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.

Make Peter Thorne guest of honour for City’s home game with Notts County

Peter Thorne’s departure from Valley Parade is a sad and unbefitting end for a player whose efforts over the last two-and-half-years have proved so memorable. Although Michael has written an excellent tribute, I’d also like to add my own.

Stuart McCall’s second signing after Barry Conlon, injury prevented Thorne from making an instant impact but, after netting against Chester City in an FA Cup 1st Round tie in November 2007, he played a key part in the team’s revival after a slow start to the campaign. That form continued into the start of the following season at least, though further injuries and loss of form saw him go goalless for three months, before he was the nearly hero of City’s late promotion push collapse – scoring memorably in the last minute against leaders Brentford to earn a draw, and then having perfectly legal goals against Morecambe and Dagenham ruled at pivotal moments in the games. It could have been so different for Thorne and City.

Thorne was a goalscorer and little more, and in the modern era where players’ faults are highlighted to unfair proportions, the fact he did little but tuck away chances was a reason to criticise, especially when he wasn’t tucking away those chances; but such prowess is hard to come by and will be missed. After the huge hole that was Dean Windass leaving in 2007, you feared City might struggle to find a goalscorer to replace him. Thorne took on that role and was widely loved for it. Now we can fear we might struggle to replace him.

Half a chance was often all he needed, bang, goal and the usual understated celebration. He scored many simple goals but he also scored some excellent ones, his high number of goals against Notts County probably standing out most. He netted a hat trick against the Magpies in January 2008 and two on the opening day of the season after, but it probably his effort at Meadow Lane in February 2008 that will go down as my personal favourite Thorne goal. Controlling a long pass from TJ Moncur calmly, he spun into the area and unleashed a powerful shot past Russell Hoult. No wonder Notts County were sick of him.

But they should have to see him one more time. After such heroic efforts Thorne shouldn’t be allowed to exit via the backdoor in this manner. We supporters deserve the chance to say goodbye and to show our appreciation, and Thorne deserves the chance to receive it. Make him the guest of honour at City’s game with Notts County next Tuesday, invite him onto the pitch at half time to meet his public. Let us chant his name one more time and remember the many great moments he provided for City.

We’ll really miss Thorne, please let us at least say goodbye.

Thorne follows Boulding out of Valley Parade

Following yesterday’s exit for the Boulding brothers the club have announced that Peter Thorne is leaving the club this week after two and a half years at Valley Parade.

Thorne’s record of 31 goals in 73 games made him top scorer although injury curtailed the effectiveness of the former Cardiff striker – who along with Barry Conlon was Stuart McCall’s first signings at the club – in his first and last seasons.

One of McCall’s biggest “if onlys” was that he would have liked the striker fitter for longer and another is that Thorne’s tally of 31 was not increased by the one he poked home at Morecambe only to be waved away by a poorly placed Referee.

At the start of this season Thorne agreed – at McCall’s insistence – a year long extension at a reduced rate despite his worries that his persistent back injury would stop him playing a significant role.

Thorne finishes his City career on 198 goals for all clubs in total and there is a school of thought that says that the club – and Peter Taylor – would have been well advised to allow the supporters a cheery send off of one of the most popular players of the past few years. Perhaps.

Thorne is not only held in high regard by supporters. Stuart McCall made him captain and paid warm tribute to him and the assistance he offered the other forwards in training. This was echoed time and time again by the likes of Gareth Evans who talked about how the senior forward had advised him on how to get through bad patches, how to be a better player.

Should Thorne decide to move from player to management I feel sure that he would have something to offer a club and should he do that I feel sure he would be a success. One club near his North West home could do worse than offering the former Norwich, Cardiff and Bradford City striker a chance to take charge.

One day his path might take him to the Valley Parade – home or away – and when he does he will be given the warm tribute that his smart play and clinical finishing deserves.

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.

This is a low

After a week of rising excitement and gushing praise towards new Bradford City manager Peter Taylor – sobriety. 

Optimism filled the air, and the away end, as the 15-week spell under Taylor’s tutelage kicked off, but the crashing-to-earth realisation there is no magic wand came long before the final whistle. If he didn’t know it already, the size of the task was coldly presented to the one-time England boss during this weak surrender.

If there’s a consolation to take, it’s that things really could have been worse. As Accrington’s John Miles was allowed to run clear on goal and slot home the first of two goals at 4.09pm, the bottom two clubs – Grimsby and Darlington – were both in winning positions and gaining ground. In the end Grimsby drew and Darlington blew an 80th minute 2-0 home lead to lose 3-2, meaning the Bantams retain a cushion barrier from the relegation scrap.

But there was little hope of an away team recovery in East Lancashire. Starting the game in a 4-5-1 formation – gasp, remember when Stuart McCall was widely criticised for being so ‘negative’ in playing like this? – Taylor’s City struggled to make any impression on a dreary game. James Hanson was the sole forward of the set up, but was so effectively marked out of the game by the hugely impressive Darran Kempson it would be no surprise if the home defender only took his sights off the former Guiseley striker as he boarded back onto the team bus.

Sure Kempson pushed his luck, shoving Hanson in the back and not being afraid to lead with elbows, but the weak manner in which Hanson allowed himself to be bullied out of the game shows how far he has to go before he can realistically hope for higher league interest to turn serious.

Yet as has been typical of City in recent weeks, when Hanson does play the over-used tactic is to hit the ball long towards his head. The midfield five were presumably instructed to read Hanson’s flick ons, but his low success ratio and poor movement from behind meant possession was regularly gifted back to the home team. And when City did play through the middle they found eager red shirts snapping at their heels, giving them little time on the ball. Such work rate simply wasn’t matched by those wearing black.

Scott Neilson and Gareth Evans were the more forward-intended players of the midfield five; but both lack in confidence which meant that, despite them notably trying harder than others, little went right. That’s not to say they ran themselves into the ground, certainly Neilson was often guilty of strolling, instead of racing, back to track runners. But if Taylor was able to avoid covering his eyes, he may seem some hope in the pair provided he can install some belief.

The other three in midfield were simply woeful, and would struggle to argue their efforts deserve anything better than relegation to the bench. Michael Flynn’s dipping of form in recent weeks is alarming and today he looked disinterested and out of ideas when in possession. The ability to ping a cross-field ball and make forceful runs – illustrated so regularly prior to Christmas – was hidden behind illogical passes and tame shots. He is supposed to be City’s general, but is going increasingly awol.

Lee Bullock was also uninvolved while Chris Brandon’s maddening tendency to drift all around the pitch and take up ineffective positions was yet again to the detriment of the shape of the team. It can be argued McCall failed to make the most of Brandon’s undoubted talent and we might expect Taylor to do better in the coming weeks, but much should come from the player himself and the impression all season is City fan Brandon lacks the commitment to be successful.

And if Taylor inherits some significant problems in midfield, the defence will surely contribute to some sleepless nights too. Zesh Rehman has struggled for form during most of the campaign, but this was perhaps his worst game yet for the Bantams. He looked panicky every time the ball came nearby. When he wasn’t hoofing the ball aimlessly forwards he was struggling to control it. He continued to lose his man when Accrington attacked and, when he did have time on the ball, often chose the wrong passing option. He was sacrificed in the closing stages as Taylor brought on Peter Thorne, a move which triggered cheers from an strangely muted travelling support.

Luke O’Brien also struggled, how he must long for the club to sign a left winger he can link up with or at least for Omar Daley to remain fit. So often the ball was played to O’Brien near the back without a single black shirt nearby to present a passing option. He had to keep taking the ball forwards only to be closed down and concede possession.

City’s five-man midfield should have meant one of Bullock or Flynn could drop deep to help, while Brandon or Evans should have drifted over more to the left flank to partner up with him. Matt Clarke and Simon Ramsden hardly enjoyed good games themselves, but at least showed more composure and urgency to do the right things.

After a dull goalless first half in which a tame shot from Brandon was the closest City came to scoring, Miles opened the scoring on 54 minutes with Clarke and Rehman having switched off. Hanson had minutes earlier fired City’s best chance over the bar from Ramsden’s free kick, but despite having 36 minutes to come back the Bantams rarely looked capable.

The introductions of Michael Boulding for Brandon, Leon Osborne for Neilson and Thorne for Rehman made little difference, and Miles sealed a deserved Stanley victory with four minutes to go after former City striker Michael Symes crossed the ball into his path. That might have been his hat trick goal, but minutes earlier Matt Glennon had denied the former-Liverpool trainee with a decent save.

The final whistle was met with loud boos and, disappointingly, some fans chose to give Flynn some distasteful abuse when he came over  to applaud the away end. For the moment no blame will be attached to Taylor, which means the players will have to get used to being on the receiving end of fans’ anger.

Which won’t help their clearly dipping confidence. It’s hard to believe these players were at least putting in some strong performances only weeks ago – usually not getting the rewards or the correct refereeing decisions. Now they seem to have little trust in themselves or each other to do the right things, and many are shying away from taking responsibility.

Even in a campaign which has featured the heavy defeats to Notts County and Rochdale, I would argue this performance and last week’s against Grimsby are the worst of the season. In fact it’s difficult for those of us who’ve being watching the Bantams for less than 20 years to recall performances as wretchedly-clueless as these.

All of which leaves Taylor with a huge amount of work to do. City have dropped to 18th, and the 14-point gap to the play offs firmly shelves any talk of a Chris Kamara-style late surge. The season cannot be allowed to drift into nothingness. The miserable outlook which has engulfed the club since Rochdale triumphed 3-0 at Valley Parade in December has to be shifted. The future has to look bright again.

The fantastic Accrington fans – who put on a magnificent home atmosphere which should shame most City supporters – regularly sang how we’d f**ked up the Premier League, the Championship and League One. The big question is whether this defeat represents a low point, or is the low point. Can it really get any worse for City than it is right now? We’ve asked that question often in recent years and later found the answer to be yes. Taylor’s task over the next three months is to at least ensure we supporters can one day look back on this afternoon and answer no, it couldn’t and it didn’t. 

But with a daunting trip to leaders Rochdale on Tuesday night, the doom and gloom is unlikely to shift quickly. It threatens to be a very long night and, on the back of this sobering afternoon, heavy drinking beforehand is strongly advised.

Jacobs can’t shake off the staleness as City draw with struggling Grimsby

A  banner was unfurled over the edge of the Main Stand top tier as the players came out for kick off which seemed to be in support of Stuart McCall; but before we’d had chance to read what it said, it had been removed.

This didn’t appear to be an act of boardroom concealing, more concern from stewards that the banner was covering up advertising hoardings. Though it was a shame the supporter’s home-made effort wasn’t allowed to be draped over some of the thousands of empty seats.

It was not meant to be, and perhaps the same can be said of Wayne Jacobs as Bradford City manager. Having requested to Mark Lawn that he is interviewed for the vacant position during the week, this disappointing draw with second-bottom Grimsby was hardly the commendation he needed ahead of Monday’s meeting.  Already an outsider for the position, his chances seemingly reduced with each passing minute of goalless action.

Apart from Jacobs patrolling the dugout in suit rather tracksuit, it was difficult to recognise much different. For 90 minutes City huffed and puffed, but the well-organised visitors defended in numbers and carried a threat on the break. Oliver Lancashire and Joe Widdowson were outstanding at the back and, although the Bantams spent long spells camped out in the opposition half, clear cut chances were at a premium.

Robbed of injury to Omar Daley, Jacobs’ team selection could easily have been that of McCall’s. Though Gareth Evans was moved to the left instead of part of a front three, bringing more balance to the side than for last week’s defeat to Bury. Scott Neilson was recalled on the right and improved on a tentative start to produce an impressive second half display which was aided by Jacobs’ switching Simon Ramsden back to right back at half time, as City’s captain was more supportive going forward than Zesh Rehman in the first half.

But elsewhere confidence was obviously lacking. For much of this season City have been too desperate to get the ball forwards quickly instead of showing composure; and though midfield pair Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn impressed in patches, the middlemen were often cut out in favour of a long ball from the back towards James Hanson.

With Grimsby playing a higher backline in the first half, passes in behind the strikers from midfield was an effective option, but when Town dropped deeper it was back to route one. Initial panic was often caused from Hanson’s flick ons, but Town always seemed to have more numbers back to snuff out the danger.

Evans had the best chance of the first half when a good pass had set Hanson clear before he pulled the ball back to City’s number nine. But Evans’ confidence seems to have been unaffected by his double at Torquay two weeks ago and he fired over. It’s now three months since he scored at Valley Parade.

And it’s nine months since Peter Thorne – making his first start since going off injured against Rochdale in the JPT last September – scored anywhere. The top scorer of the past two seasons was effective in holding up the ball, but inside the area the sort of half chances he sniffs out seemed to allude him. Michael Boulding was introduced on 65 minutes and wasted a decent opportunity when shooting straight at Nick Colgan. Hanson and Neilson also fired over from promising positions, but the 0-0 looked inevitable long before the assistant referee signalled four minutes of injury time.

Matt Glennon was a virtual spectator, other than an important save from a well-worked Grimsby corner just after the break. Despite the visitors’ relegation worries, they seemed content with a point and made few efforts to push forwards in numbers during the final 20 minutes. It was an afternoon to forget.

Which quickly pushes the focus back onto the managerial situation and, with Martin Allen and Russell Slade watching from the stands, they and others would seem to be in a better position than Jacobs after he oversaw this mediocre display. Jacobs’ best hope of earning the job would surely have lied in truly differentiating himself from his former manager, given Lawn’s rather tactless hint McCall would have been pushed had he not jumped.

In time, Jacobs would surely stamp his own mark on the club. But his chance always lied in the short term and this City display was much of the same and therefore makes it more difficult for him to convince Lawn and Julian Rhodes he could do a better job than McCall.

But whoever does come in has a job to do in quickly building up confidence and belief in a team which has become too used to feeling hard done by. Not losing today means the spectre of falling into a relegation battle remains distant, but with two tricky trips to Lancashire to come before a visit from a Darlington side showing faint signs of improvement – however futile – the urgency for improved results is increasing.

Like this drab draw which was seemingly decided long before the end, City’s season seems to be drifting to an inevitable mundane mid-table conclusion. That Jacobs was unable to make an impact means it will surely now be an outsider entrusted with shaking things up.

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.

The long walk

Stuart McCall took a long walk around the Valley Parade for – what is assumed – the final time.

McCall’s time as Bradford City manager would seem to be coming to an end – John Hendrie suggested that should he be asked to stand down he would – with rumours that Mark Lawn has been fighting all season to unseat the man of legend and Julian Rhodes about to give way.

Many times I have watched Stuart McCall applauding Valley Parade. Some players and some managers do that and others do not and perhaps we should not read too much into it but have travelled up and down the country to games much worse than this one and been acknowledged by the little man with strawberry blonde hair I did not stop clapping until McCall was out of sight.

That the Bantams were not out of sight in this game with Bury is a curious mystery but one which could be unravelled. The Bantams had the balance of both possession and chances but Andy Morrell put away the visitors only shot on target and the game was thus settled.

Which has something to do with the Bantams forwards – and there were many on the field today with the end of the match seeing Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding being supported by James Hanson and Gareth Evans – and the way the snapped at chances. As the Bantams attacked Evans slammed a chance wide, snatching at a shot rather than controlling. When the chance to get what would have been an equaliser came to Peter Thorne in the final minute the striker’s head send the ball agonisingly wide.

Agony which was etched onto Stuart McCall.

McCall has switched Simon Ramsden with Zesh Rehman and covertly replaced Matthew Clarke with Rio Ferdinand – or so it seemed as Clarke played perhaps his best game in a City shirt – giving a sturdy back line but not losing Rehman’s physical presence from set plays. Michael Boulding led the line in front of James Hanson and toiled ineffectually all afternoon. Boulding’s optimum times of usefulness are so few and far between.

For an answer on the fish-hooking Boulding received, the yellow cards for single offences by City players while Sodje was allowed to commit umpteen bookable offences, the two footed lunge before half time and on one will have to find an answer elsewhere for I am stumped.

For a reason why Matthew Clarke’s header on the far post allowed to be batted away with the arms of a defender you might want to ask this guy cause again I have no idea.

Nor indeed will McCall. Perhaps as he took the lap of honour to muse on the contrast between that moment and the penalty at Bury which went agianst the Bantams and contrasted the two but I hope he did not.

Boos rang out after the game. Boos for the result one supposes because the performance was worth a win. People walked away from Valley Parade as as they did McCall took what would seem to be his final lap of the pitch.

I hope that Stuart applauded the people who stayed in the same way we applauded him and perhaps he has the same thoughts about the people who leave early booing as I do. For a guy who is five foot eight Stuart McCall is a massive man and can take whatever comes at him from Bradford City.

Next game against Grimsby Town should the team play in the same way then it is almost impossible to see them not winning. Who the manager who benefits from is one can only speculate.

That charming man

If football has a charm – and this week the charmlessness of the game was brought front and centre – then it could be seen in the last seven minutes in Torquay last weekend.

The two close ranged finishes that Gareth Evans scored might have totalled less than five yards in distance but they seemed to make The Bantams feel miles better. If Stuart McCall came ten minutes from the sack then his glass was near empty but now – 20 games from glory – it is to be considered one percent full.

City have twenty games left in the season and sixty points to play for which equates to a good chunk of football to be played between now and the end of the year and the news that Peter Thorne – who is probably playing the last twenty games of career – will be taking part in those could be significant.

Thorne’s late entrance at Torquay did much to turn that game around and his absence this season has been keenly felt across the entire City side. His return give City more options than perhaps any other plater in the squad.

City face Bury at Valley Parade n Saturday – the second game with the in form Shakers in the last month which ended in controversy and a 2-1 reversal – and strikers (which is to say finishers) have been in short supply at the Bantams this year bring a problem which has shaped the season.

Without the finishing of Thorne Stuart McCall has looked to his striking ranks and found two fantastic workers and a player who is great on the counter attack but no fox in t’ box – so to speak – and rather than continue to plug away with two men up front, and considering the manager lost two right wingers from last year, a switch to 433 was made.

The idea being that 433 would address the lack of fire power with additional numbers and sometimes it works but more often – and increasingly of late – it has left the defensive side of the team undermanned. A 433 gives a back four with three midfielders to protect and – if they work insanely hard – two wide strikers to come back when full backs break forward.

In practice this does not occur and often City have been using a 433 and defending with seven men, although they attack with more numbers.

This is a contrast to the 442 which gives the back four, two midfielders and two wide men to cover full backs and allows a team to defend with eight men although they attack with fewer and poise less of a problem.

Peter Thorne addresses that problem if he can start finding the net as he did over the previous two seasons and in allowing a switch to a 442 he plugs the holes at the back.

I’m not in agreement with the idea that the Bantams defence make too many mistakes – although at Lincoln two weeks ago individual and selection errors were plentiful – just that they make the number forced by the weaknesses of defending as a team with seven men. Luke O’Brien – for example – has started to be criticised for his performances this season but often he is forced into defending against an overlapping fullback only with support from a midfielder who is co-occupied with another man.

Detail a wide man to track the full back and allow O’Brien to concentrate on a man. The two central defenders face similar problems with exposure coming most often when the ball is driven in at feet or by a pass not in the column directly between them but from the inner flanks.

This is why 433 is good at winning games but bad at winning promotions. If you match it to the right opposition then 433 can stack a game in one’s favour but in the week-in-week-out of League Two the 442 is most suitable, most often.

My hope is that McCall will return to a 442 with Matt Glennon behind Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien with Scott Neilson, Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and Omar Daley in the midfield and Gareth Evans and Peter Thorne up front but you, dear reader, will have your own selections.

Stephen O’Leary is hovering around the squad, Michael Boulding has his fans and some believe that Matthew Clarke should be in, others that Chris Brandon needs a place. Of the eleven mentioned James Hanson would be worth a place up front for Evans if fit and I have a preference for a tight three of a midfield which would include James O’Brien and only one flank man but feel McCall would be best served by going for the jugular with a pair of wingers.

I could be wrong, football is a game where wrong is more common than right, but the charm of football is in the things which go unexpectedly right.

Two close range finishes and a hope that springs eternal.

The problem with John Terry and the England captain

I don’t know the number of people who want John Terry removing as England captain and how that has increased since the confirmation that he might be – well – a bit of a git but I’m not one of them.

That is not because I think that Tezza and his wandering eye should be forgiven for his antics that seem set to lead to Wayne Bridge pulling out of his England role of being a reserve to Ashley Cole. It was that role Bridge perfected at Chelsea and one struggles to recall any player who has ever so clearly put being paid over being played. 129 games in the last seven years is a waste of a career and the fact that he has yet to play more games for the clubs who offered him the big money to leave Southampton than he did for the Saints is a damning statistic.

Bridge’s level of ambition aside it is not that Terry’s behaviour should be forgiven it is that I would never have picked him for the England captaincy in the first place. Steven Gerrard is a man who leads on the field, he near single handled won the European Cup one season and to me always seemed an outstanding candidate.

That said Gerrard was involved in a brawl in a bar and while he was cleared of any wrong doing legally had he been England captain would he have been called to account for the company he kept and the fact he was out drinking until the wee small hours? Others talk about Wayne Rooney as a potential England captain. If he had the job would he be required to curb his on field emotional outbursts to stay within the remit of skipper?

The problem with Terry’s role and the position of England captain in general – the position that Red Tops are calling for Terry to lose – is that for all the decrying over how poorly the Chelsea man represents the country neither Terry, England boss Fabio Cappello or the bosses at The FA could point to a job description for the position.

Naturally on a personal level we can all come up with a list of what we consider the most important things for the armband wearer to have and probably the vast majority of them would not include sharking on team mate’s better halves but there is no set of guidelines – as far as we know it – which the FA can point JT at and give him a cast iron reason why he should lose the position.

Should such a job description exist then the same people who are calling for Terry to be hoisted by the yard arm – The Red Tops – would have been the people who when David Beckham was England skipper would have been saying that the position should be all about the results on the field and the winning mentality within the dressing room and nothing about the personalities outside it.

As with the use of nameless “sources close to” Terry while objecting to super-injunctions the media are perfectly prepared to indulge in any double standard to sell newspapers.

Bradford City have had four captains this year: Peter Thorne, Zesh Rehman, Michael Flynn and – on Saturday – Simon Ramsden and most City fans have an idea of who they believe is best suited to the role although it might be worth noting that in Saturday’s 2-1 comeback all four were on the field when the goals went in.

In football leaders are Heaven sent while captains are often titular. Short of putting a rag in Stuart McCall’s mouth Rangers could not have stopped him showing the same leadership he did at City even though other players had the armband. Good teams have many people who are prepared to lead and taking the captain’s role from John Terry will not stop that ability coming through on the field.

Moving forward one suspects that despite the furore of the weekend this story is a seven day wonder and by the time South Africa comes around England will have largely filed John Terry and Wayne Bridge alongside the Steven Gerrard scrap, the Frank Lampard radio phone in and numerous other Earth shattering events that are supposed to have forced action from the national squad but in retrospect hardly wobbled the needle on a Richter Counter.

Moving forward – and before anyone else is given the armband and named England captain – it might be worth a set of guidelines emerging as to what the requirements of an England captain are and what is considered to be outside that remit. If the job is about representing the nation then why remove Beckham from the job? If it is about results then why even discuss Terry’s future?

Until a set of criteria exists that the occupant of the position has to work within then we are going to forever be trying the Captain accused in Kangaroo courts, deciding on an ad hoc basis what we want the job to be.

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 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.

 

Pre-Christmas gets underway as City welcome Rochdale at the start of a big week

This could be a pivotal week in Bradford City’s season.

A win against Rochdale this evening would place the Bantams on the cusp of the play offs, follow that up with a win at bottom-placed Darlington on Saturday and the talk may even be of automatic. A defeat against Rochdale this evening would keep City wedged amongst the midtable traffic, follow that up with anything less than a win at bottom-placed Darlington on Saturday and the talk may even be of manager Stuart McCall’s future.

A couple of weeks ago Joint-Chairmen Mark Lawn likened City’s campaign to a pot of stew – “all the ingredients are in and we are simmering away. But now is the time we have to look to turn up the gas and bring it to the boil.” The temperature began to increase with the 3-0 success at Grimsby a week ago, a further two victories this week would see the vapour begin to rise. After Darlington, City have a week without a game before a busy Christmas period featuring six matches in three weeks. Often a critical phase of a campaign, this week’s target is to go into it in a strong position.

For now though the focus is firmly on Rochdale, who arrive at Valley Parade second in the league and with a string of impressive recent results. Keith Hill’s side has won 4-0 at leaders Bournemouth and triumphed 2-1 at fourth-placed Dagenham, who previously were unbeaten at home. They have defeated current play off occupants Bury and, last time out, Notts County at Spotland. They could go top with a victory tonight and, after two successive play off failures, look a strong bet to make it third time lucky and seal a first promotion since 1969.

As the likes of Accrington, Cheltenham, Burton and in the fact the Bantams can testify, the Dale are from invincible. But the impressive side built by Hill is well respected among City supporters for the attractive style of high tempo football and ability to mix it up with crafty counter attacking when required. Chris Dagnall already has 10 goals, Tom Kennedy is a classy attack-minded full back, Will Buckley a determined winger who tore Paul Arnison to pieces so badly last season the now-Darlington right back’s summer departure became inevitable.

Rochdale’s promise and fact it has wrecked City’s own promotion chances for two seasons in a row – plus the fact Dale’s manager, chairman and supporters appear to dislike the Bantams –  give this encounter the level of anticipation no other League Two club coming to Valley Parade can generate. How good is this Bradford City side? Tonight arguably offers the biggest indicator of the season’s prospects so far.

The line up to undertake the challenge is likely to unchanged side from the one which largely impressed at Blundell Park a week ago. Simon Eastwood’s rehabilitation continues in goal in front of a back four that will feature ex-Rochdale full back Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien. Consistency of selection in defence has been a characteristic of Stuart’s managerial reign, for better or worse, and the fact the present incumbents collectively improved enough to keep a clean sheet at Grimsby will ensure Matt Clarke and Jon Bateson remain on the sidelines for now.

The midfield three will be Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and James O’Brien. The latter’s return at Grimsby made a clear difference and his corner deliveries have improved throughout the season, with the Irishman setting up a number of goals in recent weeks. Chris Brandon and Scott Nielson will be back up, but how we long for the sight of Omar Daley taking a place on the bench. The Jamaican was due to play in the reserves last week before the game was called off, the next second string fixture is later this week. Stuart will be grateful the number of other injuries has reduced, thereby lessening the urgency of Daley’s long-awaited return.

The front three will probably be James Hanson, Gareth Evans and Simon Whaley. Michael Boulding is pushing hard for a start and the close-to-returning Peter Thorne still has a significant part to play, making the competition for striker positions fiercely competitive. Hanson’s strike record of seven goals from 18 starts is highly impressive. Evans is not far behind on five goals from 17, and will hope to rediscover his scoring touch after some recent bad misses. Whaley struck a memorable goal on his debut and, up against a side he was playing for just 17 days ago, has plenty of incentive to build on an impressive start.

As will a certain Rochdale forward. For the third game in a row City are lining up against a former striker and for the third game in a row that former striker has a point to prove. Chris O’Grady’s brief loan spell at Valley Parade last January was a curious one given many City supporters were so quick to turn on him and criticise Stuart for signing him. Many of those same supporters were, around the same time, demanding Stuart bring in a fourth striker to compete with Thorne, Boulding and Barry Conlon.

