust from the flank that Colbeck added in games like the 4-1 defeat of Exeter has been missed and should the trip South be called off then Colbeck’s presence in the rearranged game could be significant. Certainly the team are more dangerous with the young winger in than with Steve Jones whom McCall is said to be signing from Burnley once his loan deal expires.

Thorne is not expected to return to the starting eleven – the hard pitch and a bad back being a poor combination – leaving Barry Conlon and Michael Boulding up front. Omar Daley and Steve Jones take the flanks alongside Paul McLaren and Nicky Law Jnr with Dean Furman cooling his heels. One must feel sorry for the impressive Furman who has much to suggest him for a place in the side however the form of McLaren and especially Law is such that McCall has to stick with them.

Also impressive in the run of four games without conceding is Matthew Clarke who continues to be underrated as a presence in the City side and has given the Bantams a commanding edge. Also underrated is Graeme Lee’s organsational abilities which while never getting to the level of the Master – Noel Blake – are certainly better than the majority of defenders who have worn claret and amber including the man who preceded him as skipper and central defender David Wetherall. Paul Arnison is rated by fewer than he should be put clean sheet for defensive players should be impressive and he will look forward to the return of Colbeck and renewing the combination they had developed. Luke O’Brien has come on a million miles from the day he was skinned by Gareth Grant at Farsley Celtic and is being talked about as a player of the season.

No one’s player of the season is Rhys Evans but in the last month the goalkeeper has found his bit shouting voice – something Gary Walsh had over Matt Clarke and the reason the former was a better keeper than the latter – and the defence looks all the better for it.

The finishing, finishing touch – Bradford City 0 Shrewsbury Town 0 – League Two Match Report

Having suggested that City were lucky to beat his side 4-0 Morecambe manager Sammy McIlroy would have come away from Valley Parade after the 0-0 draw with Shrewsbury with the impression that the Bantams are strangers to fortune.

From start to finish the Bantams bested the visitors from Shropshire all over the field coming within an inch of the post from Barry Conlon’s fierce volley from taking three richly deserved points.

Alas Conlon’s volley on the half hour pinged back and Michael Boulding’s tidy sweep over the shoulder of keeper Luke Daniels proved too close to the custodian and was saved as City looked to cut through the Shrews with tidy, fast paced and inventive play.

The midfield central duo of Paul McLaren and Nicky Law Jnr were busy out of possession and commanding in it with Dean Furman benched and only able to watch a pair of middle men working together and working well. Omar Daley’s battle on the left wing with Darren Moss was the clash of the season thus far with Moss struggling to keep pace with Daley and Daley trying to burst past the right back. In the second half Moss and Daley clashed with the right back lucky not to be booked and Daley leaving an arm in on the defender which saw Stuart McCall fling him to the right hand side to cool down ended the fascinating clash.

Steve Jones on the alternative wing was less enthralling and looks something of a one trick pony. He is dangerous for sure but too often playing his own game leaving Paul Arnison with few options.

Arnison was a part of a flawless five man defence which has not conceded in the four games over Christmas. Graeme Lee was outstanding pocketing Grant Holt – who in typical Grant Holt tried to rip that pocket with kicks and studs – and making enough sturdy interceptions to remind one of David Wetherall at his best. Matt Clarke also get mentioned – the days of City being muscled out by big blokes is over – and Rhys Evans has engaged mouth and commands the back four superbly.

Luke O’Brien’s form has seen him inherit the title “Ohbee” from Andy and today should have been rewarded with a penalty for an enterprising surge past Omar Daley and into the box only to be shoved to the floor. Arnison – on the other side of the field – was left holding his face after an untidy jump saw him hit with a flailing arm. Conlon was lunged at after the ball, Boulding was upended. If these tackles has been in midfield they would have been free kicks. Referee Russel J Booth using the Wild West school of officialdom. Anything that keeps the game flowing is allowed and when Holt lunged through a defender then walked away waving a hand dismissively ignoring the Ref’s call over you had to wonder what happened to that whole “Respect” thing.

None of which is to take anything away from the Shrews who played a part in an exciting game but looked second best and but for a slice of that luck that Sammy McIlroy credits us with or the finish of a Peter Thorne – missing injured and seemingly replaceable – the Bantams would have won.

As it is City sit third again at the top of a pile of clubs who will be fighting out for the play offs and without putting too fine a point on it should the Bantams play as we did today and not go up then football is broken – play like this and we will go up – but the worry remains that despite possessing the leading striker in the division last season, one of the better ones this and Barry who never gives up City do not score enough goals – or rather we score them in gluts of fours and not odd ones and that the six home draws could have been wins with a deadlier finisher. Chris O’Grady held the ball after coming ensuring that the remaining fifteen minutes would be played in the Shrews half but is no one’s finisher.

Shrewsbury spent their lottery win on Holt and he was not able to nick the odd goal today. City look at events at Leeds with Delph and prepare a with and without shopping list looking for the thirty goal finisher who would thrive in a team that plays this well.

The finisher who would be the finishing touch.

The decision on City comes at Christmas – Bradford City vs Chester City Preview

Recall this time last year – dear reader – and remember the questions about Stuart McCall and his team which had broken out of a losing run that would put Paul Ince to shame but were a long way from impressing with a scrappy team culled together from free transfers and loan players showing few signs of becoming a capable side.

Peter Thorne was a malingerer, Willy Topp the great hope and Joe Colbeck a guy you send out on loan. How times have changed and how last year’s festive period changed them.

The Boxing Day 2-1 win over Lincoln City – Barry Conlon scuffing the winner in the last minute – built on a good performance in the rain at Chesterfield – and showed a City team with Omar Daley starting to find form and Colbeck energised that could compete with the spirited teams in the division.

A Referee cost City in the 3-1 defeat to Hereford but the impressive display cemented the feeling that City could now start a run for bigger and better things which has continued to this day. In the last 365 days the Bantams have not been as lowly as we were at the start of December 2007.

