Differing career directions

The Team

Lloyd Saxton | Adam Robinson, Lee Bullock, Louis Horne, Robbie Threlfall | Jonathan Brown, Tom Adeyemi, Joe Mitchell, Leon Osborne | Scott Dobie, Darren Stephenson | Oliver Forsyth, Dominc Rowe, Declan McGivern

There’s a saying about being kind to people on your way up as you’ll meet them on the way down – rarely in football is that greater emphasised than a reserve team fixture.

As up-coming youngsters strive to impress enough to earn a professional contract and the chance of a spot on the first team bench, senior players skulk about trying to maintain fitness and wondering what the future might hold. A wide spectrum of emotions and experience; and, as much as many ultimately don’t want to be here tonight, for everyone it’s the best passage to getting into the team on a Saturday.

It was in the number 9s of Bradford City and Derby County reserves sides tonight where the contrast was at its greatest. For Derby there was 35-year-old Michael Boulding – a familiar face at Valley Parade – coming to the end of a long career, while for the Bantams 18-year-old youth team striker Darren Stephenson is on the cusp of earning the opportunity to at least begin one.

The return of Boulding was a curious one. It’s just over a year since we last saw him on the Valley Parade turf after a 28-minute run out from the bench in a 1-0 home win over Darlington. His performance that afternoon almost encapsulated his time at City – he missed two reasonable chances and the team’s tactics failed to play to his strengths. A few weeks later new manager Peter Taylor released him, and he soon declared that he had lots of League One offers in the pipeline.

Then Boulding rocked up at Championship Barnsley pre-season, on trial while forgoing pay but failing to win a contract. Now he’s at another Championship club in Derby, but his actual first team prospects appear zero. Boulding’s final game for City was an eight-minute cameo at Port Vale on March 9 2010 – he’s not played a senior match for anyone since.

One wonders why he’s chasing rare first team opportunities at clubs so high up the football ladder, rather than seeing out his career playing week in week out for a League Two or Conference club. Certainly you’d imagine his first return to Valley Parade hasn’t quite gone as he dreamt it might.

Tonight Boulding looks pretty much the same player he did for 18 months at City. He was starved of service, balls were played to his head rather than his feet and in truth he rarely touched the ball. Undoubtedly he is a player of some finishing ability – he showed it in glimpses wearing City colours – but unless the team is built around his needs he doesn’t seem a player who will ever flourish.

But one number 9 who was flourishing was Stephenson. Having impressed at youth level, the teenage forward has been offered reserve team opportunities this season and made it two goals from six starts with a well-taken penalty to fire City in front after 13 minutes, following a foul on Scott Dobie.

That capped off a performance of huge potential. Sure there was a rawness at times – and the beauty of a reserve game is mistakes from promising youngsters aren’t greeted by loud groans but positive encouragement from the scattering of spectators – but the runs he made, his willingness to mix it and a good awareness of team mates saw him lead the line commendably. Arguably his best moment was a beautiful back heel to right back Adam Robinson – who also impressed – which no one, least of all more experienced Derby opponents had expected. A long way to go still yet you feel, but Stephenson’s potential is one to feel excited about and could even lead to a first team chance before the season is over.

More in the frame for an immediate game are Lee Bullock and Louis Horne, who both played as centre backs with watching interim manager Peter Jackson said to be considering one at least to start at the back on Saturday. It’s been a funny season for Bullock – like Boulding, his career winding down you feel – but he took to the centre back role expertly and made a series of well-timed tackles and headed clearances. Playing him – or Horne, who also impressed – at the back against Shrewsbury on Saturday represents a huge risk, but on tonight’s evidence it could work.

All of which would enable Lewis Hunt to stay as right back and David Syers to start in the central midfield in place of the suspended Jon Worthington. And given how poor Tom Adeyemi was in his 45-minute first half run out this evening, Jackson may favour this option. The on-loan Norwich midfielder gave the ball away far too often and one particular charge forward, which ended with him tackled after he should have passed long before, left reserve manager Peter Horne with his head in his hands. Adeyemi can be a good player, but continues to display erratic form which is difficult to trust.