O’Grady’s scoring record before was impressive, and while he undoubtedly struggled to make an impact in the two sub appearances he made (he was recovering from an injury), I’ve never seen a player given so little time before being universally slagged off. Should O’Grady start and complete the game tonight, he will have more than doubled the time he spent on Valley Parade pitch than when he wore Claret and Amber – a whopping 39 minutes.

No doubt O’Grady will be booed by some, but such is the regularity of former players lining up against the Bantams this season the fear is not so much the law of the ex, but the law of averages which dictates whether he will have the level of influence on the outcome Steve Schumacher and Michael Symes have previously enjoyed, or what Barry Conlon and Graeme Lee endured.

But as Stuart will be telling his players in the dressing room prior to kick off, it’s what City do which counts. Tonight is a tremendous chance to take a step forward from constrained to capable, this week is a tremendous chance to upgrade the season’s hopes from reasonable to realistic.

In other words, it’s time for Stuart to serve up his stew.

Accrington nearly don’t come to Valley Parade but the happy ending becomes more predictable

The heavy rain of the past few days must place Bradford City’s home fixture with Accrington Stanley in a modicum of doubt, but then the prospect of Saturday 21 November being a blank Saturday for the Bantams seemed very real a few weeks back.

Accrington, the club that wouldn’t die, almost died. Given six weeks to pay a six-figure tax bill, the collection buckets were rattling around the Crown Ground earlier this season as part of rescue efforts which brought out the best in its North West neighbours. Yet not enough money was raised and its claimed officials arrived at the club’s High Court hearing with no plan B and left with the gratitude of a local businessman stepping in to make up the shortfall. Accrington live on, and the prospect of early season results been invalidated – to the joy of those Stanley beat and the despair of those they lost to – and of a 23-team division with only one relegation spot was ended.

As Southend prepare to take on the national media’s attention as club basket case, that Accrington survived may have caused some to indifferently shrug their shoulders and consider how, for every League club that it’s reported is on the brink of financial oblivion, something always turns up and their survival is assured. And while everyone enjoys a happy ending, the reputed predictability is breeding subsequent hostility from some, just ask Darlington. Poor old Accrington, struggling to get by. Hang on, didn’t they spend £85,000 on one player (admittedly later sold for a profit) 18 months ago?

Last Saturday Bournemouth were in town with the strong criticisms of Rochdale Manager Keith Hill still echoing. Ahead of Dale’s 4-0 success at Dean Court, Hill had stated, “They overspend and it is to the detriment to clubs like ours and it is happening too often now…i’m sick of it continually happening.” Having been stuck in the basement league since 1974 and with a largely untroubled recent financial history, Hill and Chairman Chris Dunphy are clearly aggrieved at how their efforts to live within means see them lose out to others who gamble more recklessly with their future. One wonders if Hill’s pre-Bournemouth mood was influenced by his team’s home defeat to Accrington the week before.

For as Accrington seek to climb back onto a more stable financial future after the local community helped to prop it up, what’s the most morally appropriate way to progress? There were stories of a nine-year-old Accrington girl emptying the contents of her piggy bank into a collection bucket last September, would it be right for the club to spend money during the January transfer window? And if not then, when? Hill’s views on Rotherham United, with two recent spells in administration, purchasing his star striker Adam Le Fondre earlier this season probably aren’t printable.

Rochdale and their supporters don’t seem to care much for Bradford City, but the Spotland club may have a small degree of respect for the way joint Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn cut the cloth accordingly over the summer after pushing the boat out a year earlier in the quest for promotion. City were the first club to fall into administration following the ITV Digital collapse, but while many others who followed were quickly able to brush off mistakes and get busy in the transfer market again, the self-inflicted scars continue to cause pain for the Bantams. Plenty of people lost out due to the infamous six weeks of madness, but Bradford City and its supporters remain high on that list too. Those financial woes may largely be a thing of the past, but the lesson has not been forgotten.

The conservative but sensible actions of the City Board has seen Manager Stuart McCall’s playing budget reduce by a third  but, though its widely agreed he’s used it admirably, regrettably it appears a small minority of supporters don’t appreciate the ramifications. City’s 1-1 draw with Bournemouth, joint leaders no less, should have generated a greater mood of approval if not satisfaction, but the injury list which hindered efforts was brushed off by some to make way for criticism.

Theres nothing like managers playing people out of position to trigger red rage from a certain breed of football fan, and the circumstances which saw Zesh Rehman in midfield and Michael Flynn up front were slammed in a manner which deliberately ignored the bigger picture. A reduced budget means Stuart simply can’t retain the strength in depth and the same level of quality, so the length of the injury list is likely to prove a more telling factor this season. And when it does, players will be asked to take on unfamiliar roles and performances are going to suffer to a degree. A negative perhaps, but one which has to be tackled positively.

The injury situation clears up slightly this week with James Hanson returning to partner Gareth Evans and Scott Neilson up front, which will allow Flynn to return to the attacking midfield position he is performing so effectively alongside Lee Bullock and either Chris Brandon or James O’Brien. Just one player’s return it able to make that much of a difference, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that competition for places continues to be undermined by the unavailability of Peter Thorne, Michael Boulding, Steve O’Leary, Omar Daley and Leon Osborne. No longer down to the bare bones, but Stuart is hardly flush with options. A loan signing has been suggested, at the time of writing there are no few faces.

At the back the big question concerns whether skipper Zesh Rehman will reclaim his place in the back four or whether Matt Clarke – impressive in the last two games – will retain the role. Rehman has struggled for form of late and Clarke’s general solidness alongside Steve Williams may give him the nod in the way he took Mark Bower’s place in the team two seasons ago after the former defender also vacated the back four to help another area of the team.

At right back Simon Ramsden should also be fit enough for a return, ahead of Jonathan Bateson. The former Blackburn youth player has struggled with his distribution of late, though continues to display a great attitude and a confidence to get forward.  Luke O’Brien is left back – and there are a couple of interesting talking points concerning last season’s player of the year. The first is that O’Brien has been asked to take on more responsibility, as part of the new-look 4-3-3 formation, with strong encouragement to bring the ball forward more.

The other talking point is how, in recent games, the lack of cover afforded to the 21-year-old from midfielders in front  has been targeted by opposition managers. At Macclesfield, for example, Emile Sinclair was instructed to use the space in front of O’Brien to cause problems. It’s for this reason the selection of James O’Brien to play in front of him, rather than Brandon who likes to drift around the pitch, is widely preferred by fans.

Simon Eastwood keeps goal and has shown improvement of late. He will need to be wary of a reasonably strong Accrington line up that will include former City striker Michael Symes. An away win would see Stanley climb above City and give rise to promotion hopes, but such success may not be considered the fairy tale stuff it would have before the tax bill reminder came through the door.

As City try to achieve more from less this season, it could be argued a Bantams’ promotion would be more romantic than a club who’s name is often-proclaimed the most romantic in football.

Continuity the key as City beat Notts County in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy

The summer that seems so long ago on rain soaked Tuesday night which are made for warming the soul through football was marked by a discussion on Bradford City manager Stuart McCall and the ethos of “Continuity” which his remaining manager represented.

The reasons for that continuity – and for McCall carrying on for a third season and on – was grandly illustrated as The Bantams gained a modicum of payback for the opening day defeat by big spending Notts County.

County fielded a team with a few changes from what would be considered their full strength side as did the Bantams and it was in those changes that the strength of what McCall has built at City was in evidence.

Matthew Clarke stepped in, Leon Osbourne stepped in, Michael Boulding remained in and scored and Simon Ramsden stepped into another position moving from holding midfield to central defence and despite all these stepping City retained a shape, a pattern and a way of playing. That is the continuity City have been crying out for for years.

Not that this progression to the third game of the Northern section of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was any way easier than the scoreline – 2-2 and a victory on penalties – suggests with County’s less than full strength side showing more than enough to suggest the could have won the game clattering the crossbar in the final minute of the game with a pile driver that could have given them a 3-2 success.

That County were not victorious can be attributed to a never say die spirit in City – Chris Brandon stooped in at the start of second half injury time to head an equaliser which the pattern of the previous half hour had scant deserved – but the visitors will be upset that a corner was allowed to travel so far in their box with Kasper Schmeichel getting booked for complaining to anyone who would listen about the last minute aberration that saw the game go straight to penalties.

Five minutes before Delroy Facey had barrelled in front of Clarke to give the Magpies a lead which looked to be conclusive finishing off good work by bar pinger Ricky Ravenhill. County had controlled the game for the twenty minutes following the not at all undeserved sending off of former City skipper Graeme Lee.

Lee’s red card came after perhaps two of the most illustrative tackles Valley Parade had ever seen. Whatever Michael Boulding had done to Lee last season Lee decided to extract his revenge with two blond side hacks at the City forward the first – which came midway through the opening half – could have been excused as clumsy on the slippy pitch but the second just saw Lee hoof Boulding high in the air.

God knows what Lee’s antics tonight say about the dressing room at the end of last season – or about Lee’s professionalism – for there was no turn back, no apology, no remorse from Lee and Sven Goran Eriksson sitting a few rows behind BfB’s Jason Mckeown wore a face of thunder as a result.

Not that Sven had cause to be upset. The shift to ten men and keep ball for County and the Bantams misfiring attempts to make the extra man pay by both Brandon and Osbourne trying to be the one over tore a hole in those pattens that City had built this run of nine games without defeat on and rather than eleven vs ten the game switched to ten vs nine and two wandering about.

The swing to County was as marked as City resurgence that saw Boulding slip onto a finely weighted ball from Michael Flynn over the County central defenders on the twenty minute mark to slip though the visiting keeper’s legs and could have been marked with more as Osbourne – perhaps enjoying his best game for City – and Scott Neilson went close for City while Luke O’Brien continues to look the part on the left hand side. That the Bantams were behind was down to a mistake by Simon Ramsden allowing a ball to run to Simon Eastwood and failing to take into account the decelerating effect of the puddles of rain on the ball.

Eastwood could only grasp at the ball which Craig Westcarr put past him.

Two hours later and Eastwood dove headlong to his right getting two fists onto a Delroy Facey penalty giving City parity in the shoot out that had seen Michael Boulding have his shot saved by Schmeichel and County take a 2-0 lead before sub Peter Thorne slipped a low shot just under the keeper.

Simon Ramsden strode confidently to level the scores at 2-2 with three each taken. Neil Bishop blasted wide, James O’Brien netted, Eastwood went low from keeper Schmeichel’s final kick and a minute later he was mobbed by team mates, then by supporters.

Bradford City fans celebrate Simon Eastwood's penalty save

Happiness will be revenge as Notts County face City again

The long hard slog against relegation” predicted after the 5-0 defeat at Notts County at the start of the season does not seem to be happening as City continue merrily along a middling path in League Two eight games without defeat performing but three points worse than the big spending visitors.

Not that would have been surprising after twenty five minutes of the first day of the season when the Bantams and County traded blows – an hour later the idea that ten games on and the difference between the sides would have been that opening day win would have been more surprising but League Two football is full of contradictions such as the fact that a former barber from Bamber Bridge makes a better signing than Sol Campbell.

City’s unbeaten run goes back eight games and includes the opening match in this the oft renamed Associate Members Trophy against Rochdale and will continue regardless of the result at Valley Parade where a defeat would simply see that game at Spotland expunged from what would be a seven game winning league stint. That is the context the game is set in.

So as Ian McPartland reads in the national papers that David Platt is about to take his job – Platt is a friend of Sven but a former Forest boss and one wonders how well that would go down with the locals who seem to matter not one bit in the saga of football’s tedious rich – while Stuart McCall reads little about his position making a welcome change from the last eight months.

Not that one should suggest that McCall has proved his critics wrong – one doubts that will ever happen with every football manager from Sir Alex down having a steady stream of criticism as background noise – but that he has crafted a team which he seems to enjoy managing as much as the supporters seem to enjoy watching them.

The City manager has undergone something of a change over the last three months having ended last season a near broken man scampering around the touchline kicking every ball to his more passive approach now where he seems to trust his young, eager charges to kick some of the balls themselves. Win or lose, perhaps he thinks, at least I can enjoy watching them without the feeling that some of them want to be somewhere else.

As was said last week by Scott Neilson it takes only one bad apple to spoil the mood of the dressing room barrel and we look West and think how it is not going great at Tranmere Rovers at the moment.

City go into the game carry suspensions and nursing illness and injury that robs the team of strikers and midfielders who pretend to be strikers. Lee Bullock will rest a bad toe following his hard working turn as target man replacing the suspended Gareth Evans and the poorly James Hanson who could return but with the rest of Bradford sniffing and sneezing for a week each one suspects he might be on his sick bed a while longer.

Michael Boulding – who scored on Saturday – is perhaps at his most useful in a game against a team like County who are expected to attack and will not sit deep allowing the striker’s pace to count. Boulding reunites with Peter Thorne – back from injury – for the first time since the opening day.

The midfield will see Scott Neilson out wide with Michael Flynn, James O’Brien and Simon Ramsden continuing although the competition being what it is – and his last appearance at Valley Parade being promising – Luke Sharry might get a call to play. Likewise at the back Lewis Horne is knocking on the door of place in the side and keeping Luke O’Brien’s form up. Only two of the back four of the opening day of the season remain in place with Steve Williams having replaced Matthew Clarke alongside Zesh Rehman and Jonathan Bateson being in the right back slot. Simon Eastwood continues in goal although of course changes could be made.

For County one wonders which team they will field. They have a plethora of players of high ability and low morals. One can read this article and compare and contrast with the revolting Lee Hughes but also spare a different type of disdain for Luke Rodgers who seems to want to carve out a niche as League Two’s Didier Drogba combining ability with an utter disregard for the rules and a willingness to dive at any opportunity. One wonders why if County are as good as they can be – and make no mistake they can play with Ricky Ravenhill and Ben Davies a fine midfield – then why do they have to cheat so much? Even the opening day of the season saw Rodgers throw himself to the ground to “win” a penalty.

The Bantams go into the game looking for a kind of revenge for the opening day defeat but in the eight games in which County fans have seen Sol Campbell’s arrival and departure and results which do not match up to the thirteen men of AFC Bournemouth despite the one week of Sol costing more than the entire Cherries team. As City fans saw last year such a team can do as expected, they can be efficient, they can bring satisfaction but enjoyment is harder to muster.

Since that week in Nottingham the Bantams have been – well – fun to watch with men honest and true putting in hard work. I for one will take happiness over revenge any day.

Waiting for the summer with a confidence as City face Burton Albion

“Well that’s the Summer sorted” I said to the wife with the prospect of the four yearly month off work after England’s 5-1 win secured a place in the World Cup Finals next June.

England’s progression has been remarkable for the rapidity of the turn around from two years ago and the infamous Wally With The Brolly to Wednesday night’s Italian elan and The Man With The Plan.

The management style between the two evenings marks a contrast more than the players involved who by in large are the same bunch and one must be wary to not undersell Cappello’s perfectionist approach but attitude divides the England of two years ago and the team from last night.

Attitude and confidence that started to grow not at Wembley where tabloid journalists unimpressed with the England manager’s aloofness ho-hummed about the appointment but in Croatia when a 4-1 win spoke eloquently for the manager and his players.

It has taken two, four, maybe seven years and Seaman’s swipe in the saucy Swede‘s side to turn opinions around on England but turned they have been and that more even than getting Frank Lampard Jnr and Steve Gerrard into the same side is Cappello’s achievement.

One recalls April 2002 in the months after another 5-1 England win a newspaper story breaking and copy about “the ice cool Swede” who can do no wrong being rewritten. The rise and fall of Roman Empires has precedent.

Far away in a field in Cheltenham not years but weeks ago – club football’s inexorable pace is it’s main difference to the International game – a team ran onto the field with confidence at a lowest ebb to a point where few could see it scoring and not conceding many.

That was Bradford City three weeks ago and four wins ago and while Stuart McCall never sheltered under an umbrella he was a long way from Fabio. Following a 2-1 win at Shrewsbury in which all say that City rode their luck massively the Bantams manager seems to have a turned the same bunch of players into a winning machine that is protected even by fortune.

Four wins on McCall and all – including his supporters in the now muted argument over his abilities – would do well to recall Sir Bobby Robson’s epitaph raised on opening day. You are never as bad or as good as you think you are.

City play with confidence though and McCall has been quick to underline the importance of that throughout his team and especially in young keeper “There’s only one” Simon Eastwood who has begun to rise to his reputation with a string of excellent saves at Shrewsbury despite a heavy whack on the shin that threatens to keep him out and sees Jon McLaughin ready to take the gloves up.

McCall’s faith in Eastwood is being rewarded while his confidence in bringing in Simon Ramsden is reaping benefits with some dubbing the right back brought from Rochdale as Stuart’s Best Signing. He provides a high watermark and good example for Luke O’Brien to follow as the young left back learns about second season and the transition from prospect to player.

Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams are not an unbreakable partnership but are roughly building an understanding.

McCall had – like Cappello – a nominal and a practical formation with a list of players as read out being more of a rough starting point rather than a rigid tactic.

So the midfield will probably read Neilson, J O’Brien, Bullock, Flynn but the make up will see Lee Bullock falling back into a more central, protecting role with James O’Brien and Michael Flynn tasked with traditional box to box play leaving the line up a tad one sided with Flynn tight on the left compared to the width on offer from Scott Neilson who makes his first start at home in the Bantams first game at Valley Parade since the departure of Joe Colbeck.

Steven Gerrard said of Fabio’s England that the players enjoyed the experience more now than they did previously when the crowd was on some player’s backs and so one wonders what the effect of not having Colbeck will be.

I believe the player is talented but the disruptive influence he had by virtue of the schism of opinion was clear for all. That removed will the 11,000 at Valley Parade be more of one voice? It eludes me why any City fan wanted Colbeck to fail but it seems sure that none would want the same for his replacement Neilson and perhaps that positivism will make itself felt on the field.

Neilson is part of a group at City that includes Gareth Evans, James Hanson, Luke O’Brien and Steve Williams who can best be dubbed “the want-to-do-well boys” who see their not inconsiderable work put in rewarded by a matching of longing of supporters. These are young players who have won hearts and minds in a way Colbeck, Tom Penford, Danny Forrest and Craig Bentham did not and rather than question why this is the case let us celebrate the fact it is.

Evans and Hanson will start with Peter Thorne injured and Michael Boulding in a similar state although closer to fitness. Boulding is the picture book opposite to the want to win boys seemingly having talent over effort that see him sidelined and Evans in his role. Hanson leads the line and never loses a header for the want of effort.

Burton Albion are new to the league but not to City who had Gary Robson’s arse to thank for an early rounds of the FA Cup win back in 1996. They were managed by Nigel Clough for nearly a decade before Son of Brain went to Derby County and as such represent a team which has benefited from patience in a manager who has built a structure which new gaffer Paul Pechisolido reaps the rewards from with a good start that includes a 1-1 at Notts County.

Sitting above City a fifth win on the spin for the Bantams would see the clubs flip positions but early season renders that meaningless and McCall and all will be more concerned with rebuilding the hard fought for good home record if six months of last season.

Home form brings confidence and running that confidence through the season is of paramount importance should a promotion bid be staged.

Run that confidence into the summer and who knows what could happen.

City visit Shrewsbury as the start begins to end

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sound of silence as City face Rochdale

The first home win of the season came in a strange silence as City fans walked away from Valley Parade.

The performance was not great but the result was and perhaps because of that there was little to talk about. Two goals in both stoppage times saw City taking three points so there was nothing to complain about which perhaps accounts for the silence. As my Nan never said “If you can’t say something nasty about something, then don’t say anything at all.”

The win was City’s second in a week and start to turn around the season which has Chris Brandon sums up as “The first game obviously left a horrible feeling but, apart from that, we hadn’t played that badly.”

Zesh Rehman has his ideas on what – or who – has kept heads high at City paying tribute to former non-league pair James Hanson and Steve Williams saying “They are both new to professional football and they have been brilliant, their attitude is outstanding, spot on.”

The man with the City armband continues “We’ve said to them, ‘What would you have been doing on a match day?’ One of them would have been cutting hair and the other was working in a Co-op. It reminds you of how lucky you are to be involved in professional football and being able to play in front of big crowds.

All of which contrasts with last season’s side which declined so sharply and markedly with games like the 3-0 defeat at Rochdale in the league.

Tonight City return to Rochdale in the Johnson’s Paint Trophy hinting at fielding a weaker side which – ironically – drops the bloke from the Co-op in favour of Michael Boulding. Boulding and Peter Thorne are expected to partner up front and one looks at the depth of the City side and tries to form an eleven of similar one for one replacement.

Jon McLaughlin might get the gloves in the place of Simon Eastwood – The T&A put Eastwood’s drop on Saturday down to a foul the Referee was about to blow for – while Matthew Clarke might get a chance to return at the back.

Clarke is officially injured and out of the side but it is hard to see him claiming Steve Williams’s spot in the team. Louis Horne and Jon Bateson could come in at full backs but former Rochdale man Simon Ramsden is the only option to switch into the other central defensive position.

Scott Neilson’s debut on Saturday impressed in that he continued to do as Joe Colbeck does – trouble full backs – and he will no doubt start. Chris Brandon can come into the middle with Stephen O’Leary – assuming O’Leary’s toe injury does not break down once more as it did in the warm up on Saturday – or Luke Sharry could press his case for a longer contract. Rory Boulding or Leon Osborne could slot in on the left.

Ultimately though City never come close to troubling the later stages of this Associate Members Trophy and the number of those players mentioned above will reveal how seriously the competition is being taken at Valley Parade – normally it is “not very” – and perhaps Rochdale will be the same with the result being a game where at least one side plays a weakened side and thus probably not worth breaking the silence about.

Torquay comes to Valley Parade for the minor debut of Scott Neilson

Scott Neilson will hardly get a mention in the news of League Two signings this week.

The right winger has joined The Bantams from Cambridge City and is expected to start on the bench and make his debut against Torquay United as Stuart McCall’s team looks to build on the first win of the season last week at Cheltenham but one doubts that the coverage of our division will concern itself with that.

Rather eyes will be set for Barnet and Sol Campbell’s debut for Notts County as football looks to see what a player who gets £40,000 a week in League Two looks like.

The contrast could not be more sharp. City spent a week haggling with the Lillywhites over the price of Neilson coming up with a fee thought to be around £7,500, a friendly and some more cash should City make the play offs. Campbell agreed a deal worth over £10m and one is left to wonder why such a deal was necessary. The Magpies already seemed to be able to win handsomely most weeks and concede only penalties. Campbell will perhaps plug that tiny hole and is expected to come into the side to replace injured former City skipper Graeme Lee.

So two debuts in the same division but as far apart as – well – as City are from Torquay geographically perhaps as the Devon side visit a Valley Parade which is flush with comparative optimism following the characterful 5-4 win last week.

Having had more than his fair share of criticism this season Stuart McCall took credit for the victory with all five of the goals the Bantams scored (Simon Ramsden having a deflected shot) chalked up by a player he has brought in this summer as he looked to rebuild the side without the sort of big money, low character players which one assumes County will have to avoid.

James Hanson claimed a first goal for City leading the line in a 451 formation with Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding pushed down to the bench. Hanson’s play this season has been honest and impressive and he is expected to reprise his role up front although McCall must decide if he is to keep the same side and deploy Gareth Evans and Joe Colbeck as wide men or play a more traditional 442 pushing Evans alongside Hanson. Evans celebrated his first goal for the Bantams while Colbeck was recognised for his performance with a place in the League Two team of the week.

It is rare for McCall to opt for anything that could resemble defensiveness at Valley Parade and so one might suspect he will push both wide men into a three man forward line perhaps leaving Colbeck out for Boulding or Thorne.

The midfield three of Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and James O’Brien are a curious set with O’Brien especially prompting much attacking play last week but fairly obviously failing to control and close down the game when City took the lead. Midfields need time and games to blend together and this is best done by picking a set and sticking with it which proves difficult at the moment and that area is very much a work in progress.

The back line of Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien with Simon Eastwood behind is causing sleepless nights. Eastwood struggles to get any control over his back four not talking enough and – when he does – talking to the wrong people while Zesh Rehman has yet to grasp the organisational part of his role as senior central defender.

Williams is learning the game and coming along as is Luke O’Brien. Both are bright but eclipsed by Simon Ramsden who is that rarest of things – a popular Bradford City right back. Of the defenders few would suggest Matthew Clarke should be put in as a solution to any problems but Eastwood will know that he needs to get better quickly and build a rapport with his back line.

Torquay come to City with two wins and two defeats since returning to the League in August losing last week to Barnet. No one was really interested in Torquay vs Barnet game last week but a debut should change that this.

Probably won’t be Scott Neilson’s.

Next: Cheltenham

The disorder of the day is a question of Peter Thorne.

Thorne took a pay cut to sign an extension to his City contract and was lauded for it. He has a fantastic scoring record for the Bantams which – Dean Windass aside – is probably not matched since Lee Mills ten years ago but that was four games ago and the whispers against the City captain have started.

“Why don’t you do us all a favour and hang up your boots Thorne!” said someone on the kop – how dare he assume to speak for me I angered – and sure enough the short termness of football thinking is brought to bear on our centre forward who slogged though a tired game on Tuesday night ineffectually.

Thorne will score again. You know it. I know it. Peter Thorne knows it. Stuart McCall knows it.

Nevertheless much of the criticism of Thorne comes from the fact that not only has he yet to score – no one else in six hours of football has either – but from the fact that he is the captain.

I’ve never approved of a striker as skipper – or a full back, keeper or winger for that matter – preferring a player who is more in the heart of the side in central midfield or defence just as McCall the player was for the Bantams. Alan Shearer skippered Newcastle United from the front line as did Kevin Keegan but for every example of a half decent non-middle man skipper in the for column Bobby Moore, Alan Hansen and John McGovern are on the other side. Strikers don’t often make good skippers.

However when recalling the teams of Moore, Hansen and McGovern casting eyes around the field would have shown four or five other able men who could have taken the armband while looking around the City team one sees Zesh Rehman and… erm… that is about it.

Rehman, Chris Brandon, Michael Flynn are all names banded about but as Lincoln put in their second goal on Tuesday night no City player was suggesting great leadership. David Wetherall was an obvious choice to replace Stuart McCall who was himself an obvious choice to replace Peter Jackson when he headed to Newcastle in 1987.

No player is suggesting that they would be a better captain than Thorne no matter how well or badly the striker is managing to do the job and frankly if there is a player in the City side watching his team mate’s long faces and thinking that if he tried gee anyone up then he would face some kind of PFA demarcation dispute then he is not that man to captain my club.

Seriously. If someone in the current City side is a great captain just waiting for the armband then they are hiding it bloody well.

Zesh Rehman though is likely to have the armband as Thorne feels the effects of four games and is rested. Rehman’s partner Steve Williams is likely to keep his place despite his tumble on Tuesday even with Matthew Clarke fit again. Simon Ramsden looks good at right back and Luke O’Brien is in at left back.

Simon Eastwood is going to spend four months being criticised at City and may as well get used to it now. Five, two, three, none it matters not. When he plays badly he gets it in the neck, when he plays well he gets it in the neck.

Stephen O’Leary took part in Tuesday night’s warm up but not the game leaving Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn to pass the ball around Lincoln until such a time when (according to Simon, a Lincoln fan in line with Ramsden’s tackle) that never a penalty happened. The pair are likely to continue although O’Leary and Flynn would seem more suited to battling away against a newly relegated side.

City’s forward line is likely to be where Stuart McCall makes changes. Michael Boulding turned down Cheltenham to join City and his pace may be used to do to the home side what Lincoln did to us. James Hanson and/or Gareth Evans might be employed as target men and McCall may opt to play with a lone striker with Joe Colbeck far right, Hanson on the left with Evans up front.