So a year on and the Bantams – unarguably in a better position – face similar questions and have a similar need for a thrust of improvement although while twelve months ago the impetuous was to move away from mid-table and relegation to flirtatious play-off lower reaches now it is impressed upon Stuart McCall and his charges that with more than the play-off team what is Bradford City will be a promotion side.

Such comments are – in the opinion of this writer – unduly harsh on a Bantams side that has suffered at the hands of footballing fatalism more than most this season. Not a team in the land could survive the loss of the entire midfield and two replacements: Chris Brandon, Paul McLaren, Lee Bullock, Dean Furman, Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck have been simultaneously out of action; without a dip in results and while some suggest that Stuart McCall’s inability to have his team hang into the top three places on a weekly basis is a criticism of the manager I would suggest that it is credit to him.

The injury situation at City should have crippled the team – Steve Jones, Nicky Law Jnr, Tom Clarke and Kyle Nix is no one’s dream midfield – but each week the Gaffer has sent out a team that while bettered was never battered and the kind of excuses that formed under the likes of Jim Jefferies were never allowed to take route. McCall’s nemesis spent much of the Premiership talking about injuries to David Wetherall and Andrew O’Brien yet Stuart’s red cross list has been worse and concentrated in an area of the field position but never been allowed to become a self-perpetuating reason for defeat.

The jury – one could say – is out on McCall but one suspects in modern football the jury never returns – or only does so retroactively as it did on Paul Jewell who like McCall build a side with character that competed but was criticised for being commensurate rather than dominant. I would suggest that the improvement of the last year suggests that McCall is performing well and that if someone were to try ascribe this to the injection of funds in the summer as a suggestion that anyone could perform as well give the cash I would point them to 17th place Manchester City. Resources are only useful once marshal and marshalling of resources are perhaps best seen in the fullness of a season – injuries and all.

The midfield of woe is returning to fitness with Lee Bullock and Dean Furman both playing forty five minutes in the reserves. Both are looking at this weekend’s game with Chester as a way back before the Christmas break and one may suspect that McCall will give them the same type of “a half each” run out for the first team as they received on Tuesday afternoon for the stiffs. Doing so would allow Paul McLaren to retain his place and let Nicky Law Jnr shift right to the flank which he delivered such a sweet ball to Michael Boulding from last time at Valley Parade. Omar Daley’s return on the left last week at Brentford shows how important he has become to the team – a contrast to fifteen months ago and a change he credits McCall with.

McCall though credits Daley, Colbeck and his attacking three of Peter Thorne, Michael Boulding and Barry Conlon as being his entertainers and driving his City team on this term. He looks for another forward in the transfer window – reports that he was interested in Chesterfield’s out of contract Jamie Ward would seem to be wishful now Jewell’s Derby are interested – and sees strong attacking as the way forward. Thorne and Boulding are expected to start against Chester.

With this Keegan-esque mindset the defence that causes problems to some would seem to be less of an issue to the manager. Paul Arnison’s long awaited return for TJ Moncur should see the more attacking – or at least better crossing – full back in opposite Luke O’Brien who continues to perform well at left back. Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke – along with keeper Rhys Evans – will look on the McCall’s philosophy with the attitude that they aim if not for clean sheets then for one fewer concession than the other team and while statistics suggest that they could improve the Dagenham game showed that while it conceded in a mistake the back line did not buckle under the pressure.

Pressure that is not expected to be as great against a Chester City side who have scored only nine on the road this season and will no doubt end the season thankful of the deductions other clubs have suffered. A win over Chester precedes another Boxing Day game with Lincoln, a home tie with Morecambe and the visit of Shrewsbury. All tough in their own ways but all winnable for the Bantams who recall players to fitness and look to the sturdy first half of the season to set up a run for promotion in the second.

The decision on City – and most probably on Stuart McCall the manager – comes this Christmas.

The four corners – Brentford vs Bradford City preview

The Bantams travel to the football ground with a pub on each of the four corners looking at the four corners of the midfield as the return to fitness begins.

Paul McLaren was back for last week ahead of time and the extra week should see the playmaker building up match fitness. The number four’s impact has been lessened by injury since his arrival in the summer and an unbroken period from now to May could go a long way to seeing City promoted.

Lee Bullock – McLaren’s partner has been missed more than he was appreciated and is back in training with a return expected for the Christmas games. Dean Furman is further away but is also expected to be starting 2009 fit. When all three are in the running for places – should it happen – it will be interesting to see which two are considered corners of the City midfield. McLaren and Bullock is the accepted wisdom but Furman impressed.

Such a problem exists on the flanks too with Omar Daley returning to the side for this weekend’s clash while Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon wait until the new year to be back in contention. Daley’s performances this season – in the face of a criticism which would see him “got rid of” despite his obvious advantages – have belied the fact that in the dream City midfield on paper in August he was on the bench and Brandon and Colbeck were in.

As with Furman, Daley’s performances have made him undroppable and away from home watching the winger sprint puts the fear of God into the opposition. His return is anticipated.

No return to date for Paul Arnison who was not popular in the position where no player is every popular – right back – but since losing his place to TJ Moncur the momentum has build behind him. Moncur’s mistake last week added to his critics but no calls for his exit owing to that will come from this quarter rather a belief that Arison supported his winger better than Moncur and was a route to goals and that is why we prefer the one over the other. Moncur, however, is expected to take right back opposite Luke O’Brien – roasted a little last week – at left back and Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke in the middle.

A point on last week is that Dagenham celebrate the game as their best performance in recent years if not – truly – ever and look at the 66% possession stat with glee. In this context the defending of Lee and Clarke with the full backs and the goalkeeping of Rhys Evans was exceptional and did not get enough credit. Yes, the mistake cost a goal but the draw was saved by some sturdy backline duties.

