Drone / On

The 1-1 draw with Bristol Rovers at Valley Parade followed on from the previous three one goal each affairs against Gillingham, Millwall and Oldham Athletic as Stuart McCall’s team continue to delight and frustrate in equal measure.

Delight in that McCall has in a short space of time managed to create a team which mirrors much of what was wonderful about watching the manager play his own game. One could argue that City have become – in seven or eight of the players – a team of defensive midfielders so calm in possession, so unhurried in their play, and so pleasing on the eye.

But frustrating that the defensive midfielder is not the creator and the team lacks creation. With James Hanson restored to the starting line-up Romain Vincelot opted to break the pattern of short passes between players who were alive to possession and hit the big man from afar with a well floated diagonal pass.

Le Rory, or Rory Le Cardle. The more things change, one is forced to think, the more they stay the same.

Last season’s Bradford City seemed to get exactly what they deserved from every game. If they were poor or off the pace they were beaten. If they were together and strong they got a point or sometimes more. This season’s vintage the opposite seems true in that every week one is left with the feeling that City were due more but that some Olympian conspiracy had denied them what was rightfully theirs.

This is a trick of the eye though and of the brain. If The Parkinson Years – which will be cemented as The Parkinson Rivalry with next week’s trip to Bolton – taught us anything it was to focus on results as being the purpose of a way of playing. Attractive football that does not succeed is ultimately not attractive football.

Because frustration is not attractive. Mark Marshall’s contributions today include a lashed shot in a crowded which bounced up in the defence and was headed in by James Meredith to make the game 1-0. His replacement after seventy-five minutes Filipe Morais’ contribution was a poorly selected pass to a closed down Haris Vuckic that saw Bristol Rovers break away and score.

Both seemed to be to be the result of this frustration. The City forward play too up much of the game but again one struggled to recall a lot of spurned chanced. Consequentialism suggests that what Marshall did was good – it resulted in a goal for us – and what Morais did was bad – it resulted in a goal for them – and one wonders if McCall is happy with his team playing on such a knife edge.

The knife edge was deep into injury time when Vuckic headed towards goal from a few yards out and Rovers keeper Kelle Roos saved well. Had Vuckic’s effort fell a foot behind the line then the lingering worries that this team does not create enough may have receded.

As it is those doubts still hover.

Hover

Sixty-five minutes into the game a drone hovered over Valley Parade.

It was an amusing story in the morning that the Referee took the players from the field and the game was delayed.

But what it was not was the reason to start a conspiracy theory but start one it did. The Occumist view applies here. There may be concerns about television rights, or about other teams scouting, or about using the drone as a method of attack but – probably – the Referee’s biggest worry was that it might drop on someone’s head.

Perhaps his own.

Inefficient / Attitude / Passing

The Team

Colin Doyle | Daniel Devine, Romain Vincelot, Nathaniel Knight-Percival, James Meredith | Mark Marshall, Josh Cullen, Timothée Dieng, Nicky Law | Billy Clarke, Jordy Hiwula-Mayifuila | Vincent Rabiega

Nothing useless can be truly beautiful – William Morris

Long after the final whistle of Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Oldham Athletic came the revelation that City have scored without reply in the closing stages of the game then the Bantams would have been top of League One.

Bolton Wanderers – under former City boss Phil Parkinson – drew on his return to another former haunt Charlton Athletic and Scunthorpe United lost at a Port Vale side who have carried on whatever promise they showed on the first day of the season to nestle forth in the five o’clock league table.

For the want of a goal the Bantams were thwarted on an afternoon which was more interesting than it was exhilarating.

The Stuart McCall brand Bradford City are a strange team to watch as they find their feet. For sure they are possessed of some determination having gone behind to an early Peter Clarke goal when the former Huddersfield Town skipper targeted Daniel Devine at a set piece and beat the youngster in the air.

Devine typified the team in shrugging off anything like a set-back and carrying on the afternoon. Following Tony McMahon’s injury Devine switched to right back where aside from avoiding crossing the ball he looked for all the world like a seasoned veteran of the utility man variety.

So determination and no little craft in that as a team the role of the midfield – and one could make an argument that City played six, perhaps eight, players in midfield against Oldham Athletic – is fetishised beyond what seems necessary or useful.

The ball was caressed around the field with élan and possession was retained for long periods of time. When the equaliser came – a Billy Clarke penalty – it seemed to come because that possession had wandered into the box as it continued a scenic tour around Valley Parade. Ousmane Fane – excellent in holding midfield for the visitors – pulled down Josh Cullen in a moment of undue rashness and the game was level.

It is easy to laud this new Bradford City for the contrast that it presents with the five years that came before it. The term hoofball is banded about freely to describe Parkinson’s City as if one could sum up an entire approach in a single word.

Alt

There is something to be said for looking at Oldham vs Bradford City through the eyes of Phil Parkinson. Imagine one of those away trips that took an hour to get over the Pennines to watch Parkinson’s City take an early lead. Imagine watching Rory McArdle and Reece Burke swamp a tricky little centre forward, deny him possession, and snuff him out as Clarke and Cameron Burgess did to Jordy Hiwula.

Imagine watching a wide midfielder capable of laser guided shots gradually minimised through the game. He troubles the goalkeeper from long range on occasion but that is more acceptable than cutting through the defence.

Imagine the satisfaction that would have come watching their Billy Clarke withdraw from pressing the forward to hunt deeper for the ball in increasing frustration. Imagine how one would phrase the summation of the game to anyone asking. “Yes they had possession but they just passed it around midfield and never really broke us down.”

There is much talk about how with a different centre forward for Bradford City – and City have fielded five already this season with Vincent Rabiega making his debut off the bench today – would score goals and this could be true but thinking back on the game with Oldham Athletic one struggles to recall a plethora of chances missed.

Billy Clarke and Jordy Hiwula can both be accused of having missed the sort of chances one would expect them to score but saying that leaves twenty of the twenty two shots on goal in an impressive statistic unaccounted for.

I would suggest that against Oldham Athletic as with Coventry City most of the chances are of the half, or not clear cut, variety. That (around) twenty two chances that create just (about) two moments where one might expect the striker to score suggest the problem is not in finishing chances but in creating better ones.

Which returns to the question of the creators and where they are failing to convert the possession into chances with the implied understanding that possession is not equal to chances. Clarke and Mark Marshall – who faded into anonymity after a good opening – are chiefly accused here but creation is a shared aim which is not being served at the moment.

Addressing that – and with Paul Anderson ready to leave the club this week there is scope to address it – is the prime concern and bringing in a forward secondary.

It could be that there is a forward out there who can make the runs and command the space in a way that allows for more possession to be converted into chances which could then be converted into goals. It could be that a new creator is able to do that. There could be a solution found in the current squad which – after all – is not second in the League One table for no reason.

How that is addressed is something Stuart McCall has time to work on and may not need to work on at all. That City are inefficient is less important than that the are successful and they are successful at the moment.

However as the collective at Valley Parade congratulate themselves for being less like they were under Parkinson it is worth remembering that there was more to the last five years than just how the ball arrived into the final third of the pitch.

