Mister / Definitely

Uwe Rösler is definitely joining Bradford City who are definitely going to be selling Bratwurst at half time and definitely paying one and a half million for Reece Burke who definitely posted a picture of himself in a City kit and he will definitely replace James McDarby who is definitely joining Parkinson at Bolton with Jamie Proctor who would definitely have scored twenty five goals this season as would Dylan Mottley-Henry who is definitely in the Barnsley first team by Christmas and definitely would have been brilliant for us as would George Green who is definitely the English Antoine Griezmann and Stuart McCall missed out in him because he is definitely not a proper manager and definitely just signing his mates which is odd because we definitely have not signed anyone but when we do sign people we will definitely be signing cheap German players who will definitely not be good enough but will be in the team because Edin Rahic definitely picks the team and all this definitely would not have happened if the Germans had not forced out Parkinson because the old boardroom definitely would not have forced a manager out and we definitely are going to be awful this year and definitely will be rubbish and under prepared and Greg Abbott definitely let Nahki Wells go because he does not know a good player when he sees one and why didn’t we sign Tom Bradshaw anyway because without him there is no chance at all of promotion and without Josh Cullen there is no chance of even winning a game and the young players are definitely not going to be given a chance because Omar Daley is definitely coming back.

But I expect promotion.

Definitely.

When the immoveable object met the immoveable object and Bradford City and Reading agreed to a replay in the FA Cup sixth round

Balls in bags

On Monday night, at Old Trafford, something well happen that has not occurred in over one hundred years. Bradford City will be in the draw for the FA Cup semi-final. The goal-less draw at Valley Parade in the FA Cup sixth round with Reading guarantees that the Royals will be in that draw too.

The immoveable object met the immoveable object in the first of the four quarter final ties and while City will look back to a chance or two which could have resulted in more the game which mustered only a single shot on target had the hallmarks of a pair of teams more concerned with losing than committed to winning.

Which is not to criticise either side for that approach – I spoke recently about how Phil Parkinson’s approach puts importance on not being out of a game – but to explain the dynamics of a game which promised everything and left tension unresolved.

Each side enjoyed a half of the game. The first forty five minutes Reading edged possession and hit the post through Pavel Pogrebnyak although the seemed to be a fast and loose being played with left hand touchline calls by a linesman who gave the benefit of geography to the Royals.

Nevertheless Pogrebnyak’s shot – along with a deflected effort by Hal Robson-Kanu – was all that Ben Williams in the Bradford City goal had to do. Williams’ inclusion over Jordan Pickford was a surprise but a pleasant one. Williams kept goal for every Cup tie while Pickford was tied to Sunderland.

“The guy that brung her”

That Parkinson kept faith in the keeper that had got him to the sixth round recalled Paul Jewell’s decision at Wolves in 1999 to go for promotion with the eleven who had been his most regular starters. “A girl dances with the fella that brought her”, I said then and I think it now.

Indeed after watching Ramires burst from the Chelsea midfield to put the Blues into a 2-0 lead Williams has not conceded a goal in the FA Cup. Thinking back to that day one recalls how Chelsea were lacking a Claude Makélélé in holding midfield.

While Chelsea had allowed the Bantams to build in the forward midfield positions Reading deployed a man to sit in front of their back two and make sure that Billy Clarke’s influence on the game in the first half was as minimal as possible. Nathaniel Chalobah sat next to Clarke and forced a gap between Jon Stead and James Hanson which split City’s forward options leaving the Bantams disjointed in the final third.

Chalobah put in a very impressive game – especially in the first half – and looked as if he may be the decisive difference between the sides until Phil Parkinson tweaked his approach at half time to play more through left and right midfielders and less through his front man. Chalobah – oddly – is on loan from Chelsea. He has a very brought future.

Tweak

Parkinson’s tweak was to have the ball played through Billy Knott and Filipe Morais – and to have Knott and Morais pick the ball up deeper – and then allow Clarke to drift left and right effectively taking himself and Chalobah out of the game.

And so City enjoyed more of the game in the second period. Morais had a chance just after half time which he passed when he could have shot – he seldom is accused of “making the wrong decisions” as a Kyel Reid or Omar Daley was although he probably does as much – and James Hanson swept a ball the wrong side of the upright after good work by Jon Stead.

The best chance of the game presented itself when Morais bent a free kick in and Andrew Davies connected but watched his headed chance take the paint off the post as it skimmed wide. Davies’ reaction suggested he knew that the best chance of the game had gone, but that the tie would have more chances in it, and so it will prove on Monday week.

Reading’s Pogrebnyak tried to handle the ball into the goal in the last moment. That was all the City defend had to cope with in the second half.

It would be easy to miss

In the swirl of a crowd of 24,321 at Valley Parade and the first FA Cup sixth round since the mid-1970s, and in the media coverage which seems to have decided that this game was not worth watching, it would be easy to not give credit to Phil Parkinson’s team. (Hob Nob Anyone? can give Steve Clarke’s team credit.)

That City went toe to toe with a Championship side is impressive. If one were to ask which side regularly played at a higher level one would be simply guessing an answer. There was a character needed from City’s side today to handle being favourites and there was a character needed to turn the performance around at halt time.

That good performances and great character are common does not make them less impressive.

Looking forward

One wonders what City have to do to win the second game which was not done today. Away from Valley Parade the Bantams have a tendency to replace Billy Clarke with Billy Knott and play Andy Halliday – a late sub today – to create a different shape to the midfield and that shape seems more effective.

City have won more games away from Valley Parade this season in League One than at home, and on travels to Chelsea, Millwall and Halifax Town have shown character in different ways. The Valley Parade turf was better than it has been (which is, of course, not down to Roger Owen who is not responsible for the pitch) but is heavy and the ball bounces little from it. A better surface will not suit City any more than it does Reading, but it will allow for City to play the tight triangles that much of Parkinson’s attacking play is built around.

City face trips to Coventry City and Gary Jones’ Notts County in the nine days before Reading. In League One today City slipped to tenth and the expereince in the build up to this tie did not suggest that the Bantams will be turning games in hand into three points.

1911, and all that

But those worries are for another day. It will be the 16th of March and City will still be in a cup competition and that has not happened in over one hundred years.

Not for Parkinson though. The manager who has as a modus operandi not being out of a game is not out of a tie. Nine days to assess Reading, and the game that passed, and to plot a victory which will make City more than a name on a ball in a bag.

Nine days cannot pass soon enough.

Looking for the truth in the local paper

The truth about Luke O’Brien’s absence from the City squad under Peter Jackson, that was the promise. The left back went from sure starter to not being able to get on the bench and now Simon Parker would lift the lid in the Telegraph and Argus.

I simply wasn’t in (Peter) Jackson’s plans. End of story – Luke O’Brien

And there it was. The end of Parker’s story and nothing else with it. No investigation as to why O’Brien might have fallen from those plans in the space of a few weeks and – in the article at least – no attempt to question O’Brien for that piece of information.

Likewise during his time at the club there was no question poised to Jackson about O’Brien and why one of the club’s players had been frozen out – or if there was it was not answered – but after Jackson’s exit there was this article saying that O’Brien was “(shooting) down the conspiracy theories regarding his lack of action for City.”

Let me say at this point that I’ve no ace to grind with Simon Parker or anyone else who writes about City. Jason, myself and the other writers of BfB pretty much write when it occurs to us rather than having to hit a deadline and are not bound by the need to maintain relations with the club. Parker does a tough job and he does it under pressure from his employers and (indirectly) the club on one side and a demanding readership on the other. I’ve no axe to grind with Parker or anyone else who covers City.

However the reporting on the club seems to slip into condescension far too often. If a person covering City is not able to get to the truth of a situation then I’d rather that they did not present a half truth, and present it in such a dismissive manner.

We have no idea of the truth of O’Brien’s absence before or after Parker’s article and the reaction to being told that he was not in Jackson’s plans is to find out why. If that is not possible then do not write a story which talks about “conspiracy theories” that you are not able to cast any light on.

Likewise when BfB found out that Omar Daley had been offered a new two year deal at Bradford City within an hour Derm Tanner had tweeted that there was no truth in the story. Three weeks ago we found out that Daley was heading for Motherwell, Daley headed for Motherwell two weeks later. The information came from the same place. Tanner might have been right to say that Jackson did not believe there was any truth in it, but simply repeating what he was told is hardly the stuff of investigative reporting.

Again, this is not to criticise Tanner, but rather to point to the idea that if the people who cover the football club are not able to investigate stories beyond asking a single person and dragging very little out of them then I would rather that they did not present their version as “the truth” especially if it is so obviously limited. If it is not possible to do more than asking O’Brien and print the words “end of” then it might be best to change the tone of articles.

Of course this is not important. In the end getting to the truth of why Luke O’Brien did not play or even why Omar Daley said he was getting a deal and Peter Jackson said he did not really do not matter in the scheme of things but for he people who report on the club to be in the habit of not asking questions, or not attempting to dig into stories, of not looking any deeper than the first thing they are presented with is not a good position for the club to be in.

After all if the history of this club’ boardroom tells us one thing it is the supports are not always presented with an accurate version of events. At the moment Bradford City may be being run superbly, as well as possible, but that has not always been the case and the current board would appreciate the fact from the situation they inherited and the reasons for that.

If the reporters who cover City are not able to question the official line it would be good if they did not present that as truth.

There are no comments on this article, Michael is on holiday.

Following the prevailing narrative

Pre-season allows a different view on football.

Nestled at the side of the pitch the players – who will be seen from the height of stands and the back of terraces – are up close and personal in front of a few hundred supporters. Players who look almost like a fleshly blur when at the far end of Valley Parade are right in front of you. Live and loud.

Very loud in some cases. Guy Branston’s “discussion” with the Referee at Nethermoor was the sort of language which very much would be both foul and abusive but not only did the officials do nothing about it they did not even break stride or blink, nor did the players. Par for the course perhaps, and not something one appreciates when watching from the stands.

Football is a sweary game up close and the players have nicknames, and they all end with “y” or “o”.

One thing one might notice about the players this season – not those on the field so much as those watching their team mates – is the fact that they are not wearing suits.

This time last year there was much talk about suits. The problem with Bradford City circa Stuart McCall was that the players were a shabby mess of leisure wear and lounging around and the solution in the new, sensible, and obviously better regime of Peter Taylor was to get the players dressing professionally. To this end Roger Owen provide the money to kit out the Bantams in a nice yard of cloth.

That was the narrative of last summer. The rise of professionalism under Peter Taylor and the need for things like overnight stays which would not see the season out and culminating with the clumsily named Make-Tommy-Doherty-Ride-A-Bus-All-Night-Gate.

Those things are not important now, or so the prevailing narrative of Bradford City tells us, because the key the success is the Twitter team and the Development squad.

The Twitter team aptly describing the trend started by Ross Hannah to use the social networking site to talk about the Bantam in a really, really, really positive way.

Hannah, Branston, Nialle Rodney. They beat the drum proudly for Bradford City and this is a good thing. You can buy the PR and good mood which has derived from reading the daily musings of the assembling City squad but it is safe to say that the people who brought you Santa Dave would not have invested in it.

The Twitter team strikes one as indicative of a good squad dynamic. Of young lads getting on well together and enjoying being footballers. It is many things good, and nothing at all to do with the need for suits which was so important a year ago.

Likewise The Development Squad and the rise of “Woodhouse Grove” as the training facility – a far cry but not a long way from “Apperley Bridge” which this time past year we were being told was suitable – are the essentials in the current story of the reconstruction of Bradford City.

Not that one wants to complain about these things. Almost everything that has happened at City this Summer has been a progressive step which will have improved the club at the end of the season regardless of promotion but the worry is that this time next year if promotion has not been reached will the Development squad be hanging up at the forgotten back of someone’s cupboard next to Roger Owen’s suit?

Will City players be banned from Twitter as their peers at Leeds United and would that move be trumpeted as increased professionalism needed to sort out something shabby. There is a cycle of what we are told is salvation one season being shoved out the door the next.

These things would seem dependant on the prevailing narrative of the club, and that is not a good thing.

The prevailing narrative is a powerful thing and one which governs how we view the club in terms of its progress and how the club view us.

City spun from being on our uppers to putting upwards of six figure bids in for players while Peter Jackson has moved from being the man who does not always say what he means when he swears that he bleeds blue and white to being the arbiter of truth when he says that Omar Daley has not been offered a deal by the Bradford City team he now manages. If it is the case that there is no deal then someone might want to tell Omar Daley that. Regardless this shows how Jackson has changed in perception at the demand of the narrative the club creates.

Like Taylor and his professionalism, and like McCall the Messiah, Peter Jackson as City manager is subject to his own narrative arc. He is cast as Saul, converted by the blinding light to the one true path and ready to make good for the faith not in spite of his wrongdoing but because of it.

So the Development Squad goes to Bradford Park Avenue while the seniors will entertain Premier League Bolton Wanderers in the first game at Valley Parade of the season.

Jackson is seeking a gatekeeper and will use both games to try out someone to perhaps replace the ill Jon McLauglin for the first game of the season. Mark Howards’ attempt to impress on Tuesday night was not impressive and so Iain Turner – a wanted man – will be given the chance to keep goal if he wants it against Bradford Park Avenue, or Bolton Wanderers, or both. McLaughlin’s illness keeps him out of both games. Goalkeeping coach Tim Dittmer has been given a squad number.

Simon Ramsden is expected to make a long awaited return against Park Avenue for a team which is thought to be mostly the development squad and Ramsden will feature at and he is expected to partner Luke Oliver in the middle of a back four with Lewis Hunt next to him on one side and Robbie Threlfall on the other. At times last season that back four could have started games for City. Andrew Burns and Adam Robinson could feature in either game but it seems that Peter Jackson is moving towards Chris Mitchell, Steve Williams, Guy Branston and Luke O’Brien as his first choice backline. Expect those to get a run out against the Trotters.

Jackson’s attempts to pair new signing Richie Jones and player of the season for the season where there was no player of the season David Syers met with mixed returns on Tuesday night and the Bantams looked a sterner outfit with Michael Flynn alongside Jones. Flynn seems to be being edged away from the Bantams first eleven but has responded in what seems to be typical fashion for the Welshman with some gutsy performances suggesting he will not go quietly into the night.

Should he play on the Friday night the future for Flynn may have been decided, if not then he has a chance of staking a claim. The development squad against Avenue is expected to feature Patrick Lacey, Alex Flett, Luke Dean and perhaps Lee Bullock while Bolton will face a midfield of Jones in the middle, the impressive Jamie Green on the left, Dominic Rowe on the right and one of the Flynn/Syers/Bullock mix in the middle.

Leon Osbourne is looking too developed for the development squad but not enough for the starting eleven. Scott Brown could play in either squad. Scott Brown is the future.

Up front Jackson is expected to give Nialle Rodney and Nakhi Wells a chance for go at Park Avenue as he tries to get a deal for Wells with Mark Stewart and James Hanson looking favoured for the Bolton game. Ross Hannah is in the middle, a decent place for a forward. Darren Stephenson, already, is starting to look like like he will struggle to get a chance.

Hannah, of course, is not for playing now. He is to be thrown on with twenty minutes left of the Leeds game in the first week of the season and to snatch a goal. That is his narrative, and deviation from it will cause some upset.

City offer Omar Daley a new two year deal

Omar Daley has been offered a new two year deal by Bradford City and – BfB understands – the thirty year old winger is considering the Bantams offer.

Daley – who joined City in January 2007 signed by Colin Todd – played 112 for the club scoring 14 times but was thought to have played his final game for the club after his contract expired at the end of last season following his unsuccessful loan at Rotherham United. It would seem that the Jamaican winger is once again figuring in City’s plans.

BfB understands that Daley is considering City’s offer along with deals from at least one Major League Soccer club in the United States of America and that City’s offer would see Daley take a significant pay cut from last season to return to Valley Parade.

Looking at the team for next season it is not hard to see why Peter Jackson might be interested in bringing Daley back. Aside from Jackson’s attempts to bring in a keeper – and his worry about signing a holding midfielder which has seen a reported interest in Charlton’s 27 year old Alan McCormack – the position which seems unaddressed is that of an out and out winger.

A midfield four which anchored by Richie Jones and with David Syers (or Michael Flynn) alongside could be given balance with one of the two left sided defensive players (three, should Jamie Green sign) along with a more direct wideman on the right. Without that option – or solely relying on Dominic Rowe for that option – Jackson goes into the season with fewer tactical options at his disposal. Rowe looks like he could be a good player, but Daley is, undoubtedly.

Which is to make mention of Daley’s abilities. Some have reservations but – from a personal point of view – I see Daley as a player who on occasions is near unstoppable by opposition teams. His pace is peerless in League Two, his abilities are excellent and his attitude – while not always as outstanding as his pace – was by no means the worst at the club last season. He works hard to address his weaknesses and plays with an honesty in his game. He scores goals of unbelievable quality but more impressive – and more fearsome especially away from home – is the way he forces the opposition into sitting deep as they worry about of his speed.

The usual rider on articles which deal with the possible applies. BfB avoids idle speculation and nothing may come of any offer in the fullness of time. However it seems that Jackson and City are preparing to address the issue with the weakness on the wing in the squad and address it with a familiar solution.

The mark of progress, or the lack of it

“I’ve got nothing to prove to Liverpool” said young midfielder Jim Magilton when he went back to Anfield as an Southampton player for a Division One game at the start of the Nineties.

Magilton had spent his youth career at the Reds but never made a first team appearance. He went to Oxford United and made 150 appearances, then on to Southampton where his full circle moment happened. After that he ended up at Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich where he was coverted by Paul Jewell’s City but ended his career at Portman Road. A good career no doubt but at no time did he ever eclipse the midfielders who replaced him at Anfield.

He had nothing to prove to those at Liverpool and in a way he proved nothing to them. He did not play at a higher level, he did not end up with a Champions medal, and whoever decided he was not the “good enough” was proved right.

There was a way to mark the progress of Bradford City which worked in the same way. Players come and go from clubs and City were forced to let a number of players go because of financial reasons and watched those players carry on good careers. Robbie Blake, for example, won promotions post-City and played in the Premier League.

Other players though were “got rid of” – to use the vulgarism – by the choice of the club because the club thought that it could do better. Players like Paul Bolland and Scott Kerr were young lads at the Bantams who were released and went on to good careers in the lower leagues but never rose higher than the club. The decision to allow those players – like Magilton – was never questioned.

One could add a whole host of players who the Bantams have disposed of (indeed that most clubs dispose of) who never troubled professional football again. The decision to allow Wayne Benn, Tom Penford, Danny Forrest, Joe Brown, Robert Morgan, Craig Bentham et al has never been questioned because those players have never turned up at a higher level than City.

I should qualify this with the idea that there is an impact in releasing a player on his career. Being released can be the making of a player’s career seeing him buck up his ideas but most often it kills a that career as real life problems and jobs take over.

In the last few years watching events at VP though there has been an increase in the players who were decided to not be able to cut the mustard who not only got their careers back on track but started to do well, better than the Bantams.

Michael Symes represents the best example of this. The Bantams were not impressed (nor was I especially) but turfing up at Accrington Stanley he ended up doing enough to earn a move to AFC Bournemouth where he plays his football a division above the Bantams. Perhaps one could put that down to the startling effect of being released, and perhaps one might conclude that he is only the player he is now because of our releasing him, but it is hard not to wonder why the Bantams were not able to unlock his potential.

Symes was a far more popular player than Gareth Edds who was jeered away from Valley Parade but Edds won promotion (after switching to a holding midfield role) with MK Dons and moved onto another League One club Tranmere Rovers as City idled in League Two. Not only are the players we cannot afford playing at a higher level but the ones we did not think were good enough are now too. Jake Wright’s red card at when Oxford United came to Valley Parade might have been an amusing moment in the season but the fact his current team ended the season a half dozen places over his previous one gave him the last laugh.

Gareth Evans – a part of the so called “worst team ever” – exited Valley Parade in the summer with the club deciding that they could do better. Evans rocked up at Rotherham United who finished higher than the Bantams and are preparing for another promotion push. Evans’ play in the last month of the season suggested that – perhaps – he knew he had something to go to next term but the spin from Valley Parade was most definitely that Evans was out because the club was going to improve.

I would underline that I believe that there are many players who left City and were never heard of again – one of them did the electrics for my boiler – who had the club given them the first team slot rather than someone like Luke Cornwall or Robert Wolleaston then they could have achieved something but when dealing with the likes of Symes, Edds, (perhaps) Evans and a number of others it seems that the club’s judgement on players in the longer term has become questionable. That players who we would like to have we are getting rid of.

The rapid turn around, the one year contract, the often changing manager, the levels of patience in the stands, the comparative quality of facilities here and elsewhere. All these things have contributed to the club which is letting players go who could do a job. We end up with this “worst team ever” but some of the off cuts of it are doing well for themselves.

James Hanson is being linked to Crewe, Omar Daley has gone from the club, Gareth Evans will come back wearing Rotherham United red. I’m not sure if the losing culture needs to be broken so much as a consistent plan to improve the squad is required.

The 2010/11 season reviewed: part three, how it could have been

A club appoints an experienced promotion specialist who is not known for his attractive football, who comes from the wrong half of the country and the club expect them to lead them in to promotion.

And he does.

On the surface there does not seem to be much similarity between Lasmir Mittel and his friends at QPR who number some of the richest men in the World and the man who used to own a van hire company at Valley Parade but when Rangers appoint Neil Warnock to their job half way through last season they hoped he would do for them what we hoped Peter Taylor would do for us.

QPR are owned by rich people for sure, but they are funded within the same scale as the rest of The Championship. They gave Warnock a bit of extra to bring in the players he wanted, but those players were largely the rank and file of Championship clubs. Similarly Peter Taylor got given the cash to bring in his men. The results though were different. As City struggled all season QPR went top early and stayed there.

BfB talked to QPR fan (and old Uni mate) Dom Smith about the way that two seasons that started the same ended so differently. Smith talks about QPR as a team of entertainers but is quick to point out “Warnock’s appointment was less to do with the style of football it was more about getting someone with experience who would be able to take control of the the squad.”

Warnock made a massive success at QPR while previous managers – who have had the same finances – have failed? Strength of personality seemed to be the key to this – Dom said – saying “When Warnock was appointed it was on the proviso that he got to pick the team and was allowed to pick the players he signed as well. Warnock took control of the squad and was given more control. That wasn’t totally him those as the Mittel Family (and they are the real money in the club) took more of a stake in the club at the same time and took over as chairman as well. Then we just got lucky.”

That luck seems to have been somewhat self made. Players like Helgerson and Shaun Derry went from average to excellent under Warnock’s instruction while Adel Taarabt – the maverick – had the team built around him. “A dangerous thing to do, but this year it has worked.”

One struggles to think of any of the players who were at the club when Taylor arrived who improved during his tenure. The players seemed squashed at the end of his time, the enjoyment seemingly sapped from football. Robbie Threlfall arrived for Taylor’s second game looking great, at the end he looked poor.

Read a few message boards and Taylor is described as “the worst manager in City’s history” which is a little harsh – the kids don’t remember John Napier – but but when trying to come up with a defence of the former City boss one sticks on the point that he failed to improve the members of the squad he inherited. Taylor would probably say that he needed the facilities he was promised in order to do that – a point addressed by the club after he has left – and he might be right in that.

Problems with the style of play – Warnock is a famed long ball man – were unfounded. Dom enthused “We are playing some great football. Kyle Walker, the kid on loan from Tottenham, now at Aston Villa and with the England team is a great wing back and ball winner. Alejandro Faulin is the best passer of the ball in the league.”

One struggles to recall any performance under Taylor’s charge that one would enthuse over. The odd good display by Omar Daley, Lee Hendrie or David Syers were exceptional because they were exceptions. Taylor had taken Stuart McCall’s team and rather than playing to a strength he found, tried to bring in a strength in Tommy Doherty.

Doherty was – to borrow Dom’s phrase – “the best passer of the ball in the league (two)” but when Doherty did not settle into the team (for whatever reason) then Taylor seemed to have no other option. One wonders what would have happened had Taarabt done a Doherty or if Doherty has been a Taarabt.

In so many ways Doherty was the personification of Taylor’s on the field. He put stock in the idea of the ball passing midfielder able to make the killer pass that unlocks defences which – coupled with a tight back four – would have seen City win matches. When Taylor exited City had a mean defence but little going forward. If Doherty was not pinging a single killer pass to unlock a back four to give the Bantams a 1-0 then no one was, and a team that cannot score does not win.

While QPR are well off – and City are not – the difference between Ranger’s season this year and last was not to do with throwing cash on the field as the City board seem determined to do. Smith says “The biggest difference we have had is Warnock’s connection, when we lost both right backs in the same game, he rang Redknapp up and got Kyle Walker in 24 hours, When he wanted Taarabt he went to Morocco to convince him to sign.”

Taylor’s connections brought Lewis Hunt, Luke Oliver and Doherty and while the last name on the list was the marquee player but the other two were squad men. Jon Worthington was signed and not used. Shane Duff never impressed. Lee Hendrie arrived paying tribute to Taylor but did not stay for the former England u21 manager. The loanees who signed – Oliver Gill and Reece Brown spring to mind – hardly excelled. For a man with so many years in the game Taylor was not able to bring in much ready usable talent. While Taylor was joking on Football Focus about David Beckham joining if he wanted to the strings he pulled brought us the likes of Ryan Kendall.

One would not seek to damn Taylor though on the strength of this comparison – this is not saying that he was a bad manager – just to illustrate the different path that could have been taken. Perhaps Taylor got unlucky when Hendrie upsticks, he certainly did with Doherty, and that his best endeavours did not come off this time but might have next, with the same randomness which saw Rangers adopt a similar policy with Warnock and have that reap rewards.

Dom wants to see QPR aim for 17th next season in the Premier League – 17th was very pleasant as I recall – and in Warnock will hope that his luck is different to his last stay in the Premiership.

The comparison is a rough one though, no two clubs are the same, but in Warnock there is a might have been for the Bantams.

The replacement for Gareth Evans

It is hard to recall on the day that he exits the club but Gareth Evans caused some excitement when he joined Bradford City. Costing “some money” and having come from Manchester United via Macclesfield Town supporters were excited to see the striker and his fellow new arrival James Hanson seeing them as a contrast to Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding.

Two years on and Evans exits with that excitement hardly even a memory for supporters and – one suspects – for Evans himself.

Evans is included on a list of players exiting that club that has Omar Daley at the top (we said goodbye to him a few months ago, but I for one appreciated the encore) and also includes Shane Duff.

Daley seems to be heading North to Motherwell and one hopes he has as fond memories of his time at City as many fans have of him. Daley was never universally popular but the impact of his exit mid-season was immense and in a very real way his return did much to keep us in League Two. It seems that freeing up a chunk of wage budget which Daley represents – he and Tommy Doherty were the highest paid players – for the new manager has motivated the decision to not offer the winger a deal.

While many will be upset with Omar’s exit few will care about Shane Duff leaving the club. Injury – it could be said – means we never saw in Duff what Peter Taylor did but having spent ten years at Cheltenham and relocating north one wonders if City may look again at the policy of signing players and shifting them up the country while expecting short term results. One of the secrets of the not at all secret path to success for eight times consecutive French champions Lyon is their commitment to supporting player relocation.

The most surprising exit was Jon Worthington who seemed set to stay at the club as Peter Jackson’s lynch pin midfielder having put in a steel to the City team which helped stem the tide of defeats after the change of manager. One wonders if Worthington has something else lined up or – should he be given the job on a full time basis – Peter Jackson will make the midfielder his first call.

Also out are Ryan Harrison, Chris Elliott, Louis Horne, Chib Chilaka and Lloyd Saxton.

However it is Evans who sums up the season so aptly in his release. As a player he works hard and impresses some – his name features in the voting for Friday’s BfB player of the season award – but with every game he seemed to find more struggle than reward. Played on the right for most of the season Evans blew his chance when deployed down the middle by Peter Jackson and his exit seemed inevitable from then on but one wonders ho will replace Evans, and how long their shelf life will be.

What will the next Bradford City be looking for from a replacement? Effort, ability, presence, experience. Evans has all these. At a reported £1,200 he was not one of the cheaper members of the squad and perhaps – like Daley – freeing up funds was key to the decision to move him on.

One cannot help put worry though that as seems to happen most often the replacement for Evans will be no better, could be worse, and in two years time will be in the exact same position which the outgoing men find themselves in today.

The 2010/11 season reviewed: part one, on the pitch – when the wheels came off

There is always one game in every season, one moment in that game, that one moment in that one game in the season when everything can change, when things can either come together or fall apart for the rest of the season.”

The Damned Utd, David Peace

Saturday 8 January 2011, and Bradford City are leading second bottom Barnet 1-0 at Valley Parade. The home side have been dominant since the half time break, twice hitting the woodwork, but a second goal hasn’t materialised. Yet they are well on track for an eighth win in 13 league games; and as it stands only goal difference will keep them out of the play offs. After a bad start to the season, it all seems to be coming together for City under Taylor – who during the week had turned down the Newcastle United assistant manager’s job – and hopes of promotion are high.

But during the second half, standards begin to slip. The players stop working hard for each other, stop getting the little things right, stop pressing the visitors. It’s as if the game had become too easy for them, that they believe that can coast it. It was to prove costly.

That one moment in that one game in the season when everything can change occurs when on-loan defender Rob Kiernan needlessly heads a Barnet cross into his own net. It is a truly shocking moment, and as the home side go onto collapse in the game – eventually losing 3-1 – it leads to a shocking second half to the season. This moment triggers the start of a run that sees the Bantams win just six of their remaining 24 games. Soon we wouldn’t be looking upwards, but nervously over our shoulders.

It would be a ridiculous assumption to make that, without Kiernan’s game-changing own goal that afternoon, the Bantams would have fulfilled those pre-season expectations of at least a top seven finish, but it certainly killed growing momentum and spurred the subsequent nosedive in form. A moment of madness, that instigated a maddening end to the season. That it could have ended much worse than it did is a consolation of sorts, but can’t disguise the scale of under-achievement.

Four months on from that dismal January afternoon, it’s hard to believe we were once able to harbour hopes of promotion. Yet although the season begin woefully, a more acceptable autumn had seemingly set City up for an exhilarating second half to the campaign. Along the way, there’d been some brilliant moments – the apparent season-turning win in the London sunshine at Barnet, the thrilling come-from-behind 3-1 victory over Cheltenham, the crazy second half 5-0 crushing of Oxford, and the jubilant 1-0 success on a rain-soaked Tuesday night at Bury. “We are going up” we sung with growing conviction. “Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army” we chanted with feeling.

Comparisons were made with the last successful Bantams promotion bid in 1999, where the players and management recovered from a nightmare start to climb into the top two and hold their nerve. Certainly the early season results bore strong similarity, as City began with four defeats from their five opening league matches. Occasional signs of improvement – a fortuitous last minute win over Gillingham and credible 0-0 draw at Rotherham – were quickly forgotten as poor results continued. In truth, only the commendable League Cup showings against Championship clubs Notts Forest and Preston provided us any hope that the players could turn it round.

Morecambe at home in early October was arguably the worst performance of the entire campaign, the 1-0 loss failing to do justice to how badly City performed. Having defended so well at Rotherham days earlier, the decision by Taylor to drop strong performers Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien for two young kids signed on loan from Manchester United seemed to deflate players and fans. Meanwhile lanky defender Luke Oliver was still playing up front, which made for largely ugly viewing. Taylor was subject to a torrent of abuse at full time. National media speculation grew that he was one game from the sack.

Then came that huge win at Barnet, and much improved form. Taylor, it seemed, had evolved team selection to finding the right players, and the best football of the season came during October. Omar Daley was deployed in a free role, partnering either James Hanson or Jason Price up front. Lee Hendrie was displaying his Premier League pedigree wide left, while David Syers was proving a revelation in the centre of midfield alongside an in-form Tommy Doherty. At the back, Steve Williams was outstanding while summer signing Shane Duff was, for a spell, able to shake off injuries and impress.

Form slowed a little, but victories – such as over Hereford in December – still occurred regularly enough to keep City in the position of play off dark horses. There were a number of injured players due to return in the New Year, and Taylor confidently talked up the prospects of truly kicking on.

Of course that never happened, and seven weeks after turning down Newcastle Taylor departed the club having seen his popularity sink drastically. We knew before he arrived in February a year earlier that City would be more dour under his management, but not this dire. Lack of entertainment might have been tolerated if the Bantams were winning each week – though that early season win over Stevenage put doubts to that – but losing and playing negative defensive football was a miserable combination. So Taylor left – the b*****ds having ground him down.

His final match in charge – a 3-2 victory over nine-man Stockport, where Gareth Evans netted in stoppage time to send us into raptures – had seemingly eased the threat of relegation. But despite interim manager Peter Jackson winning two of his first three matches in charge, fears kept returning that our league status could be surrendered. Jackson at least had City playing more attractive, attacking football – but results failed to improve. Heavy defeats in April to Torquay, Southend and Accrington left the Bantams too close to the relegation zone for comfort. Jackson – not able to make any signings – was having to make do without key defenders, as the injury problems continued and the club’s financial issues began to come to light.

In the end enough was done to preserve league football, but it remains an enduring mystery how City under-performed to such an extent this season. Taylor blamed it all upon the injury list, and this probably explained how a promotion push never ultimately materialised. But it does not fully justify finishing seventh bottom of the entire Football League, as the lowest scorers in the three divisions.

Taylor had a strong budget, certainly strong enough to do better. The rotten luck with injuries suggests he was right to bring in quantity over quality during the summer, but City were too badly lacking in certain positions. Daley and Leon Osborne were the only natural wingers at the club after Taylor sold Scott Neilson a fortnight into the season. On the eve of the campaign Taylor admitted he feared he was lacking a quality goalscorer and he was to be proven right. There was so much inconsistency to team selection. A curiously high number of players made captain.

Too many chiefs. Not nearly enough leaders.

And not for the first season, we were left to question the number of loan players brought in and lack of longer-term thinking. While club captain Rehman should have handled the situation of being continually left out for inexperienced loanees better, he deserved fairer treatment from Taylor. When Tom Adeyemi scored a consolation at Port Vale in February, there was something unsettling about how pleased he looked about it. Although Richard Eckersley caught the eye at times, on other occasions he seemed more interested in looking good than taking the right option when in possession. For whatever reason, it just didn’t look as though everyone was pulling in the same direction; desperate to achieve the same things.

Ultimately, only Syers and O’Brien can look back on the season with their head held high. Others contributed positively at times, but more should be expected and demanded. Yet still – no matter how awful the league table looks and how much misery we’ve had to endure over the past 10 months – were it not for the one moment in that one game, this season might have turned out oh so differently.

The lingering Kevin Ellison

Kevin Ellison has returned to Rotherham United after injury curtailed his spell at Bradford City leaving Bantams fans with few lingering memories of the winger.

Ellison scored for City before starting to struggle with injury but perhaps a bigger impact on his career at the club was the change of manager from Peter Taylor to Peter Jackson.

Jackson’s style of play requested the return of Omar Daley and Ellison was quickly moved out of the first team picture being incapable of pushing his way back into the manager’s thoughts.

More curious though seems to be how the burly winger figured in the thoughts of Taylor and with an attitude that could be described as “no nonsense” by some and “distasteful” by others Ellison quickly seemed to start to represent all that had gone wrong under the previous manager.

Win at all costs, but without winning, and with a nasty taste in the mouth. League Two football gives an opportunity to get close to players at pitch side and watching Ellison plant two feet into a defender who had just knocked him over at Morecambe was unwelcome and unpleasant. Much of the winger’s interplay with his opponents seemed to be similar. Everyone has their own way of drawing the line between a wind up merchant and an nasty player and for some – including me – Ellison seemed to cross that line.

As Ellison exits he will be followed by other players who were brought in as a part of Taylor’s plans. Regardless of what might happen in the summer Tommy Doherty seems set to have played his last game for City. Many of those players will represent missed opportunities where City failed to get the best out of someone.

Ellison joins the list of players who will be looking for a new club. As a footballer he is no worse than the player who will replace him, but I hope that that replacement plays the game in a different way, and in a way I can be proud to watch.

The game after the one that mattered

The team huddle immediately prior to Monday’s vital game with Aldershot included not just the starting eleven, but the substitutes, manager and coaching staff. And its symbolism appeared to be taken on board by the majority of supporters in the stadium.

Sure, there are so many issues surrounding Bradford City Football Club right now, not least the feeling of being let down by this group of players. But for 90 minutes, it seemed everyone’s differences were put aside and we truly became one team working towards the same cause. The players were positively backed, the chanting probably its loudest all season. The usual groans and moans were largely reined in. The resultant 2-1 success felt like a collective effort, in which everyone deserved to share a slice of the credit.

And now we’re back to where we were, with at least one problem – the threat of relegation – seemingly addressed.

Tomorrow’s trip to Hereford is no longer the significant game it might have been; and, as is so often the case at this stage of a Bantams’ season, attention is more on those unresolved off the field questions. Nevertheless what happens between 3-5pm Saturday could have a major effect on one of those uncertainties – which can now firmly come back into focus.

Just who is going to manage City next season? Peter Jackson remains in the interim role, and arguably still holds pole position despite poor results in recent weeks reducing his popularity. The way he turned around the players from their pathetic no-show at Accrington to full-on commitment against Aldershot 48 hours later was hugely impressive.

Nevertheless results overall have not improved since it was determined Peter Taylor had to depart, and so Jackson now has several blemishes to his application to be permanent manager. The position was supposed to have been filled before Easter – along with announcing season ticket prices for next season – but the severity of the relegation problem saw those plans postponed. Next week should be the ideal time for the Board to finally make a decision.

John Hughes waits on in the wings, while Dagenham’s John Still – a star of a fantastic BBC Radio 5Live behind the scenes documentary that you should listen to if you have the time – continues to be heavily linked. Other names could still be in the frame; Jackson has let it be known, for example, that a couple of recently retired Premier League footballers have thrown their hat in the ring. They have offered to do it for free – such is the comfort of life from a career at the top – in order to get experience.

For now Jackson leads City to Edgar Street, with the hosts still harbouring relegation concerns. Having begun the season disastrously under Simon Davey, Hereford had improved significantly under the management of physio Jamie Pitman and climbed the table. However a run of one win in seven – oddly enough 3-0 against leaders Chesterfield – leaves them looking over their shoulders. While second-bottom Barnet find form, Hereford, Lincoln and Northampton have almost completely lost theirs. Who joins Stockport in non-league could be determined by who fails to climb out of their nosedive.

It is vital game tomorrow for Hereford, which makes for a very interesting assessment of Jackson’s City.  Although still needing a point to be mathematically safe, the Bantams basically have nothing to play for. As heartening as the effort levels were on Monday, all season the players have struggled to deliver the necessary level of desire supporters expect from them. If they want Jackson to be their manager – and if they want to be a Bradford City player for that matter – the greater need for Hereford to win should not be an excuse for rolling over.

Lenny Pidgley continues to keep goal, despite struggling to convince fans he should be picked ahead of the previously in-form Jon McLaughlin. The back four on Monday was – for a rare occasion – terrific and likely to stay the same. Lee Bullock’s performance at centre back was one of the finest individual displays of the season, especially considering it’s not his position. Luke Oliver is also ending the campaign well; while on Monday Robbie Threlfall at last put in a display to the standard of when he was on impressing on loan last season.

That said the demotion of Luke O’Brien is troubling and one has to wonder what he has done to merit a continuing omission from the starting line up. Many fans and the media have declared David Syers is the player of the season, despite no democratic vote taking place. He probably does deserve it overall, but for consistency and improvement O’Brien would have made a worthy rival for the award. Lewis Hunt plays right back.

In midfield Omar Daley’s wonder goal on Monday was a magic moment for those of us who continue to talk up the Jamaican, while others routinely dispute his worth to the team. Of his three games since returning, Monday was, arguably, his quietest so far. It is interesting that a team who has spent the season playing without wingers has struggled to provide Daley with adequate service since he was recalled to play his more natural wide position. Nevertheless his value has been clearly demonstrated.

Jon Worthington will patrol the centre alongside Syers, with Gareth Evans wide right. Evans is the current target of the Valley Parade boo boys, and it is sad to see a player struggling for confidence receive such little support. No one has acknowledged that it was his corner which set up Monday’s winner.

Up front James Hanson had an outstanding first half at least on Monday and will partner Jake Speight, who also impressed and was notably missed when he was subbed early due to injury. Chib Chilaka – Speight’s replacement – struggles to make an impact, though his particularly jubilant celebrations at full time on Monday did not go unnoticed.

A mass team huddle probably won’t be required pre-match; but if the players switch off again, for Jackson it might time to switch off the lights on the manager’s office for good.

I, as in team

David Syers met the ball and headed it firmly into the back of Aldershot Town’s goal. I stood and raised two hands in the air and I heard sounds around me but I made no sound.

A contrast then. Within the first five minutes of City’s penultimate home game of the season City pressed well and Omar Daley won a throw in on the left wing. Robbie Threlfall acted quickly taking the throw from some way back and feeding Daley.

There is something about Daley which divides people – or so popular thinking goes – but there is no division when the Jamaican winger takes the ball forward. People might say pass when they see Omar heading towards goal and the certainly say it after an aborted forward thrust but when he is on the ball I’d wager that everyone wants the same thing.

The skip forward, the drag inside, the look up, the shot from twenty five yards out that arcs past a poorly positioned Aldershot keeper Jamie Young and into the far corner of the goal.

It is the goal anyone would want to score and when it ripples the goal there is an burst of relief audible and loud. Everyone on their feet, everyone cheering, everyone as one. It is times like that as Daley skids to a cheering slide and is mobbed that football is at its best.

Stay in the moment. The explosion of joy, the happiness. The weeks of following Bradford City have been grim but the moments on a Saturday justify those.

From then on it is all Bradford City coming forward with the sort of gusto that a confident team does. Michael Flynn prompted from midfield, Daley looked threatening but everyone wanted the ball and it seemed that that willingness would bring a second goal. James Hanson hit a long range effort that beat Young and bounced back into play from the post only for Jake Speight to catch the follow up with his knees and spur the chance.

Young performed better, saving a header from Luke Oliver following an Omar Daley corner, but ever corner which came over from the Bantams was battled between strikers and defenders. Young came for not one. This would prove conclusive.

Not conclusive but seemingly so was the moment though when Aldershot burst down the left flank following a Lewis Hunt overlap. Michael Flynn tracked back and a sudden snap was obvious as the Welshman’s hand reached to his right thigh.

Right leg lame, left leg darts out to take the ball in a tackle taking the ball. Flynn prostrate on the turf, probably his last kick of the season, maybe his last kick for the club, but he made the tackle. Outside of football the loudest sound I make is waking up at night with a cramp. That requires Mrs Wood to be awoken and sympathy give. One leg goes, the other tackles. Michael Flynn limps away to the sound of his name being sung.

It is the lack of that sort of personal effort which has put City into the position we are in. For a team of Michael Flynn.

Flynn’s absence saw Gareth Evans come on and David Syers move to central midfield. Evans is chunked to the ground in an attacking move and the ball attacks the weakened right hand side allowing Peter Vincenti to equalise. It is one of a series of decisions which referee Mathieson allows creating a kind of Wild West atmosphere on the field.

Tackles are hard and some use two feet. Gary Charles – one of the best defenders in League Two – pulls down Speight as he runs towards goal and is not cautioned when a red card seems the only option. Speight gets involved with defenders with pushing and shoving but no discipline. Both teams are lucky that Mathieson’s approach to refereeing does not leave them with injuries and one tackle that stamped into Jon Worthington seemed to be worth a red card.

Worthington is struggling though. Two games in three days seem to have sapped his energy and Syers is carrying much of the weight of the midfield. Evans and Daley put in effort for different awards. Daley jinks forward beating two men with a step over flick on which gets you to the edge of the seat, Evans makes mistakes but taps on a reserve missing for the last few weeks and keeps going.

Results ping around the ground. Barnet are winning, the they are not. Burton are ahead of us and then they are not and for a moment the mental image of Howard Wilkinson eating his dinner as Leeds won the 1992 Championship came to mind. Control what you can control, filter out what you cannot.

But there is a nervousness. Lenny Pidgeley is not over employed but there seems to a worry that Aldershot Town – nothing much to play for – have something in store for City. David Syers is booked. He has stepped up to a level of performance which carries the team. A real central midfield display of which one can only admire. A year ago he was a non-league footballer. Today he graduated.

Syers performance won the game but the performance as a team was excellent. Individual players taking responsibility for the collective performance. Syers gave City the steel and with that steel City took the midfield battle and – just – won it.

A free kick driven towards goal by Robbie Threlfall and Young excelled himself with a save. Gareth Evans hit the corner true and Syers heads the ball heading it firmly into the Aldershot goal just as the clock ticks into injury time. I hear noise around me but I am alone in my silence. In fifteen minutes the adrenaline kicks in and I start to rabbit to the people I’m walking back to the car with.

The game ends an age later and City have 51 points. There are mathematics which mean City could be relegated but they are slight and City are probably safe. Superb performance from David Syers, brilliant goal from Omar Daley. Individuals taking responsibility for their own performance, and the performance of the team.

The I, as in team.

Another chance to end the season that did not start

Watching Nottingham Forest sneak into sixth place in the Championship at the expense of Leeds United it was remarked that one might not have predicted Forest would do so well after their defeat to Bradford City in the second game of the season.

That evening David Syers’ debut goal and an extra time strike from James Hanson gave City a 2-1 win and seemed to kick start a season which promised much. That early indication was as close as the club got to the season starting in earnest and some eight months on as City fans watch a team struggle with relegation one feels a little robbed of a year of football.

Not that we expected much from the season – Mark Lawn and the rest of the Valley Parade board did to such an extent where The City Gent’s Mike Harrison was hauled over the coals for predicting that the Bantams would be finish a place outside the play offs. Mike was – it seems – right that we would not be in the top seven.

One might wonder though what impact the predictions and preferences of supporters have on a football club. There was a school of thought – helped by the financial mechanics of the bookmaking industry – that City would be favourites this season which went alongside the predictions for Harrison (and from myself, for I was no more confident) and all these are set against a near constant stream of negativity which is tied to the club like a stone around the leg of a drowning man.

On that subject one can only look in envy at groups of supporters who realise the impact they can have on their team. City fans – it seems – have long since made a choice that the players are very much on their own and as the Bantams look for three points to end the season without relegation they do so alone.

Luke Oliver – a target for abuse regardless of his performances – sneered at City fans singing to him and his team mates that they were not fit to wear the shirt over at Accrington and will have gone into the dressing room to hear Peter Jackson agreeing but nothing in the club invites Oliver or his team mates passions.

One year contracts that make sure your future and the club’s are not tied together, abuse from supporters on the days you flog your guts out, and talk of the club not even starting next season.

For sure any professional pride you have might mean you want to win, but on the days when your opposition have the same professional pride and a crowd who want them to do well, who encourage them and who try lift them, playing for a manager who lives and breaths the club then one wonders what we want the mercenaries who we gather together every summer to care about?

Assuming the current crop of players – those who are “encouraged on” by being told they represent the worst Bradford City team in forty years – can steal three points in the next three games then the club – assuming that it can struggle into next season without the self inflicted wounds of administration – then let they be the last who are so poorly assembled.

My belief is that players are much of a muchness at this level and that the current set will be replaced by players no better, no worse, but that it is up to a club, a manager and a set of supporters to build those players into a team. The club can offer contracts of a length and a stability that encourage the players to realise that their futures are tied to the team’s performance, the manager can instil belief and desire in those players, and that supporters can – for once – decide to swallow the scream of abuse which vents their own frustration but creates or furthers the cauldron of negativity which Bradford City has become.

Or not, and we can try carry on like this.

Jon McLaughlin seems ready to return for Lenny Pidgeley in goal for the Bantams as we look to record a win over Aldershot which could end relegation fears. A defeat for Barnet at home to Oxford United and a win for the Bantams would see City safe mathematically.

Lewis Hunt will continue at right back with Luke Oliver paired with either Lee Bullock or Steve Williams should Williams have recovered from illness. Luke O’Brien will hope for a recall at left back over Robbie Threlfall.

Tommy Doherty is – we are told – fit to play but not being selected. Mark Lawn spoke about only wanting to sign players who wanted to play for Bradford City and it seems that Doherty was certainly amongst the those covered in that criticism. Not that the criticism is especially valid. Most players we approach would want to play for the club but the trick is making sure that they still want to play for Bradford City after a few months.

Instead Jon Worthington and Michael Flynn make up City’s midfield. Flynn’s efforts are seemingly the target of criticism themselves by some supporters with the idea being that since he has returned from injury he has “struggled for form” or “been rubbish” depending on your vernacular. Dropping the players who put in effort, in an attempt to get more effort, is no solution I could subscribe to.

Kevin Ellison is fit to return but will most likely be kept to the bench as David Syers and Omar Daley take the wings although there is an idea that Peter Jackson will use Daley as a second striker alongside James Hanson with Jake Speight dropping to the bench alongside Gareth Evans.

With undoubted ability – recall Northampton last season – and a willingness to work hard on many, many occasions Gareth Evans cuts a forlorn figure which perfectly represents the Bantams lack progress.

Seldom does one see a football who has so obviously had all the joy of playing football squeezed out of him.

Now we ask players like him to squeeze out just one more win, before sending them away and replacing them with the next set of hopefully to be crushed on the broken wheels that make no progress.

United 3 Disunited 0

Viewed through the singular picture of the four league meetings at the Crown Ground between the two clubs since 2007, the rise of Accrington and the demise of Bradford City could not be more evident.

After the Bantams outplayed their hosts in January 2008 to triumph 2-0 and were lucky to grab a memorable 3-2 win in October the next season, Stanley achieved a deserved 2-0 victory in February 2010 and today completely outplayed their West Yorkshire counterparts in delivering a 3-0 scoreline that flattered only the visitors. Most worrying of all is how much further in opposite directions the clubs may yet go: could we end this season two divisions apart?

Towards Accrington there can only be warm appreciation and envy for what they are on the brink of achieving. That cute little club we defeated 2-0 some 39 months ago has slowly grown and grown; moving up 5th place today after crushing the Bantams. They could even yet seal automatic promotion; an incredible achievement for a club which pulls in the second-lowest average attendances in the division.

But then, from the outside, Accrington appears to be so united. As the players walked out onto the field at kick off, the hardcore Stanley Ultra supporters behind the goal unfurled homemade banners with the word ‘Believe’. They provided a passionate level of backing towards their players during the subsequent 90 minutes which – in volume and originality – defied their lowly numbers. The quality of atmosphere deserves to put 99% of fans of professional football clubs in this country – including us – to shame.

The players, superbly drilled and confident, responded to their fans with an energetic display that City simply couldn’t live with. On a dreadful playing surface, they passed the ball around with an urgency and skill that was a joy to watch. Under John Coleman – who in his 12 years in charge has improved Stanley’s league position every season – they are creative but organised. However the most telling difference between the two sides was the reaction to making mistakes.

Accrington ain’t Brazil, and their attempts to pass the ball around quickly on several occasions ended with the ball flying out of play or going to the wrong man. But not once could you hear groans from home fans – just positive support to get going again. Coasting in the second half, a mistake that allowed Omar Daley to shoot wildly wide saw an argument between two Accrington players spill over into the beginnings of a fight that saw others step in to defuse. They were 3-0 up, for goodness sake.

Such levels of passion and determination were woefully lacking in City. Whatever Stanley have been getting right, the Bantams it seems have been getting it wrong. Peter Jackson paused from walking down the touchline just before kick off to hug and shake the hands of City supporters in the main stand; like a politician canvassing for votes, all to aware of the spotlight upon him. While Coleman builds on at Accrington, City’s last three visits to the Crown Ground have seen a different manager in charge.

Who knows what Jackson’s chances are of getting the City job anymore? Results have become worse than they were under Peter Taylor and, as sympathetic as we can be over how difficult the job is with the players he’s inherited, Jackson must assume some responsibility for six defeats in eight.

Not that his players did much to help him. It took nine minutes for Accrington’s promising start to be rewarded by a goal, with Luke Joyce being allowed to run and curl a superb effort into the far corner. Seven minutes later Andrew Proctor was played through on goal and finished emphatically past Lenny Pidgley. While Accrington fans continued their positive chanting, the City following – easily the lowest in numbers of the four trips to the Crown Ground – was turning on their team.

The Bantams did at least begin to put up some fight and threatened to pull a goal back. First James Hanson prodded a tame effort at home keeper Alex Cisak; then a hard-working Omar Daley went on a jinxing run and saw his cross shot beaten out; next Robbie Threlfall free kick went narrowly over and then, after David Syers’ shot was blocked, Lewis Hunt’s long-range volley was well tipped over by Cisak.

Yet every time Accrington went forward they threatened to overrun a City defence which has been woefully inadequate all season. The third goal came after a long throw in was flicked on by Luke Oliver, and Sean McConville got free of his marker to head the ball into an empty net with Pidgely badly positioned. At least the referee put us out of our misery by blowing for half time shortly after, though the ugly barracking the players received as they filed to the dressing room by the away end was as miserable as anything we’d endured on the field.

Behind the back of our stand, an amateur football match was taking place on a different pitch during the first half and many City fans gave up on watching their team to view this one instead. As amusing as it was for a huge cheer to go up when the team in orange scored – their players raced over in celebration and waved at us – the contrast in the nature of support compared to Accrington fans hardly reflected well on us City supporters, no matter how trying the circumstances. The Accrington Ultras, observing our cheers for another match, chanted “S**t support” and it was difficult to argue.

The second half at least saw the damage restricted in scoreline, though it would be beyond even this writer’s optimistic nature to argue a degree of pride was restored. Lee Bullock came on for the ill Steve Williams; later on Chib Chilaka replaced Hanson but failed to make any impact. Daley’s effort that prompted the two Accrington players to fall out aside, there were no serious attempts on goal from City. Accrington had chances to make it four or even five nil and didn’t let up all afternoon.

