Taylor stays as manager for now: probably the sensible decision, now for sensible planning

We may all carry very strong views on the subject but, ultimately, very few of us would have wanted to swap places with Bradford City Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn on Wednesday.

The day after the Bantams had disastrously suffered a fifth defeat in six games, Peter Taylor was called in for a meeting with the pair. And a decision over whether to sack the City manager or allow him more time to turnaround a sinking season must have been a difficult one to make. It carried a huge weight of responsibility, and only time will reveal whether retaining him for now proves the right or wrong call.

There is growing pressure for Rhodes and Lawn to take action. Taylor could not have picked a worse time to make catastrophically-bad management calls, and the situation is becoming desperate. Just like the Burton Albion postponement two weeks ago, the cancelling of Saturday’s game at Macclesfield seems especially ill-timed for Taylor. By the time City welcome 2nd-placed Wycombe to Valley Parade next Saturday, midweek results could have dragged them ever-closer to a desperate relegation battle.

And that’s why, despite the huge levels of unrest over Taylor from what can surely be considered the majority of City supporters, sacking him now is not the straightforward answer many assume it would be.

Lessons from the past

Certainly it would be interesting to gauge Rhodes’ take on the situation, and I’m sure the name of Colin Todd must be playing on his mind. Almost exactly four years ago Rhodes took the decision to sack the then-City manager with the Bantams slipping down League One but still in mid-table, and come May the club was relegated. The rights and wrongs of Rhodes’ actions then are still argued to this day, but it’s difficult to dispute that dismissing the experienced manager just after a turbulent period of transfers and replacing him with the club captain made City much weaker for the battle ahead.

Perhaps more telling is to look back a year before that, when Todd was under-pressure from a large proportion of supporters during the 2005-06. Just like in 2006-07 and just like now, the expected promotion push had faltered and City were becoming embroiled in a relegation zone. When Oldham thrashed the Bantams 4-1 in March, it looked curtains for Todd. Yet Rhodes stuck by him and Todd was able to turn it around during the final few weeks and ensure a mid-table position.

It is a repeat of that type of situation that Rhodes and Lawn will be hoping Taylor can deliver. Because as bad as the last few weeks have been for City, it should be remembered that, up to the collapse at Barnet, the players had proved they were capable of winning matches (just badly lacking consistency). The squad Taylor has built are not proving good enough for promotion, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good enough to keep the club in League Two.

Equally Taylor has shown over the past 12 months that he is capable of turning around poor runs of form. It will take a long time for those of us who attended both games to forget the Accrington and Rochdale away games when Taylor first took charge last season. At Accrington it looked desperate, and no -one would have predicted City would follow up their worst performance of the season with their best to defeat the then-league leaders. Even earlier this season it looked bleak for Taylor and City after a dismal 1-0 loss to Morecambe – City won four of their next five matches.

Can City recover from Tuesday’s debacle? Taylor’s history suggests so.

The negligible impact of changing managers

It’s exactly a year to the day since Stuart McCall’s final match in charge of City. The 1-0 defeat to Bury left the Bantams languishing in 15th place and eight points from the play offs – they finished the season 14th and 10 points short of the top seven.

It can be argued Taylor halted the slide that had occurred during McCall’s final two months of the season, but that there was no improvement in results underlined yet again the ineffectiveness of changing managers mid-season. Sure at other clubs a new manager can have a dramatic upturn, but it never happens here. Sacking Todd didn’t improve the club, dismissing Chris Hutchings and Nicky Law didn’t prevent relegation in 2001 and 2004 respectively. Even when the club’s last successful manager, Paul Jewell, was first appointed as caretaker he failed to improve results instantly.

You have to go back to Chris Kamara to find the last time changing managers mid-season improved the club – and that was 15 years ago.

Lawn and Rhodes may not have been around to make all of these managerial changes, but they were involved in the club as supporters at least and they should know that the history of City changing managers mid-season has undeniably proven a flawed strategy. At best it makes no difference, at worst – like when David Wetherall replaced Todd four years ago – it can prove a fatal mistake. Neither may like Taylor very much right now, but the risks of removing him are so great that sticking by him at this moment is surely the sensible option.

Taylor needs to save the club in the short-term, then the Chairmen need to start focusing on the long-term

City’s situation doesn’t look great, but it could certainly be a lot worse. If a victory can be ground out and followed by another two or three quickly afterwards, relegation will no longer be the potential issue it is becoming and a mid-table finish will be assured. Right now City are battling to ensure they can enjoy a meaningless end to the season.

Whatever happens, it’s highly unlikely Taylor will be our manager beyond May and, if the Bantams ship can be steered back onto a safe course, the thoughts of Rhodes and Lawn have to quickly turn towards finding his replacement.

And that above all is the futility of sacking Taylor now. It will cost City a certain amount of money to issue him an early P45 and to hire his successor before the end of the season. And, with the playing budget likely to be reduced next season, is it the best use of limited finances to make that change now because we’re sick of the dreadful style of football Taylor persists with?

Instead City can take their time, assuming results are quickly turned around. Rather than rushing in to finding the next manager, they can conduct a lengthy search and even enlist help from people outside the club in choosing the right person. They can think long and hard about the type of manager they believe can take City forwards, and start the recruitment process sooner rather than later.

Why wait?

Because why wait? Taylor wants to see out the remainder of his contract, City are highly unlikely to renew it. As long as results improve and City are comfortably in mid-table, what’s stopping Rhodes and Lawn from confirming to him there will be no new contract and that they are beginning the search for his replacement? Taylor can be free to see out the final few games, and his successor can be lined up to take over before the season ends.

That way the next City manager can assess the playing squad and make decisions on whether to offer out-of-contract players new deals and which areas of the squad needs strengthening in the summer; rather than arriving sometime in June with a number of players having left and limited opportunities to assess the players he has until next season gets underway. Taylor can even offer advice and information before he departs.

Maybe this isn’t a practical idea – though this sort of transition would take place in pretty much every other walk of working life, so why are football clubs different? Who knows, by taking this approach Taylor can even be assured of leaving the club with his dignity still in tact, rather than a scenario of his final few days being played out with City underachieving in mid-table and Taylor continually being quoted in the Telegraph & Argus that he is “hopeful of a new deal”.

In the end, most of us will get what we want

Let’s be frank – this is one of the bleakest periods supporting Bradford City we’ve ever experienced. The last 10 years have been woeful at times, but this current mixture of poor results and appalling style of football is crushing to watch. I’ve never known a season where City have won matches and I’ve still felt miserable, such has been the way some victories have been achieved. Taylor was an outstanding appointment a year ago, but for whatever reason it’s not worked out.

However, it’s clear Taylor will be leaving the club within the next few months. And so as much as some of us want him to depart instantly, in the end the potential negative consequences – plus financial implications – of speeding that process mean that sticking by him, for now, is the sensible option.

That said, if the league position gets worse the pressure for Lawn and Rhodes to act will become intense and they will have to re-assess Taylor’s immediate future .

This club has never fallen into non-league before, having been elected into the Football League in 1903 before a ball was even kicked. 100 years on from our greatest triumph of winning the FA Cup, it falls on Taylor to ensure we don’t experience our lowest-ever on-the-pitch moment.

We need him to turn it around urgently. We don’t have to like the guy, but right now we should be supporting Taylor in keeping our beloved football club alive.

The legacy of Stuart begins as the Bantams welcome Grimsby Town

The pile of CVs has been sifted through, the initial interviews held. Events are moving quickly and we may have a strong idea of who the Bradford City caretaker manager for the rest of the season is to be before the weekend is over, possibly even before kick off of Saturday’s visit of Grimsby.

For the players especially, it’s a case of who they need to impress. It’s perhaps testament to just how small former manager Stuart McCall’s squad was – or his indecision – that there are no senior players rotting in the reserves. However well or badly they have performed, each player has it all to do all over again. Wayne Jacobs will be in charge from the touchline, but it may be a question of who might be watching from the stands.

And if the caretaker-to-be is able to run the rule over his new charges, he shouldn’t be too disappointed with what he to work with. McCall had to work under tough financial constraints which will have hindered his ability to build the team he wanted, but what the players lack in quality they have almost always compensated by their effort.

I’ve always found that a fair summary of how well a manager did can only be drawn after a lengthy period, and though we may in time label McCall a failed manager it would be premature to do so. Like with Nicky Law and Colin Todd, we may soon discover a change makes no difference, in which case the proportion of blame McCall would be considered to deserve for this season’s under-achievement lessens.

But what we do hope to learn in this season’s squad is that McCall has achieved one of his original stated aims, revealed during his first interview after becoming the manager in May 2007. He said then, “I think back to the first time I was here when we signed people like Greg Abbott, John Hendrie and Chris Withe…they went on to be great servants for the club and loved being part of it…I want to bring in players like that who will hopefully develop and grow with the club.”

McCall’s Monday departure ensured few people were too bothered with talking about the Bury defeat, and the post match comments of defender Simon Ramsden appear to have been widely missed. He told the Telegraph & Argus, “The gaffer has got a history with the club from playing and manager. You can see the club means a lot to him, as it does with all of us. Every time you put on the shirt you should wear it with pride and give 100 per cent.”

If three, four or five of the current crop of players can become entrenched in the hearts of us supporters in the same vein as Abbot, Hendrie, McCall and co, the departing manager can be considered to have delivered some success. If these players can continue their development and lift the club forwards, the foundations can be credited to the biggest legend of them all for rubbing off the passion he had. McCall didn’t view managing City as just any old employment, his legacy may prove to be a playing squad which shares this outlook.

The worry is the eventual long-term successor might rip this work up, rather than build on it. But if the caretaker-to-be is watching and they’re looking to do more over the next three months than merely put themselves in the shop window for a better job, tomorrow could be the day the players start proving themselves as key components of the next chapter.

Quite who’ll be given the chance to impress is another question. This is Jacobs’ second game in charge of the club after acting as caretaker for the then-Division One club’s trip to Stoke back in 2003. He certainly caused an impression that day, consigning Dean Windass to sit amongst us away fans. Second time around, Jacobs will certainly pick Matt Glennon in goal with the experienced stopper having had little to do but conceding six goals in his first four Bantams games.

The passionate Simon Ramsden was outstanding as a centre back last week and will surely continue there alongside an equally impressive Matt Clarke. I didn’t agree with the decision to push Zesh Rehman over to right back, and though Stuart could no doubt explain the logic to me I’m not sure he’d go as far as to claim it worked. The promising-but-raw Jonathan Bateson may be recalled, with Luke O’Brien at left back.

Last week Omar Daley reminded us of his frustrating inconsistency after an ineffective performance as part of a midfield three, which at one stage drew an angry tirade from Michael Flynn. In the second half a Bury breakaway was thwarted by the Jamaican racing back to clear, which emphasises how his patchy form cannot just be labelled as ‘laziness’. He should start in what may instead be a 4-4-2.

Flynn and Lee Bullock will look to continue in the middle, though this writer craves for young Luke Sharry to be given more opportunities before the season ends. Steve O’Leary skippered the reserves to a rare win midweek and may be considered ahead of Bullock. Chris Brandon and Scott Nielson, both struggling for form but not involved with the second string, will hope for a recall. Leon Osborne is back from injury and worth considering for the bench.

Up front Jacobs has the luxury rarely afforded to McCall of having four fit strikers to choose from, though form is another matter. Gareth Evans netted twice at Torquay, but still looks unconfident and is fast-becoming the main target for the boo boys. Michael Boulding flatters to deceive and James Hanson and Peter Thorne’s recent injuries leave them rusty.

Grimsby rock up to Valley Parade deep in relegation mire, winless in 19 and 13 points behind City – but if that gap has decreased come 5pm Saturday, Bantams’ alarm bells will start to ring.  The Mariners have not beaten City in 11 attempts and their last win at Valley Parade was back in 1997. They’ve managed just 20 goals in 28 league games this season; if they play half as bad as they did against City at Blundell Park earlier this season, a comfortable home win will be achieved.

Personally I would be sad to see Grimsby go down. Cleethorpes is a pretty ugly place, but there are worse away ends than the one at Blundell Park and the fish & chip shop nearby is astonishingly good. They are six points adrift of safety and former City striker Neil Woods has so far been able to turn the tide.

According to the chairmen City go into this game with nothing to play for; but with such an uncertain future for the players and coaching staff, it’s not a time to be deliberating the summer holidays just yet. McCall’s legacy does not deserve to be players who’d give up trying now, tomorrow is their first chance to honour the former boss.

McCall echoes Law’s bluntest comments – will we pay attention this time?

Arresting oratory rarely comes from the most lucid speakers. Churchill’s finest hours came not from his desire to play with words but the bluntness of his statements. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” may flow off the tongue well but more importantly, it is guttural, basic.

As one decade ticks over to another there is a tendency to look back to the last and encapsulate and in doing some one piece of oratory sticks out above others. A couple of years from the start of the decade then manager Nicky Law delivered this damning pronouncement:

At some grounds the crowd are like a goal for the home team, here (at Valley Parade) they are like one for the opposition.

It is blunt to the point of offence and hastened Law’s exit from the position he had at the club but remains – despite two administrations and three relegations – the outstanding comment of the ten years perhaps because of the bluntness. It was the manager of the club at the end of his tether and is perhaps made more significant by the slide that followed Law’s exit. The gaffer – love him or loathe him – was issuing a warning to supporters. He was not the first.

Ten years before IPC Magazines – those people behind Roy of the Rovers and NME – had asked all 92 clubs what music they ran on to the pitch to. This was before the Sunderland’s use of Republica’s Ready To Go updated run-on music and years before Burnley perfected it with Arcade Fire’s Wake Up (Coyle, leaving that, you must be mad) amid the usual Z-Cars of Everton and Newcastle’s Local Hero came not the name of a song but an anonymous comment from Valley Parade.

We usually run out to total silence

Both phrases talk in terms of warnings and strike hard against the memories of Valley Parade after Gordon Watson’s goals against Barnsley, against Liverpool in 2000, against Blackpool in 2003 but anyone who has followed City – especially those who follow City on the road and have heard the contrast between VP and away grounds – knows that for the talk of “best fans” which is heard from all clubs the Bantams backing at Valley Parade is almost always underwhelming.

The City Gent‘s Dave Pendleton talking about the rising Ultras movement in English lower league football commented on how fifty Accrington Stanley fans were able to out-sing 11,000 Bantams in Valley Parade. There are many reasons for this – the movement from standing to all seats, the breaking up of singing groups in the stadium, offish stewarding and so on – but Pendleton’s reflections are not isolated incidents.

At the time Law’s comments seemed to be petty, small-minded and ungenerous – the last actions of an Emporer before the fall of his Rome – but in retrospect they read as as stark a warning every issued to a footballing community. “Care for you club” – they seem to say – “because no one else will and you will suffer the consequences.”

The comments point to a helplessness – a desperation – of manager Law at the time. Some took his comments as a direct criticism of all but from the distance of years they strike one more as a man saying that he can only do so much. “I’m doing what I can,” they float, “how about a bit of help from the supporters?”

Within a couple of years a dozen people were sitting about the Goldsborough in Bradford trying to tie two ends of the club together, trying to riase enough money that City were not be put into liquidation rather than continuing administration, and no one had time to consider Law’s words but they rang around the chasm between the pub and Valley Parade with a mocking resonance.

Reconciling the two positions is difficult. Twice in the last decade Bradford City supporters showed summers of endless depths of passion, of stoicism and of belief to keep the club in business and able to play football through winters in which often the converse was true. Impatience was common, spinelessness frequent and, sadly, distaste poured forth. I heard it said by one of the dozen people who spent a summer raising the money to keep City going that the club was not just saved to give some people a place to moan every two weeks.

This decade was not a week old when Stuart McCall delivered a comment which to many echoed Law’s words and while they were less blunt than the previous manager’s they – for some – contained the same meaning.

If anyone wants to pack up and clear off, then I don’t want them here. That goes for anybody connected with the club.

Rumours following the comments – which the T&A’s Simon Parker attributed to being about the supporters rather than McCall pointed at – were that the manager was upset at the attitude of some of the directors perhaps specifically Roger Owen although one was also reminded of the infamous Brian Clough story which has the great man sacking three tea ladies he discovered sniggering at a Derby County loss. Negativity – Clough believed – undermined everything.

Certainly McCall was quick to point out that he was not criticising the supporters talking about the great backing they have had from the fans 6,000 of whom have signed up for Season Tickets for next season but as with Law’s comments some see this as McCall’s attack on the fan and want a similar response with the manager being stripped of his responsibilities.

Regardless of his intended target McCall’s comments apply equally to supporters as they do to the boardroom, the dressing room or elsewhere at Valley Parade. Clough and Law shared the belief that negativity aided the opposition and it seems that McCall has come to the same conclusion.

One has to wonder what Bradford City 2010 have been like were the reaction to Law’s comments not a ire that he should dare speak against Bradford City supporters but as a motivation to resolve to make what difference a full throated support can for a club? Poor atmosphere is common in football home ends up and down the country but it need not be the case and if atmosphere has a purpose in victories in football then the Bantams support could resolve to be the team that uber-supports rather than just another ground where nothing is ever as good as it could be.

Would we have seen Bryan Robson’s side slide away? Would we have seen the lifeless surrender of League One status at Huddersfield and at home to Leyton Orient? Would we have seen the wilting away of last season’s promotion push? Would any of these things been avoided had Law’s comments rung true and the type of support which often is only witness in away ends could be heard in the home sections of VP.

Certainly at the club the idea that there is a negativity at Bradford City has been noted. Mark Lawn has talked about the message board and making posters responsible for what is said in the hope that it would alter the tone while the moving of away fans to create a noisy Bradford End has been a qualified success with the atmosphere created by some way the most positive in the stadium, and the noisiest.

This website stand accused – from time to time – of “having a go at the fans” which is sometimes true but in this case is not. (Incidentally for my part I have no qualms about saying that on occasion I feel the need to point out unjustified negativity of a section of City fans and for those fans to bleat about being “attacked” or being the subject of having BfB “having a go” is an hypocrisy. If – in one example – a person is man enough to stand up in front of the fans around him – including a good few twelve year old kids – and call Joe Colbeck “a c*nt” then he is man enough to take any criticism aimed at him.)