And the draw came from some impressive attacking play by Nicky Law Jnr and Michael Boulding both of whom are to feature in a team that should read Evans, Moncur, Lee, Clarke, O’Brien, Steve Jones, McLaren, Law Jnr, Daley, Boulding and Peter Thorne. They face a Brentford team doing well in the league in 8th position but coming off the back of a 2-1 defeat to Barrow in the FA Cup and in the midst of a goalkeeping crisis.

The luck of the draw

Watching the Bantams go out of the FA Cup 2-1 to Leyton Orient two frustrations of this 2008/2009 season struck me but only one left me surprised.

The Bantams interest in knock out competitions ended after a header former Leeds man Danny Granville headed home a well placed corner leaving City – who had got back into the game following going behind in the first half – tired and heading for the exit.

City had started slowly – a problem of late – and Graeme Lee’s continuing problems with TJ Moncur maintaining a position to his right hand side saw the skipper foolishly following the wrong man leaving time and space for Jason Demetriou to turn and pick out a fine shot to beat Rhys Evans from range. It was a deserved reward for the team from the division above having the better of the opening exchanges and there was a worry that as with Tranmere Rovers 3-0 win in a previous FA Cup tie that League One would just have too much quality.

Credit then City for clawing back into the game to such an extent that the first half ended with the Bantams in the ascendency much of which had to do with the Bantams midfield – second choice and second best – adding a needed steel to proceedings.

The quartet of Nicky Law Jnr being anchored by Tom Clarke with Kyle Nix on the right and debut loan winger Steve Jones replacing the injured Omar Daley were bullied out of the opening exchanges but added perhaps a little too much of the tough stuff with Clarke picking up a booking and Nix pushing in two challenges that had they connected could have resulted in red cards.

Nevertheless the muscle matched the visitors from the league above who’s robust style of play had seen a heavy challenge on Barry Conlon in the first ten minutes result in the in form 100 goal man coming off after twenty minutes with a back injury and considering that none of the midfield four would be in Stuart McCall’s all squad fit team then credit is due for the resurgence that bore fruit after an hour when a smart through ball allowed Michael Boulding – who ran tirelessly all afternoon – to get behind the immense Alton Thirwell who had a superb game for the visitors and equalise for the Bantams.

At that point City looked the team most likely but the goal galvanised the visitors who stepped up and within ten had taken the decisive lead. The Bantams had chances to equalise – Peter Thorne uncharacteristically heading the best of them wide – but Thirwell, Jordan Spence and midfielder Adam Chambers kept a strong spine to restrict City who lost by an edge, but just an edge.

Curious then that a decent turn out despite pricing villainy by the Londoner’s boardroom did not get behind City more. The Bantams battled with a team a league above and battled well. A nicer drop of the ball or a slice of luck and City could have been through yet the atmosphere was once again strangely muted. Hardly a surprise but whatever a crowd can do to push a team through we do not seem to do it, at least not at Valley Parade.

Surprising and disappointing has been the rumbling of balls around Bradford City this season. Four times the Bantams have been drawn out of hats and every time we have faced a team in the highest division possible. Huddersfield Town, Leeds United and Milton Keynes Dons have previously faced City in the cup this season all from League One.

With the Bantams doing well in League Two we could assume that a draw against anyone below us – and in every draw we have been in most of the teams have been below us in the league structure – would have been more beatable but rather than Grimsby Town away in the Johnsons Paint we end up with Leeds and rather than Chester in the League Cup we went to Huddersfield. Of course there is no guarantee we would have won those hypothetical games but City should not be down hearted about being out of all the cups but rather surprised at the bad luck that saw us get four tough games.

Leyton Orient was a winnable game – both in theory and during the match – but it was not Histon Town 1 Leeds United 0 and as we look to the league now and the next five months of trying to ensure promotion we should do so knowing that in all four of those games – save the second half against Huddersfield – the Bantams gave as good as they got against the teams we want to be playing week in week out.

Four times we played league one clubs. Once we learned a lesson, once we got an apology, once we played and won and once we played and lost. We are ready for that league.

The no pressure game as City beat MK Dons in the FA Cup

Who wants to go to Stadium:MK? Who even knows where it is? Or what it is? “Is it a hockey stadium” Ian asks and then we have a debate over if hockey is a big enough game to have stadiums anyway. “It is something you do down the park” says Dawn, “or at school. It isn’t a grown ups game.”

This argument rages over the team news which sees City without a load of players and without Peter Thorne. “Perhaps we can lend his stick to Barry” says Noel breaking from shouting at us for not being able to stop arguing about having a colon in the middle of a phrase and find this stadium:mk thing. We are going to be late and we are. We get into the ground to see footballer:od (Omar Daley) messing around in the box and hitting a shot that sneaks in past Lewis Price in the home goal. “F*ck Barrack Obama! We’ve got Barrack O. Daley” is both idiotic and hilarious and as we look over the pitch to see how isn’t playing rather than who is. Michael Boulding and Barry Conlon in front of a midfield with Daley, and Leon Osbourn on the wings and Paul McLaren and Nicky Law in the middle. Law got off to a good start setting up the goal.

And City had a good start. Away games have long since been better than home for atmosphere and sure enough the Bantams fans buoyed by an early goal were in good voice. WimbleMKDons most dangerous man Dean Lewington started to warm up and I remember how he smacked Joe Colbeck over the back of the head in the second to last game of the season which resulted in Colbeck being sent off for a horrible tackle back. Colbeck, like Conlon, has come out of the other side of the tunnel of booing and Barry running about this afternoon is proof that while it is pretty stupid the players that come out of the other side tend to do so as better players.

Not that that is a good reason or anything.

