Opening / Generative / Failings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bradford City from finish to start as Devante Cole starts in style in the win over Port Vale

After ninety six minutes of the game the Referee – a rather finicky official named Jeremy Simpson – alleviated the final pressure from Port Vale to and blew this last of many whistles. The game won with a goal by new recruit Devante Cole a minute earlier had threatened to end scoreless – a second blank ninety minutes following the draw at Barnsley – but Cole’s latching onto a ball which bounced into the box saw him able to cap a début cameo in the finest way one might imagine.

Cole beat Mark Marshall to the ball in the box and Marshall had some return for a afternoon of frustration against his former club where often he seemed to operate on a different wavelength to that being used by his team mates. Marshall poised more of a threat as the game wore on and it is obvious that for all his speed his main attribute is delivery. He excels in his delivery and had he got to the ball he might have been expected to score too but he did not, Cole did, but Marshall seemed not at all concerned with who put the ball past Jak Alnwich in the Port Vale goal as long as one of the two men in the box had.

That there were two men in the box to celebrate the goal came, in no small part, to the work of James Hanson on the edge of the eighteen yard line. Hanson suffered a blow to the leg earlier in the match and as City hit the ball to him he was marked one in front and one behind and he darted away and under the long pass Rory McArdle had played taking the defenders, one in front and one behind, out of the penalty area leaving a large space in which the ball bounced and Mark Marshall and Devante Cole lurked.

That the space was formed behind Hanson, who took two defenders one in front of him and one behind him out of the penalty area was because Rory McArdle had his the ball long and accurately towards him. McArdle’s passing to Hanson has been a significant route to attack for Phil Parkinson’s side in last three years and so it was again. A tried and tested pass forward which McArdle was able to play not in a rush – a rush would have been to hit the ball when he picked up up seconds and twenty yards before – but when he was ready and where he wanted to play it from.

Rory McArdle, walking the ball forward, looking for James Hanson with one in front of him and one behind him, and knowing that even though the fourth minute of four in injury time will elapse soon there is a benefit to an accurate forty five yard pass over a wilder seventy yard punt. McArdle who has slowly begun to take to the role of seniority in the back four and who got the ball from Reece Burke who seems as assured a stand in as one could imagine playing with. Burke and James Meredith had made some progress down the left in the second half after a scattershot first in which Marshall appeared to appear in random places and no pattern to the attacking thrust down the left could be established.

The requirement for Marshall on the one side and Paul Anderson on the other to provide more attacking thrust – rather than just to join central midfield – was largely because of the performance of Gary Liddle in the centre of midfield. Liddle quietly put in the kind of defensive shielding performance which the likes of Ryan Woods were lauded for. Liddle slotted back into the role breaking up Port Vale’s attacking play and playing simple balls to midfield partner Lee Evans and later Billy Knott.

Liddle was composure and with his strength Evans and Knott were able to drive from midfield and there were signs of a healthy responsibility for the ball. Evans dropped between the lines to take the ball from Burke and McArdle and looked for targets which were hard to find, but hard to find against a Port Vale side who had four clean sheets in six games. As the game continued players began to make themselves targets, increasingly confident that Liddle would win the ball, that McArdle would play the ball, that Hanson would head the ball.

“Real bottle,” Peter Beagrie said and I paraphrase, “on the football field is doing the right thing the twelfth time even when it has failed the last eleven times because it is the right thing.”

And I am not inclined to disagree with him.

How we will all be sorry after Bradford City drew 2-2 at Port Vale

Football, not football

Writing about football is difficult.

Writing about writing about football is easy.

In fact I would argue that the vast majority of the coverage of football is, in one way or another, the coverage of the coverage of football. The most viewed BBC Sport page is an abstract of a lot of newspaper stories of “gossip” – which is to say stories which no one even attempts to claim are true – while picking up the collection of local papers after the 4-2 win over Chelsea revealed column inches of reports on what City fans had said about the game on Twitter.

It is reaction to reaction, and while it is often confused for writing about football it is not. Football is that thing that happens on the field between three and five on a Saturday.

This is a preamble as to why the week of accusation followed by apology at Bradford City has been both the most and least interesting subject of conversation.

It is interesting because it concerns two of the most fundamental considerations at a football club that impact on football.

Most obviously the pitch. Literally the core of a football club Phil Parkinson pointed out, rightly, that the pitch was in very poor condition. Colchester goalscorer Chris Porter said it was the worst he had played on.

Worse Gus Poyet, manager of next Sunday’s opposition Sunderland, suggested that the forthcoming FA Cup tie between the two clubs might be moved to The Stadium of Light to provide a decent playing surface.

He did not mean it really. It was a joke but the butt of the joke was Bradford City’s ability to maintain the basic needed for a football match – a pitch – and so the butt of the joke was Bradford City.

Bradford City are a laughing stock.

The lack of blame game

Parkinson had pointed the finger squarely at Roger Owen and his co-director Graham Jones for failing to do anything about the state of the pitch which the manager had believed was within the remit of Mr Owen. He later apologised for mentioning any specific director and agreed that the quality of the pitch was a collective problem.

The club – in turn – issued a statement which read that Mr Owen and Mr Jones had no specific responsibility for the pitch but iterated through things that the pair had achievements including “sourc(ing) funding for equipment and improvements through the connection with fans group, Friends of Bradford City where they are the link to the Board” which would seem to be an act of receiving, rather than raising, funds.

Other achievements of a similar scale were mentioned and as the statement made it clear that they were responsible for small achievements but carried out those responsibilities without any remuneration. The message from Bradford City seemed to be that Parkinson was wrong to think that the pitch was the responsibility of Mr Owen and Mr Jones because the pitch was a little above the pair’s pay grade to be involved with.

Parkinson had thought that it was Mr Owen’s job at directorial level to look after the pitch but he was wrong. It was nobody’s job, at least not specifically, and so no specific director deserved any specific criticism for not doing anything about the pitch because – as a collective – all the directors shared responsibilities and thus – one assumes – any criticism shared between the directors too.

And Parkinson had made criticism, albeit pointed in what the board of directors said was the wrong direction, but that criticism was not responded to. Not responded to in in public at least. In public had been where Parkinson’s apology was made. It was carried on the club’s website which seemed to have misplaced the City manager’s original criticism from the news section.

Without portfolio

I think at the time they thought I was making excuses because the home form was poor but I don’t make excuses. Nothing was done, no help was given to the groundsman and now he’s the one with all the stress of us playing on probably the worst pitch I’ve ever seen.Phil Parkinson, 2nd February 2015

So one considered the second point which was Parkinson’s apology to the Directors without Portfolio for suggesting that they had responsibilities they did not have. Parkinson had said that he had been left with the impression that it was considered the problem of the pitch was an excuse for poor results. In Parkinson’s apology he did not, nor did the club, attempt to put right the statement Parkinson had made about the directors believing that the manager was making excuses.

Indeed there was no clarification from any specific directors or the whole of the board as to if Parkinson was right to think that it has been considered he was excuse making, that he was wrong to get the impression, that the board would perish the thought that the manager who had taken them from the bottom of League Two to the fifth round of the FA Cup via Chelsea, Arsenal, Wembley, Twice might incorrectly walk away from a board meeting thinking that he was doing anything other than a near unprecedented superb job as manager, at least from the business’ point of view.

So the picture was complete. The manager who beat Mourinho had walked into the boardroom to complain about a fundamental problem with the pitch but left having his judgement on football questioned and with the impression that it was thought he was making up excuses.

Football has a right history of managers clashing with Directors. Sam Longson got his own way at Derby County against Brian Clough and that is why Nottingham Forest ended up with two European Cups and not The Rams. You either think that football managers should be second guessed by local businessmen or your don’t. Most managers do not believe they should and some find a place where they are in harmony with the boardroom. One wonders what Phil Parkinson spent the week considering.

And so to Saturday

All of which is 1,016 words that are only tangentially about football in that they threaten the club’s ability to play the game well at home – the pitch – or under the successful manager in Parkinson who has attracted admiring glances from clubs in the top two divisions. The grass at Port Vale allowed City to settle quickly into an easy pattern of attempted ball retention against a Valiant’s side which looked as poor as any City had faced this season, Millwall aside.

Nestled in lower mid-table Rob Page’s Port Vale allowed Parkinson’s Bradford City as much time on the ball as wanted – at least in build up play – and there was something about the ease on the ball which concerned the Bantams. The popular diagonal pass between Rory McArdle and James Hanson went unplayed as McArdle enjoyed the time to pick a pass to central midfielders who moved forward uncomfortably.

With too long in possession City were indecisive and allowed the first half to all but peter out without a chance. At times it seemed like there was a game being made of attempts to play the perfect pass into Jon Stead, other times City looked like they would dominate in the box only for the ball to go unfinished for the want of players looking for flick downs.

In such situations one always worries about Filipe Morais. As a player Morais is alternatively impressive in position and undisciplined in action. He suffers a tendency to try shortcut build up play with a lashed shot at goal or an attempt to dribble from the centre of the midfield which fail but is a key part of build up when he succeeds.

For Parkinson this must be frustrating because of the frequency in which when Morais goes “off-message” fortune favours him. Forty minutes into the game and Morais decides that it is time for him to lash a low shot from outside the box which is easily charged down but the same player – doing as manager and team mates would want him to – grasped the ball and took it to the byline to cross to the waiting James Hanson who headed the first goal.

Filipe Morais squandered possession with a daft shot but got the ball back and made the opening goal. The tendency to do the former seems symbiotic to the ability to do the latter. In the second half when a good run from James Meredith saw Hanson test Vale keeper Chris Neal again and the ball fall to Morais, exactly where Parkinson would want him to be, to finish smartly, exactly what Parkinson would want him to do, and make the game 2-1.

2-1 because minutes before Vale were allowed to cross in with ease as Morais allowed the left back all the time he wanted to make his cross. The problems with a wingless team are the number of crosses that come in. Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle deal with a lot of them but not this one which was rolled in by Achille Campion from a flick down which both central defenders would probably wish they had attacked more firmly.

Who then does Parkinson charge with the responsibility for the goal? Morais for not cutting off the supply? McArdle and Davies for allowing a flick down? Billy Knott for having seen a close range chance which would have made the game 2-0 earlier saved by Neal who would do the same to Hanson later on?

By the time the game entered injury time City should have been leading by some margin and would have been but for Neal. Vale’s goal was a rare foray forward in a game which was increasingly about City coming forward. The late entry of Mark Yeates for Knott was Parkinson putting on a player who could make the most of late possession but Yeates was caught on the ball and a few seconds later Jordan Pickford was being sent off as the rapid counter-attack saw the keeper slide Greg Luer’s legs away.

All Ben Williams did was pick the ball out of the back of his goal.

The reaction to the reaction

And so back in Bradford blame was assigned.

It was the fault of Jordan Pickford for the foul, or of Mark Yeates for losing the ball in midfield, or of Hanson/Knott for not finishing the chances that Neal saved, or of Parkinson for not going for the win but the game ended level and a point away is always a good result at any level.

The disappointment – it seems – is that there was a growing consensus in support in the reaction to the Chelsea win that City were upwardly mobile and making a surge for the play-offs. This may still be true and this result may be a part of that but the narrative is not about conceding goals in the last minute.

The problem with the growing consensus is that it is based on reaction to the reaction.

City beat Chelsea, and so should be able to beat anyone in League One, and if not then there must be a reason for it and if the reason is at all mitigated then that is “excuses” and not tolerated. Anything other than a victory is because the team failed to do something they should have done, and failure is something that should not be tolerated.

And the people who fail, and who make excuses, should be told that they have failed and made excuses.

It is through this bastard child of logic that one can come to the conclusion that Phil Parkinson is the reason that City are not successful rather than the reason they are. People with that way of thinking honeycomb the support of football and get far too much attention for my tastes. These people flatter themselves that they present an alternative view of a situation but what they offer is a twisted view based on misunderstanding and ignorance. They should be pushed to the edge of the community of Bradford City support with the other trolls.

However, and this is worth considering, if a person was able to do it without pay there would be nothing to stop such a person with such a twisted view of how football works and the reasons for success from joining the board of Bradford City, from not have any specific responsibilities of any note, and from using board meetings as a place to let Phil Parkinson (or any other City manager) know he is making excuses for his poor performance face to face.