If Adeyemi is the clear loser of Taylor’s departure and Jackson’s arrival, Leon Osborne isn’t far behind. Tonight Osborne wasn’t shy at vocally complaining about his team mates – at one stage Horne ordered him to shut up – but failed to demonstrate to Jackson that he should be earning a first team recall. After such a promising end to last season, Osborne’s stop-start City career has stalled again and one fears the leap to first-team regular is going to prove beyond him. Already on his fourth different City manager, more is expected at this stage.

Derby – with Nigel Clough watching on – equalised Stephenson’s penalty within a minute through a stunning Ben Davies free kick (another lower league player whose career has stalled by moving upwards), and on the half hour Chris Porter (there’s another!) fired home want proved to be the winner following hesitant defending.

Throughout the final hour, however, there was much to encourage Horne and Jackson. The on-trial Jonathan Brown impressed on the right wing, while in the centre of midfield Joe Mitchell and – after coming on at half time – Oliver Forsyth showed some good touches and produced the occasional eye-catching pass. In goal Lloyd Saxton commanded his area well and made a couple of decent saves. During his 45-minute run-out, Dobie showed greater levels of application and effort then he’d shown when playing for the first team of late.

Ultimately you feel these sort of evenings are quickly forgettable to experienced pros like Dobie, while for Stephenson and co they could prove a memorable stepping stone to greater things. Just remember to be nice now.

I have seen Chris Brandon play

It had been quite a few years since I last took in a reserves game. The only one I actually recall was in approximately 2001 when a strong Manchester United strolled into Valley Parade and a City reserves record attendance of 6,000 witnessed a 3-0 away win. The club cashed in that night (rightly so?!) – charging a fiver a head.

That game could not have been in more constant to what I saw on Tuesday afternoon.

There is something quite strange about attending a game at 2 PM on a Tuesday. My sister (how did I convince her to go to this one?!) and I parked right outside the City club shop at 13.55 with no hassle at all. I spotted one Huddersfield coach a bit further up the road, and just outside the “executive box” entrance I walked past Mr Peter Jackson who was escorting an elderly gentlemen into the stadium. Some other City fans outside enjoyed some friendly banter with the ex City man and now Lincoln City manager (and lest we forget former Huddersfield manager).

It was free entrance for all supporters. In the Sunwin stand foyer, the canteen was open for business and there was a gentleman selling an A4 team sheet with the line-ups on for 10p a pop.

Taking up a seat near the halfway line, about halfway up (similar to my season ticket position in the Midland Road). I noticed that there were about 200 people in attendance. The crowd was a mixture of the retired, a few students, and the majority as it turned out had come from up the road and who loudly cheered every Huddersfield goal.

The majority of the City interest in this game was focused on a first real look at Chris Brandon, a summer acquisition from our local rivals that we faced in this game. “Brando” as he is clearly called by his teammates – derived by being able to hear every sound the players make in this environment – had a positive outing. He shows some excellent touches and close control and seems to be very comfortable with both feet. He wasn’t overused in this game, as most of the game was run in the centre of midfield and his teammates didn’t pass to him as much as you might have expected. As soon as ex City loanee Tom Clarke, who was playing right back against Brandon, was substituted in the second half, Brandon began to have more of an influence on the game. And his performance was capped with an excellently struck free kick from 25 yards out that flew past the Town keeper and into the net.

He nearly added a second late on as he surged into the area but struck just wide, as the goal opened up for him. The encouraging signs from this were that he completed a full 90 minutes and seemed to be fairly fit at the end of it. But in my judgement he looks at least 2 weeks off being fully match fit, allowing him to fully gain match sharpness.

With regards the rest of the City reserve team, five players had played a first team match this season and used this game to gain more match fitness.

Paul Arnison captained the side but was badly caught out for the first goal conceded by letting Joe Skarz get in front of him and got on the end of a cross from the right.

Simon Ainge looked really commanding on occasions in the air, but had a torrid time dealing with the lively Kiegan Parker. Ainge made an absolutely terrible mistake at the end of the first half by hesitating and letting Parker in for a lob – which should have resulted in a routine tip over the bar by Convey – but the young goalkeeper embarrassingly could only palm the ball into the net. Ainge looks some way off making the first team playing centre back – right back would surely suit him more, as his decision making at times is very sketchy.

