Opening / Generative / Failings

The Team

Colin Doyle | Tony McMahon, Romain Vincelot, Nathaniel Knight-Percival, James Meredith | Filipe Morais, Nicky Law, Daniel Devine, Mark Marshall | James Hanson, Billy Clarke | Jordi Hiwula, Paul Anderson

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

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Reece Burke, James Meredith | Paul Anderson, Lee Evans, Gary Liddle, Mark Marshall | James Hanson, Steve Davies | Josh Morris, Devante Cole, Bill Knott

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

The Team

Jordan Pickford | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Christopher Routis, James Meredith | Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Andy Halliday | Billy Knott | Jon Stead, James Hanson | Mark Yeates, Ben Williams

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

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Carl McHugh | Kyle Bennett, Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle, Adam Reach | Aaron McLean, James Hanson | Gary Thompson, Andy Gray

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

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Jamie Devitt, James Hanson | Jack Compton, Nahki Wells

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

The Team

Lenny Pidgley | Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Leon Osborne, Michael Flynn, Tom Adeyemi | Gareth Evans, Scott Dobie, Kevin Ellison | Jake Speight

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.

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