This is an article about a nameless source at Valley Parade in the 90s, a manager in the form of Nicky Law in the last decade, The City Gent’s Dave Pendleton and another manager Stuart McCall in this one and it is about putting aside a pompous pride and thinking about what is best considered for the wider Bradford City community.

I’m a guy with an opinion, Some bloke at VP is just some bloke, Law was a jobbing manager, Pendleton is just a guy who writes a fanzine, McCall is a club legend and they all speak to the same conclusion about the effects of support and the detriments of negativity. What voice are we not going to ignore before this issue is addressed?

Note on comments An interesting debate on Stuart McCall is taking place elsewhere on this website which need not be duplicated here. Instead – and this is a departure from the usual track of comments – suggestions on ways to improve the mood, the atmosphere, the tone of the club are would be appreciated below.

Sack the manager? It just doesn’t add up

“Everybody knows the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.” Leonard Cohen

As predictable as the boos circling around Valley Parade at the final whistle against Rochdale, was the resulting strong wave of criticism emanating from Bradford City supporters in the days following the 3-0 humbling.

In contrast to the relative quiet satisfaction following the success at Grimsby, the City cyber-world went into overdrive as complaints and criticisms were boisterously aired. BBC Radio Leeds listeners learned of a publicity-seeking Bantams fan from Accrington, who texted in straight after the match to absurdly label the performance the worst of his 15 years as fan, and to reveal he’d ripped up his season ticket renewal form and Darlington match tickets. Ah well,  he didn’t miss much in terms of the latter.

The main thrust of the displeasure was once again regarding the capabilities of manager Stuart McCall, with the returning of cries for him to be sacked which were last aired in August. Often such arguments are defined by the short and long term viewpoint, with the pro-manager supporters arguing for the long term and dismissing the opposing views as short term-ism. On this occasion, fans calling for McCall to be sacked notably adopted a more durable stance themselves; arguing that, after two-and-a-half years at the helm, the former Scottish international has had long enough to deliver a promotion-winning team.

But ultimately, it remains a short term viewpoint, for question marks over McCall’s future would not have been raised had City beaten Rochdale or at least not been so badly embarrassed by the leaders. Equally, the opinion he should be handed a P45 would have more weight were it not only uttered when City have a bad result. Sacking a manager should be a decision made on a bigger picture than merely the form guide, sadly in football that is all too rarely the case.

And the problem, rarely considered it seems, is what happens after the sacking. It’s apparently accepted practice within football that no thought is paid to a successor before the dismissal, often triggering a period of uncertainty while the position is advertised. Sometimes results improve under the caretaker, in other situations the damage gets worse. If things are so bad a club must sack its manager, why is it so often done with little preparation for the immediate aftermath?

When the new manager is finally installed, the prospects of an immediate revolution usually fail to materialise. Approximately 20 of the 92 English professional clubs have already dismissed their manager this season, but few are betteroff for it. In the Championship, the promotion prospects for Middlesbrough have hardly improved by sacking Gareth Southgate. On his dismissal Boro were a point away from the leaders, now the best they can hope for is a play off spot.

Meanwhile in League One Wycombe remain near the bottom, despite allowing Peter Taylor to leave, where they currently sit level with Tranmere Rovers, who sacked John Barnes. In fact Tranmere are perhaps the strongest example of the perils of readily changing managers; inexplicably sacking Ronnie Moore during the summer despite Rovers just missing out on the play offs, they now look set to exit the division the wrong way.

Throw in bottom-placed Stockport and Brighton and Oldham just above, and League One’s current bottom five clubs have all failed to benefit from swapping managers during 2009. In League Two, the bottom three teams have also fired their managers this season.

Perhaps this argument is flawed by the fact clubs near the foot of leagues are naturally more likely to want to make a change; but that Lincoln manager Chris Sutton this week declared his third-bottom side were in a relegation battle can’t have been great news to Imps supporters, who called for then-manager Peter Jackson to be sacked for losing three early season games on the basis the club had to be challenging for the play offs.

Indeed Sutton’s downbeat outlook is a complete contrast to Jackson, who at the beginning of the 2008/2009 season boldly predicted Lincoln would end it as Champions. A similarly statement of foolishness to McCall’s “I’ll consider myself a failure if we don’t go up” of 2007 perhaps, but the chalk of Sutton to Jackson’s cheese is hardly a statement of progression. At least Barnsley and Norwich fans can argue their teams have been boosted by making a change, but the success ratio across the country is hardly inspiring.

Nor is City’s recent history of giving bosses the boot. If two managers – Chris Kamara and Paul Jewell – were responsible for lifting City two divisions, the subsequent six have all played their part in City’s fall to League Two. Appointing Chris Hutchings may have been a mistake, but dismissing him after 12 games hardly made much difference given replacement Jim Jefferies told Geoffrey Richmond City were doomed just eight further league games later.

At least Jefferies was then afforded time to reshape the squad, but his departure just before he was pushed mid-way through the first season back in the Football league did not lead to the promotion which had been targeted at the beginning of it.

Nicky Law’s sacking was a watershed moment for me. I was undecided over whether he should be dismissed in the autumn of 2003 as City lay in the relegation zone, but despite replacing him with Bryan Robson the Bantams still ended the season in the same position they were the day Law was sacked. Despite the ongoing financial difficulties which saw Colin Todd lose his best three players, sacking him with City in 16th place proved a mistake as the season ended with relegation under caretaker David Wetherall.

The same criticisms aimed at Hutchings, Jefferies, Law and Todd are repeated towards McCall. Yet the proven failure of sacking City managers mid-season seems to be forgotten. Perhaps by firing McCall now we’ll get a fantastic replacement who ends up leading City up the steps of the Wembley Royal Box next May to lift the League Two play off trophy. Against the evidence of recent City history and how other teams have fared from recently making a change, you wouldn’t exactly bet on it.

Of course this doesn’t necessarily mean City should stick with McCall if he’s not meeting expectations. In the cold light of day the last two seasons were failures, as McCall himself admitted, but the signs since agreeing to remain as manager last May offer renewed encouragement. The summer signings have all largely been young players with something to prove. There’s a clear determination to self-improve and every indication the squad sees playing for Bradford City as a privilege.

Were the end of the season now, how many of this present squad would McCall and supporters want to release? The total would be low, certainly compared to recent summers. No matter how this campaign ends, if McCall is allowed to remain in charge the focus will be on building on it rather than starting all over again.

If McCall had only just taken over this summer, this policy would be universally accepted. That he has the baggage of two years failure counts against him, but if the ethos of what he is now trying to achieve is one which can be agreed is a good thing, shouldn’t it be pursued anyway?

Because ultimately the lesson to be taken from sacking a manager is that the problems inflicting the club rarely disappear as quickly. Maybe by sacking McCall now we’d find our own Jim Gannon, John Still, Keith Hill or Andy Scott instead, or maybe by sacking McCall now we’d find our own Egil Olsen, David Platt, Glen Roeder or Carlton Palmer. Maybe by sacking McCall we’d discover he was holding us back, or maybe by sacking McCall we’d discover he was moving us forwards.

At best it would be a gamble, a roll of the dice which might land a six but could just as easily come to a one. Until the summer at least, it would best to leave the dice for someone else to roll.

What makes a good loan deal?

The penalty saves Simon Eastwood made against Notts County did a lot for the confidence that City fans had in the young keeper who arrived on loan from Huddersfield Town at the start of the season but seemed to do very little for the confidence of the custodian himself.

Saturday saw another Eastwood performance where he made some impressive saves but enough errors to cost goals. This has been the pattern for the keeper all year with the ten minute spell after half time against Crewe being illustrative of the player. One stunning arm out save from a Steven Schumacher header, one picking the ball out of the net when a long range shot from the same player bounced through him.

Eastwood arrived at City having played a same for Town and a dozen on loan in the non-league and perhaps Stuart McCall was hoping that after three months or so wearing the gloves week in/week out that Luton born keeper would have started to show improvement that comes with being blooded.

The theory is a good one because if Eastwood could cut out the brain-freeze errors that see him wandering around the penalty area like a loose defender then he would be a decent keeper who made brilliant saves. The problem is that such progression has not been seen in Eastwood and he remains now, as he was when he arrived, a player who is good at football rather than a good footballer.

This is not at all unique. Back on the 9th of May 1999 when City were promoted at Wolves the world ball juggling champion entertained City fans with his tricks on the side of the field while the 22 players were not as good with the ball but better footballers got on with deciding who would be in the Premiership next season.

Eastwood – as previous Bradford City keeper William Foulke – could make a living at a goalkeeping stall in Blackpool showing off his shot stopping but he needs to get better at playing the game of football if he is going to make a living in the game.

A poor loan spell at City did not do Boaz Myhill – the Hull City ball-picker-out-of-netter – played twice for City letting in five to Sheffield United one afternoon but after joining the Tigers in the bottom division he has played for them all the way into the top flight and has played over 240 games for them. One assumes that after running under a ball when the Blades bore down on goal Myhill took stock and learnt – certainly his cameo’s on Match of the Day are not litters of errors which suggests he is a better keeper than he was – and so in that way his time at the Bantams was a massive success. At least is was for Boaz Myhill.

Myhill’s Hull team mate Nathan Doyle’s loan time at the Bantams seemed to be great success for City – he was player of the season despite only being at the club until Dean Windass sprung him after Christmas – but for Doyle it seemed to secure him nothing more than a move from one team’s reserves to another from which he is loaned out, in Yorkshire.

Two years on and Doyle seems to be pretty much where he was when he left the Bantams – although perhaps he is on more money than he was at his first club – but perhaps that is a slight return and not really what we should be looking for when we ask what is a good loan deal if only because even with his contribution the Bantams still were relegated.

Other players like Andy Taylor – the Middlesbrough left back who impressed many during his four months with the Bantams – and last season’s midfield pair of Dean Furman and Nicky Law are perhaps a better example for a typical loan deal. These players come to the Bantams as rough young players who can kick a ball well and after a few months or a season of regular play establish themselves as footballers who understand the rigours of the first team game.

The Bantams got something from the players but as with Doyle it is rarely enough to create anything like a promotion campaign from and the work of Michael Flynn, James Hanson and Gareth Evans show the debilitating way that the loan player – with his route out of the club – effect the level of effort put in. The aim for Furman and Law was – perhaps understandably – contracts for next season not promotion this and while there was a convenient eclipse of these aims when backs were to the wall they were not the men to be counted on.

(This is a standing debate between City fans – the end of season collapse and the abilities/attitude of Dean Furman and Nicky Law – and one I suspect will not be resolved here. Suffice to say it while cannot be true that the team lacked drive to maintain a promotion push but the heart of the team excelled there were many causal events in place.)

Should Oldham or Rotherham be faced with similar problems would this be the case? The Myhill scenario suggestions not. Last season’s players were added to with a good half dozen other players of a transient nature which caused its own problems. Taylor’s loan at City saw him put in displays which got him recognised and awarded a first team place at a (relegated) Boro but his level of effort was similarly capped as one might say Furman and Lee’s were.

These were good deals for the players and for the Bantams individually although collectively represented something of a weakness. The players were markedly better when they left the club than they were on arrival – more confident, more drilled into a playing style – and moved onto higher divisions or more money and so perhaps they can be good loan deals.

There remains though the quantity of loans and the effect on the team’s morale – not repeated in Stuart’s battlers of this season – which perhaps offers us the answer that a good loan deal is a scarce one in which the player – especially a young player – is allowed to grow as a team footballer without being relied on.

Eastwood though the exception to that rule – goalkeepers being different and all – because while he is alone in being on loan he is relied on as the keeper to settle the defence – something he has failed to do so far.

So City are stuck in the invidious position of waiting for Eastwood to start to show signs of the progress which all young players make while out on loan while understanding that that lack of progress is costing goals. In ten years time Eastwood might look back on the last few months as the making of his career where he learnt the hard way the way to be a professional footballer – certainly he has the raw ability of a quality goalkeeper – but the longer City wait for the lessons to sink in the longer we will go on conceding unnecessary goals.

It’s Here

The League Two season is back with a bang on Saturday as Bradford travel to Meadow Lane in a reverse of the opening fixture of last campaign. And for Bradford faithful still reeling from last season’s disappointment, this is all that matters. Forget the long running saga at Newcastle United with an untold number of messiahs. Forget Leeds United’s third season in the third flight of English football. And please, forget last season.

Stuart McCall decided to stay with the club this summer despite suggesting otherwise last term. Managing at a young age is always a learning curve and there isn’t a manager out there that hasn’t made mistakes at some time in their career. But in my opinion, this club and it’s fans would rather have somebody with a loved for the club at the helm taking it one step at a time, than a manager with no passion who will come and go within two seasons at the most. The fans have cried out and it appears that stability is the way forward.

McCall has been busy this summer with his dealings in the transfer market, with no less than twelve players departing, not including Dean Furman, Steve Jones and Nicky Law, and nine coming in. Only goalkeeper Simon Eastwood has so far come in on loan as McCall plays the waiting game with the clubs in higher divisions to see who is available following pre-season. Eastwood’s arrival at the club shocked many, with an experienced keeper expected to come in alongside Jonathan McLaughlin. Only time will tell if this turns out to be a bad decision, but it is telling that Eastwood’s contract is only until January rather than a full season, with McCall preparing himself should the opportunity to bring in somebody different arise. Quite who will be playing between the sticks for City also remains a mystery with Eastwood not doing himself any favours with a nervous display in the final pre-season game against Carlisle.

Zesh Rehman has made his move to Bradford permanent and has been rewarded with the club captaincy. Much has been made of Rehman’s work in the community following his loan move last season and it appears that the club see Rehman as the ideal role model for youngsters in the local area. At a time when club finances are tight and extra revenue is a priority, it will be a challenge for Rehman, along with Omar Khan, to influence the Asian population to make Valley Parade their second home.

Jonathan Bateson, Simon Ramsden and Steve Williams join Rehman as new signings in Stuart McCall’s new look back line. Ramsden in particular looks like he could be the solid right back that has been missing at Bradford for a while now, though Paul Arnison will feel disheartened that his efforts last season resulted in his exit from the club. When Arnison played last season, City tended to fair better defensively. The facts don’t lie. However, it was apparent that McCall was unsure about him with Tom Moncur and Zesh Rehman preferred at times in what was evidently not their strongest position. Ramsden looks composed, strong in the tackle and fairly good in the air. Add to this that he can also play in the centre and has featured regularly for Rochdale in three successful seasons by their standards and you can understand why McCall has brought him to the club.

Gareth Evans and James Hanson, dubbed The Co-op Kid (I prefer The Idle Working Man – Ed), have bolstered McCall’s striking options. Both are young and play with a real desire which is a joy to see. McCall has high hopes for both and this is supported by the clubs willingness to pay a fee to Macclesfield for Evans services. Hanson looks like he can offer height in the attack, in the absence of Barry Conlon, and comes to the club with a decent scoring record in the last two seasons. Experienced duo Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne are still with the club and both agreed to cut their wage bills accordingly, with Thorne rewarded for his loyalty by becoming team captain. Up front, City look a lot stronger this season and it may be a weight off Peter Thorne’s shoulders. Michael Boulding openly admitted his disappointment at his goal tally last season and will be expected to do better this time around.

Following a fluster of activity in the days before the season opener, Stuart McCall has brought in three central midfielders, an area which he was keen to improve on. The signs are that Michael Flynn, City’s second signing from Huddersfield this summer, will slot in alongside Lee Bullock to form what looks like a solid pairing. Flynn ranks alongside Simon Ramsden as McCall’s best signing in my opinion and his ability to score and create goals from midfield will fill the void left by Nicky Law. Michael O’Leary and energetic James O’Brien have also signed, albeit on short term contracts. Luke Sharry missed the chance this pre-season to stake his claim for a place in the team and may now find himself the odd man out with many feeling Chris Brandon is also above him in the pecking order.

Omar Daley’s absence may be missed, with City only having the aforementioned Chris Brandon, Joe Colbeck and Leon Osbourne to turn to on the wings. Arguably Rory Boulding, Gareth Evans, Michael O’Leary and Luke Sharry can all play in this position too, but City do look thin in this department. Rumours of a loan move for a winger from an unnamed SPL club allay fears somewhat though undoubtedly Daley’s comeback will be in the back of everyone’s mind. Osbourne has looked impressive this pre-season and looks ready to make the step up to first team duties. Chris Brandon will be looking to make up for a torrid season last time round and will be a very important player for City should he stay free from injury.

When you thought things couldn’t get anymore unpredictable, Sven-Goran Eriksson appeared at Notts County and shook the football world to the core (or League Two at least). His arrival at Meadow Lane marks one of the most bizarre appointments in history and mounts the expectation on County to achieve things in the short term. Ian MacParland’s job will be under scrutiny with the media circus that unmistakably follows such a high profile appointment. In the last few days, Stuart McCall has claimed he is not envious of the position County find themselves in, words which as a fan I cannot help but agree with. Clubs in the situation Notts County now find themselves have the potential for success, but also dramatic failure. Should County fail to gain promotion this season, they will probably find themselves starting from scratch with a new manager and possibly a whole new team next term. It is once again easy to see why fans at this club, who have suffered the repercussions of bad decision making by the money men in the past, strive for stability and a realistic approach.

Last season’s skipper Graeme Lee will probably be coming toe to toe with former team mates and, unfortunately, may receive a hostile reception. The culture of booing ex-players and managers is one that I’ve never understood, though there are factors in some cases. It is understandable that a Crystal Palace fan would be annoyed at the sight of Iain Dowie, not for the obvious reason, but for the way in which he departed the club to become manager of Crystal Palace. Lee, however, put in some solid displays last season, though he did have a dip of form which coincided with the teams inability to win games and keep clean sheets. Nevertheless, any players that represents our club should have our support and his departure was not turbulent and instead was a financial decision. It must be hoped that his exit from the club will suit both parties, with Lee himself wishing the team luck in the coming season. I will leave the defence of Lee Hughes to somebody braver than myself.