We could put this debacle down to players not caring about the club. We can bemoan the manager as not being good enough. We can take solace in the fact many of these underachieving professionals won’t be at the club much longer. But in many ways this is failing to grasp hold of the problem and will most likely lead to repeats of these failures.

Sure some of the players were found wanting in their effort levels today, but not all of them. And the fear is that we didn’t just lose 3-0 because our players didn’t match Accrington for effort, but that we lost 3-0 because the ability of our players is that far behind.

Barnet’s surprise win over Gillingham is troubling, and for City the priority is to get that one more victory from the last three games needed to ensure survival. But after the dust settles and thoughts turn to next season it would be nonsense – even before we contemplate potential point deductions – to expect a promotion push.

This club is so far behind where we think we should be, and there will be no quick fixes. Right now it seems there are too many divides between the Board/Management/Players/Supporters and somehow we need to truly pull together and rebuild ourselves into a united club we can be proud of.

Someone like Accrington. Walking back to the car, my friend wearing a City shirt, we received non-stop taunts of 3-0 from young kids, while their parents talked excitedly about the play offs. Meanwhile The Accrington Ultras were still in full voice, marching out the home end playing the drum and chanting about their love for Stanley.

It all looked like a lot of fun. Perhaps one day we can fall back in love with our club too.

Everybody ends up happy

At ninety minutes no one was ecstatic, but everyone was happy.

Omar Daley was happy. Happy to be back after he was recalled by Peter Jackson’s Bradford City following a fall out with Ronnie Moore at Rotherham United that left him looking at “rotting in the reserves.” The change of manager in Sheffield did not signal a change in fortunes so back he came.

Daley’s return to City saw him quickly show what City had been missing. Omar is as he always was. He runs with the ball, makes things happen, and can frustrate some. After two months sat far back though I enjoyed on the edge of my seat again. Omar’s play ranged from the sublime – his thrusting down the left should have resulted in a goal for Michael Flynn but for a out of sync flag – to the ridiculous when he air shotted following a burst past the full back.

Lewis Hunt was happy. Happy to be back in the team and – one assumes – staying around for next season. Hunt has played his twenty games this season and in this one he let no one down with a solid defensive display in a back four which struggled to cope with a changed goalkeeper to an unsettled Lenny Pidgeley.

Hunt would not have been happy to see John McGrath run in from distance before half time and head in a goal which gave Burton a first half lead but will have looked for someone not picking up a man at the corner. He probably looked in the direction of Gareth Evans who started well but struggled in the end.

Neil Swarbrick was happy. He was a referee who seemed hell bent on avoiding anything as sensational as a yellow card and certainly wanted to make sure that there was nothing controversial. Goalkeepers protected when they jumped into defenders, advantages ignored, shirt tugs not penalised in the penalty area. Steve Williams jumped to try head in and produced a brilliant save from Adam Legzdins but his shirt was near off his back as he did.

Paul Peschisolido was happy. He set out his team to come for a point and as a result of setting his midfielders deep managed to catch David Syers in a net and leave Jon Worthington wandering. The Burton manager was unhappy when this same was rearranged but in the context of the end of the season the point will have pleased him.

And Peter Jackson will be happy too. He make the change from 442 to 433 which introduced Jake Speight and Speight scored with fifteen minutes from the end to equalise moving City up to 48 points and 16th in League Two all but ending lingering relegation fears.

Speight was obviously happy. His performance was lively – like Omar he has been out of the team while the team has been suffering and static – and his goal should give him confidence. Darren Moore – returning to Valley Parade to a standing ovation – will be happy too with a good performance.

Moore took the applause at the end of the game he left the match with a warm glow. Apparently the way City fans reacted to Joe Colbeck is not the way we treat all returning players and I’m happy about that.

So, in the end, everyone is happy.

Hate the team, I mean really hate the team

“Love the club, hate the team” or so went the special demotivational chant as City played Southend United on Friday night and its is almost impossible not to suggest that both players and supporters put in the level of effort that befit the result.

Which is not to criticise anyone who went down to Southend United for Bradford City – both players and fans were on the road for twelve hours that day – but that while some things in life are about the journey others are about what you do when you reach the destination and in terms of achieving a result it could hardly be said that either excelled.

It is said that one of the City players at the end of the game as he was “in debate” with a supporter colourfully told him – as a retort to something equally colourful – that he cared not about the abuse because he would not be at the club next season.

No more dog poo training pitch, no more hostile crowds, no more ludicrous level of expectation, no more revolving door on the manager’s office, no more seeing good players dropped for loanees, no more having the chairman tell people that you have under performed despite all the things listed. One can imagine that if you really hated the team the best punishment might be to trigger one of those contract extensions.

Which is only half in jest. While being a professional football is – no doubt – a superb job most of the time but like any job the minutia of it grinds and that grind must be apparent when after being dragged to and from Southend in a day the only thing to look forward to is more of the same. Certainly looking at Bradford City and they way that the club chooses to direct its resources would hardly fill you with anticipation that next season would be any better.

The club’s public position is that it has no money so there are no improvements in the offing and there is a tendency for the promises made one minute to be broken the next. Lewis Hunt is not involved at the moment, and as a player you will have your own views on that. You might also recall signing for a club which talked about having overnight stays which – seemingly – were not needed for Southend despite one assumes being budgeted for at the start of the season.

Against this backdrop the only real prospect of improvement is not from the club but from the players working together and summoning the individual character to improve and – in short – there is very little reason for them to do that. With many five game away from being out of work the motivation to put a foot in where it hurts (and by hurts one could say “leaves injured to make a trail for someone else in the summer impossible”) must be very low.

Such is the situation the players – and by extension the club – finds itself in. Fighting for Fourth Division survival with an army of near de-mob mercenaries. If we do have a club next season I do hope we stop this obsession football has with the season long contract and start giving players good, long, proper deals. To get loyalty, you have to give loyalty.

One wonders what loyalty Omar Daley will have left. Daley is out of contract at the end of the season and needs to impress with Rotherham United seemingly changed direction from the management which signed him two months ago and City being without a manager who can be sure of being in the big chair next season. The idea that he might be going to one of the Scottish Cup finalists lingers.

Daley will return to the City team on the left wing as Peter Jackson looks to recall the walking wounded for the game against Burton Albion which is being billed – somewhat curiously – as giving the winner a safe place in League Two next season.

The game is part of a good season for Burton which was ruined by games called off and the team has struggled with the arduous games in hand catch up of which this is the final one. The games in hand which people thought would propel them up the league have not and they hover nervously above the drop.

City hover above them, but are still nervous.

Jackson – who seems to see his hopes of being City’s full time manager evaporate in front of him – is tasked with getting the performance that has been lacking from his previous two matches and will try get the spark from Daley which has been lacking. Daley is expected to be on the left wing opposite Gareth Evans on the right but he could be deployed on the other flank, or up front.

However the Daley and Evans with Jon Worthington and David Syers in the middle seems to best suit Jackson’s style of play with Michael Flynn up front alongside the also returning James Hanson. Jackson’s dropping of A in a quest for more goals seems to have failed drastically. The replacements have looked no more likely to score than the maligned forward but the ball has spent less time in the final third.

Likewise the decision to drop Lewis Hunt is probably not the only factor in the seven concessions in two games but the disturbance to what was a decent defensive unit has helped not one jot. Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien have suffered at right back and Jackson is left looking at youngster Adam Robinson making his debut or someone else filling in. Steve Williams is back to partner Luke Oliver and O’Brien is expected back at left back.

Jon McLaughlin keeps goal.

A win will move City to fifty points – since two teams started to be relegated from League Two no club has gone down with that many – but only twice have teams with 47 points been relegated in those eight years which is motivation for Burton who would reach that total.

One wonders how Burton’s fans think of their club, and if they hate their players.

Note No comments on this. We have no time to moderate them during the day and after the game comments are best directed at the report.

Omar Daley returns to Bradford City

Thank goodness; Omar Daley is back at Bradford City.

Supporter opinion on the Jamaican winger has always being mixed – and as he departed on loan to Rotherham United two months ago there were plenty of people pleased. But whatever your view on his ability, Valley Parade has certainly being a duller place without him.

His early recall from a loan spell gives interim manager Peter Jackson – for whom Tuesday’s vital home game with Burton Albion could be his last – a major lift giving the flagging numbers of senior players he has available. On Friday at Southend, Jackson was forced to play a front two that has scored no goals this season for the Bantams; plus a central midfielder on the right wing and an out-of-form forward on the left flank. Daley could play in any of those positions and, with City’s ongoing struggle to score goals, will be looked upon to make a positive difference.

Expect Daley to play wide left on Tuesday. Jackson has tried to implement an attacking 4-4-2 formation, which has been undermined by a lack of wide players in particular in the squad inherited from Peter Taylor. Daley can provide some of that attacking width; and, although his goal assists have been low for City this season and his crossing has never been the greatest, he is capable of increasing the amount of chances the players are creating.

More importantly – with morale so low in the wake of the last two defeats – a return of such a quality player can boost a team rapidly losing confidence. How good would it be to see City line up on Tuesday with Daley on one flank and Leon Osborne or youngster Dominic Rowe on the other? Jon Worthington can hold the midfield with Tom Adeyemi free to get forwards, while David Syers can fill in at right back. A much more balanced side.

Where this development leaves the other player in the February loan swap deal – Kevin Ellison – is unclear. An inspiring debut against Wycombe aside, Ellison has struggled to make an impact since arriving from Rotherham; although has been missed in recent weeks following an injury. While Daley’s greater qualities are pace, trickery and unpredictability, Ellison carries a sizeable positive influence on team mates and an admirable level of work rate.

A month ago Joint Chairman Mark Lawn revealed Daley could not return to City unless Rotherham wanted to recall Ellison, as the club couldn’t afford two wages. At the time of writing Ellison is still a City player, and one would assume this position has been changed in view of City’s increasingly desperate league position. Give the current financial worries that on the field leave Jackson without a senior right back, it is still a curious move.

Daley, who is out of contact in the summer and struggled to secure a first team spot at the Millers, will look to impress Jackson or the manager in waiting over the final five games. Having looked like he’d played his last game for City – a dreadful performance at home to Lincoln that saw him booed off by fans when he was subbed – it looks like Daley’s Bantams career could be extended a while longer yet.

And those of us supporters who do rate him couldn’t be happier.

The fifth midfield shows as City face Northampton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bradford City are to beat Rotherham United tonight

On attending a game, and when asked the question “Who will win today?” veteran commentator Barry Davies used to retort that if he had known that piece of information he would have no need to be at the match.

Indeed it was a point of some conviction for the Valley voiced microphone man that the joy of football – the thing that made it worth watching – was the competition within a single game. If Davies could have predicted the result of matches with accuracy he would have lost interest and I echo his thoughts.

In May 1981 it will be thirty years since I went to my first Bradford City game – a 1-0 reversal to Hereford United – and in the years between then and now the only thing I’ve been convinced by when it comes to predictions is that they play out over the long term and not that short.

I can predict, dear reader, that over the course of two or three seasons any given team will win over half the home games it plays, and that when that team goes away it will win less often, but these predictions (which, in truth, are more statements of eventualities) are possible because of the length of time of the sample. Given two or three years anomalies are ironed out and the data can be made lore and conclusions drawn.

A glance over the win ratios of the various names suggested as the next Bradford City manager reveal that the difference between the good and the rest is often within a deviation of around 10%. A good win percentage is 45%, a poor one 35% but most managers are in the middle. Roy McFarland – whom wikipedia tells us is the most successful City manager – has too small a sample for this statistic to be meaningful and an indicator of ability as noted by Paul Jewell’s lowly figure as a result of the season in the Premiership which saw view victories but a great result.

The object point being that it is only over time that conclusions based on statistical data – results in other words – can be drawn.

Which brings us to Peter Jackson – one game into what is rumoured to be three in which the former skipper can prove himself the man for the full time manager’s job – and his claim for the role which man press his claim for.

Jackson’s first time out as City manager saw an improvement of sorts. Losing while playing well (or at least excitingly) is better than losing while playing negative football or at least it is said to be although those who took Stuart McCall to task on the idea that emotion (rather than pure results) might be important are no doubt sharpening whatever implements one sharpens when one wants to cut a manager away from a club.

Having had one of his three games Jackson is looking back on Saturday as a good start and something to build on. Certainly he will have learnt much about his charges at Valley Parade from the ninety minutes although if he had said on day one that they team was not winning because a player very like (or very actually) Jon Worthington was not anchoring the midfield then for all the jibes that might of produced he would probably have been right.

Shod of a holding midfielder for most of the season Worthington’s exit to injury on Saturday weakened City’s centre and the Bantams boss will hope that he can call upon the player’s services in Tuesday night’s visit of Rotherham United. Worthington and Flynn – as a midfield – seems to have a good balance and the fact that Jackson picked that on his first day in the job saw me warm to him immeasurably. Indeed it is fair to say that from the days of often odd choices of players under Peter Taylor Peter Jackson’s first team – a 442 with a big man and a crunching midfielder – was very much template I would use.

(I make no apologies, by the way, for waiting for Jackson to do something other than walk through the front door to begin to comment on him in a positive way. At the start of the season The City Gent’s Mike Harrison was hauled down to Valley Parade for daring to suggest that Peter Taylor’s team might finish 8th. Demanding a huge positive reaction to the appointment of a paid caretaker manager sits alongside those early season antics in demanding fealty.)

The template perhaps but just as Taylor had struggled to assemble a squad to play his way so Jackson is left with the team bent out of shape. If when Kevin Ellison was swapped for Omar Daley between these two clubs a few weeks ago it suited Taylor it does not suit Jackson, and rumours have already started that City are looking at ways to undo the deal.

Not that either player will take a part in this match leaving Jackson looking at who he can deploy on the left hand side of midfield. James Hanson will start up front and Jake Speight may get the nod alongside him although Scott Dobie is pressing for a place if only because of Speight’s showing on Saturday. The loser of that could end up on the left wing. Failing that Leon Osborne, Tom Ademyei and David Syers might all want to play on the flank.

Gareth Evans will be on the right – I long to see Evans though the middle once more – with Worthington and Flynn in the middle. The back four of Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien seems to pick itself although O’Brien may be called to go forward. Lenny Pidgeley will – no doubt – remain in goal although Jackson might fancy giving Jon McLaughlin a game.

All of which details a team which will beat Rotherham United, of that there can be little doubt. It may seem a curious and bold claim but were I to engage in the relatively pointless process of prediction it is one I would make but make without confidence. Predicting the outcome of single matches is guess work, predicting the patterns over long periods is more possible.

Understanding that begs the question as to how – for the second time in a year – Bradford City are left looking at such short term indicators as if they dictate a long term significance.

There will be a moment in the game tonight where a bobble of a ball robs a chance which robs a victory, or brings a defeat perhaps, and that will dictate (so rumour has it) if Peter Jackson or John Hughes becomes out manager.

If one can make a long term judgement on the basis of such a twist then – unlike Barry Davies and myself – perhaps one can find out if Bradford City to beat Rotherham United tonight.

Defeat has left three hours of football for Jackson to claim the job

It has become an open secret that Peter Jackson will be the full time Bradford City manager as long as he does not mess up the next three games.

Open secret might be overstating things, it is a rumour might underplay them though, but one by one everyone you talk to about the City job starts saying the same thing. Jackson has three games to win the job. How many of them he needs to win you can only guess at. Today at Gillingham, Rotherham on Tuesday and Morecambe on Saturday and four points are probably not going to be enough so two wins might be the ticket, unless the board fancy appointing the guy who is doing “ok.”

Three wins to claim the job or three to save it if you prefer and if he does not do enough in the next seven days then John Hughes is the man. It’s like Jackson has arrived under pressure, fighting for his job, and in a way City have managed to find a way of limping from one manager needing wins to another.

So two wins in the next three and Jackson is to be anointed having proved to be too good to not give the job to – or so it will be spun no doubt – but Hughes is a back up in case the season slips again into relegation problems.

Jackson starts the fight well with City going at the home team who will accept nothing less than promotion with Luke Oliver spurning a chance with minutes gone to head in a deep corner. A couple of minutes later both Gareth Evans and Kevin Ellison could have done better.

Evans and Ellison are deployed as widemen in a 4-4-2 with Michael Flynn in the middle and Jon Worthington behind him. Worthington doesn’t last the first half going off bleeding and he is missed quickly when Gillingham’s massive strike Adebayo Akinfenwa scores after a sucession or cheap few kicks.

Cheap free kicks from a referee who at one point books one of the City subs so much does he struggle to keep the players on the rich in control that his bookings leak out to people who aren’t playing. A guy in Argentina sent off 36 players in one game this week, it could be worse.

Jackson’s laying out in the 4-4-2 Peter Taylor would not play, Stuart McCall loved and football managers risk being called old fashioned for using. The shape suits the players more and the look more assured and comfortable and as a result it is all more enjoyable.

Jackson – or Hughes – might wish he had Omar Daley back for the orthodox 4-4-2 which plays little man big man with Jake Speight and Jim Hanson and the kind if midfield pair that seems to work. Worthington knows Jackson from Huddersfield and is instantly back in the side. No one says the F word.

As a supporter who sees mostly Southern games, and away games, the performance was better than we have seen for sometime and some of that is new manager excitement but most is the way the players fit into the formation.

They look more at ease but when at the start of the second half Curtis Weston powers down the wing and smashes the ball into the too corner suddenly that ease starts to worry. The two widemen not know for their crossing, the little man up front who flatter to deceive, and Jackson faces the question as to if his team have the goals in them.

Flynn tries to respond quickly raising the tempo and Speight gets a chance after good work from Evans but the game seems out of reach from the moment of the second goal.

So for Jackson there is optimism from a good performance but the realities of football management for his predecessors have it that only winning is important and technical merit, and being the hero of fans, does not get you far at Valley Parade.

Hanson spends the afternoon winning everything but Speight does not read his flicks well enough and the two widemen are not able to join the attack with pace. It looks good but is not effective.

Luke O’Brien heads the ball off the line, making up for getting stormed past by Weston earlier, to give Jackson’s hopes of claiming this defeat as a creditable enterprise. City were always going to struggle at a promotion chaser and the result is no worse than can be expected, Tuesday night probably represents a better gauge.

Certainly the players will have plenty of time to think about it on the coach on the way home. It is about a five hour drive back to Bradford, Peter Jackson has three hours of football left to make a claim to be City boss.

Playing favourites

Jon McLauglin was left cooling his heels again on Saturday after Peter Taylor dropped the keeper to return Lenny Pidgeley to the side for the weekend win over Wycombe. Talking to the T&A the City manager offered his sympathy saying

Jon has done nothing wrong but you have to make a decision that you think is right. I thought it was a good game to bring Lenny back.

Pidgeley’s return from four games out with a virus saw him excel while Lewis Hunt – survivor of a penalty appeal which I would have been surprised if it was given at the other end for City – seemed to be shoved back into the side as soon as he could be. Luke Oliver is nailed into the team thanked for playing up front while Omar Daley was played all around the field but did not get a note of thanks from manager Peter Taylor when he exited the club.

Taylor stands accused of playing favourites.

Compared in style to sometime City boss John Docherty who peopled his team with former Millwall youth players Taylor’s lads from Wycombe: Oliver, Hunt, injured Tommy Doherty and now, ahem, departed Gavin Grant; are perceived to have a leg up over other players in the side.

When Doherty cost City a goal at the start of the season Taylor was quick to jump to the midfielder’s defence. When McLaughlin erred the finger was quickly pointed. As a way of managing one’s players some would approve of singling out players for criticism and some would not – Stuart McCall would never allow his team to be criticised accepting any blame on himself, Taylor points fingers at the squad and refuses to accept a scrap of responsibility – but it is not the criticism but who Taylor aims it at which provokes a response.

If McLaughlin can be hung out to dry why can’t Doherty? If Oliver has to be thanked for playing (poorly) out of position why isn’t Daley who played on both wings, up front and at the front of central midfield during his last season at City?

Perhaps the question is framed wrong.

Having brought four players from his previous club Wycombe – as well as the odd face from Hull City who one assumes the manager has a contact at the KC Stadium who prompts him as to who might be worth signing – Taylor obviously has his favourite players. Luke Oliver has played for the City manager at three clubs. There must be something that Taylor likes in him.

With Oliver, and Hunt for that matter, one doubts the players were signed for their raw ability so much as their attitudes. Taylor knows them, knows how they react, and want that attitude in his squad at Valley Parade.

Luke Oliver has by no means the most impressive defender I’ve ever seen but his attitude is extremely admirable. He is one of the most discreet players I’ve ever watched able to box up mistakes and errors he makes – and he makes them – and put them deeply in the back of his mind. No sulking, no dragging a bad performance from one game to the next, just getting on with getting on.

It is not hard to see why Taylor defends that attitude. McCall’s team had a nasty habit of taking one defeat into the next game, and to the next. If Taylor wants to avoid that – and he should – then the attitude that Oliver has is important. Ditto Hunt, ditto Doherty.

Why shield those players while hanging out others to dry? One would have to know the players man for man to be able to make that call but one might speculate that players who have that attitude Taylor wants – be they his recruits from former clubs or those players he found at City who signed up for the Taylor plan – get the protection while the others are chided unless they come into the fold. Michael Flynn was fulsome in his praise of Taylor, and is never criticised.

The results of Taylor’s methods are questionable – we are not on for promotion and it looks as if the manager will be on his way next season – but the manager has to be allowed to manage and part of Taylor’s management techniques is to set up examples of good attitudes and good behaviours protecting those players while leaving others on the outside, tempting them to come in.

Management by playing favourites, if you will.

Fleeting success

Sadly it seems that success in football – as in life – is always fleeting.

An ethereal thing almost as soon as it is grasped then success is gone, dissipated in the desire for a better success. We look back a decade to Bradford City celebrating staying in the Premiership only to set sights on European football and a “kicking on to mid-table finish” the next season. That year Manchester United won the treble and since have never been happy with domestic success alone since.

It is in our reach that we define our tragedy and doom ourselves to discomfort, or so it is said. Wycombe Wanderers under Peter Taylor were promoted from League Two two years ago and seem on course to celebrate similar success this year having seen this sojourn back to the fourth tier as an unwelcome diversion from progress. There was a time they were happy to be in the League.

What we have we do not value, and we want more or so it seems, and to this maelstrom we welcome Dominic Rowe and Alex Flett.

The (new) boys are back in town

Two of David Wetherall’s junior side Fleet and Rowe have been given squad numbers and the chance to claim a place in the match day squad. At the moment City’s new numbers 31 and 32 are welcomed to the first team squad with open arms and optimistic smiles. “These two,” the mind trots to thinking “could be big players for us.”

The mind is right to do so. That skinny sixteen year old who filled in for Ces Podd in 1982 was in Flett and Rowe’s position and and he turned out well. Watching the progress of players like Don Goodman, Andrew O’Brien and Dean Richards was a source of pride and joy for City fans in years gone by. Soon though this joy of the first team squad will fade.

Because then they will be required to be substitutes, and then “impact substitutes” who change games and then when they start they will quickly be required to make manifest difference on the field. Each time what was considered an achievement would be relegated to being a kind of failure. The rapidity of which this happens is always astounding.

However it is a natural thing – and often a good thing – to press all the players for more. There is a disappointment that comes when a player seemingly plateaus. When he gets onto the bench and is in and out of the team, or when he gets into the team but does not excel in it.

The diary of a journeyman footballer

This situation has repeated itself in City’s recent history. Names like Danny Forrest, Craig Bentham, Tom Penford come haunting from our recent past and no sooner do they than someone advances the ill-advised words “not good enough” evidencing that with the fact that one struggles to find a young player released by City who has come back to League football. Jake Wright and Emile Sinclair spring to mind, few others.

In his diary of a journeyman footballer Left Foot Forward Gary Nelson talks about the effect of releasing young players and how it breaks not only their prospects but their career paths. Nelson ponders on how such players could be expected to turn around their careers after such a sudden and grinding halt advising then team mate Kim Grant to stay at Charlton because the facilities are better and moving down never promises anyone a first team place.

Looking at the current Bradford City team which is besieged with often vitriolic criticism it is hard to imagine how much worse things would have gone had Tom Penford and Craig Bentham been in the the midfield. Football would be a lot better if everyone stopped looking as players as discreet replaceable commodities and started looking at them as raw materials to be crafted with.

Not that Bradford City behave in a way which differs from the majority of football clubs but the majority of football clubs – and Bradford City – are not successful after the traditional close season squad purge and replace. Perhaps this squad purging is generally counter productive for football as well as for the players involved.

Had City decided that we fans would be denied the delights of watching Steve Claridge, Moses Ashikodi, Ryan Kendall, Willy (Not Billy) Topp, Mark Cullen et al and decided that they would retain Danny Forrest since 2005 when he was released would the action of working with and giving the assurance of continued football to the same player then, again, one wonders how would have turned out any different. Ashikodi did not stop relegation, Topp did not fire us to promotion.

The received wisdom in football is that players – and young players – excel or move out and that process is successful in ensuring the best prosper but perhaps the input and development of a football club could see that the players who are under this cream of the crop grow into good squad members and, in time, more?

One wonders if Rowe or Flett will make the bench on Saturday – Peter Taylor is talking about welcoming old heads into the side so probably not – but if they what impact they will be expected to make. Certainly it could be said that this is not the time for throwing in new faces to a struggling team.

The line up

Taylor’s side have not recorded a win since Monday the 3rd January 2011 surrendering play off hopes to relegation worries in the process. The solution to this is – it is hoped – arriving in the form of experienced professionals replacing younger players. Richard Eckersley and Mark Cullen have returned to Burnley and Hull City respectively as the Bantams welcome back to starting line up contention Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt and Michael Flynn.

That trio’s return – and the possible recovery of Steve Williams and the delayed debut of Scott Dobie – could give the City side a radically different look to the previous game.

Jon McLauglin seems to be recemented into City’s goal with Lenny Pidgeley missing presumed “a bit injured, maybe.”

The back four would seem to be set for an overhaul with Lewis Hunt at right back and Simon Ramsden taking Shane Duff’s place as defender and captain alongside either Luke Oliver or a fit Steve Williams. Luke O’Brien is expected to stay at left back.

The midfield three of Jon Worthington behind David Syers and Tom Ademeyi is hard to break up – Syers plays well and Ademeyi retains his place regardless of performance – but Michael Flynn might be expected to return their of in the attacking three.

Flynn’s ability to add to the forward line could see him in place of the departed Omar Daley alongside James Hanson and Gareth Evans but such a move would not open a slot for Dobie or fellow new arrival Kevin Ellison. Taylor has rarely used Flynn as a midfielder.

A word on Daley

A word on Daley who – it would seem – has played his last game for the Bantams. The players inconstancy has been mentioned after his departure and in a way that is somewhat unfair on the winger assuming firstly that constancy is a base requirement rather than a rare thing in professional football and secondly making a criticism of the times he was unplayable on the field. “Constancy” and the pursuit of it is perhaps is the most ludicrous of all football terms. I kid you not, dear reader, when I tell you that I could be Bradford City’s most constant player were I to be given a shirt. I would be constantly very, very poor.

There is something unpalatable about the criticism of players – and Omar especially – for inconstancy. The demand seems to hem players in. Is it better that a player try nothing which may result in something good for fear of looking bad? One of the most encouraging things about watching David Syers this year has been his willingness to be brave in his play, is he mistaken to do that for fear that when something does not come off he will be labelled inconstant?

Which is not to say that players should approach the game in a random manner – there is a constancy of play which is not to be confused with constancy of performance – but rather that the heart of improvement is the ability to try and risk failure.

Give me, for one game, Leon Osbourne leaving players for dead and rifling the ball into the goal and I shall be happy to worry about his ability to repeat that later. I would have players who have a constancy in doing the brave thing, rather than ones who succeed every time at doing the easy thing.

These notions are thoughts of the future and the immediate problem of Daley’s exit is more mundane. Chief in his duties was pressure applied to defending players who attempt to recycle the ball. An opposition corner cleared long by City and Daley chased defenders into an early ball. Without Daley able to apply that pressure – often a facet of his ability to get to the vicinity of a clearance in quick time – then I fear that recycled possession will but the Bantams under increased pressure.

In short that without Omar to chase the ball down, and the threat of his pace, City will end up without a release ball and under pressure more. One of Ellison and Dobie may be able to provide an alternative outlet ball for defenders lashing it away because a failure to do so will result in City defending upon defending, and that has been a problem all season.

Riches

And so – for once – City have some riches (if riches is the right word) of resource to be embarrassed by and Peter Taylor gets a chance to field Flynn in one of a few positions while all Flynn needs to do is return the team to the type of form it was in before his absence and avoiding relegation should be a success.

But a fleeting success at that.

Omar Daley out, Kevin Ellison in – Taylor’s football intentions become ever-clearer

Surprise news emerged yesterday evening that Omar Daley is heading on loan to Rotherham United with Kevin Ellison swapping places and joining the Bantams.

Daley, who is out of contract at the end of the season, was just over a week ago substituted in the final stages of the Lincoln City defeat to some people booing. The Jamaican international had endured a difficult evening where he appeared reluctant to follow his manager’s instructions, and perhaps his ineffective performance has lead Taylor to accepting an offer from a Rotherham United outfit desperate for new players to maintain a faltering promotion bid.

Yet still this is a hugely controversial decision by Taylor – and one that I personally struggle to agree with him on. After a slow start to the season, Daley showed some superb form in late autumn/winter that helped to lift the Bantams up the table following an appalling start. Indeed the free role Daley was entrusted with seemed to be proof Taylor does not always favour negative football. Who can forget the way Daley tore Oxford apart and scored two stunning goals at the end of October? Nor should we discount the fact that City’s last win, over a month ago now, was delivered by an outstanding Daley volley.

Is the relegation battle we are now embroiled in all about backs to the walls and grinding out results, or should there be room for the sort of creative spark Daley delivers? I’m sure that City’s new relegation ‘rivals’ would certainly kill to be able to call upon a player capable of proving a devastating match winner, rather than packing him off.

Daley though is inconsistent and does not always deliver but the moments of brilliance that are in his locker often trigger a level of joy that makes watching football so worthwhile. Daley might have days where you’d love to strangle him – and he might have them a bit too often – but the moments of jubilation he has provided us since joining the club four years ago will stay with us for many years.

If this is Taylor’s intentions – getting rid of the flair – let us look forward to his departure this summer and let us find a manager who will be willing to get the most out of the gifts he has got; rather than force them to play in a way that is not natural to them and leaves them subject to booing from their own fans.

All of which hugely overshadows the arrival of Kevin Ellison, who has been linked with a move to Valley Parade in the past. Ellison has featured against City many times – not just for Rotherham, but previous clubs Stockport, Tranmere and Chester City – and worked under Taylor at Hull in 2005-06. Able to play out wide or as a striker, he is probably seen as Taylor as more willing to play the wide striker position of the recently-preferred 4-3-3.

Ellison offers great consistency if nothing else. And with Taylor having maximised his playing budget, it has to be acknowledged that he must wheel and deal in order to improve the squad. If, in his opinion, Ellison offers more than Daley he is within his rights to effectively end the Jamaican’s time at City. However Ellison is more workmanlike, and Daley’s exit suggests much about the type of football we are likely to endure over the coming weeks

Ellison has been a regular for Rotherham this season, so his release would suggest manager Ronnie Moore sees him worth letting go in order to secure the services of Daley.

Taylor, on the other hand, looks to use Ellison to guide the Bantams away from same relegation which the player suffered in the Summer of 2009 with Chester City and in doing so takes the same gamble which Colin Todd did in allowing Dean Windass to leave the club on loan four years ago.

The result of that action was relegation, Taylor will hope that history does not repeat itself.

Thinking about when Bradford City need to replace Peter Taylor

There is an increasing desperation about Bradford City’s scramble for points to turn a season that was tipped for first place into one that avoids last or second last and one is reminded about the Liverpool legend Bill Shankley’s approach to his side’s seasons.

His lessons seem amazingly apt for City – a team which bookmakers and the board believed were going to be promoted as Champions. “First,” the Scot would say, “get the points to stay up and then take it from there.”

Hindsight is easy, but the club talks about promotion to the Championship until it is forced to face the reality of attaining a number of points to stay in the Football League. This happens season on season and perhaps it is time to learn from that when thinking about where things have gone wrong.

Tuesday night could not have been clearer as to where the team faulted following an ill advised shift to 424 that exposed David Syers and Tom Ademeyi in the midfield. After game Peter Taylor did not name the man he felt was responsible for the second Lincoln goal but spoke specifically about someone having not done the job of covering Syers – Ademeyi, one assumes – and from this cascade worries about the manager’s credibility in the dressing room.

Supporters are important to a club – and so is supporter confidence – but more important is the confidence of the players that following their manager will lead to success. When this is lost – when the players no longer believe that doing what the manager says will win games – then seldom does a team perform well. This – more than anything else – what the throw away phrase “lose the dressing room” means.

Going back years to Terry Yorath’s departure as City manager captain Mark “Two Fingers To The Elland Road Kop” Aizlewood was quick to defend the manager insisting it was the players who were to blame for the results and making a note that Yorath was doing the right things, but that they were not coming off for the team.

He still believed, Yorath still “had the dressing room” so to speak.

Jake Speight – when at Port Vale on loan – was quick to say how much he favoured Mickey Adams’s techniques over Peter Taylors citing the fitness levels brought by both managers. Speight is an edge case – disgruntled for some reason which I would not care to speculate on – but he clearly does not believe that what Peter Taylor is doing will bring success to the club.

Players will do a lot for a manager they believe in. If Taylor has taken Tom Ademeyi to one side and told him that he should have been standing five years behind Syers against Lincoln in case his only midfield partner lost the ball then Ademeyi could be excused for wondering that if he were there who would be covering the rest of the midfield?

That thought in his head – as it is in mine – it is hard to imagine how belief in the manager’s instructions can be sustained.

Which is not the same as militancy in the players nor should it be mistaken for that. Omar Daley was booed off after seventy minutes of Tuesday night’s game ostensibly for the crime of following his manager’s instructions.

Daley was hemmed in, seemingly told that he needed to reduce the gap between himself and the full back (which has been a massive problem and a massive gap) and critically to not go past his full back to be hit with the kind of ball into the channel behind the full back which he so enjoys running in, and he performed that task to the best of his abilities.

He seldom looked happy with the task he was given – it is not his natural game to have the ball fed into his feet, get clobbered by the defender, and then lay it off – and his body language is more expressive than most but he was obviously doing what was asked of him.

Booing him for that – to me – is akin to booing Luke Oliver for playing up field. To boo a player for doing what he is told is a call for militancy in the dressing room and for a player to turn to the manager when given the instructions to play in a way he does not like and tell the manager to shove it.

However any one of the ten other players on the field watching Daley trundle off to boos for doing what he was told to do will have looked at Peter Taylor in the dug out and again had cause to question their belief in the manager and his methods.

The methods are not working, they will not be changed, and the players are suffering. How long until they stop believing they ever will? Have we passed that point already?

Increasingly it seems that Taylor’s flaw is in his intractability in his approach to the squad. Taylor has a way he wants the team to play but he does not have the players to achieve it not because they are especially poor (or because they are especially good) but because they are not suited to the manager’s methods.

Taylor’s system at the start of Tuesday night required the two wide strikers to get the ball back to goal, lay it off and follow play on and in Gareth Evans he has a player who can do that as can the injured Leon Osborne but Daley is less able to.

Any manager has a choice of approaches in this situation. He either resigns himself to not playing with these two players because he only has Evans who can fill the role and uses a different tactic or he plays the way he wants to play, and tells the players to adapt.

The key concept being if the manager looks at the squad and picks that approach, the tactics, the formation to suit the players he has or tries to make the squad suit the approach. Taylor fails squarely into that second camp so rather than stopping playing long balls when James Hanson is injured Luke Oliver goes into the forward line.

The players then are given a bargain. Play the way I tell you to, because that way lays success, and should success not follow and the players end up abused, booed and called “not good enough” they are given the challenge of a continued belief in the manager’s methods which are failing and leaving them as fall guys.

The return of Lewis Hunt, Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn to starting line up contention provides something interesting to discuss but hardly provides Taylor with more options as to how to play, because he does not change how he plays on the basis of who is available. These players will come in and slot into the holes already mapped out or they will not come in.

So Jon McLaughlin continues in goal with – perhaps – Hunt at right back over Richard Eckersley. It is significant that Taylor picked up many players he has worked with previous because he knows that they have a belief in his methods (which have succeed in the past) and thus a belief in him.

Simon Ramsden may return in the place of captain Shane Duff rather than Luke Oliver who has an uncanny character to pick himself up after mistakes instantly and not let them effect his game – the irony being that if he made fewer mistakes that characteristic would make him a very good footballer – and Luke O’Brien will continue at left back.

The midfield three will see Jon Worthington anchoring behind a two – probably Ademeyi and Syers – with Michael Flynn replacing Daley in the forward and being more suited to the tasks afforded to that role. New recruit Scott Dobie is also set to come into the side but having not seen the former West Brom player since he was a much younger player it is difficult to suggest what sort of game he plays. Will the 32 year old be a balance for Gareth Evans – who returns to his former club sporting a tan which is impressive for Bradford in February – or will he be an alternative James Hanson continues that thankless task role. Time, and Taylor, will tell.

And City need three points, or one point, or just some points at some point in the future.

Sitting below City and having been beaten at home by Bury 4-2 in the week Macclesfield are the sort of team which Peter Taylor believed that his approach and formation would be steamrollering on the way to promotion.

The question now is if the players still believe it too, believe that doing what Peter Taylor tells them will bring enough points to stay in League Two at least.

Because if they do not then the club need to replace Taylor as quickly as possible.

The silly season ends and now Taylor must ensure the real one isn’t over

Omar Daley is off to re-join Stuart McCall at Motherwell; James Hanson is going to replace Andy Carroll at Newcastle; City are using the unexpected windfall to sign Rotherham’s Adam le Fondre; Robbie Blake is returning to the club on loan.

The transfer window always gets a little silly and, as top Premier League players were exchanged for ridiculous sums of money in the hours and minutes before it closed, it was tempting to believe some of the magic dust would sprinkle off at Valley Parade as the outlandish rumours swirled. As it was the January transfer shake-up ended with the more grounded arrival of Scott Dobie on loan until the end of the season.

That anyone has arrived at all speaks volumes about the club’s ambition for the rest of the season. Manager Peter Taylor has already overspent on his transfer budget and, as Lee Hendrie departed the club a month ago and Jason Price rocked up at Walsall, the low-key arrival of Mark Cullen looked for a time to be the only reinforcement to boost a failing promotion bid. Then came Jon Worthington and now Dobie.

Throw in the return to fitness of Michael Flynn and – not far behind – Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams and Simon Ramsden, and Taylor has a number of different options compared to the players he had to select for the trip to Lincoln exactly a month ago. Now the challenge for Taylor is to ensure his new recruits make a positive difference, before it’s too late.

Because make no mistake, tonight is a massive game for City. Returning from the awkward trip to Chesterfield with the unexpected bonus of a good performance and a draw – albeit it in ultimately devastating circumstances – offers a small chink of light that the season isn’t over just yet. And if Taylor retains ambitions of managing City beyond May, he needs to get a run of wins that can claw back the 9-point deficit from the play off pack.

Saturday was a disappointing end; but Taylor has the experience and ability to ensure his players build on the positives and take their better form into tonight’s game. And if City can repeat their New Year Day victory over the Imps and follow that up with three points at Macclesfield on Saturday, the build up to the visit of his former club Wycombe the weekend after could be filled with optimism over the season having an exciting end after all.

But the margin for error is thin, and Taylor cannot afford for yet another slip up this evening.

January was a dismal month for City, but the temporary opening of the transfer window has enabled Taylor to reshuffle the pack and he will hope to now have a more reliable hand to call upon. The experience that Worthington and Dobie offer could prove significant, and Taylor will hope they can make a stronger impact than the now-injured Tommy Doherty and departed Price.

Certainly Dobie offers something different to Price, who ultimately was too much like Hanson for the pair to forge an effective partnership. Goals have been a problem all season and Dobie’s scoring record doesn’t leap off the page, but his know-how will hopefully at least help City to be more effective offensively and create more chances, so the back of the net is found more often.

After the success of Saturday, Taylor is under-pressure from some to play the same starting line up – apart from Daley replacing the injured Leon Osborne. Yet the 4-5-1 formation used at the B2Net stadium was more focused on containing dangerous opposition, and with the onus on City to attack at home it seems unlikely they will line up in the same manner at least.

Jon McLaughlin will keep goal in front of a back four which performed well on Saturday – Richard Eckersley and Luke O’Brien as the full backs with Luke Oliver and Shane Duff in-between. In midfield Tom Adeyemi may be pushed back into a wide position if Taylor elects for 4-4-2, with Worthington making a positive impression as a deeper midfielder and likely to partner David Syers. Michael Flynn will be pushing for a first league start of the season, but is set to continue from the bench for now. Daley will play out wide.

Up front, Hanson and Evans will probably link up with the former scoring a morale-boosting header on Saturday and the latter enjoying probably his best game of the season and showing signs of recaputuring the form displayed at the end of the last campaign. Dobie – who is taking the 11 shirt worn by Scott Neilson and Hendrie already this season – may be brought in to start instantly, though there is a question mark over if he will have international clearance in time and he hasn’t had a lot of football at St. Johnstone lately anyway. Where his arrival leaves Cullen and Jake Speight in Taylor’s thoughts is unclear.

Lincoln – demoralised and staring at the non-league abyss on New Years Day – are a club reborn. Three straight wins have made up for the six winless games that preceded it. They are two places and three points below City and, if they are in relegation trouble, a victory over the Bantams tonight would truly send the alarm bells ringing at Valley Parade.

So Taylor battles to keep the season alive and meaningful –  but not for the wrong reasons. And though it won’t be Adam le Fondre spearheading the attack, he is banking on his new faces and those returning from injury providing the club a much-needed lift.

And Taylor needs that lift to happen straightaway, otherwise he’ll be left effectively working his notice.

Despair to be consoled by

In the midst of another season of crushed expectations for Bradford City, an unlikely glimmer of hope emerged at the most unexpected of moments – only to be cruelly taken back through a 93rd-minute Chesterfield equaliser.

On the back of four consecutive defeats that have pushed the focus from promotion to relegation, no-one expected anything positive from a trip to the in-form league leaders. Yet when James Hanson rose to head the Bantams into a 2-1 lead eight minutes after half time, aspirations of a glorious end to the campaign could be dreamed of once more. City were holding on – not without a few scares, but still holding on – and a look ahead to a week featuring meetings with strugglers Lincoln and Macclesfield offered renewed optimism regarding the ‘P’ word.

But just as it seemed the season had turned, up popped Chesterfield substitute Jordon Brewery to smash home a loose ball past Jon McLaughlin. And once again we were confronted by harsh reality.

And it hurt. A lot. As home fans began celebrating, for a couple of seconds a part of you refuses to believe it has happened. That life can be so cruel. That City are once again being kicked in the teeth. Of course we never dared believe the three points were in the bag as we lead deep in stoppage time, but we could taste them. And they tasted rather good.

Instead we had to cope with the feeling of defeat that – pre-match – the majority of us had expected to bear and so had prepared our defences for. It was a damage-limitation type of afternoon. One where you expect the worse and anything better is a bonus. If someone had offered us a 2-2 draw beforehand I dare say every one of us would have bitten their hand off. Even though we got just that, we departed the thoroughly-impressive B2Net Stadium in utter despair.

But also consoled. City have not only been moving backwards in recent weeks, but stumbling towards a dangerous trapdoor that could easily leave us kicking off next August with a visit from Kettering Town (or worse still, not kicking off at all because relegation to non-league had killed the club). We needed to arrest the slide before it became serious, and at the very least the rot has now been stopped.

City took on the best in League Two and almost bested them, and while letting two points slip through the fingers at the death further reduces those promotion hopes we held just three weeks ago – the gap to the play offs is now 9 points, in case you’re still interested – the level of performance and commitment displayed strongly indicates City won’t be falling into a relegation fight.

Kicking off with an unchanged line up for the first time all season, manager Peter Taylor had gone some way to addressing the balance issues of Tuesday night by withdrawing Leon Osborne and Gareth Evans into widemen of a five-man midfield, with Hanson a lone striker. This allowed Tom Adeyemi and David Syers to push forwards from more central positions and, with Jon Worthington assuming a deep midfield role that attempted to dictate the tempo, there was no repeat of the midfield being out-gunned.

Nevertheless Chesterfield started well and bossed the opening stages, taking the lead on 11 minutes when Danny Whitaker swept home Jack Lester’s pass – though the true cause of the goal came seconds earlier. Chesterfield had a goal kick, and while normally this is signal for all the outfield players to bunch together on one side of the pitch, Drew Talbot moved to a position on the opposite side to everyone else – leaving him free and in acres of space. Keeper Tommy Lee aimed his kick at Talbot’s balding head; and though Luke O’Brien had reacted and tried to close him down, he was out-jumped and taken out of the game. Chesterfield roared forwards and, with so many City players caught out by this innovative tactic, Whitaker made it 1-0.

Still we expected this. What was less anticipated was a strong response from City which saw Hanson’s long-range shot superbly tipped over by Lee and, after the resultant corner was half-cleared, Syers left unmarked to head home an equaliser from a superb Osborne cross. City would go onto evenly contest the rest of the half and Evans forced another great save from Lee. At the other end Lester was played through on goal, only to be denied by a magnificent last-ditch tackle from Luke Oliver.

Not that Taylor’s 4-5-1 formation was proving a complete success, as the physical Talbot continued to give O’Brien a difficult afternoon with both his ability in the air and with the ball at feet. Part of the problem was inadequate defensive support from Osborne, which allowed others to provide options for Talbot; so Taylor made an early substitution by swapping the young winger – who it was suggested had picked up a knock anyway – with Omar Daley. As much as Daley has a poor reputation defensively, he made a positive difference.

Early in the second half Hanson headed City into the 2-1 lead and sparked scenes of jubilation that arguably made for the highlight of the season. Evans had made the goal with an excellent cross, after retrieving a loose ball that followed Adeyemi breaking into the penalty area.

And suddenly City had Chesterfield where they wanted them, and suddenly the impossible looked on.

The Bantams set themselves up to counter attack, with Daley embarking on some promising runs that were only let down by a poor final ball. Hanson could and perhaps should have made it 3-1 after heading over O’Brien’s cross, but the chances were all at the other end. McLaughlin made a couple of brilliant saves; Craig Davies shot narrowly wide and then headed over a simple chance. City’s backline were much improved, with Oliver enjoying an outstanding performance. Alongside him Duff was displaying the form of earlier in the season, if a little too casual on the ball at times.

And it looked like it would be enough, before that cruel moment at the end.  As the ball flew in there was stunned silence, apart from one guy in front of me who instantly rose to his feet and screamed at Taylor to “f**k off”. On reflection, it was the City boss who was the true loser on the day.

For City had showed that they should be too good to get sucked into a relegation fight, and that a midtable position is the most likely outcome of a disappointing season. But midtable is not going to be enough for Taylor to earn another contract at City, and it is surely now a matter of months before he departs the club.

Taylor badly needed these three points, and he badly needed them to spark an upsurge in form. He too might have taken a point before kick off, but he would certainly not have liked it to be realised in such demoralising circumstances.

Both he and an outstandingly-noisy away following had been offered a glimmer of hope that this story might have had a happy ending after all. Instead all we are left with is the consolation of at least feeling consoled.

Waiting to get lucky, but not the Andy Gray way

If you are planning something for the end of May, dear reader, the time is nigh where that booking can be confirmed.

Not that the optimistic Bradford City fan has given up on the season – not at all – but rather the focus of that optimism has slipped down somewhat from Champions, to automatic promotion, to play offs and now to the hope that the season will not contain a relegation battle.

Such slight returns are the stuff of football supporters. Seasons that start with a club tipped to go down end in the Premier League, seasons that start being about the promotion end with videos released called “The Great Escape.”

Managing the hard way, but not the Andy Gray way

Peter Taylor was appointed because Stuart McCall was not doing well enough and sits in exactly the same position with exactly the level of criticism. It is hard not to look back at this point to twelve months ago when the “not a proper manager” left the club in favour of the “experienced professional” and wonder how the dust settled so quickly that last season’s debates could be so quickly revisited without hint or irony or apology.

How many people were dubbed naive optimists for saying that replacing McCall would not improve the club? How many people promised an improvement under Taylor and are now saying the same about his replacement?

One would have thought that replacing McCall with Taylor to the net effect on movement towards promotion of not very much at all might have convinced one and all that the manager was not the problem but – having talked to Mark Lawn this week – then it seems fair to say that changing the man picking the team is not expected to change performance massively so much as it is an area which can be controlled when most cannot.

One wonders – assuming that Peter Taylor will be leaving City – what the next manager needs do to be more successful? There are hopes of changes in facilities and so on but those hopes are slim – City are not planning a ground switch as Chesterfield did at the start of this successful season for them – and so what is to be done to turn the club around?

The L word, no, not the one Andy Gray would use

Luck, it seems, is what City need.

Luck in a set of players. That when Player A meets Player B they gel, that they like each other on the pitch and off it. They the players become a team and that the team makes the players better.

Luck augmented by a manager for sure but the rapid changing of managers can not be expected to yield results even if we do know the reason for it now.

With luck the team wins early games, confidence grows and the unit is forged. A team like Chesterfield – buoyed by their new surroundings – go from also-rans to promotion probables on the strength of this.

Does luck exist in football? One recalls Golfer Gary Player’s comments on luck: “The more I practised, the luckier I got.”

Who will play, probably not Andy Gray although I doubt he is busy…

So this group of players – ineffectual for four defeats on the bounce games – go to the team chasing the League Two title and are called upon to create luck for themselves.

Jon McLaughlin shows a safe pair of hands, but he could shout more. Richard Eckersley looks good coming forward but he needs to tell the man in front of him that a full back can not defend on his own. Luke O’Brien on the other side is in a similar position. He motors back and forth well but he needs to tell the player who has watched a second man join in a flank attack that he (winger or wide forward) simply has to get back and defend.

The central defenders Luke Oliver and Shane Duff need to be more mouth on too but Oliver has to realise that as the big man at the back it is his job to organise the defensive line into a line and Duff needs to help him by paying more attention. Both do their jobs well individually – Oliver deserved credit for getting head up and sticking with it – but defending is not an individual thing.

If these lessons are not learnt then something of a cavalry arrives with Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt and Steve Williams all hoping to return to fitness soon. Ramsden and Hunt are hoping to make the bench.

New recruit Jon Worthington sits on top of a back four well and if he were to look at City and decide that a team which has had a half dozen captains actually needs a leader then he would not be far wrong. David Syers has been brilliant this season, he rarely goes missing, but he needs to realise that he adds more to the attack by arriving late than pressing early. Tom Ademeyi shows a powerful energy at times, but a more solid, constant flow in his game would make him a 90 minute, rather than a fits and starts, performer.

Those three might find the returning Michael Flynn takes back a position in midfield but Flynn is more likely to replace Gareth Evans in the attacking three with Omar Daley on the other side. Evans has shown admirable hard work and effort and that should secure him a place in the side, but seldom does, while Daley is Daley and at times unplayable. He needs to defend when told and he does.

James Hanson leads the line. He does that well and without thanks. He needs to get some thanks.

And he needs to get lucky, but not in the Andy Gray way.

Peter Taylor Nil

M.O.D. Aldershot and this is my closest game so I’ve brought some of the lads and in the first minute I wish I had not. I’m not a football expert but I know that teams have got to play better than this if they are going to win matches and watching the last two games for the Bantams (The other one being the 2-1 defeat at Oxford) I can’t believe what I’m seeing. It is like a City team that don’t want to do anything.

They don’t want to pass the ball, they don’t want to take shots at goal. They don’t want to tackle, they don’t want to get in the way of the ball. They don’t seem to fancy the job of being professional footballers that much. You could pick out the odd good move and nice ball or something but what is the point of that? Tom Ademeyi missed a good chance early on and you knew that there was nothing coming after that. Dave Syers looks good, James Hanson looks good, some player look good but that is not really the point. Jon McLaughlin was back in for Lenny Pidgeley but when was the last time a team turned its fortunes around by changing goaly?

Maybe it is what we do down here but for me football matches are all about the unit, the team, and good and bad doesn’t even really come into it when talking about the players because when the unit fails the individuals fail. End of story.

Likewise a unit makes a solider (or a footballer) better. Leon Osbourne came on after twenty minutes for Lee Bullock and looks like a matchstick man wandering around a field but it is the unit’s fault that they do not cope with the change, and it is the unit’s fault that they do not support the weaker players and pull their level of performance up.

Stuart McCall used to do that as a player. McCall would not let one of his team mates have a bad game, and if he was, Macca would be geeing him up and pulling him through. A real leader which is what that City team lacks, but not that only thing.

With a new manager in Dean Holdsworth Aldershot had a little bit of a buzz about them but they did not lay siege to City’s goal or send waves of attacks at us they just seemed to win the game by default. They turned up, and won, and we did not turn up. Victory was not even difficult for them. Ben Harding looked impressive for them but no more impressive than the odd City player did. The point I’m trying to make is that they were allowed to coast to victory.

Trying to remember the better moments and there is hardly anything to talk of. Robbie Threlfall has a free kick, maybe, but mostly it was City defending and the only goal of the game by Anthony Charles never looked like being clawed back. The players did not want it enough, because they didn’t want to work together. I don’t know what goes on in the dressing room at City but I can’t imagine it is a very happy place because the players have no collective work ethic at all. Osbourne or Daley lose the ball and the rest of the players seem to look at them rather than trying to win it back.