Matt Clarke and Graeme Lee had the throats warming up but stuck back together today they were impressing in the first half blocking MK Dons as they tried to drive through the middle of City. If Roberto Di Matteo had had City watched they came back with the wrong info because City looked stronger in the middle today. Away from home and leading we could park a bus in front of the goal but we need to be careful on the flanks were TJ Moncur and Luke O’Brien still amazingly keep out the Paul Arnison and Paul Heckingbottom combination.

Able to sit deep City enjoyed a good share of possession against the Champions of League Two who look less of a team than they were last term. Lewington still looks like the best player in the Galaxy when he faces City and manages to get above Graeme Lee as it looks like the City skipper could put in number two. Some Bantams make a decent shout for a penalty but of course it is given the other way. I wonder if I’ll live long enough that City ever get one of those games where we are the underdogs and everyone loves us and we get let off with two footed tackles and the News of the World want to talk to us but then I remember how much I hate clubs like that and the managers who play up to it like last week’s Barnet manager Paul Fairclough when he was manager of Stevenage when they played Newcastle ages ago. As I’m thinking about this I start to worry about how often Ali Gerba is getting caught offside cause at some point the linesman will let him go and he will equalise. He doesn’t but Jemal Johnson does hitting the ball in from miles away from the goal.

“That was a great goal” Ian offered at half time, “You couldn’t do that in hockey. The ball never leaves the ground.” Sometimes you wonder especially when it is really clear that you are nowhere near the National Hockey Stadium but it does turn out that stadium:mk is next to arena:mk where the Milton Keynes BasketBall team who they might have nicked off Chicago but probably didn’t play. “Rory Delap would be great at that, he should play for them” says Noel.

Half time is a different mood. What can Stuart McCall do? He is without a load of quality players in the midfield and almost every option that is suggested seems to be taking a punt on a player in the hope that while he might not do much most of the time he will be stunning today. Oddly enough this is not just applied to Billy Topp but Luke Sharry and Rory Boulding who as far as I can tell have done nothing to say they are the guys you play when you want to beat a team in the league above you.

Then again they have done nothing to say they are not. Sharry is a big lad and fills a midfield hole but we seem solid enough and have a good chance of taking these back to Valley Parade if we don’t throw Rory, Toppy and Sharry up front and take off everyone who is ever in our half.

The second half started in our half with Omar Daley’s long runs and Barry Conlon’s head being the only way that City could find to get out from the cosh. The home team won corners that were cleaned out by Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke who were both having great games. “The second corner should be a short corner” Dawn said and we all agreed that was a good idea really and that football could learn a lot from Hockey. “You could get two goals for shots from outside the box” which was a Basketball thing and could have had City losing at this point so probably wasn’t a good idea. “Imagine what Deano would have done with the stick, heads would have rolled.”

The Milky Dons started to use the flanks more with former Town flop Kevin Gallen running the channels for them and Michael Boulding starting to do the same for City. The defence which is never lauded of late did not buckle and Stuart McCall seemed to have settled for whatever this stiff rear guard and occasional counter-attack football would produce be it replay at Valley Parade or narrow defeat. We were all surprised when what was produced turned out to be a goal from Graeme Lee.

Boulding was fouled on one of his enterprising runs and while had Lee not blasted the free kick in then we would probably be asking why the fouler was not sent off but the free kick saw Lee step up like Marco Flaming Sas and belt the ball in hard and low to the back of the Dons goal. Like Marco Flaming Sas. I mean, who was expecting that? “He slam dunked that with his chuffing stick!”

Then it was attack and defence with Lewington wandering around the field trying to do everything and Matt Clarke looking as strong as he ever has. The Referee blew his whistle and we were through to the second round six fielders out and no Peter Thorne and everything.

Which says something about Stuart. Belief was thin on the ground today for us all and most of us who had come expected very little and chattered through the game about nothing much like the management team enjoying a trip with no expectation to win. Following City this year is about getting three points every week and the two cup games have been local derbies. We came here with hardly any midfielders against a team that beat us twice last year. This is the least pressure of the season and probably the most fun.

Stuart always clenches is fists and punches the air after a win but today he did so without that feeling that he had stuck it to his doubters but with a smile that he might have not expected it either.

The second round awaits. I doubt it will be as much fun.

In midfield McCall looks at the barest bones

Stuart McCall must long for a pair of boots and a way to peel back five years to allow him to bolster his midfield ranks so depleted as he takes his City side in the weekend with injuries to what one could argue is his first choice four.

Joe Colbeck is on the sidelines until January after the kick at Grimsby Town but such an absence is nothing compared to summer signing Chris Brandon – everyone’s choice to dump Omar Daley out of the side this season – who has yet to kick a ball in anger for the Bantams.

Brandon is an unknown in many ways but his absence – almost forgotten – is one of the reasons why the middle of the park is so stretched for the Bantams. Had he been in the squad on Saturday then City would not have the situation where – after five games in two weeks – Paul McLaren, Kyle Nix and Dean Furman were all playing with injuries.

McLaren will most likely be pressed into service as walking wounded again on Saturday – one might suggest with the away tie at Milton Keynes looking like one of the harder draws and City so depleted that McCall would be better resting his number four for the league games a week later – but Furman will miss the game as he starts an estimate three weeks on the treatment table.

Furman’s place in the side came because of injury to Lee Bullock who is estimate back to fitness before the Christmas period and has been missed by the Bantams more than one might give credit for. As with Paul Arnison Bullock’s exit from the side at Shrewsbury coincided with the start of the “slump” which has left City third dropping from the summit of League Two.

The quartet: Bullock, McLaren, Colbeck and Brandon were in many people’s minds the starting four for City this year. The form of Omar Daley and Dean Furman gives City six to select from but – now the Jamaican winger is back from suspension – injury has those six depleted to Omar and a semi-fit Paul McLaren.