Or Thorne might play.

What should happen next?

Football is a game dominated by the word should – in its margins, in its illusions and even in its contradictions.

A team defending a set piece should never concede – listen to the regularity of managers declaring it “unforgivable” their team conceded from a set piece – yet the team with an attacking free kick or corner should produce a meaningful threat on goal. A winger charging forward with just a full back to get past should beat their man, yet when the same team’s full back faces a winger in similar circumstances they should always stop the route to goal.

And so it was at Valley Parade on Tuesday night where a story of two penalties saw the outcome of the match decided by achievement and failure to do the should . Bradford City’s Michael Flynn should have scored the first half penalty – despite a wonder save preventing him – while Lincoln City’s Rene Howe did what he should from the exact same spot in the second half, firing his penalty into the net. It was a game that, based on chances and territorial advantage, the Bantams should have won, but instead they ended the night beaten when they should not have been – on this occasion should have won and should not have lost proving to be two separate things.

The first half showing from the home side was notably more impressive than anything mustered so far this season. Overcoming a tentative start, the ball was passed around with greater urgency and attempts on goal belatedly began to be unleashed with regular occurrence. Of course City should have scored from one of a number of presentable chances, though the slightly lowered confidence and slightly heightened apprehension due to not yet finding the net this campaign contributed towards making what would normally be relatively simple opportunities more difficult to take.

The clearest opportunity of them all was that spot kick from Flynn. While the penalty taker should always score in such circumstances, penalty misses are a fact of life and it’s difficult to attach too much blame on Flynn’s effort given Lincoln keeper Rob Burch’s impressive athleticism in keeping it out. Nevertheless what happened between the referee blowing for the spot kick and Flynn beginning his run up was troubling, with Flynn, Gareth Evans and Peter Thorne all seemingly fighting over who should take it.

Which doesn’t reflect brilliantly on manager Stuart McCall. When debates rage over the great managers of this sport, one of the most common features among the success stories is a meticulous attention to detail and level of planning. If, as the evidence of the argument suggests, City took to the field without a designated spot kick taker it would appear certain preparations were overlooked by the management staff. Nothing wrong with Flynn being the penalty taker, but his thoughts while preparing to take the spot kick should have been focused solely on which direction he was going to dispatch his effort, not on fighting off team mates from taking the ball off him.

Thorne’s role as captain is also open to question. He may have only been part of the discussion to moderate proceedings between Evans and Flynn – his last penalty kick for City was a tame and costly effort – but if he was arguing his case to take it, his subsequent failure to do so leaves question marks over his authority. A penalty miss is forgivable, but the decision for who was to take it should already have been made on the training ground.

But if Lincoln should have trundled off at half time two or three goals behind, their second half response was a lesson for everyone. The Bantams continued to press forward, but a half time tactical switch from Lincoln, which saw Andy Hutchinson replace Scott Kerr, exploited a weakness in the way the home side were lined up. The Imps time wasted, fouled at every opportunity and took steps to keep slowing and stopping the game, but retained an ambition to get forward on the counter attack that was to prove decisive.

Stuart should have spotted Lincoln’s intentions sooner, twice they broke through and almost took advantage of slip ups at the back, but steps to close the gaps were not taken and eventually punished. Both the quick-fire goals were the result of defensive slip ups, with every member of the back four seemingly culpable at differing points, but they can justifiably argue that a lack of cover from the rest of the team left them too exposed to Lincoln’s attacking pace.

Chris Brandon is showing himself to be an effective, if sometimes frustrating, player going forward. In an effort to make City less predictable and break down defensive-minded teams like Port Vale and Lincoln, he’s been afforded a free role to roam around the pitch stimulating attacking moves. James Hanson has lined up on the left side of midfield, with the instructions to support the attack rather than play a traditional winger role. Yet when City were not in possession the positioning from both caused problems, with both Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien left too exposed. With Lee Bullock and Flynn also neglecting their defensive responsibilities after the break, too many home players appeared only concerned with breaking the deadlock. This could be gotten away with against a Vale side short of attacking purpose, but with Peter Jackson successfully able to spot the flaws a game City should not have lost was.

All of which leaves questions over the way City lined up. Playing Brandon is such a role looks good and will surely lead to goals in time, but is allowing one member of a hard working but limited team the freedom to charge around with few defensive responsibilities a luxury that can be afforded? With the relatively higher wages and undoubted higher level of ability, Brandon is hardly a player Stuart can ignore, but his role in the team may have to be adapted at the sacrifice of roaming around to find a match winning pass in order to be a more integral part of a side that is harder to beat.

The second half was far from doom and gloom, with City’s response to going 2-0 down encouraging given the heads didn’t drop and the chances were created – watch a re-run of the many home defeats in recent years and compare. Even a consolation goal might have made a significant difference to the mood ahead of a tough trip to Cheltenham on Saturday, where defeat is entirely possible and will see pressure growing ahead of the next home game against Torquay.

This in turn leaves Stuart under increasing scrutiny. With each impressive performance and League Two-busting signing from Notts County, the 5-0 opening day defeat appears less of a shock. Few could have expected a result at Nottingham Forest in the cup and the Port Vale game was generally encouraging, but defeat on Tuesday came when City should have won and while that is largely down to chances that should have been taken it also is also partly down to Stuart, who should be doing better at maximising the advantage his team appeared to have.

So what should happen next? A heavy cloud of doom and gloom has descended on BD8 since events at Meadow Lane, and shows little sign of shifting just yet. City badly need a goal, which will be the start of bad luck reversing and the unquestionable high effort being rewarded. A win at Whaddon Road makes the world a brighter place, a follow up victory over Torquay would raise the status of the start of the season from ‘bad’ to ‘indifferent’. Stuart has to prove himself good enough, the players have to prove themselves good enough, but we supporters should also consider ourselves part of the team that must turn it around, too.

It’s time to crank up the volume and back this club louder than ever – at least that’s what should happen.

Bradford City prepare to face Lincoln City in a modern football match

Back in the day when newspapers were typeset by hand, Jimmy Hill’s chin presented Match of the Day and Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine had yet to be applied to the job of applying three points for one win and sorting such a collection of results into an ordered lists League tables after two games simply did not exist.

Not that it was impossible for the scholars of 1974 to work out that a 3-0 defeat on the opening day of the season put Cloughie’s Leeds bottom of the First Division or that a win, a couple of draw and a few defeat in said man’s first six games only gave his side four points but with the effort that had to go into totting up columns, creating news print and video overlays for Television to roughly project onto brightly coloured pictures there seemed very little point in bothering.

The table at that stage did not mean anything after all, and if it did you could be sure that Shankley’s Liverpool would be top of it. Tables tended to turn up in newspapers and magazines in September after about ten games and then they were accompanied by football managers of the day warning that said table could not be read until everyone has played everyone else at least once – except for Jimmy Sirrel who insisted it did not lie.

The modern football table – the sort that sits all summer with naught in every column – is more of a database waiting to happen and has given rise to an obsession with starting counting league position by the minute of each game. In fact ten years ago City were forth in the Premiership for the 22 hours until Manchester United won moving us and everyone else down a place.

Match of the Day made a return this weekend and had the top four places of the top division coloured golden to indicate Champions League slots – somewhere Platini fumes – with the aforementioned United excluded, lagging down in eighth position with zero points in zero games.

Back in my day in March a half blind man would draw a dotted line somewhere approximating the promotions places – and he were always wrong – if you were lucky.

All of which is preamble to saying that aside from the fact that Notts County are top and everyone else isn’t the League Two table means – frankly – “nowt” which is just as well because if it were to mean something City would be third bottom.

The opening point of the season came with the weekend 0-0 draw with Port Vale which presented a Bantams side that – rather surprisingly considering the previous week – had very little wrong with it.

The back four did not put a foot wrong with Steve Williams starting to impress in that way that suggests he is taking to professional football better than Matthew Clarke – who he replaces in the side again tonight – would take to cutting hair in Bamber Bridge. He is partnered by Zesh Rehman and is in front of Simon Eastwood who are both a clean sheet further away from Notts County.

City’s full backs against Vale probably had more pitch to play in than they will in most games this season with the Valiants anything but. Simon Ramsden – it would be amiss of me not to point out after a number of discussions with “our Rovert” on the subject – could have done with more support in front of him when he came forward with the ball while Luke O’Brien could do with putting a bit more air into his crosses with the hope of beating the first man. If not air then variety as the promising young left back’s play became a little easy to read on Saturday.

Promising young left backs though are not in short supply at Valley Parade with Louis Horne ready to replace O’Brien who was sliced in half by Anthony Griffith at the weekend and may not play. Horne – for the uninitiated – is the son of Peter Horne the man in charge of youth development at VP but those who have seen him put in a few games ensue suggestions of nepotism with phrases like “he looks a bit good.”

Horne is a bit good although which bit is not yet clear. He can use the ball, tackle, and has a good head on him and while that is deployed at left back often he does take the left wing and – in the humble opinion of this writer – might want to try his hand in the centre of midfield.

Not that City need any more number fours with Michael Flynn and Stephen O’Leary finding a way of keeping the back door closed and O’Leary especially useful in taking the ball from the central defenders and moving it on with minimum fuss. The pair look set to anchor behind the roving Chris Brandon – who will face up against his former Town boss Lincoln manager Peter Jackson – who comes inside and left flank man James Hanson who loses nothing in the air and comes in from the flanks to add to the attack.

All of which leaves City a little thin out wide but we should not mind the width if we can feel the quality and the quality of City’s approach play impressed on Saturday.

Approach play good and the strikers were not able to profit with Boulding seeing the best of the chances saved. Peter Thorne struggles with four games in eleven days and so may sit out to allow Gareth Evans to lead the line. Michael Boulding is expected to partner.

A decision is made, a result is reached, and City move on

If the season started here in the third match following the week in Nottingham then it started slowly with a 0-0 draw with Port Vale which saw the visitors get the point they came to West Yorkshire for and City stop conceding after eight goals had been lifted out of Simon Eastwood’s net since the season started.

Indeed so clear was Stuart McCall’s desire to ensure that the Bantams would not be looking at a hefty concession rate that the changes had been rung and the solution was found in a full midfield that saw two number fours – Michael Flynn and Stephen O’Leary – hold and Chris Brandon nominally given the right hand side but spread himself over the middle of the pitch in the kind of performance that his status called for.

The industry of the Flynn and O’Leary pairing allowed Brandon to enjoy his roving role – James Hanson was also nominally left flank but spent more time at the far post assisting the strike pair of Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne – and linked the midfield to the forward two effectually or as effectively as the Valiants would allow with their deep sat five and midfield on top.

As such the pattern of the game was set. Vale’s ambition was limited and City’s measured with the Bantams controlling play in the first half to such an extent that at one point a twenty pass move probed either side of the visitors backline without finding a way through. City’s best chance came when Hanson – powerful in the air – won the ball for Brandon to take into the box and Michael Boulding to try finish only to find Chris Martin standing tall to make a save. I tried so hard to come up with a joke about Coldplay’s lead singer but as with City just lacked that touch of inspiration.

Vale on the otherhand failed to convert a few crosses that flashed past the City box for the want of men in the box and some good defending from – especially – Simon Williams who made his home debut with a performance of genuine quality calmly showing a class to slot alongside Zesh Rehman and a physicality to cope with the ageing late sub Geoff Horsfield.

Williams and Rehman kept Marc Richards in pockets save an stinking shot from an actuate that Eastwood took confidently. Second half and City had James Hanson go close cutting in with a shot and could have won the game late on when a cross from Simon Ramsden – who did a grand job down the right with an acre in front of him and little support with Brandon playing more inside – hung deliciously but Hanson rising at the wrong time.

Hanson impressed too although seemed to fade in the last quarter of the match. Gareth Evans came off the bench and hit a dipping shot over the bar. Michael Flynn tested the keeper from range, Luke O’Brien did the same.

Flynn and O’Leary responded to some aggressive play by Vale with a series of lively challenges as the Bantams seemed to find a pairing that looked interested in joining a League Two battle. Vale’s four Anthony Griffith was lucky not to see a red card after a string of feet off the floor tackles ended in Luke O’Brien getting spun and limping through the rest of the match. Born in Huddersfield perhaps he was an excitable Town fan. Regardless he was lucky to stay on the field long enough to be substituted.

Flynn showed a willingness to battle but O’Leary was something of a minor revelation making himself available in midfield for passes, getting stuck in and using the ball well it was a mighty promising display and one that might keep Lee Bullock cooling his heels on the bench. Late in the game Vale put on former City favourite Claus Jorgensen who was roundly and warmly applauded but in the last five minutes that despite some bluster both clubs were happy to see out goalless.

The men on the bench – the management that is – made the point today with a team that joined the battle for League Two. Tuesday night Lincoln City come to Valley Parade and City will look to build on this match but as with the team of Paul Jewell’s eleven years ago – who drew early on with Sheffield United and Bolton Wanderers making the two points from seven games – the shakedown of the start of the season was brought into context later in the season.

Today City did not let anything past – or look like letting anything past – and anything that comes later comes from that.

Will things go as expected? City play Port Vale looking to put the week behind them

When it comes to first weeks of the season they have never come any worse than this one for City.

Ten years ago we were sitting fourth in the embryonic Premiership table after a win against Middlesbrough. A decade on and we are at the foot of an equally new League Two table smarting from a 5-0 defeat and out of the League Cup. That was the week that wasn’t.

Wasn’t very enjoyable that is – unless you like the City of Nottingham – but probably not unexpected. When Championship side (and lest we forget, twice European Cup winners) Nottingham Forest came out of the hat for the first round of the League Cup – away to boot – not a single City fan would have said that the Bantams were anything other than rank outsiders.

Likewise when Notts County started spending money in the summer culminating in recruiting Sven Goran Errikson the majority of Bantams fans would have thought it a surprise if the Bantams had come back from the Lower League all-stars who are assembling at Meadow Lane with a point.

That both things came to pass is the way they did – scoreless and remorseless – has distorted those original assumptions that when City kicked off against Port Vale in the first home game at Valley Parade they would probably have no points and be looking at a few midweeks off after a cruel draw.

Stuart McCall has had little but food for thought in the last five days having played perhaps five different formations during the two matches and used sixteen players one of whom – Jonathan Bateson started his City career in the worst possible way with a red card for slicing Nathan Tyson in half for what seemed like little or no reason. Bateson could not have impressed less.

Steve Williams could have impressed more – it was not a week of full throttle – but he has most probably done enough to secure a debut alongside Zesh Rehman and in favour of Matthew Clarke who seems to be fall guy for the five goals that Notts County put past City despite – whisper it – having a better game than Rehman that afternoon.

Simon Ramsden has started his City career well and slots back to right back after a sojourn at centre back and Luke O’Brien is left back.

The midfield should revert to the four in the middle with Joe Colbeck, Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon although James O’Brien played on Wednesday night with Brandon cooling his heels. As a boyhood City fan robbed of his first year as a Bantam Brandon should be bursting to impress and one hopes he puts in a performance that suggests the desire than comes from playing for your own club. So far such as been lacking from the left midfielder but tomorrow can be his Alpha, should O’Brien not get the nod over him.

In the forward line Gareth Evans impressed on Wednesday but is expected to step down to allow Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding back into the line.

Having draw with Rochdale on the opening day Port Vale got arguably a more testing League Cup trip than City – to Sheffield United – and won it although that was more down to comedic goalkeepering which one hopes Simon Eastwood – the City stopper who makes his home debut – will not follow.

The season is young – baby young – and already City are thrashing around but in football everything becomes right with a win and at Valley Parade – under McCall at least following years of home defeats – wins have become expected and City are doing as expected thus far.

Former England manager gives City a lesson

The opening day of every season is about learning lessons after three months of playing football in a hypothetical context give way to ninety minutes of reality and sometimes that reality is cold and sobering.

Bradford City’s lessons today were sobering. The afternoon started with a minute’s applause for the late Sir Bobby Robson. Robson had a lesson which he passed on to another manager who like Magpies boss Ian McPartland had seemingly endless riches to spend – a young Jose Mourinho – who relates the story as “One of the most important things I learnt from Bobby Robson is that when you win, you shouldn’t assume you are the team, and when you lose, you shouldn’t think you are rubbish.”

The World’s media came to watch Sven Goran Erikkson and the millions which are being pumped into Meadow Lane and went away purring about the home side caring hardly at all for the visitors who were but ballast in the story.

When Brendan Moloney pushed forward from full back leaving Lee Bullock to simply not track him back and allow him to score. Bullock’s head was down with the Bantams 4-0 down but he should have done more, put in more effort.

That he did not came after a grinding ninety minutes. City began brighter than their visitors with Stuart McCall having opted to send his side out to try upset the home team with a high line and a pressing forward line. The theory that McCall employed was – one assumes – that being at home and under scrutiny County would play similarly but alas they did not preferring to approach the game almost as an away match and sat back to play on the counter-attack.

So City pressed and as the season with fifteen minutes old Joe Colbeck had been unlucky to see his header saved after some great approach play and Peter Thorne look menacing on the far post with the ball under City’s control and City looking easy on the ball. County’s responses seemed to be entirely physical with Moloney especially guilty of some fearsome challenges with studs showing. City faced a midfield battle and bit by bit were edged out.

Edged out perhaps because while Bullock and new signing Michael Flynn looked tidy in possession and decent in the scrap they often found the ball pumped over their heads and when it was pumped in between Matthew Clarke and Luke O’Brien City were incapable of dealing with the ball across and expensive import from Shrewsbury Ben Davies finished on the far post.

It was not especially deserved and City should have kicked themselves with Clarke and O’Brien – not for the only time today – incapable of stopping the ball getting across the face of the box. New keeper Simon Eastwood hardly showered himself in glory with his control of the backline – very little – but collectively this was the beginning of errors that continued all afternoon.

That said City should have been level – or had the chance to be level – when Peter Thorne was shoved with two hands from behind by keeper Russell Hoult at a corner minutes later but the referee was curiously unmoved. The game was littered with pushes and free kicks many of which were given for much more malignant offences and not giving a penalty there was pre-season refereeing.

One had thought that the studs showing challenges were the results of being rusty – rather than a desire to be rustic – but they continued throughout the game with Graeme Lee engaging on any number of lunges h simply did not do for the Bantams last year. Anyone who wondered what Lee used to do at City and thought he would not be missed will not have hung their head when another long punt bounced in front of and over Zesh Rehman – who had a poor afternoon – and fell into the path of Lee Hughes who rounded the keeper and scored.

On to Lee Hughes now who rejoiced in his goal celebrating in front of the City fans who were taunting him with chides about his conviction for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving four years ago. Hughes faced the boos and on scoring pranced in front of City fans with delight.

There is a misunderstanding around Hughes when he is booed and responds to that jeering with his self-congratulatory dancing which would eventually get him booked in this game. Hughes is not booed as a former player like Graeme Lee or because he has long hair and is dubbed “Gypo” or because he has dived in a previous game. Many, if not most, people find Lee Hughes and his actions when arrested as being despicable and have the opinion that his playing cheapens the game of football. I think a man has a right to earn a living and Hughes does so but what is he trying to say when he goes to away fans and taunts them?

He has not proved fans wrong as a former player putting one over his old team mates would or silenced the people giggling at his hair yet he acts like Dean Windass returning for Sheffield United did. Frank Leboeuf said “He might be a good but footballer but he is a shit man” and no matter how many goals Hughes scores in this or any other season he has not proved anybody wrong. His prancing leaves a bad taste in the mouth as do the County fans who praise him. One can only hope that Sven and the Munto Group asks why their centre-forward is being called a murder and is as repulsed by the behaviour as I am.

Hughes got his second goal through another failure by Luke O’Brien to cut out a cross from the right. His third from a shameful dive from Luke Rodgers prompting the question of if County are going to be so good do they have to cheat? Seemingly so but the fourth goal killed City’s hopes off.

Steve Williams, James Hanson and Gareth Evans all made debuts off the bench and performed well with Williams looking mobile at the back coming on for Clarke who had had a better game than Rehman but had been replaced anyway. Evans and Hanson took the flanks coming on for Colbeck who had looked good in the first half and for Chris Brandon. Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding combined well with Brandon to see Boulding flash a shot wide.

The fifth goal came as the game dragged to an end leaving City looking back at ninety minutes of a defensive performance littered with individual mistakes – although Simon Ramsden looked good and pocketed Jamie Clapham – and a choice of approach from McCall that got it wrong and flew in the face of the manager’s talk of the Bantams learning to go away from home and play ugly, shutting up shop and being hard to beat.

County seem to be going onto bigger and better and perhaps their is no better illustration of the future for the Magpies than Hughes. Sneering success, at at any price, no matter what.

For City’s part though the short hop over the Trent to Nottingham Forest for the League Cup – bizarrely we parked next to the Brian Clough stand this Saturday afternoon – and then to Port Vale in League Two on Saturday looking to start the 45 game season anew.

The media beyond League Two are calling Hughes sparkling and toasting Sven’s perfect start but rather than the Swede one recalls the other former England manager and the lesson he would give for both teams today “When you win, you shouldn’t assume you are the team, and when you lose, you shouldn’t think you are rubbish.”

It’s Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new season is here.

The route to success for Notts County or Bradford City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now though football starts again. Great.

Five Questions About Bradford City in 2009/2010

Five questions about Bradford City in 2009/2010 were asked to a whole bunch of people connected to City from City officials to long time fans, from mascots to midfielders and naturally to BfB writers. Some people replied, others didn’t but these are the questions and then the answers…

  1. What are your hopes?
  2. …and your fears?
  3. What or who will be the most important thing for City this season?
  4. …and what or who will surprise us?
  5. And finally, how do you see next season ending?

Dan Horsfall
New BfB writer

What are your hopes? We are here as a club this time next year, with you asking this very same question. It’s a few years since we dodged that bullet, but I still feel pretty lucky whenever I realise that we, Bradford City, still exist. A shot at the play-offs would be nice as well.

…and your fears? Our big (league 2) club mentality cannot be shaken; ‘small’ clubs still see VP as a place where the bus should be parked (on the edge of the box), our fans still expect promotion and get on the players’ and manager’s backs. Macca leaves after Christmas, season over, tickets for the subsequent year never really take off.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Zesh Rehman. Is he the ingredient that will alchemically transform our fortunes? Probably not, but he will be hugely important at the heart of our defence.

…and what or who will surprise us? How hard the division will be. It has been a poor division in the past, but this season you can think of maybe 10 teams who will fancy their chances of promotion. Not just the obvious, but the Rochdales, Daggers, Crewes – there will not be many easy away games. I also think Boulding could put in a decent shift, which would make all the difference.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? Sneak the last play-off place and enter the showdown as a team with confidence.

Jason Mckeown
City Gent and BfB Columnist

What are your hopes? As disappointing as last season turned out, it shouldn’t be forgotten it was the closest City have come to gaining promotion for a decade. But for that end of season collapse, a play off spot at least would have been achieved. Hopefully City can build on the positives from last season and finish in the top seven if not top three.

…and your fears? That a slow start to the season results in too many supporters turning on the team and manager Stuart McCall, feeding the sort of negative atmosphere that has undermined efforts on the field in recent years. Last season supporters were too quick to turn on the team. It was easy to sing and do Mexican waves when City were 5-0 up against Aldershot last March, but where was the backing for the players when Port Vale went 1-0 up two weeks later? Let’s get behind the team in victory and defeat, remembering it’s a long season.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The ability to bounce back when things go against the team is vital. During the first half of last season we saw some brilliant fightbacks, for example at Accrington and Luton and at home to Chesterfield. During the second half of the campaign the spirit was lacking and there were too many collapses. When City fall behind, the players need to retain the courage and belief to come back.

…and what or who will surprise us? When reading about a new signing, the words “former Man United trainee” strikes heavy in my heart. I think of Eddie Johnson, Ben Muirhead and Ashley Westwood – all players who looked decent at times but ultimately came up short, appearing to lack something. Gareth Evans arrives this summer with that ex-Man U tag, but I remember been impressed by him when City beat Macclesfield at Valley Parade last season and think he could prove a shrewd signing. Could Evans become the first number 9 widely-liked since Lee Mills? Now that would be a surprise.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? Even though other teams in this division have bigger resources, there’s nothing to fear. A play off spot or even better should be achievable.

Lenny Berry
The City Gent, Mascot Legend

What are your hopes? My hopes are to at least get a play off position this season bit disapointed last year to say the least.

…and your fears? My fears are that we start of not so good and the rot sets in. Its all about getting stuck in.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The most important thing I would think is keeping there head above water financially and 2nd promotion. Come on you Arabs we have a great mascot! lol

…and what or who will surprise us? Lot to choose from on that account with so many new players about looking at some of the young lads to give it a go and show the 2nd division its not all about money.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I think we may end like I said in Q1 think maybe end up in the play offs at least. Looking forward to doing my stuff.

Tony Pasquariello
City Fan

What are your hopes? Today, 3rd August 2009, I have been to pick my season ticket up, and there was an air of optimism around the ground(everyone from the people in the ticket office to the people in the club shop were buzzing about the forthcoming season) Last season was a season of what-if’s. “What if we had done better against this team?, what if we had beaten/drawn against this team?”. In reality, last season we were 2 points, yes 2 points off the play-offs. But that is LAST season, and we need to build on that position.

…and your fears? My fear is that the team seem to be lacking a leader. An actual battler in the centre of midfield. No offence to the midfielders that go out there week in, week out, but someone in the centre to take a game by the scruff of its neck and turn it around. The captains armband has been given to Peter Thorne in recent matches, but realistically, he isn’t going to play every game.

Also, with new signings, a team takes time to gel, to work out how each other plays etc, and if it is not done quickly, this can sometimes prove costly. Pre-Season has gone well, only 1 defeat, but there still doesnt look to be any sort of leadership in the middle of the park.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The single most important thing for City this season will be the fans getting behind the team 100%. Win or Lose. On the few occasions I managed to get to VP last season, I actually heard people Booing their own team!!

…and what or who will surprise us? I think that some of the younger players will be featuring in the squad more this season, and I think they will be the ones to look out for. Players such as Luke O’Brien, Rory Boulding, Jon McLaughlin and James Hanson. Players that have been on the fringe of the first team but have not seen regular first team action, I believe that it will be their year to shine.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I can see this season being the year for us. We need to capitalise on the success we had last year. We are 3rd Favourites for promotion! Come on lads you can do it!!!

Dave Pendleton
From Bantams Past

What are your hopes? We’ll surprise ourselves and do very well.

…and your fears? That the moaners will turn on the young team – in particularly the keepers.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Stay positive.

…and what or who will surprise us? If the fans remain positive…

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I can’t shake off the feeling that we’re in for more of the same. However, trying to keep in the positive mood, a late surge grabs us the final promotion place and Valley Parade goes insane!

Luke Lockwood
Young writer

What are your hopes? I hope is that we are competetive in the league and on the last day of the season are still competing for a promotion/play off spot to keep the excitement running until the end. And I also hope we manage to finally end the curse of the cups and manage a little run with a tasty third round away draw against one of the big boys.