Away

Away games such as Oldham Athletic enjoyed today – where a great passing team passed itself out and Parkinson’s City went back to Bradford with something – were a part of the success of those teams. Stuart McCall has transformed City into a team of would be promotion passers from the team that frustrated would be promotion passers.

That frustration was not a function of the style of play but rather of the team’s attitude and that attitude was about grinding out results through a kind of bravery which centred around a managed risk on the field.

Watching Bradford City pass the ball around a lot but create a little it remains to be seen if City have that bravery within them bursting to get out or if the side pass that retains the ball is a soft option. It is that part of the Parkinson attitude – not signing players – which will define if City are promoted this season or if they are another of the pretty teams who populate the middle of League One.

When to start pressing your palms together as Bradford City beat Oldham Athletic 1-0 at Valley Parade

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Nathan Clarke, James Meredith | Tony McMahon, Christopher Routis, Lee Evans, Kyel Reid | James Hanson, Billy Clarke | Josh Morris, Devante Cole, Mark Marshall

Bradford City ground out a win against an Oldham Athletic team who played most of the match with ten men after Connor Brown was sent off for a late and long lunge at Kyel Reid and were defeated when James Meredith’s deep cross was lob headed in by Tony McMahon.

City had chances to add to the lead which were squandered – strikers James Hanson and Billy Clarke both were guilty of missing the target in the final third – but it seemed that there was little commitment from City boss Phil Parkinson that his team would add a second, or third, goal against a team in the bottom four and playing with one fewer men.

Parkinson was happy with a one goal win. Parkinson is always happy with a one goal win. Parkinson has been Bradford City boss for around 250 games and we know that he approaches football like this. He likes clean sheets and takes a geological (“Geology is the study of pressure and time“) approach to winning matches.

This approach was in evidence at Parkinson’s finest hour and in many other fine hours before and since.

The game this time last year against Millwall which saw the visitors fold after an early sending off was the game that everyone wanted once Brown was sent off but it did not happen. Oldham under new manager John Sheridan were more robust than that Millwall team and approached the game trying to not be beaten rather knowing they needed to trying to win.

Wedded to that was City’s struggle to make play. James Meredith had one of his better games but most of the other players have had more fruitful afternoons. None of the players have got more points on an afternoon – there is no four points for an entertaining win – and so City continue to occupy a place in League One where with games in hand and a good wind the Bantams would trouble the play-offs.

Pressing palms

After around eighty minutes of the win over Oldham Athletic a cross from Mark Marshall was headed wide by James Hanson. It was a bad miss and received only a smattering of applause from the Valley Parade crowd of 18,522. I did, and was (in a roundabout way) ticked off for a friend who sits nearby at VP.

“I’m not clapping that” he remarked with what could be described as a cheery grump, before asking me why I was. The exchange was good natured with fifteen minutes of him turning to ask if it was acceptable to clap now and me telling him that he could not.

This exchange culminated with (and I shall let you, dear reader, judge if this is a high bar to clear) my point which encapsulates the argument crisply.

“You can clap when the fourth goal goes in against Chelsea, or you can start before then, its up to you.”

It all comes back to Chelsea in the end.

Gnomic

What is supporting a football team? A disinterested friend of mine calls it “cheering laundry” while a friend of his defines his life by the fact that he has a season ticket at Old Trafford. One suspects that there is a type of support for every supporter.

But there does seem to be an Isthmus of Suez between those who believe that supporting is an active participation in creating a better football team and those who believe it is appreciating the endeavours of that team. The former see supporting as an active process of involvement in a community while the latter look at it as a reactive experience in which their involvement is largely immaterial.

To start to characterise the two groups the latter group Hanson’s miss has nothing to applaud. It is a failed attempt to produce an aim. To the former group Hanson’s miss is a subject to improvement and that that improvement is made through hard work by the players and that hard work comes as the result of encouragement. It is not hard to imagine what the latter group would think about that.

The latter group look on a miss like Hanson’s as being similar to a duff album track, or Star Wars Episode One, as something that could be done better but was not. Why get excited about something like that? Why clap Jar Jar Binks as a good attempt that went wrong?

The former would reply that the heights of achievement are only possible because of the support at the bottom and that when teams are playing poorly, or when players miss headers, it is the role of supporters to rehabilitate and return to the heights.

When to start and when to finish

The classic Chicken or Egg situation exists here. Are Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United et al popular because they are successful or successful because they are – or were – popular? Is there a symbiosis of the two?

The Chelsea game gives a case in point. The cheer for the fourth goal – the footballing cherry on the top – was so much full-voiced than that for the first which seemed a consolation at the time, or the second which equalised. Instinctively I know why this is but it would be better to have cause and effect explicit.

I clapped Mark Marshall’s cross, and James Hanson’s effort to get to the ball, and Jon Stead’s 1-2 goal and the effort which created the single chance City mustered at Accrington in a Peter Jackson inspired 1-0 defeat which represents the lowest ebb of City’s play I’ve seen.

Hanson’s header went a long way wide but his header against Aston Villa put the club into a Cup Final. The approach, losing a man, getting in front of a defender, the effort required, everything to the finish was the same. Is only one admirable?

Perhaps I should have saved my applause for the moment Yeates had put the ball past Cech or some other rung on a ladder between there and here and somewhere lower. I did not and I cannot help but wonder what football would be like if people did that.

How Football is ploughing fields without planting seeds

An away trip through South Yorkshire

Chesterfield away is a classic of the genre. A one goal victory that came when Bradford City ground the ambition out of the home side leaving only struggle.

Every pass forward was marshalled and pushed away by an imperious defensive line. Every easy clearance was made hard by strikers and midfielders who chased down what would have been the routine were it not for the attitude that manager Phil Parkinson has drummed into his team.

The goal came when Tony McMahon finished off a mazy run and low cross by Billy Clarke. Clarke enjoyed his best game in claret and amber and tormented the Chesterfield backline dropping into the hole between James Hanson and the midfield and exploiting it.

Chesterfield’s response – to bring on the aging Richie Humphrey – showed a team stepping back on their home turf. McMahon’s goal finished off the home team.

Parkinson would say after the game that City could have had four – indeed the post was pinged a number of times – but really the City manager oversells his policies. A one goal away win excites Parkinson – and excites me – because of the grind that has seen wins come Scunthorpe United, Rochdale, Doncaster Rovers, Oldham Athletic.

Those days are Parkinson at his best.

Playing away to teams that want to win mirrors the visits of Sunderland, or Arsenal, or Aston Villa, or the trip to Chelsea. When the opposition commits to victory Parkinson uses Hanson the battering ram occupying multiple defenders, and soaks up pressure with a mean back four.

The City manager’s problems come at home when teams sit back and defend the Bantams attack which is sporadic as shown by the third fewest goals scored total in League One. When City are forced to make the play in a game then games slip away from Parkinson.

Or sometimes things do not work.

An away trip to South Yorkshire

Text message before the game with Sheffield United: “Upper or lower?”