And let us hope is not something that happens or we all really will be sorry.

Bradford City left considering credit where credit is due

Carl HcHugh already has scored more important goals for Bradford City than his last minute looper from a corner over Port Vale which gave Phil Parkinson’s side a first home win in months but weight lifted off shoulders at Valley Parade has seldom been greater.

McHugh got his head to a corner put into the box by Gary Jones which seemed to have gone beyond the young Irishman but had not and then was describing an arc Chris Neal into the back of the Vale goal. It denoted similarly to the goal which was decisive against Aston Villa in the League Cup semi finals last season but connotations were massively different.

This was relief, it was all relief.

City had looked like being frustrated again. Frustrated by a team which played strongly but has only won once in twenty one fixtures. Frustrated by a by a Vale side who played for a draw save the odd enterprise forward that Jon McLaughlin can be pleased keeping at bay. Frustrated by a referee Mark Brown who seemed to have decided that he would keep bookings and controversy to a minimum by ignoring what deserved one and would have caused the other.

And that frustration came to an end when McHugh’s goal went into the goal which itself came some had been convinced that the Bantams did not look like scoring. They streamed away into the dark Bradford night frustrated at City’s inability to score.

And while those people were ultimately wrong it was not hard to see how the conclusion formed.

As strong as the back two of Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies looked and as well as Stephen Darby at right back and McHugh returning to the left after his cruel exposure at Sheffield United played the Bantams did not threaten goal enough.

James Hanson is Sir Bobby Robson‘s one in three man and does all he needs to but Aaron McLean is struggling to play off him.

McLean seems to need more room than is available when a solid defence close to a deep midfield is deployed as it did today with the risible Anthony Griffith playing a holding role for the visitors. Still McLean’s endeavour does not falter and that earns him his chance to play in a City side swelled by victory.

In midfield Nathan Doyle seems not to be as he was while Gary Jones retains a level of energy and application which one cannot help but be impressed by but Jones’ work rate would be impressive for an eighteen year old.

The two wide men offer contrast. Adam Reach asks a question of a defender almost every time he gets the ball and sometimes the answer is simple – you can’t go past me but you can have a throw in – other it is not and every time he makes the defender work. Kyle Bennett is too easy to defend against and while one feels that there will be occasions where things go right for him in a spectacular and impressive way those occasions will be fleeting. Reach does more than Bennett but one gets the feeling Bennett will one day do something Reach could never do.

Bennett is a frustrating figure – an un-Parkinson like player – but he has the benefit of being defensively disciplined. Reach is a much harder player to play against for defenders and Bennett still has to show that he can be useful to the team on a consistent basis.

Nevertheless Bennett was one of the last off the field at the end of the game after Jones had led the applause for the supporters who had not gone for the early bus. They make an impressive noise, these City fans, and they do it regardless of wins or goals.

And they seem linked by symbiosis to the Bradford City team who seem refuse to give up on games, or on the spirit in the club, or on the manager that must have come close to the sack.

The players must have known that had spirited defeats become meek surrenders then the manager Parkinson would have struggled to keep his job and its to their credit that they did not let that happen. One hope that they continue to not let it happen at home to Milton Keynes Dons on Saturday.

Its credit too the boardroom at Bradford City that they have watched three months or more of games with only a single win but did not flinch. No articles distancing themselves from Parkinson, no whispers that the boardroom might be unhappy, no suggestions that things “had to turn around soon”. Just support for Parkinson and what he carries on trying to do. Credit is due to Messrs Lawn and Rhodes for resisting baser urges.

Urges which would have said – correctly – that the way a chairman wins over support is to be seen to be doing something even though that the best course of action was to do nothing other than support Parkinson in what he continues to do.

And will continue to do on Saturday taking what he can from the last few months. I confess I’ve no idea what Parkinson did when McHugh scored – goal celebrations I do alone – but I imagine he allowed himself a moment of relief before looking soberly at the team, and where improvement is needed, and how to get that improvement from the players.

A year this week Parkinson was preparing his team for Wembley in the League Cup final. The team was beaten that day but that defeat became a tool of motivation for the rest of the season.

Having looked the end so squarely in the eye in the last months one waits breath bated to see what Parkinson will make of this opportunity.


And if you, dear reader, want to know more about Port Vale then BfB points you to One Vale Fan which is a site older than this one.

The pain can’t override the pride – or the concerns

Suddenly the weekend bitterness of Bristol Rovers’ Paul Buckle seems more understandable. The pain of conceding a last minute goal never gets more bearable, no matter how many times you endure it. And so the temptation for Buckle-style bluster and to argue the opposition are unjust in scoring can feel overwhelming.

Three minutes of injury time were almost over at Vale Park, when substitute Doug Loft found himself with plenty of time and space on the edge of the area and swung in a superb cross. There at the back post was Tom Pope – twice a scorer against City in this fixture last season, and who has only scored two goals since – to head the ball past Matt Duke. The paltry 4,000 home attendance roars loudly in delight, and as you slump back in your uncomfortable plastic seat there’s a realisation that the pain now engulfing you won’t completely go away for days yet.

Just like Morecambe and Bristol Rovers found against the Bantams in the previous two games, there simply wasn’t any time for the players to make up for conceding so late. The referee blew the final whistle within seconds, the Port Vale fans cheered enthusiastically again.

Outside the ground one Valiants supporter stopped me and my friend to commiserate and bluntly sum up our misery: “You must feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach.” His kindness was a comfort of sorts, perhaps because it revealed even the opposition knew their late joy was not merited. As we had began to file out of the away end seconds earlier, City’s players had received a great reception for their efforts. As though we were all conscious not to let them think we we’re going to turn on them.

And why would we; for this was an evening featuring lots of positives, which now must be built upon rather than hastily written off. On the back of such a promising attacking performance at the weekend, City continued to look dangerous in the final third and are genuinely threatening to flourish over the coming weeks from their new, quick-fire passing approach.

Carrying on where they left off, Phil Parkinson’s two outfield signings Kyel Reid and Jamie Devitt again impressed greatly. The former enjoyed comfortably his best performance in a Bantams shirt to date and was behind so much of his team’s best moves, even working hard defending too. Devitt once more looked a player far above the level he is playing at – and the only negative from enjoying his elegant approach work and deft touches is knowing there is no way he will remain at Valley Parade for too long.

With Michael Flynn and Ritchie Jones linking up effectively in the centre of midfield and James Hanson showing greater work-rate and aggression than on Saturday, City were a joy to watch and had Vale on the ropes at times in the second half. We can only hope such eye-catching tactics prove more successful quickly, before they are compromised for something less appealing.

Because there is no doubt there are also some sizable problems for Parkinson to tackle. It took barely a minute for Port Vale to get in behind City’s backline, with Ben Williamson firing a one-on-one opportunity wide of the post. Soon after the home side took the lead with an outstanding long-distance strike from left back Rob Taylor, yet the time and space he’d been afforded to run at the back four and take aim was hugely worrying.

The opening weeks of the season are seeing City concede far too many soft goals. Opposition teams are not having to work nearly as hard to find the back of the net than they should. In each of the eight league games to date, City have gone 1-0 down. No matter how much good attacking play we see at the other end and whoever Parkinson eventually brings in as an extra striker option, without a solid defensive platform points will continue to be dropped.

It seemed as though City were getting better defensively with the second half display against Barnet, and draws with Sheffield Wednesday and Morecambe. Yet on Saturday and even more so tonight, leaks have sprung again. When Pope headed a sitter wide on seven minutes he should have been putting his side 3-0 up. During the first 45 minutes especially the entire back four looked panicky and unsure every time Vale attacked.

Not that this is an issue that should be blamed fully on the defence. Parkinson’s more expansive style of play is bringing out the best in Flynn and Jones going forwards; but not enough protection is being afforded to the back four, which the opposition are exploiting. Vale’s opener tonight was similar to Bristol Rovers’ second on Saturday in the fact no one was tracking deep runners in possession. Both also featured Flynn and Guy Branston arguing over who was to blame. The problem of how the midfield is set up when they don’t have the ball should be high on Parkinson’s radar.

At least City found their feet eventually; and with Reid causing havoc on both wings, chances began to occur at the other end. On 24 minutes Devitt struck an equally spectacular goal to Taylor’s, following a brilliant run by Reid which opened up the space. Branston’s header from Chris Mitchell’s corner was tipped onto the bar soon after, and a first away win of the campaign seemed more probable.

Yet momentum and spark was ruined by a howler from Duke just before half time. A corner into the box had initially been punched clear by the former Hull stopper, but Taylor’s attempt to float the ball back into the danger area ended up slowly looping in the air before dropping under the crossbar. Realising too late, Duke’s attempt to claw the ball away only speeded up its arrival in the back of the net.

Duke received some disappointingly venomous abuse from some City fans in the immediate aftermath. To date it had been a low-key start to his Bantams career, but although he enjoyed a more solid second half that included been targeted physically by Vale with high balls towards him in the box, this mistake now leaves him under greater scrutiny. Two weeks ago this evening, on-loan Oscar Jansson was performing penalty heroics for City before been sent back to Spurs early. Duke has it all to do, though the thinking behind Parkinson’s decision to swap a loanee for a permanent keeper is laudable.

In difficult conditions, home keeper Chris Martin didn’t enjoy a perfect night either. Five minutes into the second half, he might have done better in his attempt to keep out Jones’ low shot which nestled in the corner, following an excellent burst forward by Devitt. At 2-2 the game was end-to-end with City’s backline looking more solid and their fluent approach play cutting Vale open regularly. Devitt, Flynn and substitute Jack Compton all came close, while Duke made a couple of decent saves.

A draw seemed a fair result. But as the game headed towards stoppage time and City won a series of corners and throw in chances for Liam Moore, we were greedy for more. Instead, then came Pope’s punch in the stomach.

Much work needed defensively, and in the longer-term the increasing reliance on Reid and Devitt could prove a problem too. Both continue to struggle for match fitness and the threat from the visitors reduced considerably after Parkinson subbed them, with no one else in the team able to offer such pace. City’s style of play requires speed of thought in passing but also speed in movement, and while Devitt is able to offer that until at least the end of November there remains a troubling question of what happens next. Build the team around him now and worry about what to do after he leaves? A question for another time, perhaps.

Ultimately City left Vale Park as they arrived it – a work in progress. But while efforts to bolster the forward line are a visible priority for Parkinson, it may be the other end of the pitch where the most pressing work is required.

Revisiting the Sheffield United moment as Bradford City look to maintain upwards improvement at Port Vale

13 years ago yesterday, a struggling Bradford City side drew 2-2 with Sheffield United while offering the first genuine evidence that they could go onto enjoy a glorious season. The goals from Lee Mills and Robbie Blake that September 1998 afternoon sparked the beginning of an eight-match unbeaten run that laid the foundations for the Bantams’ promotion to the Premier League, which was joyfully confirmed against Wolves at Molineux the following May.

We didn’t believe such a feat could have been achieved during a dismal start to the season, at least not until we witnessed that attacking display against the Blades.

Back in the present day, City’s 2-2 draw with Bristol Rovers bore many similarities to that tussle with Sheffield United in more than just scoreline. On both occasions more was deserved from a display of attacking dynamism that repeatedly came close to ripping apart the opposition, but at the other end defensive frailties were ruthlessly punished to deny City the rightful three points. Whether history repeats itself in what happens next is highly questionable, but suddenly that prospect is not as far-fetched as it might have appeared a few weeks back.

So far, no one is really talking about our promotion hopes this campaign. The “building season” mantra declared by joint-Chairman Mark Lawn has been widely adopted and in general expectation is little above hoping for a top half finish. But after City produced their best attacking performance of the season on Saturday and continue to improve game-on-game, the question of how strong our promotion hopes are is one that could be pondered louder over the coming weeks.

The team is developing nicely, even though calls for a striker have got louder in the aftermath of the Bristol Rovers match. Defensively City are still shipping poor goals but are becoming more solid, in midfield there is great strength in depth – especially when injured players return – and even without this much coveted experienced forward there are plenty of options in attack. Does this squad compare favourably to the top teams in this division? Probably not right now. But with the emphasis on improvement and nurturing players, there is plenty of reasons to believe it could be amongst the strongest in a few months time.