…and your fears? My fears are that once again we miss out on even a play off spot, the fans turn their backs on our beloved Stuart and Luke O’brien scurries off on a free transfer with us receiving no more than a small ‘compensation’ fee. Furthermore Omar Daley returns at christmas but has lost his electric pace, without which he would be a very mediocre player, and Peter Thornes ageing limbs stop him from playing regularly or finding the net.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Whoever takes the starting berth next to Lee Bullock in midfield. I’m not sure what we need is another Stuart but someone who can weigh in with a few goals. More of a Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, with Bully doing the ugly stuff. (Since writing Flynn has signed which seems to answer Luke’s worries)

…and what or who will surprise us? Mr.Eastwood in goal. I am unfortunate enough to live with a Town fan, who also works at club and from what I have heard Eastwood is regarded highly by our ‘friends’ down the road but they consider Smithies to be the best young keeper in the country and have just given him a 5,000 pound a week contract to fight of interest from Everton. Also Joe Colbeck, once before when everyone doubted him he went on to become player of the season. I expect him to do the same once more unfortunately due to his contract not being renewed it may result in us losing him.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? The league to me is so open this year and impossible to call. I think we will finish in the top 7 though, but miss out on the automatics. A big day out at Wembley to finish with and a sense of deja vu against Notts County!

Tom Warden
Singer/songwriter and freelance writer

What are your hopes? As they have been for the last 3 pre seasons, my hopes are to get out of the basement division, that we can avoid the traditional slump that seems to spoil every season and that we bantams might have something to celebrate after much frustration and disappointment.

…and your fears? I am afraid that we have not, as of yet (Again, Flynn’s signing came after this was written), filled that hole in the centre of midfield. It is an area where last year we were too often bullied out of games and should this happen again confidence may drop and the team may struggle. The defence and forward line look strong but it is someone to get stuck in and do the dirty work that we may be lacking, if only we could clone Stuart in his heyday…

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? First of all, the fans. At too many times over the last few years abuse has been thrown at the players far too readily. We are supposed to be the 12th man, spurring our men on, not hurting their confidence because they put in one bad cross. By no means should we be blinkered but we should not be alienating players who can make a difference by getting on their backs. Shout until you’re hoarse and do your best to inspire, then if it goes wrong you can’t say you didn’t do your part. Secondly, whoever plays in goal. At the time of writing, we are going into the season without a recognised goalkeeper, Eastwood or McLaughlin may well step up but if they dont have what it takes, we are in trouble from the very beginning.

…and what or who will surprise us? I’m going to stick my neck out and say we’ll be surprised by the non-league boys. Hanson and Williams will be relishing the chance to play league football, especially at a club with ambitions of promotion and should be hungry to impress. Hanson’s record especially is impressive and with the improvement in quality at non-league level, making the step up is no longer the daunting prospect it once was. These guys should show the passion that has been missing in recent years.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I see absolutely no reason why we cannot be looking at a top three finish. Injuries permitting we have a strong XI which is capable of beating any opposition in what I think will be a very open league.

Through the looking glass

Through the looking glass

It’s almost upon us, as always in a summer bereft of international action, the gap between end and start of season stretches out like a shimmering hot desert, the oasis of that first game still a mirage on the horizon. The Ashes wets the whistle but nothing quenches that thirst like the first roar of the home crowd, the first sight of a new team lining up, full of optimism, the first goal of the season from a man in a claret and amber (or now mainly claret) shirt.

This summer has been all about money, Manchester City offering the England Captain £250,000 to join the Eastlands revolution, Real Madrid buying up just about every sought after footballer on the planet and bizarrely, Sven-Goran Eriksson being installed as director of football (though some think he might be manager in all but name) at the newly oil-rich Notts County.

Of course for those of us not owned by rich consortia from the middle east, the opposite has been true, purse strings have been tightened, wages have been slashed and optimism is a word whispered quietly, especially around the streets of Bradford. You see, we bantams have had our fingers burned. Cast your mind back to last season, full of bluster and bravado after the signings of players with proven calibre in a level above, we played Notts County in a mirror image of this seasons first game and, it must be said, came away fairly happy with a 2-1 win. However, the tale was a cautionary one, we flew too high too fast and came down with a bump, now it is Notts County with the millstone of money around their necks and I for one, think this will aid us.

This league asks for passion and desire, with an ability to deal with the physical side of things, something maybe players such as Paul McLaren didn’t have the stomach for, in this respect I believe the signings we have made, whether they be forced upon us by circumstance or not, will be ideal for the league. Steve Williams and James Hanson have served their apprenticeships in non-league, they know the game is kick and be kicked. Non-league is no longer a footballing wasteground, the level of football has long been improving and there is no doubt that players coming from that background can step up, you only have to look at Stockport and Peterborough in recent years for examples of how buying players with a point to prove from lower levels can work.

Gareth Evans and Simon Ramsden know this league well, Evans should hopefully develop and blossom alongside the experienced finishers we have in Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne and Simon Ramsden seems to be the kind of solid, no nonsense full back Stuart has been looking to fill that gap for some time.

So come the first day of the long awaited season, when Sven looks out onto the Meadow Lane pitch and wonders what the hell he’s got himself in for, City fans, with our hearts full of pre-season optimism, should relish being the poor relation as it might just have forced our hand into getting what we wanted all along, a ticket out of this league.

The 47th game

In seven days time City will have faced Notts County in what is game one of the new season but in a rain soaked Valley Parade the Bantams seemed to have started the season early in a 3-3 draw with Carlisle United.

To suggest that the friendly between Stuart McCall’s City and a Carlisle side managed by his former midfield partner Greg Abbott was “competitive” would understate the content that saw the visitors copy their manager’s combative style and at one point boiled over into typical Abbo violence.

Richard Keogh swung for Joe Colbeck and in a proper game would have been sent off no questions asked leaving his team to play with ten men for seventy odd minutes. Keogh missed Colbeck’s square jaw just as Brandon missed with a kick at Michael Evans in the dying minutes which would also have resulted in red and followed on from the sort of tackle by Evans that littered the game. Too physical, too much, and never allowed in the season for real.

So in that way the work out for City was perfect – bad refereeing of the league season being substituted by soft pre-season officialdom and City responded to that work out well.

Another number four got a run out for the Bantams with former Luton and Hereford midfielder Stephen O’Leary wasting no time in pressing his case for a contract by finishing tidily a headed cut back by Michael Boulding who got on the end of a superb Joe Colbeck cross deep on the right.

Carlisle reacted poorly with Keogh swinging at Colbeck who spent the first half tormenting former Leeds man Ian Harte and looked distinctly second best. City’s second goal came from another Colbeck cross – a corner – which headbanded Matthew Clarke jumped for and may have connected with but landed at the feet of Peter Thorne who finished easily from close range. It was – at that stage – comprehensive.

Nevertheless twenty minutes later City were losing. Firstly Graham Kavanagh was allowed to turn on the edge of the box dropped away from the central defenders and not being picked up by the midfield – one of Stephen O’Leary and Lee Bullock should have been there – and was allowed time and space to fire in impressively from thirty yards.

Secondly the rain became torrential taking away Zesh Rehman’s legs as Joe Anyinsah played the ball to Matty Robson and was shown enough of the goal by Clarke to be tempted to shoot and duly did giving a second goal in two minutes. It was unimpressive defending and seemed to snap City right back into last season’s lower moments.

The spine of the team was found wanting, and the heart. Things went against the Bantams and the Bantams responded by sulking. It was Morecambe at Easter or Barnet away all over again and City visibly wilted.

The third goal came eight minutes later when a corner headed in by Joe Anyinsah with Simon Eastwood left flapping at the ball.

Eastwood has yet to impress and will need to communicate more with his backline to become a better keeper while his judgement at coming out to try collect this corner was curious to say the least. At the moment all he offers over Jon McLaughlin is that he is someone else.

So the black shirted Bantams trudged in at half time having been the best for thirty minutes but mostly through errors ended up losing. So far, so last season.

Nevertheless something that Stuart McCall said at half time reminded the team that they had been comfortable in the game for a long time because what one would hope is normal service was resumed with Bullock and O’Leary combining well with the attacking pair of Thorne and Boulding and Colbeck and Brandon coming inside and working the ball forward well with sudden, tight controlled football. Eastwood’s first half display may have been duplicated in the second had Carlisle mustered a shot worthy of the name in the second half but aside from a shot that flashed across the goal they threatened rarely.

City on the other hand revealed an alternative to the 442 which McCall favours with a 4231 that saw two holding midfielders in Bullock and O’Leary, Gareth Evans lead the line ahead of Colbeck, Brandon and James Hanson who lot a header today – a thing that is notable only for its infrequency such is the impressive abilities of the Idle Working Man.

Before the change in formation Michael Boulding had flashed a Peter Thorne chest down wide and Colbeck did similar following an impressive nutmegging of the referee but it was a breakaway from Evans which won a corner that when slung in the former Macclesfield man tucked away from close range despite a heavy first touch in a crowded penalty area.

Three all it finished and while Keogh would never have finished a league game and some of the tackling used the weakness of pre-season refereeing to avoid bookings and neutering giving both teams a good work out but causing worry for City.

Abbott’s side too easily bullied City – especially in that fifteen minute spell before half time – and the Bantams were not able to counter that physical play or that sudden burst of (for want of a better phrase) “wanting it” which undermined a performance that was worthy of a win.

O’Leary looked no better or no worse than other number fours we have tried but one of he or James O’Brien would seem to be about to be offered a contract this week and making a debut next but the Bantams need someone to sit in the midfield and someone to prompt and inspire in the way that McCall did when he rejoined City in ’98 galvanising a team that had lead the league in ’97 but faded into a genuine promotion side.

One would hope that City could find this type of leader from within the club – Peter Thorne seems to be captain apparent – and Zesh Rehman and Lee Bullock also hinting that they could emerge as characters but leadership is lacking and when City trudged back to the centre circle after the second and third goals there was no geeing up, no encouraging, no leadership pulling up everyone else’s game as McCall The Player did.

Brandon’s ill tempter kick certainly was not it and he needs to wear his status as City’s senior player with more conscientiousness and sobriety.

Ultimately though football is a game of balance in flux. In a match which was competitive this game was the 1st of 47th in a season that starts next week and may be no different to last with the collapse before half time so reminiscent of last year but perhaps it will be the 47th of 2008/2009 and in a week when the season kicks off City will be a team a year older, more experienced and able to drag a draw out of a game in which a lead was surrendered in contrast to last season.

One can but hope. Either way the phoney war is over and the season – nine months of elation and agony, anguish and exhilaration – starts now.

Pondering Nicky Law as City visit Alfreton Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to football as City take on Barnsley

The season, or should that be the open season, started early this year with Stuart McCall and Mark Lawn facing City fans in a forum leaving them happy on the way out but foaming at the mouth when typing.

It was one of those weeks where one is happy to get to the football as we do with the pre-season visit of Barnsley on Saturday.

City face the South Yorkshiremen in good pre-season form with the XI loss to Manchester City being largely forgotten about and McCall is able to further shape a squad that tellingly is numbered for the season but lacks a 1 and a 4.

Andy Holdsworth was to be that four before he jumped on the midfielder pile at Oldham. Some say that as a decent ball player with League One experience Holdsworth should have had the boat pushed out for him – the HMS Infinite Money one assumes – because he was obviously the missing piece in the puzzle.

These people have heard of Paul McLaren and, one assumes, know the concept of irony but these two things do not link.

Holdsworth joins Joe Keehan in exiting with the tanned man not making the grade and going home. Jordan Hadfield and Grant Smith have much work to do before being considered the man for the four but one recalls how Dean Furman did not sign for the club until August and wonders if similar might be in the works.

Hadfield, Smith and Estonian Jevgeni Novikov will have a run about alongside Lee Bullock for City against the Tykes. Joe Colbeck gears up down one flank, Chris Brandon the other although Rory Boulding and Luke Sharry will get runs out.

Behind Colbeck will not be Paul Arnison who formally ended his Bantams career as his contract was cancelled by mutual consent. Arnison and Mark Bower look set to join Darlington and while any miss Bower – I believe that that as good as a player as he is the team needed Matthew Clarke in it in League Two – we will miss Arni who was never massively popular.

As a full back I liked Arnison. He supported his winger going forward better than almost any right back player since Brian Mitchell left the club in the early 1990s which I thought made up for his failings at the back which saw him often too advanced but tellingly played in the City sides that performed well last season. Judging his performances on the field I would say that McCall made a mistake letting him go but the rumours dogging the North Easterner are that he is not a good character to have around the dressing room and so he exits.

Simon Ramsden takes the number two shirt from him and will – with Jonathan Bateson backing up – play alongside the pairing of (Perm two from) Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Matthew Clarke. Luke O’Brien and Louis Horne are the left backs and both will feature.

The number one shirt is up for grabs. Jon McLaughlin may take the gloves but with McCall stating his desire to bring in a loan keeper City might have a new man signed to play between the sticks by the time the teams run out on Saturday.

At the other end of the field James Hanson celebrates his professional contract he signed this week and is looking to continue his good form. Gareth Evans, Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding complete what looks to be a stronger striking line up than last season.

City kick off the season in two weeks – Sven is waiting – and already the season long debate over management has started. The best answers for all are victories.

City XI lose 3-1 to Manchester City XI

On a wet Tuesday afternoon at Valley Parade Bradford City lost 3-1 to Manchester City with Peter Thorne getting his second goal of pre-season in the first half and a clutch of trialist getting a run out as Stuart McCall continues to whittle his squad.

City’s side was best described as a mix of kids, second stringers trial players and the odd full professional such as Thorne who scored midway through the first half to put the Bantams back on level terms. The Manchester City team was mostly drawn from the Academy and can be best described as “a bunch of players who have next to no chance of playing for Manchester City” despite some impressive skills on display.

Impressive for the Bantams was James Hanson who seeks to join Steve Williams in jumping from non-league to full professional with City while Jevgeni Novikov and Jordan Hadfield – who held midfield for City – fight for spaces in the Bantams midfield for next season seemed to shrink with the news that Andy Holdsworth would – should he come to League Two – sign for City over his former manager Peter Jackson at Lincoln City.

Bantams weigh up the options as they head to York and beyond

As with anyone forced to confront big spending in these tough times the Bantams return to the possibilities of having a positive income refreshed after a rumage through the bargain bins.

Paul McLaren joined Graeme Lee in leaving the club, Michael Boulding started talking reduced terms and suddenly the likes of Andy Holdsworth – one of the best hundred players to take the field for Huddersfield apparently and player of the season the year before last – turns up for a game just as people start talking about Lee Hughes.

Such shopping is far from Harrods but it is not Lidl either which seemed as if it was going to be the shape of the City squad to come.

That bargain basement rumage seems to have turned up two players for now with the possibility of more to follow.

Steve Williams and James Hansom both suggest themselves immediately while a clutch of midfielders race to be most impressive with Joe Keehan adding himself to the list of James O’Brien and Jordan Hadfield.

It is sometime since City so clearly trawled the non-league market to pull in Williams, Hanson and Keehan and one wonders if the qualities that make someone a very good part-time player can be transferred to League Two level.

While the step from League Two to the Championship is one of class then that from non-league to League Two is of lifestyle.

As League Two players the new signings will be on around £25,000 a year which is not just a long way from the money being offered to John Terry but is comparable with the full-time jobs non-league players hold down now.

I’m no expert in how much a hairdresser in Bamber Bridge takes home but anything over £25,000 gives someone like Steve Williams a genuine decision to make.

League Two’s rank and file players are professionals earning in some cases less than non-league counterparts may get from the day job.

Such roughness of figures aside the point emerges that the non-league amateur or semi-pro might not be in professional football for financial rather than playing reasons and the step up to League Two level is less one of fitness and training rather than pure ability.

If the ranks of the non-professionals do offer fruit for the picking then City are in prime position to offer attractive terms being still one of the top half of spenders in League Two but having holes in the squad to fill.

The likes of Williams, Hanson or Keehan look to claim those rich pickings. Keehan’s half on Wednesday night showed a combative midfielder built like a tank and coloured like a tomato but the role he auditions for alongside Lee Bullock is of paramount importance to the Bantams side and one wonders if it could be handed to a rookie.

With financial pressures eased Stuart McCall may look to bring in a name such as Andy Holdsworth to replay and hopefully improve on McLaren last term. Certainly there is no position on the field worthy of more attention.

Nevertheless Alan Mannus has yet to be tested in goal but was worryingly quiet and punchy at Park Avenue.

The defence for Notts County is more or less picked with Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Matthew Clarke who will miss the York game through injury and Luke O’Brien lining up. Likewise Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding will open the season with the likes of Brother Rory, Gareth Evans and Hanson looking to be in the seven subs City will keep on the bench next season.

Joe Colbeck seems pencilled in for that first game but with the player on week to week deals and Oldham reportedly interested one wonders for how long he will be at the club. Replacement Luke Sharry looks more of a central player when replacing Colbeck but shows talent. Leon Osbourn seems to have much work to do before he is able to stand up in League Two but is warmly backed by supporters in a way that Colbeck or Omar Daley could only dream of.

The middle of the midfield is a mix at the moment with many players looking for a place next to Bullock.

McCall must be heartened by the names that have suggested themselves so far in pre-season but as he watches City take in York he will note that the team has requirements for the goalkeeper, the holding midfielder, one if not both wingers, and after plugging holes continue to build for the season ahead.

Names suggest themselves as pre-season continues with City win over Park Avenue

Having already established that beating teams way above you is meaningless one wonders how defeating the local non-league side should be viewed following Bradford City’s 2-0 win over Park Avenue.

The Bantams bested their City rivals with two second half goals and a clean sheet that made strong cases for two of the trialists who are looking to make the step up from the Avenue level to League Two.

The first half saw the Barber from Bamber Bridge Steve Williams look impressive at the heart of a defence alongside Grant Smith in a side led up front and as captain by Peter Thorne. Thorne’s partnership with Gareth Evans looked promising with the new young striker linking up well with the senior man climaxing late on in the half when a move that featured the thrusting play of Joe Colbeck – Colbeck is coming back to form – and a strong header that from the skipper which keeper Steve Dickinson did well to save.

Nevertheless more of the play seemed to be given to the back and to Williams who looked strong. That Williams and his defensive partners were involved so much – and that City broke down the right often and the centre and left less so – was down to a performance from the central two midfielders Jordan Hadfield and Lee Bullock which did not control the game well enough.

Which is not to say that City were overrun but that to win games at League Two and above is to win midfield battles and for the opening three quarters of the first half the Bantams middle two did not.

Half time parity was deserved but on the balance of the second half the Bantams were deserved winners – although of course that does not mean anything – following the entry of James Hanson who has gone a long way to securing himself a move from Guiseley to Bradford City.

Within a minute of the re-start Hanson had risen to head long pass into the path of Michael Boulding who took the ball and slotted home with confidence. Five minutes later a free kick was centred and Hanson – who scored two against Avenue on New Years Day last season – headed home firmly.

Boulding and Hanson could have both had more and Dickinson kept the score down as the Bantams middle two of former Huddersfield Town man Andy Holdsworth and Lewes young – and tanned – midfielder Joe Keehan grabbed the game.

The Bantams kept the game on the whole in the Avenue half although some late flurries forward saw keeper Alan Mannus – a keeper who had an unsettling tendency to punch – called into make a single save and watch a few go wide. Former City man Harpel Singh was ineffectual as ever on the left flank. Simon Ainge – who snuck out of City in recent months – was on the bench.

Hanson won aerial battles for the evening and Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke looked solid with a special note for Louis Horne who continues to look able at left back. Keehan was especially impressive but joins a list of midfielders trying out for the number four shirt. Keehan, Holdsworth, Hadfield, James O’Brien. Pre-season is for sorting such things out.

In Williams and Hanson it would seem that two names are suggesting themselves already.

Thorne signs one last deal

Peter Thorne has put pen to paper on a one year deal to play what one assumes is a final season in football for the Bantams.

Thorne, who manages to be both universally liked and considered good which is a rarity at Valley Parade, struggles to play twice in a week but his striking instinct is obvious to all and was missed by the side during his injury time last year.

He shares the striking roles with Michael and Rory Boulding and new signing Gareth Evans.

Time for pre-season optomism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It never Rehmans but it pours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much of the same.

McCall’s next City squad starts to take shape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BfB’s Top Five Review of 2008/2009

BfB Player of the Season 2008/2009
  1. Dean Furman
    It is said that a manager knows his own position best and in – eventually – picking the Rangers kid Furman to be in the position – if not the shirt – of Bradford City’s number four Stuart McCall found an heir apparent. After breaking into the starting eleven later in the season Furman started to regularly feature in everyone’s “my midfield would be” harrying, unsettling and getting at opposition players when the senior players he displaced seemed unwilling to. Add to that his use of the ball which was superb then one can see a bright future for the young South African at Ranger – where he is expected to feature in the first team squad next year – and beyond.
  2. Omar Daley
    Where did it all go wrong? Tuesday night against a Darlington team all too ready to kick who had six nibbles at Omar before taking him out until 2010 with a rustic tackle that ended City as an attacking force for the season. It seems a million years ago that there was even a debate on Daley – who had turned in his fair share of gutless displays in previous years – who constantly and effectively providing an attacking option for the Bantams all season. The true measure of Omar – and the thing that finally silenced his critics – was just how much he was missed when he was gone.
  3. Luke O’Brien
    Emerging from the shadows with little more than the half remembrance of Gareth Grant skinning him in pre-season Luke O’Brien is one of those young players who’s progress is measured by how quickly one gets used to him. He had filled in at left back to a point where no hole was remembered – Paul Heckingbottom is hardly even talked off – and even raised to the hallowed level for a Valley Parade young player where the shrink wrap is taken off and he is as open to criticism as the rest of the squad. What joy. A fine first season.
  4. Rhys Evans
    The one time Chelsea and England u21 goalkeeper arrived at Valley Parade as something of a second choice after the club’s pursuit of Rob Burch but went on to make the gloves his own with intelligent goalkeeping based on smart positioning in the Gary Walsh stylee.
  5. Peter Thorne
    Another season in Peter? One hopes so. Thorne is the finisher that every clubs needs to gobble up chances when created. If we do offer the 35 year old another year then let us make sure that we provide him the ammo he needs.
Five best loan signings
  1. Dean Furman
  2. Nicky Law Jnr
  3. Zesh Rehman
  4. Steve Jones
  5. Paul Mullin
Five “get in” moments – The times we lost our heads in wild celebrations
  1. Accrington 2 City 3
    An awful performance and an awful result on the cards. Then with two minutes to go Barry Conlon heads home an equaliser to bring some relief and then 30 seconds later Joe Colbeck plays Peter Thorne through to improbably win the game. Don’t ask us what happened in the next 30 seconds, we rather lost the plot celebrating.
  2. Luton 3 City 3
    A game that had everything including a superb second half City display, coming from 2-0 down to 2-2. After the Bantams miss so many chances to win it, Luton scored in injury time, but then the referee blows for a penalty and Conlon scores the coolest spot kick you’ll ever see to send us wild.
  3. City 3 Chesterfield 2
    Another tense moment, another Conlon penalty to spark scenes of jubilation. City looked dead and buried after 20 minutes but came from 2-0 behind to win what felt like a crucial game.
  4. Rotherham 0 City 2
    How cold was the Don Valley stadium in November? We shivered our way through 70 minutes of tediously dull football, then Luke O’Brien charged forward from his own half and fired the ball into the net, enabling some of us to warm up by dancing on the running track.
  5. City 1 Macclesfield 0
    A must-win game and Macclesfield are time wasting and keeping every player behind the ball. Then Dean Furman wipes away an hour of frustration by firing the ball into the bottom corner. Promotion dream back on?
Five “oh dear” moments – The times we buried our heads in despair
  1. Huddersfield 4 City 0
    The fourth goal of an utterly humiliating evening, made worse for one of the BfB crew by his efforts to leave early being foiled by getting a flat tyre in his car, yards after starting to drive home, and getting stuck in the heavy rain, in Huddersfield, until almost midnight due to his spare tyre not working. Pre-season optimism disappeared that night.
  2. The Entire City 1 Dagenham 1
    We’re getting absolutely battered at home by a team playing the crudest form of long ball football imaginable. Just blow for full time referee and let’s never speak of this afternoon again.
  3. Stuart McCall at Dagenham
    The season is basically over and an-almost tearful Stuart runs over to deliver what feels like his resignation speech. How did it come to this?
  4. Omar Daley stretched off at home to Darlington
    We thought it looked bad, though no one could have realised just how bad…
  5. City 0 Port Vale 1 – Richards booting the ball away
    Yet another visiting team playing all out defence and getting away with non-stop time wasting. While the referee isn’t looking, Richards runs up and stops Rhys Evans taking a goal kick by booting the ball away. You’d laugh if it wasn’t so serious.
FiveSix biggest player disappointments
  1. Omar getting injured: I loved watching him run at people
  2. Barry leaving: I know the booze and all but even so.
  3. Michael Boulding: Top scorer from last season ran channels brilliantly and… well… not much else.
  4. Paul McLaren’s ways: Which are great for corners but get involved man!
  5. Chris Brandon: Cause everything will be alright when he is fit
  6. Willy Topp: I mean! What the Hell!
Five things seen through rose tinted spectacles
  1. Two defeats from 23 means teams won’t relish coming here next season.
  2. Another Bradford youngster makes a first team spot his own. Well played Luke O’Brien.
  3. Until we lost Daley and referees took a dislike to us, we competed with the best in this league.
  4. We’ve seen some great games and performances: Exeter (H), Accrington (A), Grimsby (A), Chesterfield (H), Morecambe (H), Luton (A), Gillingham (A), Aldershot (H), Rotherham (H).
  5. It looks like Stuart is staying to give it another crack.
Five things seen by the grumpy old sod…
  1. Winning less than half of our home games isn’t that impressive…and don’t get me started on the away form.
  2. We only had one home grown youngster playing regularly and most of the rest of the players are old and lazy.
  3. Daley was inconsistent and we were only near the top because no other team actually seemed to want to go up.
  4. We’ve seen some bad games and performances: Huddersfield (A), Bournemouth (H), Shrewsbury (A), Chester (H), Bury (A), Barnet (A), Notts County (A), Rochdale (A), Exeter (A), Bournemouth (A), Chester (A) Dagenham (A)
  5. It looks like Stuart is staying to give it another crack.
League Two team of the season – The players who have impressed against us
  • In goal: Andy Warrington of Rotherham United
    Produced a series of breathtaking saves to stop City running riot during the last home game of the season. Warrington just edges out impressive goalkeeping performances from Chester’s Jon Danby and Grimsby’s Phil Barnes at Valley Parade – especially as he didn’t resort to time wasting like the other two.
  • Right Back: Darren Moss of Shrewsbury Town
    The Shrews defender had a ding-dong of a battle with Omar Daley in January and just about ran out the winner. Strong, speedy and determined.
  • Left Back: Thomas Kennedy of Rochdale
    The Rochdale left back impressed in his sides 3-0 win over City at Spotland with his marauding bursts forward. Also made the League Two team of the season.
  • Centre Back: Steve Foster of Darlington
    Dave Penny’s Darlington lacked flair and finesse, their dogged approach best exemplified by the impressive Foster at the back.
  • Centre Back: Jim Bentley of Morecambe
    Okay he was a bit of an idiot in how he over-celebrated Morecambe’s 2-1 win over City on Good Friday, but Bentley was full of heart and gives everything to the Shrimpers cause. Courage that was not replicated by City on the day.
  • Right Wing: Dany N’Guessan of Lincoln City
    The French winger did his best to rip City apart on Boxing Day and looked impressive at Valley Parade too before Peter Jackson curiously took him off early. Destined to play at a higher level soon.
  • Left Wing: Miles Weston of Notts County
    Tore Paul Arnison apart on the opening day of the season, resulting in the City debutant having to be subbed. In the return game at Meadow Lane, tore Zesh Rehman apart.
  • Central Midfield: Darren Anderton of AFC Bournemouth
    One-time England winger played the holding midfield role in Bournemouth’s surprise win at Valley Parade in September, where he looked a class act whipping balls across the park. Anderton retired early allegedly due to then-manager Jimmy Quinn forcing him to train to intensively.
  • Central Midfield: Tommy Docherty of Wycombe Wanderers
    Another midfielder with an eye for a good pass, Docherty was hugely impressive when Wycombe came to Valley Parade and his manager Peter Taylor thinks he should be playing at a higher level. Looks like he will be next season.
  • Forward: Ben Strevens of Dagenham and Redbridge
    Strong, quick and clever with his feet – Strevens and his striker partner Benson were no match for City’s feeble defence at Victoria Road in April. Probably would cost a few quid, ruling City out of looking at him, but can’t see him at Dagenham much longer.
  • Forward: Chris Martin of Luton Town
    Poor guy, having a name like that; poor guy, playing for a club like that. Martin was a real handful when City played Luton at Kneilworth Road and should not be playing non-league football next season.