Nicky Law Jnr’s arrival has not replaced Colbeck’s thrusting runs on the right – although a switch of Daley from one side to the other may do that – but the Sheffield United youngster is a versatile thing and can plug a gap in the middle two where Furman would be and could be pressed into that role on Saturday should The Blades allow him to be cup tied. Assuming they will then he and McLaren will take the middle, if not then Luke Sharry – star of pre-season – may find himself thrust into the action.

Sharry did enough in pre-season to suggest himself to McCall and like Luke O’Brien he may find the step into League Two football from juniors/reserves play to be less steep than youngsters who were thrown into action in the divisions above. Looking forward to league games then City need bodies to allow other bodies to recover and at some point pushing Sharry in to allow recuperation for a senior professional like McLaren becomes a good idea.

On the flanks – assuming McCall does not continue with an obviously unfit Nix – the management have the chance to switch Omar Daley to the right hand side and deploy Leon Osborne on the left continuing the theme of pace which is lacking when Colbeck is replaced by Law and once again Sharry provides an option of speed and strength on that right hand side. Willy Topp – not even featuring on the bench of late – is another options but McCall sees more of him than anyone and clearly does not think he is worth including at the moment.

Saturday’s use of Michael Boulding on the left wing should hopefully put pay to the idea that the fox in the box can be the thing on the wing. Sadly injury to Rory Boulding stops him from featuring wide. Rory Carson and Ryan Harrison are the bright things suggesting themselves from the youth set up with Harrison featuring on the left hand flank for the reserves of late.

On Saturday and for the next few weeks Stuart McCall needs to balance recuperation with maintaining an effective team – City are in fine scoring form at the moment – and in doing that he masses what he has in deep reserve. Now is the time for the likes of Sharry to be called upon.

That or McCall has to find his boots.

Where the pieces fall

The ball would not drop.

It held in mid-air like the frost had clung to Bradford’s trees this first Winter morning and took time to come down to the crisp grass of Valley Parade.

Later it would fall to Barry Conlon – of course to Barry Conlon – who would stand straight and head past Wayne Brown.  Allowing Conlon to head past him was the only one thing the man in the Bury goal did wrong all evening but a half hour before that moment it would be Michael Boulding trying to take down a looped cross from Peter Thorne and – when on his own in the middle of the penalty area – control and convert the chance.

The chance had come when Brown had sprinted back to his line to scoop away a back pass by David Buchanan which had seemed to be going into the visitors goal. Boulding’s pressure had forced the error but that would be no consolation as the ball steadfastly refused to sit up to be struck hanging in the air from Thorne’s cross.

Wins, promotions are made of such things.

This phrase seems to be commonly uttered at Valley Parade of late as the Bantams slump – the dire Bantams of Darlington eight days ago – nestle in to second place in the table with 14 games gone. If promotions are made of late goals and of the late goals that Conlon seems to have more of a hand in then they are also made of characterful performances where the Bantams ground out that rarest of things – a home win against an opposition who would have been happy with a point.

Happy and deserved. Bury were a desent side who came to Valley Parade with a game plan to anchor the midfield and hit on the break.  After a half where City edged the game once the mismash of players had started to build an understanding of each other the Bantams began to convert possession into chances.

Nicky Law Jnr came in on the right wing for the injured Joe Colbeck and offered little going forward but his attitude and approach was typical of a City performance which ensured that despite some interesting probing by The Shakers the defensive line remained solid and from that came the win.

Bit by bit in a first half City took more and more control of possession in the game. Tom Clarke – in for Matt Clarke – looked to have a head beyond his years and put not a foot wrong. As the game wore on into the second half Luke O’Brien would become more and more important as a distribution outlet and as a capable defender. His current form would keep Paul Heckingbottom out of the side.

From Boulding’s chance onwards City mounted attack on attack save sporadic meanders forward by the visitors with Dean Furman’s deep role allowing him to control the passage of possession and Paul McLaren probing forward. Law’s right wing role did not offer the outlet of Colbeck and City struggled to breakdown Bury but with the lion’s share of the ball the game was the Bantams to win.

A free kick for an arm in Furman’s face dummied by McLaren and struck with hitherto unpredicted venom by Graeme Lee and the ball pinged up into the air looping down to the waiting head of Conlon who after scoring joined the rest of Valley Parade in expecting referee Mr Friend to be anything but but tellingly as his central defenders were booked for complaining Wayne Brown said nothing.

The goalkeeper twice watching how the pieces fell in front of him. Two similar situations, two different outcomes.

Colbeck’s injury could keep him out for months, Daley is suspended for Saturday and Peter Thorne took a whack and could join Mark Bower, Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon on the sidelines. Like all managers Stuart McCall’s test is to make the best of the pieces that fall to him and second after fourteen games he would seem to be making a good fist of that.

Didn’t you used to be us? – Bradford City vs Bury – League Two Preview

When this Bradford City vs Bury fixture crept onto the horizon a few weeks ago it seemed very much like the Bantams would be looking at getting something from a tricky visit from one of the top three as they struggled to stay in the play-off places.

The game will no doubt still be tricky but with Bury losing 2-1 at home at the weekend to Luton the Bantams are a point and three places above the Shakers with Shrewsbury and Darlington sandwiched in-between.

All four play-off teams have seem – at times – to be about to become the team to beat in League Two. City are last month’s Brentford, Bury are last week’s.

The visitors are looking to get back to the winning ways The Bantams found on Friday at Grimsby and Stuart McCall will be hoping his players dig in for the same kind of battle bested at Blundell Park.

McCall has brought Nicky Law Jnr back to the club on loan as the effects of five games in two weeks begin to pile up. Joe Colbeck joins Mark Bower, Paul Heckingbottom and Lee Bullock on the injured list and two suspensions – Omar Daley and Matthew Clarke. Daley’s suspension will kick in on Friday leaving both (we think) and he is free to play tonight. Clarke M does not play.