How the tables have turned from this time last season when County came to Valley Parade and suffered at the hands of a superb solo performance from Peter Thorne. The City captain has a tendency to score against County, something Graeme Lee may be given the duty of preventing happening on Saturday. I would be happy with an opening day draw in all honesty, but the optimism of the travelling Bradford fans says otherwise. City are out to ruin the party celebrations for Sven’s men are will make themselves heard – win, lose or draw.

The new season is here.

The route to success for Notts County or Bradford City

When last we kicked a ball in anger there was anger after the Bantams promotion push had fizzled out and beating Chesterfield was an inglorious end to a year of promise.

Three months later and while it seems that much has changed the Bantams start the season with six players who would have featured in the team which kicked off last year with Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding leading the attack a good example of how Stuart McCall has been able to cut costs while retaining the integrity of the squad.

The five forwards this year swap James Hanson and Gareth Evans for Barry Conlon and Willy Topp which is easily argued to be no worse and perhaps better with Barry’s rambunctions being matched by Hanson’s vigour, at least in theory.

If such claims of parity could be made for the strikers then they would not be applied to the two keepers who combined are not as old as Neville Southall was when he kept goal for City and the worries over that inexperience are rumbling.

Simon Eastwood seems favourite to start as he battles Jon McLaughin for the gloves and I am forced to say that I have never seen competition for the number one shirt bring about anything but uncertainty in the past.

One can only hope that one of the two claims the spot which Rhys Evans grew to suit. Evans exit remains a mystery with the obvious hole left behind by his exit but last season’s failure has been attributed to poor morale and one can assume that some of those who exit do so because of what might be known as “off the field reasons”.

Paul Arnison’s exit was down to such and Simon Ramsden is considered a more than adequate replacement playing right back more like a central defender than a winger. Again McCall has cut while not losing quality, although the people at Rochdale take issue with the statements that Ramsden has joined the Bantams on comparable terms to those he was on at Spotland.

Zesh Rehman has joined the club full time and replaces Graeme Lee – who may very well take the field for Notts County after his summer move – and it is hard to see that exchange as worse for City. Rehman has played at a higher level than Lee and on the evidence of last season is no worse a player and much more of a talker. Good player Graeme Lee but not the lynchpin we hoped for. Rehman could be.

Matthew Clarke is still Matthew Clarke although this year faces competition for his place from Steve Williams who impressed more than any in pre-season. Expect Williams to grow in ability over the opening months at City has he gets used to the ways of professional football. He promises a mix of Clarke’s physical play and the mobility of a Dean Richards or Andrew O’Brien.

At left back Luke O’Brien has a one deal and little immediate competition for the role however cover is provided by Louis Horne who is making similar progress to last season’s player of the season.

The midfield has been talked about at length over the summer. Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock are the two senior men with James O’Brien, Stephen O’Leary and Luke Sharry offering a much shallower depth of quality that last season’s midfield which of course assumes that one believes that last season’s midfield had quality.

Objectively the choice of Nicky Law, Dean Furman, Paul McLaren and Bullock is incredibility strong however wise man say that team with a strong midfield get promoted and obviously we did not. Stuart McCall has to make changes to move the team on from that and so he has.

On the flanks Omar Daley will be missed – he is “out until Christmas” but rumoured to be on course to join the squad before that – but Chris Brandon comes into the season fit and looking useful. Joe Colbeck is on week to week contracts but as long as he plays well this week, and then next week, few will have a problem with him. Cover on the flanks is thin on the ground although Rory Boulding and Leon Osborne are available.

City’s summer of cost cutting has been far from mirror at Notts County. Sven – of course – has arrived but it is said has spent much of the week talking to lawyers about a story that concerns a blonde which reminded me of another story about when Eriksson left England but I’m far too in fear of legal action to even mention that…

So we shall move past him onto a squad that has been bolstered by the signing of Lee midfielder Ben Davies from Shrewsbury and – more notably – forward pair Lee Hughes and Karl Hawley following a significant investment from a consortium of mystery which could not be held in more suspicion in the football world outside of Meadow Lane if they were gruff looking sortd who owned disused Theme Parks in episodes of Scooby Doo.

It is said that at some point they will be signing Dietmar Hamann and Sol Campbell. Let us hope that is after the weekend.

What will be at Notts County will be and there is very little that football fans can do to stand against the cavalier attitudes taken to ownership in the modern game.

City tried spending to get out of the division and failed. Notts County’s owners are unlikely to balance risk and prudence as Mark Lawn says City have which may see The Magpies to achieve what City could not last season.

The long term effects on County will be seen in time – the other Magpies though that they were going places when they got big investment – but City start out the season with a mix of players: some young lads, some old heads, some local lads made good; and if that is not the recipe for success then success is not worth having.

Now though football starts again. Great.

Pondering Nicky Law as City visit Alfreton Town

It is the source of some bafflement to this writer why it is thought in football clubs both high and low from terrace to table of boardroom that the solution to all ills is merely a change of manager away.

Moving aside from issues regarding Stuart McCall for a second Alfreton Town, tonight’s opponents, are managed by former City boss Nicky Law who was never massively popular at Valley Parade and was fired to bring about that much longed for improvement.

Law was replaced by Bryan Robson and relegation followed although perhaps Robson would blame Law and Law, Robson for that.

Either way since being fired from City Law has not managed another league club save less than a year at Grimsby Town that ended badly but one doubts he could have done a worse job at Sheffield United than Robbo and the moral of the story seems to be that changing manager in itself is not a cure but a cause of problems. That and don’t piss off the Father’s of kids who might become midfielders you want to sign. Or they will go to Rotherham. This lesson may yet prove worth learning with Law’s second son spending half a year at Alfreton’s grandly named Impact Arena last season on loan from Chesterfield.

City’s side at Alfreton is unknown. Fringe players may get a run out considering the proximity of the season start and the level of opposition but as discussed City are light on fringe players.

Expect though appearance from new keeper Simon Eastwood, Steve Williams as he bids to be last man uninjured in the central defence, a host of would be number fours and James Hanson and Gareth Evans who play with Peter Thorne’s tributes ringing in their ears.

The senior City hit man is excited about the two youngsters pressing for his place and with a seven subs allowed on a bench next year all four forwards can expect to be in action, or watching action from close, next season.

That is eleven days away though and tonight is a winsome evening, a calm before storm, where one wonders and ponders.

What would have City been like had Law not been fired? Why do a club with as much money as Notts County feel it is appropriate to charge £20 for a League Two game? Is Josh Law any good? Will City have a different Evans next season following single years for Paul and Rhys?

I’m ready to find out. Roll on the season.

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…

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.

Deflecting viewpoints – Bournemouth v Bradford City – League Two preview

Deflections are habitually described as wicked, and the one which Dean Moxley’s cross took off Paul Arnison to loop over Rhys Evans for Exeter’s winner on Saturday was heinous in its contribution towards City’s promotion hopes.

City spent the remaining 70 minutes trying to neutralise its implication but in the end it was late drama 250 miles to the East, in Kent, which had the most telling affect. Grant Holt’s late equaliser may have pushed his Shrewsbury side above City, but the two points it cost Gillingham means automatic promotion remains a reachable three points away. Victory at Bournemouth tonight could shorten that gap to mere goal difference and deflect a season in danger of going either way back in the right direction.

Recent form is not good enough, no one would argue. Defeat at Exeter was City’s fourth in a row on the road and fourth in six full stop. It’s a measure of inconsistencies with City’s promotion rivals – Brentford apart – that a one point deficit City had after drawing at home to Darlington last month has only increased by two during a period of some of the Bantams’ worst performances of the campaign.

Much has been made online about the latest defeat with the extreme calls of Stuart McCall to be sacked aired by some. Normally I’d try to argue this is ridiculous but there seems little point, not least because their cries are not going to be acted upon by those who get to decide. Furthermore I – as, I would guess, are many others who defend Stuart – am tired of receiving the lazy and patronising put-down of wearing ‘rose-tinted glasses’ when I do.

There’s no room for debate with some supporters, if you disagree Stuart should be booted out it’s not because you rationally believe he’s doing a decent job, you are stupid; or blind and own prescribed magic spectacles – I forget which.

Back in the South, the City squad have remained from Saturday and one hopes the unusually long period of time spent together as a group will have benefited team morale and increased focus ahead of a vital encounter with Bournemouth. Stuart took a squad of 20 to Devon last week before facing a disciplinary problem with Barry Conlon and Matt Clarke, which hampered selection.

Reaction to Conlon and Clarke’s misdemeanours is like opinions on the best way to punish children – everyone has a view but no one ever agrees. Details are unclear, but it would seem Stuart chose to keep them grounded in the stand and stop their pocket money for at least a week. Some criticise him for cutting his nose to spite his face by leaving them out, others argue the pair should never play for the club again. Both players are expected to be back in consideration again with Stuart’s reluctance to publicly criticise them hopefully being rewarded with a determination from both to make amends.

Conlon’s absence and another little injury to Peter Thorne left Stuart selecting Nicky Law up front with Michael Boulding at St James Park. Stuart is often accused of playing Law ‘out of position’, though these critics seem to ignore the fact Law’s career at Sheffield United has so far involved playing out wide or up front. A central midfield partnership with Dean Furman results in Law ultimately ‘out of position’. Some might call it clever management by Stuart to get such great performances out of him in the centre this season. They will probably be the same folk wearing rose-tinted glasses, though.

Law should return to the midfield but perhaps on the wing with Lee Bullock or Paul McLaren partnering Furman in the centre and Steve Jones on the right. The club’s failure to get returning injured players looking anything better than rusty is troubling, though Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon may be considered for starts. As will Keith Gillespie.

Up front Thorne is definitely out so Conlon should partner the hit and miss Boulding. Stuart’s failure to bring in a fourth striker is been debated by some. Tellingly up to five clubs are reported to be on the verge of administration with talk of one League Two club being unable to complete its fixtures. That won’t be City, but the still tight finances mean the luxury of signing the mythical fourth striker who’d score lots of goals probably isn’t available.

Jones is the nearest to a replacement we had for Willy Topp in terms of space on the wage bill, and may play more regularly in the striker berth if other wingers can start matching his form out wide. Gillespie was clearly only brought in because of Omar Daley’s injury and whether he is on anything more than a pay-as-you-play deal is suspectable.

At the back Clarke will be expected to return with Zesh Rehman either switched to right back for Arnison or relegated back to the bench. Luke O’Brien and Graeme Lee will hope to better recent efforts with Evans keeping goal.

Bournemouth’s recent form is amongst the best in the league and stronger than most promotion-chasing clubs. From a seemingly hopeless position, their third manager of the season, Eddie Howe, has reinvigorated belief and ten undefeated matches from 12 has propelled the Cherries out of the bottom two. They are also the only club to win at Valley Parade so far this season and present a tough prospect for City to end their away woes against.

Defeat would prompt an even angrier reaction from fans and a win would largely bring calm. Whichever there will be eight games left to play and nothing to suggest the up-and-down nature of the first 38 will cease. This is going to be the most exciting end to a season in ages and as much as they may leave us sleepness and distraught on occasions they should also bring excitment and joy.

Spectacles optional.

Another bad repeat

Shortly after half time at Spotland, Bradford City’s players found themselves rueing missed opportunities and a two-goal burst from the home side which left them chasing a deficit. As symbolism goes it was a pretty fair analogy of City’s promotion challenge to date – and of the size of the task this defeat leaves them in achieving that goal.

Fortune certainly favoured Rochdale and the three-point advantage they now look down upon City from in 3rd place is less comfortable than this three-goal victory might suggest; but while manager Stuart McCall can point to a woeful refereeing display from Scott Mathieson contributing greatly to his side’s fourth away defeat in five, he will also know much of it was self-inflicted.

Quite how the evening went so wrong is something Stuart will be pondering for the next few days. Having spent the first 20 minutes under the cosh from a vibrant Dale side who passed the ball around with fluency and alternated attacks down both flanks, City were the better team for spells during the rest of the half and could easily have gone in at the interval one or two goals ahead.

Barry Conlon, recalled ahead of Michael Boulding, ably linked up with Peter Thorne and was effective in holding up the ball and allowing others to get forward. Steve Jones carried on where he left off Saturday with some teasing dribbles and dangerous crosses. Nicky Law and Dean Furman, while never able to dominate the middle of the park in the manner they’d succeeded in the last two home games, competed well against the industrious Gary Jones and Clark Keltie.

The best chances fell to Thorne, who twice saw one-on-one opportunities against on-loan Blackburn keeper Frank Fielding blocked. The first one stemmed from good play by Conlon which left City’s top scorer with time and space to do better than the scuffed effort straight at Fielding. The second was a more difficult chance but better attempt, which needed to be pushed wide of the post. Just after half time Graeme Lee’s header from a corner was superbly stopped again by Fielding and, with other half chances created, most of the goal action fell in Rochdale’s penalty area. Rhys Evans did see one headed effort flash wide of his post.

Yet shortly into the second half Rochdale scored after Joe Colbeck, who endured another tough evening, fouled the dangerous Will Buckley and the resultant free kick was nodded home by Rory McArdle. With new purpose to Rochale’s game the tide quickly turned, although it was the dubious help from the officials in adjudging that Conlon’s attempt to clear the ball from a corner included his arm which put them in a stronger position. Adam Le Fondre, twice scourge of City last season, dispatched the resultant spot kick despite Evans getting a hand to it. When an even softer penalty was awarded following Matt Clarke’s challenge in the box – which looked clean from my position – Le Fondre repeated the feat.

But whatever sense of injustice City felt, demonstrated by assistant manager Wayne Jacobs getting sent off from the dug out and Stuart holding a long conversation with Mathieson at full time, it should not disguise another poor response to adversity. A decent performance once again fell apart and the final 35 minutes did not make pretty viewing from a Claret and Amber perspective. Rochdale continued to attack with purpose while desperation became too quickly evident in City’s forward play. Having successfully harried home players into mistakes during the first half, it was now the away team who couldn’t get time on the ball.

A premature panic on the touchline didn’t help either. As soon as Le Fondre struck his first penalty a double substitution was made by Stuart which had little effect. I’ve been told all season that Stuart “never makes his subs early enough” – funny how Todd, Law, Jefferies, Jewell et all were just as bad at this – so maybe this action was applauded by some, but considering City hadn’t done a lot wrong up to then such drastic action seemed a bit much.

Certainly Conlon was unfortunate to be taken off and, though his replacement Boulding was a willing worker, the ball stopped sticking in the final third. Substituting Colbeck was probably the right decision, though some of the abuse he is getting from some fans right now is unfair. Somehow last season’s player of the year has become the “worst player ever” and jumping up to scream when he struggles to keep an attack going is hardly going to help him rediscover confidence that has been lost since returning from a first significant career injury.

Lee Bullock came on, with Law moved out wide and doing a decent job, but the likelihood of City coming back had diminished long before the second penalty. At that point change three had been made after Paul Arnison was rescued from the roasting Buckley was dishing him and Zesh Rehman brought on. With Lee’s form notably dipping, arguments for bringing Rehman into the centre or keeping him at right back and recalling Mark Bower from Luton are being aired. Stuart must be pondering how a defence which has looked so strong at home can be so feeble away.

Something which, with two important away games in Devon and Dorset this next week, urgently must be improved on. Results elsewhere still leave City in a decent position but the team’s failure to deliver extraordinary results rather than just good results may ultimately leave it facing an extended end to the season rather than a top three podium place. There’s been too many poor performances on the road and there was no evidence at Spotland to suggest this would be the last.

Stuart did an excellent job of ensuring his team responded positively to the Barnet and Notts County set backs and the immediate challenge is to do that again. But for City to achieve promotion this season – automatic or via Wembley – his ability to get to the bottom of why it keeps going wrong will need to come through.

Don’t believe the hype

When the Bantams got beat by Bury a few weeks ago I thought the reaction from City fans was overblown and a bit silly. I guess that is cause I know a lot of people around Manchester and didn’t think Bury were the sort of team that you should beat yourself up about losing to. Barnet are.

Losing 4-1 to Barnet is a woeful result and the performance with it was inexcusably bad and you can expect a wild reaction to it from all parts of Bradford City.

Expect Stuart McCall to blow his top.

He took a risk on playing an injured Rhys Evans and while the keeper’s thigh did not help and while he probably would have got closer to the four goals if he had not be carrying the knock he should not have faced so many shots and even if he had been in full fitness City would still have been beat.

All over the pitch the players let Stuart McCall down. Of the game only Dean Furman and Graeme Lee can come out with head held high and to be honest both of them failed to link up properly with people around them. Far too many players seemed to have bought into the idea that Bradford City were incapable of conceding a goal, that we could automatically beat a team like Barnet. That we were special.

And no team is special, and every game needs to be won and to win a game you need to work. To be honest in this need you need to work your balls off and City had a team of players not doing that.

Nicky Law totally failed to stamp any authority on the game totally living up to the idea that loan players don’t really get stuck in enough. Steve Jones was worse and went back to his old ways of playing on his own. He was a passenger.

Joe Colbeck, Peter Thorne, Michael Boulding, Zesh Rehman and Matt Clarke all looked like they were waiting for someone else to bring the performance. Like they were standing around watching and not like they were international captains, senior players and players of the season who are part of a promotion campaign. They sat down and watched when they needed to stand up and be counted.

Luke O’Brien was no worse than anyone else but best shows up the believing your own hype that has got into the City team. O’Brien is only a great player when he plays really well and all this talk about him being a player in the season in waiting seems to have got into his head and today he was skinned time and time again by Albert Adomah. Either Adomah is on his way to something wonderful or O’Brien needs to get his head back into the game and stop thinking of himself as the bright young thing.

Bad displays all over the pitch and players not taking responsibility for the performance Stuart McCall should have read the riot act to them and he should make changes. Paul McLaren and Lee Bullock will spend all week in training trying to get in for the Notts County game cause Law will find it hard to stay in the side. Omar Daley was missed massively. One thing no one would say Daley failed to do is take responsibility (he would keep the ball all day long) and if Chris Brandon is ready then the team badly needs a City fan in it. Barry Conlon gives his all and both strikers need to get back into gear. Thorne is improving and Boulding scored but they did not look dangerous or enterprising enough. The words “Billy” and “Topp” were used on the way out of the ground. Sometimes you can go too far.

But you have to go far to get a game like this out of the head. No one on the pitch today should consider themselves as secure in the side cause thinking that caused this appalling result.