The budget announcement should not spell doom and gloom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why can’t you do that every week?

“Why can’t you do that every week?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why can’t you do that every week?”

The Most Important Man

Stuart McCall and Peter Jackson – two big figures in the recovery from the fire of 1985 in a game between these two teams – joined the silence honouring the departed.

McCall manages Bradford City taking the opportunity to when offered two years ago while Jackson is in charge of Lincoln City having knocked back the job at Valley Parade on Boxing Day 2001 having agreed to be our on Christmas Day. McCall would spend this anniversary or sorts with boos directed at him by some.

Some would have Jackson as Bradford City manager rather than McCall and others would not. Those in the latter camp could point to McCall’s match changing substitutions which brought about the aforementioned jeers at the time but were vindicated. Are these two thus the most important men?

The jeering for McCall came after substituting Michael Boulding and Joe Colbeck. Boulding had a game not atypical for him running into channels and working hard while never gelling with strike partner Peter Thorne. One could not fault Boulding’s work rate but would could take issue on how much of that hard work goes into the squad and how much goes into making sure that Michael Boulding has a good game? His impressive goal tally for Mansfield Town which made him League Two top scorer last season came when The Stags were relegated.

None of which is to say that Boulding is not a good player but rather than he is not foremost a good team player and – frankly – Bradford City are not foremost a good football team but rather a collection of good footballers. Does this make the job of managing the side into the job of getting Michael Boulding to play in a more knitted up way? Is Michael Boulding the most important man?

That City are good footballers would be debated only by dullards and that Joe Colbeck is a talented footballer would equally only be opposed by those who lacked wits. Colbeck has managed to return to being the target of Valley Parade’s defining characteristic – the vitriol heaped onto individuals – after being last season’s Player of the Season.

I have no respect for someone who will stay silent when a Colbeck is being cheered laying in wait for an opportunity to continue a campaign against him. Colbeck this season has cut defences apart yet he is booed today not for not making effort but for those efforts not having results. There is no doubt in my mind that Colbeck will go on to be a very good player at this level and at levels above but there is significant doubt that he will do that at Valley Parade.

After being player of the season Joe Colbeck is not the most important man.

One would think for all the attention given to Matthew Clarke that he was the most important man – one would think that Peace in the Middle East would emerge on the news he was dropped so dedicated are some against him – but it was telling that as some City fans sung “One Mark Bower” to criticise Clarke following Andrew Hutchinson opener for Lincoln.

Clarke was wrestled by Geoff Horsfield as a nothing ball that was hastily cleared by relieved Imps defenders who had worried that a clip of Boulding’s heels would result in a free kick and near 21 players on the field stopped – indeed when Hutchinson put the ball in it seemed to be more an act of time wasting than goalscoring – but the game continued and the visitors had their goal.

Five minutes into the second half “One Mark Bower” sang some City fans to chastise Clarke. “1-0 to The Referee” retorted the Lincoln fans to make some things clear.

City’s equaliser came when Peter Thorne was able to stand strong in the penalty area and work a ball on to Lee Bullock who finished from close range. Peter Thorne and Lee Bullock could be the most important men. Keeping Thorne fit all season has proved to be impossible and sure enough City have suffered when the switched on striker was not playing but Bullock – my man of the match today – has been a mystery in and out of the team all season and hardly ever allowed to continue the relationship he started with Paul McLaren at the start of the season.

As an engine room Bullock and McLaren are useful only if they have outlets for their possession and too often they do not. Steve Jones had a lively display – especially following McCall’s switch to a 433 which put him in the forward line alongside Paul Mullin who simply never loses an aerial ball – but this team has not been the same since an injury on a Tuesday night two months ago.

Omar Daley – in the stands and out until Christmas – is not the most important man but sometimes when City huff and puff and want for his creativity it is difficult to remember that.

Daley though – like McCall with his substitutions, Colbeck showing the nerve to difficult things even if they might make him look foolish rather than shovelling the ball off sideways and saving any blushes, Clarke in the side to stand up to a Horsfield who would have eaten Mark Bower for breakfast – split opinion with those against jeering.

Perhaps those who jeer are the most important men. They certainly seem to hold the power at Valley Parade grumbling away to get their way they are the exiled Cubans of Bradford City and Mark Lawn needs to convince Stuart McCall, and himself, that their is a future for a club when with twenty minutes left of a game at 1-1 three games off the play-offs which even after this draw there to be scrapped for the loudest sounds at City are the negatives and the jeers.

Which is not to say that they are the only sound, that they are the only fans, that they are people who need to be pleased but the voice that comes from Valley Parade is an overtly negative one and until this issue is tackled and resolved then the club is hobbled.

Certainly that negativity has taken chunks out of the club. Dean Windass – here today to watch the game after reports that he would bend transfer deadlines and return to the field – suffered untold abuse and his exit and the clubs relegation to this level were not unlinked. Windass is at Valley Parade and Paul Jewell has started to crop up in the media more and more.

Maybe they are the next most important men but they are not today.

For today this is League Two football and at the end of the game with three very clear incidents when crosses or shots hit hands of Lincoln City defenders in the penalty area and a goal caused by being the only man in the stadium who did not see the foul of course the most important man was Fred Graham the referee.

Depressingly, in League Two the most important man is always the Referee.

A question of spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A story in the telling

There is a nervousness as three o’clock passes and Bradford City – so long in the last chance saloon – kick off against League Leaders Brentford who arrive at Valley Parade looking to start this endgame of the season with a win they need to cement promotion.

Who on Earth will replace Ces Podd? Podd is a legend and we are throwing in some skinny kid who loves Leeds United to replace him. He is sixteen too and very ginger.

Thorne is on the floor. It is spent. It is all lost. The clock is, as always, the demon that devours Eden and after the City number ten put Steve Jones’s centre towards goal only for Brentford keeper Ben Hamer to save.

The Bees are £10m in debt and believe that promotion will help lessen that deficit and to that effect they have pulled in a clutch of players on loan from the higher leagues like Billy Clarke, Damian Spencer and keeper Ben Hamer who is quickly into the action as the Bantams enjoy the better of the early exchanges. Spencer – for example – has arrived from Cheltenham in League One who need to cut their wage bill. It would seem that if City would like promotion then Brentford need it to increase income as expenditure raises.

The kid is doing well and Oldham seem to be interested in him but he seems to be able to play a bit. Hopefully he will stay cause Trevor Cherry thinks he can do something in the middle. Nice to see some spirit in the side and the kid has that.

Stuart McCall has sent City out to play a tight four-man midfield and his plan seems to have some merit with the Dean Furman and Paul McLaren middle of the pitch trading blows all afternoon with the confidence brimming Brentford and perhaps shading the midfield battle.

It was the last minute and all is spent because Thorne is on the floor and Hamer has saved City’s last chance to level up the game and, perhaps deserved and perhaps in short measure, this promotion push has faulted for the final time.

The spine of the team is impressive. Jacko at the back, Bobby up front and the kid in the middle pushing and prompting. We are going to be champions this year and the kid is unbelievable.

McCall’s selections have been causing concern for many all season. Chris Brandon – denied from the line up for most of the season – is back and looked useful forcing a save out of Hamer after good work on the right. Brandon his the ball low and Hamer’s save was the equal of a reaction stop Rhys Evans made earlier form a free kick that deflected off Graeme Lee when driven at goal.

Brandon on the left was more successful than Keith Gillespie on the right who struggled. One can only guess what has gone on with Joe Colbeck – the fact that he does not even feature on the bench is clearly not just because he is out of form – but Gillespie and Jones have been incapable of replacing the drive of the winger who starred at the start of the season.

It is all spent because there is no Barry Conlon to troll the ball home as he did earlier in the season and Hamer will claim Thorne’s late stab at goal and give the league leaders a 1-0 which they might not deserve but have worked for and will take and City will fail.

Back home now and The kid is the captain. The kid’s contribution has been immesurable.

Gillespie brings to mind the Pitcher of Piazza, New York Catcher. He has the skills but his body is unwilling. He puts the ball past a man and would have got to the ball but now lack the yard of pace. Given a choice between trying to nurse Gillespie into form or Colbeck back I would want Joe back in the side but management is often about things unseen.

It is all over because City have failed to win promotion and not even reaching the play-offs, the result of this 1-0 defeat, will see Stuart McCall leaving his club, our club and no longer will we have the hope that McCall brought. It is all over for McCall and for us and everything is lost.

Nevertheless City gave as good as got in the first half. Thorne had a useful chance that Hamer saved and Graeme Lee hit a fierce free kick that the keeper was well placed and took to chest.

An inch off the top division. The kid is going to leave but he has done us proud. The kid says he will be back. He says “unfinished business.”

A word for the referee David Foster who unsurprisingly failed to shower himself in glory. His bookings for Dean Furman and Paul McLaren set an early and harsh precedent that he failed to maintain to ludicrous levels once Damian Spencer had picked up a deserved booking for persistent fouling. Spencer jumped around Matthew Clarke and went blindly into Rhys Evans as the keeper scooped up the ball which could only been dangerous play and should have been a second booking but was not.

It is all over because Peter Thorne is on his haunches in the penalty area. He is on the floor. We were wrong.

Likewise Dean Furman – booked in the first half – made a lunging tackle from five yards away which (I believe) got the ball but resulted in a free kick and thus was given as a foul and as such should have seen Furman given a red card. Billy Clarke flicked the ball away as City prepared to take a free kick and should have been given a second yellow card but was not. The rules of football are not mutable on the basis of the outcome of breaking those rules.

Clarke was booked for removing his shirt in celebration of a well worked goal that gave Brentford the lead. Clarke darted in front of Graeme Lee and wrong footed Evans before peeling away to the joy of his team mates and his booking. It was a well worked move that would cut open many a team but it was telling that it was one of few times that the effervescent leaders breached the Bantams defence.

A night in Italy and the corner comes in and there he is – blue shirt on – on the floor pushing out a leg to poke the ball past the Swedish keeper. The kid. The kid has six league titles, the kid has scored two in the FA Cup final, the kid beat Leeds. The kid has come back.

Brentford taking the lead deflated the Bantams and let the air out of Valley Parade. Michael Boulding – benched in favour of Paul Mullin who won lots in the air but seemed on a different wave-length to Peter Thorne – came on to make a three man forward line and Steve Jones replaced Gillespie on the wing.

It is over because they key to this season was not keeping Throne fit because even a fit Thorne is on the floor and in the mud and on the damned floor in the penalty area after Hamer has saved his last minute shot and the ball is bouncing between them but it does not matter because Thorne is on the floor.

The Bantams had forward motion but seemingly not belief – at least little belief around the ground – but it was noticeable that following the goal Brentford moved back twenty yards and tried to defend. Furman buzzed around trying to win the ball from the two lines of four and showed a will to get something from the games he challenged Adam Newton heavily pushing both into a signboard at the side of the field: “Ever had unprotected sex?” it asked, Newton just had.

Gareth Whalley has the ball and is running away from the box as Wolves pile on the pressure. The Ref blows his whistle and eyes scan, looking for the kid, arms aloft. The kid.

Nevertheless the game ground down and it seemed that City would lose and fall behind Chesterfield in a possibly fatal blow to play-off and promotion hopes. There was a cross in from the left that Steve Jones hit the ball across the box and Peter Thorne – on his second attempt – stabbed the ball home to raptures, fans spilling onto pitch and general wondrous excitement.

It is all over because Peter Thorne is on the floor as the ball is sliding towards him and Hamer starts to look worried but it is all over.

So Stuart McCall takes his City team to Morecambe on Friday while Shrewsbury Town – who drew with Grimsby Town and a goal from Barry Conlon – play Bury but by then Chesterfield could have gone seventh if they beat Lincoln City on Tuesday. Wins are the order of the day and this draw when all is done is not the sea-change in performance that the Bantams needed.

Shot after shot, game after game, getting battered, still in with a chance. Last day of the season and the kid will not stop running until that final whistle. That glory.

Peter Thorne climbs from the mud and the dirt and Hamer is scrambling towards him but the City striker has fixed his eyes on the ball as if he – out of everyone – does not realise it is all over.

Not a sea-change but a start and one that the Bantams can push on from and perhaps that is not a benefit that will be felt this season but maybe that will be next. I think we have to let our manager – whoever he is – build something rather than taking the attitude that chopping and changing will eventually yield results which is seldom does.

Myers and the kid. There is blood. Twelve months later the kid is gone again and everything has gone to Hell.

Peter Thorne is getting off the floor.

Let the manager build, let him doing a job, if he fails this year then let him try again next year because I believe we are not going to get anyone who wants to do well for this club more than McCall does and we are not going to find anyone who can put that feeling into the team than McCall has.

The kid is back but everything is a struggle. It looks like the kid has cracked it and we are doing well but the wheels have come off the wagon and we have fallen out of the play-off places. The kid is on the radio. He sounds down. He sounds flat. The kid is on the floor.

Today City kept going long after the support had accepted defeat and that is all I want from the manager’s team and from City and all perhaps that anyone should want.

If you don’t like that then sue me.

Stuart’s striker blind spot

Let me say at the outset that although I am a McCall supporter, when his arrival was first rumoured I though it would be an act of lunacy on his part to take the job at the time he did… bottom division, no money, financial knifedge. All he could do would be to ruin his unique legendary status… as has happened.

I haven’t agreed with all his decisions during the season: team selections, substitution policy etc. What is it with professional football? no matter that tactics/personnel can prove to be wrong early on, they must not be changed in a match till the hour mark whatever happens).

Then again, I didn’t agree with everything Paul Jewell did in ’98-99.

Sadly I’ve come to the conclusion that Stuart has a blind spot which has hampered our progress and it’s to do with strikers!

Before the season began everyone was aware that we would be lucky to get 30 games out of Peter Thorne and that Barry Conlon wasn’t an adequate replacement, for all his effort. True, he’s scored more goals this time but, take out the penalties and he doesn’t look nearly so adequate.

Stuart had another chance to put this right when Topp departed but we got Chris O’Grady. 2 coments on him that I heard were “doesn’t even look like a footballer” and “signed him just ‘cos he played well against us once….bad reason!”

Having now seen Paul Mullin I can only say that he doesn’t seem to have anything that Conlon didn’t have. There was talk at the time of Pawel Abbott instead. I remember thinking that he would have been a better bet for us.

Only time will tell how much this striker shortage has cost us. Right now it looks like there is one remaining playoff berth to be had and that we aren’t favourites to get it!

It can still be done but I’ll stick my neck out and say that if we don’t beat Brentford on Saturday it will be all over for us, a draw won’t be good enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deflecting viewpoints – Bournemouth v Bradford City – League Two preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spectacles optional.

Another bad repeat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rochdale’s chairman gives motivation as the crunch draws in

Rochdale chairman Chris Dunphy

My opinion is that when a club goes into receivership or liquidation, they should lose the golden share and drop out of the league, I think it’s grossly unfair when we go to places like Bradford City, who have wiped off debts of £38m and been bust twice, and the likes of Rotherham, who’ve been bust three times and wiped off their debts. It’s absolutely scandalous.

Promotion is a great motivation for beating Rochdale and a win for the Bantams on Tuesday night will go a long way to establishing City’s position as automatic promotion chasers but to paraphrase Wilde on an occasion such as dealing with Dunphy it becomes more than a footballing imperative to win the game. It becomes a pleasure.

Dunphy’s assessment of City’s financial problems is a distortion of the truth – the Bantams did not write off £38m but rather paid off a significant (in that is was all that could be afforded) chunk of the debts – I know because I was in the room when we did it – and did so in a way that handicapped the club to such an extent that rather than recovering to be reinstalled in the Premiership we end up at Spotland, playing Rochdale, in Division Four.

Dunphy – who tries to take the moral high ground on football finance – is charging £20 per adult during the credit crunch. Dunphy – who prides himself on how he runs Rochdale up to the line but no further but sees fit to criticise Rotherham United who try do the same but for the South Yorkshire flooding which plunged the club into crisis – is prepared to suggest that all as who have had financial problems are guilty by association with administrators.

Good governance in football is more than admirable – it is necessary – but it does not need the kind of advocates who use it exclusively and lash out at the unfortunate who suffer along with the financially undisciplined.

Say what you want about the causes of City’s first administration but do not doubt that the second was caused by a club that spends years to that point and years after struggling to keep head above water and – at the cost of our ground – failing at one point. I was not in the room for that one but I have seen the books and Dunphy’s shoestring which he claims to run Dale on would have been riches to the Bantams.

For Dunphy to use his Guardian interview to talk about writing off debts which are calculated wrongly and to associate the Bantams name with the actions of a Leicester City is reason enough for City to want to repeat the 5-0 stuffing we gave Dale three years ago and the slur on City is enough reason for Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes to refuse the hospitality of Spotland and bunk in with the supporters.

The game begins three on the road for the Bantams and sees City back in good form with Rhys Evans three clean sheets off a new club record for a season and Peter Thorne looking as if he has found the way to the net again.

The back five of Rhys Evans, Paul Arnison, Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke and Luke O’Brien are looking as solid as they have been save the rather massive wobbles of Barnet and Notts County. Dean Furman and Nicky Law Jnr were imperious in midfield on Saturday but the latter will look to match the former’s ball winning abilities against a side who are strong at home.

Joe Colbeck looks to be returning to the kind of form that saw him cutting through teams at the start of the season and like a pair of jeans bought three years ago that were too big – Steve Jones is increasingly a good fit on the Bantams left filling in for Omar Daley. Chris Brandon’s cameo did not see him kick the ball – at least not in my memory – but his impact as a non-toucher was similar to Jorge Cadete’s legendary attributed goal by Dean Windass seconds after he came on.

Michael Boulding works tirelessly and Peter Thorne has three in two games. Rochdale represent a tough game but not one beyond the Bantams.

McCall will hope City can start the way they finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Significant? We’ll soon know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get you boots on John

John Hendrie uses his column in the T&A to say that he believes that Bradford City should sign another forward and that we are – pun coming up – a striker light.

Hendrie is right of course, but utterly wrong at the same time.

City could do with another body up front since the failure of Willy Topp at the club and Omar Daley was – in essence – that extra forward. Now he is injured leaving us with Barry Conlon, Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding we are Hendrie’s “striker light.” So far so bloody obvious.

Considering we play two up front and have one on the bench we would seem to have the required three bodies for the role. An extra one would be good for cover but the point of having cover is that it is deployed when you have injury. Barry Conlon is cover for Willy Topp not working out.

What Hendrie seems to want is for us to have cover for the cover. To follow the route of Darlington who signed a loan player because another loan player was injured.

Hendrie should look what has happened to Darlington, what happened at City in 2002 and 2004, and rather than suggesting the Bantams should be making signings “just in case” give the club some credit for not going after cover two deep for a position at the expense of the budget.

John Hendrie can go write for a Barnsley paper should City hit the skids for a third and final time because we take advice like that and spend more than we have or perhaps he could go write a column on one of his other former clubs like Middlesbrough, or Leeds United.

Unless that is that a forward who can score a hat full of goals, is in good form and can blend into a squad in the last two months can be found but who loans them out? Great strikers – and one assumes that Hendrie means that and not that City need to sign another Chris O’Grady to come keep a place on the bench warm – are rare. Great strikers who go on loan to League Two clubs are hen’s teeth.

Perhaps – and with some irony – going to the administrators at Darlington and easing their financial problems with an offer to loan a costly striker would bare fruit but of course their goals come from a player who does not belong to them and it is wasting funds like that that have got them in the state they are now.

Bradford City do not need another striker rather than to get the three strikers playing better and to ignore the advice of people like Hendrie who – when confronted with a problem – have the solution of throwing money around that clubs like City can ill afford.

I’d rather he offered to get his boots on again. Then at least he would feel the effects of his advice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City lack the steam to go the distance against Darlington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A point is what we got.

All heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City on the way forward again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then came Tuesday.

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

And that’s why Tuesday hurt so much.

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

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

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

City simply must be targeting three points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flickering faith follows Bury defeat

I am not one of those fans who has pretty much been criticising Stuart McCall all season and becoming more and more vocal and outspoken in recent weeks.

Neither am I writing this because I’ve just seen City undone by yet another sucker goal which could and should have been avoided.

At Bury in the 1-0 defeat however, like a candle when someone opens a nearby door, my confidence flickered briefly. Involuntarily I asked questions of City’s management team! The questions tumbled over each other in my mind.

Apart from the enforced change, why had Stuart changed the starting eleven yet again?

Why, if he was determined to make changes, were Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding warming the bench? Particularly as Barry Conlon and Steve Jones have scored precious few goals from open play (a goal is a goal I know, but, like most supporters I just don’t rate penalties as highly as those from open play or other set pieces). When Thorne and Boulding were fronting the team we were scoring goals (21 between them) and winning matches. Since Peter returned from injury they haven’t play a full match together.

Why, with Conlon being particularly ineffective (as City continued to lump the ball forward into the middle I saw him beat the cental defender and get the ball only twice all match) wasn’t Thorne or Boulding brought on as a direct replacement?

Why, with Lee Bullock still returning to full match fitness and not being at his effective best, wasn’t Dean Furman brought on after the hour?

Why have we stopped playing football? Hoofing the ball into the middle in the hope of Barry getting his head on it is not only terrible to watch, it’s proving to be completely ineffective in matches.

Based on all the chopping and changing in recent matches I do get the distinct impression that Stuart doesn’t know what his best eleven is. Either that or he’s too nice trying to keep everyone happy by giving them all a game or part of one.

The manager has to have a ruthless streak! Deciding on his best starting line up and (injuries and suspensions permitting) sticking to it no matter who in the squad this might upset. Having differing opinions on the best starting line up is a luxury for fans, not for managers!

Stuart, I haven’t lost confidence but, much more baffling team tinkering and performances like last night and this might change. I definitely hope not because if not, that would mean we’d got back to a settled side playing football and winning matches again.

Where is it going wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing teams – AFC Bournemouth vs Bradford City preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The finisher who would be the finishing touch.

Finding that something extra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barry signs up and the boos go quieter

“More hoof ball to look forward to!”, “I’m amazed we kept him for his hold up play”, “Waste of money and results won’t improve due to his presence”, “My nose runs faster than he does”, “What sickens me too, is the fact that some of my hard earned money goes towards his wage bill”, “That’s all I hope for, an injury that would rule him out for the rest of the season.” Just some of the early comments posted by Bradford City fans on the Telegraph & Argus’ website after Barry Conlon revealed he was ready to sign the new contract offered to him for the rest of the season.

Barry is the type of player who will never be universally liked at this club. He can look ungainly, miss easy chances and launching balls up to him to win and hold up is never going to result in a 100% successful ratio. Yet it is to Conlon’s credit that the number of people who think he’s not good enough to play for this football club has drastically decreased; not just during the last few weeks when he has enjoyed his best run of form and goals in a City shirt, but since the day his signing was announced to underwhelmed supporters.

Barry was Stuart’s first signing as manager and as he and Peter Thorne drove up to the club they reflected on the more illustrious names of Carbone, Petrescu and Collymore who were signing Bradford City-headed contracts not so long ago. Conlon was known to some City fans, a preverbal lower league player with as many clubs as hot dinners; he’d played at Valley Parade for Barnsley in October 2004 and his goals could be seen on local news when York City were in the Football League. A quick glance at his career record hinted that another Non Scoring Forward (NSF) was on board to frustrate us all and, when he woefully missed a headed chance in a debut friendly appearance at Harrogate it was already enough for some to question Stuart’s judgement.

There was nothing in those first two months of competitive action to suggest anything different. He missed a penalty on his debut and, though he started the first few games, he looked slow and clumsy. Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu was looking better alongside him and there was Thorne recovering from injury. A promotion challenge would not be achieved with the number 9 in the starting eleven it was felt.

Then he started at Morecambe during that dreadful autumn run of form and looked outstanding, holding the ball up effectively and bringing others into play. He carried that on in the next match against Darlington, though easy chances were spurned. He was less impressive at Grimsby the following week but still kept his place for the Brentford game. When he missed two easy chances in a matter of minutes, with City trailing 2-0, the boos rang down and Stuart took the sensible option of quickly subbing him. The team improved without him over the next few weeks and other League Two clubs came in offering loan deals. He was allowed to go, but opted to fight for his place.

There have been others at City with apparently more skill and ability who have not possessed such mental strength to cope with problems, but Conlon showed he carried bucket loads of it with a stoppage time winner against Lincoln on Boxing Day – his first City goal from open play – and then a good run in the team where his partnership with Thorne blossomed. During away games at least, Conlon was a cult hero with “Barry Barry” regularly chanted. Others kept their arms folded, frowned and thought it was all a joke to show him any support. A missed penalty at home to Dagenham, despite the fact he’d scored his last three spot kicks, meant the knives were out and he was on borrowed time.

But Stuart kept him on during the summer and though his popularity sunk to new depths when he was harshly singled out as scapegoat for the Huddersfield debacle (he was terrible that night, in fairness) some took to booing him when he came on as sub. That manifested itself most publicly at home to Luton when he came on at 0-0, yet with his first touch he’d put the ball in the net and another upturn in form followed. This time, the goals came too and Conlon took the mantle as the main man for scoring during autumn as City kept pace with the early runners. With Michael Boulding also on board, competition for places is fierce, but there never seemed any doubt Conlon would be offered another six months – and an increasingly number of people feel he deserves it.

Conlon is not going to go down as an all-time City great and there will be some who will stubbornly hold onto their views that he is ‘garbage’ long after he’s departed, but the fact he’s won over so many – including his manager – is testament to work rate and commitment. Imagine if other recent players at Valley Parade, with twice the ability, had possessed such desire to play for this club, would we be in League Two right now? Barry said on signing until the summer, “There were a few sniffs here and there but it was Bradford City all the way for me. I had no doubts at all. I just feel at home. I love being around the place, the lads are a great bunch and there’s no way I wanted to leave.”

The biggest question with Barry has always been his consistency. If he could sustain the sort of form he showed in October and November over a full season he would have played at a higher level for longer. It’s partly because of this that he has only been offered short-term deals and, if City gain promotion this season, he is likely to become surplus to requirements. Nevertheless he will find no shortage of clubs willing to take him on, with a lot of their fans no doubt taking an instant disliking to him and dubbing him a “pub footballer.” Yet when he does eventually go he will leave with the best wishes of a significant proportion of City fans because he gave everything he had and proven a lot of us wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mid-point report questions the defence

As we approach the mid point of our season and the turn of the year heralding the opening of the transfer window, it might be a good idea to look at the story so far…..

Things are beginning to sort themselves out just a little bit. The top 10 teams are, well, the top 10 teams.

Wycombe are clear with a game in hand but the chasing bunch are pretty fluid. City are established in the top seven, which is good, but not in the top 3, which is not so good.

Stuart’s determination to bring in a first team striker is great news. A replacement for Willy Topp who, even his biggest fans should admit, wasn’t going to be a regular first team frontman this season.