It is eleven footballers and not one unit, and that is the fault of the man in charge, and requires a change in that man in charge regardless of where they train or whatever. A leader’s job, and Peter Taylor is the leader of the unit, is to create a dynamic in which the whole is more than the sum of the parts and in the year he has been in charge I have never seen City play like that.

A view is taken on if the situation will improve without a change, I don’t think it will, and so a change needs to be made either now or in the Summer when Peter Taylor’s contract is up. Mark Lawn will do whatever makes him most popular and so I’d be expecting a change sooner rather than later.

So another very depressing evening watching City. Everyone has their own thing they want from the team. Some people want great players and some want blood and guts. Me, I want to see a team that play as a team and in the last year Taylor’s not been able to do that and as the players wandered off heads down not one of them within five foot of a team mate it showed. There was some footballers on the pitch, but no team.

It was not so much Aldershot 1 City 0 as Aldershot 1 Jon McLaughlin 0 Richard Eckersley 0 Shane Duff 0 Luke Oliver 0 Robbie Threlfall 0 Omar Daley0 Tom Adeyemi 0 Lee Bullock 0 David Syers 0 Luke O’Brien 0 James Hanson 0 Leon Osbourne 0 Gareth Evans 0 Mark Cullen 0.

And Peter Taylor 0.

The goalscoring problem as City travel to Oxford

Tom Adeyemi’s season-opener at Shrewsbury; David Syers’ tap in at Stockport; Leon Osborne and Adeyemi’s crucial strikes at Barnet; Omar Daley’s clinical penalty at Bury; James Hanson’s tap-in and Gareth Evans’ belter at Lincoln.

And that’s it for Bradford City’s league goals on the road so far this season.

After 11 away matches the Bantams have netted a meagre seven times. That’s the worst record in the entire division, and says a great deal about why City are struggling to position themselves as promotion candidates. To put the goal-shy exploits into perspective, the last time the first 11 away matches of a City season saw less goals was the year we quickly drowned in the Premiership (2000-01).

With four of City’s next five taking place away from Valley Parade, a continuation of the improvement in the last away match is needed to ensure play off hopes remain alive following this crucial part of the season. Three of those four away trips – starting at Oxford tomorrow – are against teams currently above City in the league. Now is not the time to be affording more opposition goalkeepers clean sheets.

The fact Syers and Daley are joint top league scorers with four apiece underlines the lack of goals in City’s forward line. Last season’s top scorer Hanson (13) has struggled to recapture his form of a year ago, with just two of his five goals to date coming in the league. Evans (11 last season) has endured a difficult campaign due to injury and also has two in the league.

Jake Speight (one Carling cup goal), Louis Moult (one league strike) and Chib Chilaka (yet to score) had limited opportunities in the first half of the season. Daley has often played up front to largely positive effect, but will never be a great goalscorer. Luke Oliver’s brief spell as target man in early autumn featured no goals, Jason Price’s late autumn loan spell saw him net only once.

At the start of the season, manager Peter Taylor declared that he was lacking a striker with that extra know-how, and he must surely be wishing for a clinical forward who can sniff out half-chances and net regularly. Such players are always difficult to find, and City have been fortunate in recent years to have first Dean Windass and then Peter Thorne scoring goals for fun. It could be a while before we see a striker as prolific, leaving City’s Goals For column lagging behind others.

It would be wrong to solely blame the lack of goals on the strikers, as the service to the front players has been limited all season. We can quickly point to the lack of wingers in Taylor’s squad, which has resulted in a lower number of crosses from the touchline. City appear to favour working the ball into the box or direct passes for the forwards to attempt to make the most of. The crosses are largely supplied by full backs.

Years of inconsistent wingers hardly provide a convincing argument that Taylor is wrong in his alternative approach; but the fact City have failed to score in 10 of the 23 league games to date, and have only scored more than one goal in a game on four occasions, simply has to be improved on during the second half of the season.

It’s largely a question of balance. We know that under Taylor City will play more conservatively, but the priority seemingly given towards making City difficult to break down rather than taking the attacking initiative is placing a huge amount of emphasis on the first goal in every match. On more than one occasion when the opposition have scored it, City have collapsed as they get caught between suddenly requiring urgency to chase the game and maintaining cover at the back.

Witness the dismal displays at Burton and Cheltenham, or even the way City reacted to conceding to Barnet on Saturday. Perhaps the unfamiliarity of suddenly having to display attacking urgency is causing too many players to forget the defensive basics. When it’s a time for cool heads, City are consistently losing theirs.

Only three times this season have City overcome conceding first to get something from a game – the Carling Cup win over Notts Forest, the thrilling victory over Cheltenham and the disappointing 1-1 draw with Accrington. We go behind, and it seems to be curtains.

So not exactly a winning combination – struggling to score goals and reacting poorly to conceding first. Overcome these two problems, and City might still be capable of ending the season in the play offs. But it’s a question of talent,  it’s a question of spirit and it’s a question of confidence – all difficult for the manager to magically instil in his players.

Nevertheless City travel to an in-form Oxford with the play off spots still in sight and a week of feeling frustrated about slipping up to Barnet to get out of the system. Lenny Pidgley will keep goal having in recent days received criticism from a section of supporters over his recent form. In front of him will probably be Richard Eckersley, Shane Duff, Oliver and Luke O’Brien. Duff went off injured last week and struggled during the first half. As we saw in his first few appearances for City, it seems he is a player who takes time to recapture his rhythm after a lengthy lay off.

The biggest questions over Taylor’s selection lie in midfield. Tommy Doherty has been left out the last three games, the first two of which saw victories. Lee Bullock has performed well in his place, but City lack guile without the Doc’s impressive passing ability – not to mention the high reliance other team-mates place on him. Syers dropped below his usual high standards last week and, with two games in quick succession, may be rested for at least one. Daley will probably continue on the left wing, despite making a greater impression up front this season.

Then we come to Adeyemi, who had his loan extended until the end of the season this week. It’s perhaps unfair to bring up the giddy predictions of pre-season during cold nights of January, but all season long the confident proclamation of a supporter sat behind me at Rochdale in July – that Adeyemi could be the Patrick Viera of League Two – has stayed in my thoughts. Adeyemi has had limited opportunities in his preferred central midfield role – he was outstanding performing it alongside Doherty during the win at Barnet last October – but overall his displays have been frustratingly erratic.

Adeyemi is performing a wide midfield role, but not one where Taylor demands he races down the wing and fires in crosses. He is asked to help the central midfielders, especially when City don’t have the ball, so they are not outgunned in the middle of the park. He is asked to show discipline in maintaining his position, winning back possession and quickly releasing the ball.

He is doing the same role Paul Jewell asked of Windass during the first few games of the 1999/2000 Premier League adventure, and like Dean at the time he is heavily criticised for it by supporters who fail to understand what he is being instructed to do.

But that said, his performances haven’t been great and the decision to re-sign him poses a question – “is he really the best we can do?”. Yet perhaps the bigger point is that, very soon, Michael Flynn should be back and Adeyemi dropped to the bench in a reshuffle. Why bring in a better player – especially if it’s on higher wages – if the inspirational Flynn will be back in two weeks and in need of that starting place?

Up front expect Hanson and Evans to start with Mark Cullen on the bench. Perhaps he will provide the goals that are badly missing – his youth record is good – or perhaps Speight can make an impact as he returns to first-team consideration following his unsuccessful loan at Port Vale.

Will a real goalscorer please stand up. Hurry.

Expecting the right time from a stopped clock

“A stopped clock is wrong twice a day”

Or so I said to my brother in regards to one of the blowhards who sits nearby at Valley Parade as he bellowed at Omar Daley after an hour that the winger should “Get working again.”

Six minutes later the 1-0 lead the Bantams had over Barnet was gone and with it went all of the optimism that came in the week when Peter Taylor turned down Newcastle United.

Daley had needed to get working again – he did and came close to an equaliser at 2-1 putting in a good shift all afternoon – but fifteen minutes into the second half the scale of work which he and Gareth Evans on the flanks had to do had not become apparent because for all the six minutes of madness on the pitch it was the fifteen minutes at half time which I believe lost the Bantams the game.

Specifically it was the replacement for the injured Tom Adeyemi with new face Mark Cullen and the repositioning of Gareth Evans onto the flank. It was a mistake. That is if one can call a change that fails “a mistake” on the basis that it has failed. Had it succeeded it would have been a “tactical stroke of genius”. It is reverse equifinity in action.

Aside from breaking up the attacking partnership which was working well when Peter Taylor made the change to put Evans – ostensibly a striker – into a midfield to replace the more central player Ademeyi he changed the dynamic of City’s engine room. Ademeyi’s instinct to bolster the middle was replaced by Evans’ to attack and as a result the midfield dominance was gone.

The win over Bury had shown what could be done with Lee Bullock holding and Ademeyi and David Syers buzzing around and while the different shape against Barnet – back to the 442 – changed the layout of that it had not altered the effect of those three. City were in control of the first half to the extent that the visitors did not enjoy a shot on target in forty five minutes.

Recall the successful Manchester United midfield of Ryan Giggs wide, Roy Keane battling with Paul Scholes alongside him and David Beckham on the right. Beckham and Giggs were never mirror imagines and the Englishman always played a tighter role, pulled into the middle, added to the centre. A second Giggs on the right – Andrei Kanchelskis perhaps – changed the balance drastically.

In the second half – Adeyemi gone – and the middle two needed the support of one of the two wider players – Daley and Evans – to continue that dominance but both those players were pressing their efforts into attacking. Daley (and Evans) had to work harder because he had to come back into the midfield more as well as continue his forward play.

The tip from a three to the two in the middle and the resulting pushing of four into the attacking unit saw too many players put into the position of waiting for play to happen, rather than making it happen. The players could have worked harder but which City fan would have ever suggested the solution to the problem was to give the already working Omar Daley more work to do?

Robbie Threlfall on to the left with Luke O’Brien moving forward or Tommy Doherty on with David Syers shifting to the right would have continued the more solid midfield and were options available to Taylor. Rather do that though Peter Taylor – the manager who is famed for defending 1-0 leads – seemed to make a change that wanted more goals.

The difference between Taylor’s success and failure was the width of the two posts that City hit – had those chances gone in then no doubt the stuffing would have gone out of Barnet and City’s dominance would not have been questioned – but it did not.

It is an irony that – to me – City’s undoing in the game seemed to be in manager Peter Taylor acting against his instinct to defend the one goal lead. He thought Barnet was there for the taking, City almost took them, but not quite.

Players cannot always shoot straighter, tackle better and pass more accurately but they can always work hard and it is not wrong for supporters and managers to want that on Saturday or any game but as much as anything the Barnet defeat came from the manager and that manager charging some players on the pitch with the responsibility for too many roles. Ending up with a pair of old fashioned wingers on when we needed (at least one) wide midfielder.

The stopped clock is right twice a day. Peter Taylor – like all football managers – is expected to be right all the time. On Saturday – in the final reckoning and from the point of view of the scoreline – he got it wrong.

Forgetting the basics

For a time at least this afternoon, everything was looking rather rosy. Bradford City were heading for a third straight victory, and we could allow ourselves to fantasize about the highs which laid in store for the months ahead. Six minutes of utter madness later, and that uncomfortably-familiar feeling that we’ve sunk to a new low prevailed.

Somewhat-fortuitously a Luke Oliver goal up, the Bantams came flying out of the blocks after the interval and hemmed Barnet back in their own half. Twice the goalframe was rattled, numerous goalmouth scrambles came close to seeing the ball cross the line. A second goal, and it seemed the floodgates would have opened. Barnet looked awful and full of panic every time the ball came into their box. We allowed ourselves to chuckle at their desperate attempts to clear their lines. Victory seemed certain.

But that confidence in the stands was disastrously shared by the home players on the pitch. Soon control began to give way to casualness; concentration dropped for carelessness; composure switched with complacency. Gradually the passing became less purposeful, off the ball running neglected, tracking back surely someone else’s job.

They seemed to begin to believe it was too easy. A fatal mistake.

The creeping in of bad habits and a slipshod attitude was perhaps best exemplified – though by no means does he deserve to be singled out – by Omar Daley nonchalantly back-healing the ball when a throw in was delivered to him. Instead of trapping the ball, or at least checking for the positions of team mates before passing, his fancy flick rolled straight through to a defender. Still no big deal, we’re going to win easily. Don’t worry about any one pressing that defender to win the ball back. This lot are crap.

It was this type of switching off that led to Barnet grabbing a shock equaliser. The Bees had a throw in level with the penalty area which wasn’t defended tightly enough, and a dangerous ball into the area was inexplicably headed into his own net by second half substitute Rob Kiernan. It completely changed the complexion of the game, allowing bottom-placed Barnet to grab the ascendancy and City struggling to regain the focus and work ethic that had led to them bossing the half up to that point.

Five minutes later, Oliver lost his man from a corner and Anwar Uddin headed Barnet into a lead. City tried to stir themselves, piling forward and finding Barnet again looking shaky at the back. Daley cut inside and fizzed a powerful drive which Liam O’Brien tipped over.

But from the resultant corner, Kiernan made a mess of knocking the ball to Richard Eckersley after Barnet had cleared the ball, and suddenly three white shirts had just one defender to work the ball past on the counter attack. Izale McLeod squared the ball to Rob Holmes, who could not miss. So instead of City winning 3,4, 5 or even 6-0, a humiliating home defeat was all but sealed and delivered.

The damage could have been worse – City left the field with the play off deficit only increased by one further point, having dropped only one league position. But even if the Bantams quickly recover from slipping over this banana skin, it will take a while to forgive and to restore faith that promotion can be achieved this season.

For as bad as the six-minute spell that saw the three points chucked away was, it was the reaction from the players during the final 20 minutes that told us much about their stomach for future battles. They seemed to give up and go into their shells – little desire to wrestle back control of the match, inadequate levels of belief in themselves and others that they could come at least snatch a draw. Once David Syers wasted a one-on-one opportunity with 10 minutes left on the clock, fans flocked for the exits and it was difficult to blame them.

Too many players had given up, and by giving up they revealed a lack of commitment to playing for Bradford City and worrying evidence that, when the chips are down, they cannot be counted on. So yeah, they might go and beat Oxford and Aldershot over the next few days to haul themselves back into play off contention. They might continue to win more than they lose between now and May. But sooner of later they’ll be in a tight spot like this again, and if this is the best fight they can muster lets prepare ourselves for disappointment now.

Not every player threw in the towel. Gareth Evans ran all day, and it’s a shame there are so many supporters who refuse to appreciate his qualities. James Hanson battled hard and showed glimpses of his form of last season – though he and Evans were too far apart from each other. Daley was a largely a positive presence and worked hard. Syers, Luke O’Brien and Eckersley weren’t lacking in effort either.

But for them to have to carry other passengers meant a grandstand finish was never on. Indeed Barnet looked likelier to score again and McLeod had a goal ruled out for offside.

Had someone told us we’d lose before kick off, most City fans would not have been surprised. Over the years we’ve struggled badly against the lesser lights of the division we are in, especially at home. In the early stages City typically failed to set the tempo and the direct style of searching for Hanson’s head or relying on Evans’ legs was less pleasing on the eye than the quick-fire passing of a Barnet side who, as with their previous Valley Parade visits in recent years, looked better going forward than at the back.

The early chances were all Barnet’s – the outstanding Holmes dribbled from his own half and shot just over, drawing applause from home fans. McLeod blasted over from a good position. Earlier he’d forced a save from Lenny Pidgley after a mix-up between City’s keeper and Shane Duff which saw the pair vociferously argue over who was to blame for minutes after.

It seemed to be another afternoon where the crowd would soon be on the players’ backs, but after slack marking from City went unpunished and the groans began to get louder it was instead cue for positive chanting from fans that lifted the players and saw them end the half exerting heavy pressure. Just before the half time whistle, Syers brilliantly beat Liam O’Brien to a loose ball and crossed for Oliver to head home.

Cue the second half City onslaught and cue the warm feeling that this season was going to turn out gloriously after all. But then, cue the madness.

At full time there were predictable boos from a now-sparsely populated Valley Parade. Peter Taylor appeared to become embroiled in a heated argument with a supporter at the front of the main stand. My friend, who has better hearing than I, said other fans were chanting “Taylor out”.

But it’s difficult to understand how this defeat can be blamed on Taylor. He made two substitutions early in the second half when City were on top – but the players taken off, Tom Adeyemi and Duff, both had injuries and were arguably City’s worst two first half players anyway. Mark Cullen came on for his debut and showed promise in his positioning – hopefully he can be that goalscorer we badly lack. The less said about the other sub, Kiernan, the better.

Yet still, the blame for this disastrous defeat should begin and end with the players. They allowed a dominant winning position to be surrendered through forgetting the basics. They lacked the stomach to chase the game after they’d allowed Barnet to go  3-1 ahead. They let down their manager, us supporters and everyone connected with the club.

They are not a bad people. The sad realisation, as Barnet coasted through six minutes of injury time without the slightest of scares, is that they are just not good enough to match our ambitions of getting into League One. Collectively they are good players on their day, and they will lead us to brilliant victories over the coming weeks and months. But they don’t have the consistency to perform week in week out, and they don’t have enough resilience to grind out results when they are off their game.

Blame that on Taylor for building this squad if you will. But with revelations today from the T&A’s Simon Parker that the wage bill will be cut if City don’t get promoted this season, worry more about the future.

League Two – it looks like we’re going to be staying here for some time.

Hard work, and well deserved, as City beat Bury

If football matches are won in second of brilliance then those seconds are earned in committed and combative performances as City showed today.

It was Omar Daley’s brilliantly acrobatic volleyed finish from eight yards out – converting a deep and purposeful Tom Adeyemi cross – which ended as the difference between the teams and few would say the goal or the performance did not merit a win but that win was well earned in the moments around the Jamaican’s impressive goal.

It was in Gareth Evans running down a long strike to win the ball forcing it to Adeyemi to cross and in the rest of Adeyemi’s performance which was his best in a City shirt so far and provided an energy around the midfield which – combined with David Syers – took control of a midfield battle that gave the win. Bury’s Damien Mozika and former City man Steven Schumacher provided a strong and balanced middle two but City’s two were marshalled by holding man Lee Bullock and in taking out the middle two the visitors were rendered engine-less, less capable of driving the game into the Bantams.

The win was in David Syers’ truly awful miss with an hour on the clock and an open goal that was only better – or should that be worsted – by a Stephen Torpey one yard over the bar from one yard. As rank horrible as Syers miss was his reaction to that miss – a shaking off and gearing up to win the game – was the stuff of real success and real quality.

All over the pitch there were similar performances of players showing character and one was reminded by an offend said adage that one can forgive a player a mistake, but not not caring about a mistake. Jason Price recycled the ball well all afternoon – or until his replacement by the endlessly useful James Hanson – but when his lack of pace saw a chance fizzle out when freed in the middle of the pitch Price’s reaction was to keep on keeping on.

Muse, for a moment, about the difference between teams which look good and teams that do well – between Manchester United and Manchester City – and consider that the difference is in this attitude which for today was in place in Peter Taylor’s Bradford City team.

Luke O’Brien cropped up at right back to rob the ball from Bury’s Ryan Lowe after City had been left screaming for penalty following a battered down cross ninety yards further up the field. Curse the unfair decision – indeed Lowe was penalised for a handball which was hardly deliberate – but City and O’Brien kept going and this match report is not about how City were robbed by a dodgy referee as a result of that.

However – and if you are a Referee protectionist then look away now – City struggled through a first half that was defined by some truly atrocious decisions by Referee Colin Webster.

Webster booked Mozika for challenging with his elbow – always a curious thing to write up considering leading into challenges with an elbow is recommended as a sending off offence but leeway is given – and then less than a minute later watched the same player dragging back Syers by the shorts in the penalty area. Webster watched the offence and for reasons best known to himself and contrary to the Laws of the game decided to do nothing about it.

Other decisions – if an elbow is an elbow, if Efe Sodje’s foul on Gareth Evans was a “last man” and should have resulted in a red car – are judgement calls and one has sympathy with them but to watch a foul by a player you have just formally warned with a yellow card and to ignore that is just not officiating the game correctly.

I do not enjoy pointing out the failings of Referees – I would rather they read the rules of the game and applied them as written – but Webster needs to read those rules and understand them more fully before he officiates another game because today he showed that he does not know them well enough to referee a football match.

The players deserved better – both teams – because credit Bury with a stoic and committed display which could have merited a point or more had they had a little more luck but when they enjoyed their best chance they found Lenny Pidgeley – who signed a new contract to stay at City until the end of the season – as a solid block in the centre of the goal.

City though will look back to Gareth Evans’ lob which bespectacled keeper Cameron Belford saved superbly or Tom Ademeyi’s blistering, fading drive which Belford took from the air and consider that this was no win of outrageous fortune.

Hard work, and well deserved.

The football feedback cycle

Watch a game, mull over a game, talk about a game, argue about a game, mentally bet that something different next game, watch a game…

Thus the goes football feedback cycle.

One week you watch a player stroll around the field and spend the drive home wishing him gone, you post your views, you get into a bit of banter about it and next game when that player gets a hat-trick you are proved wrong. It is feedback.

You watch a manager’s team one week and think it will never get better and next week the team has turned things around, or the team has not and the feedback you get is that you were right all along. That is feedback and football thrives on it in these days.

Twelve years ago when BfB started brewing I made two assumptions both of which turned out to be massively untrue. Firstly that the close season period would amount to three months off and secondly that people would be logging on at six or seven on a Saturday night to read about City games.

Both these ideas were untrue. BfB’s biggest days have all come in the close season: signing Carbone, almost going out of business, appointing Stuart McCall as manager; and Saturday and Sunday are the quietest time of the week, nothing compared to Monday morning.

Supporters of all stripe love to talk about things because of the feedback cycle. It keeps everything interesting and dynamic. In the close season a signing is considered a result – Liverpool fans looked at Joe Cole signing the club as a similar kind of sign of progress as winning at Old Trafford – but during the weeks of the season it is the metronomic ticking of results which completes the cycle.

So in a situation where City have played one game in thirty five days – and that game was overshadowed – the feedback cycle becomes broken. Propositions and hypothesises are put forward but never tested, thoughts are expressed but never tried out. There is talk but without anything to inform the talk then much talk just becomes hot air.

Hot air being the problem of late. Frozen pitches have been calling off football matches up and down the country and less than a half dozen games in the bottom two divisions have been played in the last few weeks. The games that have been played have been changed – perhaps – by the weather enforced break. Two of League One’s promotion chasers have been the only match on days and both Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday have been unexpectedly beaten as pattens are broken and rhythms hard to rebuild.

The Bantams go into the game – and we assume that Cheltenham’s promises that the pitch will be playable will ensure there is one – with a few players coming back from injury although with usable training facilities being limited recovery might have been hampered. Rob Kiernan and Luke Oliver were both struggling to be fit for Boxing Day but should play. Shane Duff and Steve Williams are all suggesting themselves for a return while Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn are both hoping to return early in the new year.

Lenny Pidgley – who is out of contract soon – keepers goal behind Richard Eckersley, two of Duff, Williams, Kiernan, and Oliver and at left back Luke O’Brien will play.

The midfield sees Tom Adeyemi approaching the end of his loan spell at Valley Parade which has been a mixed while Lee Hendrie also has the chance to exit. The midfield at Cheltenham is expected to line up Adeyemi, Tommy Doherty, David Syers and Hendrie while Omar Daley and James Hanson will be the forward pair – although the option from drop Daley back to make a five in the middle is always there.

Last season City went to Cheltenham without a goal and ended up being the better half of a nine goal thriller which turned around the start to the season. After thirty five days of thinking City boss Peter Taylor must be hoping for a similar impact as he mulls over his squad and the changes he may make to it in January. At least, after tomorrow, he will have something to add to the feedback cycle.

The case for the defence

Peter Taylor takes his Bradford City time into the definitive Christmas period with a string of defensive injuries and a decision to make over Zesh Rehman.

An injury to Rob Kiernan stretched Taylor’s defensive resources seeing the Bantams manager push striker Jason Price into the back four while Rehman – disciplined by the club – sat in the stands.

Simon Ramsden is expected to miss the entire Christmas programme but Steve Williams, Lewis Hunt and Shane Duff could all feature at some point but the City boss has thin ranks for five games in two weeks. Three full backs are fit in Richard Eckersley, Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall and three central defenders in Kiernan, Luke Oliver and – should be be brought back into the fold, the transfer listed Rehman.

Rehman’s possible exit aside Taylor’s squad is enter a period of flux. Keeper Lenny Pidgeley, David Syers, sometimes skipper Lee Hendrie and a host of loan players may all leave the club leaving the 2011 Bradford City that Taylor attempts to push to promotion much different to the late 2010 version.

Hendrie, Syers, who it is believed has attracted interest from up the leagues after his first four months in professional football, and Tom Ademeyi could all leave following the Christmas period and – to strengthen City’s appeal to those players – five good results would no doubt strengthen the Bantam’s case to those they wish to keep. All three players are expected to make a midfield with Tommy Doherty.

There is no indication that James Hanson will leave City although it was thought that Coventry City were watching the striker before they signed Marlon King. Hanson strikes one as the kind of player who will have convinced the entire City crowd on his exit. Like Ron Futcher, Dean Windass and a host of other players before him once Hanson is gone and City return to seeing the ball cleared with some ease when put towards the strikers then Hanson’s critics will see their error.

And formally apologise to the rest of us, just like the people who jeered Dean Windass provoking his exit, and our relegation.

Hanson will line up with Omar Daley in the forward line at Crewe.

Crewe – who are making much of Clayton Donaldson in their forward line – sit two points off the play offs in 9th having come off a 3-3 draw with Stockport last time out.

Dario Grady says that Crewe are looking for new defenders. Aren’t we all?

Those small victories

Over the years supporting Bradford City, I’ve always taken greater pleasure in those occasions where we get one over someone or something. A cocky set of opposition supporters; a petty referee; a manager who made derogatory pre-match remarks; Rodney Marsh.

But rarely has putting someone in their place felt so unenjoyable as City supporters ‘victory’ over Joe Colbeck today.

That was the sideshow which overshadowed a reasonable contest that saw the Bantams gain a precious victory over bottom-club Hereford to move back into the play off hunt. David Syers’ eighth-minute belting shot ultimately proved decisive. It was a nice moment for the early player of the season frontrunner given the frustration of missing numerous chances in his last outing against Macclesfield, three weeks ago.

And though it was hardly a sparkling team performance and offered little evidence that City are good enough to be successful this season, it was the sort of result that promotion-winning sides routinely grind out. That was the most important aspect.

But the joy of victory was tempered by the unpleasant atmosphere in which it was played in, and the specific targeting of one man. Colbeck’s first return to Bradford since departing 16 months ago was always going to prompt a mixed reception, but the lengths taken by those keen to register their dislike of a player who rose through the ranks – playing over 100 times in Claret and Amber – was nothing short of disgusting.

“Colbeck is a wanker!” chanted the Bradford End for most of the first half, and before long fans in all four stands were joining in the jeering. Jeering a 24-year-old lad who joined the club when he was 16, with his family and friends watching in the crowd.

It seemed as though the game itself was the sideshow, as such strong focus was placed on barracking the former City youngster. Every time he picked up possession he was booed; when he failed to stop straightaway following an offside flag there was outrage at his cockiness; when an inaccurate pass towards Joe caused him to stretch and fall over he was laughed at. Even after City scored the first subsequent chant was “Colbeck, Colbeck what’s the score?”

And after pausing from calling him a wanker, the Bradford End chanted “Greedy Bastard” and then “Judas”; and then a “City reject.” So hang on a minute, he’s a Judas for betraying us and we rejected him anyway – Judas the reject, an interesting concept.

Let me pause by saying that I appreciate not everyone likes Colbeck and those who have feelings of disapproval towards him will have valid reasons. In the group of people I go to watch City with, opinions on him were mixed and it was mentioned that his attitude during his final few weeks at the club was poor. Me, I’ve got a lot of time for a young lad I watched try to make it at City and who provided me with some happy memories, so I personally wanted to applaud him. But if others want to boo him, that’s fair enough.

Yet the chanting, the abuse and the negativity that perpetrated from the Bradford End and spread around the four sides was too much. If you were one of the people who thinks you have the right to call Joe Colbeck a wanker, please can you explain what he has done to justify this personal abuse. Yes, we know he had a contract dispute and that made him “greedy” in some people’s eyes. Though Colbeck’s reminder of what happened – which was confirmed by Stuart McCall at the time – is hardly up there with the great contract disputes we’ve seen over the years at City.

So what else? Oh yeah, he was crap. Apparently. Funny as I remember the fantastic performances he put in for City during the 2007/08 season, especially in away games, that was appreciated by enough City fans for him to be voted player of the season. The following year he started slow and then got injured for four months. As he returned to fitness, the holes in City’s promotion bid were getting larger and Colbeck was a scapegoat as the season collapsed.

Then came the contract dispute in the summer of 2009, and I remember going to the York pre-season friendly and hearing a group of fans boo his every touch and chant about how he is a “druggy” (no evidence was offered to back this up). Then at Bradford Park Avenue, where Oldham manager Dave Penny attended as he considered signing him and some fans were urging him to do so, telling Penny we didn’t want Joe. Then he left. Driven out the club. And don’t come back.

I can only assume those who wanted him gone were leading the abuse today, but the wanker chants were aired so loud it was like they were speaking for the rest of us too. And the messages they sent both on and off the field were disturbing. Looking through my old programmes from Joe’s time at City, it’s interesting how many of the ‘Today’s Mascot’s’ rated him as their favourite player. I also remember lots of kids with Colbeck on their shirts. And why not? Here was a young lad who’d made it to the first team, an inspiration to young supporters and juniors at the club.

What’s the message these kids are supposed to take from the actions of the boo-boys today? Don’t bother following that dream of one day playing for the club you love, because these lot will rip you apart. Just look at Leon Osborne.

The one saving grace of the whole affair was Hereford manager Jamie Pitman’s decision to sub Colbeck after an hour, so at least the rest of us who’d had our views drowned out could award Colbeck the warm applause we wanted to give him. And then when he’d been subbed perhaps we could concentrate on the game, trying to ignore the fact that a poor bit of play from the other Hereford winger soon after sparked a chant of “Are you Colbeck in disguise?”

By that stage City were beginning to be pegged back by a spirited Hereford side who looked short on quality but good enough to climb out of the bottom two before May. Syers’ early strike smashed any hopes the visitors had of sitting back and frustrating City. Instead it triggered a first half of numerous chances which should have seen City go in more than 1-0 up at the break.

The outstanding Luke O’Brien’s long-range pile driver was pushed away by the erratic Bulls keeper Adam Bartlett; Tom Adeyemi’s through ball to Omar Daley was just behind the Jamaican’s feet, spoiling a one-on-one chance; Adeyemi himself should have scored when played through with just the keeper to beat.

The one-touch attacking football from City was impressive, if conservative in its frequency. Tommy Doherty and Syers were running the show and masterful to watch. Lee Hendrie, this week’s captain, also played well.

Hereford had sporadic bursts of pressure and exposed some uncertain decision-making from Lenny Pidgley in claiming crosses. One flapped corner saw a powerful Hereford effort strike a City body and bounce over the bar, although later a brilliant cross by Colbeck saw the lively Guillem Bauza’s header superbly tipped over.

After James Hanson and Syers both had opportunities early in the second half, Hereford began to threaten more and Nicky Featherstone saw a shot come back off the post, while the veteran Kenny Lunt and striker Mathieu Manset looked busy and purposeful. For City, Daley’s long range effort deflected and looped onto the post; but as the minutes past the involvement of either keeper became less frequent.

For despite Hereford exerting strong pressure in the final 20 minutes, in truth they didn’t look like scoring and struggled to create clear-cut chances. City’s back four defended well with Rob Kiernan showing the form he’d displayed on his debut at Wycombe and Luke Oliver’s head a magnetic presence to high, dangerous balls. Kiernan had to go off injured and Peter Taylor, who rather foolishly had not even afforded Zesh Rehman a place on the bench, was forced to play Jason Price as emergency centre half.

The final whistle eventually came but the joy was limited and glum faces surrounded me on the journey out through the Midland Road concourse. That, as much as the Joe-bashing, was the downer of the day. In the final 20 minutes City were on the backfoot, but holding on – and the lack of support from fans was baffling. Moans and groans filled the air and every mistake and poor touch was met with anger and swearing.

Today simply wasn’t a nice day to be at Valley Parade, it wasn’t a nice day to be a Bradford City supporter. Because the want of some to be negative overshadowed others efforts to support the team. Yeah it wasn’t a great performance and we expect better, but surely it is occasions like this – rather than 5-0 up over Oxford – where we supporters should be giving our all.

Instead many of us focus on ridiculing a former player who most of us in the crowd are older than, on waiting for Adeyemi’s next mistake, on slating Hanson for daring to believe “he’s already made it”, on moaning about Taylor’s insistence on bringing all 11 players back to defend corners, and then on criticising his choice and timing of subs.

Valley Parade was today a cauldron of negativity, yet again. There’s so much crap going on in the world, there’s plenty of stress and difficulties in our own lives. Supporting your football team is supposed to be a release – a pleasure, not a chore. Days like this should at least leave a smile on the face.

Surely we can all be better than this?

The diary of not watching football

Roger Owen took a break from writing what will no doubt be lengthy programme notes on the Referee who last took charge of a City home game – more on that later – to tell City fans and those who would come up from Hereford for the game at the weekend that the club are doing everything they can to get the game on.

Indeed Owen’s notes to the website are full of the sort of information which pre-empts the demands of football fans after a game is called off. When looking at the clear piece of driveway in BD14 which my car is parked on I could suggest that it should be easy to host a football match and it would, but the approaching roads.

So Owen strikes a note of justified caution, but hopes to get a game on. Back in December 2003 when City’s game with Crystal Palace at Valley Parade was called off the club nearly went out of business not for the want of a long term strategy or plan but for the need of short term cash flow. Julian Rhodes and Gordon Gibb had to find around half a million pounds to pay the wages and it is said by those who say such a thing that the demands one placed on the other was the fracture of that relationship.

Fractured relationships seem to be the order of the day at Valley Parade. Zesh Rehman and Peter Taylor have seen their relationship fractured and it would be remiss of me at this point to not recall a comment made at the start of the season about the pair.

The judgement of Taylor’s job at Bradford City would be in what he could get out Zesh Rehman – so I said – because in the player City have a footballer with enough talent to convince many to sign him (an a talent which has been demonstrated at City any number of times) but and approach and attitude which wavers.

“An inconstant performer” would seem to sum it up and should Taylor get a player like Zesh Rehman playing more good games than bad then – using Rehman as a sample of the squad – City would no doubt be doing very well.

We are not and Taylor seems set to wash his hands of the player seemingly ready to say that he is not able to get the performances out of him which other managers have. That is a disappointment for all, and a worrying thing from a manager.

Taylor’s relationship with Jake Speight – currently on loan at Port Vale – showed signs of cracks when the player went to prison and when he criticised Taylor’s methods for not including enough fitness training.

Speight was not – unlike Rehman – transfer listed for his outburst which seemed more critical than Rehman’s which was questioning. However letting it be known that player who is on loan is not wanted is no way to run a business and perhaps if the veneer of a business front was wiped away the striker would be just as on his way out as the defender.

These thoughts play in the mind in the weeks after abandoned games. City’s trip to Aldershot was shelved and the club had a blank week owing to an early FA Cup exit leaving Accrington Stanley at home as the last time the Bantams took to the field.

BfB has it from “a good source” (which is not Wikileaks, or Wookieeleaks, and is worth trusting) that following that game Referee Tony Bates rang John Coleman that Accrington Stanley manager and apologised for costing his club the game. On an evening of elbows, pitch invasions and an official who could not bring himself to give the decisions laid out in the laws of the game Mr Bates feels that he should talk for sure but not to apologise to us paying supporters who watched him make a mockery or a match but to the manager who (one assumes) was behind that pantomime football.

Which sums the arrogance of Referees up to a tee. Supporters are but cattle, and are treated with a lack of respect which means that we are not even afforded the decency of an apology after the official feels he has put in a poor performance although apologies are offered even if those apologies would provoke incredulity.

Nevertheless Roger Owen is not known to keep his attitudes about officials and Bradford City to himself – we all recall his reaction to the 3-0 defeat at Carlisle United – and so one can assume that he has spent the last three weeks preparing his thoughts. Certainly it would be interesting to know what City think of the fact that had Mr Bates had not felt he erred that night that the Bantams would have lost the game.

Losing games slipped back into City’s habits, especially at home. Peter Taylor’s side have lost four at home which is twice the number Stuart McCall’s side which finished 9th two season ago ended the season on and a look at last year’s table suggests that over a half dozen home defeats is probative to promotion, to say nothing of season ticket sales.

Taylor’s cause is not helped by a significant injury list which the manager hopes will ease when Shane Duff and Lewis Hunt return to fitness for the Christmas period.

Hunty should be joining in at the end of the week. To me, he’s going to be a couple of weeks after that, which is good news.

“Hunty.” One recalls Roger Owen paying for suits and making a big play of increased professionalism at Valley Parade and I’m not sure how that fits in with one playing being transfer listed for saying he thinks he should be in the side over a player that the manager refers to by nickname. “Hunty”, still, could have been worse.

Should the game go ahead then City are expected to field Lenny Pidgeley in goal. Richard Eckersley at right back, Rob Kiernan and Luke Oliver at centreback, Luke O’Brien at left back. Tommy Doherty and David Syers in the midfield with Lee Hendrie on the left and perhaps Leon Osbourne on the right although Omar Daley is at times deployed there. Daley or Jason Price in the forward line with James Hanson.

That red card, this red card and the enemies of football

If one were Referee Anthony Bates one might probably like to forget this cold night in Bradford and one would do well to hope that other did so too.

Indeed in a 1-1 draw that saw little in the way of impressive football and much that stood in the way of it one might have looked at the much talked about advertisements for season tickets which were plastered around the ground and wondered if any sale of what was on show on this evening might have been a hard sell.

Accrington Stanley’s commitment to the unlaudable aim of getting a point from the game was initially laudable and in a packed midfield they did much to frustrate a City team which was hampered by a poor selection of players by Peter Taylor.

Omar Daley exited the side to allow Jason Price and James Hanson to lead the line but without Daley dropping between the lines, and with Lee Hendrie and Leon Osborne too far on the flanks to provide outlets for the midfield, the Bantams were troublesomely squared off. The midfield central two survived an uneven first half by Tom Adeyemi but whenever he or Tommy Doherty looked for an outlet the attacking unit were unjoined, and thus ineffective.

Adeyemi’s unevenness, and the character he showed to recover from some poor spells, should have been truncated after 21 minutes when Accrington’s first serious (or frivolous) attack when lone striker Terry Gornell picked up a loose ball and tried to flick it around the City midfielder only to see the top of Adeyemi’s arm sweep the ball away.

It was a penalty – scored by – Phil Edwards but for Anthony Bates to award a penalty for handball he had to have decided that Adeyemi’s offence was deliberate the rules of the game making it clear that only deliberate action is to be considered handball and thus the City man had denied a goalscoring opportunity and should have been sent off.

Bates gave the penalty as a statement that the offence was deliberate, then failed to send the player off saying that the offence was not.

That Accrington Stanley enjoyed the better of the next fifteen or twenty minutes in which they mustered four shots at Lenny Pidgeley’s goal perhaps suggests that at the time they should have been attacking City’s ten men and perhaps manager John Coleman will be fuming over that decision which may very well has cost his side a win.

Peter Taylor decided that his team needed to step up to earn a win and slipped Daley on for Osborne with instant results. Daley made a nuisance of himself and Accrington struggled to cope with a now three man forward line. A well worked ball into the box saw Jason Price leap and take an elbow to the face but as the ball bounced towards one time City keeper (and narrowboat owner) Ian Dunbavin James Hanson stuck his foot in where the ball bounced and after a keeper striker smash the ball fell to Price who tidied the ball into the goal.

Penalty? Foul on the keeper? Nothing? Something? Anthony Bates might want to skip over that minute of football and just note, as we do, that Jason Price equalised for Bradford City.

The Bantams on top now and a Richard Eckersley ball over the top bounced for James Hanson who took the ball into his body and was pulled down by the last defender Kevin Long and once again Bates was left having given a decision which mandated a specific punishment – Long having committed a foul that denied a clear goalscoring opportunity – but opted to give a yellow card.

So City, on top of the game, should have been facing ten men but for the non-decisions and Law ignoring of Bates. Taylor’s switch had given City the edge and caused problems which took Accrington twenty-five minutes until they threw on Luke Joyce to plug the danger from. One might be tempted to suggest that two wrongs made a right but these wrongs were not errors of judgement or mistakes – this was not a Ref seeing one thing and it turning out later he was wrong – it was him seeing offences and then ignoring the mandated punishments.

But as the blood boiled at Bates one could not help but feel some sympathy for him at the end and trudging away from the draw into the kelt of Bradford that sympathy stretched to whomever had blighted my sight with the so horrible season ticket advertisements.

As City pushed for a winner there was – seemingly – a campaign of gamesmanship involving the Accrington Stanley players going over too easily and staying down, and involved Accrington Stanley Physio invading the field without Bates’ permission, staying on the field too long, using no urgency to leave it.

This reached a nadir when as O’Brien looked to take a free kick Anthony Bates’ attention was draw to the fact that Accrington’s Physio had been on the field – again without permission – for sometime and delayed the restart for minutes giving a defender treatment. The momentum lost and the game dragged out without much interest.

Playing for a draw might be dull, but using gamesmanship to drag it out harms football and people who do it in the way it seemed Accrington’s staff were – are the enemies of football. Supporters, and anyone who had come to watch a football match, needed referee Anthony Bates to stamp his authority on the evening. They needed him to send the Physio away from the bench (Yes, he can do that) for entering the field of play without permission but what other tools does he have in his arsenal to cope with such obvious gamesmanship?

What control does the Referee have over a team which goes from playing for a draw to simply trying to avoid playing at all? What authority would he, or could he, take?

Sadly Bates, however, seemed to be determined that he would show no authority at all.

Just what The Doc called for – Tommy returns

Tomorrow evening Bradford meet the side directly above them in the table albeit only on goal difference. The players, manager and fans alike though will still be wondering how they don’t have a 3 point advantage going into this game over their opposition following their impressive defeat to Macclesfield on Saturday. Had Bradford managed a second half turn around they would be sat 2 points behind Torquay in the last playoff spot and as Torquay face a tricky trip to Wycombe tomorrow evening you would be fairly confident that come Wednesday Bradford would find themselves at least level on points with the play off positions.

However, we can’t have another season talking about if only and the current table doesn’t read as horribly as it did earlier on in the season despite two defeats on the spin. Both defeats have seen encouraging performances from City and recent displays have certainly cheered the Bradford faithful up.

What of Accrington Stanley though? Who are they? Or has that joke become a bit old now. There are certainly a couple of faces that Bradford fans won’t need any introduction to. Jon Bateson and Rory Boulding. Just in case the latter passed anyone by he was signed as part of a deal to convince his brother Michael to join us and he spent a couple of years playing reserve team football without ever being in any danger of threatening a regular place in the first team. In fact should he play tomorrow he may complete more minutes on the Valley Parade pitch than his two years as a player here. Jon on the other hand was well thought of by the fans here and many were sad to see him leave. He was unfortunate to be back up to Mr. Consistency, Simon Ramsden and although he always proved a very capable understudy when called upon the level of performance from Simon Ramsden would always see him reinstated immediately after injury or suspension.

In fact Jon may be slightly disappointed that he isn’t still around because the long term injury to Ramsden would have seen him feature regularly in the campaign this year and I believe he would have impressed more than Lewis Hunt earlier on this season. Once again both Ramsden and Hunt are missing and following Richard Eckersley’s man of the match performance on Saturday he will maintain his place at right back. He will most likely remain in an unchanged defence with Rob Kiernan, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien alongside him. The four weren’t tested much on Saturday by Macclesfield but a lack of experience is a worry and the awkward playing style of Oliver regularly sends a shiver up my spine. Although I may be being harsh because I can’t really find fault in his performance from Saturday and in fact was impressed on a number of occasions with his passing and tackling, I still feel the sooner Williams and Duff return the better. O’Brien on the left hand side looks to have regained the form that won him player of the season two years ago and will continue to keep Threlfall out of the side despite his return from injury.

The midfield is likely to see only one change as ‘The Doc’ returns from suspension. Taylor believes if Tommy Doherty was an athlete then he would be in the Premier League. If that’s the case then we as Bradford fans should thank God that he’s not an athlete. So thanks Stuart! He will replace Lee Bullock in the middle of the park. The fact that the Taylor now picks one over the other confirms for me what I believed was the problem for much of the early part of the season. A team requires a balance and if you have one midfielder lacking in mobility then you need another to do his running for him. The only possible solution was to drop Bullock and replace him with someone younger and more able to get round the pitch, not only did Bullocks lack of athleticism inhibit the team to put more pressure on the opposition but also The Doc’s ability to dictate play from the middle of the park. Having Bullock alongside him gave him one less option to find in front of him when he looked to play the killer pass. I’m not saying that Bullock is a poor player but just that The Doc is far superior and having the likes of Dave Syers or Tom Adeyemi alongside him allows him to dictate play from a deep position and showcase his undoubted abilities such as his incredible eye for a pass. Tomorrow the role of The Doc’s assisting nurse will fall to the increasingly impressive Syers with Adeyemi once again taking position on the right and Lee Hendrie on the left in a narrow midfield. Syers has an engine the likes of which I have never seen in my time watching Bradford City, I am not fortunate enough to be old enough to have witnessed Stuart in his first spell at the club but the way I imagine him is similar to the way Dave Syers plays for us now. Perhaps after all the promising auditions of Tom Kearney, Steve Schumacher and company we have finally found someone who won’t be ‘the next Stuart’ but rather someone to be as successful and impressive as Stuart was in his time here.

A front two will consist of Omar Daley alongside one of Taylor two big men, James Hanson and Jason Price. Price is available after today extending his loan deal until January 3rd, but the decision on which of the two gets the nod will depend on whether Taylor thinks Hanson is ready for another start in a matter of days after claiming he wasn’t fit enough for 90 minutes against Macclesfield. Should Hanson be considered fit enough then it is unlikely he will be replaced but Jason Price is a more than capable replacement if needed.

This game could prove to be a huge point in Bradford’s season after they struggled for confidence in the early part of the season it will be interesting to see how they react to two undeserved losses on the trot. If a performance anywhere near the level of the second half on Saturday is reproduced then there can only be one winner and once again Bradford will find themselves within touching distance of the play offs.

A footballing evolution

The theory of evolution over creationism may be passionately disputed by some, but in football it seems there’s only one type of advancement which ultimately shapes the natural order of league tables.

Managers create their squad for the coming season during the summer, but it is rarely a seven day miracle. Instead there seems to be a constant narrative they all go through in shaping and evolving their team selection, in an effort to ensure their club achieves its realistic goals. What looked the strongest possible team in August very often doesn’t prove to be the case as the games come thick and fast. Survival of the fittest is often about which manager gets his team selection right the quickest.

One can see the process of evolving the squad after the campaign has got underway in Bradford City’s two most successful recent seasons. The forever-talked about promotion of 1998/99 was delivered by a strong squad, but a disastrous start which saw City regularly beaten if not bettered had manager Paul Jewell changing around the team until it eventually clicked and started producing consistently strong results.

As he surveyed the scene at Molineux having clinched promotion at Wolves, Jewell might have reflected on how the previous August he wouldn’t have expected to have relied so heavily on Robbie Blake, Wayne Jacobs and John Dreyer in order to achieve his goals. Similarly a year after, when Premier League survival was achieved, Jewell’s squad had evolved to the point that previous heroes Blake, Lee Mills and Gareth Whalley were somewhat discarded along the way.

For most teams it doesn’t usually end up so gloriously. Over the course of shaping the squad, managers may discover – self-inflicted or otherwise – that they don’t have the players to fulfil expectations.

Sometimes a team starts perfectly only to fall away, with the manager struggling to work out where it’s going wrong and desperately trying to fix it. Often the solutions are realised too late or are the best of a bad situation. Colin Todd, for example, belatedly managed to shape his 2005-06 City team into a winning one and the club enjoyed a strong end to the season – but it had come too late to change the fact pre-season expectations of a play off spot had not been delivered.

In the modern day and particularly at the top end of football, squads rather than just 11 players are crucial in clubs achieving their aims. Part in response to increased intensity of matches, part due to a higher number of injuries than in the past, teams that succeed can’t afford for the absence of players to undermine their prospects. Of course every team has players they struggle badly without – witness Chelsea’s heavy defeat to Sunderland on Sunday with John Terry and Alex were injured – but never has the team been less about the individuals.

Peter Taylor’s has this season moved Bradford City to as close of a squad game as we’ve ever seen at Valley Parade. So often we’ve welcomed a new batch of players in the summer who’ve shown initial promise; but as the strikers went on goal droughts, the wingers revealed their inconsistency and defenders began to tot up mistakes, the season’s objectives were all too soon not going to be met.

This summer’s recruits by Taylor haven’t all worked out so far – rarely, if ever, in football does a manager not make bad signings – but as his recent evolution efforts have lifted the club out of nosediving form, the benefits of a squad approach are becoming clear. City are progressing through the sum of their parts.

Take the defence as the most obvious example. Convention in football is that you must have a settled back four in order to build understandings and prosper. If and when on-loan Burnley full back Richard Eckersley makes his City debut, he will become the 12th different defender deployed this season. That’s three separate sets of back fours.

Yet while City’s defensive record this season is far from exemplary, they have kept four clean sheets in their last eight league matches – and in another three only conceded one goal each time – despite a whole range of different defenders playing. Even the goalkeeper has changed; but even through so much enforced chopping, the backline has remained largely strong.

And the evolution of tactics has seen some curious changes. In the last two league games on the road – Bury and Wycombe – it’s been notable that the towering Luke Oliver has been instructed to attack any high balls into his penalty area, with central defensive partner Steve Williams (at Bury) and Rob Kiernan (at Wycombe) marking the spare striker and on hand to mop up any Oliver slips. Traditionally we view central defenders as marking a man each, but the effectiveness of Oliver in the air is being used to greater effect. Few would rank him our best defender, but in terms of this role he does it better than anyone.

In midfield we saw previous manager Stuart McCall move away from traditional wingers by lining City up 4-3-3 last season; but despite Taylor restoring 4-4-2 in recent weeks, wingers don’t form part of his set up. For so many previous seasons, City have lived and died by the form of their widemen. The lack of consistency and ease opposition teams can double up on wingers has limited their success. While as England proved so dismally on Wednesday, the use of wingers can leave the centre of midfield overrun.

Taylor hasn’t played out-and-out wingers all season. During those difficult days in August and September, it looked a poor policy as City struggled to create meaningful chances, but now the logic of wide midfielders rather than wingers appears sounder. Lee Hendrie and Tom Adeyemi, widemen of the last two games at least, have been able to come inside and help City become more defensively solid when they don’t have the ball. The more narrow four also encourages closer range passing, which is harnessing the ability of Tommy Doherty.

The closest the Bantams now have to wingers  are the full backs, who have a licence to roam forward knowing the midfield will cover for them.

Not only are the defence and midfield working closer than we’ve seen for many years, the forward line is linking up well with the team. Omar Daley’s City days looked numbered under Taylor, but his impact since moving to a free role playing off the targetman has been terrific. Taylor is not the first manager to deploy Daley up front, David Wetherall moved him up top for the final game of the 2006-07 season, at home to Millwall; but he is the first to ensure Daley’s talents aren’t wasted by being too far up the pitch.

Daley is regularly popping up all over the final third, dropping deep to get the ball and charge at defenders. For the opposition a major problem – who on earth is supposed to mark him?

This switch was a great leap forwards in the team evolutionary progress, because Daley has the space and freedom to take up the wide positions traditional wingers would normally occupy; and, if City played out-and-out wingers, it would probably reduce his effectiveness.

A target man is vital to City’s approach and, with the greatest respect to stand-in Oliver, it’s no coincidence form has truly lifted off after forwards James Hanson and Jason Price became available to perform that role. Hanson’s fitness remains a concern, and so Price has aided the squad approach by being available to stand in when needed.

Like Jewell at Molineux in May 1999, would Taylor have thought his team would look like this last August? We’ve seen Louis Moult, Jake Speight, Gareth Evans, Lee Bullock, Robbie Threlfall and Scott Neilson fall by the wayside, and the best hope Moult and Speight now appear to have of getting in the team is to be able to perform Daley’s free role when he is not available. For Evans the future is surely wide midfielder.

The strength of City’s vast improvement is reflected when looking at the injured list. Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn are big players for this club, but Taylor and the rest of the team have learned to cope admirably. For now things look good, but the competitive nature of League Two means the evolution of City is unlikely to be complete. In time the opposition may formulate effective plans to contain Daley, for example, and there is the very real threat that Lee Hendrie, Tom Adeyemi, Williams and Price will depart in January.

However Taylor’s squad approach – his stated philosophy during the summer of having two players for every position – is so far working. It’s clear he’s brought in players who he didn’t plan to start every week, and the lack of public discontent suggests every player knew the score pre-season.

For the Macclesfield game, the team will remain largely the same to that beaten in unfortunate circumstances by Wycombe last Saturday. Lenny Pidgley will continue in goal in front of Zesh Rehman, Oliver, Kiernan and Luke O’Brien. The midfield will see changes with the absence of Doherty, and the smart money is on a David Syers and Adeyemi central partnership with Hendrie and Evans/Leon Osborne wide midfield. As Hanson is still bugged by a slight injury, expect Price to start in what could be – but is highly unlikely to be – his final game on loan, with Daley as a partner.

Potentially as little as three players who started the opening game at Shrewsbury will be in Taylor’s starting XI tomorrow. There are many good reasons for this, with evolution one of the biggest.