Into the final third – Barnet vs Bradford City – League Two preview

31 games down, 15 to go. As the season enters its final third every point gained and lost is going to seem increasingly crucial.

During the last week the League Two promotion race has taken added significance for Bradford City after visits from two of its main rivals. This time last week we’d all have taken four points from tricky games against Wycombe and Darlington and, though City have dropped one league position after achieving that, they remain very much in the hunt.

What the two games did emphasise is the tightness of this season’s promotion battle. Brentford and Wycombe may currently be able to glimpse daylight between them and the rest of the pack, but with only six points separating the top seven no-one can be sure of anything. Three from Brentford, Wycombe, Bury, Shrewsbury, Rochdale, City, Darlington and Exeter are likely to finish in the automatic promotion spots and, from those who don’t, only one at least can claim promotion via the play offs, if Dagenham or Gillingham don’t steal in. Those clubs ultimately celebrating in May will be well aware of how close many ran them, which will only add to the achievement.

Meanwhile at the other end one of the most non-eventful relegation battles ever is suddenly getting interesting after Bournemouth’s 1-0 win over Accrington last Saturday pushed the previously doomed-looking Cherries into touching distance of others. Luton are down but Stanley, Chester, Grimsby and of course Barnet are starting to realise that a season of underachievement might yet be punished and have much to do during the final weeks.

It means weekend fixtures such as Accrington v Dagenham, Darlington v Grimsby and Chester v Exeter are important for both sides and City’s trip to Barnet is no different. The London club has only won once at home all season and once home and away in 21. Trooping off the pitch having lost to Notts County last Saturday to discover Bournemouth are closing in should have provided renewed motivation to build on a three-match unbeaten run against the Bantams.

The biggest worry for City ahead of the game is not of the dangerous John O’Flynn and Albert Adomah, but of finding a keeper to face them. Rhys Evans’ injury on Tuesday leaves him needing to recuperate and second-choice keeper Jon McLaughlin is desperately unlucky to be ruled out because of concussion. Stuart is actively looking for an emergency loan keeper but may play Evans through the pain barrier and ask Luke O’Brien to take his goal kicks again. One hopes it won’t come to that because if nothing else defenders taking goal kicks enables the opposition to play a higher line up the park, something Darlington attempted in the second half on Tuesday.

At least the rest of the defence will be fit to carry on their impressive form with Paul Arnison unlucky to be watching from the bench as Zesh Rehman plays in his right back slot, it will be the first time during his loan spell that the Pakistan international will have stayed in the same position for two consecutive games. Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke partner in the centre with another round of groans at how much ‘hoof-ball’ the duo contributed on Tuesday. It’s a shame some supporters cannot understand football better and appreciate Darlington’s ploy of packing the midfield made it almost impossible for City to pass their way forward. As you would expect from a side looking for a 9th clean sheet in 12, both centre backs are in great form. O’Brien’s dipped on Tuesday and a leading contender for player of the season will hope to be back to his best tomorrow.

In midfield Omar Daley’s injury should result in a Joe Colbeck start. He’s now made five substitute appearances since returning from injury and has impressed, although struggled against his former club Tuesday. As did Steve Jones on the other flank, who continues to play brilliantly one week and disappointingly the next – a typical winger, perhaps. Nicky Law may be moved out wide instead of Colbeck with one of Paul McLaren or Lee Bullock brought into the centre to partner Dean Furman. Up front Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne will continue. The latter is desperately hoping for a first goal since netting against Barnet last November.

The visitor’s attacking approach impressed that afternoon, but it’s points not plaudits both sides will want tomorrow. Anything less than victory will be disappointing for City, but it’s in games such as these they’ve so often slipped up over recent years. Everyone in League Two will be keeping one eye on everyone else and, as rearranged matches are finally played and other six-pointers such as Saturday’s Rochdale v Brentford are concluded, the next few weeks will be crucial with some of the leading pack likely to lose ground.

An away win for City tomorrow may not be considered earth-shattering, but it would nevertheless be an important step towards crossing the now-approaching finishing line ahead of the majority.

All heart

It’s at moments such as these – with the clock showing 10 minutes to go, with the chant “City till I die’ emanating from all four sides and with those who run the club having put the books to one side to join 12,689 people in watching City ultimately triumph 1-0 over promotion rivals Wycombe – that you wonder why we’re even bothering to consider leaving Valley Parade at all.

This was an afternoon where I hope I wasn’t the only person to feel the hairs on the back of his/her neck stand up through been part of such a superb atmosphere. City have won a corner and I look fondly over to fans in the Kop climb out of their seats to help suck the ball into the net. Behind the opposite goal, supporters in the Bradford End are keeping up their non-stop chanting efforts which began before kick off. The final whistle was met with huge cheers and triumphant home players hugged each other. An important three points, a potentially pivotal moment of the season, another special afternoon in our home.

Sure I’m being sentimental and romantic, but then it is Valentines Day so why not? Of course the fantastic atmosphere could be replicated – who knows even bettered – in another ground a few miles up the hill. But just like our Claret and Amber colours, fanatical supporters who will even come to the game on their wedding day (hope you didn’t miss that at half time!) and players who aren’t the greatest but who we love in our own way – Valley Parade is a much a part of the Bradford City experience. We need to use our heads when considering the potential move, but yesterday we got to follow our hearts.

Heart that was apparent on the pitch too as both City and Wycombe gave their all to produce an absorbing contest. With Brentford, Bury and Rochdale all expected to and managing to win their games, for City this win was for self-preservation purposes in their interest of a top three finish. They started in the same confident manner which has characterised their previous two victories with Omar Daley and Steve Jones stretching Wycombe down the flanks and Dean Furman and Nicky Law again pulling the strings in the middle. Both look too good for this level with Law’s vision and ability to produce killer passes a huge asset and arguably something City have not had in their armoury since the manager himself was out on the pitch.

Wycombe, who lost central defender Mike Williamson to Watford in the transfer window, defended deeply but struggled to deal with crosses from which City came close to scoring a few times. Matt Clarke should have done better with a header from a corner and Peter Thorne – captain for the day – headed wide, Law’s long range shot was deflected wide and a Wycombe defender almost turned one cross into his own net.

Yet the Chairboys, who until Tuesday had led the table since November, got back into the game and showed what a good side they are. Their movement off the ball when on the attack was impressive with players marking late runs from deep and in the centre Tom Docherty was excelling by playing deep and pinging some probing passes forward. Furman excellently cleared off the line from striker Jon-Paul Pittman’s header, Matt Harrold air-kicked a great chance after which Matt Bloomfield wastefully fired wide and Chris Zebroski’s overhead kick attempt sailed narrowly over.

Arguably against the run of play, City struck the all important goal just before half time. It was yet another example of the devastating football this team can produce. First Jones did well to win possession before being tripped after releasing it to Furman. Referee Carl Boyeson allowed advantage and the ball was with Law to charge over half way. His pass to Daley lacked pace, but the Jamaican beat his man and cut inside before squaring to Luke O’Brien. The full back’s cross was intended for Michael Boulding but squirmed through to Thorne who beautifully laid off the ball to Jones to fire home on the half volley.

It continued to be end-to-end stuff in the second half with Wycombe inserting strong pressure in the early stages and Rhys Evans having to make some good saves. The defence in front of him was lacking their usual leader Graeme Lee and Zesh Rehman, switched over from left-back, struggled a little with his ball control though was generally solid. Clarke was outstanding and seemed to revel in the more senior responsibility while Paul Arnison’s performance could be best illustrated by the fact the usual full-back ‘experts’ in the crowd weren’t on his back. The clean sheet they would go onto earn was a seventh in ten games and only Evans and Clarke have figured in all of those; something which Clarke’s army of critics, who seem to be ignoring his recent upturn in form, might want to mull over.

Boyeson’s bizarre style of refereeing took more centre stage in the second half. He let a series of fouls from both sides go and at one stage left the impression he’d forgotten his cards – Arnison should have been booked – while displaying an anal-like determination to ensure all throw ins were taken from exactly the right spot. Frustration of the officials and from losing seemed to get the better of Wycombe players who began to self-destruct with a series of poor challenges. None more so than Docherty, who’s coolness in the first half had given way to recklessness and who should have been booked long before he eventually was.

Boiling point was reached after Zebroski’s ludicrous high challenge on Clarke which saw boot connect with face. The red card was quickly issued and the final 12 minutes were that little bit more comfortable for City. A second goal might have come before that with Boulding volleying over, but in the final stages Law and substitute Joe Colbeck went agonisingly close to ensuring Wycombe would not be able to produce a sucker punch at the other end.

It was close, but City just about edged the game and three wins in a row provide great confidence ahead of another vital encounter on Tuesday. The team is finding form in all areas – Thorne for example was outstanding leading the line and contributed more than he usually seems to – and one only has to look at who can’t get in the team to see how well the players in it are doing. Lee will presumably join Paul McLaren, Lee Bullock, Barry Conlon and Colbeck on the bench Tuesday with the clear message to those on the field that they must keep producing.

Or should Lee go back in and Arnison be dropped? Should Colbeck start on Tuesday and Daley be rested? Yesterday conversations on such matters will have filled the air instead of whether to pack up and do this all someplace else. Maybe we’re on the final chapter of Valley Parade’s history and such occasions will shortly be over, though as we listened to the radio on the journey home we heard of renewed hope that a deal to buy Valley Parade might be reached.

It was good timing, for yesterday at least the head had no chance of winning over the heart.

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.

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.

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?

Bully returns but faces long arm of the Law

After completing 90 minutes for the reserves tonight, City midfielder Lee Bullock should be back in contention for the first team’s trip to Bournemouth this Saturday – coincidently the last opponents he completed a full game against.

A week later he was stretchered off at Shrewsbury and though then-colleague TJ Moncur’s collapse on the pitch attracted the headlines that day, the long term absence of Bullock was felt harder. City have at times struggled to compensate for his loss in the middle with first Dean Furman coming in and taking time to settle before showing some form, only to be injured too and another loanee, Nicky Law, be drafted in. The Sheffield United man, at Valley Parade the season before, was able to find his feet quicker, but with team performances not always as good as results suggested the wait for Bullock to regain fitness appeared to carry increasing urgency.

Then, during the last few weeks, Law has found another level to his game producing two of the finest individual performances of a season where many have excelled. He was simply sensational against Morecambe, his superb goal towards the end capping a performance where he seemed to be all over the pitch instigating attacks and delivering some glorious passes. This level of performance continued against Shrewsbury, where Paul McLaren alongside him was a close rival for man of the match, and what were previously faint calls for Law’s loan spell to be extended became increasingly vocal. Today Stuart agreed a deal with the Blades for Nicky to stay until the summer at least.

Which leaves Bullock in particular facing an uncertain future. Out of contract at the end of the season, the 27-year-old has only managed 20 appearances for City since signing a year ago having suffered two serious injuries. In the early weeks of the season the qualities of Bullock – a regular starter – were the focus of debate from some fans in the way that Paul Arnison, McLaren, Matt Clarke and recently Steve Jones have been at differing times. A couple of trademark late surges into the box saw him deliver goals against Aldershot and Port Vale and, as the team began the season in excellent form, the degree of coincidence between his later absence through injury and some stuttering autumn results was questioned. Bullock may not be a headline-grabber, but he quietly performed an effective job for the team.

Now he finds not one, but two rivals for the midfield jersey alongside McLaren – Furman a little ahead of him in the recovery stakes having impressed when starting against Morecambe – and his chances of a regular run in the team during the remainder of the campaign appear to be decreasing. If Law can maintain his form he will be undroppable and, as McLaren continues to improve, a settled central midfield is increasingly the driving force behind City’s promotion bid. There may be opportunities still of course; the 4-3-3 formation which worked to a point against Morecambe would include room for Bullock or Furman. The rotten luck with injuries is unlikely to be over just yet either.

In many ways Bullock is a loser of the loan system which lower league clubs increasingly rely upon; though it shouldn’t be forgotten he was initially signed on such a temporary deal by City, pushing Paul Evans and Scott Phelan closer to the exit door. Another midfielder who might have hoped for a bigger chance this season, Luke Sharry, has been loaned out almost unnoticed. Playing in the Blue Square Premier for Barrow will be a great opportunity for the highly-rated teenager to gain some experience, though a quote from Barrow joint-manager Dave Bayliss says much about City’s predicament, “Their manager (Stuart McCall) is a bit reluctant to play young lads in his first team because of the pressure at such a big club.”

The pressure of ensuring City do not fail in the quest for achieving promotion this season, of course. The return of Bullock will aid that particular cause, though the team’s evolution in his absence means he is likely to become back-up for the Law.

The first acid test – Bradford City vs Shrewsbury Town preview

Let’s put Sunday’s thumping 4-0 win over Morecambe into perspective – the last time the Bantams won a league game at Valley Parade more convincingly Benito Carbone was playing a starring role and David Wetherall, Wayne Jacobs and Stuart McCall were all important first team players.

The 5-1 thrashing of Gillingham on Friday 14 September was preceded by a rendition of stars and stripes, given it was just days after the 9/11 attacks. The vast majority of the 14,101 at the game that evening would probably have been struggled to competently answer what ‘Administration’ meant and around the pitch were adverts for something called ‘ITV Digital’.

Much has changed – at Valley Parade, in English football and across the wider world itself – and though City have played better on many occasions since, the emphatic success over Morecambe which signalled the end of 2008 deserved more appreciation and credit than it received from some quarters.

I must admit I didn’t enjoy the game as much as I should have, though the reason why was because of the spectators who sit near me. I suddenly seemed to have been lumbered with a ‘McCall out’ bunch of people far more interested in looking for fault on the pitch than offering praise. Another 90 minutes was spent berating everything Paul Arnison and Barry Conlon tried, as though they know what makes a good full back and target man better than the man paid to select them. Without fail the opening few minutes of the second half are spent screaming for a substitution to be made before another bout of criticising Stuart for not been able to change games. Booing when the ball is passed backwards, when minutes earlier they’d complained City play too much direct football. And though I was pleased when most left before the whistle I was also angry that these boo boys – many of who normally stay until the end – couldn’t bring themselves to wait for full time to offer the players and management their applause.

Of course it doesn’t matter, City won easily and the support around the rest of the ground was good I’m sure. The acid test when come in harder games when City won’t be able to dominate in the way many expect and will need the crowd’s support to earn the three points. The first of a series of promotion ‘six-pointer’ games at Valley Parade in 2009 sees Shrewsbury in town tomorrow for a game which, though we have only just passed the half way stage of the season, could prove significant when the table is finalised in May.

The Shrews, who let us not forget spent more money than anyone else during the summer, will arrive without a win on their travels since August 16 but very much in the promotion race because of a formidable home record – City one of their conquests. The majority of manager Paul Simpson’s budget went on Grant Holt and the £170k man has already netted 20 goals – 12 in the league. Other than midfielder Ben Davies, however, the rest of the team have struggled to find the net. They are sure to be provide tough test, though after recent weeks Stuart will probably be pleased to be facing opposition unlikely to keep men behind the ball and play for a draw.

In the home dressing room the evolution of a squad good enough to at least stay in the 3rd automatic promotion spot it currently resides is reaching a crucial phase with the January transfer window opening up. Willy Topp and TJ Moncur have departed, freeing up wages and while Dean Furman – impressive on his return against Morecambe on Sunday – is on board for the rest of the season question marks remain over other loanees Nicky Law and Steve Jones.

The latter seems set to stay for January at least, after which it would be questionable whether he will be needed given Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon should be fit, although rumours linking Omar Daley with a move away may make him worth hanging onto. Another striker is Stuart’s top target and with names like Andy Bishop, Chris O’Grady and Karl Hawley linked, not to mention a certain out of favour Hull forward, it’s a case of watching this space with interest.

For now Conlon and Michael Boulding will lead the line with Peter Thorne rested up to get over another niggling injury. The pair’s understanding was much-improved against Morecambe and, were it another player, Conlon’s delightful through ball to set Boulding on his way to 2-0 would have been drooled over. Like against Morecambe, there may be a third striker with Jones employed further up the park, the 4-3-3 formation working reasonably well but omitting Daley. A switch back to 4-4-2 would see one of Jones, Law, Furman and Paul McLaren moved out of midfield onto the bench to make way for the Jamaican. Such dilemmas will be welcomed by Stuart given the lack of options he had during November and December.

City’s defence has not been breached for 270 minutes of football which, given the amount of criticism they’ve endured from some fans, deserves much credit. Matt Clarke is a great example of why managers don’t simply “get rid” when performances dip, but shouldn’t be relaxing just yet. Graeme Lee has been outstanding lately while Arnison and Luke O’Brien continue to impress. Rhys Evans had little to do against Morecambe because of the form of those ahead of him.

The 23 points City have picked up at home so far this season may not be as impressive as the 28 the Shrews have recorded at New Meadow, but with only one defeat it’s mightily improved on recent seasons. Darlington and Wycombe are also due in the next few weeks and if a decent points haul can be achieved from these fixtures the prospect of promotion will move ever closer.

To do that everyone will need to be on their game and give it everything they’ve got, and that includes those supporters who seemingly want to indulge in petty criticism while ignoring the positives.

Finding that something extra

The biggest worry for Bradford City manager Stuart McCall is that these are the sort of games promotion-earning sides win.

It’s not always pretty and a fair amount of luck is involved, the home side will play well and carve out some good chances which are either wasted or foiled by excellent defending. All that was missing for the Bantams was a late winner to turn one point into three. Instead a winless run stretches to five games and the chasing pack climbs that little bit closer.

Not that anyone should be panicking. This was a decent performance against a Lincoln side who have improved considerably since the last time they locked horns with City a year ago to the day. A recent come-back win against Accrington prompted manager Peter Jackson to revert to 4-4-2 and they matched City in most departments quickly closing down the ball and knocking it around confidently themselves.

Dany N’Guessan impressed on their right providing Luke O’Brien with a difficult afternoon where the defensive support from Omar Daley – who we’ll come back to – was lacking. The other three of City’s back four were outstanding with Matt Clarke continuing to rediscover form and Graeme Lee getting his head on almost every ball launched into the area. Paul Arnison had surely his best game in a Bantams shirt yet and was hugely impressive in shutting down the threat from Lincoln’s left and getting forward. With Rhys Evans also solid, home chances were limited.