We should get a player who is not just competition for Thorne, Boulding and Conlon but could fit seamlessly into the side if one or more of them is injured.

The goals should then keep flowing.

In midfield we should finally have everybody fit. competition right across the park can only be a good thing and, when you throw Furman (and possibly Law) into the mix as well, it will be really intriguing to see who become the regulars. Each fan probably names a different midfield four.

Now to the back four. Their school report would read “must try harder” as, a quick look at the top seven’s goals against reveals. We’ve conceded quite few more than the rest and this has definitely cost us points… games drawn we should have won and defeats which should have been draws.

To me personally this is the most mystifying fact – that the defence isn’t as solid as it should be. Our assistant manager Wayne Jacobs is a former premiership experienced fullback and our chief coach David Wetherall a Premiership experienced central defender. Between them they should have been able to sort out the current back four or, if they thought any player/players weren’t up to the task we should have got someone else in by now probably on loan at first to have a look at them.

Just a quick word about the keeper Rhys Evans. He is solid if not spectacular he’s made few mistakes and pulled off some great stops. while I had my doubts when he came in he’s certainly got me convinced.

To sum up, I can’t do better than echo John Hendrie’s comment of a few weeks ago that City are currently a top seven side but if we can tighten up the defence on a permanent basis a top three berth is there for the taking.

Just a quick word to those few people I’ve already heard in their darker moments saying “Well, I’d settle for the playoffs”. What rubbish! No team in the top half should be settling for a playoff position now or any time soon!

Only if – perish the thought! – it eventually becomes mathematically impossible to finish in the top 3 should any fan be even talking about the playoffs and the lottery they entail.

The four corners – Brentford vs Bradford City preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lies, damned lies, statistics and Bradford City

Wasn’t it Paul Jewell who said ‘There are lies, damned lies, statistics and Bradford City’? Oh no, it was something else that Jagger said. Back to that in a minute. No, according to Mark Twain it was Benjamin Disraeli who made that comment – or at least he would have done if he had still been alive back in 1903.

But have a look at the official club website and you’ll see some quite alarming statistics from Saturday’s game. They say, for example, that City, starting a home game as second in the league, had just 29% of the possession, had just half of the number of shots on target as the Daggers and won 4 corners as against their opponents’ 13. Those are the kind of statistics that don’t lie.

At least now I know why the manager keeps his hair as long as it always has been. It’s so that nobody realises how much of it he tears out whenever we gave the ball away – which happened roughly every thirty seconds yesterday. He will soon be as follicularly challenged as the rest of us, especially when we concede possession about 25 yards from our own goal.

Personally, I wouldn’t have minded the Daggers’ corner count being 14, if the extra one had been the ball TJ could just have knocked out of play instead of letting it be put back across the face of Evans’ goal, thereby setting up the equalizer. But come on, be fair to Evans. He’d kept us in it and there was very little he could have done to prevent that goal.

Of course, what the statistics don’t tell you is that, for all that City were outplayed up and down the pitch, there was only one team who were ever going to score that opening goal. I don’t suggest it was fated or anything like that. What I mean is that it took a passing team, operating at pace and a real quality goal scorer to create and score a goal like that. We’ve done it before – Rochdale comes to mind – and we’ll do it again this season. There are ways of soaking up pressure and still scoring goals and we seem to have some of the best ways. They’re called Boulding and Thorne.

Even allowing for the justice in the equalizer, City could have lost the point gained. Apart from the referee, who else thought it wasn’t a penalty? And what about the reaction of the Dagenham players? The last time I saw that sort of scrum round the ref was when Andy D’Urso had the temerity to award a penalty against the home team at Old Trafford and Roy Keane’ eyeballs were several inches away from the sockets. Wasn’t that exactly what the Respect campaign was all about? So how come not a single yellow card resulted from the cavalry charge?

Ah yes, that was what Paul Jewell said. After the recent Derby game against Nottingham Forest he gave the referee 100% in his report card, because he wanted to see if anyone actually read the numbers awarded by the managers. That was the game where the ref gave a penalty for a handball that wasn’t, where quite literally a one second pause would have solved everything, that being the time it took for Derby to put the ball in the net. The penalty was saved and even the second time Derby put the ball in the net the ref found a push, although he couldn’t say by which Derby player. Replays showed two or three from Forest, none from Derby.

And why was I reminded of Paul Jewell? Easy really. That Derby ref was none other that Mr Atwell, he of the phantom goal in the Watford and Reading game and he of the non-penalty and no respect at Valley Parade yesterday. (I gather Derm Tanner’s substitute on Bantams World needed the prompting of John Hendrie to point out that this was the phantom goal ref. Still, given that he also insisted that the cross for Boulding’s goal came from Jones, maybe he could give up the day job and become a linesman.)

I just wondered how a Premiership ref couldn’t book anyone for that confrontation. Then I thought of the absolute howlers he’s made already this season, each of which has cost points for different teams and, for Aidy Boothroyd, a slap on the wrist for his reaction. But yesterday there were no TV cameras, save for the highlights package which will never show the incident. Or maybe Mr Atwell finally figured that, when you have just dug that hole a little deeper, there really must come a time to stop digging. I could almost wish for the return of Graham Poll.

Well, almost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topp exits Valley Parade

Willy Topp was not the player we thought he was when he signed. Being fair he was never going to be.

Aside from the obvious difference when he arrived he changed his name from Billy because, well, because he though Willy Topp and Dick Head were a little too close together the Chilean who promised goals delivered none.

Topp was to be the new Robbie Blake. He was to be the tricks and the flicks that lifted Stuart McCall’s first generation of Bradford City out of League Two. One good turn against Shrewsbury Town deserved another but did not get one and an impressive goal in the reserves apart Topp hardly even registered on the Bantams radar.

Nevertheless he figured in the minds of many. Topp should be given a chance – we heard and in some cases said – but reports of injuries, returns to his homeland for rumoured curious reasons and poor training seemed to add up to one thing. When put in the squad at Bradford City Topp could not match the efforts of others.

In many ways Topp should be where Barry Conlon is now – Topp started the season as City’s cult hero and Conlon as a boo figure – but the application of the Irishman on the field puts his rival into the shade.

Stuart McCall watches Barry and Billy, Leon Osbourne and The Bouldings and Peter Thorne every day in training and the Chilean has started to figure bottom of that list. Without wanting to suggest a blind faith in McCall’s judgement one has to assume the Topp offered nothing in excess even of the younger players in the squad like Rory Boulding who figured above the Chile man on the bench on Saturday.

Other suggest that Topp was hamstrung by a manager unwilling to try out a formation that would suit him supposing that a 433 would have benefited Topp allowing him more room to show off his skills and this may be true but at what cost to the rest of the squad? Chris Kamara played a team to fit in Chris Waddle but faced relegation until the star man left and he was replaced with more down to Earth football. All of which assumes that if unleashed with a formation change Topp would have been worth the effort. His impressive flashes numbered fewer than those that Kyle Nix produced last season.

On Topp’s exit City are second in League Two and nothing has suggested that that extra place could be earned by bending the team to fit in the Chilean. On the contrary the moral of City’s season to date has been the triumph of effort, believe and the rewards of doing the right things most often rather than hopefully employed low percentage solutions.

In a way that is the lesson that Topp gives us as he leaves. While eyes look at Billy with hope and optimism Michael Boulding – who’s arrival at City was met in places with a grimace rather than the smile of Toppy – was scoring goals and running himself into the ground and has a half dozen goals to his name.

It is impossible to form an argument that Topp should feature above Michael Boulding, Conlon or Thorne and in the end – distressingly – all the man from South America offers is tricks and mirrors while three strikers deliver goals.

Topp may go on to great things – few will wish him bad on the way out – but City have learnt another lesson on going for solid, consistent ability rather than unknown and perhaps talent.

Of course there will persist in the mind the Topp – when “given a chance” – would have been as sublime as Benito Carbone or Peter Beagrie but the reality is the player sitting on his hands while others strive and succeed.

Willy Topp joins a list with Jorge Cadete and Bruno Rodriguez. The players who we thought were going to be.

The luck of the draw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battling back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More of the same from less – Wycombe Wanderers vs Bradford City preview

Dean Furman is still injured and Paul McLaren is still carrying a knock. Joe Colbeck and Lee Bullock still cannot run about and Chris Brandon is not coming back until next year. The Bantams are still as threadbare as they were going into the game with MK Dons last weekend but after that win the City have hope.

Hope that is that Stuart McCall’s side which he this week declared he was happy with the progress of is more than just the eleven players on the field and that there is strength in the squad.

Barry Conlon showed that strength coming off the bench and scoring goals and being part of last week’s winning side but the Irishman is expected to step down for a biting at the bit Peter Thorne. Michael Boulding’s intelligent play and pace away from home rather than Conlon’s battering ram approach will be favoured alongside.

At the back Matthew Clarke’s return to the team and to form seems set to leave his Huddersfield name sake Tom cooling his heels with Graeme Lee partnering him at the back. TJ Moncur and Luke O’Brien are expected to continue at full back with Rhys Evans behind them.

The midfield continues to be a black hole of injury. Omar Daley has continued good form on his return on the right hand side and Leon Osbourn did enough on the left to suggest his continued presence in the side. Certainly Stuart McCall seems more impressed with the youngster’s attitude than he is with Willy Topp’s. Topp – an option in midfield – seems to be a long way from the side.

Wycombe go into the game having led League Two but now on a dip in much the same way City were. They have drawn four of their last five fixtures and have needed 90th and 98th minute goals to maintain the stream of points. They are – for sure – a good side but City’s one defeat in seven suggests that we are too and that this is a game between teams who will be battling for the chance of automatic promotion and the championship rather than play-off places.

Thorne leads where we should follow

Bradford City’s top scorer Peter Thorne is looking forward to facing promotion rivals Wycombe this Saturday. It’s not just that the striker, rested for the FA Cup win at MK Dons on Saturday, is hoping his team can win the ‘six-pointer’ against a team yet to lose in the league, but the challenge and battle he will face from the Football League’s meanest defence.

Thorne said, “I look at it as a big challenge. I’m not the sort of person who thinks ‘oh no, this will be a hard battle’. It would be great to score against them…If I do play, I’ll expect a bit more special attention as well, being the top goal-scorer at the moment. The defenders will know they have to raise their game but that’s football and is why I love it.”

It’s the last part of Thorne’s comments which really stand out. He love’s football? Might seem like an obvious thing to say for someone paid to do just that, but in age where footballers are widely viewed as money-grabbing, mercenary folk with little grasp of reality, his views seem somehow refreshing.

This is a man who admitted he’d fallen out of love with The Game a couple of years ago and took a pay cut to remain a Bantam during the summer after rediscovering it during a superb season – and it’s the sort of attitude you’d want from your players on the eve of a tough match. Wycombe’s defence has only been breached four times at Adams Park, but they’ve yet to face a clearly-excited top scorer of League Two…

Such views also stand out given how little it seems to be reflected among City supporters. Of course we all love football, why else would we bother spending so much money and travel so many miles in support of City? Yet the negative mood which has hung around Valley Parade for the last few disappointing years has been curiously hard to shift this season.

At the end of City’s last home game, against Barnet, they were booed off the pitch by some – despite the draw leaving the Bantams only a point from top of the league. Of course it had been a disappointing second half performance and its not the first time the team had struggled this campaign; but City are third in the league and it’s a long time since we’ve been able to say that in November, shouldn’t we be enjoying this a bit more?

There seems to be such an extreme range of emotions and comments expressed about City from many supporters this season, often during the same game. The opening goal against Barnet was described as some as one of the finest goals we’ve seen at Valley Parade for years, but then howls of derision are heaped on those same players when goals go in the other end. Is TJ Moncur a good player? He set up two goals and was widely praised, but then makes a mistake at the other end and is ridiculed. It may not be like watching Brazil, but we’re not watching East Timor either.

Sunday’s news that City would face Leyton Orient in the next round of the FA Cup has brought back some sore memories, following the 2-0 defeat to them 19 months ago which proved critical in the failed attempt to beat the drop. City could just have easily been drawn to face Chesterfield, Accrington, Luton, Scunthorpe, Stockport or Bournemouth – opposition which can also prompt flashbacks of previous disappointments. There’s been so little to celebrate in recent years, which would only accentuate how happy we’d be if promotion is achieved this season.

But there’s a long way to go yet, so can’t we try to enjoy things a bit more? Apart from those in the Bradford End, the atmosphere at Valley Parade this season has been disappointing. I’m tired of people around me sitting in silence when things are going well, only coming alive when the team is struggling to moan and criticise. I’m tired of fans making pointless digs at Stuart’s management while failing to provide reasoning; no one should be immune and he’s made mistakes, but half of the complaints are embarrassingly stupid and unnecessary. I’m tired of hearing what’s wrong with the team when I see them sitting high up in the league and wonder if people really do believe we should win every game. I’m tired of hearing booing, so very tired.

There are no guarantees this season and there’s every chance we could be discussing where it went wrong come May, but what we should know is we have a bunch of honest and hardworking players giving their all, managed by someone who wouldn’t tolerate anything less. They will make mistakes because they’re League Two players competing in a league where those near the bottom are capable of beating those near the top. They will lose games, give away bad goals and miss easy chances. Yet the evidence shows they will win more games, score many great goals and maintain their promotion challenge throughout the season. When was the last time we played a match in May which meant something?

And that’s what we should love about football, right? Up there near the top of the league, competing with other teams and going through all those ups and downs. The nervousness before the big games, the hours studying the league table and remaining fixtures and, hopefully, one night sinking many pints in celebration as it all comes together.

Nothing is settled in November, but we can still enjoy the ride now.

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

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

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

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

Not that that is a good reason or anything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you remember, remember the 6th of November?

Eight games without a win and only 12 points picked up from the first 14 games – the 2-1 victory which Bradford City managed over Chester City a year ago today was certainly much needed. A season of incredible high hopes had begun disastrously and recently appointed manager Stuart McCall was struggling to turn things around. On the night Omar Daley and Alex Rhodes scored two memorable goals to kick-start the campaign.

12 months later and, while all isn’t quite well at Valley Parade, the picture is certainly different. The Bantams are 3rd in the league, rather than three points above the foot of it as they were on November 5th last year. Peter Thorne isn’t anxiously hoping to get off the mark in Claret and Amber, he’s on course to equal last season’s tally of goals before Christmas. City aren’t playing catch up, they’re out at the front – 15 points better off this time.

Yet it’s by looking at the last 12 months as a whole which really demonstrates how much City have progressed. Including the Chester win, the Bantams have acquired 78 points from 45 games – good enough to seal a play off spot, judging by last year’s final League Two table, with a game to spare. It’s certainly an improvement from the measly 37 points achieved from the 45 league games which preceded it.

Such stats show just how much that Chester victory a year ago was a turning point – not just for that season, but in the seemingly unstoppable decline in the club’s fortunes. There have been ups and downs since, and there will continue to be, but this last year has seen a continuing upwards curve of improvement in the direction the club is heading.

Much of the credit belongs to Stuart, who would have learnt much that night against Chester and plenty more since. It’s difficult to know what was going through his mind during that miserable autumn run last season, but he appeared unsure how to turn it around. Significant changes – with Paul Evans and Matt Clarke brought in– were made that night and both played a significant role in the victory. The former may be long gone and there are currently big questions centred on the latter, but their presence that night added some much needed grit to a team which looked too lightweight for the rough and tumble of League Two.

Many of the subsequent signings have added to the team’s physical strength and, while any one who has witnessed City’s better moments this season will know this is a team which can play good football, that extra steel has made a difference. Sometimes we groan at the more direct style City have adopted, particularly in away games, but its often proved an effective strategy over the last year. Those who believe Stuart wants to play football this way are only half right – it’s more about doing what’s needed to succeed at this level.

Stuart didn’t stumble on the magic formula that night against Chester, and it’s clear a lot of hard work has been carried out since and is still required for success to be achieved. Only seven of the fourteen players involved that night – which includes the recently-returned Nicky Law – are still on City’s books. Some fans have recently suggested Stuart’s summer signings have all been disappointing, but this harsh generalisation ignores the signings he’s made over the last year and the improvement he’s got from those players who were here already.

But most of all what Stuart has learned over the last year is how to be a better leader from the touchline. During last year’s autumn slump post-match interviews revealed the City manager to be taking defeats very badly. Famously, after losing at Morecambe, he said he “felt sick to the stomach” and almost contemplated walking away from football for good. At the time it was comforting to know the manager felt as hurt by defeat as us supporters, but in hindsight it’s dubious what his players would have gained from it.

When trooping in after a defeat they needed to hear their leader tell them what was wrong and how they can put it right, blast individuals who had let down others and then go outside and confidently tell the rest of the world where the club will go from here, defending the players if appropriate. Listen to the audio of Stuart after the Darlington defeat last month and there’s a world of difference in tone. No blind defending of the team, but fair reflections and a positive look ahead. Seven points from nine since suggests the players responded well to it.

Some of the results and performances during this year’s early autumn slump have tested the faith of many of us in regards to Stuart’s managerial abilities, but the bigger picture shows progress is being made. A few of us could certainly do with viewing our pints as half full and enjoy the typical ups and downs which life as a City fan continually presents.

The last time City were challenging near the top of a league was October 2004 – but by November 2004 hopes had quickly faded. City may not be promoted in May, but all the indications are they will be challenging for it all season. So can’t we enjoy the ride a bit more and not focus so much on the negatives? An up and down promotion challenge has to be more enjoyable than an up and down relegation battle, after all.

The top of League Two remains very tight – and the six league games between now and Christmas are likely to prove significant as larger gaps will begin to emerge. If City are still a point behind the leaders, or even better off, when they visit Lincoln on Boxing Day, the prospects of a successful season will be extremely good.

A one year anniversary to note, though it’s where City are come Stuart’s second anniversary as manager which will ultimately matter.

Too much ying for City’s yang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart goes in without his wingers – Bradford City vs Barnet – League Two Preview

Stuart McCall never got to the by-line.

He never skinned a full back and he never cut inside.

Little legs and a low centre of gravity Stuart McCall would have been a rubbish winger but his City team is all about the men on the flanks.

Omar Daley’s random darts have confused enough defences this year to make him one of City’s most dangerous players and the route of lots of chances but while no one else can understand a word he says Referees can and have booked him enough to suspend him.

Joe Colbeck offers something different but still important for City beating men with accurate crosses but injury at Grimsby has him sidelined and Stuart is left looking for new wingers.

Nicky Law did a reasonable job on Tuesday night but did not give the supply line that Colbeck or Daley does and Kyle Nix might be able to do what Joe does but movie left but only on a good day and the Rothstrailian hasn’t had one of those in a while.

So options like Leon Osbourn and Billy Topp in a wide role are getting talked about. Expect one to sit on the bench but Nix and Law to be the guys next to Paul McLaren and the brilliant Dean Furman.

Similarly up front Barry’s heroic header on Tuesday will bring him a place on the bench behind Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding.

At the back Matt Clarke is back and could replace Tom Clarke which would be harsh on the loan player from Udders who did well alongside Graeme Hammer Boot Lee. Tom Moncur and Luke O’Brien are full backs with Rhys Evans in net.

Barnet are without Jason Puncheon since last year after if wowed then transferred but they do have Luke Medley now which says a lot about where the club seems to be going.

They messed about in the top half of the table for a bit but are bottom half now. Expect a battle but one City can win if the squad can keep in mind the fact that the flying wingers are not replicated.

Not so much Plan B as Style B.

McCall goes back to, and loses sight of, basics

Having apologised in public for underestimating the quality of City’s display last week Stuart McCall had clearly had a word in one of two ears before the Bantams started the battle for nine points in a week.

For forty-five minutes the Bantams did simple things impressively and should have been taking the first three of those nine points on the road. City faced Gillingham on Saturday, go to Darlington on Monday, and Grimsby on Friday and the Bantams are very much within – as opposed to ahead – of the pack leading League Two.

It was noticeable how the Bantams defensive line smashed the ball out of play when under pressure. how often Dean Furman and Paul McLaren got on the ball in midfield, how Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley moved wide when needed and came back when not. The simple things that when done well result in results.

So they would have over Gillingham had they been maintained for the full game. The Bantams battled with a Gills side who deserve a huge mention for playing an open game rather than trying to kill off the game when they arrived at VP and who would get their rewards. Those rewards looked distant when a free kick from Paul McLaren was headed towards goal by Furman – who had his best game for City thus far – and after a save and a scramble was smashed in by Peter Thorne for his tenth of the season.

All of which was City edging ahead rather than dominating but was a good return for the opening and deflated the visitors. That deflation saw Joe Colbeck batter in an impressive slip inside by McLaren from inside the box as McCall switched his wingers to allow the tired Daley to charge at the booked Barry Fuller but in that combination the problems that City would have in the second half – and had all day – were shown.

Colbeck and Daley are a quality pair of wide players and good enough for any team in this league but they are only best value when they are supported by full backs and today they were often left disconnected, flailing ahead without the back up a winger needs.

TJ Moncur and Luke O’Brien were those full backs with Paul Arnison and Paul Heckingbottom on the bench and while O’Brien did not do much wrong at the back he offered little coming forward. Moncur – who replaced Paul Arnison in the side five games ago when the number two was injured in the Bournemouth game – was troubled while defending and failed to connect with Colbeck coming forward with unpredictable results.

From a statistical point of view since Arnison was injured five matches ago City have shipped ten goals and scored eight. Watch the team one sees Colbeck taking up good positions and being ignored by Moncur most of the time and the full back lashing in ineffective crosses. Arnison was criticised by some supporters but his crossing was better and he provided options for Colbeck which Moncur does not and after the defence got back to basics so – one hopes – will McCall.

Only once was Daley able to push the ball back to Luke O’Brien for support in attacking positions. In wins like Exeter The Full Pauls were a major part in making sure that Thorne and Michael Boulding had supply to score and that Daley and Colbeck had players to team up with that they could rely on to be predictable and constant.

As it is Thorne and Boulding feasted on scraps today and the game should have been beyond Gillingham’s reach but Simeon Jackson pulled one back for the Gills after getting beyond the pairing of Matthew Clarke and Graeme Lee following head tennis and high feet and smashing home. Jackson’s pace troubled City all day but in the second half the Bantams put as much into their defeat a the visitors did.

The simple things that were done in the first half faded. Defenders began to try to put foot on ball rather than clearing, pinging the ball over the midfield and into the arms of a referee and linesman who flagged for offside incorrectly three or four times as the ball was pumped up to Thorne and Boulding. City looked alive and dangerous when the ball was brought through wide but neutered by the linesman’s flag and the defending of the men from Kent when whacked long. City stopped doing the shorter passing, the easy play, that had served so well now and previously.

So too often the Bantams wasted the ball and turned over when in dangerous positions for the want of application falling too easily into the trap of believing the besting the offside flag was the only way to score. When Peter Thorne was substituted with ten minutes left he arched his back in agony knowing the game was not won. He was right.

Despite Mark Bentley’s deserved dismissal for a two footed challenge on Paul McLaren too many City players seemed too ready to so the most obvious – rather than the most simple – thing and point to the man in the middle as wronging them.

So when Jackson burst through and scored an equaliser the Bantams seemed a long way from the team that had done the simple things well in the first half and the team that could roar into games earlier in the season. Five minutes if injury time saw the Bantams find that roar with Colbeck hitting a shot to the top corner that was excellently palmed away, Graeme Lee smashing a header from teh resulting corner against the bar and Willy Topp hooking the ball over his shoulder and the bar as City went close to a winner.

However in simple terms the Bantams allowed two points to slip away today in the way that Accrington did last week and did so when losing sight of the basics which they had done so well.

Darlington on Monday and everyone – players and management – should be looking at the things that work most often most of the time.

The end of the curse of October

At twenty five to five this report was going to be very different. At twenty five to five the report was going to centre around Bradford City and the October curse but at quarter to five Peter Thorne completed an amazing come back and the report had been turned on its head.

Our record in October over recent seasons has not been good last year we played 5, lost 3 and drew two. The year before played 4, lost 3, drew 1. Going into the last ten minutes today with confidence obviously low it looked as though this year would read played 2, lost 1, drawn 1. However thanks to an inspired performance from the player, who was the focus of what is becoming known as ‘boogate’, defeat was avoided and Bradford are sitting pretty in the automatic promotion spots.

Bradford set up like they do for all home games in a 442, Nix predictably came in for Omar Daley who was on duty with Jamaica, Luke O’Brien replaced the suspended Paul Heckingbottom, and TJ Moncur returned to the side in place of Ainge despite him doing a more than capable job against Luton. For much of the first half Bradford dominated possession without creating much but were more than comfortable with an Accrington side who didn’t look in any danger of breaking the deadlock. The Bradford fans locked out of the ground despite having tickets weren’t missing much of a spectacle.

On the same day that Lampard and Gerrard were being reunited for England and consequently sparking the usual debate of whether they can play together, Bradford seemed to be suffering from the same problem with their two talented central midfielders, MacLaren and Furman. Where as Lampard and Gerrard both like to push on and get up with the strikers leaving a hole behind them in front of the defence, MacLaren and Thurman both like to lie deep in the midfield leaving a gap just behind the strikers. Consequently any ball knocked down from Bradford’s front two was not contested and simply picked up by the Accrington players, who would soon easily give possession back to Bradford. It seemed as though this pattern would continue until changes were made.

Then 20 minutes into the game Accrington won a corner and a few nerves seemed to enter the Bradford players as they shakily defended the corner and eventually scrambled it out for a second corner. Again the corner wasn’t dealt with in the most sure manner and as the ball went out for a third corner an air of tension seemed to be gripping the strong Bradford following. The third corner saw Bradford punished by a move they themselves have used to good effect as the corner got sprayed to the edge of the box which was dummied by one and placed into the bottom corner past Rhys Evans by the onrushing James Ryan. Out of nowhere Bradford found themselves a goal down having once again been punished for the slack marking which has been evident over recent weeks.

Fortunately this seemed to spark life into the men wearing claret and amber and the tempo of the game picked up as they began to turn the screw. Minutes later Nix brilliantly switched the ball from left to right in a well worked move that found its way to Thorne on the edge of the box but City’s red hot striker just pulled the ball wide of the post with the chance that nine times out of ten he would have nestled in the bottom corner.

It was the Bradford youngsters who seemed to be stepping up to the plate, Furman was battling away and still keeping composure with the ball at his feet, while Luke O’Brien was bombing on from full back to give Nix the over lap and create the extra attacking threat. This threat was probably more effective due to absence of Daley purely because any full back would struggle to catch the Bradford speed merchant never mind overlap him.

City continued to look for the equaliser as the first half wore on and were extremely unfortunate to have a goal ruled out for offside just after the half hour mark. A lovely weighted free kick found its way to Graeme Lee and Lee cleverly nodded the ball down to Thorne who did find the net on this occasion only to see the linesman flagging. Somehow he had seen Lee to be offside when the free kick was taken.

As the half wore on frustrations began to show and Colbeck was booked for dissent by the referee, Mr. Jones, who was handling the game very well. It was the referee giving another free kick Bradford’s way that led to the best and final chance of the first half. A Colbeck free kick caught a deflection off the wall onto the bar and the rebound fell to Michael Boulding with an open goal gaping. However, the ball bounced away from the player who couldn’t get his head far enough around the ball to direct it into the net.

The mood at half time was neither upbeat nor low, although some were annoyed the Accrington catering staff were unable to cope with the big crowd and although it has been denied that Windass will return rumours may reappear because someone had eaten all the pies! After the break the players returned to positive reception as the crowd certainly didn’t think this game was beyond Bradford yet.