Clarke M and his place in the back four alongside Graeme Lee will be taken by TJ Moncur with Paul Arnison or Tom Clarke coming in at right back and the oft impressive Luke O’Brien on the left. Rhys Evans will stay in-between the sticks because not only is he the only goalkeeper at the club he also played a blinder at Grimsby.

Daley’s last game before suspension could see him switch to right to cover Colbeck with Kyle Nix coming in on the left although speculation and wishful thinking on the part of some have Willy Topp on the right and Daley left on the left. Topp impressed in that role in pre-season.

Others put Topp up front alongside Peter Thorne with Michael Boulding switching out wide left while some think that will happen but see Barry Conlon in rather than the man from Chile.

Paul McLaren and Dean Furman will no doubt see off the challenge from Law Jnr for the middle midfield berths with both playing excellently going forward and Law having never suggested that he is the man to plug any defensive gaps in the midfield.

At close of play some things will have become clear for both these teams: How much will City miss Colbeck who’s importance in the side seemingly grows with every game? Can Bury break the losing run by playing away from Gigg Lane? Have the Bantams put the bad patch to bed or just played a bad Grimsby? Will Willy Topp play? If he does, will he be any good? All these questions, and more, will be answered…

However come nine thirty on Tuesday night we will be no clearer in knowing if either of these teams is to be promoted. Wins in League Two jump you over this week’s losers but the pattern of the season is frequency of movement bubbling under the top.

What could possibly go wrong? Pre-season 2008/2009 [IV]

When Arsene’s Arsenal went for 49 games without defeat they seemed imperious but the end of that run – losing at Old Trafford – sent them into a spiral of negative results which cost the a chance of winning a second consecutive Premiership. The same team that could not lose then could not win – for a while at least – before even keel was regained.

The moral of that story was that in football failure is inevitable and the control that managers have is not in avoiding defeat – everyone gets beaten sometimes – but in how defeat and other failure is dealt with.

So last season when City started a losing run around October Stuart McCall struggled to turn that streak around. One failure rolled into another in a string of results that could have cost any manager his job. McCall lived and learned it.

City started last season on a bubble of optimism which once pricked burst. This year Stuart McCall is building on more firm foundations but for sure the mood of the club is that City’s side will be a step above everyone else. At some point though the Bantams will lose, will be out played, will get robbed, will fail.

It is at that point when things can go wrong and that point where Stuart McCall has to start testing his management skills. As a coach one can be confident that he has the right stuff – many players at Sheffield United and City have praised him – but any question marks that remain are around this untested attribute.

When failure comes will McCall be able to arrest that and turn it around as effectively as an Alex Ferguson or will defeats snowball as they did for Wenger that year and Stuart in his first season?

Such a loss of confidence can come in many ways – losing can seep into being a habit – but most often it is brought about by players finding excuses. Last season too many loan players like Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu and Nicky Law Jnr were at walking pace as the Bantams went down to defeats because as loan players one could not blame them for losses. It is noticeable that Stuart has no loans in his squad so far.

Injury gives players excuses too and as Rochdale websites call him the signing of the season Paul McLaren grows a totemistic importance for City with the belief of supporters resting on his shoulders. For sure keeping McLaren fit is a bit part of City’s season but not allowing too much store to be placed on the midfielder is also important when he is absent.

One remembers how on the final day of the 1987/1988 the Bantams without John Hendrie lacked the belief and how the team minus Dean Windass simply did not believe the goals would come. McCall has to balance McLaren’s usefulness with not over playing his importance should he be lost.

However McLaren’s form cannot be worse than the previous incumbent of that shirt – Paul Evans – who was a superb player who played so many wretched performances that he had a wretched season. Evans was talented – perhaps not as talented as McLaren – but totally failed to bring that talent to City last season leaving a huge hole in the side.

City this season are stronger and have more top quality players. Should one of Graeme Lee, Michael Boulding, Chris Brandon, Peter Thorne or any of the other players who one could put in the top bracket of players in this division not perform then others are there to back them up. Money in football gives the the chance to make more mistakes. To fail more often.

Failure is not on the agenda at Valley Parade this year and confidence is high with Mark Lawn bullish and bold. With boldness he needs strength. Failure at some point is assured and the reaction to that failure needs to be consistent and measured. Three defeats on the trot are not the time for the either chairman to start talking in worried voices.

Confidence is fragile and cold heads – cold heads in the heat of a promotion battle – are required to retain it. One need only as Carlisle United about that with their off field troubles derailing a promotion bid last season.

Failure is the only inevitable thing in football. Every run of wins will eventually end. Every team will lose games. Every player will have a bad game at some point. Dealing with that failure and moving back to success is the key to a winning team, a winning season and to promotion.

BfB’s Top Five Review of 2007/2008

www.boyfrombrazil.co.uk Player of the Season

  1. Peter Thorne
    The If Only… Had Peter Thorne been fit all season and the Bantams been scoring and winning then who knows what the result of Stuart McCall’s first season would have been? He is the predatory poacher we missed without Dean Windass and as soon as he returned to full fitness with his intelligent play and able striking abilities City started to win. More please.
  2. Kyle Nix
    Plucked from the season string at Sheffield United Nix has everything that a young player should have. He plays with equal measures of heart and skill and is a joy to watch with his vivacious and effective style. The finish on the end of Willy Topp’s turn aganist Shrewsbury lives long in the memory.
  3. Joe Colbeck
    To say opinion was divided on Colbeck last season is an understatement with blows almost being exchanged over the winger who after returning from a loan Darlington ripped up League Two. Getting that form out of Joe Colbeck again next season is key to City’s promotion push. Keeping him long term may prove difficult.
  4. Barry Conlon
    How many players turn around the Valley Parade crowd from the angry mob to the appreciative whole who may have debated his abilities but saluted his commitment and effort. If anyone has ever deserved a contract extension it is Barry Conlon.
  5. David Wetherall
    The sentimental vote? Perhaps but David Wetherall organised a back four as well as he ever has done. The legs might have struggled but the brain was in full effect and it is that brain that will be behind the Bantams next year.