Further up the pitch things were more patchy with Paul McLaren and Nicky Law involved in a hard-fought midfield battle which they just about edged. It doesn’t always look pretty and sometimes the simple ball must be played rather than the defence-splitting 40-yard pass some fans demanded, but both had good shifts. Steve Jones too was a menace on the right and his pace is blistering at times, though his final ball did sometimes disappoint.

As for Daley, it didn’t start well and got worse. We know the Jamaican is better than cutting inside and looking to pass the ball almost every time, instead of charging at the full back and enabling others the opportunity to get into the box. We know he is better than standing half-interested when the ball is been fought over just in front of him and may suddenly land at his feet. We know he is better than falling over easily and rolling on the ground long after the referee has dismissed his appeals for a foul and his team mates are having to deal with a Lincoln breakaway. Jackson had called upon the Premiership experience of Frank Sinclair to tame Daley and the former Chelsea man was the clear winner of a heated battle.

But still Daley was involved in much of City’s best moves. After ten minutes he’d burst thrilling into the area only to be seemingly tripped just as he rose his right leg to shoot, but referee Neil Swarbrick waved away the penalty appeals. Shortly afterwards Michael Boulding broke forward well and was pulled back inside the box, only to receive the same verdict from the Lancashire official. Boulding had done much to keep the scores level at that point having headed a Lincoln effort off the line and later dragging a shot wide. Law took free kick duties after Lee had been forced off for treatment and flashed a curling effort just wide.

In the second half Lincoln spurned two great opportunities with midfielder Lee Frecklington guilty of blasting over with an empty net the easier target and then forcing Evans into a stunning block. Boulding too should have done better after a superb charge forward by Jones saw the on-loan man whip a great cross onto his head. Rob Burch did well to tip his header onto the post, but a little more power from Boulding would surely have resulted in the net bulging.

With both sides looking even Stuart made changes to try and force the winner; Peter Thorne was brought on for a disappointing Barry Conlon and then Dean Furman – back from injury – for Boulding with Daley moved up front. Some of the physical presence was lost, although Daley saw a long range effort superbly tipped over by Burch. Daley was then involved with the game’s moment of controversy moments earlier after latching onto Burch’s weak clearance and charging through, only to be hauled down by a defender who appeared to be the last man but who got away with only a yellow card. Like last week City had a referee keen to let things go – Lee Beevers, who had already been booked in the first half, deserved a yellow card for a nasty high challenge on Jones just after the break – but the hope was, like when City had been on the wrong end of a similar incident against the MK Dons last month – the resulting free kick from Lee would sail in. Instead it smacked against the wall and the chance was wasted, it was that sort of afternoon.

As with last week’s blank against Chester, a goal could easily have come but just as the defence seems to looking stronger the attack isn’t looking as sharp. Boulding was a willing runner, but Conlon needs to show more and was once again caught offside and gave away free kicks too often. It doesn’t currently look a good strike partnership, but then it did earlier in the season. Thorne is certain to start against Morecambe on Sunday – Stuart rotating his strikers with two games in three days – and a return to goalscoring form for City’s top scorer is badly needed.

The problem for Stuart is the lack of options he currently has. Daley was poor but it would have been mad to haul off a player who can be such a threat even when not on top form – a Chris Brandon or Joe Colbeck waiting on the bench and the situation is different. Kyle Nix can play out wide but doesn’t have the pace which is needed on the break in tight away games such as this. It will also be interesting to see if Stuart succeeds with his plan to capture a fourth striker and what sort of different option they will present. Jones can play up front and, with him playing so well right now, a permanent move could give the City boss those additional options. Such thoughts will occupy his mind with the January transfer window due to re-open next week.

For some supporters, debates about his own capabilities seem to be all the rage. Astonishingly the final whistle was met with a smattering of boos from some City fans and I had the ‘pleasure’ of listening to one supporter rant that “he has to go”. Go online and you’ll find some fans argue we should sack him and appoint Jackson. No, there’s no punchline to follow – they are being serious. No doubt such arguments will continue but it should be remembered it’s very much a minority making a disproportionate amount of noise.

This was a disappointing result and slightly disappointing performance, but the game itself was great to watch and the atmosphere largely fantastic. I’m tired of people spoiling games by booing and screaming abuse and I’m tired of these people having more of a say over how this club should progress than they deserve.

The half way point of the season will be reached after Sunday’s game and City should end 2008 in a great position to make 2009 its year. Finding that extra is the immediate challenge and Stuart will look for the answers in January – from both the transfer market and the treatment room.

Reduced choices – Bradford City vs Dagenham and Redbridge – League Two 2008/2009 preview

There may not have been any further injuries to emerge from last weekend’s FA Cup defeat to Leyton Orient, but Bradford City manager Stuart McCall has still found himself with two less players to choose from for tomorrow’s important league encounter.

Willy Topp and Tom Clarke have both departed Valley Parade during the week and, while each leave with most fans best wishes, it’s the latter one which causes the most immediate concern. Clarke looked an excellent proposition in the middle of the park and has been growing in confidence after a long spell out injured, but was recalled back to Huddersfield in time to face Walsall. He was initially signed to provide defensive cover, but leaves having successfully performed a role in the team it previously did without.

There’s been much debate at City in recent years about the merits of using a holding midfielder and, for much of this season, Stuart’s preferred to line up minus one. Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren started the season in the centre, largely sharing the defensive and attacking responsibilities. That continued when Dean Furman and then Nicky Law came in when injuries struck. After McLaren limped off at Rotherham, Clarke was brought in and the effect was a more balanced looking midfield and licence for Law to roam further forward.

It won’t work in every game, but the benefits of having a defensive midfielder on the books was shown in Clarke’s excellent showings against Chesterfield and Leyton Orient. Compare the more solid platform provided with the home games against Gillingham and Barnet, where the lack of protection provided by those in front of the back four played a huge part in the amount of pressure City wase put under. Clarke maybe gone but, with a new manager with new ideas set to take charge at the Galpharm, Stuart might be keeping tabs on how much he figures during the next few weeks with the January transfer window approaching.

Until then City will go back to a central midfield pairing sharing the roles. McLaren is expected to be fit enough to return and, though question marks over his start with City remain, his calm passing and dead ball skills will be welcomed back. Law will be reined in slightly but still expected to put his high energy levels to good use in the final third. They will sit between two widemen with much to prove. For a spell on Saturday Kyle Nix sparked City and it’s to be hoped he can recapture last season’s form as we wait for Omar Daley, Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon to regain fitness. Steve Jones makes his home league debut having impressed in patches against Orient. More will be expected of him as he finds his feet.

Up front the competition for places is fierce with Barry Conlon expected to be fit enough and Michael Boulding looking more like a player worth all that effort pursuing during the summer. Peter Thorne has been benched partly because of fitness but also partly on merit. It’s fair to say that the early season spark has been absent from his game recently, but it’s testament to the relative ability of City’s squad that, unlike two years ago when an out of form Dean Windass was still too good to be dropped, Thorne is kicking his heels on the bench. How it can be argued Topp deserved a run in the side at the expense of two of these three is beyond me.

Defensive failings still occupy many minds and last weekend’s showing was only marginally improved. There are calls for Mark Bower to return at the expense of Matt Clarke – who actually played okay last week. I can see the argument, but when some fans go to the extremes of listing Bower as our best defender and slate Stuart for ignoring him one is left wondering why it’s been so quickly forgotten that a year ago many were demanding Bower be dropped for Clarke. Lee will certainly start alongside one of them, with TJ Moncur and Luke O’Brien taking the full back roles in front of Rhys Evans.

Valley Parade is joint top with the New Meadow in League Two in terms of how many goals have been scored this season – and a visit from League Two’s top scorers is unlikely to slow that. England C international Paul Benson has led Dagenham’s surprise promotion challenge with 10 goals, though strike partner Ben Strevens isn’t far behind on eight. Twice they’ve hit someone for six but they’ve lost almost as often as they’ve won. Last year they triumphed at Valley Parade on route to avoiding relegation.

It will mean another tough afternoon for a back four which has lost some of its protection, though for much of this season Stuart has chosen attack as the best form of defence.

Overcoming the margins – Bradford City vs Leyton Orient – FA Cup 2nd Round preview

We remember Ben Murihead stupidly running down a blind alley with 10 minutes to go, losing possession and Barnsley racing up the other end to crucially equalise. We remember Jermaine Johnson’s incredible dribble from his own half before shooting wide when reaching the penalty area, then a Nathan Doyle own goal gifting Millwall an undeserved win. We remember David Wetherall hitting the crossbar with a header before, erm, Tranmere proceeded to play us off the park and win 3-0.

The previous three Bradford City seasons have featured progress past the First Round of the FA Cup, before each time falling at the Second. We’ve allowed ourselves to dream of City’s name being included in that illusive 3rd Round Draw with the opportunity of a lucrative tie. On Saturday we dream again that this could our year as Leyton Orient rock up to Valley Parade – will it be fourth time lucky?

The so-called “magic of the FA Cup” will be duly hyped all weekend and City could, by some stretch of the imagination, be considered one of the giant killers of the last round after the impressive win at MK Dons – a result which looks more impressive each week as the Buckinghamshire club climb League One.

It’s doubtful whether the magic really will touch Bradford this weekend though, the stadium will be barely a fifth full and there’s a convincing argument that, unlike the last three seasons, an FA Cup run is an unnecessary distraction. Nevertheless as memories of recent disappointments remind us of the often thin line between success and failure it’s worth noting that City have twice this week been on the right side of such margins – Rhys Evans’ wonder save at Rotherham and Jack Lester’s miss at 2-2 on Tuesday – and it’s the sign of a good side when they’re the ones regularly benefiting from such fortune.

A good side. Worth emphasising to some of our supporters who still can’t manage to do anything but criticise and moan. Tuesday’s comeback win against Chesterfield was a fantastic game of football – arguably the most entertaining of our season so far. Yet still all some can do is focus on the disappointing first 25 minutes, pick on a couple of players who didn’t reach the heights of others and, perhaps most stupidly of all, moan that City we’re hanging on during the final 10 minutes. Let’s imagine our team had fallen 3-2 behind and had a man sent off with 10 minutes to go, wouldn’t we still expect our players to force pressure in the closing stages? Why shouldn’t Chesterfield fans expect any less of their side?

We witness an injury hit City side show tremendous character and commitment to recover from an awful start and win against an impressive visiting side, why can’t we enjoy it? All some people can do is look for negatives; there’s been some over-the-top moaning about Matt Clarke (who apparently was booed by some ‘fans’ in the Kop whenever he touched the ball on Tuesday), the medical experts amongst us have managed to blame Omar Daley’s injury on Stuart McCall and there’s a certain balding Irish striker who some attempted to argue was one of our worst players. I am staggered how any City supporter could have left Valley Parade on Tuesday feeling unhappy. As Alan Hansen would say, “it’s unbelievable.”

Of course there were things which didn’t go so well and Stuart will look to address these on Saturday. I’m full of admiration for the way he stuck to his guns with the line up on Tuesday. At 2-0 the diamond formation he’d employed did not look a clever decision but, rather than panic, he got the players doing the right things and the improvement was vast. It won’t work every game and may not be used tomorrow with no Daley, but Stuart has a lot more faith in his team than many of us supporters do and surely it’s time more of us got behind them, particuarly when they’re struggling.

Stuart is unlikely to make many changes for this tie. Nicky Law and Tom Clarke have both had their loan spells extended and both arguably enjoyed their best games in Claret and Amber so far on Tuesday. They will make up the centre of the midfield with new loan arrival Steve Jones, taking Daley’s place, on the right. Kyle Nix, who did reasonably well Tuesday considering it was his first game back from injury, will push his claims for a regular spot on the left.

The back five will be unchanged with Matt Clarke still causing concern but Graeme Lee winning fans over. At 2-0 down and in real trouble on Tuesday, strong leadership was needed and Lee stepped up to the mark in more ways than just his impressive free kick. TJ Moncur must improve on his recent showings while Luke O’Brien will reflect that it was a year ago this weekend he made his debut and how far he has come. Rhys Evans keeps goal.

Up front Stuart has a real dilemma. At last Valley Parade got to see what a talent Michael Boulding can be and it would be difficult to rest him with confidence improving. Same with Barry Conlon, who’s popularity is surpassing the ‘cult hero’ status of last season into genuine ‘fans favourite’. That could mean Peter Thorne is left out again, which might not be a bad thing with a busy Christmas coming and injury niggles. FA Cup rules allow Stuart to name seven substitutes, which will give some fringe players a chance – will Willy Topp be one of them?

Of course the last time Leyton Orient were in town they cruelly smashed our hopes of avoiding the drop with a two-goal burst which had people around me crying and the boo boys curiously gloating. That day City battered Orient and wasted a hatful of chances to be out of sight by half time.

It’s those margins of success and failure that good teams invariably benefit from and poor sides are left cursing about. If City are the beneficiaries on Saturday we supporters just might start to believe in magic again.

Battling back

City produced a fine comeback from 2-0 down to grab all three points and ascend into 2nd place in League Two.

It was a game full of incident and open play, and City’s superb resolve and spirit was highly commendable against dangerous attacking opposition.

McCall sprung a surprise in naming the starting eleven by leaving top scorer Peter Thorne on the bench. His troublesome back problems that have developed over the last few weeks is likely to be the reasoning behind not risking him from the start. With so many injuries to contend with, McCall tinkered with a diamond formation in the first half, with Tom Clarke playing the anchor role in midfield protecting the back four, and Omar Daley getting a free role to roam with menace.

Things could not have got off to a worse start when a long throw into the area was not dealt with, and Jack Lester rifled in a left foot strike beyond Rhys Evans to put Chesterfield ahead.

The game opened up and City had two good chances to level via Omar Daley – in particular when he seemed to have got clean through and just before he was about to shoot, an excellent last ditch challenge was produced by Chesterfield defender Downes, to deny the pacy Jamaican.

Things went from bad to worse when Chesterfield doubled their advantage on 23. A loose ball floated around the penalty area that City failed to clear and it was left to Darren Currie to produce a rasping left foot strike that took a deflection and flew into the roof of the net, prompting jubilant celebrations from the scorer.

To their credit, City never let their heads drop and really began to play with more purpose despite being 2-0 down. There was some nice interplay and with Michael Boulding a willing runner all night, City began asking questions of Robert Page’s Chesterfield backline. When Barry Conlon was fouled just outside the box, the resultant free kick was left to skipper Graeme Lee who smashed the ball directly into the net with a thunderbolt that threw City a lifeline.

And just before halftime a short corner produced a left wing cross that was headed firmly down by Boulding that drew City level.

The second half began with City in the ascendancy and should have taken the lead twice through Boulding. First, he was unlucky to see his strike bounce wide following an excellent cross from the left from O’Brien. Then he really should have scored when one on one with Page, but he dragged his shot wide of the target.

Chesterfield were still having a fair amount of attacking play though, and Jack Lester missed a very presentable chance when clean through on goal to the left of the box. But Evans did a brilliant job, making himself big, and only providing Lester with an acute angle left to shoot which he sliced into the side netting.

The penalty that was awarded in City’s favour that won them the game seemed to be a fairly harsh one from my viewpoint. Nicky Law did brilliantly to take on his man and dribble inside the box, but seemed to go to ground too easily (I haven’t seen the replay yet) and initially I thought Law was going to be booked for diving. But the referee pointed to the spot, and served as some compensation for the terrible offside decisions that were given against us attacking wise.

Battling Barry Conlon grabbed the ball and confidently stepped up to take the penalty (I must admit I wanted either Boulding or Thorne to take it!). What followed was an audacious chip (Dwight Yorke style in his heyday) that went straight down the middle for the Burly Irishman’s 100th League Goal highlighted by his flash of his undershirt in the goal celebration, which was rewarded with a booking.

City held on for the last 20 minutes against ten men (Goodall was sent off for a second bookable – his foul on Law inside the penalty area) largely thanks to an excellent save from Evans from a Jamie Ward effort, and TJ Moncur made a vital interception at the back at the death – nipping the ball away from Lester with the goal gaping inside the area.

Whilst they made it very hard for themselves, its hard to find anything to criticise about City’s under strength side tonight. Yes they started slowly – but their battling back from adversion is promotion form (demonstrated also away at Accrington to grab all three points).

Boulding had a productive night and never stopped running. Tom Clarke produced an effective display protecting his back four, as was his brief. And Lee really is producing “Captain Fantastic” performances consistently now – a really worthy replacement for David Wetherall. His strikes from set pieces are now something of a secret weapon ( 30 yards out against Bury, The winner away at MK Dons in the FA Cup and now tonight).

My only grip about tonight were my fellow supporters in the Midland Road stand. With 2 – 3 minutes remaining there was an exodus of people making their way to the exit. Having just seen their team produce a stunning comeback against a very strong side, surely the team are worthy of a standing ovation. Or at least a round of a applause from the over 11,000 home fans? No, some people want to leave early to “ miss the traffic”. It’s pathetic.

You either commit to supporting the team or you are simply a spectator with no heart in caring about the team when they deserve some support or a pat on the back. People would be quick to boo the entire game if the team lost but to not reward a winning team who have dug really deep to deliver an excellent result is really not on.

At the rate that people were leaving the ground before the final whistle it was like we had lost 4-0.
Anyway, well done to Stuart and the lads. Our position in the table is very encouraging. And what is more encouraging is that I don’t think we have even hit top gear yet. From the way things look tonight, a top three finish is very achievable by this team, who like to do things the hard way.

Part two of four – Bradford City vs Chesterfield – League Two preview

There’s little doubt this is an important week in Bradford City’s season.

On Saturday it began with the low-thrills win at Rotherham and tonight’s game is a great opportunity to increase pressure on those near the top and move further clear from the chasing pack, which includes visitors Chesterfield. Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Leyton Orient carries the possibility of a lucrative 3rd round tie for the winners, while events in the days before it will also be far from insignificant.