The 1998/99 promotion was famous for the season’s poor start. Mills struggling to make his presence felt; Darren Moore not always taking the right option; Gareth Whalley needing time to settle in; Peter Beagrie trying to beat the same man too often. But with each game – just like this season – progression could be seen. Gradually it began to click, particularly when Robbie Blake was brought back in from the cold. Results suddenly took off and the team looked fantastic, especially after the confidence boost of the Sheffield United performance.

We’ve had too many false dawns since to get carried away with the potential shown by the present day City. But if not this season, promotion in the next one with this squad seems to be a realistic objective. That doesn’t mean a top seven place shouldn’t be targeted between now and May, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if it wasn’t achieved. The rate of progress may encounter some bumps and at times be less speedy than we’d hope, but early indicators are that it’s a path well worth sticking too.

Perhaps one day the Bristol Rovers performance will be looked back upon in a similar manner to the Sheffield United moment. It was certainly a notable step up from what has been seen to date, and for Phil Parkinson – who arrived at Valley Parade with a reputation for dour football which cast an image of Peter Taylor in all our minds – it was an interesting statement of intent.

His two outfield player signings to date have added flair and invention to the squad, rather than ordinary conventionality. As City passed the ball around so attractively on Saturday, you could see why Parkinson was coveted by Arsene Wenger.

Style is important, but results ultimately matter and City head to the Potteries and a game with Port Vale this evening for what should promise a useful yardstick of how far they are off the better teams. Vale currently lie in the play offs after a decent start, but more importantly and – in spite of huge upheaval off the field over the past 12 months – they are a relatively settled team used to winning more often than losing and well versed in challenging for the top seven. Micky Adams, who a year ago was Valiants manager before an unsuccessful spell at Sheffield United, is back at Vale Park and boosts a decent promotion record.

Perhaps more so than early season pace setters Morecambe and last year’s play off finalists Accrington, this is City’s first genuine away test against a promotion challenger.

With another tricky game to come against big-spending Crawley Town on Saturday, the option to chop and change players to maintain fitness is one Parkinson might choose to take this evening. Jamie Devitt had an effective game in a free role behind James Hanson up front on Saturday and may get the nod again, though he does seem short of fitness and may either be left on the bench or taken off during the second half, so he can also figure in Saturday’s plans.

Hanson, who had an average game on Saturday, performs a target man role that could become redundant in Parkinson’s new-look approach, but for now you feel he will probably remain in the first eleven. It’s clearly a challenging period in Hanson’s career, as criticism from supporters appears to intensify and his new manager talks repeatedly of signing another forward. Mark Stewart and Ross Hannah sit impatiently on the bench.

In midfield Kyel Reid – who went off with cramp on Saturday – will probably be benched and Jack Compton recalled. Chris Mitchell is proving very effective on the right but does appear to be slightly Whalley-esqe in the fact he will seemingly always be sacrificed when the team is losing and needs to go more direct. Ritchie Jones and Michael Flynn are building a strong partnership in the centre.

The back five will remain unchanged, though competition may become fiercer. Luke O’Brien continues to sit on the sidelines but you fancy he will get a chance at some point; Lewis Hunt is an injury to either Liam Moore, Luke Oliver or Guy Branston away from the chance to reignite his Bantams career. Steve Williams is approaching full fitness but will find Oliver and Branston tough to budge when he does. Simon Ramsden’s future looks bleak but shouldn’t be written off.

Matt Duke keeps goal with Jon McLaughlin under Parkinson’s orders to challenge him. To date Duke has had little to do but has conceded three times in two games.

The two away games that followed City’s 2-2 draw with Sheffield United 13 years ago featured a surprise victory in the Midlands (West Brom) and credible draw against the pre-season promotion favourites (Sunderland). Were this piece of history to repeat itself this week, the prospects for the season ahead will appear even more exciting.

2011/2012 IV/IV: The teams

Following last season’s disappointment a new air of optimism currently surrounds the much changed, younger City squad compiled by Peter Jackson, but what can we expect from those who the Bantams will line up against in the new season?

With the loss of Bury, Chesterfield, Stockport and Lincoln from League 2 last time out, the division this year has taken on a very Southern feel with the addition to the League of Plymouth, Bristol Rovers, AFC Wimbledon, Crawley Town, Swindon and Dagenham & Redbridge. It seems that away day dedication will be pushed even further this year, with City set to clock up the miles – where are the Peter Taylor over night stays when you need them!?

The Favourites

For the first time since City were relegated to League 2 they have not been tipped for automatic promotion, that acclaim has gone to the league’s big spending new boys Crawley Town. Following last season’s romp to the Conference title and lucrative FA Cup run, only ended by the champions of England, Crawley have flexed their financial muscles once again signing the likes of Wes Thomas (Cheltenham) and Tyrone Barnett (Macclesfield) on huge salaries. Although popularity amongst other teams and fans will be in short supply, this is unlikely to phase Steve Evans who appears to have unlimited funds to see that the Red Devils make it back to back promotions. And with the likes of Dagenham and Stevenage proving that it is not impossible to make that immediate leap, it is unsurprising that the club have been highly backed at the bookies. Former Bantam Scott Nielson is still on the books and will no doubt be on the end of a ‘warm’ welcome when returning to VP, following comments he made after his City exit.

Hot on the promotional heels of Crawley are fellow league new boys Swindon Town. Over the summer they have introduced some Italian flair on the touchline following the appointment of Paolo Di Canio. Expect much gesticulation and passion when the Bantams meet The Robins in the final game of the season (and that’s just from Jackson!). In the close season Di Canio has signed the relatively unknown Oliver Risser and appointed him the club’s captain as well as several established League 1 players. Also don’t be surprised if a few hot prospects from the Premier League turn up on loan over the coming weeks – I’m sure Paolo will still have Mr. Redknapp’s phone number!

Former Torquay boss Paul Buckle will be hoping that he can use his League 2 experience to guide league newcomers Bristol Rovers back into League 1 at the first attempt. Signing the likes of Chris Zebroski (you may remember him drop kicking Matt Clarke in the face!) and Joe Ayinsah (Charlton), expect attacking football from The Pirates who visit VP in September.

As well as the new boys, League 2’s bridesmaids Shrewsbury Town have also been tipped to go well again this year. Following play-off disappointment for the past three seasons “Salop” will be hoping they can go one better and achieve automatic promotion this year. In the close season Graham Turner has signed proven League 2 players such as: Marvin Morgan (Aldershot); Andy Gornell and Joe Jacobson (Accrington) and will be hoping that these will provide the extra ammunition to get The Shrews over the line.

“Local” Rivals

With the loss of so many Northern teams from the division, local rivalries are few and far between for the Bantams this year. Nearest geographically are Rotherham United, who despite the loss of player maker Nicky Law to McGod’s Motherwell, will be hoping for a strong season under relatively new boss Andy Scott. Scott’s first priority will be to keep hold of the much coveted Adam Le Fondre, whilst quickly hoping he can get the best out of hard-working City reject Gareth Evans (‘The goal is that way Gareth…’). The Millers will be trying to make sure that they don’t fall away as they have in previous years despite promising starts. City host Rotherham in November, with the away leg early in the New Year.

One time City managerial target John Coleman, will be hoping that Accrington Stanley will be able to maintain their strong form of last year despite losing their best players to other teams (Ryan, McConville, Gornell). Coleman will have to manage once again on a shoe-string budget and has so far snapped up the likes of defender Danny Coid (Blackpool) and young striker Kurtis Guthrie, whilst former Bantam Rory Boulding still features in the squad. Expect Stanley to finish mid-table this year as the loss of quality players will surely take its toll.

Morecambe (Bradford-on-sea) are entering the new campaign with a rallying cry in the hope to recapture the ‘fortress’ mentality of Christie Park at their new home ‘The Globe Arena’ (incidentally it’s not an arena, it has 3 sides!). Shrimps boss Jim Bentley will be hoping the combative style of former Bantam loanee Kevin Ellison will help them improve on a disappointing 20th position, achieved last time out. A big City following will once again will flock to Morecambe in early September, with the return fixture at VP in mid-January.

Conference Call

Gary Simpson’s Macclesfield Town have been made favourites for relegation to the Conference this year. Despite a comfortable 15th place finish last season The Silkmen are tipped to struggle, with bookmakers offering them at 2/1 to drop into non-league. The Moss Rose outfit will be hoping that new signings Waide Fairhust (Doncaster), former Bantam Jonathan Bateson (Accrington), along with others like the quick forward Emile Sinclair, will be enough to steer them clear of trouble.

Second favourites to face the drop are Cheltenham Town, following their disappointing second half to last season, which left them with a 17th place finish – one place above the Bantams. This is not a sentiment shared by the Robins new signing Sido Jombati, who claims the club should be aiming for promotion. Cheltenham have invested mainly in non-league players, much the same as City, with the hope of bringing success to Whaddon Road next season.

Once again Barnet have been backed to struggle this term, despite retaining the majority of their top performers from last year. Lawrie Sanchez continues as boss as the Bees aim to gain compensation for the move of last year’s demi-saviour, Martin Allen, to Notts County. With plenty of forward options in the form of Izale McLeod, Sam Deering, Steve Kabba and Mark Marshall (remember him embarrassing City last year?), Barnet will be hoping that they can sort out their defence which saw them leak 77 goals last season.

Hereford United will be hoping to make things a little more comfortable this year following their close shave for survival last season. Former ‘physio’ boss, Jamie Pitman, has signed the likes of Delroy Facey (Lincoln) and Stefan Stam (Yeovil) in the hope of playing attacking, entertaining football next term. The Bantams travel to Edgar Street in late October, with the Bulls coming to VP in February.

League Newcomers

Cash-strapped Plymouth Argyle will face a race against time to assemble a squad before the big kick-off on the 6th of August. With the likely take over by Peter Risdale not yet finalised and the club selling off the ground and its land to a third party: ‘Bishop International’ (sound familiar!?) it will be a success just to put a team out for the Pilgrims next season. Already potential signings have swerved away from the financially stricken club, Antony Elding (Rochdale) opted to sign for non-league Grimsby despite initially agreeing to sign for Plymouth. Survival will have to be their first priority and it is hoped that with the re-signing of influential defender Stephane Zubar, others will follow to sign up for Peter Reid’s cause.

The Crazy Gang return to Valley Parade next season and it is expected that they will bring more than 53 fans when they visit Bradford in late-September. Following five promotions in nine years, since their formation in 2002, AFC Wimbledon will take their place in the football league once again. They will start the campaign without last season’s top goalscorer Danny Kedwell, who has signed for Gillingham, but have retained the services of their player of the season Sam Hatton. Boss Terry Brown has signed up several new recruits: Jack Midson (Oxford); Mat Mitchell-King (Crewe); Chris Bush (Brentford) and Charles Ademeno (Grimsby) in hope of maintaining the club’s position in League 2 next year.

John Still’s Dagenham & Redbridge return to League 2 following only one season in League 1. The one-time City managerial target has managed to maintain the majority of his squad, but has lost key man, and former Bantams’ target, Ramon Vincelot to Championship new-boys Brighton. The Daggers are expected to finish mid-table this time out and will face the Bantams at VP in August, with the return fixture at Victoria Road in March.

Familiar Faces

Burton Albion boss Paul Peschisolido has signed several attacking options over the close season with the intention of pushing the Brewers further up the table than their 19th place finish last season. The Nottinghamshire club will be hoping to avoid the fixture congestion that plagued them last year. New signing Justin Richards (Port Vale) should be the main attacking threat and City play Albion away in October, with the home fixture in January.

Dario Gradi will take charge of Crewe for his 26th season at the helm. With the loss of Clayton Donaldson over the summer, Alex striker Shaun Miller will be hoping to fill the former Bradford youngster’s boots and build on his own 19 goal haul last season. Crewe have been internally backing themselves for promotion this year and will aim to get there playing attractive, technical football, the likes of which the Bantams experienced on the last day of the season.

Gary Johnson’s Northampton Town will once again carry high expectations into the coming season, with their expectant fans insisting that they improve on their disappointing 16th place last season. With a glut of new signings, including big striker Adebayo Akinfenwa, the Cobblers will enter the 2011/2012 season with aspirations of reaching the play-offs. City face Northampton at VP in late October and travel to the Sixfields Stadium in April.