Lee Bullock had a steady game, and had a few touches of class and influence.

Joe Colbeck threatened in the first half, but faded in the second. Colbeck took a poor penalty at the end of the first half, which was saved low to his right by the Huddersfield keeper.

The biggest disappointment was up front with the Conlon and Rory Boulding partnership. Both players had terrible games, especially Boulding who never got a meaningful shot on goal – and just ran around making bad decisions when in possession of the ball.

I was equally unimpressed with our young prospects Louis Horne and Luke Sharry on this display. Both players look a million miles off making a first team debut. Sharry gets out battled in midfield and his shooting leaves a lot to be desired. Horne seems to only know how to pass the ball back instead of going forward, and was guilty of “foul throwing” twice in one game. Terribly unprofessional.

The strong team that City reserves put out we heavily beaten by a better side who created more chances and were clinical in front of goal.

But putting aside some of the disappointments of the players’ on view – the key to this exercise was to get two of our most dangerous wingers getting more games under their belt. Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon could be the key players that could catapult us out of this league. The more games they play and gain match sharpness the better as we desperately need them both firing on all cylinders for the crucial weeks that lie ahead.

I picked up my ticket to the Notts County away game after the match. Can we put the Underhill disaster behind us and start playing like promotion candidates? A repeat of last season’s trip to Meadow Lane would do just nicely thank you.

The back up waiting for the call

Reserve team manager David Wetherall’s pre-match team talk would have played heavily on it.

Barely 48 hours since the first team had suffered its first significant setback of the season; this was an opportunity for fringe players to stake a claim. Manager Stuart McCall, watching in the stand, has repeatedly talked about how the strength of his squad means those in the team have to maintain standards or lose their spot and, while a radical revamp is not expected nor encouraged, this performance may help lead to that theory being tested ahead of Shrewsbury.

Despite the game ending in a 1-0 defeat, it was a decent performance by City’s second string against a youthful Leeds side; with chances and territorial advantage stacking up in favour of the home side. After his decent substitute cameo against Bournemouth, Barry Conlon continued where he left off impressing with his hold up play and passing. Strike partner Rory Boulding matched his work rate and was at the heart of City’s two best first half chances. The best of which resulted from his excellent hold up play which allowed Blackburn trialist David Ryan – who showed promise, if a little rawness – to cross the ball and Sean Taylforth to strike an effort against the post after Leeds keeper Alan Martin had fumbled. Minutes before Boulding had cleverly flicked the ball into Conlon’s path, who fired over.

That chance had also been created by Luke Sharry, who had a promising game in the centre of midfield. Tenacious in the tackle and strong going forward, the 18-year-old was at the heart of much of City’s best play. He consistently sprayed passes across the pitch to spark attacks and his only weakness was his failure to play the simple ball when the opportunity allowed. The fact Dean Furman did not figure suggests the on-loan Rangers midfielder features in Stuart’s thinking for Saturday, but a first team debut for Sharry cannot be far away.

In the second half Willy Topp replaced Conlon and impressed on his return from injury. As with his first team appearances to date, the Chilean can be guilty of taking too much time on the ball and causing moves to break down through lack of awareness; but his touch and dribbling skills excite and it’s to be hoped he can finally get over the little niggles which have blighted his City career and make an impact in League Two.

The chances still mainly went City’s way, with a glorious pass to Luke O’Brien by Sharry allowing the left-back to charge forward and cross for Topp, who couldn’t plant his header beyond Martin. Kyle Nix looked industrious as ever, alongside Sharry, though Taylforth and Leon Osborne will not be threatening Colbeck and Daley’s places in the team on this showing.

Neither will goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin, who inexplicably fumbled Sam Jones’ long range shot into his own net for the game’s only goal. The former Harrogate Town player will be hoping Stuart wasn’t paying attention at that point, particularly as he had little else to do to all evening as he tries to convince that he could be called upon if Rhys Evans gets injured.

City continued to apply pressure and Boulding forced a great save from Martin when through on goal, but the visitors defended well. Perhaps it wasn’t as strong a performance as many of the players would have liked to have put in, but when it’s Stuart’s turn to deliver his next team talk he may be warning a few to watch their back.