Reply: “Neither.”

Going to a football match should not cost more than going to the cinema. I’ve said this in the past and I believe it.

I think that Bradford City’s home pricing is a rare oasis of sense in a madness of a game in which this generation sells the game from the next and does so with a great deal of support from those getting fleeced.

Bradford City’s away pricing – and walk up pricing – is equally toxic to the game as a whole. Last time I checked it cost £25 to go to Valley Parade as an away fan. It cost £22 at Chesterfield, it cost similar at Walsall, it cost similar at Doncaster, or at Scunthorpe and so on.

The impact of this aggressive pricing that makes following football a thing that only some can afford is obvious to anyone who sees the aging supporter group and the gentrification which seems to come with it.

£27 to get into Sheffield United is certainly something I can afford but it is not something I will pay. It is a few pounds more than other games and those few pounds are hardly significant to me but I will not pay it.

And I do not know when the hand becomes the wrist nor do I feel like I’ve created a hard and fast rule never to be broken but I would not support this part of football’s attempts to gouge out of my pocket because they assume that because I can pay it they should sell to me, aged 42, for a price that me, aged 21, would never have been able to pay.

The combination of the two

If you enjoy a team that puts in a performance that is part frustration, part opportunism then you would have enjoyed the Chesterfield game.

I would argue that Chesterfield, or Scunthorpe, or Doncaster, or Oldham were little different to the game with Chelsea that defines 2015 for Bradford City: Minimise chances coming at your goal and maximise what one has at the other end.

But I cannot say with all honesty that all people would enjoy all or any of those games. I am cut from a cloth were I am more impressed with hard work and honesty on a field than I am by rabona kicks and 45 man massing moves.

I enjoy seeing a team with limitations which overcome those limitations, some of the time, and the processional football of the Champions League leaves me cold. I’ve no interest in football where the players who walk onto the field against Barcelona believe they are beaten before kick off.

Winning away at Chesterfield from few chances but battling to make sure that the team does not concede a chance let alone a goal is a good Saturday afternoon for me but probably only because of the narrative it creates.

It is enjoyable to watch my team Bradford City attempting to overcome limitations because I know those limitations. There is an overarching story of the emergence of Rory McArdle from understudy to as rock of defence, or about Tony McMahon finding a role having floated anchorless at the start of the season.

(There is also a story about James Hanson being not good enough for a transfer to a professional club, not good enough for the bottom of League Two, not good for the middle of League Two, not good enough for a League Cup semi-final, not good enough for a play-off second leg, not good enough for League One, not good enough for a team chasing the League One play-offs. One day he will not be good enough and I’m sure the phrase “we told you so” will be used regardless of all the times naysayers were proven wrong. Watching Hanson over the last few years is a lesson in the narrative of football.)

These things are seen over the course of months, and years, and not in isolation. Football, for me, is never viewed in isolation. I find the idea of turning on Sky Sports to watch any old game as mystifying as opening a book at a random page, reading twenty pages, and then putting it back on the shelf.

To watch the unfolding narrative of a team one needs to be able to watch often and prices over £20 are no aid to that for me but would have been a substantial problem to me twenty years ago. Is Sheffield United vs Bradford City £27 worth of entertainment when – if one considers it – one could take a friend to watch The Force Awakens in IMAX and still have change for popcorn?

I can’t remember a worst time

Sheffield United away is not Chesterfield. Without a game owing to waterlogging and without the regular training pitches owing to flooding reports return that City lack sharpness and are easily beaten. Football is a multi-polar world and games are hard enough when preparations are ideal.

The supporters – both Bradford City and Sheffield United – are subject to some racist chanting from Sheffield United fans and some chanting that is unpleasant. This will be passed onto The FA – who are perhaps the least able and qualified body in the Universe on this subject – but probably not to the Police.

The FA never seem to tire of their role as prosecutors of – some might say persecutors of – those whom the Law of the Land can find no case against claiming their lower standard of evidence as somehow better than the one that is required by any court which could not be prefixed with the term Kangaroo.

I would not want to have The Racists of Sheffield who were at Bramall Lane to be convicted for what they said or what they think. I’m happy to just consider them to be a collective of idiots and be done with it.

But I did not pay £27 so what can I say?

The focus

To suggest that football needs to understand better its audience is to allow the game – the collective of clubs and organisers – leniency on the charge that they understand full well that they increasingly greying men who populate matches are the ones who will dig deepest for tickets and that they exploit that.

The people who run football always need more money and they know that people aged 35+ in good jobs with good incomes will fund their extravagant demands for more wages paid, more promotions pushes, more mistakes and managerial pay-offs.

These people are the focus of football’s attention. In twenty/thirty years time when those people have retired to Saturday afternoons in more comfortable surroundings there will be no generation to replace them because that attention is so narrowly focused.

Oddly enough because of the odd combination of Wembley twice and season ticket pricing Bradford City are one of the clubs who have some protection against this – there is a healthy group of younger City fans who have been allowed a stake in the support – but mingle with the home fans at an away game and appreciate the difference.

Football is ploughing fields without planting seeds.

The longview

Sheffield United away is I am told a bad performance in isolation but not out of keeping with how Bradford City perform. When taken over a longer period City are averaging a point and a half a game away from home, as well as the odd Chelsea if you will.

Often the game plan of Chesterfield works but when it does not the result is as it was in South Yorkshire. Since Phil Parkinson arrived his plans have had a shifting impact on the mentality of the club.

When he arrived the club was congratulating itself for avoiding relegation out of the Football League under the hapless Peter Jackson. Now there is a consideration that the club is not ideally placed to reach the second tier of English football.

But I – and perhaps you – only know this having been fortunate enough to be able to afford to follow the club from that period to this.

I do not see how that will be possible for the coming generations of football.

Directing Traffik at Boundary Park as City beat Oldham Athletic 2-1

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Reece Burke, James Meredith | Mark Marshall, Billy Knott, Gary Liddle, Luke Morris | James Hanson, Devante Cole | Luke James, Paul Anderson, Tony McMahon

There was a time in one of the easier away victories Phil Parkinson will have claimed as a manager when it seemed that the direction of the traffic of Bradford City’s would be constantly one way.

Devante Cole had scored his second goal in two games latching onto a smart through ball by Billy Knott with a run behind the home side’s back line and the Bantams – then playing against ten men – were enjoying the luxury of being able to be profligate with chances.

Mark Marshall, Luke Morris, and James Hanson all enjoyed lashes wide or over and one could easily say that that was the result of a confidence that comes from having a goalscorer in the team. Such are the thoughts when leads are comfortable.

That it was comfortable was the result of a high tempo start where City applied pressure up field which Oldham struggled to cope with. The Latics midfield was centred around the thirty six year old David Dunn who had some class on the ball but needed others to get stuck in for him in midfield. That following the sending off for Jonathan Forte for heading Stephen Darby one of his midfield-mates was Mark Yeates explains City’s dominance.