Thursday is deadline day for loan deals until January and, with five league games in December, manager Stuart McCall has much to do to ensure he has sufficient options. After tonight, Tom Clarke and Nicky Law’s loan deals expire and, while Stuart appears keen to retain them both, it appears likely only Law will be allowed to extend his stay. With Huddersfield caretaker manager Gerry Murphy keen to give those players who he nurtured through Town’s youth academy the opportunity, Clarke is expected back at the Galpharm.

Murphy’s philosophy may lead to his on-loan option Steve Jones making the opposite journey on the M62 and former Leeds winger Seb Carole remains a possibility Clearly a right-sided midfielder is badly needed by Thursday, even if it’s just the retention of Law. Stuart may be running up a large phone bill over the next couple of days in pursuit of targets.

Clarke and Law will feature from the start tonight as City look to continue in the manner they finished at the Don Valley on Saturday. Paul McLaren’s injury isn’t expected to be serious enough to see him missing for long, but in his absence Clarke’s more defensive-minded approach should allow Law to get forward more regularly in the way he did for the final half hour on Saturday.

On the flanks Kyle Nix is back in contention after injury and made a 10-minute cameo on Saturday. He may replace Leon Osborne, who Stuart revealed was disappointed in his own performance at Rotherham. The youngster has apparently been playing well in the reserves and will look to inspiration from the likes of Luke O’Brien and Joe Colbeck as he tries to cross that psychological barrier of doing it in the first team. Whether he is ready for the test of a five-figure Valley Parade crowd remains to be seen.

Omar Daley will remain on the right wing. Many fans on Saturday were frustrated to see the Jamaican switched over from his usual spot on the left and it was fair to say he was less effective. Stuart might allow himself to feel a little smug after persisting with Daley on the left last season and receiving criticism from some supporters for playing him ‘out of position’.

What is clear is the service to City’s forwards needs to improve. Stuart may wish to chop about after Saturday and recall Barry Conlon after his introduction indirectly saw the team score two quick-fire goals. Michael Boulding would be favourite to be left out with Peter Thorne possibly taking his turn for a rest on Saturday.

At the back Rhys Evans and O’Brien will be in high spirits while Matt Clarke and Graeme Lee will be hoping for their first back-to-back clean sheets since August. TJ Moncur will be looking to get forward in the same effective manner as O’Brien, though has the added defensive responsibility of playing behind Daley.

The last time Chesterfield were at Valley Parade their supporters taunted their manager Lee Richardson with the chant “you don’t know what you’re doing”. The former Halifax and Huddersfield midfielder is still in charge, with his team unbeaten in seven and climbing the table after a slow start. Having been injured for both meetings last season, Jack Lester (35 goals for The Spireites from 53 appearances) will line up against City and scored for Nottingham Forest on his last visit to Valley Parade. Jamie Ward, who had a superb game on that horrible afternoon 19 months ago is winning plaudits and attracting attention.

He will be with Chesterfield until January at least but who will be lining up for the Bantams over the same period isn’t fully clear. We wait for Chris Brandon, Colbeck, Lee Bullock, Dean Furman and now McLaren to return from injury and, while it leaves a larger reliance on loan players than Stuart would probably like in the short-term, it’s nothing on the situation two seasons ago where so much of Colin Todd’s long-term plans depended on them.

If it’s to be good bye from Clarke and Law tonight, let’s hope it ends in the same way their loan periods started.

What’s next?

It wasn’t pretty, it was far from convincing and it will be quickly forgotten – but the most relevant description of Bradford City’s 2-0 win at Rotherham would be ‘job done’.

The open manner of attacking football which manager Stuart McCall is largely pinning City’s promotion hopes on was rarely exhibited, but some of the other equally important qualities that any side with promotion aspirations was. It may have been played out in the unusual and somewhat soulless setting of Sheffield’s Don Valley stadium, but Rotherham provided that familiar awkward test and the Bantams had to display steeliness, grit and determination. Ultimately the three points earned by Luke O’Brien and Nicky Law’s second half strikes will be all that matter come May.

Not that it was a bad performance from the pre-season League Two favourites. Rotherham United supporters might consider that their entire home crowd can be dumped into one stand of their temporary home as an indicator of their place in the world, but they will also know their team would be battling with City for promotion were it not for that 17 point deduction. For 70 minutes the Millers dominated possession and posed plenty of questions of a defensive line which has being needing to provide answers.

Rhys Evans made an early low save and the City stopper had a busy afternoon. With widemen Jamie Green and Dale Tonge causing plenty of problems, numerous balls were fired into the box and Matt Clarke – who appears to have heeded the wake-up call from losing his place in the last home game against Barnet – and Graeme Lee stood up to the battle.

Not that Stuart would have been happy with how much they had to do. In the middle of the park City were second best for much of the game and possession was too easily squandered. There’s seemingly been a learning curve all season about the best way to play, with many players often taking the direct option of launching the ball forward as quickly as possible. While it’s effective at times – some of City’s better first half opportunities coming this way – it needs to be used in the right way. In the early stages there was a reluctance to slow the tempo and pass it around, instead the ball quickly sent forward and invariably returned just as fast.

Questions continue to be asked of Paul McLaren, who it’s felt can do more. This is the sort of game where a midfield leader, a Stuart if you like, is badly needed and McLaren is the closest we have. His manager must be looking to McLaren to demand the ball off others to then deliver sensible and, when the opportunity arises, killer passes which set City on their way. McLaren was guilty of taking the wrong option too often in the first half and moves broke down. Like with other City players who’ve struggled, the management is capable of coaching more out of him. Should Stuart succeed, McLaren will be a better player for it.

Two widemen were employed, with Leon Osborne brought in on the left and Omar Daley switched to the right. It was unusual to see Daley on this side and served to only remind us that, while his pace and dribbling skills are such a potent weapon, his final ball into the box can sometimes be poor. Daley was City’s best attacking outlet but Osborne too was a willing worker.

The second half became a fascinating battle as Rotherham continued to exert strong pressure and waste some good chances, but City slowly began to play in the right way. Possession wasn’t feebly squandered seconds after been won. There was some impressive passing with some moves agonisingly breaking down when one pass wasn’t quite good enough. City also seemed to work out when to go direct and when to slow it down. In short – they began to play like a good away side.

So while heavy pressure in City’s box continued, more and more gaps began to emerge at the other end and the counter attack was on. The ball was played quickly to Osborne or Daley, who used their pace and the space to get City on the attack. Nothing was to come of it at first, but as Rotherham showed a degree of naivety in how far forward some of their players went, the opportunities were increasing. After Tom Clarke was brought on for the injured McLaren, Law suddenly had the licence to get forward even more and this made a difference.

Seconds after Barry Conlon also joined the action, City got their counter attack spot on. A Rotherham corner saw plenty of red shirts forward, but the was played towards a galloping O’Brien, who burst forward to the edge of the area and hit a low shot which appeared to leave Rotherham keeper David Stockdale unsighted as it flew into the bottom corner.

Two minutes later Rotherham fans thought their side had equalised as Drew Broughton’s header from close range was magnificently pushed onto the bar by Evans, but then another counter-attack delivered a killer second goal as Law’s shot from distance flew past Stockdale into the same corner of the net as O’Brien’s.

With the game effectively won City were able to slow the tempo and pass the ball around in a calmer manner. An O’Brien dribble forward was illegally stopped and the resulting free kick fired over, while a great passing move resulted in TJ Moncur wastefully stabbing the ball well wide of the goal. A third would undoubtedly have flattered City.

Those sat near this writer will have to excuse my over-exuberant celebrations for both goals, particularly the first. For most of the game the cold air around me was polluted by one supporter who’s non-stop moaning about his team was not only moronic and largely unrealistic (they are League Two players, but I doubt even Premiership players could manage what he expected our players to do), but his choice of players to ‘target’ was ludicrous. All game long I watched an excellent performance from our young left back, O’Brien, and all game long I listened to irrational abuse about how rubbish he was, with this fan often calling him a four letter term beginning with T. That was when he wasn’t yelling equally ridiculous abuse about Osborne and demanding Stuart sub him.

Is this the way we should be encouraging our younger players? No one says we should gloss over if they fail to reach the standards required for first team football, but when they’re not even having bad games it was hard to listen to this fan’s clueless rants. So when O’Brien struck the first I had to fight every urge to turn around and call my fellow supporter a four letter term beginning with T, though my mouth dropped to the floor in astonishment as he joined in when others later started a chant praising O’Brien.

But in some ways it was that sort of afternoon. The Don Valley stadium is a horrible place to watch football and the freezing conditions had us longing for the final whistle well before it was due. Any attempt to build an atmosphere by the 1,600 City fans was largely lost in the wide open space and, for those of us with limited eyesight, it was difficult to see the ball at the opposite end of the pitch when it got darker. It can’t have been much fun for the players either, with three sides of the ground completely empty. It was a matter of getting the win and moving onto the next game.

Rotherham’s 17 point deduction should mean the Don Valley stays on the fixture list for League Two sides next season – another incentive for City to get the ultimate ‘job done’ and earn promotion.

Unfamiliar familiarity – Rotherham United v Bradford City – League Two preview

This is the seventh season out of eight to feature Rotherham away on Bradford City’s fixture list, though there will be nothing familiar about Saturday’s trip.

The financial difficulties which the Millers have struggled to overcome during the last few years has resulted in a temporary move to Sheffield’s Don Valley stadium. With a running track around the pitch and the stands – of which for only one side is there a roof – positioned well back, it will certainly be a contrast from the intimacy of Millmoor.

For Rotherham the move was born out of necessity as Millmoor’s landlord, former Chairman Ken Booth, demanded too much rent and not enough access to its facilities for it to be financially viable. Attendances have slightly dipped through the six-mile relocation, though with only two home defeats so far it’s clear the players have adapted to new surroundings quickly.

For us Bradford City supporters, it should be a case of being thankful for our lot. Clearly the Bantams have suffered from financial troubles in recent years and the two relegations since leaving the Premier League can be blamed on it to varying degrees. Yet both City’s spells in administration came before the sort of point deductions which have been inflicted on Rotherham for three consecutive seasons. As for a former chairman owning the ground and the struggle to make rent payments, a move to Odsal looked a possibility back in February 2004.

Which goes to show that, if there can be positives to take from what this club went through, it’s the timing of it. Pity the marketing men at Rotherham, who this summer had to work out how to sell season tickets for a club which had moved to a nearby city, which wasn’t fully guaranteed to be allowed to continue by the Football League and who even then started with a 17 point deduction. The self-righteous whining from Leeds United supporters last season has ensured many of us hold little sympathy for clubs who break the rules by getting in such debt, but things could have been much worse for us during those dark days and at the time that didn’t seem possible.

For City at least, such difficult times are now part of the history books and they approach the only proper League Two Yorkshire Derby of the season with strong promotion aspirations. Last week’s defeat to Wycombe may have tempered confidence among supporters, but manager Stuart McCall will know the true quality of a good side is how it responds to set backs. So far this season the players have made a good fist of it.

The team is likely to be similar after Stuart’s attempts to bring in a right winger on loan drew a blank. Rhys Evans keeps goal behind a back four slowly recapturing its early season solidness. Paul Heckingbottom came through the reserves unscathed midweek and Stuart may consider giving Luke O’Brien a breather. TJ Moncur seems to be comfortably first choice ahead of Paul Arnison on the right and Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke continue in the centre.

The other Clarke will continue in midfield. City’s line ups this season have largely not featured an out and out holding midfielder and the hope has to be that Paul McClaren, alongside Tom, can get forward more than he has been afforded to. Lee Bullock is close to a return to fitness and McClaren may be aware he needs to show more in order to keep his starting place. Nicky Law will play on the right with Omar Daley likely to provide the team’s main source of attacking inspiration from the left.

Up front Michael Boulding will be hoping to get the nod over Barry Conlon, with the latter still sweating over a new contract offer in the new year. There are some concerns over Peter Thorne’s recent performances, but there’s no one you’d rather have on the end of any decent chances the rest of the team can create during the game.

Rotherham are not without their problems having lost experienced keeper Andy Warrington to injury and with only Steven Cann, who played his first senior game midweek and was on the end of a 3-0 defeat, to call upon between the sticks. Manager Mark Robins too has been left frustrated by the loan market and, unless any late attempts prove successful, it will be a big day for the 20-year-old South African. They also have their own Omar, who is perhaps more Willy Topp.

One familiar face will be Alex Rhodes, who joined the Millers from City during the summer. The winger was an excellent proposition on his day, as Rotherham themselves know only too well, but lacked consistency. Had Stuart kept him on it’s likely he’d have barely figured for City this season up until Joe Colbeck’s injury, so his regularity for Rotherham suggests City would be finishing above them even if they’d not suffered that heavy points deduction.

Like City, Rotherham will be aiming to put their financial troubles behind them but the impact which the credit crunch has had on so many parts of UK life has yet to be realised in football. With the UK heading for recession tough times may be ahead and typically its lower league clubs who will suffer.

If United had trouble with season tickets this season what about the next, when people’s spending will become even tighter? This week Rotherham announced half-year season ticket prices which are still more expensive than it cost for a full City season ticket. If levels of support are to be maintained in 2009/10 season clubs are going to have to consider the sort of innovate pricing approach which has succeeded at Valley Parade, though that might be difficult for clubs like Rotherham to implement with money in short supply.

If City can march onto promotion this season they should have few problems retaining their support should they keep similar prices, which would once again leave us pleased with our timing and thankful for our lot.

Too much ying for City’s yang

If there was one positive for us Bradford City fans to take as we exited Valley Parade at full time it was that it’s unlikely we’ll witness as wretched a second half performance from our team all season.

Going in at half time in a far from commanding 3-2 lead, the players appeared unsure whether to keep attacking or see out the game and failed to do either with any conviction. And although it’s questionable whether Albert Anomah’s 75th minute prodded equaliser crossed the line, there was no disputing how deserved it was – or how fortunate City were that the two points lost didn’t become three.

This was an afternoon in which much of what’s good about City this season was on display, but was undermined by much of what’s not good. Three times they took the lead in the first half and each time it was well taken. First Barry Conlon nodded the Bantams ahead after 10 minutes following a fine team move out of defence which resulted in Peter Thorne’s clever lay off been crossed into the box by TJ Moncur. Paul McLaren’s superb free kick delivery on the half hour was aching to be nodded home and Thorne did just that to put City back in front. Conlon then got his second – and sixth of the season – after finishing well from Moncur’s pass for 3-2. Recalled to the starting line up after his midweek heroics, the Irishman had an excellent afternoon and has now moved ahead of Michael Boulding in the goalscoring charts.

Yet in between those three goals were two soft ones at the other end to grimace about. Conlon’s opener was cancelled out after a woeful Moncur back pass sold Rhys Evans short, but even then the City goalkeeper should have made a better fist of clearing the ball instead of dallying and allowing John O’Flynn to roll the ball into the net. After Thorne’s header for 2-1, Anomah beat Luke O’Brien on the byeline and got a shot in which Evans did well to save, only for slow defending to allow Nicky Nicolau the space to slam the ball home. Conlon then struck again to re-establish a lead City’s first half efforts deserved.

A half which heavily featured attacking football from both sides. Manager Stuart McCall, without the suspended Omar Daley, moved Boulding out wide and brought in Conlon; but while Boulding had enjoyed an excellent game on the left wing at Grimsby eight days ago he was a huge disappointment. Whether he was unhappy to be switched or there’s some anxiety at playing in front of a large demanding crowd which is hindering, he failed to produce what was expected. Worse he was woeful at tracking back and helping out O’Brien; the latter too often left exposed against the threat of Anomah, who thankfully couldn’t cross as well as he could dribble.

Going forward Boulding was little better and, with Nicky Law playing in fits and starts, City played without the wide threat which has helped them to stretch and win games this season. Stuart must have recognised this and no one would have blamed him had he brought Kyle Nix or Leon Osborne on at half time, but instead he persisted with a line up which wasn’t functioning properly.

Barnet came out strong in the second half and their threat never went away. With pace on the flanks and a midfield not afraid to put a boot in, it became more and more one-way traffic as City struggled to keep them at bay. Rare home attacks carried a threat – Law and Conlon both going close – but the visitors enjoyed far more of the ball and posed too many questions of a fragile backline.

And herein lies the problem with City at the moment. There’s no doubting the attacking quality within the ranks, shown here despite the absence of key players, but when they do go in front there is some uncertainty over what to do next. Once again we see too many long balls launched in the hope the strikers can hold the ball up, but the offside flag or strong, and sometimes questionable, Barnet challenges limited this effectiveness. Stuart seems to want City to pass the ball about from the back and this often works well, but when the nerves are prevalent or the lead is slender ‘hit and hope’ seems to be favoured. To Barnet’s credit they must have noted this and sought to apply pressure on City from high up the pitch.

In such situations it’s as if City have one less player in midfield and the ability to slow the game down, keep passing the ball around and take the sting out of Barnet’s attacking momentum seems to be beyond the players. They will often work really hard to win the ball back, only to lose it cheaply seconds later. It meant the defence was overworked and the equaliser seemed inevitable.

The sight of Dean Furman having to limp off the field was distressing, given he was the only member of City’s midfield successfully doing the right things. His injury might have meant Stuart decided to keep Boulding on when his ineffectiveness should have been rewarded with an early exit from play, but three minutes later City were kicking off again and seemingly lacking the belief and composure to get back in front.

The performance of the backline is clearly a huge concern. Graeme Lee has looked much more the player of early season during the last two games, but he needs to be more commanding of the troops around him. Tom Clarke is a decent player but struggled as the game went on and it was O’Brien’s toughest afternoon to date, not helped by that lack of support in front. Moncur considers himself a right back, but the doubts are still there. Much of the recent defensive shortcomings have been blamed on Matt Clarke, but I believe he hasn’t been as bad as others make out.

Not that City particularly missed him, but there is someone sat in the same dugout who it can be argued they are. David Wetherall was always going to be a tough act to follow after retiring last season, but it’s the way Stuart is now trying to get City to defend which is perhaps causing teething problems. Wetherall’s lack of pace meant City had to defend deeper and the back four are now trying to play a higher defensive line. This is working reasonably well – though defenders need to be more decisive in possession when opposition forwards are pressing them – but was seemingly abandoned in the second half due to the midfield’s lack of control. The pressure grew, but the more forward players didn’t drop further back with the defence and huge gaps emerged which Barnet were able to exploit.