Former City man Chris Wilder will be entering the new season in the hope that his Oxford United team can build on their promising first season back in the football league. Ex-City flop Paul McLaren will take his place for the U’s next season and will hope for more consistency in League 2 this time out. Experience seems to be the order of the day for Wilder who has also recruited former Leeds player Michael Dubbery and ex-Bury goal keeper Wayne Brown.

In a repeat of last season, Micky Adams will lead out Port Vale and will want to finish the job he started before leaving for a forgettable stay at boyhood club Sheffield United. Marc Richards remains the main danger man for the Stoke club and will hope that he can find sufficient support from new signings Gary Roberts (scorer for Rotherham from halfway at VP) and fellow striker Louis Dodds. Vale face the Bantams at Vale Park in September and at VP on Valentine’s day.

On the Buses…(or coaches)

Industrious Aldershot will be hoping to build on their solid 14th place finish last time out. The Bantams play host to the Shots on the opening day and will have to be wary of the goal-threat of defender Antony Charles who had success against the Bantams last year. Dean Holdsworth will be hoping that the recent loan deal for Reading’s attacking midfielder Jake Taylor will help get the Shots off to a flier… obviously after losing to City!

Gillingham have made several signings over the summer and diminutive boss Andy Hessenthaler will be hoping that by signing non-league success stories like Danny Ked well (AFC Wimbledon) will be enough to push the Gills one step further than their play-off spot last year. Hot striking prospect Adam Birchall, signed from Hessenthaler’s former club Dover, is already facing a 6 month lay off with knee ligament damage, which will leave the Priestfield club on the look out for another ‘Cody MacDonald’ type player from the loan market.

Southend will enter the new season hoping to gain the consistency that saw the play-offs elude them last year. Shrimpers boss Paul Sturrock has made several signings to complement last seasons top performers Antony Grant and Barry Corr. City will once again travel to Roots Hall on a Friday night (Decemeber) and will host the Essex club, again on a Friday night, in April.

Torquay boss Martin Ling will want his side to go one better this year to soar into League 1. In order to replace target man Chris Zebroski the Gulls have signed former Morecambe hitman Rene Howe, and have strengthened their midfield with the signing of left-sided trickster Ian Morris (Scunthorpe). City travel to the English Riviera in mid-February (Brrrr…) and host the Gulls at VP in early October.

Welcome to the tactical sophistication

Watching City getting men behind the ball defending with numbers rather than quality and leaving the attacking side of the game undermanned it suddenly struck me what this “dour football” of Peter Taylor’s really is.

City lost 2-1 to Port Vale in the glare of a watching TV audience having tried to keep a closed shop most of the game but then after two goals – the second of which was offside – ended up unlucky not to equalise in the dying minutes. It was not pretty stuff either, and ultimately whatever the plan at kick off, that plan did not work.

Having spent much of Friday talking about the principal that how if the job was offered in the summer Taylor’s name would still top the list of potential managers the practice of watching a dour, negative display jarred but the final reckoning City lost to an offside goal and were it not for a great block would have drawn the game. If wishes about Bradford City were snowflakes we would have woken up to a hefty covering Saturday morning, and we did.

However for all the dourness and negativity those two moments – had they fallen differently – would have given City a creditable result (a draw, assuming one of those snowflakes did not melt) and so Taylor would note that his tactical approach – while unsuccessful – was realistic in its chances of getting a result.

Were it not for a mistake by a linesman or a bit of pondering by Lewis Hunt that left John McCombe in to block then The Bantams would have had a draw at promotion chasing Vale. For all the negativity that is evidenced in the game the approach is practical, reasonable and realistic.

But it is dour and watching the game we wanted the players to break the shackles and entertain, going for a win.

We wanted the players in our struggling team to forget the fact that in frustrating and negativity the chances of a draw are there for all to see and to go for broke. We wanted the manager and players to play an attacking game at a promotion chaser, seeing if they could bring back a win.

There is a word to describe that attitude and the word is naive, or at least it was.

In football it is naive to look at away games – especially those against promotion chasers – as the chance to get three points. Away victories are uncommon. Look at any Saturday of results in The Football League and something between two thirds and three quarters of the results will be home wins, then draws will be the next most common, then away victories.

Sir Bobby Robson used to say that a team need wins its home games, draw away and should expect no better than that and will achieve its targets. Two points per game will get any team promoted from any league.

Perhaps Peter Taylor has this in mind. If he does he seems a long way off achieving it but that “long way” was a linesman’s flag away against Port Vale. No matter what you think of the approach or the manager’s approach his understanding that when one goes away from home one frustrates and tries to minimise opportunities knowing a draw is a good return is common thinking in the game, it is the realistic choice.

So we should use the terms that apply consistency, or so I realised when considering “dour football.”

This “dour, negative football” is “tactically sophisticated” as distinct from being “tactically naive”. Likewise the desire to see more “attacking football” – to see players who leave more space as they uncompress the game looking for space to play in – is to want the players to be more “tactically naive.”

This revelation ruined my evening and once again one of my Nan’s oft sage (although always containing the odd swear) turns of phrase came into my head. “Them buggars best be careful a what they wish for, cause they’ll get it.”

I never took to the phrase “tactically naive” because I could never think of the opposite to contrast this naivety with. The fans over the years that use the phrase against managers like Stuart McCall at City and Kevin Keegan at England must have had something in mind as the opposite, but I could not see it. If trying to win every game was to be considered tactically naive what was the opposite? What was tactical sophistication?

Naive has a good half dozen meanings in the OED but in football’s lexicon it seemed to point towards a kind of inability to accept certain pragmatic realities and react to them by changing an initial approach. It was being incapable of flexing tactically to cope with the opposition. A tactically naive manager was one who always ended up getting beaten by some veteran gaffer who saw the benefits of soaking up pressure and hitting on the counter. When Keegan’s Newcastle United lost 1-0 at St James Park to Ferguson’s Manchester United in 1995/96 it was the only time that his team had failed to score in a home game that season The Red Devils having frustrated the attacking flair of the Magpies and caught them with a Cantona sucker punch.

It was the “naivety” of Keegan for all to see supposedly in that his team out played but did not outscore their opponents. That season ended with Keegan’s famed “I’d love it…” speech which was used as proof that the grizzled old Scot had bested his naive foe. That dour football had bested attacking flair, the naivety of an attacking approach had been exposed.

“Sophistication” is probably not the word that springs instantly to mind watching last night’s first half of Bradford City’s football but there it was, for all to see, a sophisticated tactical approach which recognised the realism of the game and set out with a pragmatic plan to get a result.

It is old Arsenal’s 1-0 ways against new Arsenal’s being four up having gone on the road with a plan to play and after half an hour at Newcastle United only to ended up lucky to get a point. Arsene Wenger naive to carry on attacking at four up but wanting his team to play a certain way rather than accept the reality that closing the game down at half time would have meant coasting to a victory.

Knowing what we do about how teams come to Valley Parade with rows of defender and packed midfields and try nick a point, sometimes taking more, and expecting our team to play in a different way simply because it is more enjoyable to watch is laudable but it is the very stuff that was called “tactically naive” this time last year when Peter Taylor joined the club.

“Them buggars best be careful…”

This is the situation we are in. A popular consensus wanted Taylor and his “tactical sophistication” into the club and perhaps there would be more sympathy for the browbeating over how dour it can be to watch if – when watching a manager who wanted to play attacking football – the words “tactically naive” were not allowed to float around unchallenged so often.

“Move on”, or so we are told, but the point of this article is not to wallow in the blanket of snowflake wishes and memories but rather than to state that “move on” too often means forget to the point where as a football club we have become masters of Orwellian doublethink.

Attacking football is naive, and we want an experienced man who can play in a tactically sophisticated way. When we get that we want someone who can bring more flair and make the team more enjoyable to watch. Passion is not important in a manager, then we rage at the dispassionate figure on the sidelines. The manager does not have enough knowledge of the English game, but the next one is too parochial. The manager is too showbiz and interested in talking about his past as England captain, but the next one is too sour and grim.

Least we forget the purpose of constant war in Orwell’s 1984 is to waste the excess of production. This is exactly what City do when changing managers.

The club’s resources go not into improving the team but rather into changing it to suit the new approach – Omar Daley’s exit for Kevin Ellison being a great example of that – and then changing that back again when the mood sees fit to replace manager.

So while City slip to a tenth away defeat of the season – the most of any club in League Two although, worryingly, we have played more games than most – I reflect on how unsuccessful the approach has been but how much that twelve months ago it was presented as the solution.

This is important as we look for another solution.

Life through a different lens

I always find these rare times Bradford City appear live on TV to be nerve-wracking occasions.

As great as it is for the great football god Sky to acknowledge our existence, the numerous dull City games they have managed to capture live over the years leave me fearing another occasion where a national TV audience is left underwhelmed. And when you know that audience will include friends, family and work colleagues who are only tuning in because they know you, there’s seemingly a lot more at stake than three points.

But more personal to all of that is the different perspective of watching the Bantams that sitting on a couch and watching them on TV provides. So much that is fantastic about supporting City is the live sights, sounds and even smells of cheering them on at games, and when so much of that is stripped away and your team appears two dimensional on a TV set, like any regular football match, too much is missing to truly enjoy it. Tonight could have been a brilliant game (it wasn’t), but watching it this way leaves you realising its impossible for Sky to accurately showcase to the people who matter in your life why City is so important to you and, ultimately, what all the fuss is about.

Tonight I’m watching the game on Sky at a friend’s house – he loves City as much as me and always goes to games – and with his brother, who only watches football from the comfort of his sofa and is annoyed at this lower league intrusion to his routine. “I can’t believe they’re screening this game” are his first words to me, and straight away I feel I’m having to apologise for my team interrupting his halcyon world of Premier League and La Liga football.

The live broadcast starts with Sky’s typically over-dramatic format showing us quick fire images of the “exciting League Two promotional battle” that Port Vale are part of. City are introduced as underachievers fighting relegation. The music is creepy and suddenly I’m really fearful for our Football League status, until Peter Beagrie pops up as studio pundit to reassure the nation that Bradford have simply had a lot of injuries and can still target promotion this season.

It seems to be a theme of the evening. “Bradford have used 35 players this season”, we are repeatedly told and each time it is quickly followed by “which just how difficult it has been for Peter Taylor.” True to a certain extent, but no one opts to mention – or perhaps would be aware – that this high turnover includes Taylor choosing to bring in young loanees ahead of supposed first teamers such as Zesh Rehman, Robbie Threlfall and Jake Speight, among others. Everyone employed by Sky tonight seems to share the view that City’s poor season is simply down to injuries, and that everything will be okay for us once the treatment room is cleared.

So nothing to do with Taylor’s tactics then, which tonight once more sees him start with the 4-3-3 formation that has proved so ineffective in recent weeks – and does so again. City’s three forwards are hopelessly isolated as everyone else stays deep behind the ball. Port Vale – whose manager, Jim Gannon, has spent a lot of time recently defending the 4-5-1 formation he favours, which proved effective at Stockport three years ago – easily win the midfield battle and you sit there in disbelief that Taylor can keep getting it so wrong.

A midfield three of Michael Flynn, Tom Adeyemi and Leon Osborne against a five is absolutely ridiculous, and for such an experienced manager to continue deploying his team in such an ineffective manner is bewildering. It is no coincidence that City’s best two performances of recent weeks – Chesterfield away and the second half against Wycombe last week – came when City lined up 4-5-1 and could get hold of the ball. In the first half tonight, Vale followed Crewe, Lincoln and Wycombe (first half) in dominating possession and carrying all the attacking threat.

Tom Pope headed a good chance over, Gary Roberts curled a shot wide and Lenny Pidgley made two decent saves. City’s only sight of goal came after Scott Dobie’s comically mistimed overhead kick attempt saw the ball run free and Kevin Ellison fire a rasping shot narrowly wide. It took 20 minutes to receive the first text message from a friend declaring this was the worst football they’d ever seen in their life.

Port Vale continued to press in the second half and took the lead four minutes in after Pope shrugged off a contact lense falling out and got free of his marker to send a looping header over Pidgley and Flynn. Pidgley, who seconds earlier had made a terrific save from a low shot, got into a heated argument with his stand-in captain Flynn. Surely now Taylor had to change things.