Gary Liddle took most of the midfield duties for City allowing Knott the space and remit to have one of his best games at the club. Knott drove from midfield past Dunn who could not keep pace and Yeates who never kept pace and Danny Philliskirk who might have kept pace but was dragged wide as – finally – City’s wide players understood their purpose off the ball.

Reece Burke scored the opening goal for City after a Mark Marshall pull back when a deep free kick was flapped at by Joel Coleman in the home goal. There is a gap between where defenders stand and where goalkeepers can get to which Coleman is still working out.

My contention is that Ben Williams has not worked this out and as he keeps goal for City at the expense of Brad Jones – a reward for consecutive clean sheets – he does so despite this fact. Oldham’s goal came from Mark Yeates pitching a ball over the zone between defenders and keeper perhaps knowing that Williams would not come – he did not – and seeing Joe Mills score to make the last ten minutes more tense than they might have been.

The goal had a sobering effect.

Parkinson may have told his City players that they need to be more clinical in front of goal – plenty of wasted chances today – and he might use the concession as a reason to put Jones over Williams which seems as inevitable as Cole over Luke James who made a spirited by fruitless cameo today but mostly he will use the game as a signal of things improving.

Seven points from two away and one home game is impressive enough to justify City’s position as second favourites for the division.

Parkinson wandered up to the City fans after the game – mutual applause and all – and both fans and manager can be glad of how convincingly the form has turned around.

It was one way traffic, but deservedly so.

The aside about the K in the title

I once met Clint Boon of The Inspiral Carpets – the Madchester band who were Oldham fans – at Kendal Calling festival and I went up to him to talk about Oldham as I bought a brownie his wife was selling. I said Hi and he said Hi and as an ice breaker before I started talking about how icy cold it is at Oldham – although was not today – I thought I’d tell Clint how much I enjoyed the Devil Hopping album that the Carpets put out as they declined in the mid-90s. Clint was pleased – very pleased – and enthused that he liked the album too raising the idea in my mind that people in bands might release albums they do not like. I suppose they must. I told Clint that I thought that Devil Hopping was the Inspiral Carpet’s attempt to be “The British R.E.M.” and his face lit up. As it happens that was exactly what Clint was aiming for with the album and to have that recognised – and recognised by someone buying one of the brownies he was selling – seemed to have given him unexpected recognition of a sort. He looked around perhaps for someone to share this with and his eyes fixed on a man wandering up to the brownie stall. It was Tom Hinkley – lead singer of the Inspiral Carpets. “Tom, this guy liked Devil Hopping. He thinks its British R.E.M.”, Tom was less enthused but it did not matter to Clint who was smiling broadly adding “You can have that brownie for free.”

Bradford City contemplating becoming what they are after beating Oldham 2-0 at Valley Parade

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, James Meredith | Christopher Routis, Gary Liddle, Mark Yeates | Billy Clarke | Jon Stead, James Hanson | Gary MacKenzie, Billy Knott, Tony McMahon

The month of attrition

Before Billy Clarke turned to scramble into the goal a ball that was bouncing around the Oldham Athletic penalty area it would have taken a brave man to suggest that Bradford City would definitely win the game and that the Latics would definitely lose it.

When Clarke slowly rolled a ball into the corner of the same goal twenty minutes later Oldham Athletic had sunk to 13th in League One with seven left to play leaving them – to all but the brave – with no chance of securing a place in the play-offs.

Without the odd goal in the opening hour – the Latics were on top for twenty minutes – it seems that the visitors are all but eliminated from promotion.

So we come to the defining part of the season. The month of attrition.

Duck week

Bradford City’s victory was as hard fought as any this season and all the better for it.

On the surface City spent a week in Portugal as reward for endeavours to date and perhaps away from the distractions at Valley Parade – and there were significant – the collective mind had been focused. Every game from now seems to hold the prospect of ending the season. Promotion places then are like the statue carved from marble. Bit by bit teams are chiselled away until it is complete.

The sight of Andrew Davies beating the ground in frustration after pulling up following a burst of speed to follow Conor Wilkinson worried. City with Davies are more likely to win and everyone in Valley Parade knows it. His replacement Gary MacKenzie looks assured and calm, authoritative even.

Oldham press early and Wilkinson looks useful up front although is often isolated. The early exchanged are for the Latics and City seem lost in the midfield. Mark Yeates and Christopher Routis are a pair alongside Gary Liddle who is prepared to push himself to a performance despite an obvious, creeping fatigue. Liddle is being talked about as Bradford City’s player of the season because of performances such as this.

Yeates struggles to get into the game and Routis’ positioning is poor while Billy Clarke shows both faults. It is a common feature of Bradford City teams under Phil Parkinson that players are faced with problems like these and, when faced with them, find a minimum performance. Keep going, and keep giving what you can, and see what happens.

As good as you are

Bradford City vs Oldham in March 2015 is what I go to football for. The game stands on a knife edge and until Clarke’s injury time goal it could have gone either way. The game is won not necessarily by the best team – because the difference between the sides is not significant – but by the team which takes the chance, that runs when tired, that puts in the head where it hurts.

The best thing about Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City is that they are a team who realise that they are as good as they are. The sum of the parts. The equal of the endeavour.

The reward, and the reason for the reward.

Billy, Billy

Billy Knott replaced Yeates and brought his high intensity pressing to the game as City pushed onto Oldham Athletic. It was a corner that both James Hanson and Jon Stead has attempts at heading that fell to Clarke’s left foot. From that City controlled the game by attacking and pressing the visitors.

A smart piece of fakery where Knott sold the dummy of time wasting to set up Stead, who rolled to Clarke, who scored put a gloss on the game. Half an hour before and it was hard to say who would win and Oldham deserve credit in defeat, but the defeat is probably terminal to their play off aspirations.

City go into the rearranged Chesterfield game on Tuesday night knowing a win will put City in sixth position, but the same can be said of Chesterfield, and with City looking to nudge ahead of a pack of peers one can only look forward to the game with some relish. Doncaster Rovers, Sheffield United and Barnsley all follow.

At the end of season of Stamford Bridge football and giant killing City are in a burly, knock down brawl. The next few weeks could be very enjoyable indeed.

How Parkinson went to Oldham and came back with pride and nothing else

The Team

Jordan Pickford | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Christopher Routis, Alan Sheehan | Andy Halliday, Jason Kennedy, Gary Liddle, Mark Yeates | James Hanson, Jon Stead | James Meredith, Billy Knott, Billy Clarke

Pride/frustration

In injury time as City trailed 2-1 Billy Clarke touched the ball over Paul Rachubka in the Oldham Athletic goal only to see it clear the crossbar.

At that moment Phil Parkinson was probably caught between a burst of pride in how his team had come back into a game which seemed to be out of reach and frustration that for all the efforts of the second half the revival would end in nothing.

Clarke was a late substitute in the game to apply pressure to an Latics side who could not have expected to spend the second half defending as much as they did following the two goal lead they eased to early on in the match.