The wrong type of match winner

With little to separate two very good League Two sides, the likelihood that one mistake would settle this contest grew as the minutes ticked by. Yet it wasn’t any of the 21 players left on the field who were to ultimately determine this outcome, but the man who was supposed to ensure it was a fair contest.

Mick Russell capped a truly appalling refereeing display with a moment of confusion which allowed Wycombe to take advantage of Bradford City hesitation and Kevin Betsy to tap home a loose ball.

Only seconds earlier, the linesman had flagged for a Wycombe free kick which the City players stopped and waited to be taken – with the fouled home player lying on the ground apparently needing treatment. But Matt Bloomfield continued charging into the area – to everyone’s confusion – and attempted to take the ball around Lenny Pidgley. After City’s keeper tripped up the home striker, Betsy struck. The fact other Wycombe players had also stopped and the home crowd was at first quiet as Bloomfield raced forwards summed up the confusion.

City’s players were left fuming and they surrounded both the referee and linesman. There will be two arguments against their complaints – firstly Russell will have claimed he played advantage in allowing Bloomfield to run through. Fair point usually; but during an erratic display Russell had shown bizarre levels of inconsistency in the application of the advantage rule.

Twice during the first half, for example, City had been on the attack and fouled by a home player, but were still in possession and able to continue. Frustratingly, Russell stopped the game to lecture the players who’d produced fouls, rather than allowing City’s momentum to continue. It is therefore understandable why they would assume a free kick for Wycombe in a similar situation would result in the same pausing of the match.

The other argument, the old “play to the whistle”, is also worth pondering. No doubt Russell will have argued back to fuming City players that he had not blown his whistle to confirm the linesman’s flagging up of the free kick, so they were at fault for assuming. But still there was no obvious gesture he was playing advantage, and so City can feel justified in their complaints they had stopped the game believing it was a home free kick.

Only after Russell had finished arguing the ‘goal’ over with Pidgley and Zesh Rehman – the latter receiving a booking for the level of his protest – did the Hertfordshire referee bother to talk to his linesman. As the pair were locked in conversation, the possibility that the goal would be disallowed temporarily flickered. Yet having got this far, such an admission of error would have been horrendously embarrassing. Whether or not Russell still believed he was right, it was easier to continue the game with Wycombe a goal ahead.

Such incompetence was in keeping with display that saw Russell enrage almost every person inside Adams Park at some point over the 90 minutes. Former Wycombe midfielder Tommy Doherty was sent off on the hour for reacting badly to a strong challenge from Gareth Ainsworth. A fair decision, but when minutes later Wycombe’s Dave Winfield pushed Jason Price in the face after producing a crude challenge on Omar Daley, but only received a yellow card, the double standards were again there for all to see.

It wasn’t that Russell was biased, it wasn’t even a case that he was influenced by pressure from home fans. He was just an appalling referee who made a series of bad decisions against both teams, and it just so happened the random pattern to his decision-making was to cause the Bantams to lose the game. He could just have easily have made poor decisions that led to an away win. And there above all was the frustrating factor. A good referee is supposed to go unnoticed, a bad referee like Russell has such a strong influence he actually determines who wins.

The real problem with referees in general is the incredible variety of standards. Week-by-week, you just don’t know what you’re going to get. In one match the referee will let everything go, in another the official will issue 12 yellow cards. Today we saw a number of  well-timed tackles deemed as fouls, while some awful challenges went unpunished. Midway through the first half David Syers was charging forward on the counter attack with just one defender for company. He was crudely barged over, only for the referee to wave play on. 10 minutes later Syers won a free kick when he was fairly tackled. Just what was the basis for such inconsistent decisions?

When Russell wasn’t misjudging incidents, a very good game of football was threatening to break out. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been here a few seasons now and are over the culture shock, but this year the standard of League Two seems stronger. Wycombe looked another excellent side who liked to pass the ball on the deck and produce attractive football, if physical at times in their approach.

The Chairboys began the game well, despite Daley forcing a good save out of keeper Nikki Bull in the opening two minutes. Manager Gary Waddock appeared to have had City well-scouted and his players attempted to isolate full backs Rehman and Luke O’Brien by doubling up on them when attacking. The battle between the wily Ainsworth and O’Brien was especially enthralling, with City’s home-grown defender yet again performing admirably.

Taylor had to work on getting wide players Tom Adeyemi and Lee Hendrie to be more central with Tommy Doherty and David Syers, to cut the supply line. Eventually Ainsworth was withdrawn to a more deeper central role, such was City’s success in blocking Wycombe’s tactics.

And by that stage City had grown from a tentative start to give as good as they got. Daley was again a real handful and caused all kinds of problems in his free role. Price, in for the absent James Hanson, was his usual consistently strong self and did the ugly things very effectively. Clear cut chances were limited for both sides – a magnificent Pidgley save from Stuart Beavon’s header the best opening for either side – but a few close efforts from Daley and five successive corners underlined City’s attacking threat. A strong City penalty appeal was also turned down, naturally.

The pattern continued into the second half; but as easy on the eye as the one touch football from both sides was, this was a game where defences remained largely on top. It may not have been a happy return to Wycombe for Doherty and Taylor, but Luke Oliver enjoyed another outstanding display and produced a number of superb tackles and interceptions. Alongside him on-loan Watford defender Rob Kiernan made his debut – remarkably the 11th defender used by City already this season – and impressed with his reading of the game and comfortableness on the ball.

Doherty’s sending off gave Wycombe a man advantage for the final third of the game, but with Gareth Evans and Leon Osborne brought off the bench to double up as wide midfielders who could support now-lone striker Price when City had the ball, the threat of City making the break-through was just as strong as Wycombe. That is until referee Russell made his final decisive contribution.

City struggled to chase the game effectively in the final stages, with Wycombe’s extra man advantage obvious for the first time as they comfortably retained possession. Yet in the first minute of stoppage time Adeyemi almost equalised after his late surge into the box and powerful effort was tipped behind by Bull. They were not able to use the remaining three overtime minutes to muster another meaningful attack.

So defeated, but not exactly beaten. Taylor will take on board certain lessons, but unlike City’s other seven league losses this season this wasn’t down to self-inflicted failings. The two up-coming home games against Macclesfield and Accrington offer the opportunity to continue the ascent up the league table, though they and the trip to Aldershot will have to be navigated without the growing influence of Doherty.

Whatever happens in those games, it’s to be hoped it will be left to the players on the field to determine the outcomes.

Shocking things in the FA Cup

What is an FA Cup shock? Last night FC United of Manchester beat Rochdale and the result was hardly unpredictable. In fact as the masses of disenchanted Mancunians descended on Spotland it seemed to me that it would be more of a surprise if the league club had won.

That is the problem with the FA Cup. Some clubs want it, others don’t, and when you turn up at a game you do not know which of those two your club will be in. If one side does not care as much about the game as they do the league on Saturday then even if you win, you don’t get a good game.

So it was more geography that meant I trotted up to Colchester to watch City and probably the fact that not many City fans were coming down to the game that means I ended up doing this match report. I was fully prepared for seeing a second string from one side or the other and not much of a game. As it was City went into the game with pretty much a full strength side, Omar Daley was out and Louis Moult in, and Colchester seemed to have done similar and the result was a bit of a humdinger of a game.

Colchester took an early lead, City equalised, that happened again and at half time you would have done well to pick who the higher league team were and certainly who the better one was. City seemed a soft touch at the back but in James Hanson have a striker who seems to be on his way to better things. Steve Williams did not finish the game limping off with a quarter of an hour left so any watching scouts from the East Midlands will have gone home early but it is to be hoped that Sven does not see Hanson who scored twice and put in a great troublesome performance.

Moult set up Hanson’s first goal with a nice pass between defenders as the first equaliser and Luke O’Brien set up Hanson’s second and City’s third with a corner. O’Brien also set up David Syers’ goal with a cross too. O’Brien has come on so much under Peter Taylor and like Hanson, Williams and Syers looks like players who will play at a higher level.

Two second half goals from Colchester United tipped the game their way with the second second half goal was a penalty which seemed to leave Peter Taylor fuming and in the end was the difference between the two teams. Luke Oliver seemed to challenge him fairly enough but any challenge in the box is dangerous in modern football. Oliver and Zesh Rehman are so far behind O’Brien and Williams and it shows when City defend.

Modern football does not seem to have much room for the FA Cup any more though. The game was exciting enough but at the end of the day (and after giving it a good go) City were out and Colchester through but it hardly seemed to matter to people. The excitement was not there and the game felt a little but too much like a pre-season friendly than what used to be one of the most exciting games of the year.

Perhaps it is cause City have been to the top and back that trips to Colchester do not inspire but then again Colchester’s fans wandered away from the game without much of a spring in the step. Maybe it is rose tinted glasses but we always used to get more excited by the FA Cup.

No complaints from the players today though

As it was this was an exciting game of football, both teams went for it, and it was not about cup shocks or giant killing or people who or have a day job scoring against professionals all those boring ITV cliches. It was just a proper game of football, and that was a bit of a cup shock for me.

The modern day FA Cup

The FA Cup is back for another season. Cue up that increasingly-grainy footage of shocks from 30 years ago, let us revel once more at Rocket Ronnie’s goal and don’t forget to keep reminding us that the FA Cup is “the greatest competition in the world”. Again and again.

In recent years – and largely due to the permanently sunny outlook ITV Sport always seems to take – we’ve had to get used to a modern day FA Cup cliche. It’s deployed every time something remotely exciting happens as a moment of mini-triumph for the commentator: “Who said the magic of the FA Cup is dead?”, or for a variant “The magic of the FA Cup is well and truly alive.” Either way this competition has magical powers. So don’t question it. Okay?

Of course the magic of the FA Cup has waned in modern times, and anyone who wants to argue it is still the greatest competition on the basis of showing old footage and over-hyping modern day David v Goliath clashes is either foolish or has advertising space to sell. But even if you face up to that reality, it doesn’t mean the FA Cup is dead. More than it needs to stop living in the past.

There are many theories as to why the FA Cup has lost its prestige – the poor attitude of big clubs and too much football on TV the most quoted. But my personal view is that it is the victim of the successful evolving of league football during the past 20 years. In the Premier League the increase to Champions League spots has pushed down the qualification places for the Europa League (formerly UEFA Cup). This suddenly makes achieving a European spot a realistic objective for more clubs, with hopes able to stay in tact for most of the season.

And in the Football League, the introduction of the play offs in the mid-80s has also devalued the FA Cup. Every team can tangibly dream of reaching a play off spot, and even if you’re stuck in mid-table come Christmas the possibility of a late surge remains alive. Before the play offs, many teams’ seasons would be over before January and, as long as they weren’t in relegation trouble, there’d be nothing to play for with over a half a season left. So the FA Cup meant much more.

In short, the death of midtable meaningless across English football’s four divisions has killed the prestige of the FA Cup. And it’s time traditionalists stopped ignoring the facts and gave up banging on about the so-called magic, so the FA Cup can also evolve for the modern day. The resurgence in popularity of the League Cup in recent years should act as inspiration.

All of this ignores the fact that, for Bradford City at least, this should be considered a special year for the FA Cup. This club doesn’t have an especially successful history to be proud of, but a century ago this season came the Bantams’ finest hour as they defeated Newcastle United 1-0 to lift the FA Cup. Numerous special events are planned to commemorate the landmark, including a new City book to look forward to. It is right to celebrate such an achievement which, in the modern day, looks so absurdly unlikely the club will ever repeat, but how big an appetite there is for a worthy FA Cup run this season to honour that past is debatable.

Tomorrow City begin their FA Cup campaign at Colchester, and with league form suddenly taking off this tie is in truth an unwelcome distraction. Ask pretty much every City fan if they’d rather win tomorrow or at Wycombe in the league next Saturday and yet another early exit would be gladly sacrificed for the chance to close the gap on the play offs. Sure, we’d love to get to the third round and the chance to play David to a Premier League club, but not at the expense of it distracting the players from the all important bread and butter stuff.

Manager Peter Taylor is likely to make some changes given a busy week and important league matches to come, but with momentum so important in football it’s hoped his selection won’t differ too greatly from the side which is building understandings and has won four out of five games. Lenny Pidgley will continue in goal and, with injuries to Shane Duff, Simon Ramsden and Lewis Hunt, expect the same back four which has kept City consecutive clean sheets for the first time since May. Robbie Threlfall could, however, be afforded a first start since getting injured against Gillingham in September.

In midfield Lee Hendrie may not be risked as a minor knock has kept him out of the games at Burton and Bury. Expect Tommy Doherty – still struggling with an injury – to join him in sitting this one out. Doherty’s influence is growing with each game, but the minor complaints from some fans are also being maintained.

After Saturday’s accomplished display he was criticised for lack of pace, on Tuesday the fact he failed to acknowledge us visiting supporters as we chanted his name when he was subbed has caused a bizarrely-angry reaction from a minority. If memory serves me correct, Doherty is yet to speak publicly since signing during the summer and appears to be a shy, retiring sort of fella rather than an arrogant prat who believes he is above thanking his supporters.

Tom Adeyemi and Leon Osborne will likely continue on the flanks, with David Syers possibly joined by the forgotten Lee Bullock in the centre. Almost unnoticed and way ahead of predictions, Gareth Evans returned to the bench on Tuesday after getting injured last month. With the success of the strikers, it appears Evans’ most likely route to a regular starting place is a wide midfield spot, probably for Osborne.

Up front on-loan Jason Price and Louis Moult have been cleared to play and Taylor may favour this partnership to give Omar Daley a breather and to allow James Hanson to continue his recovery from injury. Chibuzor Chilaka will also be pressing for a first start, but after Moult’s first goal last week it would be cruel not to give him a go.

League One Colchester are going great guns and in superb form – so an early exit from the FA Cup seems likely for City. That is hardly the way to honour the heroes of 1911; but the modern day view to take is that the best way to recognise this centenary would not be a cup run but to achieve success in the league.

How Peter Taylor turned around Bradford City’s season

The contrast could not have been greater. A month to the day since Bradford City departed the field to yet more angry boos in the wake of a dispiriting home loss to Morecambe, jubilant scenes greeted the final whistle at Gigg Lane as the Bantams recorded a fourth win from five. The immediate future looked bleak on October 2, now it appears hugely exciting.

Midway through the second half at Bury, a massive argument between the two benches over a strong home challenge prompted a boisterous chorus of ‘Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army’ from the large travelling support. Compare that to the scenes at full time against Morecambe – part of which were captured live on the excellent Bantams Banter podcast that week, where in the words of Tom or Dom: “Taylor’s being booed, he’s just walked onto the pitch and is being absolutely annihilated.” – and for the City manager to still be employed is an achievement in itself.

After the Morecambe loss City had slumped to 23rd – or a ranking of 91st out of 92 professional teams who play in England. It was a new low point of a 10-year slump which has featured numerous “it can’t get any worse than this” moments. But 31 days later the Bantams have climbed to 10th position – a remarkable recovery after it had appeared the only way we’d be exiting League Two would be via the relegation trapdoor.

And for that Taylor deserves a huge amount of credit. In the wake of the Morecambe loss, tabloid speculation took hold that he had to win the next game or would be dismissed. Taylor and City pulled back from the brink, winning 2-0 at Barnet in a thrilling manner. But even then it seemed Taylor’s future remained right on the knife edge and, as Cheltenham took an early lead at Valley Parade the following Saturday, the end appeared close.

City recovered to win while producing their finest display of the season so far; and though a 3-0 setback at Burton once again raised question marks, victories over Oxford and Bury have firmly pushed away the pressure of the sack. Now to keep going.

Above all else the turnaround has been achieved by placing a greater emphasis on the quality Taylor has available. The less-than-inspiring end of September/early October, which featured defender Luke Oliver up front and seven hours without a goal, saw City play some quite dreadful long ball football. It was back-to-basics, desperate tactics seemingly aimed at grinding out results. It was also horrendous to watch.

At Barnet Taylor went back to 4-4-2 and employed Tom Adeyemi alongside Tommy Doherty, to provide the cultured midfielder with greater support – and City struck two quality goals in the second half to win the game.

Doherty’s early games were relative quiet and unassuming, with the summer signing attracting the kind of criticism gifted players like Nicky Summerbee and Gareth Whalley received for their shortcomings. He looked quality from day one, but struggled to get team mates on the same wavelength and to make the sort of clever off-the-ball running he has the ability to ping a pass to.

In recent weeks it has been a privilege to watch someone of such talent making a big impression, and his performances against Cheltenham and Oxford have drawn comparisons to Whalley. I feel we are very lucky to have such a superb player for this level; he is pivotal to Taylor’s side.

Now that he has settled in and built up fitness, Lee Hendrie is also making a huge difference to City. He scored the crucial second goal against Cheltenham in what was his best all-round performance for City. Hendrie clearly has a clever football brain and the vision to spot things others don’t see. Here until January at least, with each excellent performance the likelihood of another team coming in is growing.

But for now he is not only helping Doherty increase his influence, but setting a superb example to others in helping Taylor evolve the team’s shape. Hendrie is not an out-and-out winger, but a wide midfielder able to tuck inside and help central team mates. His good habits appear to have been taken on board by Leon Osborne, who is growing into his right midfield role, and the shape of the team looks more solid, particuarly when City don’t have the ball.

The third creative player who’s authority has grown is Omar Daley. Deployed up front alongside James Hanson or Jason Price, Daley has revelled in the trust his manager has placed in him and is causing all kinds of problems in a free role. He regularly pops up all over the final third of the park, and this is proving difficult for defenders to pick up.

Balancing out this trio’s flair is the ball winning and athleticism of David Syers or Tom Adeyemi, who carry greater defensive responsibilities. Syers has looked strong going forwards in games, but Taylor is clearly looking for more positional discipline and the more withdrawn style he displayed at Gigg Lane on Tuesday is likely to be more the norm than the attacking midfielder who has already scored four times this season.

With the defence continued to look solid, in keeping with the start to the season where goals against wasn’t a huge problem, City are looking tougher to beat and capable of scoring regularly – particuarly with full backs encouraged to carry the ball forwards. The balance has been achieved, enabling the flair we were beginning to fear would never be a feature of Taylor’s management to become the telling factor.

So City march on; and though there is no guarantee the upturn inform will continue, the manner of recent displays suggests Taylor has found most of the answers to the strong questions been asked of him a few weeks ago, and that he can continue building from here.

Now who thought that would be the case a month ago?

Taylor enjoys the freedom of pragmatism

As decelerations of intent go, this was as loud as Bradford City have screamed all season. Recent victories over Barnet, Cheltenham and Oxford may have defused an alarming start to the season, but to triumph in the backyard of one of the early promotion front runners suggests the Bantams’ prospects for the campaign may be more in line with those heady pre-season expectations.

Bury came into tonight’s clash having won seven and drawn one of their last eight games – they hadn’t been beaten at Gigg Lane since an opening day 1-0 reverse to 2nd place Port Vale. Extreme downpours, which had the game in doubt even past kick off, left a soggy pitch not conducive to the passing brand of attacking football which is winning the Shakers’ rave reviews. But this was still some result for City.

Omar Daley’s 30th-minute spot kick ultimately won the contest – the Jamaican getting the opportunity from 12 yards which he’d been denied on Saturday when chasing a hat trick, as designated penalty taker Lee Hendrie, injured tonight, had been unwilling to step aside – after his superb run and through ball to strike partner Jason Price was illegally stopped by home keeper Owain Fon Williams. But this game was less won through individual brilliance, more collective endeavour.

Manager Peter Taylor had spoken pre-match of taking a more conservative approach, and while attacking intent remained the team was deployed deeper and the onus was on Bury to attempt to break them down. David Syers, brought in to replace Hendrie with Tom Adeyemi switched out wide, performed a central role that looked less sparkling than his previous thrusting style, but where he was simply sensational and the key man all evening in protecting the back four.

Syers’ return allowed Daley and Price to remain up the park and the willing runners of Leon Osborne and Adeyemi were encouraged to get forward when either forward had the ball. As such, the game plan of frustrating the visitors while posing questions on the counter attack was executed beautifully.

The quality that is evident in City’s ranks has truly emerged in recent weeks, and though this evening flair was reined back Tommy Doherty was again masterful in setting the tempo and spraying the ball around intelligently. Daley continued where he left off on Saturday in causing havoc. The theory with Daley is that his inconsistency sees him go missing on wet nights like this, but instead perhaps it’s worth contemplating whether previous tentativeness was in fact lack of confidence. Omar clearly looks a far more committed and happy player than the guy who missed sitters at Burton and in the first half on Saturday.

With Price enjoying easily his most productive game to date since signing on loan, City were a handful in the small bursts where they attacked. And while Bury can argue they were unfortunate to go in at half time 1-0 down having enjoyed 66% of the possession, the scars leftover from when City played them off the same park last January, only to lose to a penalty that never was, left sympathy in short supply.

The second half saw strong spells of Bury pressure; but other than Ryan Lowe’s shot that hit the post, a scramble off the line and a Lenny Pidgley save in the final minute, the prospects of that pressure leading to an equaliser seemed unlikely. This was largely down to a superb performance from the back five. Luke Oliver – so often maligned by supporters, including those of his former clubs, for his ungainly style – was outstanding and produced his best performance in a City shirt. Time and time again balls into the box met his head and were diverted out of harm’s way.

Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien continued their consistent form while Taylor would be wise to call off any search for an on-loan right back, such is the impressive manner Zesh Rehman has grown into the role. He may not be as effective as O’Brien when going forward, but Rehman’s positioning and reading of the game has come on in leaps and bounds from the panicky, dive-in-first-think-later form he was displaying for a great deal of last season.

The minutes ticked by ever slower. James Hanson replaced Daley, and within seconds embarked on a superb solo run and fired a sizzling long range effort which Williams did well to tip over. With Price also missing an easy headed chance back at 0-0, it can be argued City created the evening’s best chances even if they otherwise had to defend for long periods.

But best of all on nights like this was the incredible backing from us supporters. Bury’s sizeable away end was packed with City fans and the roof acoustics are favourable for creating a right old din. The chanting was kept up most of the evening, and in the second half every tackle and clearance from a City player was greeted by huge roars of encouragement. A major contrast to the emptiness of the three home stands, where vacant seats in two at least easily outnumbered those with bums on. A reminder, if it were needed, of what a huge club City are at this level.

Huge or otherwise though, it’s what’s on the field that counts; and as depressing as the dreadful start to the season was to go through it seems to have generated a spirit of togetherness between supporters and players that, frankly, has been lacking in recent years. Perhaps things got so bad that perspective and reason finally had to change. It’s no use believing we’re too big a club to be in League Two, if those expectations are too much for our League Two players to live up to.

Whatever the reason, the players and management are currently receiving vociferously-positive backing before they’ve done anything to deserve it, and such a revisionism seems to be allowing the pragmatic style of Taylor to flourish. Tonight City played like a team which knew it was probably the weaker side but which could triumph by accepting and dealing with such a truism, rather than acting like ‘big club Bradford’.

Like a number of visiting sides to Valley Parade in recent years City kept men behind the ball, made sure they controlled the tempo and that it was a tempo too slow for the home side to profit from. And unlike in recent times where pressure from fans meant this wasn’t possible – because we “should be beating little teams like Bury” – we supporters got behind them for doing it. This was like City at Sunderland in the first Premier League season; and just like that season deploying this strategy at the right times can help us to achieve our objectives.

Quite what is possible for this season now is unclear. City are three points off the play offs and eight from still third-placed Bury. Perhaps most symbolically of all, the league table now shows us as a respectable 10th. The corner seems to have been turned, and we have all played our part in making that happen.

The optimist and Omar Daley

If you are the type of supporter who rarely views games away from Valley Parade – and with 11,000 at home and about a tenth of that number following City away that includes a great many of us – then the next time you see Bradford City they will have played three games and shaped much of the season.

City take on Bury at Gigg Lane on Tuesday night and on Saturday week Peter Taylor takes his team back to former club Wycombe Wanderers and sandwiched between is an FA Cup first round game at Colchester United and do so having won three of the last four games.

Rollocking good wins over Oxford United and Cheltenham as well as a ground out display at Barnet have seen Taylor’s City team turn around. Those nine points – were they not firmly ensconced in “the bag” – would have seen City at the foot of League Two and probably the manager out of a job. Oxford United’s supporters insistence that Taylor would be “sacked in the morning” seemed a little wide of the mark five goals later.

Indeed five games after the 1-0 Morecambe Taylor – should he get a result against Bury and other results go the way he would want – then the Bantams would be tickling the play offs.

Not only that but wrapping five past Oxford – and beating Cheltenham – could hardly have been more enjoyable. Taylor side have – on occasion – played entertaining and winning football.

This balance of enjoyable and winning is especially relevant agianst Alan Knill’s Bury side. Last season City faced Bury twice in the space of a month and twice Bury manager Knill stated after the game that his team was outplayed and twice saw his team victorious the second time being in Stuart McCall’s final game as manager.

Those performances typified the end of McCall’s time at the club and formed much of the problems that Taylor had at the start of this season. McCall’s City played well but got beaten, Taylor’s side just got beaten but as things turn around for the current City manager he must hope to not suffer the same outrageous fortune as was suffered at Gigg Lane last year. Now City have slipped into a knack of out playing the odd team it is enjoyable that that is being reflected in the result.

(As a note about mentioning of Stuart McCall in this and other context. I grow tired of hearing and pretending that one of the most significant figure in the last few decades has no significance. If you don’t like mentions of Stuart McCall when that significance is called upon on this site – or if you want those mentions to be aggressive – then please feel free to take a number, stand in line, and kiss my arse.)

Enjoyable being a key word for Saturday’s win. The joy painted over the faces of the players as they roared into Oxford was marked and one can not help but wonder if the likes of Omar Daley and Lee Hendrie might have wondered when in treatment rooms for extended stays that those days would ever come again. Daley’s celebrations earned him a booking but few would deny a player who has suffered so much his moment in the sun.

Few I say but some would. As a player Daley is frustrating for sure but the level of criticism that pours forth to him would suggest he is something other than the player capable of winning games as he did on Saturday.

They key – perhaps – to understanding the Daley game is the oft said idea that he takes the wrong option which often means he takes an option which does not come to fruition (not always the same thing) and there in is the frustration of the man. Arriving four years ago Daley was rightly accused of laziness – his woeful defending coast City dear against Leyton Orient – but in the years which have passed his development has been noted.

Yes, he takes wrong options but he is brave enough to make a decision, to take an option, and that speaks to his character and his improvement. Football is full of players who will take your money and try make sure they never look too bad and as a result never do anything that good – j’accuse Andrew Taylor – but Daley risks standing out for the wrong reasons in order that he might at times stand out for the right ones.

His enjoyment on Saturday was shared by all who had bitten the tongue when frustrated by his running in the wrong direction who did not lambaste him but just hoped that next time would be another of those times, and it was.

Lenny Pidgeley is expected to make a second start for the Bantams after a good debut and the back four of Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams who was peerless on Saturday, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien will continue in front of him.

Tom Adeyemi was something of a passenger in the first half against Oxford and David Syers’ hammer finish from the bench suggested the one over the other. My call would be Syers to play alongside Tommy Doherty but when you are in the position that Taylor seems to be taking City into one does it by managing players and whatever he is doing with Syers is clearly working.

Lee Hendrie and Leon Osborne play on the flanks in what is this writer’s favourite type of midfield. Four men with one fast and wide and one tighter and more on the flanks. It is the same balance of a midfield as Jamie Lawrence, Stuart McCall, Gareth Whalley and Peter Beagrie.

Up front City wait for a call from the FA to find out if James Hanson will be suspended following his red card on Saturday which City have appealed and Jason Price stands by to start in his place. Omar Daley is alongside, finding his niche.

So three games on the road begin and an optimist would say that City will be back at Valley Parade with 23 points, a place in the second round of the FA Cup and a triplet of great performances that got great results. That optimist probably never grumbles at Daley either, probably enjoyed Saturday more than most too.

The Bigger Picture or the Little Details?

For the second home game running I’ve walked away from Valley Parade with that feeling that can only be brought on by a convincing home performance and three points to go with it. The little details being a five goals for, none conceded and a climb up the table and the ‘big picture’ looking rosy. Although at one point it felt like that feeling could well have been overshadowed by a very questionable refereeing performance.

I must admit with news of Jake Speight going out on loan to Port Vale I was beginning to question Peter Taylor’s grasp on ‘The big picture’ and the hopeful long term progression of the club; Speight being a player Taylor actually paid for only to send him away in favour of a loan signing. But what can we expect from a club that frequently shows a tendency towards the short term fix.

City fielding short-term keeper Lenny Pidgely over first choice stopper Jon McLaughlan also struck of the short-term approach. Strange again I thought. The big picture was looking blurred.

If the little details can be qualified as today’s game then they in contrast seem to be in sharp focus.

City showed in the second half what they have been lacking for the majority of the season, a killer instinct needed to finish a team off and a real confidence when playing at home. Second half goals from an impressive Omar Daley (who my dad said should’ve been subbed at half time – shows what he knows!), Hendrie, Syers and Moult led to City’s biggest win since the 5-0 defeat of Aldershot just prior to the season implosion of two years ago.

The first half actually passed without too much footballing incident, both sides worked hard but the ball often found itself bogged down in the midfield. City occasionally showed glimpses of good play through Doherty and Hendrie, the latter I feel was sorely missed last week at Burton, but neither keeper was really troubled.

The locus of attention was instead focussed on diminutive referee Mr. Webb (not Howard…) who, along with his assistants, made several confusing decisions throughout.

Notably, in the first half there was a decision where James Hanson was played in behind the Oxford backline; admittedly I initially thought that Hanson was offside, however it appeared to me (in the Midland Road stand) that the linesman held down his flag to indicate that Hanson was in fact onside, only to then raise it seconds later. Confusing.

Unfortunately, this type of inconsistency continued.

Take for example when Daley put City in the lead minutes after half time. A flick back from Hanson saw the Jamaican fire low past Oxford keeper Clarke; obviously overjoyed at finding the net Daley firstly shook hands with a fan and then jumped over the advertising boards to celebrate with a number of the disabled fans at the front of the Midland Road stand.

The ref went straight to his pocket to show Daley the yellow card, much to the home fans’ dismay; it appeared that Daley then talked some sense into Mr. Webb by explaining his actions, a point which most thought the ref accepted until he then pulled out the card anyway, cue loud booing.

Some might argue the ref was only applying the law, but this summed up the over zealous official who seemed more concerned ‘the little details’ such as free-kicks being taken within an inch of the foul than with the overall picture of the game. More on the ref later.

Daley doubled City’s lead in the 56th minute with an emphatic left foot strike beating Clarke at his near post, top corner.

This brought about a big turning point in the match in terms of the home teams’ confidence as City became much bolder with their play, utilising the midfield which had been relatively by-passed in the first half. It was encouraging to see Tommy Doherty put in a good performance, once a gain showing several class touches and vision that we were told to expect at the beginning of the season.

Added confidence arguably led to the tireless James Hanson chasing down a relatively lost cause only to out jump Oxford left-back Tonkin (apt name given the score line), drive into the box, cut inside centre half Creighton who then dropped him. Penalty.

The first spot-kick was well saved by Clarke… but hold on the officials had seen something – Clarke had been adjudged to have been off his line when the kick was taken – the second penalty was rolled home to put City in a very commanding position.

City’s play then proceeded to flow, neat one touch football brought several ‘Ollaaayys’ from the obviously delighted crowd and it was from one of these ‘give and go’ passing moves that the major flashpoint of the second half occurred.

Back to the ref.

Hendrie laid a shortish ball to Osbourne who was hacked by already booked centre back Creighton – Second yellow, straight forward decision where the ref really didn’t have much of an option.

Following the decision a mass brawl erupted between both sides, with even the Oxford keeper getting involved. The initial source of the fight was unclear to me, but something obviously wound up former City youth player, Jake Wright, who made a forgettable return to his former club.

What followed was much conversation between the referee and his two assistants, the up shot saw Hanson given a straight red card along with Wright for what one can only assume was for violent conduct – the fact that neither side really came to blows other than the usual football handbags, again seemed fairly irrelevant to the ‘zero-tolerance’ ref.

Hanson was applauded by fans when exiting the pitch, actions of a guilty man? The ref could have quite easily booked both players and allowed the game to continue, but now it looks like City will be without Hanson for two league games and the FA cup trip to Colchester next week.

With the pitch looking a lot larger following the player cull, City found plenty of space in the Oxford half.

They played with a belief that has seemed so lacking at times this season and were rewarded twice more with a net busting volley from David Syers, following a good run and cross from Mr. Consistency Luke O’Brien; then a late solo effort from fellow sub Louis Moult who curled in an effort from 25 yards.

It seems that the little details are coming together for Peter Taylor, his decisions to replace McLaughlan and favour loan players over Speight appear to be fully justified following such a brilliant result, but it is how he decides to bring these details together to make the big picture that will determine whether he creates a master piece or one to be glossed over.

So to high flying Bury on Tuesday night – a personal derby for myself as my girlfriend writes the match reports for The Shakers – with confidence high. I am looking forward to a really entertaining game as I know that Bury play a good brand of attacking football which we can hopefully emulate in our continued quest for the big picture coming together.

1999, and all that

It’s 10-and-a-half-years since Oxford United last visited Valley Parade – but the remarkable period in City’s history which that end-of-season game was part of ensures the memories remain vivid.

Oxford home was Bradford City’s penultimate fixture of a Division One campaign on the brink of ending in glory. A week earlier, the Bantams had defeated QPR 3-1 at Loftus Road while promotion rivals Ipswich Town incredibly lost at home to bottom-placed Crewe. Fantastic news for City – lifting them into the second automatic promotion spot on Goals For with two games to go – but the Portman Road result was not so good for Oxford, who were battling with Crewe and five other clubs to avoid the drop.

With City facing Oxford at Valley Parade a day before Ipswich’s tough away encounter at 4th-placed Birmingham, there was genuine optimism this was going to be the weekend that City – with a far superior Goals For total (Goal Difference wasn’t used back then) – would seal promotion to the Premier League. The easy part of the bargain seemed an inevitable victory over a struggling Oxford who hadn’t won in five. What could possibly go wrong?

That day was almost a living nightmare. I still have video highlights of the disappointing 0-0 draw, taped from Yorkshire TV’s Goals on Sunday, and even watching years on you can still feel the tension that was rife among the sell-out home crowd. City struggled to rise to the occasion, Oxford refused to lie down. They even created the better chances, forcing Gary Walsh into a couple of superb saves.

The Valley Parade clock seemed to tick by worryingly fast, the atmosphere was flat – we all just seemed too nervous to even attempt a chant. I felt sick in my stomach as the growing sense of realisation we weren’t going to win – and therefore might have messed up our promotion chances – sank in.

In a cruel and horrible twist, deep in stoppage time Stuart McCall was presented with the easiest of chances right in front of us in the Kop. He headed the ball over the bar, and the split-second we allowed ourselves to believe we’d got out of jail gave way to crushing misery. McCall was inconsolable as he left the field – the TV highlights capturing a shot of a ball boy attempting to hug him, only for the skipper to brush him off.

It all worked out wonderfully in the end of course: Birmingham beat Ipswich the following day to leave the Tractor Boys a point behind. A week later came that stunning victory over Wolves, which sealed City’s promotion and lead to wild scenes of jubilation in the away end and back in Bradford. And in hindsight we could look back on the Oxford draw and feel glad we didn’t win, so we got this never-to-be-forgotten moment at Molineux. Oxford were relegated, despite winning 5-0 against Stockport in their final game.

Although I still look back on that afternoon against Oxford and feel sick at the despair we endured, with each passing year of disappointment there’s part of me that longs to experience such disappointment again. True we’ve had some truly miserable times over the past decade, but for City to be up their fighting for promotion and to have some many sleepless nights hoping they could cross the finishing line is a different kind of emotion – and one we’ve struggled to come close to experiencing since.

It’s impossible to find the words that do justice to just how much promotion meant to us that year, but perhaps things have now become so bad that, if and when success does return to this club, we’ll feel just as happy as we did then.

For much of the club’s subsequent fall, there’s been a feeling promotion should be our right rather than the astonishing achievement 1999 was. As such, if we had achieved promotion from League One in 2006 or League Two in 2009, the celebrations would have probably felt more reserved. A sense of entitlement that we were simply fulfilling our right, rather than delirium that our lives could be blessed with something so remarkable.

Perhaps the ongoing frustrations of League Two life and never-ending despair that we can’t seem to bottom out now mean that a promotion from League Two would leave us feeling just as happy as Wolves 99. While the twists and turns leading up to it would at times leave us as emotionally-traumatised as the last time we played Oxford.

All of which seems a long distance away as City welcome Oxford tomorrow while 20th in League Two. Wins over Barnet and Cheltenham lifted spirits and breathed new hope into a season heading down the pan, but the setback at Burton last week has again dampened the mood. There’s less anger than post-Morecambe, but things still feel very on edge. Another defeat tomorrow – or even a repeat of the outcome when City last played the Us – and the pressure will rise again.

The task in hand is far from easy – the Oxford of 2010 do not represent anything like the home banker to City that the 1999 match-up suggested. Like City the last decade has been hugely difficult for United, with the 1999 relegation quickly followed by demotions to League Two in 2001 and out of the Football League in 2006. For three seasons the club enjoyed the highest gates in the Conference but failed to climb out of a division they appeared too big for – sound familiar, eh? – before beating York in the play off final last May.

The manager is another reason to look in the past. Chris Wilder played 45 times for City during the 1997-98 season, before moving to hometown club Sheffield United on transfer deadline day.

After impressing as manager at Halifax, Wilder guided Oxford back to the Football League and is a name who often crops up when debating a managerial change at Valley Parade. Wilder and Oxford have started well and lie in 11th place ahead of their trip to West Yorkshire – though their recent league form is just as inconsistent as the Bantams.

Jon McLaughlin will continue in goal for City – despite another bout of public criticism from his manager after Burton last week and the added pressure of Lenny Pidgeley arriving on trial. The defence will see two changes as the departing Man United loanees Reece Brown and Oliver Gill leave gaps that will be taken by Zesh Rehman and Luke Oliver.

Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien will keep their places, but the disruption to back four selection throws questions over the value in signing the two youngsters for a month and looking to build with them. Or to quote Rehman, “No disrespect to the two lads coming in (on loan), but I don’t think they did anything that I felt I couldn’t do.”

Lee Hendrie is fighting to be fit after missing last week, with Tom Adeyemi set to return and battle with David Syers to play alongside Tommy Doherty. The early signs are that Syers provides the midfield with greater balance, and his last two performances make him difficult to leave out. Leon Osborne is slowly developing into a decent player, but continues to be the target of some supporters.

Up front, it’s hoped Omar Daley will be trusted to return to the free role position he was performing so well, with Jason Price and James Hanson vying to start alongside him and the other making a very good sub. Price has so far won plenty of praise, but Hanson’s return makes him less needed than he was a few weeks earlier when Oliver had to play up front. Timing is everything in football, and it remains regrettable Taylor couldn’t have signed a loan striker earlier than he managed.

Jake Speight, Louis Moult, Robbie Threlfall and Lee Bullock are all battling to return to the side, and could yet play a significant role in the season. And as the visitors remind us of our enjoyable past, it’s perhaps the last trip City made to Oxford which should provide the greatest inspiration.

City won 1-0 in December 1998, to reverse a two-game losing run. That paved the way for a superb run of form – eight wins from the next nine matches – and solved the final piece of then-manager Paul Jewell’s promotion squad conundrum which had seen the team selection evolve after a dreadful start. Robbie Blake was switched from right winger to partner Lee Mills, it all fell beautifully into place. The immediate challenge for Taylor is to shape his squad in a similar fashion and unearth the right formula that will turn an under-achieving team into promotion contenders.

Tomorrow will hopefully see another positive step towards fulfilling that aim – so in time we can party like it’s 1999.

Which way up is the map supposed to be?

The stretch of the M1 we followed to get down to Burton today was fraught with spells of heavy rain and high levels of spray, which made driving hazardous. And then three junctions before our turn off, traffic came to a complete standstill as an accident still some 10 miles ahead left everyone stationed.

In many ways it symbolised the year 2010 for Bradford City.

Faced with little to no movement on the motorway and with the clock ticking to kick off at the Pirelli Stadium, the atlas was hastily opened and an alternative route was worked out by getting off two junctions early. Abandon plan A, see you later non-moving traffic.

But what looked a good idea on paper proved to be almost as big a nightmare. The A roads we plotted as our short-cut were filled with heavy traffic, roadworks and over-used junctions through small towns which caused colossal tailbacks and took over 20 minutes a time to get through. Stress levels through the roof, but in the end we got into the ground just as the players came out for the game.

Perhaps if we’d waited on the M1 while the accident was cleared up we might have missed kick off, just like several City fans and even Burton’s planned starting player, Nathan Stanton, who had to be dropped to the bench. But as alluring and promising as the short-cut appeared to be in solving our immediate problems, the subsequent unexpected twists and troubles with plan B made it difficult to argue we had made the right decision.

Last February, Stuart McCall was forced out of the club he enjoyed highly distinguished spells of success with as a player – and who he still cares so much about he’s now even helping out the under 14s team – because it seemed his progress as manager was too slow and City were at a standstill. He’d made mistakes for sure; but after the majority of fans held up SOS banners begging him to stay in April 2009, he set about building a young hungry team which was just two or three players short of taking City into the direction we wanted to go.

Yet a few defeats around Christmas last year, and the impatience of many fans and members of the board became too strong and all of it was torn up. There had to be another, quicker path to realising the success we craved, it was felt; and rather like the alternative route devised from our road atlas this afternoon, his replacement Peter Taylor looked good on paper.

Ten months on, the evidence is mounting that getting rid of McCall as manager has proven a backwards step for this club. Sure, I know and understand the arguments about how McCall had been given almost three years and the lack of progress was there for all to see. I also agree he had sizeable transfer budgets and failed to make the most of them.  But after he offered to quit in Spring 2009 and after many of us begged him to stay, we saw tangible evidence of him learning from past mistakes which deserved more time to see through. After trying the short-cut approach of throwing money at people like Paul McLaren, he was building a team with great potential that could grow and take the club forwards over the next few years.

Taylor was an outstanding appointment for sure, but as City slumped to a seventh defeat in 13 league games this afternoon the reasons to believe he is the man to revive this ailing club are few beyond those that were apparent last February. The league position, the results, the performances and the level of passion have all declined since McCall fell on his sword.

For a week since the brilliant victory over Cheltenham Town, we’ve all basked in that warm glow of happiness and the positive mood was prevalent in the Burton away end at kick off and even through to half time, with City unfortunate to be a goal down after Jon McLaughlin brought down Lewis Young in the area and was unable to keep out Shaun Harrod’s spot kick on 31 minutes.

And though Burton had played well and hit the woodwork twice, City had been equally impressive and regularly cut through the Brewers’ defence during an exciting opening 45 minutes. Omar Daley, moved to left wing as Lee Hendrie was absent, twice cut inside and forced saves out of keeper Adam Legzdins. The hard-working David Syers had a long range effort tipped wide of the post. Then Daley produced a stunning run from the wing that saw him beat defenders for fun, before wildly blasting over from six yards.

The players were backed strongly by an enthusiastic away following. Confidence was high that we would come back in the second half.

But then, inexplicably, Taylor switched tactics and pushed Daley up front in a 4-3-3 formation, and the players changed from passing the ball around the pitch to direct balls to James Hanson and Jason Price. I remember McCall was often heavily criticised for not changing tactics or making subs early enough in games, but all season long Taylor has chopped and changed early and not for the first time it had a negative effect.

Why ditch a 4-4-2 formation that was working well in all but the scoreline? It sums up the lack of trust Taylor seems to have in his own players and over-dependence on functionality over style. City became one-dimensional, predictable and easy to defend against. Burton grew stronger and James Collins headed home former Bantam Adam Bolder’s cross to make it 2-0, after Luke O’Brien had made one excellent tackle but couldn’t get his bearings in time to stop the cross.

And therein lies the other downside to 4-3-3, which we often saw under McCall last season. By going so narrow in shape, the opposition have extra space to run at isolated full backs, often doubling up on them. Burton’s speedy wingers Young and Jacques Maghoma terrorised O’Brien and Reece Brown, the former at least standing up to the challenge admirably. Meanwhile when City had the ball they had no-one in wide areas to stretch the game, and moves kept ending with Brown crossing from deep and Burton’s defence – superbly marshalled by former promotion hero Darren Moore – easily clearing.

Just like the M1/A road dilemma, switching to plan B so quickly had not worked out as hoped. What of Plan C? Well when your subs bench contains three strikers, a defensive midfielder and two defenders, there isn’t one. With City struggling to provide the forwards any service, all Taylor could do was swap the front three and hope the ball fell kindly in the box. Daley was taken off, a bizarre decision but sadly typical of the level of faith shown in the Jamaican all season. With it, the opportunity to go back to using width was lost.

Burton’s third came after another successful charge down Brown’s part of the pitch – the shell-shocked youngster almost begging for the final whistle by this stage – and Russell Penn tapped home. City’s direct 4-3-3 approach failed to create a single noteworthy chance until a 93rd-minute header from Syers. The pre-match positivity had long since drained to silence and resignation, but not anger.

All of which leaves City having gone two steps forward and taken one step back over the past fortnight, and the longer-term outlook returns back into focus. This writer saw City director Roger Owen in a service station on the way home (but lacked the courage to ask one of McCall’s loudest critics what he now thought of Taylor and the results of the actions he was calling for last January). The two recent wins shield Taylor from the Board sacking him and the recent improvement should not be dismissed readily, but this week the pressure is on again.

The dilemma is whether Taylor’s ways will prove a success in the long-term and to keep patient as it stalls again, or whether it’s best to find a different route. Whatever the future holds, the current problems raise suspicions that, last February, the club took a wrong turn and is now struggling to work out which way up the map is supposed to be.

Perhaps it’s time to face facts, I think we’re lost.

Well Done Omar Daley

Reading something on the official City website warmed my heart. The weeks top news has to be Wayne Rooney and his disgraceful attitude towards his current employers, and so my thoughts turned to players who really did put their employers before their own personal greed.

Take a bow Omar Daley.

Not everyone’s favourite player at City granted, but there are very few players at VP who can play with the pace of Omar. Peter Taylor has made no bones about it; a fully fit Omar contributing the way we know he can is a cert on the team sheet and rightly so. But whilst many City fans have given him stick in the past, no-one can doubt his loyalty to the clubs cause this time.

In the article Omar states how he has pulled out of international duty to play for the Bantams. This comes from his gratitude at the club sticking by him through last seasons injury nightmare, for not consoling him to the scrap heap, for committing to him like we hope he commits to us. And this refreshing attitude coming from a player we would probably least expect it from based on some of the body language he sometimes portrays.

This says a couple of things about City’s current situation; when your winning everyone wants to play, everyone wants the ball and everyone enjoys training. Is it the winning feeling that has ironed out the early season dross from our memories? Or is Mr Taylor finally getting through to his players as to what he expects and them all getting used to each other.

I haven’t been at any of the last 3 games due to family commitments, but from what I hear we look more attacking. Is this because Taylor has had attack minded players fit enough to play, or is it because he has decided that offence is the best form of defence?

Whichever of the 2 this is, Omar deserves a good reception at the next home game for his commitment to the cause. I for one applaud you sir.

What Price a win for the man who can’t do anything right?

In the week in which is was invited – but declined the opportunity – to give his manager Peter Taylor a statement of public backing a new public persona for City chairman Mark Lawn emerged: The man who can’t do anything right.

As Peter Taylor – buoyed from a 2-0 win at Barnet last weekend but thought to be a defeat away from being fired – seemed to rearrange the deck chairs bringing in striker Jason Price who on arrival was pronounced not fit enough to play Lawn was stuck between the rock of delivering the ringing but seemingly hollow “vote of confidence” in his manager or putting forward a more honest and realistic assessment of the situation at the club.

He gave the latter and in doing so perhaps he wondered how he had ended up in the situation he is. Taylor – a fine appointment the arrival of whom appeased those critical at the exit of Stuart McCall – had become a political millstone around the chairman’s neck. Even when he did the right thing, Lawn perhaps concluded, he could not do the right thing.

These thoughts evaporated over the course of an afternoon which proved only the old adage that there is almost nothing in football that cannot be mended with a cracking home win.

Building on last week’s victory at Barnet and a return to a 442 Taylor sent out a side that saw Omar Daley playing off James Hanson as last season’s player of the season returned from his time out injured with the type of performance that justified the anticipation of his return.

Hanson rounded off an afternoon that saw City enjoy long and deserved periods of control with a low, powerful strike from outside that box that arrowed past goalkeeper Scott P Brown beating him at his front post owing to the pace with which the striker leathered the frustrations of a spell on the sidelines with.

Hanson’s goal came as another fruitful combination with loanee Jason Price came to fruition the half time substitute taking a ball in with the defenders seemingly incapable of getting near the man mountain of a striker who is deceptively mobile and wonderfully haired.

Indeed it was Price’s head – not merely a housing for that impressive hair – which figured in the decisive goal of the afternoon as the Bantams pressured Cheltenham’s defence. The left hand side combination of Luke O’Brien and Lee Hendrie enjoyed much joy all afternoon and it was that axis which saw a cross to Price who powerfully returned the ball across the box to Hendrie who performed a close range overhead kick to give City the lead.

As good a goal as it was – and it was with the style of the finish equalled in impressiveness by Price’s strength at the far post standing as powerfully and solid as the Colossus of Rhodes at the far post and celebrating not with the players who had peeling away in front of the kop but with the Midland Road which has – with the rest of the fans – taken the boisterous forward to heart.

With a brilliant performance Hendrie’s afternoon as captain could hardly have been better but ended with him limping from a ludicrously heavy foul which seemed to have been prompted by the scoreline – “just because you’re losing” – but resulted in no card from referee Darren Drysdale.

Drysdale is infamous for having Dean Windass banned for five matches for a comment made in the car park and is – perhaps – the weakest referee in the entire Football League. He lacks not common sense but logic giving a series of decisions which seem to mis-assess the servility of offences. What can one say about a referee who thinks that being shouted at in the car park is a massively greater sin than a two footed lunge by a player who is angry because his team is losing?

Drysdale’s linesmen seemed to be penning City in giving James Hanson offside three times – each one controversially – although the flow of the home side’s pressure saw Price break though and Brown make an impressive save when one on one which denied the striker what would have been a deserved debut goal.

That Taylor’s recruitment of Price – the half fit player and all that – gave City purpose in the final third it was his bringing in and finding a place for Oliver Gill that did much to help City at the back. Gill and his fellow Manchester United loanee were impressive with the now centreback Gill combining with Steve Williams in a great defensive display.

Gill’s performance – capped with a superb clearing tackle at 2-1 – was even more impressive considering the character he and the side showed when a nothing of a cross was weakly headed by the loanee defender into a no man’s land between keeper Jon McLaughlin and Cheltenham midfielder (and one time Nicky Law target) Joshua Low who finished tidily.

The collective shrug, the recognition that the Bantams were playing well, and the spirit shown to shake off that error and continue what had been a good start to the game, James Hanson lashing over within the opening minutes. Indeed when Luke O’Brien roasted the Cheltenham full back on the touchline and crossed for David Syers to throw himself at for a diving header it was the least that City deserved.

Perhaps then Lawn might have looked over at noted that Taylor was summoning performances from a team of guys on loan from Old Trafford and guys who last season were playing non-league and working part time. Throw into that the guy who played in Hungary last year – Tommy Doherty was immense putting the the kind of performance that was promised when he arrived – and concluded that if it seemed that he could not do anything right in his back or not of the manager in the week then perhaps he could by simply no doing anything at all.

Indeed perhaps Lawn might conclude that if he can’t do right for doing wrong then perhaps he should try doing nothing at all. Lawn started the season with a plan (and perhaps not one I would have approved of, but that is not the point) that Peter Taylor has the remit of achieving promotion for Bradford City this season and until that is not going to happen (and perhaps after) then he will remain manager.

Football teams are made over time and after two wins on the bounce Taylor’s side starts to find a shape and way of playing which brings the best out of its members Lawn doing nothing is a way of doing something and with more afternoons like the 3-1 win over Cheltenham it may yet prove fruitful.

With Price – and a steady nerve – the man who can’t do anything right might just get what he wants.

Where does one see Bradford?

A view which normally shows Bradford, but is foggy, taken this morning on 8th of October 2010Waking this morning in Bradford and looking out over the City one could not notice – as the photo shows – that something was missing. Indeed Bradford, it seemed, had gone.

From the back window of Clayton you can normally see Lister’s Chimney and the view over BD8 but not Valley Parade which as the name suggests is under the eye line, hidden from view.

One has to wonder what has been going on hidden from view at Valley Parade this week. A defeat to Hartlepool United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy came almost without a blip so expected was it after the woeful 1-0 loss to Morecambe at the weekend. Peter Taylor was linked to a move for Calvin Zola – Calvin Zola is not coming – and TalkSport and the Daily Mirror both noted that this weekend’s game was win or bust for the City manager of six months.

Despite the board of many and the co-ownership it seems that Mark Lawn will be the one to make that decision. Lawn famously said that he “had 2,000,000 more reasons to be frustrated” than other City fans and if one agrees to the idea that the more you have money the more you can care about your football club then one can only imagine how Lawn feels watching the things he has put into place to replace Stuart McCall that should have worked failing so miserably now.

Say what you want about McCall’s exit – and we have all said lots – but Lawn’s recruitment of Peter Taylor was a clear way forward and an outstanding appointment of a manager with a great track record. One might argue the length of the contract has caused problems or that the failure to get training facilities sorted out are restrictive to what the manager can do but few would say they should be the cause of a woeful run of form.

Would City be in any different position now if Lawn had given Taylor a five year contract not a three month one? Perhaps, but as Lawn – we are told – is considering paying out Taylor’s contract then the brevity of it becomes useful in this situation at least.