Only he didn’t, and rather than show intent to start chasing the game City continued to play as though they were holding out for a 0-0 draw. Vale pressed forwards with greater intent and Pope netted a second with a close range finish, despite replays showing he was narrowly offside. Pidgley was convinced the goal should have been ruled out and raced over to the linesman to complain. Not a single team-mate bothered to join him in arguing City’s case, instead walking off head down. Such lack of spirit and fight is deeply troubling.

City finally achieved a shot on target after 65 minutes when Gareth Evans’ free kick was blocked. Four minutes later Taylor finally let the shackles off his team by replacing Speight with the ineffective Leon Osborne, and suddenly it all changed. Now playing 4-4-2, City were finally keeping hold of the ball in Vale’s half and Speight displayed his early season form to cause the under-worked Vale defence problems. After Dobie headed the ball down, Speight brilliantly laid the ball into Adeyemi’s path to fire home and reduce the deficit with seven minutes to play.

The pressure grew on Vale in the closing stages, though at the times the delivery into the box was poor from City. Still, deep in injury time Lewis Hunt had a great chance to equalise after Flynn picked him out in the area, but after taking a touch he probably didn’t have time to make John McCombe was able to block his shot. Pidgley raced up for the resultant corner and a couple of goalmouth scrambles went unrewarded.

With the final whistle came an added sense of frustration – why couldn’t City have played like they had for the final 20 minutes during the first 70, when the game was ultimately lost? Why did Taylor have to approach this fixture so negatively, yet again? This was the 10th away defeat and, while it can be argued such a poor record and league position justifies a defensive strategy, how different might this season have proved if he’d been prepared to play positive attacking football more often?

The text messages of abuse from friends kept pouring in. In the past when we’ve disappointed on Sky I’d always been able to argue that what they’d just witnessed wasn’t an accurate reflection of supporting Bradford City. Tonight I have no defence – this really is how depressing life has become under Peter Taylor.

Looking at the sky, being in the dark

The one goal win over Wycombe Wanderers last week gave Peter Taylor – or rather confidence in Peter Taylor – a much needed fillip and as the manager celebrates – if celebrate is the right word – the anniversary of his arrival at Valley Parade.

Taylor has been at City for 12 months this week and by his own admission things have not gone as he – or we – would have hoped. The win over his former club started speculation over if Taylor might stay beyond the end of the season. Taylor has made the right noises but knows that he has not achieved the expectation which would have won him a new deal.

Mark Lawn made it abundantly clear that without promotion the club could not afford to give Taylor the same terms next season putting the onus on the manager to think about how much he should want to match his words with a financial commitment to take a lower deal were one offered.

Which begs the question as to if the club would offer Taylor a new contract. Mark Lawn said that there was still a belief in stability at Valley Parade but that that had had to come second to financial constraints. Lawn did not enthuse with the style of football being played and he is not alone in that but having given Taylor the remit to remould the squad over the course of this season there is – once again – a question as to how much the club believe stability helps.

No greater example of this can be found than Taylor’s recruitment of goal man Kevin Ellison. Ellison is very much a Taylor type of player and no doubt the manager would have had him in a year ago if he could but Ellison’s availability only changed last week and Daley – who apparently prayed for a move away from the manager – exited.

Daley was very much not Taylor’s type of player and despite efforts from both sides to make it work Ellison replacing Daley in the squad makes sense – or at least makes sense when Peter Taylor is manager.

Which leads one back to the pressing question as to if Taylor should be in charge at Bradford City. His performance this season is hardly likely to have anyone else trying to give him the big chair and his rejection of a good job at St James’ Park, Newcastle suggests that he is not about to be someone’s number two.

There are people who spend a great deal of money and effort – people I’ve got all the time in the world for – who are counting the games off until Taylor’s exit. BfB’s own Jason Mckeown has spoken with eloquence about how he will not be upset when Taylor exits while other long time City fans have talked about the ramifications of his time in charge.

Personally though – and as he shapes the squad to more effectively suit his desires on the field – I still consider Taylor to be the outstanding choice for the manager’s job. If I were drawing up a shortlist of names to be City’s boss in 2011/2012 from the out of work gaffers then Taylor’s name would once again be top.

Someone who has had success and repeated it he provides a light in the dark which is groping around looking for a new manager. He might have drifted from the road to success this year but I believe he has the roadmap to it and I’m not convinced that any of the names who are banded about as a successor do.

For sure City could go back to appointing a manager who was going to play a more attractive brand of football – anyone who tries to excuse the often tedious play of this season as a defence of the manager is doing Taylor no favours – but anyone who thinks that Johnny Goodfootball would be being having his name sung from the Kop for his silky passing play were City in 18th at this stage next season is deluding themselves.

In the end the popular manager is the winning manager – at least for the main – and Taylor’s five promotions suggest that he knows how to build a winning team more than most and as the club have made it clear that chasing promotion rather than aesthetics are important then perhaps this time next season Taylor will be celebrating a second year at City.

We know not if that will happen at this stage though and so we focus on the match in hand – or on Sky TV which the match is – which is Bradford City vs Port Vale.

(A note on Port Vale, dear reader, says that you would do well to get thee sen over to the excellent www.onevalefan.co.uk. A classic football website.)

The Friday evening encounter sees seemingly nailed on promotion side Vale struggling for form having slipped to seventh following a pair of draws. Micky Adams’ exit rocked the boat but the commendable Jim Gannon looks to get things back on track.

City go into the game with some vigour. Lenny Pidgeley keeps goal with Simon Ramsden at right back and Luke O’Brien on the left. Steve Williams may hope for a recall alongside Luke Oliver although Lewis Hunt will count himself unlucky to be dropped after his display last week.

Jon Worthington may have to play his first ninety minutes for City in the absence of injured David Syers with Tom Ademeyi and Michael Flynn alongside. James Hanson is also out with Scott Dobie filling his role and Gareth Evans and Kevin Ellison taking wider berths dropping back to bolster the midfield.

Which makes the kind of hybrid of a 451 and a 433 which Taylor favours. It might bring a second win over a promotion chaser in a week, or it may not. In the end Taylor knows more about getting promotion than most and that is his path to it.

And that, to some, is preferable to being in the dark.

Not so Speight

As Bradford City were struggling and failing to snatch a late winner over Accrington on Tuesday evening, 44 miles away down the M62, Jake Speight was netting his first goal for his temporary employers, Port Vale.

The strike itself was nothing to write home about. With Stockport’s former City keeper Matt Glennon seemingly resigned to conceding five goals for the third time already this season and rushing out of his area with three Vale players charging towards him, Speight was presented with an open goal that you and I could have tapped home. But still a first Football League goal since 2007 was a personal achievement and, with City’s efforts to break down Accrington going unrewarded, it also threw up some question marks over why he was playing over at Edgley Park for a team that was about to go top of the league.

Speight’s loan spell has since been extended until January, with Peter Taylor dropping less than subtle hints that his Valley Parade career may already be over. Talking about the fact Speight was not allowed to be cup-tied, the City manager stated, “That doesn’t help his value in that respect.”

With City suddenly struggling for goals – just one goal in their last three games – and with Louis Moult absent from even bench duty at Wycombe and home to Accrington, one might have assumed the expiration of Speight’s one month loan at Vale would see the striker return to the parent club he only signed for during the summer.

No one needs a reminder of the fuss that occurred back then, but Speight had impressed in early season games and appeared firmly in Taylor’s plans. Since 24 minutes from the bench at Barnet, Speight hasn’t figured and the success of James Hanson/Jason Price partnering Omar Daley lifted the Bantams from a dismal start. But still, Speight’s demotion from first team starter to the bench to shut out on loan has taken place in a considerably short space of time.

It would pointless to speculate on what may or may not have happened behind the scenes, but Taylor has seemingly made an early judgment for whatever reason and it appears Speight will be departing permanently come January. Meanwhile City have just four strikers on a permanent contract – Hanson, Daley, Gareth Evans and Chibuzor Chilaka – and is relying on the same loan market that led to Speight taking temporary residence at Vale Park to widen his options.

This might seem an odd set of circumstances, but in many ways Taylor deserves credit for the way it appears he is handling the situation. City paid £25k for Speight’s services during the summer. Not a colossal amount of money in modern football terms, but to Bradford City this is still a significant fee. Since 2001 City have only paid transfer fees for three other players – Willy Topp, Evans and Hanson – and are not in a position to write off such an investment and call on further transfer reserves to replace Speight.

Taylor, responsible for signing him, appears to have made an early decision. Rather than allow Speight to rot in the reserves or make do with 10 minutes from the bench here and there, he has allowed a player not in his plans to appear in the shop window through featuring more regularly for one of the best League Two sides. A few more goals and Vale may want to talk about a permanent transfer, or other clubs may even enter a bidding war. Perhaps after all that has gone on, Taylor will be able to recuperate the full transfer fee he paid for a player who proved a headache from day one.

Yet the danger for Taylor is closer to home. If City continue to struggle for goals and Speight starts appearing on the Vale score sheet more frequently, questions will be loudly asked of the manager’s judgment. One only needs to recall the failed gamble of his predecessor Stuart McCall, in shipping an increasingly poor-performing Barry Conlon on loan to Grimsby in March 2009 and bringing in Accrington’s Paul Mullin as a direct replacement. Conlon was reborn for a brief time at Blundell Park, scoring crucial goals that kept the Mariners in the division. Mullin failed to find the net at all, and City slipped out of the play offs.

But that is a short-term concern, and if Taylor has determined Speight is not the player to ignite City’s promotion chances it is best he is performing well for Vale, so City can potentially receive their money back. The number of injuries to the defence has probably already pushed the playing budget to the limit.

If, as the evidence of the last two games suggests, there isn’t enough quality in Taylor’s squad to mount a play off push, the potential injection of capital from selling a player ruled not good enough or perhaps too disruptive to the squad’s morale (there is no evidence to suggest this is the case) could be gratefully received in January.

Speight exit shows the state of Taylor’s problems

Jake Speight’s exit from Bradford City on a loan deal to Port Vale late on Friday after might have caused raised hackles and eyebrows amongst City fans but for Peter Taylor it represents something of a rubicon moment in his time at Bradford City. 

Speight signed for the club and took a sojourn at Her Majesty’s Pleasure before impressing at the start of the season. He rose into the team and fell as Taylor favoured other players. His exit is, one assumes, approved by the manager and is done entirely within his sphere of influence.  Paying off players the previous manager had is one thing but Speight is the first high profile Taylor signing to leave. 

He leaves, on a loan deal, with much confusion. The player has impressed at any chance he has been given but for whatever reason those chances have been limited. If he is so superfluous to requirements that he can be allowed a loan deal one has to wonder why Taylor signed him at all, especially considering a transfer fee was paid. 

The player’s hustling style has proved popular drawing comparison to Robbie Blake but seemingly Taylor prefers the physical play of Jason Price or even Luke Oliver to partner James Hanson. Speight not having shrunk in the last three months one puzzles as to why he arrived at all. 

It is hard to say the player will be missed so infrequently did he start games but the idea of a City side with the kind of craft Speight suggested will be, especially when the prospect of football played via target men line has so frequently disappointed this year. 

What this says about Taylor plans for the rest of the season is the subject of some debate. Speight’s place is most often on the bench, but it seems that the manager has started to rethink and rebuild the squad that he started the season with. 

Not an admission of failure, but a statement that what he had brought to the club was not working. Along with the arrival of new keeper Lenny Pidgeley it seems that Peter Taylor has decided that it is not the team he inherited which was the problem so much as the one he has built.

The day after the sky fell in

Last week City had to beat Southend United and did not.

The sky did not fall in on Chicken Licken nor did the walls tumble down but the sense of dejection around City fans was palpable. There is a level of disappointment which goes beyond a moaning about the team or the players to just not talking at all. Rather than getting heads together and saying how this formation or that substitution would have sorted out the problems City fans around Bradford and beyond looked blank and shrugged. What is there to do?

Some carried on as normal – one has to be impressed with the tenacity of the people who are still arguing that everything will be right when Stuart McCall leaves the club when the evidence of swapping one manager for another once again illustrates that the manager was never the main of the problem – but even that carrying on seemed to be half hearted. Making the same noises because they are the noises you make.