In the second forty five minutes Clarke also took a swipe at air when put though, a light touch in the box by Mark Yeates could have been more, the offside flag on Jon Stead stopped him and probably should not, Alan Sheehan melted Radchubka’s fingers and a seemingly obvious pull down on Andy Halliday must have left Parkinson frustrated but the endeavours that came to nothing were more than one might have thought City would get after a poor first half an hour.

Poor in almost every way that Phil Parkinson wants at team to be good. The defensive unit was uneven with players drifting in an out of the line, the midfield lacked bite and physicality and all over the pitch players seemed too ready to shirk responsibility for the performance.

Parkinson has employed two lines of four with James Hanson withdrawn from Jon Stead in the forward line in a repeat of a formation which was a favourite this time last season when Nahki Wells could be relied upon to make the most of little which was created.

The hope, perhaps, was that the wide men would support the full backs and provide a defensive stability but that did not occur not did it especially seem to be needed. Lee Johnson’s Oldham side – who had already beaten City once in the Associate Members Cup this season – are comfortable in possession and were able to play the ball into dangerous areas pulling City out of shape without much difficulty.

This culminated in a deep cross which split Alan Sheehan and Christopher Routis and saw the powerful Jabo Ibehre able to dominate the Swiss centreback and head back to Jonathan Forte who turned Rory McArdle to power in from close range.

The backing of the manager

Much seems to have been said about Routis this week and all first half Jason Pickford and Alan Sheehan had their say to his face, often loudly. It seemed rare that an attack was pushed away by the City defence that Routis was not given verbal instruction by his team mates. It was an angry Sheehan who confronted Routis following the defender’s reluctance to go out to break up an attack in embryo.

Sheehan seemed to have Parkinson’s backing or at least the City manager seemed to share his frustrations as he replaced Routis with James Meredith, moving Sheehan to central defence before forty minutes had expired. By that time Oldham’s ease of passing had seen a shot canon in off Rory McArdle and into the net. It seemed, and was, too easy for the home side.

Parkinson responded with a return to his three man midfield and Yeates was shifted in the playmaking role. Andy Halliday, hitherto anonymous on the right wing, tucked inside and started to perform well motoring up and down the inside channels of the midfield rather than the touchline. It is emblematic of Parkinson’s recruitment problems this season that he brings in a winger on load and that winger looks best in the inside midfield.

It was Halliday who got City back into the game although credit goes to James Hanson for a knock down at the far post that showed why many managers want him in their side and not ours. It seemed as City end the first half and started the second in fine trim following a shift in tactics and personnel that Parkinson may conclude that he picked the wrong side this afternoon and instructed them to play in the wrong way.

That could be the case or it could be that City – and any team – will struggle to fill a gap left by such an important player as Andrew Davies.

Parkinson’s Catch 22

McArdle and Sheehan kept Oldham at bay in the second forty five minutes. The home side would probably like to say that they sat on their lead in the second half but seemed more pushed back on their heels as City came forward with danger constantly. Yeates drifted around, Halliday prompted well and both Gary Liddle and Jason Kennedy looked better in the midfield three than four they started in but the lack of a finished told.

Aaron McLean watched from the bench as chances went begging and one found oneself almost thinking that the game was poised for the striker to convert one of the many of the chances but knowing that that chances only came from the craft of Hanson, Stead and later Clarke who McLean would replace were he on the field.

This is Parkinson’s Catch 22. That he needs his finisher on the field to score from the chances but knows that he would not get those chances (or as many of them) with his finisher on the field. It will be keeping him up at nights, and it is stalling City’s season.

With no resolution to the problem City ended up winning back only pride in the second half and probably believing it should have been more but knowing that the irresolvable attacking problem means it was not.

The afternoon must have become worse when Rory McArdle was given a second booking for a second offence worthy of a yellow card and Parkinson will have known that he would have to look to get a performance next week from the man he took off before half time this.

McArdle put in the kind of shift that a manager would want from his player. Full of heart he was brave in the tackle, technically excellent, and committed to the cause taking responsibility in turning the performance around but at the final whistle he was left with a red card and an own goal to his name.

That was the story of City’s afternoon. A game that for all one might have thought one deserved delivered absolutely nothing at all.

The worst player on the pitch

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Adam Drury | Kyle Bennett, Gary Jones, Matty Dolan, Adam Reach | Aaron McLean, Jon Stead | Garry Thompson, Oli McBurnie, Mark Yeates

It is decision time for Phil Parkinson as he tries to decide how he will approach next season in League One for Bradford City and what Parkinson does in the next five games will set the tone for next season as surely as Garry Thompson’s blast against Burton Albion in the play-off first leg last season did for this.

Two of those five games are at Valley Parade and that will suit Parkinson fine. Once again Parkinson picked a team to nullify a side and in doing that it seemed he created more problems than he solved. Oldham’s midfield three of James Wesolowski, Korey Smith and Danny Philliskirk did not seem to possess enough to trouble the Bantams yet Gary Jones and Matty Dolan were detailed with stopping Wesolowski and Philliskirk while Jon Stead ended up spending the first half an hour making sure Smith did not create much.

In terms of tactical bargains it is another display of underweaned ambition but last week at Leyton Orient the plan worked well. For all its lack of ambition it may have proved fruitful today but Dolan stopped his job of tracking Wesolowski as Wesolowski went into the area to finish a Jonson Clarke-Harris knock down.

He was not the worst player on the pitch but Dolan added very little to the City cause being neither the defensive break up man which has been lacking in a team without last season’s Nathan Doyle nor especially adapt at going forward although his ball that played in Adam Reach to score City’s equaliser was impressive.

The Bantams had left the 4411 which seemed to directly counter Lee Johnson’s side’s 433 for a flat four at the back, two midfielders behind a row of three supporting the one up front. As fluid as this left the attacking side of City’s game it exposed the backline and City ended up with six players defending all having taken up a man watching Oldham attack with seven.

It was a nice bit of play followed by a powerful finish for Clarke-Harris but Parkinson knows that having four players up field watching an attack is just going to see your team getting beaten. At half time, walking in having nullified, then unbalanced his City team Parkinson probably though that the worst player on the field was probably in the dugout.

And so City reverted to a 442 which pressed onto an Oldham Athletic team but never looked like making a fist of things. There has been a worry that than Bantams lacked a level of commitment and that was manifest today in a performance by Kyle Bennett which fell below the acceptable standard for a player on loan leading me to conclude that the best course of action would be to tell Doncaster Rovers to expect Bennett back in South Yorkshire on Monday.

It was seen when Adam Reach came forward and looked for Bennett ahead of him only to see Bennett hell bent on hiding behind a defender. It was seen in Bennett shoveling the ball off rather than taking responsibility for performance and worst it was seen in the moment when he allowed Jonathan Grounds to take a ball he was favourite for in a City attack and then within five seconds the ball was in City’s goal and as Clarke-Harris took the applause the game was all but over.

I will never criticise a player for getting it wrong, for playing the wrong pass, for missing the goal but for constantly and consistently failing to apply the effort needed culminating in a situation where the Bantams were playing with a liability then I reserve the right to be honest and unmerciful. Playing Kyle Bennett is City wasting playing time as a resource.