Unfortunately this mood lasted no more than 5 minutes as Terry Gornell playing in only his third game on loan from Tranmere slipped all too easily in between Bradfords two centre halves and an exquisitely played through ball found him one on one with Evans and the youngster slipped the ball between the former Chelsea keepers legs. Now Bradford found themselves with a mountain to climb.

The goal seemed to zap the confidence from the players and the effort seemed to have gone too. I was soon worrying about what I would be able to put in this report as for the next half hour nothing appeared to happen. Gornell still worried the City defence with his movement but Bradford could no longer seem to put anything together themselves. Numerous times Rhys Evans rolled the ball to the disappointing TJ Moncur who proceeded to just lump the ball back to Accrington side. This seemed to happen with almost every possession Bradford had and made the exclusion of Ainge seem even more unfair.

After the game McCall would say in an interview about how he worried about the lack of leadership on the field and this was certainly evident as the 11 players went completely quiet with no communication apparent. With around 20 minutes left McCall resorted to his much criticised ‘plan b’. Barry Conlon had warmed up and stripped off and everyone waited to see what reaction the travelling Bradford contingent would give the big striker. I admit that I have been one of Barry’s biggest critics in the time he’s been with the club but would never go to the extent of booing him. I have never seen what he offers and have even labelled him lazy despite the majority appearing to think he gives 110%. I have often thought he doesn’t compete for headers and falls over to easy for a big lad.

My disappointment was further enhanced by the fact the player he was replacing, Kyle Nix, is a player who’s cause I have championed on many occasions and a player I feel always likely to get a goal when played down the middle. To be fair Nix had not had his best game off he came with Boulding taking his place out wide. The 442 was retained but the wingers were pushed further forward as Stuart tried to find a way back into the game.

For his first ten minutes on the field of this game Barry did nothing to change my negative view of him, that however was soon to change. With ten minutes to go and Bradford looking like making it 1 point from 12 another long punt was launched up the field. A punt which before would of been won by the Accrington defence was brought down by ‘Big Baz’ and neatly laid off into Boulding’s path who struck it first time into the underside of the bar and down into the net. Suddenly Bradford felt they may get a point after all and no more so than Barry who was all over the place. Winning the ball in his own half and spraying perfectly into the channels, winning balls in the opponents half and knocking it to players wearing claret and amber. Something the rest of the side had struggled with for much of the second half.

Two minutes from the end Conlon found the ball coming his direction inside the box and for once his leap saw him rise above everyone else and he directed a header into the back of the net. For the second game in a row he had come off the bench to score and if he wants to stop the boo boys then he can do no more than find the net regularly.

Accrington were on the rocks and Bradford were now wanting blood. Less than 60 seconds from the restart they worked their way into the Accrington half and Bradford fans had barely had time to catch their breath before the ball was slid into prolific Peter Thorne’s path and there was no doubt about where the ball would finish. Thorne thumped the ball home to complete an amazing Bradford comeback that had been unthinkable just ten minutes before. The relief and joy was evident in the stands as the fans went wild and some idiots even charged onto the pitch, hopefully no repercussions will follow for the club from these actions.

The shocked Accrington players threw men forward in vain even keeper Kenny Arthur appearing in the Bradford box for a late corner but City hung on and the three points ended up somehow crossing the border from Lancashire to see Bradford climb back into the 3 automatic promotion places. However the result certainly did not tell the whole story and it was obvious from Stuart’s face at the final whistle that he was less than impressed with the overall display. Still it is about time the gloom merchants at Bradford began to look on the bright side and we go into the Gillingham game only a win away from top spot and the curse of October ended.

From jeers to cheers to where?

The frustration was clear at the final whistle when rain lashed Valley Parade and the players as they trooped away seemed to realise that two points had been lost.

Stuart McCall saluted the crowd but seemed heavy shouldered as if he recognised that the late goal that gave the visits what they wanted – a draw – was as avoidable as it was annoying.

Avoidable because a ten men City side had allowed Luton Town to score an easy equaliser when Michael Spillane headed in Ed Asafu-Adjaye’s cross under no pressure in the middle of the penalty area. That City had dropped back to a 441 to try soak up pressure showed some inexperience in analysis of the way the game would flow following the Bantams taking the lead with reduced numbers but regardless of how McCall told them to play the way the players dropped off and allowed the cross to come and the goal to go in was disappointing in a game so hard won.

The first half was marked with a strong wind that pushed the visitors into attack for the opening twenty minutes but resulted in little in the way of good play. Former Bantam Lewis Emanuel picked up the ball to take a corner and was booed by the Kop for a few seconds until those boos were drown out by recognition and applause.

Emanuel had left City for bigger and better but it turns out that Luton were – according to the FA – cheating and making illegal payments. I mention this cause I remember them beating the Bantams in the FA Cup one year and as a victim of their misconduct I find it hard to amass the sympathy that others seem to have for the Hatters.

The tide of the first half changed as – aside for a booking for Paul Heckingbottom for fouling the excellent Claude Gnakpa – the game moved into the Luton half to stay. The nervousness of the is most apparent in games were City are on top. The Bantams tried to work the ball out of the back – I assume they did this because the wind would render long balls fruitless, because the returning Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding are not target men and (to be honest) long ball football is moronic and we hated John Docherty for doing it so why would we want Stuart McCall’s side to? – but such efforts were greeted with grunts to get rid of the ball.

Paul McLaren lead the Bantams in frustration as he looked for Omar Daley, Joe Colbeck and Michael Boulding to come deeper to look to take the ball from him but often had to dally in possession. Those three players need to begin to make themselves targets more than they are now because at the moment too many City players are waiting for things to happen.

Which is not to say that Daley and co played badly just that they wanted for play to start and engaged in the second phase rather than drifting into the Luton midfield to start it. Daley’s running was impressive and threatened often.

Nevertheless at half time honours were even but possession not and sure enough the Bantams started the second half taking the game to Luton who had withdrawn Emanuel and resolved to make sure that they would have more defensive resolve. Typical of this was Paul McLaren in midfield looking for City players and seeing ten Luton players in the cone from him to the edges of the penalty area.

City this year – as with previous years and to be honest most of football – found such resistance hard to breakdown. Peter Thorne saw a header clawed away by Conrad Logan but the rain and darkness started to come in and it seemed the Bantams would struggle breakdown the back line and this assumption seemed to be fact when Paul Heckingbottom – lunging in on Gnakpa who muscled him off – was sent off for a second bookable offence.

It was not odd that Mr G. Laws – who we know like to invent his own rules – decided to punish the two bookable offences which Heckingbottom will have few complaints about but it was curious as to why those two bookable offences would be punished when others were ignored. The officiousness that saw him book Heckingbottom twice was absent when he allowed Rossi Jarvis to go with a warning for kicking McLaren or only booked Chris Martin for diving after the Luton striker had shouted complaints at him.

It says much about Referees and respect that they will only book you for diving if you shout at them and it says much about how Mr Laws referees that he allowed Asa Hall to swing a leg, miss the ball and fully make contact with Omar Daley as the City winger struggled to control the ball in the box. It was a soft penalty to give away but it was a penalty but Laws being Laws he seeks some kind of romantic reasons to give decisions rather than observing the events on the field and giving the decisions as appropriate.

Laws escaped without the booing that some City fans reserve for our own players. I observe that Barry Conlon is booed as he stands at the side of the field and when he comes on for Michael Boulding there is a mixed reception for this player who – in my estimation – gives all he has in his tank every time he pulls on a claret and amber shirt. He is not the most talented player in the squad but he gives the most effort and – I believe – when you boo Barry you give licence to other players to put in 90%.

Nonetheless his first name was still being sung by his advocates as a bouncing ball caused confusion in the box and Conlon was on hand to put in from the six yard box. He celebrated having turned the jeers into cheers and we celebrated what should have been a hard won win – all of use – even the ones who booed him onto the field. It is what we call a brassneck around here and I think they should be made to formally apologise to Barry at half time next week but no one listens to me.

That should have been that but with ten minutes of winding the clock down McCall got it wrong putting on Luke O’Brien for Peter Thorne but one doubts that McCall told the likes of Dean Furman and McLaren to sit off and let the visitors play which we did and the goal resulted.

The goal – headed into the back of the net from about ten yards – the ball nestled behind Rhys Evans and the visitors doing cartwheels and cheering in front of their own fans. The ball in the back of the net and them enjoying this draw they had come for and got. The ball being returned not by an eager striker trying to get the game restarted to try win it but by City. Them celebrating getting the point that moves them to minus eighteen and leaves us in sixth but not trying to win the game.

They never wanted to win the game. I mention this because this Luton Town address the football community as if they are wronged. They want your sympathy and complain about being punished for the massive misdemeanours and for exiting administration without a CVA. They want your sympathy and they come to your ground with the express aim of getting a draw and dragging out a dull afternoon of football where they try stop any football being played. I would not miss them.

Luton’s fate though is decided elsewhere while City’s is still up in the air. Three games without a win the Bantams go to Accrington Stanley next week with the team slipping the wrong way. The players seem to lack a freshness and labour over games. We are a team who need an early goal break to get in the habit of being in front again.

The quality is obvious but the belief starts to slip and McCall has to find a way to inject the freshness back into the side who seem to spend all game worrying about not having scored yet. Everything is being over cooked, passes over thought out, runs fretted over.

We are stuck in third gear and to find the spark to shift up because results like this are causing confidence to ebb.

Beating failure – Bradford City vs Luton Town – League Two preview

Come 5pm Saturday Bradford City’s promotion hopes will have either been strengthened or weakened – but one thing they certainly won’t be is over.

Two successive defeats is disappointing and three would be considered “unacceptable”, but with City’s home vulnerability resurfacing that is entirely possible as would-be-11th-but-for-crazy-points-deduction Luton come to town. After a week in which talk of failure has emanated from some quarters – preceding any actual failure itself – it’s worth reflecting on what it would look like. A home defeat would probably push City out of the play off positions; but, at worst, City would be six points behind the leaders, with 37 games to go.

It’s said by some that the fear of failure led to Stuart McCall playing 4-5-1 at Shrewsbury last weekend and, largely ignoring three key injuries and an appalling referee display, the City manager’s perceived negativity has resulted in some of the strongest criticism towards him yet. Whether or not the system worked in the way he intended; Stuart will obviously be moving back to 4-4-2 for this one.

Top scorer Peter Thorne, who’s absence in defeat has further highlighted his importance, is expected to be fit enough to lead the attack alongside Michael Boulding. Barry Conlon will be back on the bench having been made scapegoat by some for last week’s failings. Some of the criticism is unjustified but it’s hard to argue that the Irishman has done enough, when given the opportunity, to warrant a contact beyond January and it’s up to him to prove his worth. Willy Topp, fresh from a wonder goal in the reserves and closer to fitness, is also likely to be among the subs.

Lee Bullock’s injury will allow the promising Dean Furman to keep his place and Stuart may look for him to share more of the defensive responsibilities with partner Paul McLaren than Bullock has been. Former Hatter McLaren joined City in the summer having topped the League One assist chart the previous season, but the more withdrawn role he’s playing has lessened his impact going forward. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley will be patrolling out wide, with some disappointment this week that they won’t be pushed as hard to keep up their excellent form as they might.

At the back Paul Heckingbottom, Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke will be looking to rediscover their early season swagger and, unless Paul Arnison makes a miraculous recovery, Simon Ainge will get a chance at right back. The 20-year-old made his City debut two years ago but has had few opportunities to push on, his last one ending in failure. Stuart’s decision to give youth a chance instead of making yet another loan signing is applauded on this site and Ainge will aim to make it a quiet afternoon for keeper Rhys Evans.

For Luton, former Bantam Lewis Emmanuel makes a second return to Valley Parade since leaving two years ago. Briefly it seemed he’d gone onto better things in the Championship but, despite having trials at Birmingham and Southend during the summer, Lewis has fallen with the troubled Hatters and could feasibly be playing non-league football next year. It’s to be hoped Don Hutchinson won’t carry the influence his fellow ex-Premiership star Darren Anderton managed two weeks ago, while ex-Chelsea striker Sam Parkin will need to be watched.

Yet the biggest threat of failure will arguably come not from the visitors, but in the stands. Considering we were topping the division two weeks ago, the criticisms levelled at City by many supporters this week have been unnecessarily high. Conversations before this match are likely to contain the phrase “we’d better win today” and, judging on past form, the chances of supporters getting behind the team if they don’t start well are highly slim.

A delve into City’s recent history adds further reason to fear such failure. During the past two seasons, promotion hopes looked credible going into the middle of September – and were all but extinguished when October was over. It’s easy to pin point the respective defeats to Huddersfield and Hereford as the moment things went wrong, but defeats are always going to happen and it was the later ones at home to Brighton and Accrington which really tipped the balance towards another season of failure. During both these games the crowd quickly turned on the team and worked against it – and a similar reaction if things aren’t initially going to plan on Saturday could prove similarly damaging.

Earlier this week one fan wrote they were sick of hearing the management and chairmen falsely building up our promotion hopes each summer, as though pre-season optimism has nothing to do with us supporters. Well promotion this season is my dream, promotion this season is your dream, promotion this season is Stuart McCall’s dream, promotion this season is Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn’s dream, promotion this season is even Barry Conlon’s dream.

If we all channel our efforts in the same direction, accepting we succeed and fail together, the chances of us all achieving those ambitions will surely be greater. So, should City fall behind on Saturday, how are you going to react?

The clouds that form over us – Shrewsbury vs Bradford City – League Two Preview

Once again one could be forgiven for thinking that Bradford City were going into a weekend fixture with the heaviest of black clouds over the club rather than playing the team a place below in a game in which the winners end up in the promotion area.

Having heard from various sources that City’s manager was inept, that the assistant was ruining what the manager did and that some of the players were simply good good enough and need to be got rid of it would be interesting to see what reaction a good result at Shrewsbury would have.

By reaction of course I talk about supporters. Within the club Stuart McCall’s job is to minimise defeats and keep player grounded in wins. A reaction in the dressing room akin to that in the stadium and we really are in trouble.

As it is by five we could be top again. Rhys Evans keeps goal but his back four is changed with TJ Moncur coming in for the injured Paul Arnison. Matthew Clarke and Graeme Lee are in the middle with Paul Heckingbottom on the left.

Omar Daley continues in front of Heckingbottom as Chris Brandon recovers and Joe Colbeck will look to continue his impressive form on the right.

Dean Furman – rested from the reserves – may make a first start with one of Lee Bullock or Paul MaLaren stepping down, probably the former as McCall feels the need to add steel to his midfield for the visit to the other highly fancied club in League Two.

Shrewsbury have spent the money raised when Joe Hart made his England debut triggering a half million release clause in the deal that took him to Manchester City on Grant Holt who is am impressively troublesome striker but with the likes of Michael Symes and David Hibbert to pair him with the onus seems to fall on City to snuff out the expensive man in the way clubs would mark tight Dean Windass and not be troubled by whomever was alongside him – a role both Hibbert and Symes took.

Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding would both have been better partners for Windass – who is rumoured to be thinking over an offer to manage Grimsby Town – and both are in the same bracket as Holt entitled feared strikers.

Come five one of there teams will have laid down a marker for promotion. Come next season the bookies expect both to be in League One.

Flying colours

In the end the result disguised the fact it had been Bradford City’s biggest test of the season.

Going in at half time a goal behind having collectively played average, supporters unrecognising and undermining efforts, a disgruntled manager to face and the first questions over their ability to muster a promotion challenge – the players had much to prove.

An hour later they were leaving the pitch to wholehearted applause after a second half performance Stuart McCall would label “awesome”. Quickly finding an equaliser and not looking back, the players found a previously unused high gear to notch three more goals through some devastating attacking football.

All of which leaves City sitting top of the league and, while it may be early days, coming 11 years to the day of the last time a divisional summit was reached after August – a 2-2 draw against Middlesbrough in the old Division One – shows it’s a rare enough occurence to enjoy. Now the challenge is to stay there.

If the second half blitz provided plenty of evidence to believe this could finally be City’s season, the doubts cast during a disappointing first half performance shouldn’t be discounted. Home games against so-called lesser sides have proved City’s Achilles Heel to often in recent years. Usually on the back of a decent away win, the expectation is more over how many goals will be scored than merely whether the game would be won.

Newly promoted sides can be dangerous to play early season, as City discovered a fortnight ago, but Exeter appeared content to keep men behind the ball and attack on the break. The initiative was there to be taken but, as chances were created and a feeling a goal would inevitably arrive grew, the warning signs which have formed part of so many home failings in recent years were again neglected. Grecians strikers Marcus Stewart and Adam Stansfield provided Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke with some uncomfortable moments, with one slip from Lee resulted in City’s crossbar rattling and Rhys Evans earlier been forced into an excellent tip over.

The Bantams had chances too, with an Omar Daley rocket from distance been touched onto the bar by keeper Paul Jones, but when the visitors went in front it was far from the shock it might have been considered at 3pm. Midfielder Matt Gill fired home via a post after Clarke woefully sliced a clearance into his path. It’s not the first time the former Darlington centre half has cost City a goal through poor distribution, but his steady second half recovery offered a reminder of the qualities which make him a firm fixture in the side. A mistake can be forgiven, if it’s not repeated.

Up until this point the game had been played out to a rather muted atmosphere, save from the Bradford End, but in response to going behind the volume dramatically increased from the home crowd. Not, sadly, in support of their team, but to complain and boo. Firstly a loud crash could be heard as hundreds of City fans seemingly threw their toys out of the pram in unison, then it was the players turn to take cover.

The eight minutes between Exeter scoring and the half time whistle were easily City’s worst, and it can be no coincidence it occurred with many City fans vocally criticising everything they did. I don’t understand the thought process which concludes everything must suddenly be bad just because we’d fallen behind. As City attacked in Exeter’s box one fan near me loudly screamed they were not capable of scoring so what was the point. “Stop playing long ball!” yelled another. Two minutes later City knocked the ball around patiently just inside Exeter’s half and the same person demanded the ball be “put into the box.”

At half time his assessment was that City had been “rubbish” but this was simply not true. Faint booing could be heard and I pondered how our old home failings emanate from more than just our players and wish we’d provide them support when they need it most. Still a mistake can be forgiven if it’s not repeated, right?

So the test was set up, and passed with flying colours. Stuart later revealed that at half time he’d told Joe Colbeck to up his game and spark the rest of the team into life and, while it’s testament to last season’s Player of the Year that such expectations can be placed on him, the fact he delivered in such style shows it’s not just Daley we should be worried about receiving bids for come January. Colbeck ignited by picking up the ball on half way and charging forward, beating three covering defenders and firing in a shot across goal which was tipped out of Thorne’s reach by Jones. Next time the former Leyton Orient keeper would not be so lucky.

Minutes later the ball was worked to Colbeck, who unleashed a stunning shot from distance that Jones could only palm into Thorne’s path. City’s top scorer athletically shifted his body into a position to tap in the rebound and City were level. As the home fans roared in a mixture of approval and relief I thought back to the words I’d heard just as Colbeck’s shot flew towards goal from someone nearby, “What are you doing shooting from there?”

Four minutes later City went in front after another well-worked attack. Paul Arnison was invited to cross and his beautiful delivery was met by Michael Boulding at the far post, who headed home. Finally Exeter had to commit more players forward and they continued to pose awkward questions at City’s defence, though the likelihood of more City goals was always there.

The killer third arrived after Daley’s great close control and clever pass set Colbeck away and, though his low shot across the keeper looked to be drifting narrowly wide of the opposite post, Thorne prodded the ball across the line to make sure. Not the greatest of his eight goals this season, but the kind of poaching which leaves him on course to smash the 20-goal barrier by Christmas should he steer clear of injuries.

Daley’s contribution should not be devalued and he laid on the fourth after another lighting burst forward – was I the only one who felt a bit sorry for Exeter full back Steve Tully in facing the in-form Jamaican? – and clever setting up of Boulding to fire home his second. There could have been more with Boulding and substitute Barry Conlon going close before the end. If the home side had ended the first half desperate for the whistle, it was now the visitors anxious to be put out of their misery.

So top with only 40 games to hold out. The squad’s ability to cope with injuries and suspensions has yet to be proved, but as a settled side continues to grow so to do the expectations of what it can achieve. Few teams in this division will cope with City’s attack on this form and it should be noted that worse sides than Exeter are still due at Valley Parade.

Another test passed but, increasingly, it’s the rest of the division who’ll be considering the Bantams their biggest.

Maintaining consistency – Bradford City vs Exeter City – League Two Preview 2008/2009

Consistency (con-sis-ten-cy)
noun for use in Professional Football
1 personal: To maintain outstanding levels of performance over the length of a career.
2 for a team: To win all the time without fail except – maybe – when playing Brazil.

The word of the week in seven days that have seen England revert to heroes from zeros and heard Mark Lawn tell all that Omar Daley has a release clause in his contract is been this football specific variation on consistency.

For England – as with all football teams – consistency is defined by winning every game in emphatic style. A subnote in the thrashing of Croatia was that the national side needed more of the C word which stuck one as odd considering that a consensus seemed to have emerged that the Three Lions played badly all the time.

Derby County were consistent last season in the Premiership – they got beat all the time – but that is never what is meant in the football world.

Likewise when players are called on to be consistent very few people are suggesting that they maintain average levels of performance week in, week out. Omar Daley’s work on the left wing in the first seven games of the season has been impressive to say the least and now there are calls for the Jamaican winger to be “consistent”.

Since his arrival in England at Preston then Reading and during his Bradford City career Daley has been the very model of inconsistency veering between the unplayable for defenders to the unplayable for managers and he has enjoyed these patches of blistering form that justify his games in the wilderness. These variations seem to be the nature of the beast and probably have as much to do with the size and agility of the full backs, the widths of pitches and the service of team mates as they do Omar’s attitude which is oft and justifiably criticised.

Nevertheless the calls for a consistent Omar are decoded as a request for the winger to continue his mesmerising play at least until Christmas when he can be sold to the Championship and Chris Brandon might be fit to replace him.

Brandon’s injury in a reserves win over Scunthorpe means he will not be making his long overdue Bradford City debut in the weekend tie with Exeter City and stays on the sidelines supporting the team he has always supported. Brandon no doubt appreciates what he is watching as much as the rest of the City fans. Being injured is no fun for any footballer but the pain of not playing on Saturday must be eased by seeing the side you should be in winning games.

Winning ways were re-established last weekend at Port Vale with Peter Thorne returning to scoring ways. Thorne speaks highly of his partnership with Michael Boulding which will continue when City face Exeter.

Another partnership that thrives is Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren who have worked out teething problems to build solidity. The challenge of playing at home against teams who pack defences has broken more midfield duos on the slide from grace than we – or Chris Brandon – care to recall but this pairing seem to enjoy holding the ball more than most which works well with the four other forward players attempts to make runs and find positions. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley make those runs on the wings once more.

The back four continues to pick itself with the two Pauls Arnison and Heckingbottom at full back and Matthew Clarke and Graeme Lee in the middle. Rhys Evans has a clean sheet to build on from Port Vale.

All of which is consistency of a sort – how often has City’s one to eleven been so easy to name? – but the consistency City fans are hoping for is that definition of continued victory.

Exeter City – recently returning to the Football League – stand in the way. They have had an inconsistent start to the season losing three times at home but being unbeaten on their travels. They recorded a first win agianst Accrington Stanley last weekend and their promotion from the Conference last season gained them a reputation as hard to beat.

Nevertheless beat them City must – if only to maintain consistency.

A good day for Bradford

Who cares about cups? Yes, a cup run can be good for morale and can be financially rewarding for a League 2 side, but when City exited the JPT I can’t say that I was particularly disappointed. Let’s face it, there is always a bitter taste any City fan’s mouth when we lose to a team like Leeds, but the fewer distractions from our main objective the better. However, in the wake of two straight defeats, City needed to come back with a convincing victory, and this 2-0 win against a fairly strong Port Vale side is good enough for me.

The game got off to a cagey start, but after about ten minutes Bradford became dominant. Omar Daley was impressive on the left wing, and was a constant threat. His movement led to almost every shot on goal, and complaints that he has a lack of end product were duly answered when he slotted a ball to Lee Bullock in acres of space just outside the penalty area. Bullock then fired home a well-placed shot that reinforced his credentials as a player who has more to offer going forward than was seen last season.

Port Vale’s only real goal threat in the early stages was striker Luke Rogers, who was too small to be an aerial challenge. He had a bit of pace, but his speciality seemed to be mistiming runs, and he was given offside so many times that it became monotonous.

However, after around half an hour, Bradford sat up and the youthful Vale side began to play some decent football. They had some good possession and passed fluently, with Anthony Griffith beginning to take control of the midfield. Around this point, the Bradford fans were beginning to get a bit distracted, and I think there may be a correlation between the distracted fans and the team’s loss of momentum, although City sometimes do have a tendency to switch off even when they’ve got the crowd behind them.

In the second half, Griffith was moved to right back, which worked in the sense that he dealt more effectively with Daley than original full back Sam Stockley, but thankfully it meant that City were able to regain the tactical initiative.

Things looked to have settled down, when Peter Thorne scored an unexpected goal that any striker would be proud of. On the break (where City look very impressive this season) but with two defenders on him, Thorne created enough space to shoot on the edge of the penalty area and hit an inch-perfect finish into the bottom left hand corner, giving the keeper no chance. Until that point he’d been quite quiet, but being the consummate professional that he is, when he received the ball he was ready. You could argue that it was a defensive error, but I’d rather say that it was sheer class from someone who has every chance of finishing the top scorer in league two – as long as he stays fit.

After Thorne’s goal a lot of impetus went out of the game and Stuart made his typical defensive-minded tactical changes, by adding the spritely Furman to strengthen the midfield in the place of Boulding and pushing the midfield further back. Port Vale then had six corners one after the other, but never really looked like scoring from them, and although substitute Robert Taylor did make a direct impact to their attacking after he came on, City never looked like a team that were here to do anything other than walk away with three points.

Bradford City continue their form in League 2, and are still unbeaten in the league in Claret and Amber. Today was definitely a good day for Bradford. Especially considering that all the other results went our way (apart from Wycombe), meaning that we now climb to the dizzy heights of second place. And with two very winnable home matches coming up next, we have every chance of gaining more on our rivals in the coming weeks.

The game we won and lost

This game has convinced me that City are going to get promoted.

Cause I was not sure before and I’d seen the Huddersfield game and I’d worried that against Rochdale we had looked a bit shaky and against Notts County we seemed to wobble but today losing to Aldershot convinced me we were going up.

Cause we had character.  We showed character.  We would not have even made a game of this in the last decade since we went out of the Premiership.  This game would have been like all those get a goal, get thrashed that we have done.  It would have been like Leicester City in 2001 but done at a lower level.

But it was not.

We took the lead when Joe Colbeck dummied a Paul Heckingbottom corner for Paul McLaren to score and that was the difference in a first half of cut and thrust that saw both teams look decent.  Lee Bullock should have added a second but the girlie named Nikki Bull saved his close ranger but those two efforts were City’s only proper danger and I thought about the Rochdale fans moaning that they had more chances than us last week.

But the Shots managed what Rochdale didn’t.  The lashed the ball at Rhys Evans goal and while the Stags staggered around trying to make the perfect chance this home side just needed the perfect hit which they got through Ben Harding who equalised with a twenty yard shot.

That when when City could have lost the game and would have done in the past but didn’t.  Joe Colbeck led the charge back and got mercilessly hacked in the box for a penalty which Peter Thorne saw saved.

It was one of those reality checks.  Not the getting thumped at home by Wigan rather than going top of the Premiership but still pretty bad.  Peter Thorne can miss? Really?