Peter Taylor made his noises on the BBC’s Football Focus revealing his disappointment in the season so far, using “they” rather than “we” a couple of times and issuing an open invite to David Beckham to come to Valley Parade where he would get a game although one has to worry that with the three man midfield with two wide players up front if Goldenballs would fit into the Bantams line up.

It is that line up which Peter Taylor is being urged to change for the arrival of Port Vale on Saturday. Taylor deployed a World Cup style 4231 but the three given the role of dangerous players were anything but and the result was a massive hole between the midfield and lone striker James Hanson.

James Hanson has come in for some criticism this week – “just a pub player” someone said. People who think like that are wasting their money even coming to Valley Parade just as people who love Pot Noodles and Big Macs are wasting their money going to Noma. Of the reasons to be optimistic about the future of Bradford City Hanson figures highly and if he is fit he would be the first name on my teamsheet.

Hanson came off at half time last week as City’s 4231 faltered and the whispers are that the striker has not been fit all season. Taylor has the option of deploying Gareth Evans or Chib Chilaka as target man to give Hanson the chance to recover but seems to hold last season’s player of the season in high regard and – as I would – would probably play him every week if he could.

Jake Speight has returned to full fitness and liberty and is expected to make a first start for the club as one of three up front with Evans alongside him and Omar Daley dropped to the bench. Speight and Daley both seem to be charged with offering (for want of a better phrase) an x-factor to City’s line up and presently Daley looks some way away from being able to do that. One could speculate all day about why this is – tougher training, return to fitness, form – but the winger has always blown hot and cold and managing him back to heat quickly has been a challenge for City bosses.

Louis Moult is talked up much considering he is a Stoke City played facing Port Vale but after a poor show last week one doubts the loanee will make the side. Since the moment pre-season finished Moult has worn a City shirt well but not shown anything to suggest he is worth a place in the side. He is all promise and prospect but – at present – Taylor needs productivity.

The Moult Hole last week caused an issue for City’s two holding players Tommy Doherty and Lee Bullock – both of whom are expected to start in a three man midfield alongside probably Tom Ademeyi or perhaps David Syers – who ended up having to come forward to try fill the hole. Doherty has started to look impressive in his distribution while Bullock is struggling to get back to last season’s ways.

The defence seems a mixed bag thus far. Robbie Threlfall’s distribution is missed giving him the edge over Luke O’Brien although the latter has put in some good performances. Lewis Hunt is steady to a fault at right back – nothing gets past him really, he does not get past anybody really – but Zesh Rehman hangs on his shoulder looking for a place in the side. Anyone who things that Rehman he been “obviously the worst player at the club for eighteen months” (as was commented this week) is invited to go stand in the Wilderness Garden behind an eight foot fence on a Saturday afternoon.

None of Rehman or Luke Oliver, Shane Duff and Steve Williams have especially been woeful this term and occasionally some have been excellent. In defence popular wisdom has it that Taylor should pick a team and stick to it but one recalls how Paul Jewell would have three names on his back four and float in one of Ashley Westwood, Jon Dreyer or Andrew O’Brien to partner Darren Moore between Steven Wright and Wayne Jacobs seemingly at random although – perhaps – based on the opposition.

Jon McLaughlin, he plays in goal. He blamed himself for the first goal against Southend allowing the ball to get away from in turning possession over to the visitors. He must have been waiting for people to note his mistake, waiting for the treatment that Simon Eastwood got for similar.

As it happened the sky did not fall in.

Running on Low?

City headed to Stoke with high expectations following a last-gasp James Hanson winner against promotion chasing Rotherham at the weekend. The pre-kick off atmosphere was fairly buoyant in the away end, with the prospect of drawing level on points with the hosts if City came away with maximum points.

As expected Peter Taylor sent out the same side that started against Rotherham with Michael Flynn partnering Hanson up-front; Adam Bolder deputising in midfield alongside Bullock, O’Brien and Evans, with a back four of Ramsden, Clarke, Williams and Threlfall, Glennon in goal.

The opening exchanges were fairly even as both sides showed positive intent. Vale enjoyed an early chance after a miscommunication in the City defence between Williams and Clarke, however in the one on one opportunity with the keeper, Vale forward Richards could only steer his effort wide of Matt Glennon’s far post.

In the eleventh minute City managed to move possession into the Vale half with a few intricate passes through the middle of the field, a far cry from the so-called long ball tactics suggested by Ronnie Moore at the weekend.

The decent move resulted in Lee Bullock being fouled, by hard-tackling midfielder Anthony Griffith, around 30 yards from goal. Flynn lined up to blast an effort but it was Robbie Threlfall who curled a powerful strike into the top left-hand corner of the net; the Liverpool loanee’s second strike for the Bantams and it was even better than his first one against Rochdale.

It could be argued that the goal came slightly against the run of play as prior to the goal Vale had had two or three good opportunities themselves to open the scoring.

Following the goal a similar pattern of play resumed, Vale looked the brighter of the two sides whilst City tried to defend stoutly and attack mainly on the break. As in recent games City defended with resilience, Matt Clarke’s strength, heading and awareness again impressed.

As the half progressed the away defence came under increasing pressure. City rode their luck at times as the Vale front line were left wanting in the finishing department; notably Vale forward Richards spurned several good chances. The notion of City becoming ‘hard to beat’ reared its head as the visitors seemed happy to soak up and deal with the increasing pressure.

That is not to say that it was all one way traffic, City themselves had a few good opportunities to increase their lead. Good link up play between Bolder, Ramsden and Evans down the right flank resulted in an Evans’s cross being headed goal-wards by Flynn with the keeper saving comfortably.

The culmination of the recent congested fixture period for the Bantams seemed to be catching up with them, a few main stays in the team such as O’Brien and Evans appeared a little jaded in comparison to their recent high-tempo performances.

Half-time came at a good time for City as the prolonged threat from the home side was building. With the added pressure came an increase in the number of gaps in the home defence as men were committed forward, City however, didn’t have the pace required to exploit it.

During the break Taylor swapped the tired-looking Luke O’Brien with the pacy Omar Daley; good move everyone agreed with the potential of Daley’s speed creating additional opportunities, for the away side, on the counter-attack.

The second half started much as the first half ended, with the home side enjoying more of the territorial advantage.

Finally in the 49th minute the City defence was breached. Vale played the ball swiftly through the midfield and presented Simon Ramsden with an opportunity to cut out a loose ball that may have a led to a City break away. Ramsden slightly mistimed his interception leaving the space behind him exposed; the ball was quickly played to Richards who finished well to draw the home side level.

It was an example of a really fine margin; if Ramsden had intercepted then City would’ve been away with a man advantage which could’ve put the game beyond the home side.

City responded well following the goal and looked particularly threatening down the left side through Daley. However on occasion the Jamaican was easily bullied and often surrendered possession, resulting in the ball being given away in key areas.

The home side’s energy levels seemed to be a little bit up on City’s and they came back into the game; in particular Griffith showed a real desire to win every loose ball in the midfield. To counter this Taylor introduced Mark McCammon for Gareth Evans moving willing worker Flynn to the right-side of midfield.

McCammon held the ball up well which alleviated a little pressure from City’s two blocks of four but often attacking moves broke down in the final third with no real end product.

City were made to pay for this in the 78th minute. Vale attacked down the left-hand flank and Ramsden did well to hold up the attack and block an in coming cross from the left winger. The ball sat up nicely for Vale left-back Robert Taylor who volleyed a shot goalwards that took a huge deflection off a City defender and cruelly sailed over the top of a fully outstretched Glennon.

It was a cruel goal considering the tireless work that the City defence had put in throughout the game and the keeper can’t really be blamed as the deflection seriously deviated the path of the ball.

Following the goal Michael Boulding was brought on for Boulder to try and salvage a point for the Bantams.

The away side pushed on, but again Daley wasted possession in good areas and attacks frustratingly broke down. Daley still looks rusty in comparison to his form prior to his long-term injury and his second half display will no doubt have frustrated his new manager.

City’s plight was not helped by the referee Mr. Swarbrick who joined a long line of clueless referees. He frequently awarded petty free-kicks for little incidents where play should’ve continued.

Again inconsistency from the officials was displayed throughout, particularly when it came to shirt pulling. Throughout the game James Hanson’s shirt was constantly half way up his back, the City striker was often left on the floor wondering what he needed to do to get a free-kick, where as Williams and Clarke were often penalised for lesser offences.

City continued to attack right to the final whistle but seemed to be running out of ideas and energy needed to snatch an equaliser.

As the final whistle blew the general feeling was that at least a point was deserved as we defended resiliently and went down to a cruel deflected goal.

I know that in recent articles there has been debate surrounding the issue of loan players and current players and who should be playing; based on this performance I think that having the fresher loan players will help as the high number of fixtures seems to have caught up with the likes of Evans, O’Brien and Hanson who could probably do with a short rest to recuperate.

I would expect a few changes to be made for Saturday’s visit of Aldershot to allow the aforementioned players to have a breather.

Any chance of making the play-offs was probably extinguished last night, but this doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to play for. As we know many players are out of contract at the end of the season and will be looking to impress.

The one contract we do need to sort out is the manager’s. He’s shown us in his short tenure that he can make us tougher to beat and that we are able to compete with and beat the teams near the top of the league. Let’s get the deal set in stone and rid ourselves of the uncertainty, give him a two or three year deal and then we can look forward positively to next year where we can give ourselves a real chance of success.

We may have been running on low last night but now it’s time to top up the tank and make some forward thinking decisions for the long haul trip ahead of us.

Pleasing all the people, all of the time as City face Port Vale

While James Hanson was the object of a pile-on celebration and City fans were the subject of the attentions of Rotherham supporters with the five minutes overtime goal that gave The Bantams a 2-1 win over Ronnie Moore’s faltering Rotherham side on Saturday I can’t imagine many were watching Peter Taylor’s reaction to the goal.

Indeed of the sights at The Don Valley Stadium: The goalscorer submerged, the tauters dispirited and the oft Bantam critic distraught made for better viewing, but may not have been the more significant.

So we know not if Taylor circled the bench with arms out before grabbing Junior Lewis and Wayne Jacobs for bear hugs in joy or if he simply saw the goal and nodded sagely. While the outcome of a job well done was unknown, the practises of it was evident to all.

If last Tuesday night was about City being a team hard to beat then Saturday was Taylor’s side frustrating to victory. The lines of four – so often seen at Valley Parade as a rearguard action and a million miles away from the 433 City teams of Stuart McCall who seemed to see every minute of the game as a chance to break up the field – saw the Millers incapable of breaking down the Bantams on what was a bog of a pitch and the visitors in black using the space created by a home side’s pressing.

It might not have been the most pleasing thing on the eye – is League Two football ever going to be? – but the sight of City wheeling away in victory was a beautiful thing if only for it’s scarcity. By the time James Hanson had heading in concerns over loan players – too many for some, too few for others such as those who were incensed that Matthew Clarke was included over Luke Oliver – were far from the mind. Football is not a results business, but results are often the outcome of doing other things right.

Three weeks into his job at Valley Parade Taylor deserves credit for his use of the current squad; keeping the best parts of it and augmenting rather than the revolution suggested by the five new players. Excellent performances from Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn, James Hanson and Matthew Clarke all justify the new boys Taylor has brought in cooling heels on the bench. As City fans talked about how the team could be/should be flooded with loanees Taylor used what he wanted from the temporary transfer market and stabled the rest. McCammon’s benching in favour of our boy James Hanson was a welcome surprise and one which paid off.

His football is more direct, but gets better results. He signs up loan players to suggest huge changes, but uses those players sparingly. It seems that Peter Taylor has found a way of pleasing all of the people at City all of the time, at least for now.

Where City and Taylor go from here seems obvious. If the City manager feels he has a good player in Adam Bolder who he can use next season then Bolder could be offered a deal, but without Taylor having signed up for next term then such a deal being offered or signed seems highly unlikely. Likewise when the likes of Flynn and Bullock are putting in good performances and thinking about where their future might lay the assurance of having a gaffer who (as with the previous one) treated them with respect for their achievements would be a significant factor.

If the City players talk like the City fans in recent weeks then they will be talking once again about promotion next term but with the caveat that Taylor remains in charge. Aside from the traditional Bradford City supporting trait of setting a bar as high as possible – can’t we just hope that in Christmas 2010 we have enough point to not be relegated and take it from there? – the manager’s three month deal remains a worry and the spectre of Taylor’s time at the club being all too brief is a troubling one.