The long road back

This was how it all started for Donovan Ricketts with Bradford City.

After been signed by Colin Todd in July 2004, a wait for a work permit meant his place in the team was initially taken by trialist Paul Henderson. Ricketts was consigned to a near full season playing for City’s reserves before finally earning his chance when Henderson rejected a longer contract.

Through everything that has happened to the Jamaican international in recent weeks, that original determination and patience to wait for a chance with City should not be forgotten. As Ricketts lined up for City reserves against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night in front of the very goal where a week earlier he made a mistake too many which cost him his place, there’s a sense that the Jamaican goalkeeper won’t be pushing to exit the Valley Parade door just yet.

The long road back from zero to hero in City fans eyes began with a decent clean sheet against Forest’s second string, with The Don putting in an encouraging display and making three excellent saves. With just a smattering of fans present to analyse his every move, Ricketts’ confidence will have improved a notch as he successfully dealt with everything Forest presented him with. He was even able to loudly berate others for not doing their jobs so well.

Another of City’s recent villains was also in action for the second string. Last Saturday’s substitute cameo against the MK Dons saw Joe Colbeck claim two unwanted assists as 70 minutes of good work by the team was thrown away by some kamikaze defending. Joe to probably benefited from playing away from the glare of a growing army of critics and looked lively once again, if lacking an end product. Defending is clearly a weak part of his game and twice he switched off to allow Forest to roam forward, fortunately without the same consequences as Saturday.

As with any City team on a bad run over the years, supporters start chucking in the names of players not featuring and demand to know why they aren’t been given a go. Of those in the second string available right now, Craig Bentham gave a confident and assured display in the middle of the park to suggest he could do a job. His route to the first team is currently blocked by several others, but against Forest Bentham bossed the middle of the park. He got his foot in, can pass the ball and did the simple things really well. Given the captain’s armband, he dictated the play and was at the heart of City’s best efforts.

As for a striker coming in to score the goals lacking, supporters shouldn’t be expected too much from those not in the team. Nathan Joynes held the ball up well but didn’t seem to take up many threatening positions. Luke Medley came on as a second half substitute and, while his touch was fantastic at times, his attitude didn’t seem quite there. Luke appeared to be playing for himself and on a few occasions good moves were broken down by Luke’s desire to do bits of skill that made himself look good, rather than play the ball to others in good positions. He has some talent, but his performance made it understandable why Stuart isn’t throwing him into first team duties just yet.

The Chilean striker Willy Topp did play and showed some excellent touches. He clearly has some talent on the ball and produced a couple of exciting twisting runs while beating defenders for skill. He also seems to have a good first touch, although it might take him a little longer to adapt before he’s ready to make an impact in the first team.

Other youngsters showed some promise on the night as City should probably have won the game. They created the better chances in the second half, although were grateful for a blinding Ricketts’ save in the final minute.

If those on reserve duty can maintain their decent performances, keep improving and show patience; their chances of a first team spot will surely come around. If they need any inspiration they need only ask Donovan Ricketts.

What Can You Say?

There really is nothing much to say about the 5-1 defeat to Doncaster Rovers in the Johnson’s Paint Trophy. City fielded a team of reserves on the whole and got pretty much what a team deserves when it puts out kids against a team in a higher divison. Doncaster are not the lights of football but then again who is? Certainly not City and it is high time we realised that defeats like this one sap the confidence out of the club and the fans. Cheap tickets are great but we need players with a bit of a buzz about them and you don’t get that by being out of two cups a month after the season started.

There is always Kyle Nix though. Nix is a class act and as a bright light for City tonight. He scored a free kick after the defence was ripped up. Ben Saynor’s debut showed that keeping is about shouting as much as saving and his back four and him didn’t seem to know who each other was. Matt Clarke, Simon Ainge, Paul Heckingbottom, Luke O’Brien and Tom Harban will all have better nights than this and it is not about pointing to players and saying that they have played badly or even looking at the gaffer and asking why he picked this team.

It is about mangaing the fall out from hammerings. Three points from Lincoln on Friday and this result won’t matter.

Recent Posts