Taylor’s team take on Barnet who struggle at the foot of League Two also. Jon McLaughlin has kept goal no better and no worse than Simon Eastwood did but is more favoured and perhaps that says much about the nature of support at City. What is an offence one season may not be the next.

Reece Brown is not expected to return from injury to be right back so Zesh Rehman will continue while Oliver Gill is supposedly enforced at left back. Shane Duff is expected to return from injury to partner Steve Williams in the middle of Taylor’s defence. Lee Bullock will sit on top of them with Tommy Doherty expected to return alongside him.

If it is win of bust for Taylor then he should probably play Doherty. A weak midfield will lose the game and thus his job and so it will hardly matter if Doherty misses the first game of Dean Windass, Peter Jackson or whomever’s time in charge.

Michael Flynn’s recovery from injury came to a grinding halt at Hartlepool United where his hernia which was thought cleared turned out not to be after his substitute appearance. Lee Hendrie will fall in as the left hand midfielder – let us not say “wide man” and Omar Daley is expected to play on the right with Taylor adopting a 4411 as strikers appear at a premium.

Luke O’Brien seemingly is out of both the midfield running and left back. It is said that there are players in the dressing room who would not be upset to see the back of Taylor but that O’Brien is not one of them. Such shows great restraint by a player who has been ousted from the City team so often. Tom Ademeyi seems to float in and out of the side with little reference to his performance. Leon Osbourne and Robbie Threlfall both seem to have had time in the team which has come to an end.

Luke Oliver will no doubt lead the forward line and while I would not concur with the idea that he should not do that because he is “out of position” – few would have complained if midfielder Flynn had been fit enough to take the position in the attack – the fact that Oliver struggles to play the role effectively is a problem. Calvin Zola was rumoured to be arriving and did not and as Peter Taylor looked around the world of football for a striker to borrow his vision was as blank as the fogged look over Bradford this morning.

James Hanson edges closer to fitness and perhaps Taylor might be able to risk him, Gareth Evans is out for three months. Taylor”s inability to get the levels of performance out of Evans that they player is capable of minimises the effect of this – he was not playing well – but as a player he can do and the frustration of watching good players play badly under Taylor is epic.

City have gone four games without a goal and Taylor has a selection of strikers for the the role off the main striker. Louis Moult, Jake Speight, Chib Chilaka. Name the striker and he is not scoring enough goals. The net seemingly fogged for Bradford City.

Peter Taylor will hope to cut through that fog, to get the win, to extend his stay at the club which looks increasingly like it will be coming to an end with the next defeat. Should that be the case then Mark Lawn’s view at the future at Valley Parade would be as fogged as the view from it.

Where would we go next?

Injury to Evans continues Taylor’s problems

Gareth Evans has been ruled out for three months following Saturday’s intersection with an adversing board leaving Peter Taylor scrambling for attacking options.

James Hanson is thought to be weeks rather than months from fitness while Michael Flynn – often used in an attacking role by Taylor in his early games at the club – played against Hartlepool United in the 1-0 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy defeat last night.

Flynn came on for Omar Daley who adds to the attacking options which also include fit again Leon Osborne, Louis Moult – a player who is said to be enjoying his time at Valley Parade not one bit – and Jake Speight who on arrival at half time on Saturday as a replacement for Luke Oliver to rapturous applause seemed to suggest that the morality issue surrounding him on his signing for the club has now been given a perspective by some City fans.

Recalling the calls for Speight to be sacked at the start of the season the applause perhaps means “Beating up women is bad, but not as bad as being Luke Oliver.”

Oliver – like Flynn – is used nominally out of position as a striker although perhaps it is the success of Flynn’s performances that sees the one criticised and the other not. Either way it seems that Oliver’s time up front is coming to an end with Taylor reported to be signing Crewe’s former Newcastle and Tranmere striker Calvin Zola on loan this week.

Zola has attracted interest from Burton Albion and Southend but is expected to join City. The player cost £200,000 from Tranmere Rovers and was impressive enough last season to see Peterborough United offer £1m for him. Crewe – under the returning manager Dario Gradi – have returned to the passing football which City have turned away from.

Scorer of an impressive goal at Valley Parade last season Zola would seem a perfect fit for a loanee at Valley Parade but – should he be a success – finding the money to sign him would be not only difficult but also a huge backing by the board of manager Peter Taylor.

Should Zola not arrive then David Wetherall’s reserve side offers the sizeable Darren Stephenson who could be asked to step up to the first team. It also offers Chib Chilaka who is raw for sure but has strength. Chilaka’s impact since arriving may perhaps be measured by the fact that the first version of this article simply forgot him.

So Taylor’s fit options for the role of target man are the raw Chib Chilaka, out of positions Oliver or Flynn, the reserve Stephenson and – should he sign – Zola while his choices for the two play off roles are Daley, Osbourne, Speight, Moult and Lee Hendrie – the midfielder failing to get defensive side of the ball enough to suggest that he might be better dropping back from the attack rather than coming forward from the midfield.

However another defeat without scoring demands a response from Taylor and the exit of Evans helps him not. If a combination is not found soon, and the lack of goals continue, then one would be excused to ask what the much trumpeted management skills of Taylor are for if it is not this problem?

Our old friend Rafa has little to do with Morecambe

The school of thought – pretty much doused after the signings this week of two month long loan players – has it that if Peter Taylor did not get four points from his next two games that finish at home to Morecambe then he would be sacked.

The point at Rotherham United gave him one, anything less than a win would see him out the door. Probably not but that was the rumour which has since been replaced by the idea that if things have not improved for the Bantams by the time that new recruits Oliver Gill and Reece Brown return to Old Trafford then Taylor will be out of the door.

When Taylor became City manager – and let us not speak the name of the man he got it from for fear of offending the delicate ears of some readers who comment whenever it is mentioned – he was trumpeted as an outstanding appointment taking over from “someone” who speculation had it would have been fired could the club afford it.

Indeed at the time whose name I do not wish to recall was leaving this club at Gill and Brown’s good friends down the M62 Liverpool it was said that Rafa Benitez would be given his P45 if only the club had the funds to do so, or if the two owners could make up their collective mind about it. Rafa left that club in the summer about the time Peter Taylor was signing his season long contract with the Bantams and ended up at the San Siro and Inter Milan.

There were many scratched heads at the appointment and predicted a fall from grace for the treble winning Inter side who are now leading Serie A and romped to a 4-0 win over Werder Bremen in the week as Rafa’s replacement Roy Hodgson’s side struggle in the Premier League. Talk to those who concern themselves more with the fortunes of Liverpool FC and they will point the finger of blame at the Americans who own the club rather than the managers.

Nevertheless it is worth considering Benitez’s progress for a moment and comparing it with to events which have unfolded for Peter Taylor. Inter Milan were obviously in rude health having won every competition they entered last season while Liverpool are obviously not and were Hodgson to have returned to the San Siro and Rafa remained where he was one is tempted to suggest that very little would have been different.

So Taylor – a manager with a good track record – struggles at Bradford City and is rumoured to be a draw away from being fired and one wonders how much different things would have been were anyone else rather than Taylor been manager.

None of which is to say that managers have no capability for effecting change but rather that they are not the sole agent of it and – if they are not given the time, resource and remit – they will be as battered along on the winds of fortune as any supporter.

Take, as an example, Chris Sutton who was the manager of Lincoln for a touch under twelve months that ended this week. Sutton inherited his side from former Bantam Peter Jackson when they were placed twentieth and left this week with the Imps placed twentieth. The fact that he was not able to improve or make worse Lincoln in that time suggests that the problem is something other than the manager.

Rafa carries on Inter Milan’s success and looks to continue it, Roy takes on Liverpool’s decline and looks to arrest it while Peter Taylor gets to grips with what is going on at Valley Parade and one hope that he is allowed to fully grasp that task.

Taylor brought in the two defenders from Manchester United with heads scratched as to why they are needed. It seems that Reece Brown will come in at right back to cover injuries and that Oliver Gill might take the other full back slot over Robbie Threlfall leaving Shane Duff and Steve Williams to carry on their partnership at the back in front of Jon McLaughlin.

Such would be harsh on Threlfall who like Taylor impressed in his first three months and then had some tough times. Perhaps Threlfall will be reflecting that he and Taylor are currently enjoying the same fortunes and while Taylor is given a month, he is not. It is said that there are people in the City dressing room who say they would no be upset were Taylor be moved on but these are the kind of rumours that no one could substantiate and few would believe if it were not for the displacement of the team’s performances and the search for reasons for that.

Zesh Rehman – who launched his own foundation this week – is rendered almost obsolete by this decision too. What does one make of a situation when both right backs are injured and a loanee is brought in over the next man. Indeed what does one make of Rehman’s time at City which has seen some good performances, and some good periods of play like the end of last season, but have never seen him cement a place in the side.

A former Premier League player and one with the ability to play well Rehman joins a lengthy list of players signed by the club and later seemingly rendered useless. Supporters and the club have a tendency to lay these failures at the door of the player – be he Dan Petrescu, Michael Boulding, John McGinlay, Paul McLaren or Bruno Rodriguez – but the constancy of this sign and deteriorate through various managers, boards and years is something not to be dismissed so lightly. Rehman is another player that – it seems – the club have failed to get the most out.

The midfield starts to return to a shape that was anticipated at the start of the season with Michael Flynn almost ready to return. Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Tom Ademeyi have struggled from game to game although Ademeyi looked good on his return in the week but it seems that he would be the one to step down when Flynn returns. Lee Hendrie seems to have a long road bad to fitness done in half hour steps from the bench while David Syers deserves much credit for his introduction to League football and as he returns to the bench he should do so with great heart and promise.

Omar Daley returned to the forward line in a swap with Jake Speight and impressed although the idea that Taylor will only play one of the two lively forwards is frustrating. On paper the pair would seem ideal for channel running and getting close to the big striker but – perhaps to avoid predictability – Taylor prefers to have two who might win the ball up front and Gareth Evans and Luke Oliver providing weight to the forward line.

Morecambe sit 22nd in League Two – a place below City – and were bested 4-1 by Bury in their new home this week. They are the sort of team that City are always expected to beat and for once for Peter Taylor the expectations do not outstrip the things in his control, o el control del hombre de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme.

The end of the beginning, or still something much worse?

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. The bubble of optimism that was growing after the Gillingham win had been painfully burst at Northampton three days ago. And a trip to a third-placed Rotherham side who had scored 12 goals in their previous four home games suggested only one outcome – a heavy defeat. Yet Bradford City put in a performance far beyond expectations to earn a draw that could easily have been more.

For the second Bantams visit to the Don Valley Stadium in a row, home keeper Andy Warrington was named the sponsors’ man of the match. This said much about the quality of the visitors’ display. It was no backs to the wall defensive job, with Warrington making stunning saves to deny Omar Daley, Tom Adeyemi (twice) and Steve Williams from snatching a priceless winner. City were comfortably the better side, and despite having to settle for a point will have returned back up the M1 with renewed confidence.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. Following the Northampton defeat, word reached BfB that an unhappy City Board had told Peter Taylor anything less than four points from the next two games will see him sacked. Another source claimed the manager has been given a month to turn it around. Whether either rumour is true, the fear is that this situation can’t go on much longer without someone deciding on drastic action.

This could have been Taylor’s last game in charge, but if any of the Board were at the Don Valley tonight they would surely have taken great heart from the way the team performed which should carry beyond whatever happens on Saturday. City began on the front foot, with the returning Daley causing problems down the left flank and the midfield trio of Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Adeyemi quickly getting on top.

Daley was one of the chief scapegoats for the Southend debacle almost exactly a month ago; and although he has been away with Jamaica for a short period, he has found himself shunned from any first team action. Yet if City are going to climb up the table they must surely utilise their better-quality players. And whatever is said about Daley, when on form he is just that.

As ever, tonight we saw a mixed bag from Omar and his decision making was familiarly poor at times. But he provided a spark that helped the team claim greater territorial advantage than we’ve managed on the road all season, and the first half ended with his fizzing shot from an angle forcing the best out of Warrington.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. If Taylor was dismissed, where exactly would that leave the rest of the season? Sure we might bring in someone who can turn our under-achievers into world-beaters and climb the league, but City’s recent history shows such hopes are highly fanciful and never realised. Too often the answer to the problems has apparently lied in appointing another new manager, yet still the club’s decline continues.

More likely there would be a short-term boost from a new man, but in the longer-run the problems currently afflicting Taylor would remain. And as well as the cost of sacking a manager, there’d be a need to fund his replacement’s demands in the transfer market. All in all it’s a risk that could see the season written off with over three quarters of it to go. Is that really the best route to take?

But until tonight at least, there’s been a conflict of emotions inside pretty much every City supporter. Sure it’s a daft idea to sack a manager after 10 games…but what has Taylor done this season to deserve our support? There’s been very little for us to be impressed by regarding his performance since the season kicked off, and we’ve probably all scratched our heads wondering why the great things he was doing towards the end of last season suddenly aren’t coming off.

Tonight though Taylor got it right. Aside from a 20-minute spell before half time, Rotherham were completely neutralised by the 4-3-3 formation and strong levels of effort running throughout the team. At the back Steve Williams and Shane Duff were simply outstanding – the former so able in winning the ball from a forward’s feet, the latter never missing anything in the air.

On either side of them, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien were contributing at both ends of the pitch. O’Brien in particular having a storming game which included recovering from a slightly rocky five-minute period where he’d made one mistake. What a talent Luke has become.

A perfect display? Not by a long shot. In the final third City continue to struggle to find the fluency levels that Taylor’s side were able to regularly achieve last season. Luke Oliver again gave his all as an emergency striker and had more joy winning flick ons in the second half, but the sooner James Hanson returns or a target man is signed on loan the better City’s ‘goals for’ column will look. Gareth Evans still appears short of confidence and high on indecision, but we should not forget what a good player he can be if he can recapture his form.

Early in the second half, City really got on top and were seemingly camped out in the Rotherham half. Warrington made his collection of breathtaking saves and other efforts were blocked or flew narrowly over. Several corners were won and the backing from the 605 Bantams fans was impressive.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. On the message boards so many fans were saying they weren’t going to attend and, as me and my friend supped pints in a sparsely-populated empty away fans bar inside the ground with less than half an hour to kick off, it seemed as though we’d be short of company outside in the stand. Yet there was a good following in the end, and the noise levels were impressive too.

Midway through the first half a chant of Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army thundered across the empty Don Valley bowl. When Daley was subbed, which appeared unfair on the winger, there were no boos like in previous games. At Northampton there’d been reports of ‘Taylor out’ chants, but tonight not one word of dissent was aired his way – at least within my ear shot.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. That it’d be a heavy defeat; that would then cause another managerial change, that would then split supporters, that would then end the season prematurely, that would then lead to falling attendances, that would then lead to the club’s downward spiral continuing, that would then lead to oblivion.

Even by recent standards it’s been such a dark time for every Bradford City supporter, and we’ve had little cause to believe we should expect to feel anything but miserable.

But the worst didn’t happen. And although a home defeat to Morecambe on Saturday might bring about all that we fear, perhaps we should begin to believe the corner is being slowly turned. It’s now one defeat from four, and the Northampton debacle aside there has been a steady improvement to performances. The poor start has been a colossal under-achievement, but that huge capacity to do much better means it’s not yet time to give up – on the players, on Taylor, on that promotion dream.

The season is still only at the beginning, but now we’re praying for that beginning to end.

A long time watching as City face Rotherham United

We Bradford fans looking ahead to tomorrow’s game evening at the Don Valley Stadium do not have much reason for optimism.

Following the elation of a very good performance and last minute winner against Gillingham many believed a corner had be turned. Unfortunately despite the fact Northampton were supposedly dead on their feet following 120 minutes of midweek cup heroics City could not kick on. Bradford now go into the Rotherham game only two points off the bottom of the football league and could even be bottom before Wednesday comes. Many see tomorrow as a foregone conclusion and it is understandable to see why- Rotherham are yet to lose at home Bradford City are yet to win away.

Having faced my usual lecture following a visit from my grandfather this weekend about how I ‘should be playing football on a Saturday rather than watching that bunch of fairies’ I couldn’t justify it with my usual response that I enjoy watching Bradford too much because currently that is not the case. His favourite catch phrase of ‘you’re a long time watching from the stands but only a short time playing’ may begin to hit home. My feelings towards watching the offerings of the current Bradford side probably sum up the thoughts of many current supporters.

However, at least we can look back to our last outing to Rotherham’s home in Sheffield with happier memories. After thinking we had had the result stolen away from us in injury time we went straight up the other end of the pitch and forced a corner. On that day we managed 5 shots on target 11 in total on Saturday we mustered a measly 1 shot in the whole game.

Also on that day the scorers were, Michael Flynn and James Hanson for a side skippered by Simon Ramsden and how desperately do Bradford need those three back now. Unfortunately none are ready to face Rotherham which must leave Taylor thinking he is not the lucky manager that Stuart McCall suggested we needed during his unofficial radio resignation. And for those already beginning the Taylor out calls we must hold a certain amount of sympathy with regards to this because based on last season’s showing a Bradford City without Michael Flynn, James Hanson and Simon Ramsden is much like Liverpool without Gerrard, Torres and Carragher. On the other hand though Taylor decided to assemble a large squad over the summer and that does not leave him short of options.

Ramden’s absence will be felt even harder following the injury to his understudy Lewis Hunt who is likely to be replaced by centre half Zesh Rehman. The rest of the defence that will have to contain the division’s best striker, Adam Le Fondre, will depend on what system Taylor decides to line up with. Should he go with his favoured 433 then it is likely Luke Oliver will resume his target man role further forward with Williams and Hunt with Luke O’Brien maintaining his place to the left. However following Saturday’s failings at Northampton he may consider 442. In such a system O’Brien may push up to the left wing with Robbie Threlfall returning to left back. It is probable that Williams and Hunt may still keep their places but Oliver is well liked by Taylor and could be considered. The defence will be completed with ever present Jon McLaughlin between the sticks.

Further forward it is anyone’s guess what possible solution Taylor will try and find to cure City’s inability to not only score but also create chances. The midfield will much depend on whether Lee Hendrie is considered to have gained enough match fitness to start. In this case it is likely that David Syers will lose his place if 433 is continued but a 442 could well see Lee Bullock or Tommy Doherty dropping to the bench. Another option that Taylor will no doubt consider if to keep O’Brien at full back with Hendrie out wide a position that in the Bradford side that a certain cousin of his knows very well. This would allow O’Brien a license to roam down the left side and create opportunities on the overlap as Hendrie is likely to tuck in more central. A further option Taylor has available is to make it his set up all about pace on the flanks and although Omar Daley appears to be out of favour- he didn’t even make the bench at the weekend- Leon Osbourne may occupy the opposite flank to Luke O’Brien.

Finally, the most evident problem in the side, who will be chosen as the men who are supposed to score the goals. Unfortunately Bradford don’t boast a Le Fondre in their side. Instead our strikers this season have got a one goal haul between them in the first 8 league games and that was from a Gareth Evans penalty. Unfortunately Evans seems to be lower on confidence than anyone and a ghost of the player who took on James Hanson’s mantle at the end of last season and was at the forefront of Bradford’s good run in the closing games. His replacements in the last 2 games have been Jake Speight and Louis Moult. Speight has worked tirelessly since his introduction to the side and Moult has come with glowing references from his Premier League parent club, Stoke but appears to go missing for large periods of his matches so far. Many fans claim this is because Taylor plays him out of position and perhaps they may get their wish against Rotherham and see him played as a more central striker in a front 2.

One past Bantam declared that the player he would pick as a striker week in week out was Omar Daley. That former Bantam was Dean Windass and although I’m not too sure I agree with his opinion I would certainly give anything to see him lining up in a City shirt again. If that was the case I’m confident that even at 41, he’d have more goals than the 6 strikers we have played so far combined. After all you can guarantee he’d of had his hands on the ball before Gareth Evans for that penalty!

Despite having a few key players missing through injury Taylor still has many options available to him, the majority of which are his signings. We are now 8 games into the league season and Taylor said it may take him ten games to discover his best side, I worry that if things don’t improve in the next two he will be getting very few more.

Taking the next steps

As Peter Taylor substituted Louis Moult to widespread boos and groans two-thirds of the way into Bradford City’s eventual win over Gillingham last week, it was tempting to ponder just how long the City manager will be around to make such unpopular decisions.

This was the second home game in a row a substitution by Taylor was booed by some fans; and in the other two league home games there was the half time chant directed at him to “sort it out” against Southend, and booing the team off in victory against Stevenage.

Unlike his predecessor, Stuart McCall, Taylor is clearly not someone readily prepared to blame himself and believe those questioning him are right to do so, and one can speculate whether the reason his assistant Wayne Jacobs was sent out to face the media after the game was due to anger at having his decisions questioned once more.

A frosty relationship between manager and many supporters is beginning to develop.

The frustration last Saturday stemmed from the fact it was Moult rather than Luke Oliver taken off by Taylor. After a fairly anonymous start to his six-month loan stint at Valley Parade, the Stoke striker was finally beginning to show glimpses of his potential and was one of a handful of influential players helping City to get on top in the second half. Oliver meanwhile looked clumsy and awkward, the wrong man in the right place of City’s increasingly-frequent attacks. The sight of Gareth Evans ready to come on told us the hook was coming, but in many fans eyes Taylor was taking off the wrong man.

Football coaches often talk about the importance of going back-to-basics when things go wrong. If, for example, a midfielder produces a poor pass, he is encouraged to make sure he tries something much simpler the next time he receives possession, so he can quickly build up confidence again. When a team is on a run like City have been, it’s understandable Taylor would want to take a back-to-basics approach to selection and tactics. Start getting points on the board, then build up again from there.

Taylor’s approach against Gillingham strongly suggested going back-to-basics. Without James Hanson and after a loan striker turned down a move, the deployment of Oliver up front was all about better-retaining possession in the final third so the team as a whole could gain greater territorial advantage. Oliver was instructed to win and hold up the ball, thus bringing others into the game. Not fantastic to watch maybe, but effective. Basic you might say.

I personally believe Taylor got a better performance from his players than he’d dared hoped, particularly in the second half when Lee Hendrie’s introduction sparked more attacking impetuous and saw City gain a lot more joy from passing it through – rather than over – the visitors.

But this improvement suddenly made the tactic of Oliver up front far less effective, and what City really needed was a forward more comfortable in possession and who could make intelligent runs. The moment where Hendrie dribbled past a couple of players and produced a perfectly weighted through ball for Oliver, only for the tall defender to fail to control it with just the keeper to beat, summed up the sudden problem.

So like others I was willing Taylor to take off Oliver. And although I did not boo, I did groan and feel deflated when Moult was hauled off instead. This was surely a moment where Taylor could have been braver, shown more belief in the way his team was playing. But in the back of his mind perhaps was the risk of Gillingham scoring and City needed to go long ball in the final 10 minutes, where Oliver would have been needed.

But after so many times a City manager has been unjustly slated for his tactics when City have lost a game, Taylor ultimately deserves a lot of credit for the fact his tactics and substitutions ultimately delivered three valuable points.

As City head to Northampton this weekend, it will be interesting to see how much Taylor changes things around to build on the basics which have slowly started to come together since the season’s low point of the 2-0 loss to Southend. Both Hanson and Michael Flynn – another target man option – are not expected to be fit in time, so the chances of Oliver continuing up front would appear high.

But it should be recalled that arguably the best football City have played under Taylor so far, the final five games of last season, saw a 4-3-3 formation employed without a target man. This worked well because of the running and link up of Leon Osborne, Gareth Evans and Gavin Grant. It is that level of football City now aspire to reach again, and to which Taylor could consider evolving the back-to-basics approach from and look to employ at Sixfields.

Oliver’s move up the pitch enabled Steve Williams to return to the central defence against Gillingham, and the impressive display he and the fast-improving Shane Duff produced would suggest Oliver may have to join Zesh Rehman on the bench at some point in the near future. With Jon McLaughlin also looking more composed during the last two games, Taylor is moving closer towards a solid defence which has acted as the bedrock of his previous promotion-winning teams

At full backs, however, there are plenty of unresolved issues. Lewis Hunt and Robbie Threlfall have both attracted a lot of criticism for their efforts this season, but in many ways they are in excellent company as I struggle to recall many City full backs over the years who were not slated at some point.

In terms of Hunt, the criticism he’s receiving has to be balanced by the fact he is a second choice right back at a fourth division club. The wage allocated for this role isn’t going to be high, and so Taylor is limited in the options and ability he could bring in. Meanwhile Threlfall had a shocker at Shrewsbury on the opening day, and hasn’t recovered.

Luke O’Brien, who’s had his own dips of form, is arguably playing his best football of his career so far. The Gillingham half time switch around that saw Threlfall replaced and O’Brien moved to left back is surely likely to be continued while Threlfall rebuilds his confidence. But let’s not forget it is his form, rather than ability, which is the problem.

In midfield there are suddenly stronger options when a fortnight ago it looked a major problem area. Lee Bullock picked up the sponsors man of the match last week and his return to form benefited Tommy Doherty; while the arrival of Hendrie further brought the best out of both. For now Hendrie will probably remain on the bench, or start the game and be taken off, as he builds fitness. David Syers is beginning to look the part and should be fit to start; Omar Daley has been an unused sub for the last two games, and the Jamaican’s future is beginning to look bleak.

Up front there remains a troubling lack of goals, and the poor form of Evans and tentativeness of Moult leaves Taylor with some difficult decisions. Osborne’s first meaningful appearance of the season last week attracted derision, but his form at the end of last season showed promise and it would be worth getting behind the player – who has emerged through the ranks, remember – rather than writing him off so prematurely. For now at least Oliver classes as a forward option.

Northampton are fresh from incredible cup exploits over Liverpool, but in every other way will hopefully be stale. Taylor had joked about asking Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee to make sure the game went to extra time, and the fact Clobbers’ players were on the floor with cramp towards the end of their penalty shoot out win would suggest the Bantams will carry a fitness advantage from no midweek action.

City have so far lost two and drawn one on their travels, and though it is still early days the points return from the trips to Northampton on Saturday and Rotherham on Tuesday will say a lot about the team prospects for the rest of the season. A four-point haul would set City up nicely for upcoming easier-looking games and a climb up the table during autumn.

Achieve that and, come winter, it’s hoped the only frost we’ll be talking about is the stuff which forms on the ground, rather than the nature of the feelings heading towards and from the Valley Parade dugout.

Who wants to play for Bradford City?

In the run up to the seventh game of the season Peter Taylor asked a striker if he wanted to come on loan to join the Bradford City cause the deal ironed out with some club or other.

The player said “No”.

Speculation on who the player was is rife but ultimately utterly unimportant but the resonance of the word echoes and the echo forms itself into a thought that Bradford City are a club to be avoided.

One can imagine the situation which Johnny Striker is in at the moment. Stuck in the reserves somewhere the idea of getting a month of games elsewhere is attractive but the team on offer is three places off the bottom of the whole football league and there are going to be few niceties in that situation. Perhaps you’ve played at Valley Parade and felt the boost that away players get when the home crowd grumble or boo and decided that suddenly the stiffs does not seem too bad.

So Peter Taylor keeps his hopes up but – at the moment – Johnny Striker is not arriving and the manager must be wondering why that player does not want to play for Bradford City and when he thought about that he would find his mind drifting to a more pressing question: who, of the current playing squad, want to play for Bradford City.

Which is not to say who wants to pick up a wage, who wants to have a run around on a Saturday afternoon and who wants to give it a good go but rather who wants to play for Bradford City. Which of the current squad who have sequestered but four points thus far this season is prepared to take the responsibility for the quality of the performance.

The Bantams displays have lacked players who have been able to take that responsibility and the results have shown it. A look around the team does not show players putting in poor performances and games are not unusually littered with misplaced passes but easy options are taken too often and games are a little too easy for the opposition.

So the question for Taylor – looking over his squad – is which of these players wants to play a game of football was passion and guts and take on the responsibility for the performance in victory or defeat for Bradford City.

Gillingham expect promotion this year – their chairman will accept nothing else – and City’s chairmen have a similar aim. The Gills are two points higher and are one wonders if the same stages of panic followed by hopelessness is gripping Priestfield. Priestfield – of course – is one of Peter Taylor’s old managerial homes where he made current Gillingham boss Andy Hessenthaler his captain. Hessenthaler as a player the likes of which City could do with at the moment and will look for a similar character in his own ranks having told his players to grown up two weeks ago.

Jon McLaughlin will start in goal for City and the back four of Lewis Hunt, Shaun Duff, Luke Oliver and Robbie Threlfall is starting to build relationships although Taylor will hope they can do it with more speed that the sluggishness of thought that allowed Stockport an equaliser last week.

Taylor has to decide between his 433 or the 442 which got a point last weekend. David Syers and Luke O’Brien are likely to continue on the flanks of Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty in a four while a three would see one dropped. Michael Flynn – the very type of player which the club needs presently – is still out injured.

Append: Lee Hendrie is expected to come into the City team to make a debut probably at the expense of Tom Ademeyi having signed for the club on Firday .

James Hanson continues to be injured while in the absence of the new striker Gareth Evans and Jake Speight are set to continue – Speight the brightest spark of the season thus far – with Omar Daley perhaps getting a place in the three.

The permutations of players though are not the major problem for Taylor so much as the attitude of those players. The will to win, or to carry the can in defeat, is important at this stage.

Six games in to the 1998/99 season Paul Jewell’s Bradford City side had a single point from a draw with Bolton Wanderers. Seven games in and they had two after a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United but the performance in that game against a Blades side inspired by a superb performance by Dean Saunders and a City team that had clicked into place.

The result shook no trees but the performance was convincing – or convinced me at least – that there was something in Paul Jewell’s side that would happen. The wing play of Peter Beagrie prepared to make the game, the sturdy centre forward play of Lee Mills, the anchoring of Stuart McCall.

It is that performance that Taylor needs to find.

The day after the sky fell in

Last week City had to beat Southend United and did not.

The sky did not fall in on Chicken Licken nor did the walls tumble down but the sense of dejection around City fans was palpable. There is a level of disappointment which goes beyond a moaning about the team or the players to just not talking at all. Rather than getting heads together and saying how this formation or that substitution would have sorted out the problems City fans around Bradford and beyond looked blank and shrugged. What is there to do?

Some carried on as normal – one has to be impressed with the tenacity of the people who are still arguing that everything will be right when Stuart McCall leaves the club when the evidence of swapping one manager for another once again illustrates that the manager was never the main of the problem – but even that carrying on seemed to be half hearted. Making the same noises because they are the noises you make.

Peter Taylor made his noises on the BBC’s Football Focus revealing his disappointment in the season so far, using “they” rather than “we” a couple of times and issuing an open invite to David Beckham to come to Valley Parade where he would get a game although one has to worry that with the three man midfield with two wide players up front if Goldenballs would fit into the Bantams line up.

It is that line up which Peter Taylor is being urged to change for the arrival of Port Vale on Saturday. Taylor deployed a World Cup style 4231 but the three given the role of dangerous players were anything but and the result was a massive hole between the midfield and lone striker James Hanson.

James Hanson has come in for some criticism this week – “just a pub player” someone said. People who think like that are wasting their money even coming to Valley Parade just as people who love Pot Noodles and Big Macs are wasting their money going to Noma. Of the reasons to be optimistic about the future of Bradford City Hanson figures highly and if he is fit he would be the first name on my teamsheet.

Hanson came off at half time last week as City’s 4231 faltered and the whispers are that the striker has not been fit all season. Taylor has the option of deploying Gareth Evans or Chib Chilaka as target man to give Hanson the chance to recover but seems to hold last season’s player of the season in high regard and – as I would – would probably play him every week if he could.

Jake Speight has returned to full fitness and liberty and is expected to make a first start for the club as one of three up front with Evans alongside him and Omar Daley dropped to the bench. Speight and Daley both seem to be charged with offering (for want of a better phrase) an x-factor to City’s line up and presently Daley looks some way away from being able to do that. One could speculate all day about why this is – tougher training, return to fitness, form – but the winger has always blown hot and cold and managing him back to heat quickly has been a challenge for City bosses.

Louis Moult is talked up much considering he is a Stoke City played facing Port Vale but after a poor show last week one doubts the loanee will make the side. Since the moment pre-season finished Moult has worn a City shirt well but not shown anything to suggest he is worth a place in the side. He is all promise and prospect but – at present – Taylor needs productivity.

The Moult Hole last week caused an issue for City’s two holding players Tommy Doherty and Lee Bullock – both of whom are expected to start in a three man midfield alongside probably Tom Ademeyi or perhaps David Syers – who ended up having to come forward to try fill the hole. Doherty has started to look impressive in his distribution while Bullock is struggling to get back to last season’s ways.

The defence seems a mixed bag thus far. Robbie Threlfall’s distribution is missed giving him the edge over Luke O’Brien although the latter has put in some good performances. Lewis Hunt is steady to a fault at right back – nothing gets past him really, he does not get past anybody really – but Zesh Rehman hangs on his shoulder looking for a place in the side. Anyone who things that Rehman he been “obviously the worst player at the club for eighteen months” (as was commented this week) is invited to go stand in the Wilderness Garden behind an eight foot fence on a Saturday afternoon.

None of Rehman or Luke Oliver, Shane Duff and Steve Williams have especially been woeful this term and occasionally some have been excellent. In defence popular wisdom has it that Taylor should pick a team and stick to it but one recalls how Paul Jewell would have three names on his back four and float in one of Ashley Westwood, Jon Dreyer or Andrew O’Brien to partner Darren Moore between Steven Wright and Wayne Jacobs seemingly at random although – perhaps – based on the opposition.

Jon McLaughlin, he plays in goal. He blamed himself for the first goal against Southend allowing the ball to get away from in turning possession over to the visitors. He must have been waiting for people to note his mistake, waiting for the treatment that Simon Eastwood got for similar.

As it happened the sky did not fall in.

Time for Plan A?

As Saturday approaches I have begun my usual guessing game over what team Peter Taylor will choose.

Stuart McCall was criticised on many occasions last season for not having a ‘Plan B’ Taylor it appears has got a plan C, D and E. With the season only a handful of games old Taylor has already used 20 outfield players- that would quite possibly be more had Michael Flynn and Leon Osbourne not been missing through injury- and also 4 different skippers. Taylor has explained his high rotation of players and his reasoning is fair. Firstly he says does not yet know his best side and secondly there have been a high number of games in a short space of time, two of which have gone to extra time and therefore he has looked to give players a rest. However, with 4 games of the season gone, with only 1 win and 8 days since the last game surely now we will see what Taylor believes to be his strongest side.

The only player that has begun every game is Jon McLaughlin and although he was called into question by Taylor following the Torquay match he still remains first choice. There is no doubting that he is talented, assured and confident between the stick and it appears he will not let any previous mistakes affect him too easily. But he is young and needs not only some experience in front of him but consistency too.

Unfortunately his most experienced defender and club captain, Simon Ramsden has had his involvement limited by injury. This has seen his understudy, Lewis Hunt step into the vacant position and he has performed adequately, but no more than adequate. Hunt to me seems a more than able replacement for our consistent captain and yet at the same time his lacklustre, relaxed approach to the game leaves me thinking he could be a lot more than adequate.

In the first game against Shrewsbury he did not appear to be fit, which was unfortunately exaggerated as he tried to handle the impressive Ainsworth. In the following games he still appears to amble over to the touchline whenever he is required to take a throw in, rarely appears to be willing to receive the ball and as far as I can remember has never created an overlap for his winger. In fairness to Hunt we do not know what his instructions have been from Peter Taylor and he may well be ordered to be so conservative and concentrate on his defending- a job which he performs very capably. Even so I can’t help but hope we see a fit Ramsden taking the field again before too long.

The other 3 slots across the back 4 have not had had reduced options through injury and yet are still chopped and changed. I am a firm believer that an understanding between the defence and goalkeeper needs to be established from playing together regularly. How often did you see Sir Alex Ferguson line his side up without Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister when both were available, or Wenger without Tony Adams and Martin Keown or even Mourinho without John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho.

Those partnerships were part of some the most successful defences in the Premier League’s history because they were exactly that. Each player knew what their partner was going to do and their goalkeeper behind also created that same understanding be it Schmeichel, Seaman or Cech. Something our current number one Jon McLaughlin must do with whoever plays in front of him. I don’t doubt the ability of any of our current centre backs but all of them will play the game differently and if McLaughlin has a consistent partnership in front of him then that will allow him to become more confident in his decision making knowing what his two defenders in front are most likely to do.

So far it appears to be any 3 from Steve Williams, Luke Oliver and Shane Duff for the two centre half roles with last season’s captain Zesh Rehman providing back up. I was never a huge fan of Rehman last year, but do feel as though he became a lot more assured and solid when Taylor took over towards the end of the season and is possibly a little unfortunate to be overlooked. For me Steve Williams is a rough diamond and has the potential to play at a higher level. I would compare him to a lower league Rio Ferdinand in his style of play. However, much like Rio Ferdinand at the beginning of his career he is still inexperienced, still learning and prone to a mistake. For that reason I would suggest he needs an experienced, vocal leader alongside him. Luke Oliver, unfortunately, does not possess those qualities and although he appears to be Taylor’s favoured option – he has started every league game so far – I would still favour Duff. I do not base this so much on my own observations of Duff due to the limited amount of opportunity I have had to watch him but more on my second hand knowledge of the player from Taylor himself.

When Duff was signed Taylor acknowledged that it was because he felt that Williams and Oliver did not have enough league football experience and Duff has racked up almost double the amount of league appearances that Williams and Oliver have combined. Further, Taylor described him as a ‘good leader’ in the mould of Tony Adams. It is for those qualities that I consider him to be the perfect partner for Williams.

Left back is also a position that is very much in the balance with a decision to be made between two very different players. Robbie Threlfall probably began the season as the favourite after impressing on loan last season. He’s tall, and can boast of an extremely sweet left foot but has been found out at the beginning of this season while the smaller, quicker Luke O’Brien has impressed. Unfortunately, despite getting himself in promising positions O’Brien’s final ball and decision making in the final third leaves something to be desired.

Still if he could cross a ball like Threlfall he probably wouldn’t be playing for Bradford City. It is possible that following his outstanding first season and deserved Player of the Year trophy Luke O’Brien became over confident and it was a combination of this and the lack of competition for his place in the side that led to his disappointing second season. Now with Threlfall pushing him for the starting berth he has returned more determined with a point to prove and on current form deserves his place. That is of course unless Taylor chooses to deploy him further forward in midfield.

Midfield provides Taylor with a selection headache before he chooses his personnel, is the side more suited to 3 in midfield and 3 forwards or a more standard 4-4-2. We have seen both systems tried so far with varying degrees of success. One thing that can’t be denied is that there is plenty of competition, especially in the centre. For the Stevenage game we set up with 4-4-2 with Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty occupying the central roles. Both players are very good at what they do but are they not too similar? In that game both played very deep and this left a gap behind the strikers and meant they were not provided with enough support. This appears to be something Taylor also identified at half time when replacing Bullock for David Syers.

This would suggest Taylor favours Doherty, and despite being considered to not look fully fit by many supporters, I would agree that he has the edge. Doherty is more mobile than Bullock, a superb passer of the ball and, judging by his performance against us for Wycombe two years ago, he has the ability to dictate and dominate a game. His perfect partner would be Michael Flynn. Last season Flynn was one of our most impressive performers but unfortunately injury has ruled him out of featuring so far. So until Flynn’s return Tom Adeyemi and Dave Syers look to stake their claim. If footballer’s were judged on academic achievement both of these would be in the Premier League however despite both impressing in patches neither can justifiably believe they deserve to be a certain starter.

Out wide the sometimes brilliant but more frequently frustrating Omar Daley looks to have returned from his horrific injury lacking in confidence and a yard of pace slower. Unless Taylor can find a way to help him return to his previous best I fear that his days as the winger who could petrify fullbacks may be over. Following Scott Neilson’s departure that leaves a lack of options on the flank, O’Brien proved he is a more than capable on the left last year but that also means he has to vacate the position of full back. On the other side Gareth Evans is yet to find his best position as either striker or winger. You can guarantee he will give it his all in either position but as a winger he is probably better coming inside from the left as he did against Rochdale last year and therefore perhaps not the solution on the right. Leon Osbourne is yet to return from injury but after impressing at the end of last season there is reason to be enthusiastic about his return. He, like Evans may benefit from a more advanced role as a wide forward and considering the amount of different options we have in terms of central midfielders this would give an compelling argument for a use of a 4-3-3 formation.

That would leave 1 striker from 3 spearheading the Bradford attack. James Hanson, Player of the Season last year impressed all fans with his strength, ability in the air and work rate. Some do worry that he may suffer from second season syndrome and he hasn’t dominated defences in the same way at the beginning of this season. It is important to remember he was injured in the run up to the beginning of the season and will only be beginning to reach full fitness, he has not lost his ability over night and would appear to have the perfect qualities suited to a lone striker.

Big things are expected from loanee, Louis Moult following his arrival from Stoke and he has shown glimpses of fantastic ability in his limited opportunities so far but Taylor appears to prefer using him out wide. That leaves Jake Speight and although he arrived under a cloud he was one of the few positives that were taken from the game against Stevenage and helped him on his way to winning over the supporters. He works tirelessly and was a real handful for the defence, and reports suggest he is going to be rewarded with a deserved start come Saturday.

I had hoped putting my thoughts in writing would help enable me to understand Taylor’s thinking and give me an insight into his possible line-up for Saturday but still I am clueless. I suppose at the end of the day I’m just a fan and that’s why when the team kicks off on Saturday I will take my place in the stands and Peter Taylor will be in the dugout.

So over to you Mr.Taylor, I certainly still have complete faith.

Let It Be

When an organisation examines itself in search of improvement it is often seen as healthy and valuable introspection. Self-analysis can create benefits that repay any discomforts – real or imagined – providing of course that the process is well-managed and sensitive to the individuals involved.

When an organisation is examined from the outside it is often seen as intrusive inspection and the initial reaction in the vast majority of cases is to see it as a threat. That threat is usually dealt with in one of two ways – a coming together to unite against the perceived threat or a fragmentation of buck passing. The blame culture that sets colleague against colleague virtually guarantees a critical outcome to the examination – a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So when the team you support gets off to such a disappointing start it is right to examine the reasons why. But which model do we follow?

Opinions and perceptions are bound to vary but from where I sit in the Midland Road stand and at my computer, the beneficial model of self-analysis is a non-starter. As a club we seem intent on tearing ourselves apart internally with the only beneficiaries being the opposition.

Fan is set against fan Dave’s summary seems to me a bit extreme but it’s the way he sees it and as far as I am aware he is not one given to knee jerks.

Player is set against player Well I am surely not the only one to notice the reluctance of some players to pass to others who may not be doing well and blazing long-range shots over the bar is hardly a subtle comment to your attacking colleagues.

Fan is set against player Daley does not fit into the City system (whatever it is) but does not deserve the torrent of obscenities and abuse heaped on him from foul mouthed idiots in Block C.

Manager is set against supporter Don’t boo us for winning – even if the performance was poor and the result undeserved. The results are all that matters. It may not be pretty but we are set up to be hard to beat. Are we really?

Fan is set against manager “We need a change” (already?) may not be a universal view but whatever the logic behind Friday’s changes in personnel and pattern the manager’s decisions seemed to satisfy no-one.

Manager is set against player Whilst verbally accepting the blame for some aspects of poor performance, the manager’s actions could easily say the opposite to those players left out and those brought in. One week a player is substituted for being given the run around, next week clearly ineffectual and possibly unfit players have their weaknesses exposed for a full match whilst other apparently inexplicable changes are made. Putting a defender up front on Friday took the eventual man-of –the- match out of much of the subsequent play by resorting to even more long high balls. What messages are these decisions giving the players?

Player is set against fan It may be stretching the point, but the reluctance of all but one of the players to acknowledge those fans that stayed to try and lift them after the final whistle was evident and says a lot.

Negativity rules all round Valley Parade at the moment and attempts to overcome it only seem to add to it despite the best of intentions.

Blame the ticket prices, blame the seating arrangements, blame the younger fans, blame the grumpy old men, blame the Referee, the kit, the pitch even. Perhaps blame my son for forgetting to drink from his City mug on Friday or blame me for not changing my shoes – we never seem to win if I am wearing anything black. Blame anything!

Clearly this urge to pull our team apart in such a Dali-esque manner cannot go on. Whatever the range of opinion it has to be the performance on the pitch that counts. Reality says that those who are paid to do a job should know what it is, be capable of doing it and be given every chance to complete it. Those who pay to watch should not be held responsible for things outside their control – although they are responsible for controlling themselves.

Whatever happens, fans can not effectively change what happens on the pitch however much we believe we can. Playing games behind closed doors, or with piped cheering to cover the lack of the real thing or with any of the other well-intentioned and less extreme suggestions made recently will not get to the root of the problem.

Whilst we may endlessly debate the ways things may change nothing we say will really impact on the situation and very little of what we do will make any difference. Until there is coherence from the professionals we will never be united so why don’t we accept this?

Pessimistic? Probably. Realistic? I believe so. Practical? I doubt it, too many differing points of view.

I may not like what I have seen in the League so far but I know I can’t change it so I let it be and keep my vocal chords for positive appreciation.

I know I don’t like what I’ve heard from some close by me this season but at least I know I can do something about it the next time the torrent of obscene abuse begins – wish me luck.

Until then I’ll keep on chanting “Come on City” but keep thinking “Come on united” – the small “u” is just as important as the capital “C”.

Everything looks bad right now

In the immediate minutes that followed Anthony Grant’s second half KO blow for Southend, the overriding mood in the air was not provided by the vocal anger of many apoplectic home fans – but the melancholy of everybody else.

This was all very miserably familiar. A game Bradford City ‘should’ win turning out to be a morale-denting defeat so formulated and repetitive over the past few years that it feels like we’re trapped in our own version of Last of the Summer Wine. Just like the world’s long-running sitcom, it ceased to be even mildly amusing a long, long time ago.

But as many supporters reacted with rage, unleashing levels of vociferous abuse that, even by Valley Parade standards, has not been reached for a good few seasons; it was the silent resignation of others which arguably represents the most concern. Worry not too much of those who text into Radio Leeds and log onto message boards to angrily point the finger, worry about those who may now be questioning their sanity in attending next time.

Prior to kick off I was buying my tickets for Stockport away and found a healthy queue of City fans handing over £20 to watch this evening’s game. With the first two league attendances of the season falling below the 11,000 mark, the hope that the shortfall of season ticket sales would be rectified by pay on the day supporters will be quickly dashed by evenings as wretched as this. Where three seasons ago a similarly woeful defeat to Accrington brought out a defiant spirit amongst supporters, tonight there was not even the slim consolation of an enjoyable atmosphere to keep the floating supporter interested.

Tonight Valley Parade was simply an ugly place to be. The boost of a commendable cup performance against higher division opposition was supposed to be act as the springboard that finally got the season going. When Tommy Doherty superbly played James Hanson through on goal after 10 minutes, we all prepared to celebrate the commencement of a promotion challenge after some false starts. Last season’s top scorer badly screwed his shot wide, and that was as good as it got for City.

Six minutes later Southend grabbed a lead that at the time seemed undeserved and slightly controversial – Barry Corr played through on goal but looking borderline offside, finishing impressively past Jon McLaughlin. But for the remaining 74 minutes the visitors made sure they were full value for the three points.

City’s formation and tactics were hard to fathom, but it appeared Peter Taylor had adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation particularly popular at this year’s World Cup. Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty sat deep; Gareth Evans, Omar Daley and Louis Moult interchanged positions behind Hanson. But the three attacking midfielders/forwards were highly ineffective and left a hole that saw attacks quickly break down. All three were guilty of failing to utilise space and charging down blind alleys while in possession, when they needed greater awareness of what was around them. The uncompromising Southend defence easily lapped it up.

Home pressure was sporadic and little thought was paid to setting the tempo. Southend chased and harried the ball high up the park and hit City effectively on the counter attack by flooding players into the box. Josh Simpson and Craig Easton both squandered easy chances to double the advantage as a ponderous City defence panicked and continually lost sight of runners. Taylor headed to the dressing room at half time with the Bradford End chanting at him to sort it out.

Yet rather than address the trimmings, he uprooted the foundations. If there weren’t many bright spots to the first half, surely the performances of Doherty and Bullock should have been considered something to build on. While at times forced too deep, both showed composure while others hastily whacked the ball up the pitch. Doherty seemed to benefit from Bullock’s close support and everything good came through them. But the dismal performances of Evans, Daley and Moult just ahead left them hopelessly outnumbered and they needed an extra body to help. How Michael Flynn was missed.

But although Taylor made the right decision to bring on Flynn’s understudy David Syers at half time, he oddly took Bullock off in a straight swap. And while Luke O’Brien brought a bit more balance by being pushed to left midfield, with Robbie Threlfall replacing Louis Moult, the taking off of James Hanson – which may have been due to picking up a knock – for Jake Speight saw the problems largely remain. Speight played well, but he was the only one who could effectively hold up the ball.

City went 4-4-2, and a midfield which had played reasonably well but been outnumbered became even more out-gunned, Doherty struggling to exert any influence. Initially City at least carried more purpose and came close through Speight and Luke Oliver, but on 55 minutes Grant fired home from the edge of the area after a free kick was partially cleared and the mountain became even steeper.

There was an element of misfortune, however, as only seconds before the goal City had been attacking with some purpose. But when Syers’ ball to Doherty hit a bobble just before it reached the midfielder, Southend were able to break up the pitch, force a throw in and score. That’s how bad things went tonight, even that much-trumpeted new playing surface let us down.

The anger poured down from the stands, with Daley the obvious target and bizarrely told to “get off the pitch” by some fans in the Midland Road stand. We’ve used all three subs, so are we supposed to play with ten men? But while you can argue he and the rest deserved it, the fury reigning down does not present a productive atmosphere for the players to perform in. It is no surprise that certain players disappeared into their shells and left others to take responsibility. When O’Brien whacked an improbable crossfield ball over that Daley stood little chance of keeping in, it was the Jamaican and not the young defender who received the torrent of abuse.

With 13 minutes to go hope briefly flickered in the shape of the stupid sending off of right back Sean Clohessy, after he needlessly hacked O’Brien having already been booked for time wasting. But there was no way back despite pushing Oliver up front, with ideas long since run out. An awful evening was summed up by second half captain Steve Williams lashing a shot high into the Kop from a ridiculous distance, for no obvious reason than frustration.

Valley Parade emptied long before the end, sparing the players from volume 11 boos. But most will be back. And if City are to live up to the pre-season expectations there is a battle they must overcome – coping with this pressure. Half the people screaming abuse were livid for City launching long balls at the back, the other half were having a go for passing sideways and not getting it forwards quick enough. The players need to learn to ignore their frustrations and play in the right manner. The only people they need to obey are their team mates and management.

Taylor took full responsibility for the defeat afterwards, admitting his team selection had been wrong. And in this situation City have exactly the right man to cope with the pressure and get the players going again. He needs to find a system that works for the players and he has to stick with it, rather than constantly changing tactics and players. He needs to get the most out of the ability of Doherty by setting up the team so he can dictate the play. He needs to select a regular back four that are familiar with each other’s position on the field rather than having to look over their shoulders. He needs to address the worrying lack of chances and goals the forward line is delivering.

But as the sun went down during the second half, it will rise again on Saturday morning. There are eight days to work on the training ground and 42 games left to fulfill expectations. Paul Jewell was in the commentary box this evening, a reminder that, while everything looks bad now, a bad start to the season needn’t prove the end of it.

Empathy but no space for sympathy for Southend United

Southend United have fallen from above the leagues and arrive in the bottom division struggling to stay alive, get a team together and with three games and one draw behind them struggling to get a win. It is a situation which City have found themselves in a number of times and it is hard not to feel some empathy.

Sympathy though will be in short supply. Bradford City need to win.

Not need to win in the two points to stave off relegation or win promotion or need to win in the “win or you get fired” way but with the team having put in a good performance in defeat on Tuesday after three unimpressive displays in the League – and the City about to get a good kicking in the media on Saturday – the early season malaise can be lifted with victory in this Friday night game.

Southend is home to Peter Taylor – he was manager too – although he harbours a reduced affection for the town he called home lamenting the decline of the centre. Empathy.

That Taylor’s time at Bradford City has so quickly started to sour is worrying. The best manager available to the Bantams is being criticised because his team have lost two away matches and heard a parting shot from Scott Neilson about PTs playing style which was booed against Stevenage in the last outing in the league at Valley Parade.

One cannot help but wish that Mark Lawn would occupy himself in stating for all that Taylor is the best manager for the job, that he is here for the long term and that he has the full throated backing of the board but alas Taylor’s remit presently only lasts until such a point where it is considered he will not take City to promotion and – for some people – that point has already been reached.

As curious as it maybe to some but wandering around the places where Bantams fans talk after the Torquay United game already the season had been written off – there is a ludicrousness to that assuming a great team gets three points from home games and one from away leaving the Bantams able to win the next two and be back on a perfect track – and for all one might say that only a madman would sign his name to such a comment those men have started to talk and Taylor’s job is already questioned and who is anyone to silence them?

The Tuesday night performance was a fillip. Taylor’s beamed with pride after the performance of his players on Tuesday night – they played hard and were beaten by a couple of long range laser guided shots – and perhaps most pleasing was the performance of some of the fringe players.

There is a speculation that Taylor has brought quantity and not quality to the club and that may be true – although few would have suggested that Tommy Doherty does not represent quality – but Taylor is betting on the idea that a good team comes not from having a higher eleven inked into your team sheet but from having one and a half dozen players who could all feature at any point.

It is experience like this that convinces all about Taylor. He knows football at this level and how to win at it and part of that is – he seems to say – ensuring that you have a depth of player who all can be used. I would agree with the manager. The notion that – at League Two level – there is an ocean of quality to choose from simply does not agree with the football we have seen over the last three years or longer.