I’d rather see Oli McBurnie or Jack Stockdill in the team. McBurnie put his head in where it hurt to get a chance for Mark Yeates to hit the post with and Gray Jones to finish in the last minute of injury time. I’d rather see Garry Thompson in the team. I recall reading that Thompson was the worst player on the pitch in games I thought he played well in and the attempt to replace Thompson has failed.

In fact much of Parkinson’s time now is taken up with looking at how judgement on the quality needed for League One has been wrong. From Jason Kennedy to Bennett there is much to suggest that Parkinson needs to find a better quality of recruit.

Right now he is bringing in players who are the worst player on the pitch.

Didn’t you used to be Rafa Benitez?

The scarcity of football in these snow bound weeks seems to have set the fan’s mind set into watching pretty much anything as so after the delight of the improvised Portsmouth squad beating Coventry on Tuesday night came the supposedly wondrous triumph of Reading at Anfield where Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side were knocked out of the FA Cup.

Benitez cut Shakespearianly tragic figure on the side lines as he watched his team capitulate to a Reading side that showed all the Hallmarks of the Royal’s great sides: They cheated a bit, moaned a lot and – for some unfathomable reason probably connected to the fact that they are the club in closest proximity to your average tabloid newspaperman’s house just outside London – they were lavished with praise for their effort.

How Benitez – mic under nose and awkward questions to answer about his future – must have longed to grab the TV crew and march it to the Referee, to Brian McDermott, to Shaun Long and demand a reason why the 93rd minute penalty that levelled things for Reading was given considering the fairly obvious nature of the dive. No penalty, no extra time, no news story from this Third Round FA Cup game.

Nevertheless Benitez is “in trouble” now and many are calling for him to be fired from his job. Unless he is stealing for the Anfield stationary cupboard, using their computers to write his CV or as in the case of one former Anfield player turned sacked manager at another club running up £44,000 work of sex line bills on the club’s phone then sacking is not an option.

The word sack is thrown around liberally in football and is misnomic. When a centre-forward plays badly he is dropped and someone else plays the position for a time while the player himself is paid to sit on his backside or play in the stiffs.

We would never say that Jim Jefferies “sacked” Benito Carbone by paying him to not do anything yet we use it all the time for the process of taking the roles and responsibilities away from managers but continuing paying them. Sven Goran Eriksson’s time out of football after England finished almost to the day that The FA stopped paying him after his “sacking” by England ad some say that we paid Sven more to sit on his backside for a year than we did Steve MacLaren to work as manager for two.

Of course a manager without any management probably starts looking for another job and might get one soon taking away the contract from the previous club just as a player in the reserves might move on to a new team but there is no onus on either to do so while they are being paid as City found out with Carbone back in 2001.

So rather than Liverpool sack Benitez – or any club sack any manager – it would probably be more accurate to suggest that the Reds might drop him and if they can stomach the idea of paying £4m a year to someone who they don’t use in the company – and a further £4m to his replacement no doubt – then they could do just that but the club would end up in a situation where it is paying £8m a year for the managerial position to be filled and – and England’s experience suggest that this could be the case – not even getting half the value of that back.

All of which concerns Bradford City only slightly and this slight way is this. In a post game discussion with a Liverpool website (us football site webmasters have a secret club – seriously) I suggested that Martin O’Neill would be the only choice for the job to which I was told my man on Merseyside has discovered that a similar thought had passed around Anfield to a point where though back door channels O’Neill had been sounded out and had said that he was not about to break his contract with Aston Villa – he had refused to do the same with Leicester City preventing him from taking up the Leeds United job once – and so either a deal had to be worked out with Randy Learner at Villa Park or Liverpool would have to wait.

So wait they do, because while they take no joy in Third Round exits they have a plan for replacing Rafa that involves bringing in a man they feel will do better rather than throwing a wide net open after getting rid of the incumbent and seeing what they find. If they are not able to get the man they want then they will stick with what they have.

Such thinking is thin on the ground at most clubs in and out of the boardroom where little attention is paid to the person following the current, to be dropped, incumbent of the manager’s position, much less to the idea that the exiting man might be falling below whatever standard is drawn for a reason which is not solved by replacing him.

John Sheridan – manager of Oldham Athletic – was fired about a year ago and replaced with Joe Royle who allowed the teams faltering play-off push to fizzle out entirely. Royle was replaced with Dave Penney who has taken the Latics to 19th in League One hovering over the relegation places and one must wonder who pitched the idea of sacking of Sheridan and if they are considering the same with his replacement. Certainly whatever the problem was that saw Sheridan relieved of duties does not seem to have been solved by his exit.

If Benitez was to be paid by Liverpool to stay at home one could argue that the next manager would not lose FA Cup games to weaker opposition but few could make a case that suggests another manager would definitely perform better in the League than Benitez. Two years ago the Red got 76 points from 38 games making a perfect average of two points per match but still finished fourth. It is not performance but rather of over performance that is the expectation.

All of which seems a million miles away from Bradford City at present save the commonality that surrounds a section of the supporters of both clubs (and many other clubs it has to be said) who look at sacking the wrong way and talk much about removing and little about replacing and certainly do not consider the financial pitfalls of paying two people to do the same job.

Care should be taken around the opinions of these people who are so ready to spend other people’s money.

McCall and the never-ending cycle

Stuart McCall once stated he’d rather be a lucky manager than a good one. With dismal recent form threatening to prematurely terminate Bradford City’s promotion chances, a debate is in full swing over which of these two adjectives he is not.

From a largely encouraging first quarter to the season which saw only 6 defeats from 23, a run of just one win, one draw and four defeats has seen cup interest ended and the distance from the play offs increase, with heavy traffic in-between. With each disappointing result, the pressure is growing on McCall. Five of City’s next six games are on the road, January may prove the month which defines the Bantams season and their manager.

It’s hardly new territory for City to be in a position of contemplating a managerial change. In recent times we’ve been here before with Nicky Law and Colin Todd teetering on the edge before the axe finally fell. What’s always curious is the silence in some quarters.

You won’t find the local media – print or radio – mentioning the manager might be under pressure, save for reading out supporters’ texts on air or allowing supporters’ comments underneath articles.

You won’t find public comment from the Board. Speculation continues to rage over one of the joint Chairmen wanting to issue Stuart his p45 and the other disagreeing; from neither has there been public support for the manager, either.

Yet amongst supporters, there’s barely any other topic of conversation.

Just like with Law and Todd, there’s a split of opinion and a disunity amongst City’s fanbase which will only be repaired by an upturn of results or the pull of the trigger. Typically those who want to see a change are shouting the loudest, on the message boards and, increasingly, at games. Short of risking getting into an ugly fight by registering disagreement, it’s more difficult for those who still support McCall to make their views known as loudly. It makes estimations over percentages for and against his continuing employment near-impossible to make.