After Barnet’s equaliser there only looked to be one winner as the impressive visitors continued to attack. At least the defence did well to prevent a late winner with some excellent headers and blocks, how frustrating for them it must be to see the ball come back towards them so quickly after.

The full time whistle was met with boos, but it’s questionable how this sort of reaction helps anyone. There still remains a lot to be positive about when assessing City’s chances this season and the problems afflicting it can be sorted in time. Some fans said that last season City would have lost the sort of game they won against Bury midweek, well that’s true about this game too.

An unexpected late Halloween horror show at the back to endure, but the ability to keep producing fireworks at the other end has left City in an excellent position in the league. Those shortcomings will need to be banished in order to stay there.

The tiresome sound of a stick in a bucket

Nine years and change ago I started this here boyfrombrazil.co.uk website about a club that was aspiring to be in the Premiership. It was lead by a dogmatic, bluff chairman and had a team of exciting players under the eye of new, young manager Paul Jewell and while everything around the club is utterly different there is one constant in the fact that from that day to this there has been a rumbling underbelly of a concept that Bradford City would be improved by a new manager.

The history books of this club never include the talk against Paul Jewell – he is airbrushed to perfection – but at the time there were plenty of voices suggesting that if City wanted to be a serious contender for a Premiership club the season after the anticipated play-off failure of 1998/1999 then they would have to appoint a “proper” manager. During his time in the Premiership Jewell did not enjoy the universal support he is credited with now.

Chris Hutchings enjoyed no support and a change of manager from him to anyone would be an improvement except – of course – it was not and Jim Jefferies quickly had the same murmurings which became a cacophony and on and on through Nicky Law who must be sacked or we would be relegated but Bryan Robson got us relegated and on to Colin Todd who would take us down so had to go but of course we went down…

At the moment there are people talking about the qualities of Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs. People saying “I know he is a legend but…” and drifting off into some discussion of if the gaffer “knows what he is doing” as if football management were a map and a route could be planned through it.

There is a definition of insanity that has it that repeating the same action and expecting different results is the mark of that condition. Honestly – after trying a rookie, an experienced manager, a young guy who had done well in the lower leagues, an England captain, an jobbing football man – does anyone still believe that the solution to all City’s problems is in sacking the manager and appointing the best CV that comes along? That train of logic is so feeble as to question the capabilities of anyone who would suggest it.

Experience of following this club has told us that the next manager is never the answer.

Move back to the days of Paul Jewell and Chris Kamara and we see a club strong on infrastructure and leadership with continuity at the heart of it. This is not to suggest that Geoffrey Richmond had everything or anything right just that when he did things well the club did well and when he started to misstep badly the management changes helped not one jot.

City’s next manager after McCall will be no better. Jose Mourinho is not waiting to take over and if he was – as Avram Grant shows – management changes are the stuff of tweaks and not sea change.

All of which gives unnecessary oxygen to the idea that McCall is somehow an inferior manager to those around him in the division or other managers who currently have the job at 91 other clubs. He is young and learning and he makes mistakes but he also has triumphs. Criticism of the manager is plentiful but for every mistake there is a credit unsaid. Stuart McCall brought in Peter Thorne, Kyle Nix, Scott Loach just as much as he signed up Alex Rhodes.

For every curious set of displays by Paul Heckingbottom – he has struggled since signing full time – there is a success story like McCall’s handling of Joe Colbeck who is started to show real quality and consistency.

Likewise understanding the season was dead sometime ago McCall allows Rhodes the chance to show what he can do – not much in this writer’s opinion – as he looks to offer contracts out for next season. To sack a manager at this point is like sacking him for losing pre-season friendlies.

Sacking managers is just a bad idea – experience shows us that – sacking this manager goes past bordering on ludicrous and calling for him to be sacked is akin to vandalism of this football club.

As with Kevin Keegan at Newcastle it seems that being a legend is not what it used to be and Keegan and McCall get a couple more games before the firing squads are assembled. Legend is a fan applied title and the respect they given is the behest of supporters. What does it say about our supporters as some try chop away the legs of our “legend” as he takes his first steps in management?

What would it say about the supporters if we let the louder agitators in our community be heard louder than any other voice? This is especially the case when that voice makes all the sense of a stick being hammered around an empty bucket of swill and is just as sensible. A case could have been made for sacking some of the managers of the last nine years but the majority of dismissals are mistakes compounding mistakes.

All the voices who called for Nicky Law to be sacked never comment on Bryan Robson’s failure to turn the club around. The people who said Colin Todd should go do not accept the blame for the relegation to League Two.

Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs should be in charge at this club. End of story.

Billy, Willy, Beni and Juanjo

Stuart McCall tells us not to get too excited at the prospect of Willy Topp coming to Bradford City – like his insistence that the Chilean be called Billy not Willy one can expect his words to fall on deaf ears.

Topp is expected to feature on the bench for the League Two game with Rotherham United – the very typification of a dour would be derby game – and for the time he cools his heels to the second he strikes in anger in claret and amber the thoughts of all will be on this latests great white hope.

Topp follows a path along the decline of this club that started with Benito Carbone who promised the abilities that club needed – in the case of Topp and Staurt McCall’s Bradford City those abilities are obviously needed – but for a multitude of reasons were not delivered upon. Topp would do well to follow Carbone’s example – the little Italian gave his all for City every game – rather than the path of Juanjo.

For Topp and Juanjo – Jim Jefferies perfect playmaker – are aligned. Both come into teams that lack inspiration and both are looked on to turn around the fortunes of the club. Such big aspirations on small shoulders Topp – like Juanjo – cannot make a team no matter how well he plays.

And it is oft forgot that for every wretched performance the Spaniard put in his offered moments of impressiveness – his debut winning goal springs to mind – that showed that when he wanted to, he could.

Had he wanted to for Nicky Law then Juanjo could have changed the path of Bradford City. Law’s meat and spuds variety of football was always going to isolate the tricky former Hearts man but more dedication could have seen him win over supporters and managers and – assuming his flashes could be turned into performances – provide the excitement that was lacking from that City team.

Topp comes into the same situation. City are trundling along and one can imagine that the 12,000 on the trundle are waiting for something to make noise about, something to get excited about. Topp – regardless of McCall’s insistence – carries that weight.

One hopes he carries it well, or at least better than others have.

Ben, Muirhead Leave City

Ben Muirhead has been released by Bradford City bringing to an end a turbulent five year connection between player and club that say him signed, released, signed again and go from favourite to failure to favourite to great white hope before his career with the club petered out.

Muirhead was signed from Manchester United and wasted no time in impressing with his right wing play that recalled the buccaneering style of Jamie Lawrence. At Turf Moor he ripped Burnley apart in a 2-1 win and he looked a huge threat for Nicky Law’s team.

However for all his exciting front foot play Ben had a number of flaws in his game – he would give the ball away when charging forward rather than win continued possession, he would try the impossible cross rather than winning the odd throw in – and these problems soon saw him benched as Law’s team struggled and Nicky Summerbee offered more crossing.

Nevertheless his flair cameos made sure he stayed popular and under Bryan Robson one Manchester United number seven told another how to play and he returned a Ben all about the end product.

He was the Ben Muirhead of forcing corners and tidy football and for a while that seemed to impress some however as his game improved the tide seemed to turn and – as famously identified by The City Gent’s John Watmough – “Ben” left and was replaced by “Muirhead”.

“Muirhead” was released as the club’s money problem mounted and Bryan Robson exited – he seemed to show most improvement under the famously good coach/bad manager that was Robson – only to be signed again as the club exited administration and start the next season well loved for his loyalty.

However while Muirhead was a better player for the team he seemed to lack the excitement of the flying winger Ben and he was not a regular feature in Colin Todd’s teams. By the time Jermaine Johnson and Omar Daley – both of whom could stand accused of all the worst and best points of Ben’s early play – arrived at the club the sun had set on Ben’s career at City and he was loaned to Rochdale.

His release from Bradford City comes at the end of that season and no doubt Rochdale will be interested in signing him – he scored three in nine games – after which we will no doubt see him again next year.

At such point – with the distance of opposition – we may discover if that winger is “Muirhead” or “Ben” after all.

Todd and making the future work this time

Prefacing this by saying I like The City Gent and Chris Armstrong who runs The City Gent website we at BfB were interested to see that website use it’s front page to make a case for the prosecution against Colin Todd calling for the City manager to be sacked.

The content of the article runs through a damning list of “crimes” and makes it clear that Todd should be held accountable for the teams performance – a view I personally think always lets the team off with ineffectual displays but one I respect the writer’s right to hold.

However such talk is neither especially interesting or especially new. Indeed City fans need only cast minds back to October 2003 when the same comments were being made about Nicky Law.

That those comments may – or may not, depending on your opinion – have been proved true is hardly important. What is important and what would be needed to convince me that the Todd Out protests had enough merit to be worth supporting is an answer to the questions asked back when Law was sacked.

For all the talk about from City fans about the relative merits – or lack of merit – of Todd and his position at the club I have yet to hear anything approaching a convincing argument which tells me that sacking this manager would not be as ineffectual in halting City’s decline as axing Law was.

Genuinely curiously I wonder why would sacking Colin Todd improve the club any more than sacking Nicky Law? Or Jim Jefferies? Or Chris Hutchings? Why would the next manager turn our fortunes around when Bryan Robson’s arrival did not? Or when the return of popular coach Terry Yorath as manager in 1988 could not?

By anyone’s yardstick – including the one Colin Todd applies to Sven Goran Eriksson – Todd would be overdue the bullet from the vast majority of jobs in football. What I am interested in – and what we as supporters of this club should be interested in – is the future of the club beyond the short term buzz of a sack and search.

How will the job of managing Bradford City be different for the next manager than it is for this one and it was for the last one, and the one before that, and before him and before him?

Just who is good enough for Bradford’s Title Challenge 04/05? Part 1 of 2

As we all prepare for the advent of Second Division football, looking ahead to the sheer amount of local derbies (even Huddersfield, please) and the fact that we will not have to pay as much cash for burgers and tickets. The noises coming out of Bradford City are positive: Robson talks of “playing with pride”, Wetherall points to “silly results at this time of the season” (the only silly result that I can see is us actually winning any more than 3 games). This is always to be expected, however the realists have prepared themselves for 2nd Division football next season, where (the way things are looking) we will meet Doncaster who 5 years ago, were in the Conference whilst we watched goggle eyed the slick passing of the Arsenals of this world. 5 years down the line and we are meeting in the same division, if football wanted an example of how it can all go wrong, this is surely it.

The second division is a funny division, there are some cracking teams in there who have spent a few quid strengthening their squads, also there are some awful teams who would struggle in Division 3 should they ever be relegated. The division also has its fair share of “sleeping” giants; Sheffield Wednesday, Q.P.R and Bristol City. All these are big clubs and we could meet a couple of these next season; however we will no doubt be up there in the bookmakers thinking when the Title odds are released. The big question is, do we have a squad worthy of challenging?

The present squad is clearly not good enough to sustain a place in the First Division, bolstered by loan signings which did add some quality to the team, but we always knew that they weren’t actually our players. Obviously this is based upon either Robson or Todd staying with the bantams, and also that Administration is survived and we have funds available (not necessarily transfer fees, wages will do) so that new faces can be brought in:

Goalkeepers
Alan Combe and Mark Paston

The crazy Scottish madman is good enough for Division 1, not shown anywhere near his best form, many sympathize with his rants at the (sometimes) non existent defending that has gone on, on his day the kop will sing “Scotland’s Number one” and he will stop shots that seem destined to go in, however on his frequent days off that Combe has experienced, the Kop will have not even cleared its voice before he is walking down the tunnel after a red card. Paston is a strange one, a big keeper, brings back memories of Schwarzer, in that he’s from Oceania and he’s tall. That’s where the similarities end however, doesn’t command his box as well for someone who is 6″4. Not the greatest kicker either, however he is a challenger to Combe and certainly both of these are good enough for Division 2.

Defenders
Gareth Edds

Don’t want to be too harsh on the lad, but simply Gareth, you just aren’t good enough, you would struggle in the Bradford Sunday League’s Second Division, lack of pace, unconvincing, positional and defensive play poor (Kilbane v Sunderland). You may have a long throw but well, that’s it. And it’s not even that good

Jason Gavin + David Wetherall

I will admit I thought Gavin was abysmal earlier in the season, but just before the ban he received he looked the part playing alongside Wetherall. Any good side that hopes to achieve success has a solid defensive partnership and Gavin and Wetherall would be just that. I still have worries about Gavin especially the fact he makes some awful mistakes and wears ridiculously long shorts. Wetherall is typical club captain material, honest pro and works hard (I’ve seen him at the gym); just a different class, injury free and these two are the rocks that will earn us clean sheets against the lower class forwards that they will face.

Paul Heckingbottom

The best summer signing that Law made, very consistent and surely a likely winner of the Players of the year award. Looking remarkably like Frodo (L.O.T.R) and my mate Tim, he has been impressive and probably the only player we could seriously worry about losing in the summer. Critics would say that perhaps he suffers from a lack of pace but again 2nd Division is a lower standard so good positional play would make up for that weakness.

Wayne Jacobs

“Jakes” a veteran of many a Bradford City season, probably shocked himself at how he is still at Bradford City after 10 seasons. Most fans feel the same; sadly not played much during his testimonial season however was placed at Right Back when Francis left. This proved how poor Edds must be if a left footed, left back, 35 year old can claim a place ahead of him. Probably good enough for the 2nd (just) a lot depends on how much “Father Time” has affected him regarding fitness and pace.

Mark Bower

Jury out for me, I really am not sure, my abiding memory of Bower is him stooping then falling over when he misjudges a horrible bouncing ball, not a bad defender by any means but then again not a world class one. Good cover for Wetherall and Gavin but apart from that he probably has too many weaknesses to be considered for one of the first team berths. Not a bad man marker and often a great bet for the first goal at 50 / 1 or something equally ridiculous.

Midfielders

We are short on the ground for midfielders, this is a massive problem area for us, especially when you consider that we have had loanees (Wallwork and Farrelly) playing in there most of the season.

Peter Atherton

Good old Pete hasn’t had that bad a season, usually injured for 85% of the season he’s done well this season in the holding role. Looked better when having to protect a creative lightweight player (Farrelly), sadly though he has had to run the midfield in recent weeks and therefore his weaknesses have been highlighted especially the fact that 1 ball in 10 that he plays is a good one. A very experienced player that is useful to have in the side. Useful for Division 2.

Tom Kearney

The darling of the kop; embraced because he plays in the same position as Stuart McCall and came from Everton. Sadly the similarities stop there, actually that’s a little harsh. Before his nasty injury against Grimsby, Kearney (like Standing) looked the business. A Cheap and hungry midfielder with talent and age on his side, Fast forward 12 months and he cant even get into a poor midfield, seemingly incapable of playing a 12 yard square ball to a team mate, an example of how injury can change one player so much. I am not too sure whether he is good enough for Division 2, maybe under Law at Grimsby.

Robert Wolleaston

“Afro Man”, well I didn’t even know he was playing against Reading until 20 minutes such was his contribution, however by all accounts he played well against Derby, scored and received the M.O.M from the T+A. Also it shouldn’t be forgotten that he smashed the ball at Combe’s head causing the ball for divert into our goal to cost us the game. Agreeing with Robson about his laziness, if he had that extra yard of thought and pace, well he would be challenging Claudio’s boys for a first team berth, hope for the future though with Rob.

Nicky Summerbee

His pace has gone and he looks as if he really couldn’t care less, but he is slowly but surely changing the masses opinions, he can play a fair bit and true he can’t run but he can spot a pass and has more talent than the rest of our midfield put together. Definitely good enough for Division 2, maybe a swansong season at Division 1 level?

Strikers
Dean Windass

Came back for his swansong 2 years vowing to bang the goals in, has failed in that respect, spent more time getting silly bookings, diving and making silly faces to the crowd. Hasn’t had a bad season, still well worth his place up front because you never quite know how he will play, Deano is the man you need up front for a promotion fight in Division 2, has experience to mix it and likely to get a goal out of nothing.

Danny Cadamarteri

Now is rated as good, before this season he was “waste of space”, “overpaid waste of space” and “fat b*$£*d”. However he is now the darling of the kop, running at defenders like Blake used to. If we had Cadders fit all season we would have been mid table boredom. Sadly though, any sort of good fortune stays well out of City’s way, with this in mind Cadamateri has had more injuries than any other City player I can remember. He is good enough for the 1st Division maybe even higher than that but he must get fit in order to be any use to City or anyone for that matter.

Michael Branch

Never quite there is Branch, always a yard short, misses too many chances to be a 20 goal a season man, then scores to many to be classed as a creative player. A frustrating player but at the same time a crowd favourite, will run all day, force mistakes and scare people with his pace. Good enough for Division 2, any good side will be built on goals from the front two, and I believe that Branch would be a part of that. A very good outside bet for the Divsions top scorer too, should he find his level and also his shooting boots.

Lewis Emanuel

Not utterly sure where the lad should go, he was the great hope at Left Back, I remember watching him out of window when I was in History at Hanson, he was superb. Also on Championship Manager 01/02, he was England’s future Left Back, however with City lacking a wide left midfielder ( Law overlooked when signing the 6 strikers, he forgot about how we would get the ball to them) Lewis (through no fault of his own) found himself playing on the left of midfield. Although he has one trick, cant cross and isn’t the paciest player, however when we were desperate for points he found himself up front as part of a front three. Chips in with the odd goal and still has talent, eventually will reach the top and good enough for the title challenge.

Thus concludes my review of the squad, I am sure that I have missed some of the players that have conspired to get us relegated. In part 2, I will be showing how much of a life I don’t have by scouring the P.F.A’s list of players that currently have no club, indicating who would do us a job or more importantly (using CM as a guide) who we could realistically afford.

The Law debate and polishing the brass on the Titanic

Back in the Geoffrey Richmond: Saint or sinner debate a phrase used to be used. It was sometimes RTG but could be RTS. The final character was not that important, the other two stood for rose-tinted.