City will not find a better manager in the summer – only two candidates suggested themselves – and so a delay in offering the repeatedly successful Taylor a contract only continues to increase the level of uncertainty at the club and make that manager’s job harder.

On the field Taylor could hardly be expected to be doing better. When he arrives at Valley Parade on Saturday following this Tuesday night at Vale Park Taylor will have played five on his travels and one at home which we could expect eight points from on “promotion form” winning at home and drawing away but has at least nine. Not only that but Taylor has not been able to benefit from a new manager effect that comes at many clubs when a gaffer unpopular in the dressing room is swapped for another face. The City squad liked Stuart McCall in most cases – Chris Brandon, we are told, did not and Taylor was quick to ostracise him – and were obviously upset by his departure.

Off the field who knows how Taylor is settling into the culture at Valley Parade. Perhaps he has a way of dealing with “player signing suggestions” from his bosses, with being asked to join discussions on the merits of various squad members and why they should be leaving the club, with contracts being signed without his knowledge and so on. One hopes that these things do not prompt him to look elsewhere should a long term contract be offered.

There has been a lot of talk about Mark Lawn and his motivations and desire to be popular. One might suggest that the best way to do that is to announce on Saturday that a three or four year deal has been offered to Taylor and – should it be signed – to sit back and allow that manager to manage.

Port Vale sit three points above the Bantams but it would take a 5-0 swing in goals to have City move about the home side at the end of the evening. Taylor’s team at Port Vale – and his approach – is unlikely to go chasing goals. The 442 with Michael Flynn in the forward line is likely to continue with Hanson and his new strike partner both nabbing a goal on the road. Flynn’s ability to be dropped back to create a bolstered midfielder plugged any holes which Rotherham attempted to find on Saturday.

Bolder and Bullock showed steel in breaking up a Rotherham midfield but Nicky Law Jnr has never a player for midfield battling while Anthony Griffith of Vale does little other than tackle. Vale’s home form is similar to City’s and both teams have done better on their travels than they have at on their own turf. Gareth Evans and Luke O’Brien are unorthodox flank players but Taylor’s direct play requires not the dribbling and taking on men that Omar Daley provides. One wonders what the future of City’s winger is if Taylor remains.

It would seem that the back four of Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Matthew Clarke and Robbie Threlfall continue in front of Matt Glennon with Luke Oliver waiting for his chance to impress as other’s perform well. There was a time when City fans debated if Barry Conlon should be in the side with some saying that the now Chesterfield forward was never going to be good enough and others saying that while he was playing well, he should keep his place. Clarke very much fulfils that criteria with some – including, it is said, those in high places than Peter Taylor at Valley Parade opening voicing the opinion that he is simply not good enough and other’s pointing out that while the defender is putting in good performances he should very much be in the side.

It is hard to argue with that way of thinking and the spirit it engenders within a team. Players respect a manager who rewards good performances with a place in the side while the opposite destroys confidence and starts talk of manager’s having favourites.

In many of the things that he has done since arrival – playing Clarke, allowing Hanson to battle with loan signing McCammon for the starting line up, listening to Wayne Jacobs’s advice on Michael Flynn’s abilities to join the forward line – Taylor has shown a willingness to give a chance to what he has found at Valley Parade to work with. His abilities to appease those who he currently is working for may decide his longer term involvement at the club.

Pleasing all of the people, all of the time.

Port Vale game off, Aldershot to follow?

Snow in Stoke has brought an early calling off of City’s game with Pot Vale on Saturday leaving the Bantams with a third away match to be rescheduled following call offs for the Aldershot and Bury games in December.

The Aldershot game was rearranged for next Tuesday evening but a glance at the forecast for the area shows that the temperature is not expected to go above freezing before the match is to be played and further snow showers are expected leading one to question that rearranged date.

The Bantams have a single home game of January left – Notts County on the 16th – and six away trip scheduled of which Port Vale is already gone and Aldershot may follow.

Finding out what you are good at

Rather unexpectedly, Bradford City become involved in a cup run.

The 2-2 draw with Port Vale saw the Bantams win on penalties and ended up as one of eight in a competition since 1989’s League Cup all of which seemed unlikely after a first half in which the Bantams seemed to have forgotten any or all of the elements which have made the club enjoyable to watch this season.

After an initial ten minutes against a Vale side who predictably defended deep in which the Bantams showed some fluidity but soon the attempted midfield of Zesh Rehman sitting behind Michael Flynn and Luke Sharry. If the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is for anything it is for blooding young players and it is admirable that Sharry was given a chance but the midfielder did not take the chance with two hands and and with Rehman sitting naturally atop Steve Williams and the recalled Matthew Clarke the midfield triangle became more of a string.

As a result the ball was punted long – punted as opposed to passed – with the ball often going to an out muscled Michael Boulding or Scott Neilson rather than the powerful James Hanson. It was from this that John McCombe gave the visitors the lead with a corner being cleared to Boulding who’s attempt to hold the ball up was lacklustre and so as the Bantams came out the ball pinged back in to the flank and then the centre with McCombe converting.

Micky Adams has Port Vale playing at what they are good at. They sit deep and attack with pace and as City had failed at their endeavours in the first half and Vale had not they deserved the lead. Moreover though Stuart McCall took his team into the dressing room knowing that there was a problem which he set about addressing.

Sharry may not get another 45 minutes to press his case for a contract so it is a shame that he did not grasp this game but his replacement – James O’Brien – floated a corner into the middle which good running by Rehman and a ducked header by Flynn which levelled the game.

Flynn had moved to the forward line to replace Michael Boulding – brought off for Chris Brandon – to give the attack more sticking power against a Vale side who looked to up their muscle with West Yorkshireman Anthony Griffith coming on.

Griffith seems to be a player born without any footballing talent. He can – however – tackle and battle which he does to various degrees giving away a free kick for a foul on James Hanson. Luke O’Brien middled the free kick for Hanson who rose to head in.

Football is sometimes very complex but most other times it is utterly simple. Good delivery to players who are good at heading it. Two goals and that seemed to be that until Robert Taylor his a choice shot across Simon Eastwood and into the the far post to set up another round of penalties after ninety minutes.

Penalties – taken at the Kop end to the eternal credit of someone – started with Marc Richards and Michael Flynn scoring Simon Eastwood saved Louis Dodds, Vale keeper Chris Martin saved from James O’Brien. Eastwood’s on line bouncing gave him the edge over Kris Taylor but Chris Brandon became the only player of sixteen to miss the target.

Lewis Haldane, James Hanson, Tommy Fraser, Luke O’Brien, Robert Taylor and Zesh Rehman scored. Eastwood saved from Adam Yates and Steve Williams won the game.

The credit, the songs, the mobbing of his team mates went to Simon Eastwood who had saved three of eight stop kicks and once again had put the Bantams a step closer to Wembley. Eastwood is the new Barry Conlon. Some get on his back but on nights like tonight – just as Barry would get match winners – he was the difference.

At least we have found something he is good at: saving penalties.

The twin towers beckoning now as the Bantams play Port Vale

The attraction of the Johnstone’s Paint Cup only comes in the last game of the competition. The day out at Wembley is a moment to savour for fans and probably the only time that a game in this competition will pull in more supporters than an average league game for most clubs.

For the Bantams there is a second attraction – the idea of a two legged Northern Final with Leeds United would be a welcome addition to the coffers and the local interest might ensure full houses for both matches – but even that possibility is two matches away and the Bantams are left with the prospect of a last eight match that offers little immediate reward.

The City side look forward to a game with AFC Bournemouth at the weekend at Valley Parade looking to ensure that the league form which is recovering from a stumble can be maintained while trying to avoid being knocked out of a second cup competition in five days following the 2-1 defeat at Notts County on Friday.

The Bantams dragged out a 0-0 draw with Vale at Valley Parade
which saw the visitors show little in the way of commitment to win the game. Since then manager Micky Adams transfer listed the entire squad and the club have settled into the same mid-table City have taken residence in.

Lee Bullock’s late booking sees him suspended again – curious – and Gareth Evans has a heel injury which coupled with other injuries to Simon Ramsden and Peter Thorne leaves Stuart McCall with a team that almost picks itself.

Simon Eastwood is in goal. Jonathan Bateson and Luke O’Brien are full backs. Matthew Clarke could be given a chance alongside Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman is McCall feels either needs resting and perhaps the presence or lack of of Clarke will detail how seriously City are taking the game.

Michael Flynn and James O’Brien will be added to by Chris Brandon should be able to return to fitness otherwise Luke Sharry might get a chance to press his impressive credentials in his search for a new contract at Christmas. Leon Osborne’s ability to thrive in the more battling midfield that the three in the middle suggest is questionable but he could also be considered should Brandon not be fit.

Osborne is more suited to one of the wider forward roles although Michael Boulding is expected to come in for Evans with James Hanson leading the line of Scott Neilson providing the link between the midfield and the attack.

Sour grapes or smart management from Sheridan?

Chesterfield boss John Sheridan left his words ringing around Valley Parade following his teams 3-0 defeat by the Bantams on Saturday.

Sheridan – Shez to Leeds fans of a certain age – was fuming with a Referee who blew for a foul on Luke O’Brien when Wade Small was clean through and booked Jack Lester who did nothing to warrant it clash with Lee Bullock. Further his Chesterfield side were the better team at Valley Parade – despite the scoreline – for most of the game.

It is hard to reconcile Sheridan’s views with the ninety minutes we saw on Saturday even with the partisanship that comes from backing one side or the other. Most combinations of logic and football would say that three goals evenly spaced out and none conceded could be nothing other than a deserved win. Sheridan has his own thoughts on how he should react to the defeat just as Micky Adams – who has transfer listed the entire Port Vale squad – has his but perhaps it is worth looking at those contrasting approaches.

Adams – who saw his team lose at Notts County by a much smaller margin than the Bantams did (although both saw frankly ludicrous dives by Luke Rodgers rewarded with penalties) – has decided that a line needs to be drawn between the squad and himself perhaps worried about tarnish to what was once a great reputation in management rather than just a fit of pique motivated by sour grapes.

Let it be known from now on that Adams is not to be responsible for Port Vale’s performances – at least until a dressing room clear out has been completed – and that the team are on their own if they want to defend themselves against any criticism thrown their way.

Of course in practice while the entire Port Vale squad are for sale none of them can be sold until after Christmas – transfer windows being what they are – and one can be sure that a good few of the squad would not be allowed to leave anyway, James Lawrie for example has attracted interest form Arsenal and Fulham and is not being binned by Adams. It is a big statement but an unrealistic one.

Nevertheless in the here and now Adams has made his big statement.

Sheridan takes a contrasting approach pre-emptively defending his players from any criticism with a controlled mix of “we wuz robbed” and “we didn’t deserve to lose”. None of which is to criticise the protective shield he has thrown around his team just to suggest that it need not be seen as a reflection of the result or the pattern of the game any more than Adams’s distancing should be looked on as a realistic plan.

The impression of a team beaten convincingly is diluted by Sheridan’s comments while no one talks about Jack Lester’s fairly violent over the ball on Lee Bullock because it is excused as a Refereeing mistake. It might not be truthful as you, I, a Chesterfield fan at the game, player or manager sees it but it does mitigate criticism amongst supporters controlling which is increasingly important in the manager’s arsenal of abilities.

The Chesterfield boss knows that his words will reach Saltergate and the supporters who did not travel to Bradford before his team bus gets back and those words will start to create a reality around the game on message boards and forums separate and more favourable for the manager.

In Burslam they here that Micky Adams is not happy and it assuages any anger there, in Chesterfield any criticism is tempered by Sheridan’s view of the reality of the afternoon. Far from being sour grapes Sheridan comes out as a manager smart enough to realise that in absence of a win the perception of the game amongst his supporters – especially those who stayed at home – is the next most important thing.

Would Stuart McCall have transfer listed the entire squad after the 4-1 defeat at Barnet last year? Would he have come back from Morecambe when Peter Thorne had a goal chalked off and a linesman raised and lowered his flag insisting we were robbed? (we were, by the way)

Probably not. McCall’s public face is an honest and emotional one and his public relations and – for want of a better phrase – supporter expectation management skills are poor. Adams and Sheridan – I would guess – would thrash the City boss at Poker.