So the performance of David Syers and Jake Speight – non-league signings awaiting their first start for City in the league – will be heartening with both showing their usefulness in the League Cup. Speight is itching to go and his header in the week seemed to bury the last of the decent that surrounded him while Syers performance was understated and on the whole unrecognised.

Syers is a rare thing. A player who shows his enthusiasm through his disciplined play, who shows his passion by sticking to his man. He has filled a huge gap in the side that would have been left when the last of the ideal midfield three of Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and Tommy Doherty departed on Tuesday and as resources in the middle are thin his first start seems to be imminent.

Seeing Taylor deploy Syers as well as Chib Chilaka on Tuesday night in a team which also contained James Hanson and Steve Williams showed the current manager’s commitment to continuing the recruitment of players from outside the League structure which shows an added depth to the squad. Without wanting to afford the plaudits to Syers before he has even started a game in players like Syers, Hanson and Williams Taylor gets a resource in the squad previous managers have not.

These players are the Danny Forrests, Craig Benthams and Jake Wrights of City’s past who have learnt that when you exit your league club you end up in a Supermarket or cutting hair and having been given the second chance you work for need to work harder to maintain it.

There is a lesson for many players who are in the squad, or have been, about attitude and one which Syers is testament to. Work hard and good things will come, and more power to his elbow in that.

Assuming the main midfield three are out then Syers will be alongside Tom Adeyemi and perhaps a press ganged striker or defender although probably Bullock or Doherty will return to action. The three in midfield are to be expected to have more work to do with the two wider players deployed on Tuesday night in a 451 being the strikers of a 433 if you will allow me the vagueness of tactical talk.

Gareth Evans is expected to be one of those strikers, Jake Speight hoped to be another with Omar Daley dropping down to the bench. There are few things in football that thrill me more than watching a winger like Daley charging at men but this season, and this set up, do not suit the Jamaican and one worries about his place in the squad.

Certainly Taylor recognises that as a player Daley offers an abundance of energy which can make an unplayable winger but the restrictions on his play and requirement to have him tuck in to the midfield and come back defensively weight heavy – certainly Taylor does not share the love of wide, wide men that his predecessors Stuart McCall and Colin Todd did. Daley represents is a tough call and one that assumes that City will both carry on with the 433 and Taylor for the foreseeable future.

James Hanson seems to be far too useful to not play in every game he can but he has been carrying an injury all season and Chib Chilaka represents an alternative in holding the ball up up front.

The backline will hope that Southend don’t bring Preston’s laser guided football ad that keeping the opposition to thirty yards will be as successful as it was against Stevenage. Zesh Rehman moved to right back to replace Lewis Hunt and will continue alongside Steve Williams and probably Luke Oliver who seems to have a much worse reputation than his performances suggest. Then again failing him coming onto the field and slaughtering a chicken then bathing in its blood in front of the family stand it is hard to see what Oliver could have do to live up to the reputation that the adequate no nonsense player seems to be developing.

It is said of Oliver that he is without skill – he is a central defender – and that he his a big turning circle which is true but as the defender tasked with going to the ball rather than tidying up behind he is hardly needed to spin on a One Euro coin. The fact that he does what he does and little else seems to take away – in some people’s eyes – from the fact that he does what he does to such a point where he is criticised after the Stevenage game where he is the heart of a clean sheet.

Perhaps he can juggle, dance and sing and that could win him friends but as long as he gets his head to what he can as often as he can and lets Steve Williams tidy up behind him I’m happy. Effort is all in the game but manifests itself in different ways.

Luke O’Brien will continue at left back in front of Jon McLaughlin. Bradford City goalkeepers and Southend United have previous history and perhaps it was that which prompted the move of the game forward an evening considering Saturday’s situation.

Certainly the racist Southend fans who left me threatening messages on my answerphone following the Donovan Ricketts sending off and the ructions that followed would be able to make a weekend of the trip to Bradford but never are the whole collection of football supporters represented by the thoughts and actions of a subset.

Empathy for the plight of Southend United then, but City, City fans and especially Peter Taylor have little room to offer sympathy.

The Invincibles

When taken over a long enough time line most things tend towards a level. Preston North End arrive at Valley Parade for the second round of the League Cup in a way that illustrates this perfectly.

Darren Ferguson – “Sonnov” of you will – was pleased to get his first win of the season for the team which under Alan Irvine seemed to be in permanent residence in the top half of the second tier of English football. Irvine’s side knocked on the door of the Premier League but never went in and the sight of local rivals Blackpool doing just that almost by accident is a hard one for the Deepdale supporters.

Not that one need consider Preston North End a team who should be in residence in the top half of tier two. In the 1980s and much of the 1990s they were a side who populated the bottom two leagues. After the war they were fixtures in the top flight. In 1888/89 won both the inaugural Football League and the year’s FA Cup without losing a game. To paraphrase Wells they started at the top and worked their way down.

Which is the real Preston North End? The Invincibles of the 1880s? The stable top flight club? The lower league side? The Irvine incarnation? If all things tend towards a level what level are Preston North End to end up as?

On Sunday morning the Wikipedia entry stated the club was in the Blue Square Premier with a note that some fan was “planning ahead” making his thoughts on the club’s level clear based – seemingly – on a start that saw them defeated by Doncaster and Swansea. A win over Portsmouth on Saturday might have changed his mind but the illustration of football as short term thinking could not be clearer.

Ignore the last 125 years, it is the last 180 minutes of football that count.

So to Bradford City and Peter Taylor who watched his side concede an early goal and have a man sent off before losing at Torquay United on the back of a win which the manager had to join some supporters in criticising and a defeat at Shrewsbury Town prompted some members of the Bradford City community to write off the season before 270 of the 4,140 minutes of football in a league season had been played.

This runs contrary to the great hope of Bradford City supporters that the maxim that all things tend towards a level will see the club level in the longer term somewhere around the position Preston North End are now – half way down the second tier. That idea holds that the mass of the club is such that eventually – and on a longer time frame – City will rise the leagues through osmosis.

Catchment area, size of supporter base, budget available all factor into that equation which works over a longer term than 270 minutes and there is an idea that the actions which the club and its management (and the management of that management) takes serve to hamper that osmosis rather than aid it. Each of us would have a different view on which actions these are.

The 270 minutes of league football might have delighted Bantams supporters not – in that context – hardly matters. The calculation is done over 1,000s of hours of play not three games but cup football concerns itself with those shorter time frames and the joy of those 120 minutes against Nottingham Forest in the last round of this competition stand as a marked contrast to the league season.

One could put this down to any number of factors but choice d’jour is the idea that the Bantams go from being the big team in every League Two game to the small team when playing tier two sides and the resultant release of pressure allows the team to perform better. It is a hangover from the World Cup thinking and England’s choking where the weight of expectation – for whatever reason it is in place – is a barrier to performance.

When the players are considered to be good by virtue of the shirt they wear they play poorly, when they are considered to be poor they play well that is if you consider the league games to have been poor so far, many do not although Peter Taylor does and post game after Torquay he once again charged the players with the responsibility of performing better.

It is not hard to see why Taylor makes this mental challenge to the players. If they can beat Forest – a team which would be acknowledged as “better” footballers, they can beat anyone. The key to that performance being mindset. That – more than the choice of substitute or formation – is what makes a manager able to effect his team.

Prime target of Taylor’s more public coaching is Jon McLaughlin who the manager singled out as having made a pair of mistakes which caused concessions on Saturday. Having given the young keeper the number one shirt Taylor rides the youngster. Twelve month ago when it was considered that Simon Eastwood was making a mistakes that cost game the clamour for McLaughlin was marked. One doubts that Lloyd Saxton will be given a place in the side for this Preston game, or that there will be calls for him to be played.

At right back Lewis Hunt continues in the place of the injured Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien is expected to come in at left back for the suspended Robbie Threlfall. Taylor could differ from his pairing of Shane Duff and Luke Oliver to return Steve Williams to the side – Williams perhaps being better equipped to to copy with the more finessed play of the leagues above. Zesh Rehman is also in the reckoning.

The midfield three of Tommy Doherty, Lee Bullock and Tom Ademeyi pick themselves with Michael Flynn out for a month although David Syers – impressive in the last round – could be drafted in over the Norwich loanee who has been given clearance to play from his own club or Doherty who struggled on Saturday and is “not thought to be fully fit” which is often football fan code for “player playing badly, but we don’t want to say it cause we like him.”

James Hanson and Gareth Evans have played almost every minute for City this season as two of the front three and with Louis Moult making little impression since the season started Jake Speight than did in the win over Forest one can imagine Peter Taylor may see a chance to change up front.

Speight is struggling with an injury but he is expected to play some part in the two games this week – City also facing Southend United on Friday night – while Moult more than anyone has looked out of sorts so far. A young player with a good few months ahead of him he has time to change that.

Omar Daley has looked out of the fit of the side thus far this season while Chibuzor Chilaka – given a squad number on Saturday – also stands by.

Peter Taylor and Stevenage

Fresh from his team’s heroic cup win over Nottingham Forest, this weekend Peter Taylor prepares for the first of eight games this season against teams he once managed. Since arriving initially as interim manager in February, much has rightly been made about Taylor’s strong managerial track record. But in-between successes at Gillingham, Hull and Wycombe there have been spells at other clubs which didn’t work out.

Tomorrow’s visitors Stevenage were one of them. It was November 2007 that Taylor became manager of the non-league outfit, an appointment which raised eyebrows around football. After enjoying back-to-back promotions with Hull in 2004 and 2005 and then keeping the Tigers in the Championship, Taylor moved onto Crystal Palace in the summer 2006 but couldn’t lift the recently-relegated Eagles back towards the Premier League. He was sacked after barely a year.

Which is when he popped up at Stevenage. Up-coming manager Mark Stimson had resigned to move to Gillingham, with the Boro third in the Conference and having won the FA Trophy the season before. Taylor was supposed to have signed an 18-month contract, partly due to a friendship with Chief Executive Bob Makin; but the apparent coup of appointing the man who famously made David Beckham England captain failed to see the club’s strong position built upon.

Matthew Kett of fcboro.co.uk told BfB, “Before Stimson left, the club was on the up and really looking forward to a good season. His departure led to a lot of player unrest with a number of players following the manager to Gillingham. Taylor walked into all that so it was not the ideal job. He basically had to re-build the squad from scratch, but the players he brought in were not good enough and we ended the season outside the play-offs after being in the hunt for the whole season.

“There were rumours that Taylor wasn’t very hands on while at Boro, but I don’t think his heart was ever in the job really. Taylor’s style of football was very much a direct approach. The players he signed showed this. We signed a lot of players with little or no technique, including Junior Lewis who seems to follow Taylor wherever he goes. He was one of the worst signings that season.”

With the campaign ending so disappointingly, Taylor didn’t stick around. “He joined us signing an 18 month contract, although this was later palmed off with the excuse that it was a 6 month deal with the view of an 18 month deal if both parties agreed,” added Matthew. “His aim was to get us promoted and then see us through our first League campaign.

“Of course, it didn’t work out that way and the end of the 2007/2008 season was one of the worst times to be a Boro supporter. We were losing every other game and the style of football was awful.

“Taylor came across as if he wasn’t really bothered and you got the feeling that he saw the job as a stop gap before going back into the League the following summer. He even had a poor relationship with the local media, once complaining about the length of an interview. It was 3 minutes by the way.”

That summer Taylor moved back into the Football League and Wycombe, guiding the Chairboys to automatic promotion, Stevenage also recovered from a difficult season, and appear to have little to regret about the way things worked out. “I thought Taylor was a good choice at the time and I’m sure that if he really wanted the job and gave it a good go, he could have at least got us in the play-offs,” concluded Matthew. “However, he didn’t seem to want it and I felt that he was just playing out the games at the end. He wasn’t bothered win, lose or draw.

“As you may know, since then we have re-appointed Graham Westley, which wasn’t a popular decision at the time. Westley was previously with us between 2003-2006, but left under a bit of a cloud. Since coming back he has built a good team and got us promoted as Champions.”

So don’t expect a warm welcome for City’s manager from the visiting fans tomorrow. While Taylor’s popularity levels have probably hit new heights in the wake of the way he managed to turn around Tuesday’s League Cup tie, the opinion of Stevenage fans show just how differently sets of supporters can form a view of a manager.

Paul Jewell, for example, is widely loved by us for what he did. Yet Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and – incredibly – some Wigan fans hold a very different view about the man who took City to the Premiership. Conversely Hearts and Charlton fans have more favourable opinions of Jim Jefferies and Lennie Lawrence respectively, compared to how the duo are perceived at Valley Parade.

What it shows, above all else, is how rare it is that managers replicate previous success when moving to different clubs. Few, if any, get it right everywhere they go, and the likes of Taylor have black marks on their CV they’d rather gloss over in favour of achievements enjoyed elsewhere. The times when it does go wrong should hopefully provide lessons to learn and get right in future. And if the spell at Stevenage didn’t work out for their supporters, one hopes we City fans will enjoy some benefits from a disappointing time.

City go into tomorrow’s match looking for their first points of the season, following the opening day defeat at Shrewsbury. Not only was the downbeat mood firmly washed away by Tuesday’s unexpected victory, but the fact it was achieved with seven changes to the starting line up underlines the strength of the squad available.

A spine is emerging. Jon McLaughlin bounced back from a less-than-convincing game at New Meadow to make a string of outstanding saves against Forest – all the more commendable after he suffered an injury in the second half. In front of him the two centre halves Shane Duff and Steve Williams were outstanding. Williams has made a hugely impressive start to the season and has seized the early initiative to become first choice. Zesh Rehman and Luke Oliver will have to bide their time.

Luke O’Brien or Robbie Threlfall for left back? The latter was torn to shreds by Lionel Ainsworth on Saturday , the former had an excellent evening on Tuesday despite also suffering from lack of defensive cover in front of him at times. Simon Ramsden should get his first opportunity of the season in his natural right back slot.

In midfield Tommy Doherty will probably line up alongside Tom Adeyami, who missed the midweek drama. If Robbie makes left back Luke may be pushed to left midfield, as Omar Daley went off injured half time on Tuesday and may not be risked from the start. Lee Bullock was also subbed at the interval, and the surprisingly terrific display of replacement David Syers may have pushed the former Farsley player – who finds out before Saturday whether his trial has been a success – above him.

Up front goalscoring hero James Hanson looked much sharper and fitter midweek, and was badly missed during the first 45 minutes before he came on. The second half of the game was broadcast live on Radio 5 Live, and summariser Kevin Radcliffe was full of praise for Hanson’s display. Gareth Evans was not involved at all and should be back, with Jake Speight or Louis Moult taking the other spot of a likely three up front formation. Speight in particular made a big impact midweek; and though it’s not the kindest of comparisons, his style of play does remind me of Danny Cadamarteri. Keep him away from the Night Nurse.

Stevenage have made a reasonable start to life in League Two, snatching a last minute equaliser to draw at home to Macclesfield before narrowly losing to Portsmouth in the cup. There main point of interest from a City perspective is the return of hero John Dreyer (assistant manager), who should deservedly receive a great ovation when he walks down the touchline.

This is a big afternoon for Stevenage, as Matthew explained, “I’m really looking forward to it. We had a good record away from home and the team will want to impress in their first away game in the football league. It’s also our first trip to a ‘big’ stadium since we played Leicester in the Cup a few years back. The club is on a high at the moment, so expect a noisy if not big away following.”

With special thanks to Matthew Kett of fcboro.co.uk

An evening to savour or get out the way?

Driving back up the M6 towards Skipton after Bradford City’s opening day defeat at Shrewsbury Town, a convoy of Nottingham Forest supporters’ coaches crawled by the other way. The passing of ships in the early evening night carried a certain symbolism – for in recent years both clubs have been travelling in very different directions.

It wasn’t that long ago that City v Forest was a regular league fixture. First in Division One from 2001; then, after a one-year break caused by City getting relegated first, in League One. A pair of fairly big fishes tredding in choppy lower league waters, struggling to recover from calamitous falls. Each club specialised in under-achievement, and struggled to adapt to the fact recent Premier League glory days probably wouldn’t be re-lived anytime soon.

But while City sunk another league, Forest resuscitated and now return to Valley Parade for this League Cup tie a big Championship gun looking to avoid a giant-killing. The differing fortunes have much to do with finances and Forest’s stronger fanbase – no need for cheap season tickets to entice supporters to the City Ground, even at their lowest ebb. Yet the fact things can change relatively quickly offer hope for City that they too can follow Forest’s journey of revival.

Now which way up should this map be?

The Notts Forest supporters were travelling home from Burnley on Saturday night following a 1-0 defeat. Ah Burnley, remember when we used to be able to look down on our neighbours from just over the border? But then the Championship is now bursting with teams that not long ago we considered ourselves well above: Doncaster, Hull, Scunthorpe, Swansea, Barnsley – and let’s not even get started on Blackpool.

City have not so much been driving in the slow lane, watching others overtake them, as stuck on the hard shoulder with smoke coming out the engine.

Perspective in football is always changing. And it’s nights like this – rather than Saturdays like the one coming up when Stevenage come to Valley Parade, where it hits home how much City have faltered over the last 10 years. Four years ago City travelled to Forest on the opening day of the season as equals, the narrow 1-0 defeat which occurred offered few clues to the great chasm which has since developed. 59 league places separated the clubs at the end of last season, it’s a long way back.

After the disappointment of Saturday, Forest’s quick return up North to Valley Parade this evening is probably looked upon by Peter Taylor as an unwelcome hindrance. The City manager returned from Shrewsbury with plenty of food for thought and, for the first time since he took over last February, faint criticism from some fans over his team selection and tactics.

The flaws of his 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation at the New Meadow were expertly exposed by Graham Turner’s strong outfit and, despite the success City enjoyed from this approach at the back end of last season, there are calls for a return to 4-4-2. But against such strong opposition as Forest, albeit as the home team, it will be a tough dilemma to abandon or stick with the extra defensive benefits the so-far employed tactics offer.

Do City have a go this evening, take the game to quality opposition in an attempt to get them on the back foot? Or is it better to prioritise containing players of the calibre City won’t face during the bread and butter league campaign? Does Omar Daley’s return from suspension encourage Taylor to play two out-and-out wingers to supply crosses for two central strikers, or would that risk a central midfield two ending up over-run by a team known for passing the ball?

A year ago McCall was slated for playing 5-4-1 at the City Ground, though the then-City boss was already in a position where whatever he attempted to do would be criticised by a section of supporters. The surprising level of dissent shown towards Taylor by some fans in the away end on Saturday, and on Message Boards in recent days, would suggest  he’s not in the ‘can’t lose’ position this nature of cup tie would normally represent. A poor showing tonight, and the criticism may get louder.

With such uncertainty over what formation Taylor will play and the possibility of resting players, it would be wasting mine and your time to try to predict tonight’s starting line up. We may see a struggling-for-fitness James Hanson rested up. Both Louis Moult and Jake Speight impressed when coming on from the bench on Saturday, and one or both may get the chance of a full debut alongside Gareth Evans.

Daley is likely to be given a first outing of the season, either up front in a three-man attack or as a wideman. Light relief on Saturday came from a heated argument between two City fans in the second half, triggered by one angrily questioning why Taylor didn’t bring Daley on. When the other person sought to  point out the obvious – the Jamaican was suspended – the exasperated retort was “Yes I know, but why doesn’t he bring someone on like Daley!” The debate raged on about how Taylor didn’t have such an option, and suddenly the importance of Daley in City’s promotion bid became evidently clear.

Also in line for a first appearance is Luke O’Brien. Alongside Zesh Rehman a scapegoat for many fans last season, the duo’s absence saw Scott Neilson and Luke Oliver take over the roles of being singled out for abuse and may now be dropped. Luke still has a lot to offer this club – and after Robbie Threlfall’s dismal performance on Saturday, perhaps even as a left back again – but faces a difficult fight to claim a regular spot. Zesh and Shane Duff may also earn a start. Michael Flynn is nearing a return to fitness, but it’s questionable whether he or Tommy Doherty will be risked from the start tonight.

Like City, Forest go into this season having to cope with heightened expectations following their over-performance in finishing 3rd last season. Manager Billy Davies is robbed of five players due to international call ups – including £2.65m Welsh striker Rob Earnshaw. That may allow one-time City loanee Dele Adebola a rare start, who should receive a warm reception on his first return.

Last season against City, Davies opted to play several first team players. Chris Cohen and Paul Anderson ran the show that evening; though after going onto become key players in their ultimately failed promotion bid, they may now have been elevated to the status of needing to be rested ahead of a home game with Leeds this Saturday. Their exclusion would increase City’s chance of causing an upset.

Tonight’s game will be a useful exercise in how City measure up to one of the best sides in the Football League – and how much progress there has been towards bridging the gap over the last year. But while a cup run will be welcome in this season especially, Taylor is likely to be prioritising Saturday’s game with former club Stevenage. A repeat of that famous win over Forest in 1995 will be most welcome, but only if it helps the team in their quest for promotion like it did that season.

But ultimately we should fear defeat this evening and the start to the season becoming worse before it gets better. A year ago after losing at the City Ground McCall declared “the season starts here.” Taylor may end this evening uttering something similar.

So now then

When last we convened for serious business, dear reader, Peter Taylor’s Bradford City had gone a half dozen games wining four and drawing two guiding the club away from the lowest finish since 1966 towards a middle of the league end point.

As we saw in the summer, a lot has changed since 1966.

These four wins: Crewe away and Northampton Town, Barnet and Morecambe at home; form the basis for the optimism with which City come into the season. In the match before the six game run – a 2-1 home defeat to Macclesfield Townthe situation was described thus: “PT seems to be doing at the moment is losing the confidence of the paying customer and relying purely on a reputation.”

Taylor was – it was said – “achieving (results) with Stuart’s squad not his own” and some four months on little in the personnel has changed but one doubts that when Taylor saw the squad he thought there was a problem with the ability of the side and recalling the Bury games before he arrived one would agree.

Nevertheless the attitude at and around the club has changed. Optimism – however founded – is in the core of beliefs on which performance is based and Taylor’s robust team is built on the idea of a long term belief in the success of the season rather than an obsession on individual games. Taylor – as with Paul Jewell – is keen for his side to shake off the hangovers or elation which rolled over from McCall’s side’s games.

So on opening day of the season as City go to Shrewsbury Town Taylor will be thinking not of the discreet entity but rather the forty six game whole.

Jon McLaughlin – who did not play a part against Bradford (Park Avenue) in the week – is expected to start the season as number one keeper. One hopes the young custodian makes no mistakes all season but should he – and one remembers the World Cup again – then one has to wonder if the clamour for his understudy to be given a chance will be as vocal as it was when McLaughlin played second fiddle to a faltering Simon Eastwood.

Should McLaughlin not play then Lloyd Saxton stands by but one doubts he will enjoy the same pressure for his inclusion as McLaughlin enjoyed twelve months ago. Junior Chris Elliott is the Bantams’ first choice.

Simon Eastwood Ramsden is captain and comes into the season as right back with Zesh Rehman and Lewis Hunt available as cover for the position, and for central defensive roles. Similarly Robbie Threlfall is left back elect with Luke O’Brien – his cover – considered by Taylor as much as a midfielder as a full back the very capable young Louis Horne also serves a left back cover.

Many may debate who is expected to start in the middle of the back four. Steve Williams is thought to be highly thought of by Taylor while new arrival Shaun Duff probably has not moved after a decade at Cheltenham to sit on the bench but Duff’s decade in the lower leagues does not suggest that pedigree of Zesh Rehman while Luke Oliver is – well – really big.

If Taylor has a job this season then it is to get the best out of a player like Zesh Rehman who no few people will tell you is a poor footballer – a concept alien to me – but has obvious talents which were the cornerstone of the six game run at the end of last term which the confidence for this year is built from. Likewise Steve Williams’s abilities are not to be squandered although were I to be a betting man I would suspect that the former barber will not be making the cut and Duff will make his City debut alongside Rehman.

You, dear reader, may have different views.

The midfield three picks itself when fit – or so we expect – with Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Michael Flynn presenting an impressive engine room but Doherty is not expected to make the game with Tom Adeyemi filling in in that way that might prove hard to dislodge. Michael Flynn is hopeful of playing but Luke O’Brien stands by to fill in for the Welshman. Ryan Harrison and Luke Dean enjoyed wretched pre-seasons with Dean breaking a leg and Harrison struggling to partake in the robust midfield battle.

Gareth Evans is likely to be leading the line in the absence of James Hanson who is suffering a back problem that will most likely restrict him to the bench keeping the former Manchester United and Macclesfield man out of a chance of playing in one of the wide berths. Louis Moult has not looked the same kind of battering ram as Hanson but could be used in the middle striker’s role to hang off the shoulder of a high defence.

It is hard to understand the significance of the two wider roles in Peter Taylor’s mind this season. 433 is a notoriously hard to play formation with a requirement for these two wide players to be able to either track back with on coming full backs or fall into the midfield to create a five while always being aware that should they fall too deep, not break quick enough, and isolate the central striker the formation becomes not only defensive but also utterly ineffectual.

Away from Valley Parade Taylor will no doubt hope to create a bolstered midfield and his selections in these two positions can flex to accommodate that.

Taylor is without the injured Leon Osborne and the suspended Omar Daley for this game but does have Jake Speight, Scott Neilson and Moult. Taylor has seen more of Moult than most others and will know how well equipped the Stoke striker who scored two in his first two pre-season games is to the wide role. Should the gaffer believe Moult can play a wide left role then it seems that he will most likely get that role with Neilson on the right otherwise Speight will make a debut.

As with Taylor bringing an optimistic side into this season there was a time when that looked highly unlikely.

Another season of despair

On The 2010/2011 Season

I met a traveller from an antique land.

The modern history of Bradford City – which is to say the everything from the return to Valley Parade onwards – shifts on a fulcrum moment which happened ten years ago this month that City kick of a fourth consecutive season in the bottom tier of English professional football.

August ten years ago and – with bare faced cheek and a brassneck – I went to my boss and asked him if I could leave half way through the day because I wanted to go to the press conference that unveiled Benito Carbone as a Bradford City player. Carbone – at a cost of just under £55,000 a week – was the pinnacle of something that rose at The Bantams and – in the last ten years – fell.

Much has happened in that last ten years – two administrations, three promotions, BfB has had 112 more writers doing about 3,500 articles, the hole in the ground, a riots, the boss in question now is chairman of Bradford Bulls – but nothing has matched that moment. Geoffrey Richmond sitting at the head of a room of supporters and journalist proudly proclaiming the promise that his new recruit represented.

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert.

Valley Parade played host to former tenants Bradford Park Avenue and – soberingly and as a result of that time ten years ago – its current tenant Bradford City and is a transformed arena. The main stand rises high and is most often half empty or half full (your point of view on that) ready to host Premier League football which is a distant memory now.

Rippling away from Valley Parade the effects of City’s rise and fall fade. Peter Taylor tried to prepare for this season in different training facilities but that proved impossible – for now at least – and Apperley Bridge continues to be the host for the club’s day to day activities. Carbone said of City on his arrival that “nothing resembled a football club” including Apperley Bridge in his swathe of comment.

Players have come and gone most notably Dean Windass who partnered Carbone up front in the Italians first game. Windass returned but left the club after death threats following a sending off.

Managers have come and gone most notably Stuart McCall who was the captain and assistant manager when Carbone was signed. He, along with other players of the day Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall have reputations tarnished not by the continued involvement with the club but by the club’s decline from that day onwards.

In the wider football world though that day – and Bradford City in the Premiership – is a footnote. The other team in Paul Scholes’s wonder goal, the prototype for the likes of Hull City and Blackpool and a step on the evolutionary ladder from Barnsley’s single season in the top flight. Not forgotten but hardly remembered and remembered as one of many teams who tried and failed.

An ebullient Geoffrey Richmond stood on the field – a dozen City fans around him – in a blazing eyeball to eyeball argument with a Daily Express journalist who questioned his motives and motivations. It was a rare sight. The Empire builder questioned, raging against the coming tide which he would not be able to keep back.

He resurfaced briefly at Notts County and Leeds United, and then he was gone.

And on the pedestal these words appear: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

So ten years on Bradford City under Peter Taylor prepare for the new season and it is hard to imagine being further from that August press conference. The pitch – sun drenched on that day – has been improved at last but little else can be said to have.

Pre-season was low key to a point of hardly being considered during the tour of Essex which saw four games in seven days. The jailing of one former striker and one new one provided the news and perhaps there was a sense that nothing else from the club would match that so – other than the progress of the new grass – little emerged from the club. There is no good news, so there is no news.

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.

The best which can be said about Peter Taylor is that he has augmented what he found on arrival at the club rather than trying to rebuild salvaging some of the last two and a half years of work that Stuart McCall had put in. A look at Taylor’s assumed first eleven shows that the keeper Jon McLauglin, defender Steve Williams and striker James Hanson were all plucked from nowhere to be key members of this season’s side.

Indeed it is to Taylor’s great credit that one can skip through the team: Right back Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman at centreback, left back Robbie Threlfall was a target of McCall and co at left back, Lee Bullock was converted to a deep role by McCall, midfielder Michael Flynn and striker Gareth Evans brought in by the previous manager. Taylor has recruited Tommy Doherty for his three in midfield while Omar Daley – with 97 appearances for City – pre-dated the previous manager.

Rather than start again Taylor has taken what he found and added to it giving City a rare route to having some stability at the club. That he has only a one year contract is a matter of great worry – for every prediction which tells you City will be promoted you can find one which says we will end in mid-table which would result in the board not offering a new deal to the manager – with City highly unlikely to find as good a replacement for this manager as was found for the last.

His football is pragmatic to a point of unattractiveness at times but Taylor is perhaps the only reason for optimism at the club this season. A man who appreciates the value of building while standing in the bare, lone and level sands.

The long pre-season ends

As Lee Bullock turned a chance to get a fifth goal in City’s comprehensive 4-0 win over neighbours Bradford (Park Avenue) wide of the post following a powerful run by Tom Adeyemi the Bantams’ pre-season came to a merciful end with little learnt and little needed to be known.

Peter Taylor sent out a first half team assembled of players not expected to play on Saturday afternoon’s season opener against Shrewsbury Town with new face Seb Carole on trial and playing on the right with David Syers in the middle and suspended for Saturday Omar Daley on the left all ahead of – surprisingly – a first City appearance for Tom Doherty.

The bearded midfielder’s forty five minutes showed the glimpses of what Taylor sees in the player sitting deep and moving the ball around usefully finding the active running of forward pair Jake Speight – who dropped off well and showed a useful turn or two – and Louis Moult who is a strong looking, hard working striker who is instantly impressive in his play and attitude.

Moult scored his second goal for the club – and City’s second of the night – controlling a pass just outside the box and hitting a mid-height controlled shot past the visiting goalkeeper.

Moult’s goal added to a Steve Williams headed goal from an Omar Daley corner which saw the young defender jump unopposed in the box to head in. Williams and his defensive partner Shaun Duff started flat-footed allowing two chances in the first five minutes to test Lloyd Saxton in goal but that spell at the start and a pair of shots by Spencer Harris and David Heagrey at the end Avenue did little to threaten despite playing with spirit.

Spirit which City either lacked or controlled. Moult and former City man Tom Claisse both went in for a ball with studs showing and in League football both would have been punished the same but Claisse’s aggressive shove of Moult to the ground showed the difference in approach from the teams.

Which is not to say that City did not care – on the contrary, they do – but that Taylor’s side focus upset from incidents like that, stings from defeat, grumpiness from misplaced passes and pushes them into the performance. Avenue, seemingly, just push them into pushes.

Taylor watched the game from half way up the main stand trying to communicate with Junior Lewis and Wayne Jacobs on the bench with a series of hand signal and mimes which – in time – turned into a series of shouts. “Three subs?” Jacobs bellowed up to a nod, later before kids keeper Chris Elliott came on a head stuck itself over the dug out and was pointed at in a “am I coming on?” way. A couple of mobile phones maybe?

As technology failed City did not. A 433 after half time saw a team more resembling that which one might expect on Saturday with Gareth Evans being supported by James Hanson and Scott Neilson in the forward line which immediately looked lively. Hanson has grown as a player – in his play – and as a human – in his build – from his time last season looking a long way from the part timers he was playing against.

Evans moved well making himself an option always and held the ball when needed, bringing others into the game. Neilson charged up and down the right. Both got goals.

Evans’s reward for an inventive ball flipped over to Neilson was a return pass for the striker to accurately power in from the edge of the box to make the game 3-0. Ten minutes from time Neilson is given the ball and the freedom of the box to get a fourth.

The comprehensive nature of the win aside the game offered little for Taylor to learn. Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall combined well down the left in the second half as they did at the end of last season, Evans looks to have brought his fine end of last year to the start of this, Lee Bullock looked controlled and quality as he did last year. You can see the theme building.

This was City’s first game of pre-season at Valley Parade – a bedding in for the new turf of which it is said with justification that one could play a snooker game on it – but it was the last game of a pre-season which went back to the start of April when Taylor’s side ensured they would stay in League Two.

Four months of build up to a season which starts on Saturday.

Watching the grass grow

Players sent to prison for a weekend, players sent to prison for twenty five years. Accusations of lies told to City by Jake Speight, from City by Guiseley. Plans coming to pass, plans falling apart. All along though there has been a constant message coming from Valley Parade.

The grass is growing.

City look forward to a season in which increasingly they are tipped for promotion with a grounded optimism based – perhaps – on three years of League Two football on which it was observed that it was not the best but the most resilient sides which got promoted. The sides who were best able to learn from and forget the last result to move onto the next.

So three days after Rochdale City play a final pre-season game and one is reminded how Peter Taylor’s side turned around in the three days between an atrocious defeat at Accrington Stanley to a fine win at Spotland.

That resilience contrasted with Stuart McCall’s side which lived on rollovers and hangovers that took the baggage of one game into the other be it from eight game unbeaten runs of ten game spells without wins. Taylor’s side are less emotional, and from that comes the idea that they will be a more stable creation. Flatter perhaps but easier to play.

Like the grass at Valley Parade which has been the club’s main news focus of the summer.

The turf at Valley Parade has been relaid on the instructions of Peter Taylor who wants a green carpet. Gone are the Peter Beagrie Bog relaid for the left winger to enjoy in the second half, gone are the sandy beaches of the box and in the place comes the luxurious carpeting in City’s new home.

City’s new home and Bradford Park Avenue’s old ground – the other Bradford club spent some time at Valley Parade as a part of the decline to termination at the start of the 1970s – but the Wool City Derby is one of football’s forgotten games last played competitively 1969 with the scores left standing – hanging even – with City having won 20 and Park Avenue 21 of 58.

Park Avenue’s progress up the leagues is slow and City fans debate the merits of that but they start a season in Northern Premier League Premier Division three leagues below the Bantams.

Avenue will most likely field three former City players – Kevin Sanasy, Diddy David Brown and Tom Claisse – with the former player especially interesting to see. A hotheaded player when a Bantam but Sanasy who had some ability and it will be interesting to see how he has progressed.

The Bantams hope to have Michael Flynn fit enough to play a part in expectation of a return for the opening game of the season at Shrewsbury Town on Saturday although Tommy Doherty is unlikely to play in either. Tom Adeyemi, Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien are likely to be the midfield three behind Omar Daley and Scott Neilson supporting Gareth Evans with James Hanson out injured with goalscorer from Saturday Louis Moult starting on the bench alongside Jake Speight.

Jon McLaughlin sits behind a back four of Simon Ramsden on one side and Robbie Threlfall the other with Zesh Rehman and one of Shaun Duff, Luke Oliver and Steve Williams alongside, most likely the former.

Here comes the season

Rochdale and Bradford City took to the pitch with the words of  The Stone Roses’ “This is the moment I’ve waited for” blasting out of the Spotland PA system. And while we all know that moment is really still another week away, there’s a sense of liberation in reaching this point.

The close season is almost over, another lengthy break from football survived. For the sizeable travelling City support, Saturdays have now returned to being about going to the football. 46 league games to look forward to, three cup competitions to take a curious interest in.

We’ve made it. Now let’s get started.

There’s so much analysis and debate about whether pre-season friendlies really matter, but I think what we all want to gain at this time of year is re-assurance that the players are ready and able for the many battles ahead. And in a decent workout against opponents who begin next week a league above, there was much to feel assured about. City were every bit Rochdale’s equals this afternoon, and that was while missing key players.

A few weeks back, manager Peter Taylor  stated this game was ideal preparation for Shrewsbury, and the 4-5-1 formation he employed in the first half offer strong clues to his thinking for the tricky opening day trip to the New Meadow. The sole forward today was the clearly confident Gareth Evans, who has maintained his strong end of season form into pre-season at least. While not best suited to the target man role, Evans was charging all over the final third to make himself available to others, attempting to hold up the ball so midfield runners could get forward and support him.

Apart from a tentative performance from Omar Daley on the left wing, this approach was largely successful with Scott Neilson in excellent form and on-loan Norwich teenager Tom Adeyemi catching the eye with his box-to-box style. Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien largely held central positions in the middle of the park, and the ball retention from City was particularly impressive. Patience took precedence over urgency, as the ball was methodically worked around the pitch. Robbie Threlfall came closest to scoring during the first half, with a long range drive.

Taylor reverted to 4-4-2 after the break, with new strikers Jake Speight and Louis Moult brought on and O’Brien moved to left wing. Within 10 minutes of his first appearance in claret and amber, Moult latched onto Adeyemi’s through ball and firing a perfect low shot into the bottom corner to put City in front. Taylor had previewed Moult’s arrival on Friday by stating he was signing a striker who offered something different to what he had, and his style of playing on the shoulder of the last man is certainly that.

The lead was short lived as former City loanee Chris O’Grady found space, following a partial clearance, to fire a low shot past Jon McLaughlin; with the City keeper initially unsighted due to the number of players in the box. And when a minute later Lewis Hunt – another half time sub – tripped Jean Louis Akpo-Akpra inside the area, a credible win looked set to turn into defeat.

O’Grady’s run-up for the penalty was similar in length to Blanco’s for Mexico against France at the World Cup. As he got closer, he kept adjusting his pace, while McLaughlin erratically moved left-to-right on his line and feigned to commit himself to going to his left. The mind games were won by City’s new number one, who did actually dive to his left and superbly kept out a decently-struck spot kick. It should be noted McLaughlin’s performance was far from flawless, he looked very tentative from crosses in particular. But as confidence boosts a week before a season go, he couldn’t have asked for a better moment.

City shaded the final 20 minutes, with the much-discussed Speight making more of an impression as the game went on. He is quite small with quick feet, but what  really stood out was his strength in holding up the ball. The reaction from supporters near me when he came on suggests he has much convincing to do after what’s gone on, but by the end he’d offered some evidence to justify Taylor’s faith.

Defensively City looked strong all afternoon. Zesh Rehman barely put a foot wrong, Oliver caught the eye with his passing ability. His half time replacement Shane Duff seems to be an excellent acquisition and Hunt, who looks a bit like Richard Edghill, should be adequate back-up for the on-form Simon Ramsden. A big question mark with the 4-5-1 formation, if employed, is the tracking back of the midfield. Certainly Neilson cannot afford to allow opposition full backs to brush past him in the manner Joe Widdowson regularly managed in the first half.

Adeyemi almost snatched a late winner with a superb long-range shot that was tipped over, and when the final whistle was blown seconds later a buzz of satisfaction emanated from City fans as they warmly applauded the players off. The first Saturday back – none of the others are likely to be as relaxing as this.

For as the season kicks off for real at 3pm next Saturday, the expectation levels also return. City are touted as favourites by some bookies, and how that will translate into the weekly battles remains to be seen. What will our reaction be if City lose at Shrewsbury? 45 games still to go, but the pressure will surely increase. And while this workout offered plenty of indications that the players are taking on board Taylor’s instructions, applying it when the grumbles are reigning down from the stands is another matter.

Can the patient passing approach withstand the predictable bellows of “FORWARDS” from some fans?

All we know about this season is that City will win some games and City will also lose some games (the rest will probably be draws), and how the ups and downs are managed will probably determine whether this is the season it finally comes together.

Rochdale may still be a league above us, but that didn’t stop our light-hearted chants about how small and rubbish their set up is compared to ours. We, and others, consider Bradford City “too big for League Two”. But that inevitably creates a level of pressure on the players which their rivals on the pitch simply don’t feel. Whether it lifts or weighs them down cannot be calculated during a relaxing pre-season game, but we’re about to find out whether they have the mental strength to make our dreams come true.

This is the moment, the moment to go back into the pressure cooker.

The start of the most interesting season

This season will be fascinating. Every move will be analysed, every game mark a position, ever result considered as a proof of a concept about building slowly and in a determined fashioned. One can only guess at the outcome too – a team that takes change as part of progress, that sees development as a thing done over years, not over a summer.

It will be a very interesting League One season for Rochdale.

After the best part of four decades in the basement division Rochdale have gained an upward mobility which saw them promoted last season despite having sold – to a club who plead poverty for a figure they did not disclose – their best player in Adam Le Fondre but prospered because of the strength of the unit. Defender Craig Dawson is looking to move on this summer with the club waiting for someone to match the £1m valuation they put on him and – once again – Keith Hill will look to his side’s whole being able to withstand the withdrawal of one of the parts.

Rochdale are an object lesson in the idea of retention. Keith Hill has been at the club since his retirement being in charge of the youth side, then the assistant manager and finally as manager. The squad has long service – captain Gary Jones has played 229 games for the club – and with that has come a resilience.

One could take issue with other things about Spotland but on the field there is much to admire about Rochdale and their progress this term represents a test of their ideals.

Bradford City represent something of a contrast being a club that has firm and fast plans off the field which have seen the club be rightfully proud of being one of only two professional football clubs in the black as well as taking firm action against troublemakers. The commercial side of operations at Valley Parade come on a pace we are told and off the field – despite the legacy of huge debts ten years ago – the club are in rude health.

It just goes wrong when kicking a football come into the equation. It would not be true to say City do not have a plan on how to go forward – they have lots of plans – and they change on a regular basis.

Over the summer Peter Taylor has gone about augmenting what he inherited when he moved into Valley Parade while keeping some things in place. Wayne Jacobs, Michael Flynn, James Hanson, Steve Williams and Jon McLaughlin have all benefited from this as the manager recognises that all retention builds institutional knowledge. Nevertheless Hanson and Williams both arrived as part of the club’s plan of harvesting the lower leagues. That came after the club’s plan of spending £600,000 on talent. Remember City’s Mexican academy? City had a plan that included with Royal Racing FC Montegnee and the development of young players? A side note here is that the Bantams Belgian partners picked up Willy Topp on January three years after City took him from them RRFCM’s grasp.

While Rochdale have been pursuing a single approach, City have had many and perhaps they would have all failed in the long term but having not been given that time who could say?

Taylor’s one year contract evidences this – clearly the best man for the job – with the club hedging bets so that another plan can be sprung into place to replace the current one which at the moment is “the right thing.” If you buy enough lottery tickets then one day you will win, maybe.

Taylor has something of an injury crisis on his hands with James Hanson – who is expected to lead the line for the season – struggling to be fit for the first day with Gareth Evans and a new mystery striker who the manager hopes to sign today – replacing him in the forward one of a 433.

Evans would be deployed as a wider player alongside the likes of Scott Neilson, Jake Speight, Leon Osborne who is injured, Omar Daley who is suspended for the opening day of the season and perhaps Ryan Harrison and Norwich loanee Tom Adeyemi who are midfielders who may move forward.

For Speight the chance to play in front of his new fans and start to build bridges after a summer of sentences and suggestions will be welcome. If every a player needed a good start to his City career it is Speight.

City’s idea midfield three are Flynn, Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty but the bearded maestro is injured suggesting that Adeyemi may be used in the middle although Luke O’Brien may slot onto the left hand side of a three as he did last year. With James O’Brien leaving this week City seem light in the midfield area with those three, the Norwich loan player and youngsters Luke Dean and Ryan Harrison and perhaps Taylor will be looking to replace the exiting Irishman.

At the back the Bantams have some strength and the names write themselves on a team sheet: Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, new recruit Shaun Duff and Robbie Threlfall; Luke Oliver may yet end up pressed into attack once more – that is a pudding that is only for the eating – and Zesh Rehman would seem to be marked to provide cover for Ramsden and the central players.

If Taylor has one aim this year it should be to get Rehman – who has a pedigree of playing Premiership football – to perform appropriately consistency. Rehman put in a half dozen excellent performances towards the end of the last season under Taylor and if the manager is the manager everyone (seemingly including Fabio Capello) thinks he is then it will be in getting performances out of the likes of Rehman which will evidence that.

In goal Jon McLaughlin is expected to get the number one shirt with Lloyd Saxton to wait for his chance as McLaughlin did.

City face Rochdale and then entertain Bradford Park Avenue at Valley Parade on Tuesday before starting the season on Saturday at Shrewsbury. At least that is the plan.

When pre-season is not pre-season

If you missed Bradford City’s 4-0 win over Stambridge United last night then you are not alone. BfB did little to cover it and a straw poll of City fans responding to news of the opening goals on Facebook seemed to show that they knew that some games in Essex were coming, but they did not know when.

City won the game with goals from Leon Osborne, Scott Neilson, Omar Daley and James O’Brien – a second four goal win in as many days following the 5-1 victory over North Ferriby United – and word came from the South that City had been given a good game by the part-timers from Essex although many would debate how much of a game non-league footballers at the level of the club’s City gave played so far can give professionals.

Indeed there is a charge at Peter Taylor’s door that his pre-season preparations are weak and that is is no benefit to the players to have easy victories over poor opposition. Certainly Taylor’s aim is not to create an interesting and exciting set of games but is he creating a useful set?

Sadly – or perhaps not so sadly – no answer can be reached for some time. Since the days of Chris Kamara – if not before – every City manager has looked at pre-season as if it were non-competitive league matches to be treated as significantly as Johnstone’s Paint early rounds or end of season dead rubbers (which is to say as lightly as a professional club every takes a game, but still as if it were a “proper” match) but Taylor seems to take a new approach.

Taylor is doing everything he can to ensure that pre-season matches – at this stage – are not taken seriously by his players and that the games are re-contextualised as a part of training. A means to an end and not an end in itself.

Which is not to say that there is not a seriousness to the training that Taylor, Junior Lewis and Wayne Jacobs put the players through – quiet the opposite – but that Taylor is keen to ensure that his players know the difference between training time and the business time of the season.

Matches kick off at three in the afternoon, seven forty-five in the evening in proper games but Taylor breaks this association moving the kick off around an hour here, two there and ensures that games are presented to players and to fans in a different situation.

Eccleshill United aside the games – up to the race trim of the final week – are all far flung keeping the Bantams away from City fans who season on season extrapolate the entire league’s nine months or play on the basis of the first game they see in July. Rightly or wrongly players are judged in their rawest form. I never – and still don’t – think much of Michael Symes based on watching his first performance for City at Farsley Celtic. The likes of Stambridge might get a few extra people to have a look at the Bantams but in all likelihood two men and a dog will be watching City rather than the backing of an active travelling City support.

These things break the link between what happened at Stambridge and what will happen at Shrewsbury on the first day of the season. Breaking that link says to the players that they are in build up now suggesting that they are preparing for something in August not playing for the tiny glory of winning in a pre-season game.

Not that winning is in question. The teams are a distance below City’s standard but win, lose or draw one doubts Taylor would care any more than he would care if the Red Bibs beat the Yellow Bibs at Apperley Bridge. The aim is not to show how good – or poor – City are by winning games over the best opposition available it is to prepare the players.

Taylor believes this is best done by taking the pressure away from these games, making them more like a practice match than what we now know a pre-season games. It is building relationships between players, patterns of play on the field, understandings and partnerships. In a way Stambridge United, North Ferriby United and Eccleshill United are doing the job of human traffic cones to be trained against but not designed to challenge the City players in any way other than not allowing them to fail.

I mean that with no disrespect. Taylor approach presents City’s players with the opportunity to play against an opposition which as long as they approach the game in the correct way they will benefit from it. City played Didi Harmann and Joey Barton in a Manchester City midfield five years ago in pre-season and Steven Schmacher and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson spent the afternoon having passes picked off which – while purposeful practice – was unrewarding and represents a slight return. If Lee Bullock and James O’Brien play as they can then they spend games in possession, using the ball, building confidence.

The merits of Taylor’s approach will be evidenced in the season itself but – rarely in modern football – City have a manager who wants to approach pre-season as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

First day back

Like the final stages of the return journey from a lengthy holiday, where the streets and surroundings suddenly become recognisable, Bradford City’s opening pre-season friendly at Eccleshill this evening delivered a mixture of joy and surrealism at the familiarity of it all. Life as we know it is just around the corner again, but the freshness of the ordinariness makes it all seem hard to imagine. Soon we’ll be uttering how it feels as though we were never even away.

City were comfortable winners this evening – eventually. A less than steady first half performance had all the hallmarks of that first day back in the office after vacation, where we’re more keen to show off our suntan and share holiday stories than settle back into the humdrum of work . City struggled to pass around the ball on a ridiculously bumpy surface, and found their non-league hosts more eager and focused to make an impression.

Though that thin line between competitive and combative was sadly crossed in the middle of the first half, where an over-the-top challenge by a home player left City youngster Luke Dean laid on the floor for over five minutes – eventually departing on a stretcher and straight to hospital. The half time queue for the Gents included a City director who told us supporters how Dean not long since recovered from a broken leg (the same one now badly injured) and we all hope a promising career has not just come to a premature end.

Fresh from warning friendly opponents to play these warm-up games in the right spirit, a clearly livid Peter Taylor ordered his counter-part Ian Banks to substitute the player who made such a reckless challenge. Those within earshot of the City manager claim he threatened not to bring out a team for the second half if the change wasn’t made.

But there was a lack of justice about withdrawing the player similar to that seen in the Burnley game two years ago. Why are such actions excused on the grounds it’s a friendly when they carry such potentially significant consequences? Despite Eccleshill hosting City’s reserves this season, if Taylor is still City’s manager next summer there will be no pre-season return to Plumpton Park.

But aside from a few other over-eager first half tackles, the game was played in the spirit it should and Eccleshill deserve credit for an industrious first half display which saw Jon McLaughlin much the busier keeper. City’s new number one tipped one long range effort onto the crossbar and palmed away another shot as the midfield badly failed to grasp control. If there was one minor positive of Dean’s withdrawal, it is that his replacement James O’Brien immediately exerted more influence in the middle of the park.

Going forward City struggled to make an impact. Matthew Tipton made his debut up front and within the first two minutes began lecturing Omar Daley about how he expected to be supported, in a manner you wouldn’t assume a guy from Macclesfield hoping to impress would talk to an experienced international. Daley looked tentative and failed to make much impact, a few dribbles ending with the wrong option taken.

The relative quietness that pre-season games are typical of was interrupted at one stage when Tipton unsuccessfully kept in an over-hit pass. In a league game opposition supporters would sarcastically cheer such a moment, so Tipton decided to produce the sound effect himself. A character, as they say.

Gareth Evans put City in front shortly before half time, when he hurriedly closed down a dithering keeper, who’s attempt to clear the ball upfield smacked against City’s number nine and bounced into the net.  The keepers’ embarrassment was shared by Evans, who looked uncomfortable celebrating that he’d shown him up. The impressive Luke Oliver almost made it two from a corner, as the second half City team warmed up on some grass behind the goal in preparation to take over.

Only the two O’Briens continued after half time, where a much stronger performance ensued. Michael Flynn took over alongside O’Brien in the centre and the visitors dominated the play. There can be few meaningful lessons to take home tonight, but the first half midfield without Flynn and the second half with the Welshman offered a visible reminder of his importance to the team this season.

The forgotten Scott Neilson also impressed, taking players on for fun and regularly bursting into the box. On the opposite flank the development of Leon Osborne seems to continue as he showed glimpses of his talent. It’s a big season for both players, but the early signs are encouraging. With second half captain James Hanson looking sharp and second trialist Lee Morris showing a few nice touches, the play was almost entirely in Eccleshill’s half. Numerous good chances were created with clever football, the woodwork was called into action twice.

Although not really tested, Shane Duff and Robbie Threlfall both caught the eye at the back, and a clean sheet was never in doubt. With a few minutes left, Hanson latched onto a rebound and powerfully fired the ball into the roof of the goal. Full time whistle blown seconds later, the handshakes between rival players and coaching staff was notably warm given the anger of an hour earlier.

So City up and running, but still with a long way to go. The first friendly is always a novelty which quickly gives way to tedium and anxiousness for time to pass more quicker. But there’s something hugely enjoyable about visiting friendly non-league grounds at this time of year, and the chance to drink beer while watching the game in the evening sunshine was a too-rare opportunity.

Football without the anxiousness, worry and inevitable pain. Joyful and surreal indeed.

Taylor laying out his formation for next season

In talking about needing to bring another attacking midfielder/forward to the club Peter Taylor has made it clear that he is favouring a 433 for next term.

Taylor’s 433 was deployed at the end of last term which finished with six unbeaten games and the signing up of Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and Tommy Doherty showed the the City gaffer had an eye on playing the formation that boast three in the middle. Now his talk about bringing in another flank man confirms it.

Already Taylor’s team lines up with Jon McLaughlin behind Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Robbie Threlfall across the back. The midfield three of Flynn, Doherty and Bullock are set for the middle but up front the picture is less clear.

James Hanson would seem a cert for the middle striker role but Gareth Evans would need to ensure that he maintained his performances at the end of last season to nail down a place on the right of the central striker. Evans also represents the back up for Hanson with defender Luke Oliver third choice for the position and it is expected that Taylor will be happy with that choice.

Should Evans not be right then Omar Daley – a pre-season under his belt – will probably be although the winger who missed most of last season injured can be used on the left where Leon Osbourne played at the end of last term. Gavin Grant – who has yet to sign for the club after playing non-contract last year – also was employed in these roles.