The arguments for a change of manager largely focus on the lack of progress McCall has delivered since taking charge two and a half years ago. Admitting he’d consider himself a failure if he didn’t deliver instant promotion before a ball had even been kicked in June 2007, the season after that first failed promotion attempt he vowed to quit if a play off spot wasn’t achieved. It wasn’t, but after many supporters begged him to stay he remained anyway.

To some fans, this is now looked back on as him breaking his own promises and almost considered an act of selfishness. The supporters who had persuaded him to stay, be it through writing to him or holding up an SOS sign during the home game with Rotherham last April, have been regularly attacked online too.

But if most fans forgave the failings of his first two seasons, that this year progress on the field has been limited is causing some to lose faith in McCall’s ability. While the last six results have been disappointing, the frustration was growing in the preceding weeks as City’s 10 game unbeaten run of early autumn gave way to a succession of draws.

The improved home form of last season has disappeared and City are winless at Valley Parade since October 24. Even on the road since impressively beating Shrewsbury in early September, the only two victories have come at the division’s bottom two clubs.

The stats simply do not look good.

Yet coherent calls and sensible arguments for managerial change have largely been lost in a sea of over-the-top criticism which has got nasty, ugly and personal. Many have chosen to go beyond reasonableness in the arguments put forward, in doing so exposing a blinkered view that everything will be okay once McCall has been sacked.

It’s a style and tone of criticism striking similar to what Law and Todd endured. For both it was unfair and wrong, for a City playing legend to be targeted so loathsomely is disgusting and undermines the credibility of the protagonists.

The stats simply do not look good – so why the need to embellish them by expressing half-truths, cooking up improbable analysis, uttering spiteful comments and offering no balance?

In recent weeks results have been influenced by some atrocious refereeing decisions, the squad has been disrupted by injuries and suspensions, while some players have shown poor application over a full 90 minutes – yet rather than acknowledge any lack of fortune, these contributory factors are dismissed as McCall “excuses”. Some fans are more sensible in their reasons for wanting change, but the anger of others is threatening to drown them and everybody else out.

Clearly, there remains a proportion of City supporters who believe in sticking by McCall. While no one could qualify his reign as successful so far, there are nevertheless signs that under Stuart the club is being rebuilt in the right way. Off the field much has improved in recent years and much of this – for example youth set up – can be attributed to the rookie manager, who clearly doesn’t view managing City as just managing any old club.

On the pitch, perhaps belatedly, the balance is finally there. From lack of knowledge of the division undermining McCall’s first season – despite successfully turning round a difficult start – through to bringing in players too good for this level but with not enough heart, it finally seems that McCall is setting out to do what he first promised at the time he declared he’d consider himself a failure if City weren’t promoted at the first attempt. That is to bring in players who would have long term careers at the club, rather than be here for one/two years and then be replaced by another short term player.

Are Gareth Evans, James Hanson, Scott Neilson, Steve Williams, Jonathan Bateson, James O’Brien and Luke O’Brien the finished article which we should get rid of in May? For me they are players of great potential who I look forward to seeing the majority of developing at Valley Parade over subsequent weeks, months and years, with other new additions to add to the squad along the way.

This is the path Stuart has now gone down, but it is not a path of instant success. Julian Rhodes recently stated he considered this year’s squad to be better than last year, but he won’t find many regular City watchers who’d agree. However, in time, he might be proven right. Apart from the defeat to Lincoln in August, City’s defeats have all been to teams who it can be reasonably argued have better squads. Last season’s squad was careless in how often it lost winnable games, this one is short of experience but not effort.

The irony of McCall’s reign at City is the longer-term strategy has started up so late, meaning the patience to be allowed to carry it out has worn thin in many fans’ eyes. But it doesn’t make abandoning it the right thing to do. Of course the idea of being stuck in this division another year or worse is one to cause dismay, but change means starting all over again and hoping the rate of progression is then faster. Hoping being the key word.

For as often as we read or hear fans urging the board to sack McCall, ideas about what should happen next are in short supply. Appeals for an answer to the valid question of how sacking a manager improves the club fall on deaf ears.

There’s seems to be a belief that sacking McCall will make all the difficulties which influence the club disappear, that it will instantly herald the long-awaited upturn.

It is a belief that the success and failure of a football is entirely down to the man in the dug out. It is a belief that a manager who succeeded elsewhere will guarantee the same results in a completely different environment – remember that last season a number of fans wanted Dave Penny to replace McCall, he’s hardly pulling up trees at Oldham. It is a belief that placing faith in leaping into the unknown will eventually be rewarded if you keep trying it.

And it is these beliefs which stop me, and others, from supporting the idea of dismissing McCall. As Michael eloquently put it a few years ago when Todd was under similarly fierce pressure, hand me the ‘McCall out’ banner as I want to believe his removal would send the club soaring back up the leagues. You, me, Mark, Julian and everyone else is sick of City failing and hurt by the recent results, so if Stuart leaving guarantees the pain will be over – let’s do it.

The problem is that his removal guarantees nothing. It just seems like the only thing which can be done. It is the only immediate and obvious remedy.

But what’s the subsequent tactics? Sit back and wait for a pile of managerial CVs to fly through the letter box, pick the best interviewee and hope they can bring instant success? What happens if they don’t, go through the whole CV-picking process again?

It is through this strategy that the club’s success and failure becomes utterly dependent on the manager. It is through this strategy that a revolving door will be needed for all the players coming and going. It is through this strategy that the structure of the club will ultimately suffer because no one is around long enough to give a damn.

Which is not to say City should stick with McCall come what may, but to at least ensure there is that much-fabled ‘Plan B’ in place. In the 90s City adopted a strategy of recruiting internally and grooming the next person, which worked fantastically with Chris Kamara and Paul Jewell before being abandoned after 12 Chris Hutchings games. It provided continuity during a period of rapid change, it ensured that the club was always bigger than any manager.

Maybe right now, an internal replacement for McCall isn’t ready, but maybe right now the change isn’t needed. Maybe just as history shows clubs such as Liverpool, Man United and Nottingham Forest moved upwards because of periods of building under the long term influence of sticking by a manager, City can one day enjoy relative success by allowing McCall time to do the same.

I still believe that he should get to stay in charge until at least the end of the season, I’d ideally like it if he was able to at least finish his two-year contract. For that to happen progress must be made and recent results increase the urgency for improvement.

If the overwhelming feeling is a change must be made, I and others will have to accept it. But if change is only made because a few loudmouths got more say than others as usual, it’s not a well-rounded decision and it becomes an even riskier gamble. For those who didn’t want to come to such a decision, the strong relationship many of us have with City will be weakened because of the usual suspects getting their way, yet again.

Because whether McCall is a bad or unlucky manager, we can all be sure who’ll be the first people calling for the head of his replacement.

The contrast of Colbeck leaves City

Young player leaves for club in higher division who pay money for his services is the Dog Bites Man of lower league football but Joe Colbeck’s exit to join Oldham Athletic on transfer deadline day bring to an end one of the more confusing and complex careers at City that was far from an ordinary story.