Strange though that so much of football management is about how performances are perceived rather than anything rooted strictly in reality. Adams says performances are at a low that he will not stand, Sheridan that his team deserved better and probably neither are true but also untrue are the extreme opinions that pepper message board and forums at 4:50 on a match day and it is the smart management of these that Sheridan is concerned with.

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.

Heroes – City go to Nottingham Forest in League Cup first round

Deja vu, here we are again, back in Nottingham, a place I’m sure most of the team would rather not visit again so soon after the drubbing they had inflicted on them at the weekend. This time however we are here to face a team which, if some fans are to be believed, we should be playing in the league. The fact is, from where we are looking right now, Nottingham Forest might as well be a premier league team with European ambition, just as they were in 1995.

It doesn’t seem like 14 years ago that City came to the banks of the Trent having beaten Forest 3-2 at home and meted out one of our most memorable cup giantkillings. It was a late Ian Ormondroyd header and a Paul Showler strike which salvaged a 2-2 draw after a 3-2 win at Valley Parade and meant we dumped Forest, then a side containing such names as Steve Stone and Stuart Pearce, out of this very competition. Sticks says he still dines out on that goal and rightly so, it is vital goals like that which made him a legend. One wonders if this game will offer up an opportunity for someone to give the fans, and the team, a much needed fillip, even at this stage of the season.

Both sides go into the match without great recent league cup pedigree, Forest having not advanced beyond the first round for two years and City having faltered here every season since 2005. Stuart may ring the changes in defence with it seeming likely that Clarke and Rehman will be dropped, being replaced by debutants Steve Williams and Jon Bateson, the latter coming in at right-back with Ramsden moving into the middle. Rehman has made the right noises in saying that this is a chance to make amends but he may have to wait until the weekend to make his personally.

Midfield may well feature one of Steven O’Leary or James O’Brien in the middle and we can expect to see Gareth Evans given a good run-out upfront alongside Boulding or Thorne, if not a start. The rest of the team should remain unchanged from Meadow Lane.

These are games in which some players will be out to show that they should be in the first team, impress against Nottingham Forest and a starting place could be theirs against Port Vale.

Forest have injury/suspension worries with 5 defenders out which means that midfielders Chris Cohen and Kevin McCleary will play at left back and right back respectively. With this in mind it could be hoped that Joe Colbeck may be able to make inroads against a player in an unfamiliar position, if only Omar Daley was up and running on the other flank. Going forward Billy Davies’ side look strong, even without Rob Earnshaw, who is on international duty with Wales. Nathan Tyson, Dexter Blackstock and former City loanee Dele Adebola will be vying for starting spots and will give City’s defence a testing time.

It looks as though after recent comments, should the ‘nightmare start’ continue, the naysayers may be up in arms and after the head of McCall. In that case it would seem fitting that after every time Nottingham Forest score a goal they taunt the opposition with a rendition of the Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” A sentiment which obviously applies to some within the City faithful. Let’s hope that in the balmy summer evening we can come away having witnessed the birth of a new ‘Sticks’ singing one of of Bill Medley’s post ‘Righteous Brothers’ hits – “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”

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.

How far away is the Blackpool Tower?

The Blackpool Tower is a mile down the road but the Twin Towers beckon for City now.

Stuart McCall was not playing the night in 1996 when the Bantams bested Blackpool to write Chris Kamara’s name in City’s – and football’s – history as the first manager to take City to Wembley and win and the first black manager to win at the old, now gone, stadium.

The new Wembley – something akin to a shopping centre they say but an enticing thought – is the aim for McCall now with the City manager watching the fourth defeat on the bounce against Port Vale and deciding that the push for automatic promotion is off.

In following the path via Wembley of Kamara McCall presses the case for stability – Kamara was assistant manager to Lennie Lawrence before taking the job on and a member of his backroom staff who took over in Paul Jewell led City to the Premiership – but the two managers approach the end of season lottery from different perspectives.

Kamara’s City went on a winning run of around a third of a season going into the play-offs as the form side while McCall’s are badly out of sync with each other and needing a sea change in performances to not only reach the top seven but to win when there.

The current City boss has indicated that there is a chance for the players in the squad to reclaim starting shirts. I’ve always believed that too many loan players make for a tepid team and were Chris Brandon, Paul McLaren and Joe Colbeck back in the side for the trip to Chester City at the weekend then I would be happy and few would probably be surprised.

Famously opposing Kamara at Blackpool the night when City came back to win 3-0 to steal the play-offs was Sam Allardyce who following that game snuck off to Bolton and emerged some years later as a regular Premiership manager with the failure of May 1996 respected as a part of his learning process.

Man(ager) of the moment Rafa Benitez has a string of woefulness in his early career in Spain which is considered to be a part of the making of him. The two wins in twenty three games at Valladolid and the sack were followed by one win in nine at Osasuna and the local Archer came calling again.

All of which is to say that if the metaphorical twin towers elude McCall then perhaps it will form a part of that process of learning – the making of the man so to speak and something that someone will benefit from – but utterly regretful with the thought of 23 more clubs coming to Valley Parade to play like Port Vale did on Saturday.

The excitement of Blackpool never seemed so far away.

The worst punishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The thirst for real football

Last Saturday, myself and a friend who are both regular watchers of all things claret and amber found ourselves on the A63 heading towards North Ferriby, and then on to Church Road – the home of North Ferriby United.

As you may know a certain player by the name of Dean Windass once played for North Ferriby United before going on to grace grounds including Boothferry Park (former home of Hull City) and Valley Parade.

With the time approaching 2.40pm we were able to park within a few minutes walk from the ground and then upon entering the ground (cost of £8 plus £2 for a programme) we were greeted by some friendly officials. We then headed to the clubhouse where many of North Ferriby’s loyal supporters were to be found enjoying a pre-match pint. We decided that we had enough time for a swift pint prior to the match starting and so we enjoyed a pint of Boddingtons costing only £2.20.

Indeed, myself and my friend spotted the last available seats in the clubhouse but just to be sure I asked an elderly looking gentleman if the seats where available to which he responded with a polite “yes”.

The game had not yet started but already we had experienced things that you would not get at a Premiership game or indeed a game in the second, third or fourth tier of English football; free parking within walking distance from the ground, friendly officials greeting you upon your arrival to the ground, a non-inflated price for a pint of beer and a friendly welcome from the home supporters.

I must stress at this point that it goes to show what a superb deal Julian Rhodes has offered us, the Bradford City supporter, with the season ticket prices for the current season and last season; still cheaper per game than a Unibond Premier league game. The only other disappointment was the programme which we felt didn’t offer value for money as a large proportion was devoted to adverts.

However, with the time fast approaching 3pm, we walked outside and found a standing spot just to the side of the goal that North Ferriby United were attacking. To the delight of the dozen or so faithful supporters who had made the long journey from Kendal, their team were 2-0 up after about half an hour. Then a dubious decision was made by the referee right in front of us. The Kendal Town goalkeeper clearly handed the ball outside of his area but to the frustration of both the North Ferriby United supporters and players, the goalkeeper was only shown a yellow card.

A couple of North Ferriby United players made their feelings known to the referee but it was nothing like the overstated reactions that you see from Premiership players week in week out when they believe that the referee has made a wrong decision.

A trip to the tea bar during the first half provided more friendly service, this time from the catering staff. And the prices were cheaper than those experienced at league grounds. Half time approached and North Ferriby United pulled a goal back from the penalty spot. A short walk to the clubhouse at half time to find out that City are one up at Port Vale through Lee Bullock.

The second half progressed with myself and my friend stood at the opposite end of the ground, urging ex-City striker, and substitute today, Stephen Torpey to score an equaliser for North Ferriby United. I must confess that I wasn’t the biggest Torpey fan whilst he wore the famous claret and amber.

The goal that North Ferriby United deserved didn’t arrive, partly thanks to two smart saves by the Kendal Town goalkeeper. In the final minutes, one of the Kendal Town substitutes was sent off for what was perceived as a reckless tackle much to the disgust of the former Preston North End player, Lee Ashcroft, who is now the player/manager at Kendal Town.

An enjoyable afternoon had been spent at Church Road and as we walked towards the exit of the ground, it was good to see that the teenagers present inside the ground and wearing Hull City replica shirts easily out-numbered the single teenager who was wearing a Chelsea replica strip. In the week that we had heard how Manchester City were going to win every trophy in the next ten years following the takeover at Eastlands, I couldn’t help but think to myself that real football is now only to be witnessed in the lower leagues.

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 rest of League Two – Preseason 2008/2009 [II]

The numerous season preview supplements produced at this time of year act as a reminder, if it were needed, that the hopes and expectations we City supporters have for the coming season are not dissimilar to the majority of League Two fans.

Much has been made locally about how last season’s promotion of the MK Dons and Peterborough has left a more levelled playing field, but we aren’t the only ones thinking such sentiments. Some clubs will look to Hereford’s unexpected promotion last season and be confident they can emulate it, others may be hoping it’s emerging young talent can push them forward in the manner of Stockport and Rochdale, while others are upping the wage budget in a bid to go for it. League Two may look weaker without the presence of the Dons and the Posh, but it’s likely to be just as competitive.

When considering who might be in the promotion shake up it’s typical to start with the clubs who have spent money, those who lost out in last year’s plays offs and those relegated into the division last season. The club record £170,000 that Shrewsbury Town has spent on Nottingham Forest striker Grant Holt stands out like a sore thumb compared to everyone else’s summer recruitment. Last season was one of underachievement for the 2007 Play Off Finalists but manager Paul Simpson will begin his first full season with expectations not much lower than at Valley Parade.

Holt made his name at last season’s play off finalists Rochdale, who are likelier to be up there come May. Keith Hill has worked wonders at Spotland and their counter attacking approach impressed last season. Arguably lacking a decent striker, the Dale will hope Halifax’s Jon Shaw can make the step up; especially as midfield playmaker David Perkins, twice the thorn in the side of City last season, has left.

Wycombe Wanderers parted company with manager Paul Lambert at the end of last season and welcome Peter Taylor – with more than a point to prove following a difficult couple of years. They will probably do better than the other semi-finalists of last season, Darlington, who have lost star players David Stockdale and, while not confirmed yet, Tommy Wright. Dave Penney spent big last summer but doesn’t appear to have significant funds this time around.

Elsewhere big things are expected of Lincoln City, who prospered last year under Peter Jackson before his time off through illness. New keeper Rob Burch was sought after by others, including City, while Frank Sinclair could prove a clever buy if he still has the legs. Chesterfield fans seem to dislike their manager Lee Richardson but have one of the best strikers in the division in Jack Lester, Alan Knill will be looking to continue his rejuvenation of Bury and they could be dark horses, while Grimsby has strengthened defensively and will hope young striker Danny North can fulfill his potential.

It’s a sad state of the continuing financial problems many clubs in the lower reaches of the Football League are suffering from that this year’s League Two relegation battle could be determined by point deductions. Three seasons ago Luton finished 10th in the Championship, but the odds are heavily stacked in favour of a third successive relegation and drop into non-league following the 30 points taken off them. Play off form will be needed just to stay up and, with the club still in a mess, that seems unrealistic.

Bournemouth and Rotherham’s hopes of merely beginning this season are still in the balance and respective 15 and 17 point deductions look like a best scenario. That may allow other clubs to breath easier but Chester City, another club with money problems, won’t be counting their chickens as they remember how last season’s dramatic collapse in form almost cost them their league status. Some of the division’s smaller clubs, such as Macclesfield, Accrington and Dagenham, will also be targeting the 50 point mark rather than any loftier ambitions.

Gillingham’s recent financial difficulties make it difficult to imagine they can achieve much beyond midtable but Port Vale, under former City defender Lee Sinnott, will be a better bet for an instant return to League One. The league’s new boys, Aldershot and Exeter, arrive with romantic stories of rebirth and should both be good enough for midtable, where they will surely be joined by Notts County, Barnet, Brentford and Morecambe.

The quality of League Two is derided by some, while others trumpet it as featuring real football and real fans. Last season many clubs enjoyed better form on the road but the ones who did make it to the division above were strong at home, too. This season’s League Two promises to be unpredictable, ugly and beautiful; and those successful in realising their pre-season expectations next Spring will probably be all three.

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