Daley divides opinion and his deployment in this kind of formation is a curious one. For the wide role Taylor requires players who are ready, willing and able to track full backs back when they break but are also have good enough judgement to know when to move to a more attacking position to bolster the attacking line as well as the abilities to make good with the ball.

The great thing about 433 is that it can turn into 451 really easily. The worst thing is that if you are not careful then it turns into 451 really easily.

Daley would be one of my choices on the flank but he will always struggle getting back and the player would need to show unbroken concentration to make the position his own. Evans would need Hanson to play every week to nail down the position. Osbourne has shown the willingness but probably would not be the player than anyone would go into the season with as a first choice.

So Taylor is on the look out for wide players who he can trust and no doubt his famed book of contact will be out to try find someone. One rumour had Robbie Blake about to sign for a return to the club although Taylor has multiple targets with the manager saying “I think I’ve got one in my sights but that doesn’t mean we will get him. You just have to see what develops, so there’s more than one that I’m speaking to.”

We await progress for the manager but – it is worth reflecting – that for the first time in over a decade City fans will not be in the dark over the majority of the side at the start of August and two months early nine of the starting eleven can be nailed down.

Taylor already signed for next season as City face Burton Albion

A curious week for Peter Taylor draws to a close as his City team face Burton Albion in League Two as the the League Two season draws to an end more closely resembling pre-season for next term under Taylor than the end of the disappointing 2009/2010 campaign.

It is the understanding of BfB – supported by the hints dropped in the T&A on Monday – that Peter Taylor has put ink on paper on an agreement to be Bradford City manager. Why this information should not be presented as so if it is so is probably down to management of the season ticket appeal the Bantams are running – 5,000 needed to keep a manager falls flat if the manager is already staying but perhaps not as flat as the week went for the Bantams.

The pair of one goal defeats for a beleaguered and injury hit Bantams side has burst the bubble of optimism although the expectation remains that Taylor’s Bantams will perform far better next season than they do at the moment remains. Taylor was never going to have a honeymoon period coming after a manager who remained popular until the end but the former Wycombe Wanderers gaffer managed to eke out a few good results before this current form.

Taylor is – it has been said – still the outstanding candidate for the job and the fact that Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes have – we hear – signed him for next season regardless of result is a credit to them.

Reading Mike Harrison’s interview with the man which is to appear in a forthcoming City Gent and is well worth a read he seems to be bedding in for the future with an interesting and different approach to the club than McCall had. He comes over as a man with a clear idea of the path to success and a healthy desire to follow that path.

The path takes him to Paul Peschisolido’s Burton Albion. Peschisolido took over from Nigel Clough – although former Bantams boss Roy McFarland has a three month spell following Clough’s exit for Derby – who was at the East Midlands club for some eleven years each one save one offered incremental progression. Such returns are well regarded in the game but would probably not be considered good enough by the oft militant Bradford City supporters.

The Bantams go to Burton Albion following a 1-1 draw at Valley Parade which was the first time since an early 1990s FA Cup game in which Gary Robson’s arse chalked up a goal doing more in one game that his brother did by sitting on his gluteus maximus. Taylor will certainly hope to have more of an impact that Bryan Robson.

The manager goes into the game with the same half team which struggled over Easter. Matt Glennon keeps goal while Luke Oliver’s continued deployment as a target man looks like it may continue leaving the defence shod of the six foot seven man who looks to join City in the summer.

Jonathan Bateson will feature at right back with Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams at the heart of the defence and Robbie Threlfall at left back. Youth payers Andrew Villerman, Phil Cutler and Louis Horne are all expected to be in the squad with Villerman thought to be interesting Taylor who is keen to assess what he can expect from the young players at the club.

Taylor has passed on his wisdom to Leon Osbourne but is not expected to hand him a starting role with Luke O’Brien on the left wing and Gareth Evans on the right. Adam Bolder – who I think is a good player although he seemed to be curiously booed during last week’s game – and Lee Bullock take central midfield.

With James Hanson injured, Evans in midfield, Boulding sunning himself in the Bahamas and Peter Thorne rock climbing in Mexico – perhaps – Ryan Kendal looks to start making a mark and Luke Oliver is expected to lead the line.

Being robbed of Hanson is a blow for Taylor and the City manager can rely on his worldy target man getting one in three for the Bantams next season. Kendal certainly has not shown anything to suggest that he is the man to get the one in two which Sir Bobby Robson would say a club needs to get promoted and much of the manager’s success will come down to his ability to find that goalscorer.

With – we are told – a manager inked in for next year one can see a City team emerge for next year. Taylor seems to like Williams and Oliver at the back. Hanson is in it up front and Omar Daley is the flair player wide in a working midfield that contains a couple of hard workers like Bullock and Flynn (or perhaps Bolder) and a tighter flank player.

These are – one hopes – the blocks of a promotion side. Certainly the first block of that is the signature of Taylor and if what is said is true – we have that.

Finding new meanings on predictably unpredictable days like these

Peter Taylor’s contract talks hinge on having the resources to make Bradford City a more organised, methodical and professional outfit both on and off the field – but until the future is truly resolved, old habits die hard.

Valley Parade has been home to farce and blunder for several years, and the comedy of errors which saw the Bantams blow 2-0 and 3-2 leads this afternoon prompted the sort of groans and boos from the crowd that are as seemingly traditional as a Billy Pearce pantomime up the road.

With the fourth official about to indicate four minutes of injury time and City’s defence having just snuffed out a dangerous Dagenham attack, Adam Bolder and Robbie Threlfall casually knocked the ball back and forth by the edge of their own penalty area in almost comical fashion. Before supporters’ could scream “it’s behind you”, Bolder was predictability robbed of possession by the Dagger’s sub John Nurse, and the resulting cross spectacularly headed by Luke Oliver into his own net.

Two points criminally dropped, and that after City had already allowed a seemingly comfortable two-goal cushion to be wiped out – Oliver’s partner Steve Williams also netting an own goal to make it 2-2. Taylor has sufficiently impressed enough during his short trial for results to now almost become irrelevant in the longer contract negotiations, but the late relinquishing of control of the game offered another wearisome reminder of the amount of assembly his squad requires.

All of which diverted the focus from what should have been an afternoon about James Hanson. City’s top scorer scored twice in one game for the first time to take his season’s tally to 14 goals. After a mid-season dip, the 22-year-old has netted five in eight games. Should he manage another four in the final eight matches, he’ll have scored more goals in a season than any City player since Dean Windass in the 2005-06 season. A remarkable achievement for a player Stuart McCall signed from non-league Guiseley as a back-up striker last summer.

Hanson got the afternoon rolling with a close range header from Threlfall’s corner in the second minute to put City into a lead they looked comfortable holding on to for much of the afternoon. Dagenham, who arrived with realistic play off aspirations, looked surprisingly lacklustre and barely threatened but for the long throws and dribbling skills of Danny Green. It was a typical route one approach from the London outfit, which with Hanson’s defensive support on set pieces was largely neutralised.

The first half chances almost completely fell City’s way. Omar Daley, back on form after a tough Tuesday evening against Notts County, was a menace on the right and from one counter attack forced a great save from Tony Roberts. Soon after the Jamaican was leading defenders a merry dance in the penalty area, but took too long to shoot and saw his effort blocked. Gareth Evans, continuing up front, had two efforts at goal which caused Roberts concern. Soon after half time Hanson struck the post with a towering header from Daley’s cross and the on-form Luke O’Brien’s long range effort was unconvincingly half-blocked by Roberts and almost sneaked in.

But the momentum was shifting and the disruption caused by changes to City’s midfield helped Dagenham to gain control. First Daley, trying to bring the ball forwards on the counter attack, pulled up in obvious pain and a suspected hamstring injury that saw him hobble off to the changing room and out of service for at least a fortnight. Then the all-action running of Michael Flynn, another player back on form after an early-year dip, was surprisingly withdrawn for the more static Steve O’Leary.

At first this didn’t matter, as seconds after O’Leary came on City were celebrating when Hanson again got on the end of a Threlfall dead-ball and expertly planted a header into the bottom corner. But the obvious sighs of relief caused from seemingly putting the game out of sight proved costly when Nurse fired home from an angle following good work from an otherwise subdued Paul Benson just two minutes later.

Dagenham suddenly exploded into life.

Josh Scott wasted a glorious chance to level, but soon after Nurse cleverly peeled away from Williams from a free kick, which gave him space to head the ball into the net via the City defender’s thigh. Dagenham were swarming all over City, who couldn’t seem to keep hold of possession and regain control of the midfield, with O’Leary looking rusty and Bolder afforded little time. Aside from a big penalty appeal when substitute Ryan Kendall – who replaced Daley – hit a low cross towards Hanson that seemed to hit the hand of a grounded visiting defender, the pressure was mainly on Glennon’s goal.

But then Kendall, who’d struggled to time his runs and get close enough to Hanson to read his flick ons, suddenly got both right and was played in by his partner to lob the ball beautifully over Roberts, putting City back in front and triggering wild celebrations that, at the front of the Kop,  spilled onto the pitch. When Dagenham had made it 2-2, the celebrations at the other end by eccentric old-timer Roberts caused outrage. Roberts pulled up his shorts comically and began pretending to fire a bow and arrow. While no one enjoys seeing opposition players celebrate, the humour failure of those with a close-up view in the Kop was disappointing. Still at least we had our panto villain.

Meanwhile the referee was booking Kendall for taking his shirt off and the young striker, borrowed from Hull, was finally impressing by sitting on the shoulder of the last man and making darting runs, just as the mutterings of “he’s not up to this level” were starting to become audible. And City should have seen the game out, and looked set to see the game out, before the madness of City’s comedy duo gifted the equaliser and prompted more Roberts’ celebrations. Dagenham might even have won it 4-3, but Benson headed a presentable opportunity over.

This unpredictable ending was untypical of Taylor’s reign so far, and as his influence continues to grow it is unlikely to be witnessed too often. Composure gave way to panic, confidence replaced by fluster. City’s previously compact and on-form midfield meant the long balls towards a fragile backline were less threatening and at times Dagenham couldn’t get near Bolder and Flynn. But the changes saw City lose their authority leaving lessons to learn and conundrums to solve.

Oliver and Williams had impressed as a centre half pairing on Tuesday, but both suffer from lapses in concentration and after the game Taylor revealed he’s ordered them to improve their communication. Matt Clarke was again left out of the 18-man squad while Zesh Rehman began to redeem himself with an improved performance at right back. All season long the question of what is City’s best back four has gone unanswered. Consistency in all but the injured Simon Ramsden is lacking.

Daley’s absence should now open the door for Scott Neilson – who’s one-month loan at Cambridge United is due to expire – to be tried out by Taylor during the next few weeks. Lee Bullock’s calming presence was missed during the latter stages, and if Taylor can sign up Bolder, Bullock and Flynn for next season the Bantams should be very strong in the middle of the park. Luke O’Brien’s recent form is so good it now poses the question over whether he could be considered first choice left winger for a full campaign, should Threlfall’s loan move be made permanent.

Hanson may be on a two-year contract, but an improved deal might be worth proposing to him with the likelihood of higher league interest this summer. A deciding factor of a successful promotion campaign next season may be finding a strike partner who can score as regularly. Despite the excellent goal, Kendall needs to show more to demonstrate his worthiness of a permanent offer. Evans may be lacking goals, but offers the versatility and work rate Taylor will continue to rely on.

With the contract negotiations expected to be concluded positively within three weeks, Taylor’s blueprint can be properly implemented and the future of players permanent and temporary can start to be resolved. That the plans are based around greater organisation and more conservative tactics might suggest an end to unpredictability and excitement that days like these exemplify.

But after years of failure – for City, the meanings of ‘unpredictability’ and ‘excitement’ could be redefined as actually succeeding.

The price of success

As the interesting encounter that ended goalless the Notts County fans sung that they were going up and while they are almost certainly correct the health that their club find themselves in at the end that process is debatable.

The debate centres not around the usefulness of the County side – without the risible Lee Hughes in the side the Magpies are an easier team to judge objectively and they have few flaws – but rather the effects of assembling that side.

£20,000 a week gets – in Kasper Schmeichel – a keeper who was capable of pulling of two super saves with the Mancdanian pushing away a Michael Flynn power at goal in the first half and diving headlong to push away Gareth Evans’s inventive attempt from range and angle but Matt Glennon also enjoyed a clean sheet, also made a decent save or two but set back his club a twentieth of the price.

Indeed as City look at next season and how to start looking at a team that can compete under Peter Taylor who most would agree can be trusted to do that then it is worth noting that the cost of Notts County’s keeper for a season is more than the Bantams pay for Valley Parade while Meadow Lane costs the same for a season as the custodian does a week.

County’s side brims with confidence after a mid-season wobble and this is typified in Luke Rodgers – playing today after an eleventh hour reprieve of his red card on Saturday – who played as well as anyone who has visited Valley Parade this season and it is credit to Luke Oliver and Steve Williams who were partnered in the defence for a first time that the lively striker was kept down to a single headed chance which flashed wide.

Chances were thin on the ground, mud was thick and it got the better of Omar Daley who struggled manfully trying the things he tries but having little effect. County’s passing game through midfield never seemed to get going and again that was credit to some excellent work by the Bantams with Adam Bolder and Flynn creating a midfield pairing that showed no ill effect for the loss of suspended Lee Bullock. Perhaps there is a message for Taylor and the Bantams next season that in having these three quality midfielder – and as Bolder settles it becomes clear he offers a similar (and high) quality as Bullock and Flynn – allows the team to play the same dug in performance even when one of the core players is out.

Can City afford to pay three players for two positions? Perhaps not. Certainly County have done that this season and try trundle on to promotion and the uncertain future because of such extravagance.

Taylor’s resource management – should he accept the club’s offer of a contract – needs to be more parsimonious. The eye he has cast over the City squad and assembled loanees seems to have suggested that what was at City on his arrival needs augmentation and not overhaul. Loanees Mark McCammon and Gavin Grant would seem to have failed to impress while Oliver, Bolder and Robbie Threlfall have shown well. Ryan Kendal made but a cameo but certainly the likes of James Hanson, Luke O’Brien, Gareth Evans have all risen to the challenge that Taylor’s new faces suggested.

How to turn results like this – and it was a good result and could have been better with the Bantams always looking within a chance of taking a win – into a promotion campaign is a matter of much discussion, not least of which will be between Taylor, Rhodes and Lawn as the three month manager winds down one season are – perhaps – prepares for another.

Finding something to play for

Bradford City lose a game under Peter Taylor – and the general outlook is that the season just needs to be seen out, with the focus quickly moved onto getting it right  for the next one. But then Bradford City win a game under Peter Taylor, and the urge to check the League Two table and remaining fixtures becomes strong enough to leave you wondering whether the club could still make the play offs. Then Bradford City lose a game, then win again, then lose again. A constant swapping of hope and realism that you know will probably result in disappointment but you can’t help but wistfully daydream might still end in glorious celebrations.

The Bantams go into this evening’s home game with Notts County back in downbeat mood; and though Saturday’s defeat at Hereford isn’t the final nail in the promotion bid coffin, there aren’t too many left until its firmly closed. Tonight is City’s game in hand and a victory would push them up to 15th and close the gap to the play offs to nine, with nine games to play – back to looking up those remaining fixtures?

Realistically the ghost has been given up by all but some supporters, but the reluctance to fully let go stems from the alternative monotonous reality of a meaningless end to the season.

We have all summer to feel bored and do other things with our weekends, wishing we could go to Valley Parade. And while City going into the final few weeks with nothing to play is a familiar reality, there’s a growing feeling at this time of year that we have make the most of what’s left of the season. We only get to go to Valley Parade six more times between now and early May. We only get to go to Valley Parade six more times between now and the middle of July.

Which means until it’s no longer mathematically – or at least tediously – possible, our time is wasted contemplating the form guide of League Two’s play off contenders and filling in the excellent BBC predictor as optimistically as possible. If City can win tonight and on Saturday and if Bury can continue to implode and if Northampton collapse and if everyone stops winning and if, if, if.

Stupid. Pointless. But what else is there?

For Taylor at least, making sure the last few games are meaningful is his most realistic goal. Joint-Chairman Mark Lawn has begun initial talks over a longer contract, and the results and performances over the eight games Taylor has been in charge of have provided plenty of reasons to support extending the relationship. After tonight he will be half way through his initial 18-game deal, but with the new contract far from sealed, he can’t allow his players to drop standards in the run-up to the summer break.

Saturday’s defeat has dampened the mood and even lead to a small number of City fans questioning whether another deal should be offered to the interim manager. Every City fan who’s had a go at the BBC predictor over the last few weeks would have calculated a Bantams win from the trip to Hereford. And though the recent defeats at Aldershot and Port Vale could be excused given their higher league positions, losing to a side on a terrible run of form and near the relegation zone is rightly criticised. Just think of Stuart McCall still in charge and imagine the reaction.

A win might have set up a  realistic late promotion push, but instead the changing of a winning side – perhaps motivated by Taylor’s desire to evaluate his players and with a busy week of games in mind – backfired dismally. The likelihood that Hereford’s sinking position meant their players wanted it more must not become regular, with seven of City’s last 10 games against opposition going for promotion or battling to avoid relegation. Taylor has to instill greater desire and work rate; he only has six more games at Valley Parade on his initial deal, he may yet only have six more games at Valley Parade as City manager.

Huge game for visitors Notts County

Notts County certainty rock up to Valley Parade with the kind of butterflies-in-the-stomach and sweating-over-the-league-table outlook absent from City’s run-in. So much has been written about County’s eventful season – on this site and elsewhere – but whatever the rights and mostly wrongs of their approach, the world’s oldest professional football league club have been left with a very capable squad which may end the season lifting the League Two title.

The size of the task for City tonight is huge. County are unbeaten in the league since Tuesday 9 February – eight games ago. Since the JPT penalty shootout defeat at Valley Parade in early October, they have lost only four of the 29 matches they’ve played. If they win their two games in hand they will be within three points of Rochdale, with the Spotland club yet to travel to Meadow Lane. They’ve dominated the headlines, for largely the wrong reasons, all season – but there’s an increasingly strong chance they will attract some positive exposure too, for a short while at least.

For while the outcome of entrusting mysterious owners and their lofty ambitions of Premier League football has so far been self-inflicted damage – the new owners have inherited an initial £6m worth of debts from the publicity-shy Munto Finance and narrowly avoided going into administration last month – if and when those debts do catch up with the club, there will be others angrily demanding justice. Under Munto County signed up a playing squad they couldn’t afford, under new owners County are using a playing squad they can’t afford.

If Notts gain automatic promotion and then fall into administration, how will the club who finishes fourth feel? County are effectively cheating their way to a place in League One and no one in an authoritative position seems to care.

Yet with all this turmoil and high turnover of managers, that County have kept it together on the field is somewhat remarkable. Tonight they are robbed of the services of their top and third highest scorers – lookalikes Lee Hughes and Luke Rodgers – due to suspension. This leaves County relying on strikers Karl Hawley (four goals), Delroy Facey (one goal) and Ade Akinbiyi (no goals) to lead the line, though a potent midfield which includes goalscoring midfielders  Ben Davies (ten goals) and Craig Westcarr (nine goals) carry a clear threat.

Since Steve Cotterill took over as manager, County have five clean sheets from six games and former Bantam captain Graeme Lee has become a key figure of a defence backed up by the reputed £15k-per-week keeper Kasper Schmeichel – rumoured to be entitled to a £200k bonus if Notts are promoted. Kasper is said to have impressed onlookers this season, though his bizarre appeals for a foul when missing a cross that allowed the tiny Chris Brandon to head home an equaliser, smashing up of a corner flag and then punching of a hole in the dressing room wall, during the City-County JPT tie, means few connected with City hold him in such high regard. Expect boos for him tonight.

Bully’s suspension and mis-firing loanees offer Taylor food for thought

Hoping to score past Schmeichel will probably be a strike partnership of James Hanson and Mark McCammon/Ryan Kendall, with midfielder Lee Bullock’s two-game suspension forcing Taylor to contemplate moving Michael Flynn back to the middle of the park alongside Adam Bolder. Another option is the under-used Steve O’Leary or even returning skipper Simon Ramsden in the holding role and Jonathan Bateson continuing at right back.

Robbie Threfall plays at left back after his loan deal was extended, while a weak performance from Luke Oliver at Hereford leaves Taylor with a familiar problem of who to play in the centre of defence. Matt Clarke is quietly winning appreciation from fans. Zesh Rehman is nearing full fitness and might be given another go alongside him, or Steve Williams – star of a two-page article in this month’s Four Four Two magazine – may be recalled.

Out wide Omar Daley was likely left out of the starting line up at Hereford in order to be fresh to start this game in front of the usual mixture of Daley fans and haters arguing it over in the stands. For some reason Daley’s match-winning contribution against Aldershot has attracted a hostile reaction from those who point to his lack of consistency; but, if Taylor can coach higher standards into the Jamaican, City have a superb player who can make a difference. It was sad to see Luke O’Brien dropped at the weekend and he will battle with Gavin Grant and City’s own Dirk Kuyt, Gareth Evans, for the other wide berth. Matt Glennon keeps goal.

Taylor is making City more organised and disciplined, but his reign has so far produced unpredictable results. Tonight should be a great atmosphere as County bring a good following up the M1 in confident and vociferous mood. Tonight City play a team desperate for the three points and uber-confident of getting them. Tonight City’s players have limited motivations and ambitions, and probably could shrug off a defeat as expected.

But tonight should be about those players showing character and demonstrating a willingness to take up the fight of next season leading City towards the type of promotion push County are mounting. Tonight should be about giving everything, because it’s not acceptable to believe there is nothing to play for. And tonight should be about City fans responding to the away atmosphere by outsinging them and supporting their players in winning every tackle and completing every pass.

After all, we’ll be wishing we could do so come the summer.

Win or Entertain

As the 332 City faithful were making their way into the Edgar Street ground, you could hear the grumbling voices. The turnstiles were decidedly narrow; the facilities were poor; one end of the ground hasn’t got a safety certificate; even on the front row of the seated area it was impossible to see the whole pitch. It was, by common agreement, like going back to the old days. And so it would turn out for the rest of the afternoon.

I should say at this early stage that Hereford United are in the bottom third of this league for a reason. Nothing I saw today persuaded me that they deserve to be much higher. And nothing I saw today persuaded me that they deserved to lose this game. City may well have had the worst of the elements in the second half, with the rain that stayed away until half-time suddenly driving into their faces, but there was nothing lucky about the two goals that the home team scored.

The first, a header from Manset, came after City had failed dismally to deal with a corner, despite leaving no one upfield. The second, a well hit shot from Hereford debutant Jake Jervis, came as a direct result of a woeful header from Luke Oliver, leaving Matt Glennon hoping only for another of the mishit shots that littered the game.

I write this without having seen any statistics from other sites. My guess is that, apart from the goals, Glennon made perhaps two saves and his defenders produced about the same number of blocks, so few real chances did Hereford create. Bartlett, in the Hereford goal was certainly the busier keeper in the first half. One save from a Gareth Evans header, firmly struck from a flick on from James Hanson, was quite brilliant.

In the early minutes a Robbie Threlfall corner was headed narrowly wide by James Hanson and Gavin Grant forced a save with a shot from a through ball from Michael Flynn. Grant also had another shot well saved before the game turned on the half hour mark. The visiting fans had an excellent view of the blatant shirt pulling that brought Gareth Evans to the ground on the penalty spot. Why the referee and his non-assistant did not have the same view will forever remain a mystery. Within two minutes Hereford scored, totally against the run of play, and the rest we all know.

This was Peter Taylor’s eighth game in the City dug out. From the other side of the ground it was impossible to tell why the fourth official and the referee objected to what he was doing there. It looked as though he was giving some of his players the sharp words they deserved, but somehow he was upsetting the officials. He was also upsetting some of the supporters, not least your reporter.

At the kick off it looked briefly as if City were playing a 4-4-2, with Flynn supporting Hanson. If that was Plan A, the infamous Plan B (Stuart McCall contrasts are inescapable) was a 4-2-3-1, with Hanson becoming increasingly isolated and City playing more and more on the break. We all know that being organised and solid is a prerequisite of not losing, but it’s less valuable once the opposition have scored. It took until the 77th minute debut of Ryan Kendall before the City fans could even risk the thought that you might as well lose 2-0 as 1-0.

Peter Taylor’s Bradford City either wins or loses. Stuart McCall’s teams drew too many games, especially at home. In the last few days this site has embarked on a new venture, the Barry Debate. The first question to be discussed was whether football was primarily a results based business. We may soon be asking whether there is, within that business, room for the stylish defeat. Are Arsenal the only team who can win friends without winning trophies? The blunt question that has to be answered is whether Bradford City can win-one-lose-one without any ‘style’ and still sell season tickets.

This was a City team full of functionality, organised almost to the point of rigidity, clearly with a plan (or perhaps two plans). But, not for the first time under their new manager, they came close to being dull. And the longer the game lasted, the closer to dullness they came, as the bright sparks of the first half were put out by the rain and the home keeper had just one decent second half save to make, tipping round a low shot from James Hanson.

We were too often back to the dark days of the high ball up the middle for Hanson to compete against two or three defenders and with no claret shirt within reach. In the first half those flicks had found a team mate. Omar Daley, an early second half arrival, had limited impact and the lumbering Mark McCammon must surely be near the end of his days in claret and amber. A half-fit Peter Thorne could not have contributed less.

Had McCall still been in charge, many of the familiar questions could have been asked. Why did the one big decision go against City yet again? Why do we always seem to have the referee whom Sir Alex would declare unfit, noting how many lectures he gave to win a breather or two? And why were even the elements against us? But it was Stuart McCall who was the unlucky manager, not Peter Taylor. Peter Taylor has to make his own luck. He has to win games – wasn’t there a comment on his first day about winning more than he lost? – or at least get the team to play well. ‘Play well’, even in the fourth division, must include some entertainment, the feeling (even if it is slightly biased) that we were the better side or, best of all, the question we were all asking after the Crewe game – how did we lose that one?

When organisation and the ability to keep the opposition to a minimal number of chances is the best you have to offer, you had better win a lot more than you lose. When the fans go away simply telling each other that we deserved exactly what we got – and two consecutive away games have brought exactly that response – you need hero status to keep selling tickets. Just in case the new manager doesn’t know, the City ‘faithful’ can be an unforgiving lot. Winning or losing with style are about the only options. It’s a good job the home record is 100% so far.

Didn’t you used to be Hereford United?

Hereford United sit below Bradford City in the football pyramid at the moment – that is not that easy – and dismissed manager John Trewick who himself had taken over from Graham Turner, the manager who guided the club to promotions from the Football Conference and League Two two years ago.

The Hereford side mugged Bradford City in the first season under Stuart McCall were a big bunch of guys who assembled by Turner at the cost of only half of City’s purchase that year Willy Topp. Ben Smith who was signed from Weymouth for £20,000 in January 2007 and the rest of the squad were either picked up for free – or – in the case of nine of them including Robbie Threlfall they were brought in on loan.

Turner tried the same policy the season after with less success. The team that finished the previous season third and included the likes of Theo Robinson who now impresses for Huddersfield Town and Peterborough’s Toumani Diagouraga ended up bottom of League One with seventeen loanees coming and going in the season including once again Threlfall and former Bantam and, erm, “team mate” of Mark McCammon Moses Ashikodi.

Not that one should dismiss Turner’s methods for taking a team from the non-league to the division above City but the whole story of the rise and fall of Hereford United in the last three years is illustrative of the perils of building teams of loan players. Any progress made is done so on foundations of sand. The players brought in that brought success one year are gone the next and the manager is left scrabbling to find players of a similar or higher quality.

Loan players are a fact of life in all the leagues of English football outside of the Premiership and the odd additional face can help a club, get the mix wrong and the team is full of players who have an eye on the way back to their parent clubs. It is a mix that more often fails than succeeds, but it does sometimes succeed as Hereford prove.

Peter Taylor’s approach to loanees underlines his abilities as a manager. He has brought a half dozen new faces to the squad but few of them have gone straight into the team. Gavin Grant has not been put in over Omar Daley, Mark McCammon has not gone in over James Hanson, Luke Oliver had to bide his time rather than being put in over Steve Williams.

As with his retention of Wayne Jacobs and his keenness to sign Peter Thorne up as a coach Taylor values stability and knows how to maintain and maximise it.

The Bantams are in exceptional form having taken twelve points in the seven games Peter Taylor has managed (two home, five away) and now are looking up the table to climb towards a play off target that most think is unreachable. Other aspirations have been established: to finish in a higher place than last season, to end with a positive goal difference, to maintain a two points a game average over the next two months.

The Bantams continue with Matt Glennon in goal although Simon Ramsden will miss the game injured at right back so Jonathan Bateson is expected to fill in. Luke Oliver and Matthew Clarke continue in central defence and Robbie Threlfall stays at left back behind Luke O’Brien who is on the left flank.

Lee Bullock and Adam Bolder are building a partnership in the middle with both given a ball winning remit while Omar Daley may make the right hand side despite an injury last weekend. Should Omar fail a fitness test Gareth Evans may return or Gavin Grant could be given a chance to make his first start for the Bantams.

New face Ryan Kendall will probably start on the bench with Michael Flynn continuing up front alongside James Hanson.

Hereford’s aims are to stay in the division which – thanks to Grimsby Town’s continued inability to make a fist of staying in the league – seems likely to be achieved. The Bulls are looking to put a wretched year behind them and come back stronger next season.

They may do, they have before..

Peter Taylor and the Bradford Bug

City earned a hard fought victory against playoff contenders Aldershot, as Peter Taylor’s influence on the club continues to yield positive results.

The manner of the defeat to Port Vale in midweek was disappointing given recent progress – and Taylor was quick to admit the City players had not lived up to the standards that he expected in the Vale game.

But it was the reaction to that defeat that was the question this afternoon – and City didn’t disappoint despite a bumpy start.

Matt Glennon disappointingly split a long range shot – only able to palm the ball into harms way – which allowed Anthony Straker the chance to nip in and slot home the opener as Aldershot took the lead.

But City did not let the goal affect their confidence. Within five minutes, they had drawn level and produced a goal of real quality.

Michael Flynn, again playing in a more advanced role compared to his usual central midfield position, chased a long ball on the right and shielded the ball away from the Aldershot left back Charles. He then turned and produced a perfectly flighted cross with his left foot from the right wing, which top scorer James Hanson brilliantly headed home to level things up.

Hanson has had a dream first season at City – his first in League football. Combining hard work up front with some quite superb finishes – he has proved he can finish in the air (as you would expect), but he also has got some great finishes up his sleeve with his feet (remember that bicycle kick against Crewe at home?!).

And in this game, he was everywhere. Defensively clearing crosses from corners, and tracking back to defend like I have seen no City centre forward do in many, many years. It all seems to be part of Taylor’s ethos of “not letting any player neglect their defensive duties” and not allowing any player to cruise through games, regardless of their position, which Omar Daley confirmed in his post match interview.

After the equaliser, City had their tails up and produced another fine goal, which proved to be decisive. A very good run and cross from Luke O’Brien on the left ended with Omar Daley taking possession. After feigning to shoot once, he then turned and produced a rocket of a strike with his left foot that sent the Kop wild.

City then engaged in a tight contest for the remainder of the game, with the emphasis being on defending and trying to stop the opposition from scoring rather than adding to the lead.

Glennon redeemed himself for his earlier error with an excellent save from a first half Aldershot effort, and the City keeper commanded his area brilliantly and caught every cross in the second half.

City had a real let off with 15 minutes to go when substitute “Marvellous” Marvin Morgan took on debutant City defender Luke Oliver, beat him, and whipped in a perfect cross onto the head of Marlon Jackson, who astonishingly missed his header from 5 yards when it looked harder to miss than score.

But the Aldershot defence were certainly not immune to mistakes, – in particular second choice keeper Venezuelan Mikhael Jaimez-Ruiz, and the concession of a third goal could easily have happened. In particular with two very strong penalty shouts. Omar Daley went one on one with a defender, and with Daley leaving the defender in his wake, he was clean through before he appeared to be impeded before trying to finish off the move with a goal. But the post match interview with Aldershot manager Kevin Dillon told a different story – with Dillon angrily suggesting that he thought that Daley took a blatant dive that would apparently be shown on “Soccer AM” next week. Surely they are not that short of material? I suppose only a replay will settle that score.

The strong shout for a penalty for City late in the second half. Debutant Gavin Grant, only for Omar Daley with 25 minutes to go, produced a strong run and seemed to be felled in the area when surrounded by two Aldershot defenders. The penalty shouts were waived away by the referee but City hung on to clinch all three points.

There is a definite improvement in this City side with Taylor in the managerial hotseat, and his record now reads four wins from seven games, including highly impressive away victories at top three sides Rochdale and Rotherham.

Admittedly, he has brought in players on short term deals until the end of the season, but there is no reason why any of the players he has brought in (expect for Robbie Threlfall, who might go a League or two above) could be playing for Bradford City next season. Adam Bolder in particular has impressed, and did again today, breaking up play, playing simple balls well and having an influence on the game.

For me, Peter Taylor needs to be handed a new deal as soon as possible. His positive vibes around the club, about how he is enjoying it and has caught the “Bradford Bug” is very pleasing to read. He is and was an outstanding appointment, and if he is enjoying it that much, then lets hold up our end of the deal and give Taylor this chance to finally get Bradford City out of this awful league next season.

But to leave the much discussed managerial debate behind, wont it be interesting to see which of the current crop of players will be with us next season? For me, I’m afraid Peter Thorne’s time at the club looks to be over. Thorne has been brilliant and prolific for City in previous seasons, but I don’t think he fits into Taylors ethos of “a striker that is willing to put in the work defensively”.

Equally, the expensive and underperforming Chris Brandon looks to have been given the boot by Taylor. And James O’Brien, Michael Boulding, Zesh Rehman and Scott Neilson look to be players that Taylor doesn’t seem to rate as the “right” kind of players to get us promoted from League Two. I trust his judgement and that seems to point towards us having an almost completely new squad once again next season. How many times will we need to rebuild the squad before we get it right?

53 weeks ago – City were on top of the world

It was 53 short weeks ago that Bradford City crushed Aldershot Town on their last visit to Valley Parade. Two goals from the returning-to-form Peter Thorne, a beauty of an effort from the edge of the box by Dean Furman, a tap in for Barry Conlon and a comical own-goal set up by Joe Colbeck. 5-0, City fourth in the league with 11 games to go. The excitement was growing at the prospect of ending the season with the glory of promotion.

As we all know, it ended miserably with the platform that victory had laid on for City proving something of a peak to the second half of the season at least. The next nine of those remaining 11 were winless as the Bantams fell out of the promotion picture, the ending of the season with back-to-back victories thus meaningless. The backwards steps have continued into this season.

City now have a long way to go just to get to where they were after that Spring demolition of the Shots. The up and down nature of results since Peter Taylor took over the reins has at times given hope of a late play off push this time around, but the slip ups and barely decreasing distance from the top seven has all but extinguished such faint chances. After Saturday’s clash with Aldershot is over, there will again be 11 games to go – even a complete reversal of results compared to those nine games at the end of last season probably wouldn’t be enough.

If we could turn the clocks back to the final whistle a year ago and apply hindsight, what warnings would we now offer and to whom? Perhaps the most obvious would seem to be changing Stuart McCall’s u-turn over his threat to quit. As Taylor impresses for the composure and organisation he has brought to the team, the growing temptation is to look back over McCall’s final season and dismiss it a waste of time. If only Taylor had taken over sooner, it can be argued, the club might still be approaching the final section of the season with promotion hopes.

The ‘SOS’ demonstration at the end of the last season might be something we’d go back and urge the organisers to cancel. The holding up of banners in support of McCall has caused widespread debate even during this season, with the number of supporters willing to admit they displayed a sign surprisingly few.

Where I sit in the Midland Road Stand, a previously quiet and pleasant woman suddenly can’t stop ranting, during the last few months, about how poor a manager McCall is/was, and inadvertently slamming those who backed him. Prior to the start of recent homes games she’s repeatedly uttered, “Do you know who I blame for this season? All those supporters who held up signs supporting him at the last home game” out loud to everyone around her, the majority of whom did hold up signs. Sorry lady, it’s all my fault.

But perhaps we’d take a different approach if we could go back, considering where City might be today but for that late season collapse. If City have gone onto earn promotion during those final 11 games a year ago, there would have been no need to reduce the transfer and wage budgets by a third for this campaign – an action which has undoubtedly undermined efforts.

Instead we might warn McCall where it would all go wrong –  to be mindful of defending set pieces at Spotland a few days later, to make sure Barry Conlon and Matt Clarke are behaving while staying in Devon prior to the Exeter game, how tinkering with the team too much leads to the inconsistent form, how a linesman will rob the team at Morecambe, not to sign Paul chuffin Mullin, that certain players cannot be counted on when the chips are down, and why it’s so important he doesn’t let it all get him down too much.

Perhaps most of all we’d warn him not to publicly threaten to quit in the manner he did after losing to Bournemouth, because it seemed to only breed instability and nervousness in the team rather than help it. The decline was already starting and he needed to be more positive in addressing it. The Bournemouth defeat was the third in a row; worrying form – but it needn’t have turned into the disastrous form that would continue another six games.

Mistakes were made, as McCall himself readily admits, and they soon added up to something far bigger. Ultimately City’s failure this season is due to the failure of the one before, and the immediate challenge remains reversing those backward steps. 53 weeks after thrashing Aldershot 5-0, it is now the visitors who harbour the promotion hopes. They, and so many other clubs, have been able to catch up and overtake City over the last 12 months, it’s already going to be a long road back.

But like in any aspect of life – it’s not how many mistakes are made, but how quickly they are learned from. Sometimes it’s a torturous and miserable path, but if the resultant lessons can be applied positively it will be a journey worth taking. If we had not put up our SOS posters and if McCall had departed during the summer, it’s highly unlikely City would be currently employing Taylor. Someone else would have come in and, with the same budget constraints, may have done no better.

The lessons McCall learned from his first two seasons would not have been applied, the new guy may have repeated the City legend’s mistakes of hiring players not up to this level or lacking in desire. However well it can be judged McCall performed this season, there’s little doubt Taylor has inherited a squad to build on rather than start all over again – due to McCall targeting the right kind of players within the budget constraints.

And if the short-term deal works out and Taylor can replicate the kind of success he enjoyed at Hull, the misery of the last 12 months and the refusal of McCall to quit last summer will ultimately have been worth it. Life doesn’t allow you to turn back the clock, mistakes cannot be undone.  City have had 53 weeks of regrets and now more than ever is the time to apply those lessons. Taylor is impressing in both victory and defeat. We know he has the experience, he’s proving he has the knowledge, the main question mark is that of his own appetite – and that of the Chairmen – to make it work.

53 weeks on Taylor has so far used only seven players from the sixteen involved against the Shots last season  – only three of which have started the last four games. Luke O’Brien, Lee Bullock and Matt Clarke have themselves been the subject of healthy debates for much of this season, but all appear to be impressing Taylor. Meanwhile the futures of the other four – Thorne, Michael Boulding, Zesh Rehman and Chris Brandon – look decidedly shaky.  Taylor vowed to give everyone a go and would seem to already be making his mind up over who he would offer a City future too and who he’d move on.

Two of his own short-term recruits have yet to really feature but, after a disappointing performance in losing to Port Vale, may now get their chance. Little is known of Luke Oliver, other than his height, but he could make his debut alongside Clarke in the centre of defence. Gavin Grant has arrived on a pay-as-you-play basis and in need of building fitness. With Gareth Evans having a poor game at Vale Park, that fitness might be tested from the start tomorrow. Omar Daley too will be vying for only a fourth start in a year.

Daley is one of the few players not out of contract this summer and Taylor’s ability to judge the Jamaican is hampered by his understandable lack of fitness. So far Taylor has gone for the workrate of Evans and O’Brien on the flanks to start and, if Daley watched AC Milan’s pathetic surrender at Old Trafford this week largely due to widemen not bothering to track back and Manchester United murdering the Italians down the flanks, he will have some idea of what he needs to do to fit in with the new-look City.

Elsewhere Mark McCammon will have arrived for a month at City with greater ambition than swapping one sub bench for another, and Taylor may consider him to start ahead of James Hanson or Michael Flynn, the latter moving back to midfield. The arrival of Adam Bolder sees greater competition in the centre of midfield, with Steve O’Leary still on the fringes, but Taylor would surely be reluctant to leave out either Bolder or the in-form Bullock.

Matt Glennon keeps goal, having been faintly criticised in public by Taylor for not stopping Vale’s winning goal on Tuesday. Glennon’s spell at City has been curious for its lack of incident. He has made some good saves, but nothing too noteworthy. He has also conceded a few goals he might have been expected to save. He has impressed in the command of his penalty area, but the long-term custodian he may not be. Having played only seven games for Bristol Rovers, a third return of Rhys Evans this summer would be widely cheered by fans.

Simon Ramsden and Robbie Threlfall retain the full back slots; Steve Williams may face the axe for Oliver; Jon Bateson, Michael Boulding and Thorne wait impatiently for rare opportunities.

Beaten, but hard to be beaten

If there is a reason that Peter Taylor is at Bradford City it is to make City hard to beat. Long trips in the dark to places like Aldershot always seem like the sort of games which have – in the past decade or so – drifted all to easily away and when one considers that ideally the fixtures are played one home, one away then to create a sense of momentum it is important that trips on the road are fruitful.

Not that Stuart McCall’s side were especially weak on their travels – his last away trip as City manager, or first before becoming QPR Assistant if you believe another rumour – was a 2-1 win at Torquay United but for a team to get into the winning mentality that all promoted teams have and Taylor’s side aspires to then trips like Aldershot need to be not lost.

Which suits Taylor fine. Away from Valley Parade City have been a curious beast for sometime. Freed from the weighty Bradford City home support and more vocally backed by the travellers the players often come alive in a way they never do at VP. They play more freely, at times, and often face more adventurous sides than tose who put two lines of four behind the ball when in West Yorkshire.

Which is not that dissimilar to the approach that the new Bradford City take to the first of these three trips on the road. A back four protected by a pair of tough central midfielders – Lee Bullock continued his excellent form tonight and Flynn’s robust play finds a home in the middle of Taylor’s midfield – with two wide men who are requires to work back. It is football from the men in claret of a type we have not often seen.

Nevertheless it is effective. The directness of play to Mark McCammon and James Hanson seems to cut through a million meanders forward and seems no less dangerous. McCammon takes every opportunity to unsettle defender Anthony Straker and the pair clash all night long. He tries an overhead kick at one point after a well worked corner to no avail and the home side struggle to deal with him or with Hanson.

None of which is to say that there is not football played – the interchanges between either front man and the flank players are especially useful – but without the first half goal that despirited Darlington on Saturday Aldershot were able to make a break through with Matthew Clarke and Steve Williams both leaving Anthony Charles to take his time and fire in just after half time. On balance it seems a little harsh on City but perhaps it was more unexpected with a growing belief in Peter Taylor and his team perhaps growing too much, too quickly.

The Bantams response is to introduce Omar Daley and switch to something like a three up front, McCammon coming off and Hanson being pressed into solo service and Gareth Evans moving into the forward line. Both players get into the action quickly with Evans hitting a free kick at goal and Daley firing the ball wide from just inside the box. Daley starts to cause more problems for the home side and looks hungry and eager to impress. It is over thirteen months since his last goal, a long slice to be taken out of the career of any player and I think about how much I have missed the winger. Selfish, greedy, lazy? Perhaps and the booking he gets minutes after coming on is far from impressive but if he is these things he is also the player who most often gets you on the edge of your seat.

Not that we have seats here. The Recreation Ground is hardly better than Farsley Celtic. Football has been through the biggest boom in its history but games are played in conditions like this which is not criticism of what they are doing at Aldershot – I’m sure they would love to improve the place – just that one has to wonder if football is going to emerge out of the end of the boom years having squandered all the rewards.

Taylor’s last throw the dice comes after Michael Flynn has spurned a great chance to head City level. Gavin Grant – a player who does not get paid for his troubles – comes on for Evans are provides a double fork of speedy attacking opposite Daley. Aldershot had a couple of chances to get a second as the Bantams went more open – Taylor deployed what we shall no doubt dub “Plan B” – and Robbie Threlfall puts an Omar Daley cross wide of the post from eight yards out. Aldershot head one wide of their own post. Lee Bullock slams the ball towards the goal. An equaliser seems fated.

Minutes later and Michael Flynn is applauding the few City fans who have been able to come down for this twice rearranged match to see a team battle hard but ultimately be beaten.

Beaten, but hard to be beaten.

Pragmatic Taylor gets his first home win

While Peter Taylor was plotting to take Bradford City to two wins in five days Mark Lawn was considering pulling out the club to put the Bantams in administration.

Lawn’s ire came after his car was vandalised by some City fans following the Accrington Stanley game last weekend. Lawn’s upset abated as he described,

The general abuse shocked me and I won’t stand for it. It’s more than out of order. I talked to Julian (Rhodes) the following day and said that I felt like taking the loan back. Then Bradford City would be in administration – it’s as simple as that. We have all these wonderful fans but there are always some who want me out. But what would they do then? If I took my £1 million loan back, what do they think is going to happen to the football club? Never mind my share investment capital, without that loan the club would not exist.

Lawn wants the offenders to come to him to talk the matter over, and to be banned for life and to face criminal damaged charges and rightly so. The joint chairman is right to make a clear statement that such behaviour is unacceptable.

What to make of Lawn’s follow up statement is up to the individual fans – be they those who attack cars, those who turn up week in and week out for decades, who raise money to pay for today’s match winner James Hanson, those who kept the club in business twice in the last decade:

I’m a fan like them and I’ve two million more reasons to be frustrated.

The £5,000 donated to the club by a supporter via The City Gent paid for two thirds of James Hanson’s transfer represents a significant fan investment in the club and paid off handsomely for the Bantams today with the former shelf stacker turned City top scorer starting and ending the conclusive move of the match that saw Darlington dispatched from Valley Parade on the wrong end of a 1-0 defeat.

The result seemed in little doubt once the Bantams – who started the game effectively with new signing Mark McCammon and Hanson operating as a powerful two man battering ram – took the lead when Hanson played a smart ball deep to a confident Gareth Evans down the right flank who centred to McCammon only for Hanson to spirit in front of the new boy to convert.

Hanson should have doubled City’s advantage when a similarly well crafted move came to the striker who hit a good shot which was saved by young keeper Shane Redmond who – along with the central defender Ian Miller – put in superb performances that did much to keep the Quakers in with a chance of salvaging something from the match right up until the final whistle.

Not that the forward line of the visitors – well marshalled by Steve Williams – looked like taking those chances. The visitors lacked confidence and often lashed the ball on the slightest sight of the net threatening very little.

When Darlington did muster an attack they found Peter Taylor’s City more resolute than one would imagine they would have been under Stuart McCall but – as a result – a touch more tedious.

Twenty minutes from time and substitute Omar Daley played a fine cross field ball thirty five yards from his own goal and as Michael Flynn took the ball to attack Daley meandered forward more bothered about maintaining defensive position in front of Robbie Threlfall than joining the mounting attack. It was not uncommon over the afternoon and typified City’s approach to the game. Being hard to beat rather than beating the opposition out of sight.

Taylor’s side got a first home win for the new manager and the second win in three. His pragmatic approach to the game becomes clearer with his withdrawal of McCammon and introduction of Michael Boulding who spurned a last minute chance to set Hanson’s up for a double. Boulding’s arrival saw City’s midfield switch to a prescribed path of playing early balls to try get behind the Darlington backline. Flynn and Bullock would play the ball long – often without looking – to the groans of the supporters but Taylor was satisfied that the players were following his plan.

Sitting back, hitting a team on the break, and sneaking a win. It was a far cry from the expansive 433 and dashed hopes of Stuart McCall’s three years at the club but as Taylor takes his Bantams for three away games at Aldershot, Rotherham and then Port Vale on the road in in the next ten days such an approach could prove useful.

And three points won at Valley Parade is a welcome Saturday afternoon but it is an afternoon tinged with sadness and Peter Taylor and his practical football took over from Stuart McCall’s dream of glory and shows signs of reward. City have beaten the top and the bottom sides in the last week and done so with the same common sense, simple type of performance.

Drifting away was the dream of McCall for sure, but with it it seems goes that of a club in which the supporters who have done so much to keep the Bantams in football are at the heart of Bradford City. The club exists at the behest of the joint chairman – he makes that very clear – and feels things more times more than any other supporters.

One hopes that he fells he has 2,000,000 reasons to feel happier today.

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.

The saddest of endings

Stuart McCall’s farewell lap around Valley Parade applauding supporters was a heartbreaking sight – but it was also a beautiful moment.

His actions at the end of the 1-0 defeat to Bury said everything that is fantastic about the City legend. He knew the game was up and that, whether on Monday it will be announced he has resigned, left by mutual consent or been given the sack, it was no longer up to him whether he could stay. But there was no quick retreat down the touchline; he showed typical courage and respect in going out to applaud his supporters.

And the reaction back was equally fitting. Sure there’d be typical murmurings of discontent about McCall during the match and many had exited the stadium before the final whistle, but this was a time for  putting aside misgivings and showing appreciation for the man, the legend, who will ultimately always retain the respect and adulation of City fans.

It was the saddest of farewells, handled with the greatest of dignity.

There’s been a fear among many of those fans who’d been demanding a change that, if action wasn’t taken swiftly, McCall might be subject of the sort of unpleasant abuse other managers have received in the past. No one wanted it end ugly, and it sums up the bond between McCall and supporters that the parting of ways is as amicable as can be. I was close to tears as I applauded McCall’s farewell lap, and I have so much respect to him for taking the time to do it.

Once the farewell had been competed, Bury manager Alan Knill walked over to McCall and hugged him. He was humble in victory, as is easier to be, admitting that, just like at Gigg Lane a fortnight earlier, the Bantams were unfortunate to lose. Undoubtedly City, who hurled everything including the kitchen sink at the visitors during the closing stages, deserved to take something from the game.

Yet I don’t agree that City – and McCall – had been unlucky to lose this time. I was disappointed with McCall’s formation and tactics. And though I wanted him to remain as manager, there is something troubling about the evidence presented in front of us over the lack of progress this season.

Even before kick off, City seemed to have a whiff of desperation about their approach. Playing 4-3-3 is not new this season – the merits or otherwise having been debated on this site only a day earlier – but 4-3-3 with James Hanson, Gareth Evans AND Michael Boulding? Three up front worked earlier in the season due to those employed to take the two wide slots of the front three – Evans and Neilson – been able to play out wide. But Boulding and Hanson are largely better through the middle and leaving Omar Daley in the middle three meant the balance to the team wasn’t right and the style of football suffered.

It reminded me of then-Shrewsbury manager Gary Peter two years ago, realising the season wasn’t going to plan – and therefore his own future was in doubt – and just deciding to “go for it” every match. He picked a team at Valley Parade full of attacking intent, but City tore into them with two of the four goals coming on the counter attack. Peters was shortly afterwards sacked.

Playing 4-3-3 like City did yesterday suggested a lack of confidence in the players. Even in a must-win game, McCall and City needed to show patience and have a greater game plan than just going for it. It was a contrast to the visit of Bury last season, where a more measured and composed approach eventually brought a late Bantams winner.

At the back at least, recent defensive problems were partly addressed with Simon Ramsden moving from right back to centre back alongside Matt Clarke – and the pair put in as outstanding and assured defensive displays since David Wetherall and Damion Stewart dominated at the back in 2006. Luke O’Brien had a tough afternoon, but characteristically stuck to the task.

However the decision to play Zesh Rehman  at right back was curious and ultimately flawed. Zesh is a good player, but has not had a good season and there’s frustration and even unfair suspicion over why McCall is seemingly unwilling to leave him out. At right back, Rehman kept losing his man and unnecessarily diving in for challenges when he just needed to stand up and block the path to goal – often leaving him on the floor and out the game, while the winger charged on.

Rehman played at right back towards the end of last season with limited success, but that was due to some disappointing performances from Paul Arnison. As well as Ramsden, City have the able Jonathan Bateson as a natural right back who gets forward well, and he should have been included instead.

City nevertheless competed well and were unlucky to go behind, but then the desperation was too strong again. On a difficult pitch and with Hanson competing well, playing a more direct style of football had been tolerated if not approved. Yet with 25 minutes to play Daley was withdrawn for Peter Thorne, and we had the sight of four City strikers and just two midfielders. As intentions go it was clear there would be no passing and running down the flanks, but that the back four would simply be charged with launching it forwards.

This long ball football would be understandable with 10 minutes to go, but with over a quarter of the game still to play it was premature panic. Thorne added a much needed touch of class up front and his link up play saw the ball begin to stick in the final third, but for a period it seemed as though the players had lost heart, couldn’t find a way back and were at a loss of what to do next. Heavy pressure belatedly commenced in the final stages, but the team set up suggested the manager didn’t believe his players could come back by playing football.

It was perhaps the ultimate of ironies. That a manager who made his name as a player for his combative and inspirational skills in the middle of the park, had resorted to abandoning having a midfield in order to save his job.

And yes the argument goes that on chances, possession and territorial advantage, City did not deserve to lose. There’s an argument that the referee should have awarded a penalty and sent Bury’s Afe Sodje off. There’s an argument Bury didn’t look anything special. But ultimately the difference between the sides was the composure and organisation of the visitors and the fluster and anxiousness of City.

I don’t believe this is typical of McCall’s reign, but perhaps why we’re now saying goodbye to the City manager is because it is typical of McCall’s reign when things are going wrong. In his first season there was the autumn collapse of form that saw eight winless games and promotion hopes up in smoke. Last season the collapse came at the end of the season, lasting nine games, and this season’s recent run of poor form since December has been strikingly familiar.