BfB poled eight contributors to get these results. The follow top fives are written by (one of) Jason, Roland, Michael, Omar and Paul.

The five best results and performances of the season

  1. City 3 Rotherham 2
    Oh what a Tuesday night. We proved in this game that we can actually play well against a very decent side.
  2. Darlington 1 City 3
    Stunning away victory against a promotion chasing team
  3. City 3 Notts County 0
    One of the most comprehensive victories we have seen in some years.
  4. City 4 Shrewsbury 2
    Another excellent Tuesday night, with Mr Willy Topp annoucing his arrival in Bradford with his first start, and setting up Nixy for the first goal.
  5. Dagenham and Redbridge 1 City 4
    Superb away victory – what a reward for those of us who made the trip down to London down. Nicky Law Jnr made sure of the points with an excellent late brace

Five moments when we thought we might be going up…

  1. Beating high-flying Peterborough at Valley Parade in September to go seventh.
  2. Stoppage time at Bury in January, City are 2-1 up and they have a harmless looking throw in…
  3. Luckily beating Macclesfield when they dominated second half. “Sign of a good team playing rubbish and winning,” we thought. If only…
  4. Billy Topp beautifully setting up Kyle Nix to score, six minutes into his full debut.
  5. When Joe Colbeck broke through to net the third goal at Darlington.

…and five moments when we knew we weren’t.

  1. Watching Accrington play us off the park at Valley Parade in October.
  2. Being the better side at home to Brentford but watching the Bees have two shots and score two goals.
  3. Half time at home to Rochdale, somehow it was 1-1 but the opposition were on another level.
  4. Barry Conlon’s penalty miss against Dagenham.
  5. Must-win game at Rochdale in April, 1-0 down inside 24 seconds.

Top five that the gaffer got in – McCall’s best signings

  1. Barry Conlon
    The example for everyone. Put in effort, get rewarded.
  2. Kyle Nix
    Skillful, talented, young. Fingers crossed we keep hold of him.
  3. Peter Thorne
    Showed class.
  4. Ben Starosta
    Looks like the sort of full back who can defend well and then add to the attack.
  5. Scott Loach
    They say that he will be England keeper one day. A way to go but impressive so far.

No Thanks – Five disappointing signings McCall made

  1. Paul Evans
    What gives Evo?
  2. Alex Rhodes
    Caught in the act of making Omar Daley look like a winger who tracks back.
  3. Willy Topp
    So much fanfare, so much wait ’til next season.
  4. Darren Williams
    Good, but like having Darren Holloway back.
  5. Nathan Joynes
    Barnsley said he was great, he was not.

We will miss you – Five players who impressed but have gone

  1. David Wetherall
    A legend.
  2. Donovan Ricketts
    Capable of making blinding saves.
  3. Tom Penford
    A favourite of this parish
  4. Nicky Law Jnr
    Who looked like a very good player. Better than his Dad for sure.
  5. Eddie Johnson
    Because the lad deserves credit for effort.

That went well – Five great things about 2007/2008

  1. The atmosphere, and home performances, at Valley Parade improved thanks to proper priced tickets.
  2. Stuart McCall back is great. Having him answer critics in the second half of the season is better.
  3. Barry Conlon turned around the fans with some gutsy displays proving that it is possible to turn around the fans with gutsy displays…
  4. …and nowhere was this better seen than Joe Colbeck who tore down the right wing brilliantly for four months.
  5. We broke even for the first time since the Premiership. Now that is progress.

Next year – Five things to get excited about

  1. Stuart McCall is up to speed.
  2. 20,000 supporters in Valley Parade? Would be great if it came off.
  3. Willy Topp is resting in Chile as we speak and raring to go at League Two next season.
  4. Should Joe Colbeck continue his form from the end of this term then expect dewy eyed thirty somethings to compare him to John Hendrie with every other breath.
  5. Promotion. You know its gonna happen someday.

Splash

It rained at Chesterfield and then it rained some more and without a doubt the pitch was unplayable but this is League Two and no one really cares about anything except the blood and the thunder and City set out with Paul Evans in the midfield alongside Nicky Law so we were always going to get some of that but for all the fight in the middle pair the home side had the ball for most of the game or what we could see of the ball that was a brown lump of mud being thudded from one side of the pitch to another and it lacked class but I discovered that Lee Richardson the gaffer of the team that put us down last year was gutted to not win the game but admitted they didn’t deserve to and that is true cause the Bantams are starting to build stern stuff with Joe Colbeck back and running down the right and Omar Daley up front so everything as more secure but I’m never sure why Stuart McCall puts a fast lad up front and I can’t remember us ever out pacing a defence but there is no defence for Kevin Gray today because I still remember the fury and the violence of that tackle he did on Gordon Watson and for a bit my mind wanders back to that day and how exciting Chris Kamara’s Bradford City were before McCall arrived and turned passion into pride and steeled the team for promotion which looked unlikely today when Chesterfield got away at first and scored but the Bantams slogged through mud and Kyle Nix came good in the second half and that was that and both these teams are said to lack consistency but like the rattling prose of this page the only thing constant today was the driving, smacking, wetness of the rain.

McCall or McClaren?

Our home game verses Stockport County came at the end of a footballing week that most England supporters will want to forget. If you are reading this piece of editorial and you don’t know that England lost to Croatia by 3 goals to 2, you must have been on the moon for the past week. England’s failure to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals has got football supporters up and down the land contemplating what went wrong for Steve McClaren and the England football team. Whilst I am disappointed that England haven’t qualified for next years finals, I was more concerned about the outcome of Bradford City’s home game verses Stockport County. Prior to kick off we were sitting in 18th position in Division 4 with 18 points; only 8 points above the trap door to non league obscurity. Yes, we went into the Stockport game having won our previous 3 games but we should remember that there is still a long way to go until the end of the season and we could still get dragged into a relegation scrap.