Thorne did it again but by then things had got worse and City had seen Marvin Morgan stick the ball in from close range.  This was a disappointment.  Two minutes after the penalty miss and heads were down.  Head picked up again though and quickly.  The goal came when Aldershot got to the by-line and pulled it back.  I hate goals like that and have a worry about Rhys Evans’s ability to command his penalty area.

Anyway Thorney should have scored.  He got through and Nikki Bull swept the ball off his feet and for a minute he looked like a play who didn’t score with every touch but in truth and on another day we could have been 3-1 in this game then it struck me.  On many other days we will be 3-1 in the game.

We created a bag full of chances but did not put enough of them away and they created some chances and they did well with them but a couple of times they were thanks to the kind of luck of the draw long rangers that sometime do for you but don’t work that often in League Two.  Graeme Lee tried one and it almost worked but most of the time they don’t and don’t worry about losing to them.

Worry if you let in goals like the one Lee Bullock got to equalise.  A well worked move ended in a close ranger header.  Those are the goals that teams need to cut out at source and that you can defend against.  You stop the other team having the ball in dangerous positions and you stop them working with it and when they get frustrated and try something that works one time in a thousand you have done well.  That is what City did with and when Scott Davies whacked the ball back after a good bit of defending then they got the win.

But we got something else from the game.  We got a load of chances and we got the knowledge that had we converted more of them we would have ended up winning.  Four games down and we have three wins.  Stuart McCall will want three points from home games and one from away and that average would give us eight.  We have nine.

On to Port Vale with Leeds in the cup in the week.  Vale fancy their chances but if we play like this we will carry on picking up the points on the way to promotion.

I’m certain of that.

Aldershot Town vs Bradford City – League Two 2008/2009 preview

Aldershot Town are on of those “When we were…” teams. They look at their current surroundings – back in League Two – and compare and contrast with City’s time in the Premiership. “When we were in the Vauxhall Square Third Division West this lot were in the Premiership.”

It is motivation and it is true. Teams like Aldershot and Morecambe have risen as we have fallen and to do so they have by in large been organised and managed correctly much as we were on our ascent to the top flight. They look at our high watermark and compare it to their low and it gives them spirit which we must overcome.

Aldershot’s return is welcomed. They are a club who suffered at the hands of disinterest and bad chairman but sorted themselves out and went the long route back to the League. The results thus far have been a win, a draw and a defeat at much fancied Shrewsbury and they are becoming known for a dogged resistance. They did have former Bantam Ben Starosta on loan but he has left the club. His name aside they are a squad of honest names many of whom have risen with the club.

Looking to rise with Bradford City is Dean Furman who signs on loan from Rangers but is not expected to start the game with Paul McLaren recovering from his dead leg to partner Lee Bullock in midfield. Expect Furman’s debut after an hour or so to bolster the often flagging midfield. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley keep places on the flanks but as Chris Brandon returns to training Daley will feel the breath of a replacement on his neck.

The back five of goalkeeper Rhys Evans. Paul Arnison and Paul Heckingbottom as full backs and Matthew Clarke and Graeme Lee in the middle is immutable as is the strike two of Michael Boulding and five goal Peter Thorne although Barry Conlon’s five in one game in the reserves will see him sit on the bench with confidence.

Good teams, and the season so far suggests City are one, pick themselves.

Living up to the hype…

City’s highly impressive start to the league season continued as they maintained their 100% record to cast aside last season’s playoff finalists Rochdale.

This was the sort of clinical win that really gives us justified hope that City are real contenders this season.

Rochdale proved to be very sticky opponents. In fact they dominated much of the play in terms of possession and threatening attacks. But they critically lacked the killer instinct in front of goal, with £60,000 ex Halifax striker Jon Shaw really disappointing, and justifying Stuart’s unwillingness to part with any funds to secure his signature.

A quick glance at the statistics from the game shows that Rochdale had plenty of shots at goal, but failed to get even one of them on target.

Omar Daley had a good early chance as he took possession of the ball with plenty of space on the left hand side of the penalty area, cut inside to the centre, skipped past a defensive challenge, but blasted straight at Dale keeper Russell. But if truth be told, Rochdale had much the better of the early exchanges.

Their build up play was excellent attacking the Kop , and forced City into one or two hairy moments the back. Too often did Arnison allow crosses to come in from the left hand side and threateningly cross across goal. But Dale failed to deliver the goal that their possession and build up play probably deserved.

City edged in front on 20 when Daley released Peter Thorne on the right hand side of the box. The veteran striker then whipped in a perfectly executed pinpoint cross right onto the head of Micheal Boulding, who headed firmly down to celebrate his first Bradford goal.

Unperturbed by conceding, Rochdale continued to press for the following 15 minutes, but again lacked cutting edge. And they were stunned when Paul McClaren whipped in a brilliant free kick from the left that was nodded in perfectly at the back post by an unmarked Peter Thorne who doubled City’s advantage with a header from close range. The irrepressible Thorne has had a stunning start to the season and is already establishing himself as a legend among the City faithful.

There was still much work to do in the second half, and City did it extremely well defensively. Clarke and Lee grew in stature in the second half, and both Heckingbottom and Arnison carrying out their defensive duties admirably. Heckingbottom in particular had an excellent game – and nearly scored a collectors item goal with a brilliant run in the first half!

Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley didn’t have their most productive games offensively, but in the second half, both showed a desire and willingness to track back defensively to help out their full backs. Their effort did not go unnoticed.

Lee Bullock didn’t really get involved enough for my liking – he had very much an “Eddie Johnson type” game. McClaren seemed to stroll through the game in a pedestrian like fashion without really impressing (apart from the excellent free kick) before going off with a knock.

In a rare second half counter attack, Micheal Boulding raced clear with intent. With Conlon lurking at the back post, Boulding ignored the big Irishman and struck a brilliant low left foot shot that beat the keeper, hit the inside of the post, and rolled across the goal line out for a goal kick. Desperately unlucky was the impressive Boulding , who was always willing to run beyond the defensive back four and produced numerous excellent flicks for Thorne to feed on. Their newly formed striking partnership is looking extremely promising.

With time ticking on , McCall basically extinguished any chance of City scoring again by leaving Barry Conlon on his own up front. TJ Moncur came on as part of a five man midfield that was the kill the game off as a contest. Not even the player that outdid City twice last season – Adam Le Fondre, could change the course of the game. He was unlucky late on with a strike that bounced off the cross bar.

But in truth, on reflection over the 90 minutes, City were comfortable and had quite convincingly cast aside the much fancied Rochdale.

They say the makings of a successful team is how they react to defeat. That hellish rainy night at Legoland has not impacted our team and what we are setting out to do in the league. We have followed up that crushing defeat with 2 wins, 4 goals and 2 clean sheets. And even in the game against Huddersfield, we more than held our own for 60 minutes.

The way the team have battled back at Macclesfield, and now against a very good Rochdale team proves that we really are worthy of the League Two hype this year. We have been excellent in every department, and if we can keep that up consistently this season, there is no doubt we will end up as Champions. Inside of sulking about losing to our local rivals we have put on two excellent displays.

Can we keep it up? I think so. City are the real deal this time round and, given the evidence of our nearly fully fit team so far, you would be foolish to bet on them finishing outside the top three.

The important and exciting thing this season is that every position seems to be covered squad wise so that even if injuries become a factor, we have good players who can step in. If Thorne or Boulding are injured, Topp, Boulding (R) or Conlon (or maybe not?!) can step up. If Omar Daley is showing inconsistent form, Joe Colbeck can step in on the right. If Lee Bullock is out injured again, the hungry Luke Sharry wlll want to grab a first team opportunity with both hands. If Matt Clarke’s decision making is called into question at the back, Mark Bower will slot in bringing his experience at the club to the forefront.

These are the type of advantages and options that we have not had since 1999.

This is our season.

It has to be.

Bradford City vs Rochdale – League Two 2008/2009 preview

League Two has yet to take shape – unless you count the hope that the Bantams will stay at the top and the Alan Davies on QI way that some clubs hang at the bottom – but already City have made their intentions known by winning two on the trot. Rochdale – last year’s beaten play off finalists – offer a more stern test than Notts County and Macclesfield did.

Indeed Dale – who have spent longer in the 4th tier of English football than anyone – beat City twice 2-1 on the way to that Wembley final with the Valley Parade game ending Stuart McCall’s men’s slim playoff hopes.

Following Wembley Keith Hill’s men have spent money on Jon Shaw – who at one point interested City – and fancy themselves as promotion material and a comfy win over Barnet got those ambitions on track.

All of which recalls the glorious spirit of 1969 when Rochdale got promoted back to the third tier of English football having been placed in Division Four following the split in Divisions Three North. Dale were out of the bottom available league for five seasons before being relegated in 1974 – a season in which they won only twice. It is the club’s centenary year this term and they hope to celebrate with a second league promotion in one hundred years.

Dale have lost key man David Perkins since last season but retained the impressive Gary Jones and have a goalkeeper who the manager calls one of the finest passers in the football league.

The Bantams are expected to field the same starting eleven as beat Macclesfield last week with Rhys Evans in goal; Paul Arnison, Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke and Paul Heckingbottom at the back.

Joe Colbeck starts his first home game of the season on the right after having a hand in both Peter Thorne’s goals last week. Paul McLaren and Lee Bullock are the middle and Omar Daley is expected to line up on the left wing in the continued absence of Chris Brandon who not only tweaked his ankle to delay his debut this week but also moved back to a shiny new house in Bradford.

Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding start up front with Barry Conlon on the bench. Willy Topp will miss up to four weeks after getting injured in the reserves during the week.

A team game

Among the strong bluster of disapproval which resulted from Tuesday evening’s Carling cup nightmare at Huddersfield, there was one line of criticism which particularly stood out.

In response to manager Stuart McCall’s post-match omission that their League One opponents had been a class above during their 4-0 triumph, some argued that this shouldn’t have been the case because the summer recruitments – the majority from the division above – should leave us with a team which could hold it’s own in England’s third tier. Given the club’s ambition is be competing at the top end of League One next season; doubts were raised at the team’s ability to achieve it.

No one would argue Tuesday was anything other than woeful, but it was the way City collapsed having fallen behind – rather than his players capabilities – which will have concerned Stuart the most. It’s a squad still needing time to gel and, as a test of what it is capable of, playing Huddersfield was too much, too soon. Everyone can see we have good players, but it will take time to become a good team.

The basic surroundings of Moss Rose proved ideal for rebuilding battered pride and switching focus back to the season’s main objective of promotion from League Two. City will face tougher games over the coming months than a poor Macclesfield side could offer, but this comfortable victory will help build confidence for them.

Right from kick off, with City quickly winning possession and straight on the attack, it was clear the players were determined to make up for Tuesday’s disappointment. Two early goals made for a comfortable afternoon as City went up and down the gears, rarely threatening to lose grip of the game. If a more emphatic scoreline looked probable at one stage, it was still an impressive 90 minutes from the Bantams.

Unlike Tuesday, City played like a team. A team with an impressive forward line; Peter Thorne again the hero with a second double strike in two starts. The first a looping header from a delightful cross which flew into the far corner, the second a poacher’s effort after poor control by Silkmen defender Sean Hessey allowed him the chance. Last season’s top scorer had to wait until November to net his first goal and, with four already, the prospects of a bigger return this campaign look good.

Alongside him Michael Boulding looked more the part after an underwhelming full debut at the Galpharm. He made some impressive runs and took up clever positions. It might not be the kindest comparison, but he is the first City striker since Michael Branch with the ability to run the channels, popping up all over in and around the penalty area. The former Aston Villa striker had chances to open his Bantams account, most notably hitting the post in the second half.

A team with wingers who excite if also frustrate. Joe Colbeck returned from suspension and, while quiet by his standards, set up Thorne’s opener and played a part in his second. Omar Daley was back on form and terrorised Macclesfield’s shaky backline on several occasions. Just like against Notts County the week before, he almost scored from a mazy dribble which began in his own half, just taking too long to get in his shot after reaching the penalty area. Opposition managers will become increasingly wary of Omar’s threat on the break and, like Boulding, he was unlucky to see a second half effort come back off the woodwork.

A team with a capable central midfield. Lee Bullock hasn’t torn up any trees during his first two games this season, but caught the eye with an impressive display. Paul McLaren continues to play things simple and some his best work isn’t always noticed. It might not work every game, but the duo controlled the tempo and set up several attacks.

A team looking solid and mobile at the back. Macclesfield, who’s first half wretchedness was probably best summed up when, on the end of heavy pressure in their area, a defender managed to clear the ball to their striker on half way only for the flag to go up, showed more fight in the second. Substitutes Izak Reid and Francis Green made a difference, the latter unlucky not to pull a goal back after his shot was tipped over by the impressive Rhys Evans.

The home side had a strong penalty shout rejected, but otherwise found City’s defence too strong. Paul Arnison has been criticised for his performances so far, but defended efficiently and got forward well. On the opposite side Paul Heckingbottom has made a bright start to the season while Matt Clarke continues to look solid, his distribution improved from Tuesday.

But it’s his central defensive partner and club captain Graeme Lee who fans were raving about at the final whistle. His best moment in an outstanding display came in the second half when, with Macclesfield adopting manager Keith Alexander’s trademark tactics of pumping the ball into the box, he headed the ball clear four times in quick succession. Just like Peter Thorne with Dean Windass, Lee is showing there is life after a club legend and his on-looking predecessor, David Wetherall, would have been proud.

All of which ensured Macclesfield were out of ideas well before the end and City could have easily had two or three more to reflect their superiority. Billy Topp – who’s dominated the post-Huddersfield discussions – came off the bench for his first appearance of the season and looked sharp. A look at the unused subs is another reason to feel optimistic.

This is a team which isn’t fully there just yet, there were still moments where players could have done better and understandings still need developing. In the closing stages Evans and Daley had an argument after the Jamaican gave away the ball in a bad position and Lee, as captain, had to get involved. Daley has managed to lose his cool at some point in each game so far and while that might be a concern it’s also a sign he cares. As does the way Evans and Lee argued with the winger and other players helped to later calm him down by talking to him.

What sort of season City will enjoy is still unclear, but the indications are positive from the two league displays so far. This is team with great potential and, when it is up to full speed, should prove difficult to stop. Tuesday’s shocker will take time to forget, but this team looks capable of celebrating something far more significant than a place in the second round of the Cup come May.

The storm before the calm

It is raining.

It is raining so hard that the roof at the stadium cannot cope. It is raining so hard that the end of the pitch is in a spray haze fog.

It is raining so hard that one cannot help but get excited about the idea of Omar Daley running at David Unsworth.

Local pride – the right to brag – is at stake tonight but of equal importance perhaps is the right to maintain the belief in the season.

For Town a poor opening day needs augmenting. For City belief – that slightest of all things – is to be maintained.

Certainly the travellers have belief. Seeking cover before the game the make an impressive noise.

In the midst of this noise it is announced that Peter Thorne is benched for Michael Boulding as McCall tests the strength of his squad. The PA man gets a round of applause for wishing all the best to “Our friend Jacko”. “Didn’t they sack him twice?” someone comments. With friends like these.

The PA wishes us all the best in our quest to get out of the fourth tier of football and is booed as the scoreboard flicks through images of Town’s past. Three years running precedes television.

The attendance from City is healthy despite the barb from said announcer which only serves to highlight how few of the 15,000 who saw Saturday’s draw here had the will to return.

Everything is booed that is contrary. Everything not of our colour is bad as the noise raises and the teams emerge.

Omar wears a sweatshirt in kicking in. David Wetherall – tasting defeat badly last time – looks studious. Danny Cadamarteri is jeered.

With that one of the most humourless derby games in English football kicks off.

Huddersfield Town vs Bradford City – League Cup First Round 2008/2009 preview

Having won on the first day of the season Bradford City go into the first local derby in sixteen months with tails high and a wound to heal.

The last visit to City’s least favourite rivals at the end of the 2006/2007 was one of the low lights not only of that season but of the fall from the Premiership which we hope to have now turned around as Huddersfield recorded a simple 2-0 win against a lifeless City side under David Wetherall’s management.

A season and a bit later and investment and management sees City looking upwards for the first time and Stuart McCall getting an early chance to measure himself against a team from a higher division,

McCall faces a Huddersfield side managed by a former assistant boss from Valley Parade whom he played under – Stan Ternant – who thanked goalkeeper Matt Glennon for a last minute save that stopped the lead they had taken through Andy Booth from being turned around to defeat in the 1-1 draw with Stockport at the weekend.

As with McCall’s City Ternant has stacked experience in his side with the likes of David Unsworth, Chris Lucketti and Luke Beckett – almost a Bantam joining Booth and Danny Cadamarteri who was a Bantam and a really wretched one at that. Added to that are a selection of youngsters who have come through Town’s set up and one could expect that as a higher league team they may be tempted to give some squad players a run out.

Former Town boss Bill Shankley said that were Everton playing in the back garden he would close the curtains but knew that winning the Merseyside derby gave his Liverpool team important bragging rights and such factors may change the teams put out.

McCall is expected to give the majority of the side that started at the weekend in the win over Notts County but may be tempted to give Michael Boulding a first start over Peter Thorne who suffered cramp after his two goal haul. Either that or Willy Topp will be given a chance to emulate his hero Edinho – well, my hero – and score at Town’s ground. Barry Conlon is likely to retain his place.

Chris Brandon is missing for a return to the club he has just left and Joe Colbeck misses the final game of his suspension leaving Omar Daley free try continue his impressive start. Kyle Nix on the left with Paul McLaren and Lee Bullock in the middle although McLaren’s tender ankle may give Luke Sharry a start.

Paul Heckingbottom, Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke make up three of the back four the other is right back Paul Arnison who splits opinion for reasons that pass my understanding. Playing behind Omar Daley is a hard enough job for any full back with the winger far too often allowing a man to go past and double up on the full back. Not only did Arnison’s direction keep Daley closer than any full back has previously managed but he got forward and supported Daley to boot.

Add to that his assist on the first goal and one wonders just what a full back has to do at Valley Parade be considered to have performed. Stephen Wright, Gunnar Halle, Gus Ulhenbeek, Darren Holloway and Darren Williams have all been been pillared at points yet Simon Francis and Nathan Doyle were loved. Similarly Heckingbottom is criticised for things that Andrew Taylor and Luke O’Brien are not. It would seem that the forgiveble players – loanees and young lads – play as full backs do and are excused and full time seniors are never forgiven should a single winger go past them.

Rhys Evans keeps goal and Stuart McCall bites his nails on the touchline. This is a chance for the Bantams to notch a scalp on what we are hoping is the way back, to win bragging rights and to build the morale that can keep the league performance ticking over.

One down…

It sits with a deceptive confidence this crown of would be kings on the head for Bradford City. It shifts with unease for all.

City’s 2-1 win over Notts County could be the template for the season. The Bantams were worthy winners but by a yard and not a mile and at times nerves were evident in the stands and the players fell out of a rhythm they had used to control much of the game.

When in control too City looked ebullient and passed the ball around from player to player with a calm ease personified by new number four Paul McLaren who had the touch to take a second more on the ball than many other on the field and looked unhurried as he and Lee Bullock won the midfield battle for their first afternoon as a league partnership.

Last season we talked much about Stuart McCall’s attempts to find someone to play in the position and the style he still casts a long shadow over and in McLaren he has someone who can set the pace for the team and create the passing flow that the manager did ten and twenty years ago.

Yet McLaren and Bullock’s control in the game faded and City were left with a scoreline and an afternoon that was closer than the build up to the game would have suggested. On the walk to Valley Parade the atmosphere suggested that City would only need to turn up to win. This is never the case.

Every win has to be earned and this one was. The Bantams put pressure on once the game had settled into a patten and when Lee Bullock was freed past the defence by some excellent work on the right and unceremoniously bundled to the floor it was clear that City possessed the abilities that pre-season suggested and that the quality of Refereeing was not going to have increased in line with City.

As the FA start their “Respect (The Ref)” campaign they send to Valley Parade Mr Darren Drysdale of the five game ban for Dean Windass two seasons ago when the City striker shouted at him in the car park highlighting the problems of the campaign that tries to have respect given in reply to unreachableness, highhandedness and arrogance that marked today’s display and Drysdale’s interaction with Bradford City.

City’s pressure told when Paul Arnison – who enjoyed a great debut coming forward to support Omar Daley superbly – whipped a cross in for Peter Thorne to head in while running onto from inside the box leaving keeper Kevin Pilkinton flat footed and continuing his policy of filling his boots against the club he got a hat-trick against last time they were at Valley Parade.

However for all City’s slick passing County were not snuffed out with Delroy Facey – a late signing who had interested City – troublesome and Jamie Forester looking able. Quick reactions from Rhys Evans saw him sprinting off his line and clearing a ball out at the corner of the box. Evans spends most of his time as a goalkeeper shouting at his defenders and in that way he will do for me.

Also doing for me is Omar Daley who put in one of his best performances in a City shirt. He tried – and for all but a four minute sulking spell when someone had tugged his shorts succeeded in – integrating himself in the side McCall had built tracking back to match the pace of lively winger Myles Weston and unplayable when going forward.

In the first half his mazy dribbles had end points with short passes or – ten minutes from the whistle – cutting onto his left on the edge of the box and lashed a low drive which Pilkington pushed wide. Barry Conlon put the scramble from the resultant corner into the side netting and City could have had two before the break.

After the break Conlon was in his own box playing away the danger of a visiting corner to Omar Daley some thirty five yards from his own goal. Daley went forward with his ranging stride used directly to take him past player and player. A defender lashed out a tackle that Daley skipped and Peter Thorne begged for a pass when the two City players faced only one defender whom Daley took the ball around leaving him one on one and a second later flat on his back when his shot had been saved by Pilkington’s foot from point blank range.

At that point I noticed I had not taken a breath since Conlon played the ball. Exhale and watch Daley rise to his feet and I do too. To applaud. Breathless football. Brilliant football.

The corner that comes from Daley’s short is cleared by Adam Nowland high, high and bizarrely backwards to Peter Thorne in the six yard box who executes an overhead kick into the far corner of Pilkington’s goal leaving red faces for the Magpies and defender Michael Johnson screaming for the offside that would have been the case had the return not been a piece of Steve Hodge style silliness.

All of which seemed to wake up the visitors – losing is one thing but beating yourself another – and gave them the zest to attack City’s flanks having had no joy going through McLaren and Bullock and while Kyle Nix had a quieter second half than his tricksy first he and Paul Heckingbottom stood strong. The right flank was unlocked though when Arnison left too much of a gap between him and Daley and Weston beat him delivering a pass to Richard Butcher in the box who finished well.

From then an even contest. City brought on the pace of TJ Moncur for Arnison to plug the right hand side and with ten minutes to go took Conlon off – Barry’s name was sung and he was applauded by all – and brought Michael Boulding on for his debut. Boulding got free. He took the ball into the box and lashed it across goal in a way that suggested talent and hinted at tunnel vision.

The contest though was won by the solid abilities of Matthew Clarke and the ultra-impressive Graeme Lee. Clarke’s play was reminiscent of Stuart McCall’s team mate Darren Moore who City had tried to sign in the summer instead opting for the new skipper Lee who commanded the box, cleared everything out, tackled superbly and kept the back four in line. Of all the new signings it is Lee who most impressive and he who could be the foundation of a promotion bid.

It sits with a deceptive confidence this crown of would be kings on the head for Bradford City but there – for the first time is some time – is where it sits.

What if it all goes right? Pre-season 2008/2009 [I]

Take an average of the odds you can get on Bradford City being in League Two and the Bantams are 2/1 to go up. To put that in context the bookies think that City are more likely to go up than Manchester United are to win the Premiership.

We are dealing with that level of expectation. We have that level of assured thinking around City as Stuart McCall – in second full year as the manager at Valley Parade – awaits the results of a summer rebuilding which has seen new, impressive signings come in and talk of double promotions heard.

The signing of Michael Boulding seemed to top off the rebuilding. His rejection of League One Cheltenham to come to Valley Parade was probably as geographical as it was ambition based for the player but for the club it showed the intention. To get a group of players of League One standard and trust in gravity to take us up.

Boulding is expected to partner Peter Thorne in City’s first string eleven. Thorne’s 14 goals in 31(+2) games did much to raise both City’s league finish last year and the expectations for this and the thoughtful forward seems a good foil for the speedy, tricky Boulding.

In back up Barry Conlon is able and willing and Willy Topp is promising much after flashes of skillful and smart play. If everything goes to plan then the main two strikers will be kept fresh by the others – Rory Boulding and Omar Daley also qualify – and will be notching 20+ plus each.

Much of this depends on the midfield and Paul McLaren especially who is tagged as some as the signing of the season in this league and it is started to be taken as read that he will end the year with the most assists – Thorne’s head or sharp one touch finishes and Michael Boulding’s runs being his prime routes – and be the force that takes City to promotion.

In an ideal world McLaren is what we dare to dream he is. A player with the foot in defensive abilities of Stuart McCall who passes like Peter Beagrie but no one is that good even when scaled down to League Two levels.

McLaren’s partner in the midfield will be found from Lee Bullock, Kyle Nix, and Luke Sharry and should things be going to plan the three of them will battle it out until one emerges as a perfect partner. Bullock is likely to be the first starter but both the youngsters are showing well.

Bullock was highly thought of at Hartlepool for his attacking abilities while at Bradford – well, at BfB – Nix is a favourite for his skillful and energetic displays. Sharry – young that he is – roared into pre-season and looks set for a place in the squad. He has power and a calm head.

Youngster showing well was a description of Joe Colbeck until he became player of the season and the great hope of Valley Parade. If everything goes right Colbeck will pick up where he left off at the end of last season and start giving the drive that he did at the start of 2008. He has what every young player needs – quality around him – and can find more outlets for his passing and better players to work close interplay with.

Chris Brandon is expected to be the first choice for the left wing. Huddersfield Town supporters called him a nearly man – “nearly scored with that shot, nearly did something great” – and perhaps the extra push he would need to be the exact man will come from his passion for the club. He is a City fan playing – at last – for his club.

Not playing for his club would seem to be Mark Bower who looks like he may lose out to Matthew Clarke in the contest to play alongside new skipper Graeme Lee. If we are getting promoted the two from three will develop a partnership. League Two is a division of big forwards and in Clarke and Lee we have two superb players in the air. Bower is better in possession and marks well. Clarke his a mountain of power and Lee is collected while strong.

Pauls Heckingbottom and Arnison have a remit to get down the flanks. In a great season these two will be passing their wingers often and notching assists.

Also, in a great season Rhys Evans – a late signing to the cause – will have little to do.

Finally the manager Stuart McCall use the tools of his squad to maintain constiency of the majority of the eleven while dropping in approriate changes where needed. Certainly more than any City manager since Paul Jewell his squad is their to be picked rather than having the eleven players pick themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Failure is the only inevitable thing in football. Every run of wins will eventually end. Every team will lose games. Every player will have a bad game at some point. Dealing with that failure and moving back to success is the key to a winning team, a winning season and to promotion.

Who will be the happier?

Owen Coyle and Stuart McCall paths crossed as players during their days North of the border but the Irish player born in Scotland and the Scot born in Yorkshire never ended up on the same side and so as they faced each other as managers it is no surprise that one ended up happier than the other.

However – considering the result – one would be very surprised if it was Coyle who was more pleased as McCall watched his Bradford City team that is surely too good for League Two more than match a Championship side who have spent big in the Summer.

Spent big on Martin Patterson – £1.3m from Scunthorpe – who along with Robbie Blake were head and shoulders the best thing ab