At these difficult points we see too much indecision in the team selection and tactics. We see what initially seems a couple of set backs become a crisis of confidence. We see a slow and stuttered speed to the recovery. We see a manager trying to put a brave face on matters, but taking the setbacks too much to heart instead of instilling confidence into others. We see a football club quickly dropping down the league table.

Ultimately, as Stuart has acknowledged repeatedly in recent weeks, it’s a results business. No matter how much we supporters want him to be a success, the results simply haven’t been there. It is incredibly disappointing that it has come to this and it will take some time for many of us to fully recover and be enthused with City and football again, but if there’s a consolation it is that it has ended more painlessly than it might have.

Indeed the tone of McCall when speaking on the radio after the defeat was almost that of a relieved man. Acknowledging the circumstances of the game been so typical of the season to date, he even allowed himself a chuckle about his own misfortune. He seemed remarkably relaxed – but sad – and perhaps that was because the pressure could now be released off his shoulders. On the BBC One’s Football League Show last night, he even texted in to thank supporters again and to apologise he couldn’t have done a better job.

The special bond he has with the club and supporters remains in tact, and while for many that would always be the case the memories are at least not going to be added to by the sight of ‘McCall out’ chanting and the visible type of abuse which many of his Valley Parade dugout predecessors have endured.  It still sickens me that, after a 1-0 defeat to Doncaster in 2006, then-manager Colin Todd found his car had been attacked by City fans – I can’t imagine how I’d feel if such acts of horror had been inflicted upon McCall.

Nine months before that boxing day incident, I’d written an article for this site about why I didn’t want McCall (or Peter Beagrie) to become our next manager. My reasons were that I feared the souring of the special bond we supporters have with McCall, and that it would end with the usual suspects reigning down the boos.

A year later and, with the club in dire straits, I was prepared to abandon those fears and believe McCall’s installation as manager could have the romantic ending we all felt it would. As he prepares to clear his desk on Monday I feel devastated it was not worked out, I remain unconvinced it is the right move to part ways now, but I’m also happy that is ending relatively agreeably.

The City legend has given so much to this club across four decades, his lap of farewell at Valley Parade yesterday was yet another unforgettable Stuart memory.

Out of a clear blue sky

As the sun shone into the breakfast room, all you could see outside was the sort of transparent and uniformly bright blue sky that you never spot on an away trip to Morecambe. It was only at the other side of the building, where the light dusting of snow was still frozen to the parked cars, that there was a clue as to just how cold it had been overnight, even in Torquay.

A walk down to the marina showed that the temperature was rising, without quite reaching Riviera standards. It had been much warmer in Bournemouth last March and we know how that game went. City were woeful and, as those of us at the game learnt much later, Stuart McCall’s post-match interview had included a promise to resign if City did not finish in the top seven.

But Torquay in January was different – and it wasn’t just the physical temperature that was lower. Everything was lower, not least City’s league position and all the reputations that hang on such matters. This time round, the question of how much longer the City manager might remain the City manager looked increasingly out of his control.

One of the great beauties of going to these ‘smaller’ grounds is that the stewards will generally talk with you, rather than at you. You get bits of information, tips about who to watch out for and even a tale that, when last Saturday’s game went from a 2-0 home lead to a 3-2 away win, the stewards had to prepare themselves for a possible pitch invasion as a protest against the manager. Hm. Sounded a bit like two of them on a knife edge, then.

The man to look out for, according to the friendly steward, was the midfielder who could be mistaken for the mascot – his words, not mine. Danny Stevens is 5’ 10”, according to the club website. Club websites, unlike BfB, are not to be relied upon. He must be nearer to 4’ 10”. And he is so fresh faced that I bet he isn’t allowed to play in night games. But he certainly played in the bright spells of this game.

City started with the eleven that finished at Lincoln. Bateson, Rehman and Evans all started on the bench, alongside the returning Thorne and O’Leary. The second half display at Sincil Bank had clearly convinced the manager that this was his best ‘formation’. By half time he was equally clearly unconvinced.

I would dearly love to tell those who were not among the 300 or so travelling fans just what the ‘formation’ at kick-off was, but I am struggling. There was an obvious back four, with captain Ramsden returned to right back. Michael Boulding was naturally playing up front, but for much of the first half he might have fallen out with the rest of the team, so rarely did a claret shirt get anywhere near him. Daley and Neilson stayed wide, which brought them near to my seat and thus into my focus. Otherwise the midfield was largely anonymous.

One of the main reasons for that anonymity was the persistent long high ball up the middle to, yes, Michael Boulding. Once again the opposition centre backs must have thought it was their birthdays. Torquay, on the other hand, who must be used to playing on a narrow, but otherwise splendid, surface, kept the ball on that surface much more often, not least when feeding it to the aforementioned Stevens.

If I was a proper sports journalist, I would be able get away with phrases like ‘tormented the City defence’ and ‘ran them ragged’. Instead, I shall just settle for saying that almost every note I made of a Torquay attack in that first half – and there were plenty – featured the number 19. After 15 minutes it was his run and shot that forced Matt Glennon into probably his best save of the game, as he tipped it round his left hand post. Sadly, Glennon was unrewarded. The resulting corner was not dealt with and one huge centre back really did think his birthday had come, when his shot from around the penalty spot went through the crowd of players and low into the net.

One the rare occasions City did keep the ball on the floor, Michael Boulding had a shot that went narrowly over and Chris Brandon also put his one effort some way off target. At half time the sun was beginning to set over Plainmoor.

The City manager, having changed the team at half time at Sincil Bank, went two thirds of the way toward changing it back again at half time at Plainmoor. Off went Williams, on a yellow card and looking like a sending off waiting to happen, and on came the second of City’s captains, Zesh Rehman. Ramsden kept the armband. And Gareth Evans started in place of – oh, yes, that would be Brandon. This time I really can report a 4-4-2. Better still, I can report energy, enthusiasm and, for the first time in this game, a team that looked capable of troubling the home goalkeeper.

A shot from Evans was pushed away by the keeper, before the Torquay leading scorer, Scott Rendell, who had already risen from the dead (or a collision with Matt Clarke) once, had to leave the game with a broken arm. Not that this stopped the home team continuing to pressurise and force City into last second blocks and conceding corners.

And then, with the sun having set over his left shoulder, out of the old wooden stand came the old wooden gunslinger. No, that’s not fair, is it? Far from it. But up stepped captain number three (Ramsden still retaining the armband) Peter Thorne, last seen in a JPT game two centuries ago. And maybe my pre-match chat with the stewards had got back to the Torquay team. ‘If he gets on, he’ll be our best bet for a goal’, I’d said. OK, so you won’t find his name on the score sheet. But you ask their defenders about him. And ask the keeper who had to make two stops from close range within the first few minutes of the poacher’s arrival.

The second of those saves, following an Omar Daley run, brought the corner that was to replicate Torquay’s first half goal. This time it was Gareth Evans who poked it home (sorry, keeper – terrible pun!) through the melee that hadn’t cleared it. Under ten minutes left, but for the first time in years City were back level in the late stages of a game and still had eleven men on the pitch.

Sustained City pressure actually made it look, incredible as it seemed at that moment, as though we could win this one. The home keeper was being reminded by the ref that another exercise in time-wasting would not be tolerated. And then up popped the fourth official’s board with a bright red 4 on it. And then up popped Captain Ramsden, now corner taker extraordinaire. This time it was a curling free kick on to Rehman’s head, down into the same melee and, via Evans’ toe poke (sorry, keeper, done it again!), into the net in front to the ecstatic visiting fans.

Could City hang on for the remaining three minutes of stoppage time? Of course they could! Only some petty argument between Matt Clarke and Elliot Benyon, which brought a pair of yellow cards, would interrupt the oh so smooth progress to three away points.

Over the last umpteen weeks, we have bemoaned our luck. We have pointed to refereeing decisions that have changed the course of the game. We have examined statistics that showed every week how we had more shots at goal, more shots on target, more corners – and fewer goals than the opposition. All of that changed yesterday. City have not come away with a more blatant theft of three points since a Dean Windass belter of a free kick at Yeovil, where even Mr Singh didn’t manage to ruin our day.

Maybe the tide has turned. Maybe Gareth Evans’ confidence will now return. Maybe Peter Thorne’s battered body will hold up for another three months. On such fragile building blocks will the remainder of City’s season rest. Until Thorney’s arrival, it looked remarkably like the sun had set forever. Now the future is that touch brighter. But how dark might it be at Valley Parade next time out?

Searching for an end to uncertainty as Bradford City travel to Torquay United

After a week in which it had been widely expected Stuart McCall would be given the sack, Bradford City travel deepest South with the immediate future continuing to be clouded by doubt.

The City manager remains; but should the Bantams return from the 600-mile round trip to Torquay pointless, it will surely spell the end. Then again it seemed as though defeat to Lincoln would trigger McCall’s dismissal, and before that the loss to Bury, and before that the draw at home to Cheltenham.

Uncertainty prevails. Visits to the Bantams’ official website have become more regular and tense – such is the expectation of been greeted by a statement announcing McCall has gone. Message board rumours emanated by someone who “knows someone who works at the club, his sacking will be announced tomorrow” become more regular and take added credence. A few times earlier this week, the sound of a text message  arriving has left me wondering if it’s someone letting me know he’s gone. Whether we want a managerial change or not, we’re all waiting for what seems like the inevitable – but it remains all quiet.

The silence, from the boardroom, is deafening. We’ve been in this situation four years ago with Colin Todd – who’s then-unpopularity still far exceeds the growing levels of discontent towards McCall – where growing pressure to make a change was met with no public comment from the club.

It’s clear that Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes can’t really win if they say something now – as any statement would increase the pressure on McCall regardless of what it contained, even public support would be dubbed the “dreaded vote of confidence”.  Yet the lack of comment can also be viewed as a lack of leadership and, with the local media typically falling in line, City supporters remain completely in the dark about the future of the manager.

A defeat on Saturday and it all starts over again. The continued checking of the website, the message board rumours, the bleep bleep of the phone. Perhaps this time it really would be it, but then perhaps McCall will be in the dugout at Valley Parade at least one more time, with Bury at home next. We can say with confidence that Torquay away is a must-win game for City’s already unlikely promotion hopes, but we have little idea if Torquay away is a must-win game for McCall.

Yet the significance of the result at Plainmoor cannot be understated. This week McCall has talked more than once about the importance of winning, no matter how it’s achieved, and the long-awaited delivery of three points would be the perfect tonic for the January blues afflicting everyone connected with City.

A midweek of inaction might have seen the Bantams slip as low as 19th, but instead results elsewhere left the club firmly stuck in 16th. City make their furthest away trip of the campaign with the play offs the longest distance away they’ve been all season, but the 10-point gap isn’t unbridgeable if a revival can begin quickly.

Who will be charged with beginning such an upturn is less clear, after McCall spoke earlier this week about rooting out the faint-hearted and dropping players who couldn’t handle the pressure. If the early substitutions made at Sincil Bank are any indication, that may include Zesh Rehman. The City captain has endured a tough season and may have only retained his place in recent weeks due to the raft of suspensions involving his defensive colleagues. He was badly at fault for both Lincoln goals, in almost exactly the same manner, and, though his half time replacement Steve Williams also looked a bit unsteady, the former hairdresser may take Rehman’s place.

Matt Clarke, left on the sidelines for much of the season, had a very strong second half at Lincoln and is arguably the most in-form of the three natural centre backs. The standout central defensive performance of the season to me remains Simon Ramsden in the JPT at Rochdale, and McCall may consider switching him into the middle and continue playing the promising Jonathan Bateson – subbed at half time too against Lincoln, but more than likely for tactical reasons – at right back. The only certain starter of the back four at Plainmoor will be Luke O’Brien. Matt Glennon keeps goal.

In midfield Omar Daley impressed against Bury and Lincoln and is becoming more effective with each returning game. The Jamaican was used on the right at Sincil Bank, and Chris Brandon may be moved to a more orthodox left wing position to provide balance after a somewhat disastrous first half at Lincoln in the free role. Brandon’s failure to make an impact was the fault of others as much as his, but the slight upwards curve in recent form needs to continue for him to sustain what for him is a regular run in the starting eleven. Scott Neilson is also in contention against opposition he made his City debut against last August.

Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn should take the central midfield spots with Steve O’Leary finally nearing full fitness and expected to be ready to provide competition from the bench. The usually-consistent Bullock was poor last week, while Flynn is struggling to hit the early-season heights. Former Leeds midfielder Bruno Riberio, now 34, has been linked with a move to Valley Parade, due to a long-standing friendship with goalkeeper coach Nigel Martyn.

Up front, Peter Thorne is surprisingly set for a place on the bench after scoring in his return to action for the reserves in midweek. With goals drying up of late, City are desperate for the sort of striking prowess Thorne possesses. Just remember his record at City – 69 starts 32 goals. How different might City’s season have so far been if they could have called upon Thorne more than a mere five times up to now.

Gareth Evans – who looked out-of-sorts at Lincoln and badly needs a rest – will partner Michael Boulding – who has shown decent recent form – in attack. James Hanson – his transfer fee finally agreed – is still injured.

Torquay’s return to the Football League may not be reaching the same heights as their Devon counterparts Exeter last season, but they are reasonably positioned to avoid relegation. Last week they blew a 2-0 home lead to Burton and ended up beaten. On Tuesday Barnet’s Paul Furlong netted for them to earn a 1-1 draw at Underhill. They’ve not won in five games, one less than City’s current dismal run.

Ideal opposition for City to get going again? Nothing is certain with the Bantams right now, although surely City’s winter of discontent and McCall’s reign as manager cannot both continue for much longer.

Can they?

The emotional freeze

Supporting Bradford City has become miserable, gloomy and demoralising – and this feeling just isn’t going away.

Defeat at Bury this evening means it’s one win, one draw and five defeats since the start of December. We can officially decree that we’re undergoing a disastrous winter – with a run of form to match the Spring of 2008/2009 collapse and the Autumn of 2007/2008 calamity. Thank goodness we don’t play during the Summer. We’re desperate for an end to the despair, for now just the short term fix of three points will do to raise spirits.

But top of the ever-growing list of worries is the long-term effect of this disastrous run.

Tonight’s game followed a well-worn and familiar script. City were far from out-played by in-form opposition and yet again the evidence suggested the gap in quality between the Bantams and the majority of the League Two promotions is minimal. As per usual, City deserved more than they earned. Chances, possession and territorial advantage seem to be areas they win every week. Goals for verus against, a battle won less often.

And just like the last few weeks, it was a refereeing decision which ultimately cost the team. With the score 1-1 and half an hour on the clock, Stephen Dawson had charged into the area with just Matt Glennon to beat. The debut keeper rushed out to reach the ball, but pulled away from making a challenge after Dawson tapped it past him. The Shakers’ midfielder then hurled himself, untouched, to the floor and the referee Scott Mathieson – the man who awarded Rochdale two hotly disputed penalties when City were beaten 3-0 at Spotland last season – pointed to the spot.

It can perhaps be argued that, by initially attempting to make a challenge before pulling out, Glennon invited Dawson to make the tumble and ensured it looked a penalty to Mathieson and his linesman, both a fair distance away. Yet the lack of contact and obvious intent of Dawson to win a spot kick rather than go for goal cannot be considered anything but cheating.

Ryan Lowe converted the penalty and, as he wheeled off in celebration, began shouting towards the livid City fans behind the goal who’d reacted angrily to the penalty decision. It was as though Lowe was upset that supporters could have the temerity to question his team’s honesty. Well Ryan, I had a perfect view of the incident and your mate dived.

That moment was ultimately to prove decisive. Bury had taken the lead when Mike Jones was able to tap the ball home after Glennon had saved an initial effort. City levelled quickly when a scramble in the box lead to Efe Sodje scoring an own goal, and though Bury often threatened a nervous back four, the visitors – forced to play in old Bury white shirts due to a kit clash – gave as good as they got with Chris Brandon and Scott Neilson causing problems out wide.

But the penalty set back momentum and confidence, it wasn’t until the second half that signs of fight from the temporary whites returned. Numerous chances were created, the best a Brandon effort from a tight angle which smacked the outside of the post. Tellingly though, home keeper Wayne Brown was barely tested with efforts on target too straight and often tame.

Omar Daley came on and provided some spark, Rory Boulding was introduced later and looked anonymous. His older brother battled hard but his towering marker Ben Futcher was always going to have the beating of him in the air – how James Hanson was missed. Gareth Evans again disappointed, Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn had some decent spells on top but at other times were outgunned. The possibility of a deserved equaliser remained up until an uneventful four minutes of stoppage time.

But deep down, you never really believed it would come. The players can put together some good moves, but confidence and composure is draining with each recent setback and it leads to possession too often been surrendered. The spirit and determination to get hold of the ball and charge forward was still there, but somehow it doesn’t quite seem as strong as it once was. Because of all these reasons and more, the Bantams look a team short on quality right now.

But the downbeat mood is not just evident on the pitch, within the away end there was a strange subdued mood to the evening. At times strong vocal support was offered to the players, at others there was an eeire silence and resignation. City supporters are split about the reasons for the season’s nosedive and, specifically, over Stuart McCall, and this seemed to manifest itself into a lack of atmosphere so unlike typically following City on the road.

We’re all just miserable. We can’t agree on what the cause of the latest run of failure is, we certainly can’t agree on the solution. The mood seemed dark, the belief had slipped. Why are we here tonight? Because we want to be, or because we feel we should be? Suddenly watching City is becoming a chore rather than a pleasure.

So at Gigg Lane we sat in muted disunity. We were freezing cold with a ghastly wind further lowering the temperature at regular intervals. We watched our struggling team beaten by opposition which had cheated us to prosper. We’re fed up of this dismal predictability and, with failure such a typical feature over the last 10 years, we’re almost bored.

Of course this can’t go on forever and, when the pain of tonight dies down, those of us who were at Gigg Lane will be able to take comfort from how well the Bantams played in the second half.  City will eventually win again and we’ll all be able to start feeling better.

But the longer this run of poor form goes on, the greater the long-term damage is likely to prove.

The unwelcome winter break draws to a close

In footballing circles the closer you get to the Arctic Circle there is talk of a Winter break which would allow the players a mid-season rest while conditions are too bad to play and supporters would appreciate the chance to stay at home in the warmth.

This last month the Bantams have had something similar, and it has not been enjoyable.

The one game in four weeks has been a shock to the system. An unwelcome cold summer holiday leaving one at a loose end on a Saturday afternoon and – snow covering being what it was – robbing the opportunity to keep snug in the snug of The Fighting Cock.

A week of perpetration, the increasingly heard comment to wives and girlfriends of “I’m looking forward to some football this weekend”, the thought about how and who and where City will play and then, nothing.

So a return to football on a Tuesday night in Bury is timely, the winter break having gone on far too long.

This game was due to be played on Boxing Day but failed owing to the snow. The Shakers used the generally static division to move the leagues resting in sixth after Saturday’s win over AFC Bournemouth.

The Bantams return to action with one addition in the form of Matt Glennon who has been signed on a six month deal following the exit of Simon Eastwood. Lee Clark has spoken highly of Eastwood suggesting he is ready to take over from Alex Smithes should that player leave as he expected to do so although having watched Eastwood for five months it is hard to share his opinion.

At times excellent, at times calamitous Eastwood lacks a steadying influence which was the hallmark of – in my humble opinion – the best goalkeeper City have ever fielded Gary Walsh. Eastwood is an fine athlete but has yards to go to become as good a footballer.

At 31 Glennon has been around the leagues and the hope is that that experience will settle a City back line which has better footballers in it than it gets results. Glennon sits behind full backs Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien and central pairing Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke who replaces the suspended Steve Williams.

Omar Daley returned to the City squad not match fit a month ago but one can imagine no player in the division is up to speed at the moment following the flurry of cancellations so the winger may get the nod to restarts. Stuart McCall is expected to form a 442 with Daley on the right hand side and James O’Brien on the left around the middle pair of Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn although Stephen O’Leary is expected to be back in contention and should McCall favour a 433 which he seems to be moving away from then he or Chris Brandon may feature.

Should that happen Daley may be pressed into service as one of the two supporting forwards to James Hanson alongside Gareth Evans – who struggled for form before this break – or Michael Boulding.

James Hanson – who it is said is prompting interest from higher up the leagues following his first five months in professional football – is expected to complete the team.

The perspective of Bradford City’s winter of misery as Notts County come to Valley Parade

The snowy weather continues to make life stop-start. It has caused disruption to Bradford City’s season, it has caused misery around the country.

Hours of media attention has contributed to making snow the number one topic of conversation. A Channel 4 News reporter spent a great deal of time interviewing a weather expert in the middle of a wintry Manchester last week. When asked how recent conditions contrasted to the famous big freezes of decades ago, the expert began replying that it’s nothing in comparison to how bad it was then. The interviewer hurriedly cut him off by asking a different question, thereby unintentionally revealing personal aspirations that what he was reporting on was something more historically significant than merely a spot of bad weather.

The here and now is dreadful, who needs the perspective that others had it worse than us in the past? Certainly not the Channel 4 viewers, watching at home on widescreen TVs and keeping warm through central heating.

Perspective is not always welcomed and, as City’s season looks set to unpause again with the visit of Notts County, the opportunity arises to move away from the depressing mood which has engulfed the club since Rochdale waltzed around Valley Parade at the beginning of December. There has only been five games since, despite the seven weeks which have passed. With even the only win of that period widely derided rather than celebrated, a miserable outlook concerning the state of the Bantams has been as difficult to shift as any deep snow.

Has it ever been worse for City then it is now? Perspective might be found from recalling the scary moments when the club almost imploded through administration, from the misery of relegations even from a higher league, or from the fact that City’s history is not without its basement league periods. But the present occupation of League Two midtable below the likes of Morecambe, Accrington and Aldershot is an unhappy one. Many are sharing the outlook of that Channel 4 news reporter – we’ve never had it so bad.

Which, looking from an even wider perspective, offers an interesting clattering of outlooks with Notts County. With this being City’s fourth occasion locking horns with the Magpies this season, the wide range of emotions which has fuelled their season has largely glimpsed through Bantams’ eyes.

The halcyon-dreams of domination prompted by the 5-0 opening day massacre at Meadow Lane. The losing faith in Ian McParland which saw the under-pressure manager dance down the Valley Parade touchline when it looked as though his team had won the JPT tie late on in October, only for a late City equaliser to contribute to his sacking five days later. There was the short-lived reign of McParland’s replacement, Hans Backe, who enjoyed his first win in charge by defeating City in the FA Cup during November.

Backe has gone, incredibly the mysterious richer backers Munto Group have already gone. Suddenly a club with seemingly realistic dreams of climbing all the way to the top is saddled with a level of expenditure and wage bill an average Championship club would struggle to cope with. Reports suggest that, if Executive Chairman Peter Trembling can’t find replacement backers with rich pockets, the club will fold in two months. From the bright days of August, the dark throes of winter see County crawl into Valley Parade with its very future in doubt.

Of course the here and now for County is a respectable fifth-place position and seven point-lead over the Bantams. But as many green-filled eyes from BD8 looked on at Meadow Lane this summer and wondered out loud why it wasn’t us been taken over by rich backers, the uncertainty at County offers plenty of reasons to breath sighs of relief that mysterious folk with questionable motives targeted someone else.

Just like driving cautiously in the snow and passing a BMW driver who’s veered off the road, on Saturday should we look over at the away fans and feel smug or sorry about their misfortune?

So City’s season starts up again with the gap to a play off spot a-still-bridgeable six points away. For how poor recent form has been, the distance has only grown by two points since City drew 2-2 at Northampton at the beginning of October. The most pressing concern is to reverse the shocking home form which threatens to undermine efforts on the road to reduce that gap.

The statistic of a paltry three wins from 11 Valley Parade has been oft-quoted over the past fortnight. Perhaps the clearest indication of the damage can be found in the fact that, since the last home win against Hereford in October, six of City’s nine league games have been at Valley Parade. Seven points have been taken from those three away games, with just three acquired on home soil. The pressure for a maximum home haul is mounting.

Matt Glennon has been signed up to provide greater reassurance to an oft-nervous backline. Ultimately replacing his former team-mate Simon Eastwood, City’s as yet squad number-less first choice stopper arrives with plenty of experience but question marks over rustiness following a lack of senior football. I saw him earlier this season play for Huddersfield reserves at Valley Parade, and what stood out was the volume and regularity of his booming voice ordering around his young back four. While Eastwood improved over time, his rawness still caused him to concede soft goals. The number one quality sought in Glennon is reliability.

The other big player news of the week concerned Michael Flynn’s public rejecting of transfer speculation of a switch to League One. Flynn’s commitment to the cause, even when not playing at his best, is one to build a team around, especially as the 29-year-old has many years of good service in him. He’s also rejected more vicious suggestions of unhappiness at not being captain. The perpetrators of this rumour seem to have a dubious agenda against the awarding of the armband to Zesh Rehman, for what they consider questionable grounds. Let’s just say they probably read the Daily Mail.

Zesh will continue to lead out the team and partners the returning Matt Clarke at the back with Steve Williams taking a turn for suspension. The ever-reliable Simon Ramsden will take up right back with Luke O’Brien on the left side. It remains a personal frustration towards some supporters this season that many are out to deride O’Brien and continually label him not good enough. Last season, Luke seemingly couldn’t put a foot wrong in many fans’ eyes despite obvious rough edges, now he’s playing better and taking on more responsibility and people are seemingly out to slate him.

A few fans have called for his dropping to be replaced by the “hungry young Louis Horne”. At what point did Luke lose his hunger? Perhaps OB can take consolation from the fact the last OB was widely derided by some during the early part of his career – and he’s not done bad since.

In midfield alongside Flynn will be regular partner Lee Bullock and then the still unanswered dilemma of whether to play 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. In the last home game Chris Brandon spearheaded a diamond formation and was subsequently keen to point out a lack of chances so far this season. This formation seems to suit him best, but arguably doesn’t suit City.

James O’Brien – goalscorer last time out – is also in contention alongside Scott Neilson and Omar Daley. Recently watching last season’s goals of the season DVD – with the delights of the always-brilliant Keith Coates commentating – I was pleasantly surprised to recall just how well Daley played up until his injury against Darlington. He scored a number of fantastic goals, created plenty of others too. At full pace and with only the resistance of an opposition full back, he made things happen and his improving fitness offers expectation he can make things happen for City this season.

Up front, Michael Boulding should be fit and may take the place of Gareth Evans, who’s confidence has been dented in recent weeks, partnering top-scorer and rumoured-Huddersfield target James Hanson. City’s chance-to-conversion-ratio is poor and the return of Peter Thorne is anxiously awaited.

Notts County’s last VP visit saw a slightly weakened team and tomorrow we should have the dubious pleasure of watching then-rested Lee Hughes partner Ade Akinbiyi or Luke Rodgers in attack. Graeme Lee will hope for a happier return than his sending off for persistent kicking of Boulding in October. Kasper Schmeichel should be kept away from the corner flags.

Dave Kevan is the caretaker in the dugout. Sven may watch on from the directors box – though it’s rumoured patience has reached its limited and this might be his final game.

Sven probably really has never had it so bad.

 

Honest

Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on your point of view – I know I saw it in a movie this Christmas – and so as City trundle into 2010 at home to Cheltenham one is given cause to reflect on the utterances that come from Valley Parade and the relationship they have with that most precious of things: The truth.

Lee Clark – manager of Huddersfield Town – has made it clear that he has recalled goalkeeper Simon Eastwood from his time at Valley Parade after what is charitably described as “an up and down” time at City while Stuart McCall suggests that City let the shot stopper go in favour of bringing in a more experienced man. That one club did not want him to stay and the other wanted him to go seems to say enough about the keeper’s time as VP shot stopper.

Eastwood will be replaced in goal – in all likelihood – by Jon McLaughlin who is not the experienced man McCall is seeking but is well fancied by many fans the majority of whom have not seen him play. Blind faith in City players always heartening though and the months put into Eastwood’s development which could have gone into McLaughlin seem to have been waste but sometimes a gamble pays off and other times it does not and Eastwood is set against the success of three other rookies in Scott Neilson, James Hanson and Steve Williams.

Which manager is telling the truth? Perhaps both are, perhaps both are not. Probably both tell half of it. McCall was unsure about keeping Eastwood until he had someone else lined up, Clark wanted him back for fear for his development which is stunted. The truth depends greatly on your point of view it seems.

Stuart McCall’s point of view after the Shrewsbury Town game last week was that it was referee Peter Quinn who won the game for the visitors and not the side from Shropshire. Certainly the vocal comment on Quinn’s performance would suggest that there was a broad agreement with the City boss although other demanded McCall stop using “excuses”

As a position to be in McCall stood on invidious ground. He faced criticism that had City not missed early chances – Simon Whaley’s pinging a shot off the bar being judged in the same way as Gareth Evans’s fluff – then the Referee’s interjections would have been irrelevant (or so the logic goes) and thus McCall is excuse mongering.

How the City gaffer does not point out that appeasing an official for making two such massive errors – errors unsupported by his non-flagging linesman in the most serious case – on the basis that one of the teams had not already scored is avoidance of a much higher order I do not know. When it comes to excuses the “he got two decisions wrong but it was our fault for not having scored” borders on the masochistic.

McCall was not able to be honest after the game – although he tried with his “Shrewsbury have not won that” comment – and nor were BfB our Rochdale honed sense of what will get us sued preventing us from writing the original article that said “Player X and Player Y are cheats, plain and simple.”

I have sympathy for Peter Quinn for that reason. Some of the Shrewsbury Town players were far better at cheating than they were at football and if someone needs to be giving out excuses it should be Paul Simpson for playing those players at all. An honest man would not. To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand – or so Dr Who says.

Simon Ramsden is expected to return for City at right back displacing Jonathan Bateson – who had his best game in a City shirt against Shrewsbury – with Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams being reunited as Matthew Clarke starts his suspension. Luke O’Brien continues to play the season red cardless one of which will be high on the impressive Louis Horne’s new year wish list.

Omar Daley is expected to be kept on the bench once more as he returns to fitness with a stacked January of rearranged away trips in mind – Daley’s pace is incredibly effective on the road – giving Scott Neilson the right wing place opposite Simon Whaley who also impressed against Shrewsbury. Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn continue in the middle.

James Hanson and Gareth Evans continue up front with Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding injured. Hanson continues to win admirers while Evans struggles to impress all. Personally I can forgive Evans the fluff against Shrewsbury – I recall Benito Carbone doing the same against Southampton – because of the striker’s reaction.

Head up, on to the next chance, honest.

Nil-nil, Everton, plus ten

28th of December, 1999 and Bradford City are nursing a 4-0 hangover from Old Trafford and take on Everton at Valley Parade. The game finishes 0-0 and is one of the many odd points that Paul Jewell’s side picked up on the road to a halcyon day in May that saw the Bantams retain top flight status and – it is said by many – bring about the ruination of the club.

A home game with Shrewsbury Town represents a ten years of football which few would have predicted and many who are in control of the game would do well to reflect upon. Football in 1999 was on the crest of a wave with a rich bounty to spend. Since then forty-seven of the clubs one hundred and three who have competed in the four football league in the last decade have had to seek the protection of administration while the top division spends over a billion pounds on wages.

The fall of Bradford City represents – in the opinion of this observer – a mix of poor timing and poor management. The Bantams crime in the Premiership is well know – Six Weeks of Madness – but the punishment of being cast down to the lower reaches is perhaps disproportionate. Leeds United – who also benefited from City’s best day in May 2000 were punished massively for trying to take a step up the footballing ladder.

One could argue all day about Richmond and Risdale and how they went about their respective jobs but when the dust settled many would agree that the fact that those two chairmen, a good number of the forty-five other head honchos and the odd other former Bantams chairman/landlord should have been more rigidly governed when they were in charge of the civic institutions. Yes, if businesses then not just businesses, we have learnt that from the last ten years.

In ten years time will we be reflecting on a revolution in football that has seen what could be considered the souls of clubs protected from those who would exploit them so that the events of the previous decade can not occur? Probably not. If we are still playing at Valley Parade on 28th December 2019 then a victory will have been won to reclaim our ground from the hands of Gordon Gibb who managed to slip it away from us.

In the snowy Bradford that still threatens this game Stuart McCall has recalled a time when City planned a training facility with the riches of the Premiership which never materialised. The story is common throughout the game when clubs spent money on players in an attempt to top the sun from setting rather than reaping the harvest when it shined.

City close off this decade at home to a Shrewsbury team who under the guidance of Paul Simpson – his Uncle John used to teach at St Bedes, you know – managed to spend “huge” resource and not be promoted in the same way that Stuart McCall and the Bantams are oft accused proving perhaps that it takes more than a big pile of money to make a winning team.

Both McCall and Simpson are rejecting calls for them to leave from some elements of the support which are argued with by other elements. The arguments are similar at both clubs despite the Bantams drastic decline. Shrewsbury Town have had six managers in the last ten years, City have had eight, and some fans at The New Gay Meadow think that that is more of a problem than the sale of Grant Holt which mirrored the departures of Graeme Lee and Paul McLaren at the end of last season.

The Bantams go into the game having not played in the league since 12 December 2009 against Rotherham United having gone out of the JPT at Carlisle United three days later. Simon Ramsden – sent off in that defeat – is still waiting to serve a suspension which he should do against the Shrews on the 28th.

Ramsden will be replaced by Jonathan Bateson in a back four that sees Steve Williams fit to return and gives Stuart McCall the chance to pick a pairing from Williams, Zesh Rehman and the resurgent Matthew Clarke. Luke O’Brien plays left back and Simon Eastwood continues in goal with a question over his future as he comes to the end of his loan spell at Valley Parade.

McCall attempts to reformat his side to a 442 as Omar Daley prepares for a return – he lacks match fitness despite playing in the last fifteen minutes of the last game but so do the rest of the squad sat idle – and the Jamaican winger might be featuring on the left hand side with Scott Neilson on the right and Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock in the middle. If Daley is not ready James O’Brien or Chris Brandon may get called into action or McCall may play Simon Whaley although it seems that the loan signing I was excited about seeing will make a brief stay at Valley Parade.

Gareth Evans and James Hanson are guaranteed places up front in either a 442 or a 433 as Michael Boulding continues to recover from hack in the back by Pablo Mills. Neither will hope to match one Gary Shaw’s striking efforts in this tie when the former Villa man scored a hat-trick in two and a half minutes.

That game was two decades ago, the Everton match was one. Today we start more unpredictability.

The way to the middle

Teams like Aldershot Town provide a stark contrast for Bradford City supporters. Aldershot – as with the Accrington Stanley fans who out sung the 10,000 Bantams fans at Valley Parade – have struggled seen their club cast out of football and brought it back from the bottom. City, on the other hand, have fallen from the top.

The Shots were thrown out of the league Mid-season in the early 1990s following a series of chairman abuses but returned to the league in the last few years having shown the kind of spirit to rebuild the club that City fans did to raise the £250,000 to keep the club in business in its centenary year. In the words of Lester Bangs “Everyone meets again on the way back to the middle.”

Aldershot sit a place behind the play-off positions but are nursing heads from a 6-1 thrashing by Burton Albion last time out. City struggle for results but have shown admirable hearts in the two defeats last week to Rotherham and Carlisle. It is thought that the Bantams are entering a crucial time in the season and a crucial period for manager Stuart McCall but honestly – when is it not a crucial time?

McCall goes into the game without Simon Ramsden – sent off the first half of the Carlisle defeat – but will slot Jonathan Bateson in at right back alongside Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke should Steve Williams not be fit to return in the place of the latter. Luke O’Brien and Simon Eastwood continue at left back and in goal respectively.

The Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock midfield is starting to resemble the pairing of Dean Furman and Nicky Law last season in that all agree with it, all think it is good, but it seems to be the middle of a team which loses too often. Both Flynn and Bullock work hard – certainly they bossed Law’s midfield last week – and offer the best option for the positions.

James O’Brien had a cameo in the JPT game before being taken off as a result of the red card – many feel that without him City lack set piece delivery – but with Simon Whaley having struggled to live up to early form culminating in his annoyingly slow run off in the Rotherham game and Chris Brandon seemingly prepared to meander through a season has highest paid player for his home town club O’Brien could be the best option.

Adding James O’Brien to the left and creating a tight three with a right winger able to provide a link to the forward line which is very much what Scott Neilson has been doing all season from the attacking coming back but with the last sixteen minutes of Carlisle returning Omar Daley to the fold there is a chase the Bantams could field both Daley and Neilson in a pair of attacking widemen.

Gareth Evans and James Hanson carry on up front.

End of the ride

Bradford City’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy interest ended at Carlisle tonight and I’m gutted. I’m gutted about the manner of the defeat, and I’m gutted about the agony of coming so close to a mouth-watering two-legged semi final with Leeds United.

But I’m also grateful for the adventure.

Progressing four rounds in a lower league knockout competition might not seem much to shout about, but against a backdrop of years of Bantams cup feebleness this season’s JPT run has been a memorable experience. Each encounter along the way to last night has been laced with drama and ultimate jubilation, with the prospect of City standing in the Wembley Royal Box lifting a trophy seemingly far from fanciful.

It certainly beats year-on-year hoping for progression to the FA Cup 3rd Round and the prospect of a glamour defeat to a Premier League reserve team.

The dream died at Brunton Park tonight, where once again the Bantams were left questioning the officials. Long-serving referee Anthony Bates decided to issue a second yellow card to City’s Simon Ramsden after the defender got into an argument with a home player which seemed to spur on the home fans nearby into screaming for action. It was one where, viewing from across the opposite side of the pitch, it was difficult to see if Ramsden had provided ample cause to trigger an early bath, but it tipped an evenly-matched encounter in favour of the team from a division higher.

City tried to hold out until half time, bringing on Jonathan Bateson for the unfortunate to be sacrificed James O’Brien, but the deadlock was broken with even more controversy as the impressive Vincent Pericard clearly handled the ball in the area, unspotted, and fired a low shot which Simon Eastwood did well to palm away only for Richard Keogh, looking very offside, to fire the rebound home. City behind, and with a mountain to climb.

Falling behind was a regular feature of City’s JPT run. At Rochdale in the first round, highly-rated home defender Craig Dawson hooked the ball into the net after picking up a stray clearance from a free kick. We slumped back in our seats a bit, groaning at the prospect of another defeat at Spotland and another fourth consecutive JPT first round exit, with weary resignation.

But City, recovering from that poor start to the season, didn’t throw in the towel and soon after Michael Flynn belted in a screamer of a free kick and Scott Neilson’s impressive full debut was capped off by a thrilling run and deflected shot which looped over the back peddling Kenny Arthur and into the net. There were only 315 of us City fans their that night, had Wembley being reached this season we should have been awarded our own little royal box. There was a small slice of fortune in the win, with City’s equaliser coming from an attack where Rochdale should have had a free kick, but from that stroke of luck a great win was achieved.

At Brunton Park we spend half time once again bemoaning our lack of luck. The number of decisions to go against City in recent weeks is startling and is playing a far greater impact on the club’s fortunes than any season I can remember. Everyone has a theory so here’s mine, after much bellyaching about Stuart Attwell following the inexperienced official’s decision to dismiss Gareth Evans at Morecambe, the failure to follow up those complaints by appealing the red card may have backfired. Perhaps other referees have interpreted Stuart McCall’s outburst but lack of action as that of a manager too eager to pass the blame for failings elsewhere. I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but the standard of refereeing City have since received suggests officials are taking charge of Bantams games with certain pre-judgements.

Still hope remained tonight, despite the 1-0 half time scoreline. City had played some good stuff in the first half. Neilson, James O’Brien and Ramsden had all gone close and though the Cambrians had dominated possession Eastwood was no more busy than home keeper Lenny Pidgley. One scare had seen City twice clear the ball off the line after Eastwood misjudged a corner, but despite Matt Clarke and Zesh Rehman struggling with their distribution City remained solid.  So even with 10 men and a goal deficit to overcome, the glamour tie with Leeds still seemed a realistic prospect.

There was a touch of glamour in the air for the second round encounter at home to Notts County. Despite only being a fifth full, the queue to get inside Valley Parade prior to kick off snaked around the corner as heavy rain flung down. Finding a seat in the packed Main Stand was a challenge, but we were quite grateful to have sat at the back when at half time we realised Sven Goran Eriksson was sat a few rows behind us in one of the exec seats.

By that point each team had traded a goal with the early threat of another Notts County thrashing receding after Michael Boulding’s well-placed low finish from Flynn’s glorious through ball cancelled out their lead. It seemed to take an age to roll in after it had passed Kasper Schemiecal’s outstretched arm, the second of three goals in a week for the inconsistent forward.

Boulding is now injured for a month, and with 10 men City looked especially short in the final third as the second half resumes at Carlisle, with James Hanson deployed on his own and Neilson and Gareth Evans eager support workers when claret shirts have the ball. Just like on Saturday, McCall’s half time words clearly inspired the team and for 20 minutes it was all City. An almighty scramble from a corner sees Carlisle players clear the ball off the line three times.  Soon after, Evans’ shot was parried by Pidgley and Hanson rushes in to attempt to head the ball into the net. Pidgley gets back onto his feet in time to claw it out, Hanson has another go and when it’s blocked again it was Evans’ turn to strike the ball goalwards, but a blue shirt just manages to get in the way. The pressure continued to grow, City are impressing,

Sven didn’t look impressed when Graeme Lee was sent off for one too many hacks at Boulding back in the second round, his thoughts were probably occupied by questioning the judgment of his then-manager Ian McParland ,who had signed the defender been given the run around by former team mates. Yet with 10 men County grew strong and re-took the lead with five minutes to go. We’re out, what a shame but hey it’s only the JPT.

But then City get second wind and Chris Brandon equalised from a corner in stoppage time. It was one of those moments where it’s at the other end to where you’re sat so you wait for reaction of fans around you to judge if it has gone in, but this rare time I’m the first one to cheer and a split second later everyone around me follows. Time for penalties.

We’d certainly settled for penalties again back at Brunton Park with City pressing hard, but then completely against the run of play substitute Scott Dobie scores Carlisle’s second. There is again a hint of offside, but the fact Lee Bullock had cheaply coughed up possession in his own final third to set up the chance to play Dobie through is the most damaging. It will now take a miracle for City to stay in the competition, but hey City did go 2-0 down and recover in a previous round.

A penalty shootout against County, a penny for Sven’s thoughts. The stakes are hardly the same as Portugal ’04 or Germany ’06, but the memories must stir. Sven is stood up talking to an elderly City fan in the row in front while the players get ready; it’s the type of story oft-reported around League Two that, as ridiculous it is he is with us, Sven is at least making an effort everywhere he goes.

The penalties look like going County’s way when Kasper saves from Peter Thorne and the visitors are 2-0 ahead, but City dig in and start finding the net and Eastwood starts saving. The game is decided by Kasper lining up against Easty and the sometimes-City hero prevails, sparking a somewhat over the top pitch invasion and Kasper to smash a hole in the dressing room wall. Sven looks unmoved. What a night.

If there are any fairytales at Carlisle tonight they would surely involve Omar Daley, who makes the long-awaited return to first team action by coming on as a substitute with 18 minutes to go. His name is sung excitedly and nearby team mates run over to shake his hand. It’s a special Bradford City moment on a night looking increasingly forgettable, it could prove a significant moment if his gradual return to fitness heralds an improvement in Bantams league form.

Daley soon gets his first chance to run at a full back, playing a quick one-two before his cross is put behind for a corner. Daley takes it himself, but it barely reaches the near post and is cleared towards Matty Robson. Despite two defenders staying back he has all the time in the world to charge towards Eastwood and slot the ball into the corner. It truly is good night now.

It was Port Vale in round three, 999 visiting fans and the lower tier of the Kop closed to deter pitch invasions. We went into the top tier this time and chanted like we haven’t chanted at a home game for years. 1-0 down yet again, but coming back strongly in the second half with Flynn and Hanson scoring. Me and my friend start talking about the next round draw but then Vale equalised. Penalties again, does lightning strike twice?

The sense of disappointment at Brunton Park is nearly added to after a defensive slip up allows Dobie in, but Eastwood makes a good save. There is still a spirit to City’s efforts, but this is a beaten side. How we’d love a consolation, something to cheer on a cold night, some reward for the endeavour shown on the pitch. Hanson and Flynn don’t come far away, but the only cheering comes from the Carlisle supporters as they mock.

The penalties against Port Vale lasted forever. Score, score, miss, miss, miss, miss, score, score, score, score. Every adequate-looking City penalty taker has gone and what’s left are defenders who struggle to direct their clearances as intended never mind smashing home a penalty. Oh god Luke O’Brien, he’s going to miss…phew. Clarke? Deary me…phew. Then Eastwood saves a third penalty on the night and the winner is scored by the unlikely figure of Steve Williams. We go mental, we’re through to the quarter finals, bring on the draw and lets make it another home one.

And as the game at Brunton Park comes to an end it is the one factor of luck we could do nothing about which sees the JPT run end unsatisfactorily here. If only the luck of the draw had seen City at home to Accrington, or even at home to Carlisle. If this was to be the round progress was to be halted, it would have been nice, if painful. to have gone out to Leeds and at least have enjoyed the occasion and boasted the club’s finances. Instead it’s all over, and the final whistle brings Stuart McCall over to us to applaud. Not a cross word has been uttered about the possibly-under-pressure manager tonight, and while that doesn’t mean no one here doesn’t want him replaced this was not the occasion to air it.

That’s been a difference with the JPT run; because as memorable as it has been to some supporters like me, the majority of fans who turn up to league home games have not witnessed a single minute of this adventure. Low away following at Rochdale, low home turnouts against Notts County and Port Vale. And while this doesn’t make those of us who have attended better supporters than those who have not, the atmosphere each time has been a refreshing change from the usual afternoons of little but singling out players for criticism, moaning about when subs should be made and booing. The JPT adventure has been positive, we’ve all strongly got behind the team and whatever the failings along the way they have not been made too much of in the heat of the battle, as this can so often be to the detriment of the team.

What a shame it can’t always be like this, but despite the crushing disappointment of tonight I’m sure I’m not the only supporter looking forward to starting it all over again next September.

Three steps from Wembley as City face Carlisle in the JPT

City are three steps away from a day out at Wembley.

Carlisle United stand in the way of the Bantams reaching a Northern Final of the Associate Members’ Cup against either Leeds United or Accrington Stanley and while “form” – i.e. the fact that League One clubs take on League Two clubs – suggest that the Uniteds will meet last season’s winners finished bottom of the whole football league beating a team that is now in the Championship in the final event.

Carlisle United have four times been for the big day out at the end of this competition losing three but holding the trophy in 1997 while the Bantams have never performed better than we currently are doing in this cup competition.

Bradford City and cup competitions have long since fallen out with memories of a cup run dim in the mind so this endeavour – the result of two 2-2 games in which Simon Eastwood saved penalties to win the ties and a 2-1 win over Real Rochdale – has warmed the heart on poorly attended Tuesday nights.

A point on those two games which are listed in City’s history as “draws” or “wins on penalties” yet reading The Observer a week ago it turns out that England crashed out on penalties in the last two world cups. City won both shoot outs by a single penalty kick – the same margin that England crashed to – which would seem to suggest that the Bantams pasted Notts County and blitzed Port Vale… on penalties. Now that is spin for you.

Not that one could expect a home and away tie with Leeds United to be poorly attended for either of these clubs and that two legged affair – more than the final – represents a pot of gold although if one were an Accrington Stanley fan one might suggest that if Kettering Town can play Leeds to a stand still then the Lancashire side can too.

Never one to standstill Omar Daley returns for City after ten months having his leg sown back on following a “perfectly fair and legal” (or so the Referee thought) tackle left him out of the game for almost year while Michael Boulding starts a month on the sidelines after being chunked in the air by Pablo Probert (sorry, Mills) on Saturday.

Daley’s return was eagerly anticipated and if one player can raise spirits of a City community rendered flat after a Referee who provoked comments that ranged from “bloody awful” to “awfully biased” and a series of home results that sees the Bantams without a victory at Valley Parade in some time. On the road the Bantams have more success winning the last two keeping clean sheets in the process.

Much of this is – as always – put down to the ability to be more defensive away from home and with Stuart McCall’s side facing a club 11th in the division above few will complain if the Bantams boss employs his 442 once more.

Simon Eastwood keeps goal again – he is made of this competition – with injuries to Steve Williams and – probably – Zesh Rehman allowing Matthew Clarke and Simon Ramsden to pair at the back once more. Jonathan Bateson thus continues at right back with Luke O’Brien on the left.

The four in the middle see Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock continue – Bullock must be suspended again soon considering he is booked whenever he sneezes – but Simon Whaley misses having played for Norwich in a previous round giving Chris Brandon the chance to start on the left opposite Scott Neilson (Scott Neilson/Olly Murs, separated at birth) who will start the game by may come off to allow Omar a run in the team and at the left back.

James Hanson and Gareth Evans continue up front with Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne both injured.

The loop continues at Darlington

There was a depressing predictability about the reaction to the defeat to Rochdale this week which saw the Bantams beaten 3-0 by a League Two team that played a slick, flowing, football beyond their status. For some Rochdale were not given credit for a performance which made them near unplayable while others rubbed eyes with an amazement and wistfully asked when City would play like that.

Perhaps the answer to that goes back a decade to the team that was promoted to the Premiership who played with the same bottomless confidence and belief in each other that Rochdale showed. At one point – and without looking – one Dale defender headed out from a corner to the release valve man who trotted the ball up field for another attack.

It was akin to Peter Beagrie turning a right back and putting the ball to the far post because he knew – he had the confidence that – Lee Mills would be under it to head in and from the stands it looks like telepathy. Perhaps 3-0 Bradford 2009 will be to Spotland what Chelsea 2-0 2000 is to City fan – a high watermark in performance.

City’s job following on – and specifically Stuart McCall’s job – is to minimise the result and move on from it learning what can be taken from the game and rebuilding the confidence of a side who were found to be second best. This season started in this manner with the 5-0 defeat at Notts County requiring a mental rebuild as well as a team reshaping.

Options for moving players around are available but more importantly players like Steve Williams, James O’Brien and James Hanson have had their first taste of that flavour of bitter defeat and McCall needs to work with those players. Part of building a squad based around young players gives these problems of inconsistency perhaps by virtue of the unexpected. Steve Williams will have never played against an attacking line which moved around as much as the Rochdale one did. He can learn from that.

As the dust settles from the Rochdale game the Bantams sit nine points off the automatic promotion places – the same distance as on Tuesday afternoon – but four off the play-offs. Bottom place Darlington represent a chance to close that gap.

Darlington are a club cursed by a stadium far too big for their needs an inability to get the local public interested in filling it. As a club they bought into the dreams of the last decade and a half’s promise of big football and like City they have struggled to make that a sustainable proposition. In the summer they employed Colin Todd and Dean Windass to hammer together a squad from spare parts – including former Bantams Mark Bower and Paul Arnison – and the did a manful job before departing to leave Steve Staunton – a fifth former Bantam in the sentence – who struggles against situations such as his inability to play the excellent Steve Foster again for fear of triggering the offer of a new contract the club can ill afford.

Darlington lived beyond there means – Rochdale’s Chris Dunphy would have them out of the league no doubt – and as usual the supporters are left to pick up the pieces left behind when businessmen/safe crackers have moved on.

The cost of administration and football failure is never better illustrated than the woman in Darlington who saw her B&B business in trouble after the club defaulted on the debt it had run up housing a loanee signed to sit on the bench when the clubs met at Valley Parade back in February chasing promotion in a way they could not afford.

That night Darlington played what could be called “a hard game” and one Kevin Austin challenge on Omar Daley snapped the midfielders leg in half (Hey – I’m no Doctor) and stopped the player form kicking a ball in anger until this week taking the Bantams promotion campaign with it.

Daley’s return for the reserves is a hint at things to come rather than a burst back into the side. Omar played 45 minutes but will be taking the long road back and it seems that Simon Whaley will be filling in for him until his return, perhaps exiting when he is fit.

Whaley and fellow support striker Gareth Evans were neutralised by a canny Rochdale side leaving Stuart McCall with a tactical head swim. The 433 took care of Grimsby – the team one place above Darlington – but was ineffective against Rochdale and the manager must decide which of these two games is reflective of his formation’s effects.

Simon Eastwood will keep the gloves after an athletic display on Tuesday blotted by having the ball placed through his legs for the first goal. The defensive four will probably remain as it was – or at least it would if I were manager – but some would switch Simon Ramdsen into the middle with Steve Williams and put Jonathan Bateson in at right back while others favour Ramsden and Rehman rather than Williams. O’Brien is unchallenged at left back save other young players but has put in a good level of performance this year and certainly is forgiven Tuesday night.

Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock emerged from the mid-week game without criticism – indeed perhaps it is tribute to their strengths that Rochdale played the game on the flanks rather than through the middle – and will keep the middle of field although that could be with one of James O’Brien/Chris Brandon in a three of with Scott Neilson and Whaley/Brandon on the flanks in a four.

Neilson looked lively coming on on Tuesday night – an admirable attitude that deserved more than an ironic cheer for his header at goal in the last minute – but will probably be restricted to the bench. James Hanson will almost certainly start and will match himself against Mark Bower and – as Foster cannot play and Ian Miller is injured – someone from the Quakers youth side. Knowing what we do about Mark Bower one might expect McCall to keep Gareth Evans alongside Hanson – Bower struggled with powerful players – and leave Michael Boulding on the bench. A three would have Whaley/Hanson/Evans along the front.

Darlington – despite the trails – represent a tough game approach the match with nothing to lose and written off before kick off. City start rebuilding confidence once more – stuck in a kind of loop between bad results leading to unbeaten periods interrupted by bad results. It is midtable form and needs a kick start to move it onto being play-off contenders.

Darlington – who attempted a kick start last season living beyond