To some Colbeck was an exciting right winger who over his five years in the City side had charged at left backs making City play well and being missed chronically when injured. To others he was too be jeered and sworn at in a way that was genuinely shocking. Some said that he would never made a footballer, other than he was the best footballer we had.

Within view of where I sit at Valley Parade I can see one guy who would have JC as the first name on his team sheet coming to blows about his abilities at times and another who considers the Leeds born winger so offensive that he will swear in front of his own children at City’s former number seven.

The background for Colbeck’s duality fades into insignificance as he leaves but it had something to do with a red card against Oldham Athletic for crossing a ball that had gone over the touchline and to down with driving, powerful runs that opened up defences. Colbeck is equally capable of exciting forward play as he is of terrible challenges which were often not just badly timed. His foul on Dean Lewington resulted in a much deserved red card but the season before he was lauded as players of the season.

A contradiction of appreciation then with some upset at his unwillingness to sign a new deal in the summer after a final game of the season where fans were singing “You’re not fit to wear the shirt“. It is not hard to see why he looked for an escape route from Valley Parade especially – as is obvious from the move up a division – he could be considered in the bracket with fellow Oldham man Dean Furman as being “too good for us”.

Even those who were against him should worry about how Colbeck was dogged by a group of fans who created an atmosphere in which the exit of someone who enough people thought was good enough to be player of the season wanted out. Forget one’s personal opinion on Colbeck and ask yourself if it is right that one group of supporters continue a campaign to unsettle a player to a level where they become disproportionately loud so as to no doubt be the dominant memory the player will have of the club? As with the Save Our Stuart McCall debate at the end of last season once the discussion has been had and points made is it not right that players (or managers) are allowed to get on with things?

For my part I shall remember Colbeck for performances like Saturday where he was not massively effectual but he constantly got involved in the game. I’ll save my ire for players who hide from the ball and one could never accuse Colbeck of that. I’ll miss him, I will not miss the divisiveness and I worry that a dangerous precedent is set where those who grumble most are being allowed to set the tone.

Nevertheless Scott Neilson scored one and made the other in City’s first game post-Colbeck and we can all get behind the new right winger. It is just a shame that Valley Parade could not do the same for a player recognised as talented such as Colbeck.

All I want for Christmas is Omar Daley

Omar Daley has a contract with Bradford City until 2011. We can say that with certainty; on that, we can all agree. Therein, however, ends the consensus on Daley. For my part, I love him, am a signed up, card-carrying member of the Omar Daley fan club – an honorary ‘reggae boy’. I have watched him mooch around never leaving second gear for 70 minutes, all the while hoping the next pass reaches him, because in him I have faith. I have sat and watch him persecute a young right back, electrify the crowd, and provide a real cutting edge to our attack, all the while my Father is complaining about his lack of commitment. I tell you all this now because Omar is a love-him-or-loathe-him player and if you loathe him, you will find no satisfaction here.

In the anonymous world that houses the plethora of message boards and online forums, the post-season boredom has frequently given way to wistful reflections on what could have been. If only McCall had a plan B, if only Brandon had played, if only Lee was a better captain, if only McLaren had not been too good for this division. Obviously, deep down none of us blame one decision or one player, but I can’t help feeling that had we been able to call upon Omar Daley throughout the last two months of the season, we may have faired better. He’s a game changer and I can’t imagine he wouldn’t have at least made something happen against Port Vale at home, or away at Chester. Four points was all we needed.

So how will we fare without him, and more importantly, what will his reappearance do for our team, or season, our hopes of promotion? I remember the talk around Christmas last, about how the return of Brandon would be akin to a new, ‘big-name’ signing. For one reason and another, that failed to materialise, only now are we seeing our ‘new’ signing, and the jury of the terraces is still out. But Daley isn’t Brandon; we know what Daley is capable of – know what he is capable of in a City shirt for that matter. I’ve spoken to plenty of folks who believe that if we just hang in there-or-thereabouts until Christmas, Daley’s return will give us the impetus to race toward that May finish line, a race that with Jamaica’s second fastest man is sure to be exhilarating.

But can we, in all honesty, even with a glass half-full, really believe that? This is a player who will have missed eight months of football, will need at least another month to regain match-fitness, and is largely celebrated/utilised for his pace, which will surely be diminished at least slightly. How do we even envisage his return? Will this be a return that can’t come too soon, necessitated by the failure to perform by the ineffectual, sluggish Brandon, or inexperienced Leon Osborne/Luke Sharry? As a return out of necessity to replace the recently departed Colbeck, who has, at last, been rescued from the shop window by Oldham? As a return that is hampered by the niggly nature of the injury he suffered? Or what about a return that is largely constrained to the bench due to the fantastic half a season had by his replacement on the flank?

Anything other than the latter scenario could be catastrophic for both player and club. A hurried return steeped in expectation is likely to end in only one, predictable manner. A bit-part role however, for a player who can leave the bench for 30 minutes and change a game not only represents a genuine alternative for Stuart, but a sensible rehabilitation for a 29 year-old whose physical and psychological state must surely have deteriorated during his eight month absence. It also limits his exposure to the fickle-faithful, the boo-boys who will undoubtedly forget that Daley has just spent the last eight months struggling to walk. This season is not Daley’s; anything he contributes must be seen as an unexpected bonus. We can get back to the expectation game with Omar next season, but we have to accept that whilst it has gone unsaid, any injury that keeps a player nearing his thirties out for eight whole months is most definitely career threatening.

I hope that this time next season Omar is terrorising some Alfreton Town fullback, cutting in from the touchline to score goals galore. But we must also prepare for the possibility that Daley’s game will have to change long-term, that we will never get the same lad back again. It has happened to the best of them, Giggs being the prime example. The pace will never completely desert him, but it is used sparingly, deployed in a targeted fashion, even used in a different position. I’m not sure whether I can ever see that happening with Daley, as even his fans often see him in one-dimensional terms, as a pacey winger with a few tricks. If that pace is dulled with age and injury, Stuart is going to be faced with a dilemma; armed with a winger who no longer puts the fear of God into division 4 defenders, does he throw him on the scrap heap, or deploy him differently?

I think if you look back at his best games, they have come when his searing pace has been coupled with a drift inside, when he has picked the ball up in the centre of the park and had every direction in which to run. These games have also seen him charging back to help out the fullback and then play his way out of trouble. These games have also seen him pop off a shot or two. The Daley knockers will counter that he rarely gets such a shot on target, that he often passes too late and that his distribution is inconsistent, and indeed they may have a point, but show me a division 4 player who doesn’t tick those same boxes.

I could of course be wrong, Daley may give us all an early and gratefully received Christmas present by bursting back onto the Valley Parade turf, full of beans and as fast as he always was. If that happens it has the potential to reinvigorate the team and give them an extra dimension. But if he doesn’t, I hope we will put the time and effort into a lad who signed a three year contract, a lad who hasn’t been constantly angling for a big move (to Oldham), a lad who began his international career at right back, who often plays in the centre of the Jamaican midfield, who is respected for his leadership qualities within the national team set up, and may just surprise us with the depth of his ability.

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