The rose-tinted debate raged on the Internet Bantams mailing list and around Bradford for a few years and still bubbles under in all those places now. The idea was that one could look at City two ways. Firstly you could ignore the perceived pillage of Valley Parade and the club’s short route to the dump chute of administration by believing that everything would be all alright and the club was experiencing a dip in form. These people were ostensibly the rose-tinteds.

In opposition them in this sub cultural battle were the self-titled realists who saw everything going to Hell in a handcart and would countenance no call that anything at the club was anything other than incorrigible. These people had seen the future, and it was black.

Post-administration realists departed the field and claimed victory and it was hard to argue that on the whole they had been right about the future of the club come the slide from the Premiership. The club had gone bad and they had said it would. The fact that other developments which flourished were talked on with the same grim attitude mattered not, the prediction was for financial woe and so realists won, even if in the scattershot of the argument phrases like “This club will never produce a good player” were used at a time when Lewis Emanuel and Danny Forrest were pushing into the reserves.

Now the debate on the Clayton Omnibus as well as online is the future of Nicky Law, that he has none specifically, sides are drawn once more down similar lines but – and tellingly – they have swapped sides.

The rose-tinted have looked at Nicky Law and with a gulp of the realism they were encouraged to encompass they state that the problems at City are more than just to do with a manager who has the capacity to cock up tactically and see a shrinking gate, falling sponsorship and the trend of football to hogging the money at the top table of the Premiership and suggest, not unreasonably perhaps, that the last thing we want to do now is rid ourselves of a manager who while curious in some areas has strengths in others in favour of the lucky dip of the positions wanted adds and considering the bad experiences with bosses we have had in the past few years it’s no surprise they have that opinion. It’s realism of a sort.

The other voice coming up is from that camp that used the word realist as a badge. The “realists”, the same people who decried Geoffrey Richmond and called all bad have taken a leap away from reality. To “The Realists” the universal cure all is that once a P45 with the name Nicolas Ulysses Law on it is drawn up then City begin a new, that the weight of football and financial problems pushing down on Valley Parade are lifted by getting a guy who throws on more men fifteen minutes from time. The notion, when said out loud, is almost a definition of looking at a situation with a rose-tint.

So what is the point of all this? The point, dear reader, is this. The state that City are in now is bigger than Nicky Law, Gordon Gibb, the tactics on the field or the fans in the stadium and a change of manager would be largely cosmetic at this point. If changing manager after 18-30 months was the path to success then there would be European Cups at Valley Parade. It never worked in the past, why should it work now?

To use a popular metaphor City are a ship that hit and iceberg in administration and now we are sailing away from it bailing out water for all we are worth. Getting in a new manager would be polishing the brass as we sink.

Why you could stick Law’s contract up your nose

Sacking a manager is the football club equivalent of snorting coke. It’s the instant rush. It’s the adrenaline kick. When you sack a manager you feel like a million bucks.

You get the old gaffer get out of the office he has been stinking up with recent performances and you get to command the back pages. You get to be the man doing things. This is not an attack on Gordon Gibb or any other chairman we have had. When I talk about us sacking a manager I mean everyone at the club from supporter to squad member, from chairman to char lady.

Everyone feels great because you get the heady rush of limitlessness. Show Nicky Law the door and who comes to replace him? The answer is limitless.

Recall sacking Chris Hutchings. Who could replace the manager? We heard Kevin Keegan and we know that Berti Voghts came in for the job and in the end we were all pleased with the top notch Scot Jim Jefferies who would lead us into the thick of the Premiership action with spirit and steel. Reality showed differently but such is the giddy rush of the sack. You got from our own limited manager, and all managers are limited in some way, to having not one but a million potential bosses all of which will deliver the goods if you give them the chance.

Sack Jim Jefferies and Stan Collymore could do great things for you and when Nicky Law was appointed no one really got excited but then again, every one got optimistic.

A new manager will bring in new players of course and they have the same effect as a new manager. Everything will be ok when the new players settle in. Remember how Juanjo was going to turn this club around? This is the come down.

The come down where you can convince yourself that the snort of the sack was ok because everything will be fine once the new manager beds in. In truth we are just blind to our new man’s failings for this come down – or honeymoon if you want – period. After all who had a go at Nicky Law for picking Andrew Not really a striker Tod over Beni Carbone then?

Sacking the manager gives us all a holiday from realism. It makes us all potential champions, the Premiership is always just a sacking away and of course such assumptions have no basis in reality.

With a huge debt still looming over the club we can not afford to deal in fancifulness and fantasy. We need reality.

A good case can be made that Nicky Law is not doing a good job at City but as with the excitement that greeted the flurry of signings in the Summer the replacement for Law will not be able to make a march for the Premiership.

The new players off the Summer we being made as World Beaters before anyone had seen them play – in a way BfB loves to do the same to kids like Danny Forrest, Kevin Sanasy and Peter Folkes – but in the end they were Luke Cornwall and Robert Wolleaston.

Likewise the new manager will not be a tactical genius of the man who makes silk purses out of so many sow’s ears that the club picked up. He will not crank up the production line of kids through the club and he will not be able to spin a multi-million pound transfer to clear the debuts from the club that struggled to get more than two million for Andy O’Brien from famously wasteful Newcastle United but for a time it will seem like he will do all these things and more and if that is what you want from your football, the quick rush without a thought for reality, then that’s what you can have.

You just get the manager’s contract, tear it up and stick it up your nose.

The problem with Nicky Law and why Geoffrey Richmond never managed England

Back when the Premiership turned sour there was more than a hint of a suggestion that Geoffrey Richmond picked the Bradford City team. Now most people look back at such reporting and scoff at it’s faintly ludicrous nature but at the time it sold a few newspapers and made a bit of a splash.

Geoff was a great publicist, he whipped up a frenzy and put ambitions higher and he also ran the club into the ground and nearly buried us. Your view of Richmond depends largely on which side your bread is butter and that’s fine with me but regardless of the merits of the man very few people, in fact no one, would say that he had the talent or knowledge to manage a football club into the Premiership.

People have skills in some areas and are weaker in others. As my erstwhile colleague Roland Harris pointed out if Richmond had done what everyone had said then he should be England manager but Richmond’s skills laid elsewhere.

As do Nicky Law’s.

Do not misunderstand me, Law is a decent team manager despite dropping the ball against Darlington and generally not showing much in the way of tactical acumen, and he is a step above the majority of voices that call out for a team of entirely attacking players in the midfield but his real skils are in evidence before the team takes the field.

Law is a man motivator for one, he gees up the City team like I have never seen and builds team with real character. The 2-2 draw with Norwich City was the latest in many examples of this never say die City attitude that Law has engendered and if you want to know what a football team is like without that thing back to Nicky Law’s predecessor Jim Jefferies.

Law, and by extension Law’s backroom team, have a good eye for players. Simon Francis is attracting interest from other clubs and while I would never sell him if he did go on the market one would expect a couple of million at least for him. This would be revenue generated by Nicky Law just as the bad midfield that cost us a place in the next round of the League Cup was money lost by Law.

Of the players Law has brought into the club the likes of Francis, Tom Kearney, Ben Muirhead et al look like quality and cost nothing. Compare that to the £1.3m that Paul Jewell flushed down the toilet for Isaiah Rankin or Chris Kamara’s criminal waste on John McGinlay. Paul Evans has done little to impress since his early burst at Valley Parade but unlike Kamara’s folly from Bolton it is not for the want on effort. He picks out a good player and has never, ever gone anywhere near as low as previously managers who brought us a return of Peter Jackson, Darren Morgan, Darren Tearcy, Steve Gardener, Robert Zabica, Lee Todd, Bruno Rodriguez, Ashley Ward and on and on…

Nicky Law is focused on youth and there is a feeling under Law that the likes of Tom Penford, Kevin Sanasy, Jake Wright and Peter Folkes will not only get a chance but will be some good. The emergence of Simon Francis and Danny Forrest defined last season, compare that to signing Neil Redfearn and Dean Saunders while never giving games to Scott Kerr and Gareth Grant. Kerr and Grant both faded away but then again so would Mark Bower if Law had not blooded him at the end of the season before last and now Bower is regarded as worth a first team place and perhaps Scott and Gareth might have been the same. They might not have been but because the will and the structure to blood them was not there we never found out. As sure as Nicky Law could not see the problems on Tuesday night is the fact that the reforging of the club as a youth team is in no small part down to him.

These are Nicky Law’s skills just like tactics are his weakness.

I mention this because talk has started against Nicky Law and while these are not a defence of the manager, they serve to create a context in which to talk about axing the former Chesterfield boss in. If, as some chatter in pubs would have it, we do get rid of the manager then we might get someone who can pick a more balanced midfield but fields a team of quitters (Jim Jefferies), wastes money on bad players (Chris Kamara) or ignores the youth of the club (Paul Jewell) or perhaps all three.

Aside from the obvious, that the culture of sacking managers every couple of years at Valley Parade has brought us very little success in the past 100 years, for my money at the moment Law brings more to the club than is lost with dodgy team issues and those problems are far from intractable. We could sign up a good coach or we could just do for Law what Law does for the likes of Francis and Forrest; acknowledge he is learning his trade and allow him to make mistakes on the way. This is not a 55 year old set in his way Jim Jefferies with whom the best thing to do was to cut our losses, this is a guy who engages everything for his role at Valley Parade and his failures are caused by personal limits, not as in the case of Jefferies, cause he can not be bothered doing things properly.

This could all change, Law could so no progress and in six months or six weeks time it might be clear, as it was with Jefferies, that things are not going to change at which time we have to look at what we would be throwing away in the name of improving the tactical abilities in the dug out but I hope that day does not come because I’m tired of watching managers struggle with other manager’s teams and want to see City commit to something for a change.

Everyone loses as Beni walks away from Valley Parade

For some it will be Benito Carbone reverting to type. The temperamental Italian finally showing his true colours and leaving City in the lurch following his refusal to take a place on the bench for Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat by Preston.

For others Beni will have been justified in walking out of Valley Parade within two hours of kick off after being told that he would be sub to a defender who had a few decent games up front. Certainly there are few other than Nicky Law who would have thought that Andy Tod represented a better striking solution than Benito Carbone.

Whatever the justification for Beni’s walking out the effect on the team was clear. City were insipid in a game that was easily winnable. Carbone’s departure had obviously effected the players, although for what reason is unsure. Did they play bad because of the upset of seeing Carbone go, was it some parting shot that the striker made on his way out of the door or was the little Italian so popular that a wound to him was felt by the team.

Whatever it does seem that Beni had blotted a perfect copybook at City where he has been a model pro. The solution for Beni was to cool his heals on the bench for an hour and then burst back onto the scene. By walking away Beni seems everything that they have told us he is and more. He seems uncommitted, he seems to not give a damn and what’s more, he seems small and petty.

Benito Carbone is not manager of Bradford City, just like when Stuart McCall and Jim Jefferies were at loggerheads, McCall was not the manager. Nicky Law is and he has the right to pick the team as he sees fit and like Jim Jefferies he lives and dies by that selection. If Nicky Law, who watched Carbone trudge around a Middlesbrough reserve game lifelessly last week before deciding not stick with the team that scored two in eight minutes at Barnsley, decides that Beni is not worth a place in the starting line up that decision must be respected by the player.

Carbone will probably be hell bent on getting out of Valley Parade now and perhaps that is best. In so many ways he represents what we tried to be. If we are to get back to the Premiership then we will do it the same way we got there. By building a team and making the right buys. Beni is a superb player and yes he can take defences in this division apart on his own but as his walk out proves, too much store is put in a player like that. We need to spread the danger in the forward line (Peter Beagrie, Lee Mills, Robbie Blake and Jamie Lawrence), not isolate it to a simple approach be it the skills of Carbone of Tuesday night’s long humps to Tod and Ward.

Carbone will face a two-week fine, which gives Nicky Law an unexpected £80,000 to play with. My advice would be to add it to the bid for Breckin and Burt. Should Carbone go soon then that with the money raised for Robbie Blake should be used to bring in more players of the Burt/Breckin mould: Young, talented, eager to get on.

City need a reboot. Jim Jefferies made it his mission to take on the squad and bring down the age separating wheat from chaff but the Scot failed in that. There is still too much overpaid chaff at City. Carbone is not wheat and on his day he is worth every single penny of his £40,000 a week, but driving away from Valley Parade before kick off he is worthless, especially as he leaves his team mates only five points off the relegation zone.

One would have thought that City could do with a player like Carbone in that situation, but this morning, the morning after Beni walked away from Valley Parade, the phrase “A player like Carbone” has the same ring for City fans as it does in many other areas of football, and that sort of player we can do without.

If Benito Carbone can be brought back to the fold then all the better, but he will be forever tarnished at the one club in football that thought he was something other than they said he was. Benito Carbone the troublesome Italian? You betcha.

Nicky Law with a wry smile

For as long as there has been a BfB Bradford City has been a club about balance between three elements: The Chairman, The Manager and the Players.

The Chairman is and always has been Geoffrey Richmond. For a time he held total power over the club. The Summer of 2000 saw Richmond virtually in total control at Valley Parade with a manager who seemed uninterested in signing players following one who simply did not want to add to his squad, honourable intentions for Mr Jewell back then who, unlike Jim Jefferies, did not want to bring a player in only to bog off a month later.

The manager’s at VP in recent years have varied in power. Chris Kamara’s grew too much and it is rumoured that that is why he got the chop. Paul Jewell had some but failed to use it. Chris Hutchings was powerless, Jim Jefferies seemed to think he should be given power over the entire club, something that no team allows its manager in this day and age.

Nicky Law will enjoy the sort of power that Paul Jewell started with at Valley Parade. His is Richmond’s anointed son and like Jewell he is one that not many in Bradford would have selected but like Jewell he has impressed when working in difficult conditions. Chesterfield won promotion twice last season following the nine point deductions and sanctions just as PJ showed his metal at City in the weeks after the league had been given up and he would now allow the players to coast out the fixtures.

In selecting Law Geoffrey Richmond has reverted to his post-Lennie Lawrence philosophy on football managers, that there importance is limited. Without wanted to play down the involvement of Jewell and Kamara in there successes too much it would seem that Richmond believes that a successful manager is only successful because of a wider achievement by the club at all levels. Jim Jeffries, it would seem, was no more needed in the First Division than Benito Carbone was. If the club is going in the right direction then all involved: players and manager, seem to perform well. If not then they become expensive luxuries.

It is an open secret that the feeling at VP toward Jim Jefferies is one of great disappointment. They believed that in appointing a “proper” manager who had experience at a higher level and “the nouse” in the game they would get something approaching a Carbone on the bench, someone who could add a little spice to turn draws into wins and would get a little extra from there charges. What they got was Carbone on the bench. It does not take a highly paid manager with respect in the game to tell you that the expensive Romanian on the wing who does nothing is not worth keeping and if that is going to be the sum positive of his involvement then why not go for another cheaper man who will be able to do lat least that.

Jim Jefferies looked on City as a curse, Nicky Law sees us as a God send. Perhaps after a 0-0 draw with Coventry we would not have to suffer Nicky Law downbeat on Five Live sounding like his car has a flat tyre Jefferies style. Perhaps Law will have the enthusiasm of a man with a chance to better himself, not one who is slumming it, which was the vibe that Jeffries exuded.

Perhaps in final reckoning of Jim Jefferies and as a way t point to why Nicky Law if not a better football manager, may be a better City manager, was that Jefferies attitude to the job transferred itself to the pitch. If Jim had an escape route planned, as he seemed to think he had and hinted at once or twice, then the players could follow. If Nicky Law messes this up the only way is down.

In other managers in the same situation as laws, those elevated from the lower leagues, there is hope. John Gregory was doing nothing at Wycombe when Doug Ellis swooped to take him to Villa where he seemed to perform minor miracles considering the apathy of the west midland’s crowd. Sam Ayladyce has learnt his lessons in football the hard way, one doubts that any Bolton programme would include directions to Wembley during a semi final now, but wins over Liverpool and at Old Trafford suggest that he has learnt those lessons well. George Burley at Colchester, Glenn Roeder at Gillingham. Dave Jones at Stockport and Stan Ternant all over the place. All are doing well and suggest that to a certain level the need for former Internationals who have never dirtied their hands in the lower leagues might be alive. How Law will motivate a Lee Sharpe or should he come back a Benito Carbone is anyone’s guess, but if Glenn Roeder can get a team with Paulo Di Canio and Freddy Kannute playing then anything is possible. John Gregory’s treatment of the once great Frenchman David Ginola may be a better indication of the future under Nicky Law. Shape up or ship out, not a message that will be disheartening to city fans, who are especially distasteful of players who do not give there all.

The third in the triumberate of the Bantams is the players. For a time the players power manifested itself in Benito Carbone, but for the main Stuart McCall lead those who wear the claret and amber. McCall flexed his muscles of later and Jim Jefferies seemed to pay the price. It would never be easy for the Scots manager to carry on after the McCall bust up and Nicky Law would be well advised to make sure that Stuart is kept sweet. Aside from the fact that any team picked from the City squad that does not include McCall is plain wrong, the skipper is more than worth his place in the side on his own performances, the extra he adds to those around him being a superb bonus and the model for all captains, the supporters would prefer to see McCall kicking a ball for the Bantams as long as he wants to and not have his career cut short by a manager.

For McCall the position seems clear. He must play out the last months of his City contract and then find a club to manage. In a year’s time after that Nicky Law will have either succeeded or failed with the Bantams, GR’s fuse running to 18 months at best, and McCall can send a justifiable application for the role. If Law is successful, and here is hoping he will be, then McCall will have to wait longer but no doubt the chance will come and Stuart had better be ready.

Nicky Law said the Bradford City job was a chance that he feared would never come. He has served an apprenticeship garnered enough respect to bring him to the notice of a bigger club. If Stuart McCall has hopes of managing the Bantams he must do the same.

Not that this should affect Law any. His role at City now is clear. He must spend the next four months getting to know the players, he is spoil for quality at this club and is right when he talks of underachievement, and he must get them playing attacking football, not leaking goals and towards the top ten of the division. Should he do that the Winter War Chest that Jim Jefferies could not find the keys to will be opened for him to make a small signing or two to make a play off push for the Bantams.

If not then Mr Richmond has proved that a manager is replaceable.

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