McCall made one change to the team which won 4-1 at Dagenham and Redbridge last Saturday by recalling Ndumbu-Nsungu following his one match suspension and placing Daley on the substitutes bench after his goal scoring appearance for Jamaica against Guatemala in mid week. The first half was a tight affair, but neither side created a goal scoring opportunity. There were no corners in the first half which indicates that the first 45 minutes were rather void of goal mouth action. Indeed, the pre-match talk in the Bantams Past museum outlining Bradford City’s triumphant 1911 FA Cup story in the presence of Jimmy Spiers great grandson was far more incident packed as Dave Pendleton and John Ashton decided to re-start their interesting presentation owing to Spiers great grandson and family’s delayed appearance.

Surely the second half would be more incident packed. I had queued during half time for a cup of tea and actually missed the first couple of minutes action of the second half but was informed by Messer’s Ashcroft and Onions that I’d only missed a good save by Ricketts. City started to pass the ball a bit more which is always good to see and this was partly due to the fact that we had more width with Daley replacing Phelan at half time. However, for the second consecutive home game we had a man sent off for a second yellow card; this time it was Heckingbottom early into the second half. Could City hold out like they did verses Chester City in the FA Cup? McCall decided to employ the hard working Nix at left back and kept two up front with Thorne and Ndumbu-Nsungu. As the clock ticked away the City supporters found their voices more and we played better with only 10 men. Evans was effective in midfield whilst Clarke continued to improve alongside Wetherall.

With only 20 minutes remaining, Evans played a neat pass into Ndumbu-Nsungu, who strongly held off a couple of challenges before unleashing a low right foot drive past Logan in the Stockport County goal. City continued to play the better football although Ricketts did make one excellent finger tip save. With time running out, the 4th official displayed 5 minutes of injury time. Grumbles from within the home sections of supporters could be heard and as the ball bobbled around in the City box, Poole stroked the ball past Ricketts for a late equaliser.

Talk at the final whistle centred around the fact that City had annoyingly conceded a late equaliser whilst others stated that they would have accepted a point when Heckingbottom was dismissed. As I walked away from Valley Parade I kept thinking about Nicky Law’s response when asked who should be the next England manager? His answer to the Radio Leeds presenter the day before the Stockport County game was Stuart McCall. Now then, which team would you rather follow; one managed by McCall or one by McClaren?

Frustrating Revelations

Despite dominating the game and play for the most part, City were forced to settle for a point in this frustrating encounter at Valley Parade.

A point against a team placed second at the start of play today looks like a half decent result – But the overwhelming feeling of the home support walking away from the ground was a feeling of two points dropped rather than one gained.

That said , many positives have come out of today’s game. City looked very assured and comfortable in defence for the first time since the Peterborough game, with Mark Bower particularly outstanding in a whole hearted performance. Rhys Evans, on his home debut, looked commanding from set pieces and corners but was never properly tested by a very disappointing Darlington side.

A revelation today was young Nicky Law. He gave an accomplished performance throughout – doing the simple things well, getting stuck in and hardly misplacing one pass throughout the 90 minutes. He was tenacious defensively and was clearly thinking through every attacking move he initiated – reading the game brilliantly.

If Darlington are a benchmark in this division, then City must think they have a chance of getting into the playoffs despite recent turbulent results. They offered hardly a scare going forward, whereas City carved out numerous very presentable opportunities. The best of which fell to Barry Conlon in the first half, when Kyle’s Nixs’ clever cross floated across to the big Irishman who was totally unmarked on the right hand side of the box, but he drifted his header wide of the target.

Conlon did not do anything in this match to persuade his growing army of critics at Bradford that he can do a job at the club. He shows some OK basic control when the ball is played up to him, but he wins hardly anything in the air (despite his large presence) and never seems to have the cutting edge in front of goal.

Prowess in front of goal was the key missing link in this performance and highlighted City’s lack of a regular goalscorer. Pre season hopes of a 20 goal a season striker in this league were pinned on Peter Thorne, who is yet to find the mark or his form, and we must be concerned about his proneness to injury given his history over the last two years. And with the Willy Topp deal appearing to have gone sour, a City striker needs to step up their game and become a consistent goal scorer week in week out, or any playoff hopes this season will certainly be banished. Ndumbu-Nsungu is an exciting front man, with bags of ability when he gets the ball to feet, but it was fully evident against Darlington that he needs a strike partner who is going to smash away the goals consistently so the pressure is taken off of him, allowing him to create and put in all the effort that is guaranteed with him chasing down channels and putting defenders under pressure.

In the final stages of the game, City nearly won the match with a freak goal, when a routine, wayward cross from the left was astonishingly dropped by the Darlington keeper, and just as it looked it was certain that the ball would drop in, it drifted wide and out for a corner. Such is our luck at the moment – had we been on a winning streak, it would have been the goal that won it for us 1-0.

But the attitude and commitment from all the players in this game was something to be proud of, and the appreciation for the players was shown by the home crowd after the final whistle. The performance was excellent, and a neutral watching the game would have been shocked to learn of our lowly position in the table compared to Darlington.

The next three games are huge for us. All very winnable, and the most optimistic fan will hope for 9 points out of the games which will really get us back on track. Losing five in a row really hurt (especially the Accrington game) but this performance has given us renewed hope.

A regular goal scorer in this team will get us shooting up the table and I really do not believe we need to worry about any other teams in this league. Macclesfield, Wrexham, Wycombe, Peterborough and Darlington have all come to Valley Parade and looked nothing short of poor. Sorting out our home form, and winning every match where the opposition has nothing to offer will turn the table on its head so that we are looking up from the right end of League Two.

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