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

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

The Damned Utd, David Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too many chiefs. Not nearly enough leaders.

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

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

Schrödinger’s 442

The Burton Albion game which did not happen has provided Bradford City supporters with at least as much discussion as they could have hoped for had the match gone ahead.

At five o’clock with the game finished one might have imagined talking about how good it was to get a win, how unsatisfactory a draw was, what to do next in defeat and all those things would have been on the basis of the ninety minutes which proceeded it. The lack of a game and – apart from much talk of why the game did not occur – meant that Peter Taylor’s team could not attempt to break the three game losing streak. With tonight’s trip to Crewe not offering anything like an easy three points and Saturday giving City a trip to league leaders Chesterfield the lack of match today could conceivably see City get zero of fifteen points.

Personal low expectations aside for a moment even a promotion challenger would only expect a return of seven but nothing from nine, and going forward to two tough away trips, reads worse than the season suggests. City have been getting 1.2 points a game – maths would have pointed to City getting something from the Burton match.

Peter Taylor’s future thus becomes a Schrödinger cat of a problem. The manager is – at the moment and for the next few weeks – going to be judged on a recent form that is based largely on away trips and the performance against Burton is not so much a win or a defeat but both these things, or none of them, depending on your thoughts on Objective collapse theories.

It is hard to say if Quantum mechanics will play on the mind of Mark Lawn as he ponders the future of his manager and the club. Certainly if six points could be mustered from these two tough away games then one could expect a play off place to be – once again – talked about and two defeats will have people looking nervously at the bottom of the league table.

Taylor takes something of a level headed view of proceedings as one might expect. When approached by Newcastle United he made it clear that he considered it it a matter of professional pride that he try see through the job he started at Valley Parade showing his commitment to the club and the limits on that. In the opposite dug out to Taylor will be Dario Grady who’s connection with Crewe goes back a quarter of a century, Taylor will probably celebrate a single year at VP.

Jon McLaughlin is expected to keep his place in the side despite Lenny Pidgeley returning to fitness with the back four of Richard Ekersley, Luke Oliver, Shane Duff and Robbie Threlfall set in stone by Steve Williams injury and Rob Kiernan returning to Watford.

The midfield offers more flexibility perhaps with Tommy Doherty ready to play on Saturday despite injury and Michael Flynn reportedly set to come back. Lee Bullock is out and a three of David Syers, one of Flynn or Doherty and Tom Adeyemi seems possible, especially with Luke O’Brien and Gareth Evans on the flanks – Omar Daley stepping down to the bench. James Hanson as the lone forward man.

Or it could all be totally different. That is the thing about Taylor. Considered a better manager than he predecessor by some even now, but considered an enemy of football by others he is both alive and dead. Schrödinger’s football manager.

Forgetting the basics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cullen signs, Eckersley and Kiernan extend loans, Speight returns and Price departs

The January revolving door seems to be in full swing at Valley Parade, with one new face joining the dressing room, two more sticking around for a bit longer, a familiar face coming back and a guy with distinctive hair packing his bags.

Hull City striker Mark Cullen is the fresh arrival, the 18-year-old striker signing a one-month loan deal which one assumes will begin from the bench on Saturday at least. Cullen has started six games and made 14 sub appearances for the Tigers, most notably netting a goal against Wigan at the end of Hull’s time in the Premier League, last May. This season he has netted once in the Carling Cup, but the arrival of prolific lower league strikers Aaron McLean and Matty Fryatt to the KC will limit his first team chances.

Cullen probably takes the squad role of Ryan Kendal last season and Louis Moult in the first half of this season, in being a young striker of potential City will hopefully benefit from. Cullen netted 33 goals in 30 games at youth and reserve level last season. Though Moult’s less than impressive time at Valley Parade – a high goalscorer for Stoke’s youth team – emphasised once again how there is a world of difference between junior and first team football.

Meanwhile Richard Eckersley has joined Rob Kiernan in remaining at the club – with City’s defensive options looking more thin-bare following another injury to Steve Williams, the delayed return to fitness of Simon Ramsden and Lewis Hunt, and the departure of Zesh Rehman. Eckersley has impressed since making his debut against Macclesfield in November and gets forward well, despite sometimes lacking composure in the final third. Kiernan’s time at City has been mixed – he had an excellent debut at Wycombe, but struggled in subsequent home games against Macclesfield and Accrington. His best performance to date came when deputising for Williams on Monday, and he will offer strong competition to Shane Duff and Luke Oliver.

Departing rather quietly is Jason Price. The distinctive Welshman enjoyed a reasonable time at City, after signing last October, but his poor goal return left him struggling to prove he offered a long-term solution. Price was signed just as James Hanson was returning to fitness, and he helped unload some of the burden from last season’s top scorer through Peter Taylor rotating the pair. Price looked an effective player on his day, but his similarity to Hanson meant a strike partnership failed to work.

If Cullen is taking Moult’s place in the squad, Jake Speight’s return from Port Vale will possibly see him assume Price’s position in terms of the wage bill if nothing else. To say Speight’s time at City has been interesting would be understating the series of bizarre events that have unfolded since his summer arrival. It is, however, easy to forget that he looked a very good player during the early season games, especially the two Carling Cup ties.

Like Price, Speight was struggling in front of goal and Taylor’s decision to send him to Vale suggested a quick judgment had been made over his capability of firing City to promotion. Speight rarely started at Vale and netted only once, a tap in, against Stockport. Having spent a not insignificant amount of money luring him from Mansfield, Speight’s failure to impress back in league football is potentially causing Taylor a headache.

It will be interesting to see if Speight is given another opportunity at Valley Parade, or whether he will be quickly going back through that revolving door to another club on loan, with a view to a permanent transfer. In the meantime, and after his misguided comments on the local radio in Stoke, one hopes that Speight will at least be fit enough to make a positive contribution if called upon.

Where this latest range of loan moves – commencing, continuing and concluding – leaves Taylor’s plans for the rest of the season is uncertain. Once Ramsden and Hunt are fit, it’s unlikely Eckersley will stick around. Kiernan’s loan has only been extended two weeks, suggesting he will depart once City’s permanent central defenders are back to full fitness. The future of the other player on loan, Tom Adeyemi, has yet to be resolved.

If the treatment room can be cleared out and those cover loan players sent back, Taylor may be left with some budget to bring in one more quality player to replace Lee Hendrie. A player who could make the difference between City’s being play off challengers and play off finishers.

Best keep that door open for a little while yet.

Improvements for the new year

It will be away at New Douglas Park, Hamilton that Stuart McCall starts his career post-Bradford City as manager of Motherwell and as the Bantams start 2011 with his replacement Peter Taylor at the helm one could be excused for wondering where the current incumbent of the City job may be in twelve months time.

At Valley Parade in League One would seem to be the most preferable answer but one that seems remote. One can cheerily look back to Chris Kamara’s promotion side of 1996 and recall how over the festive period they looked as unlikely to be upwardly mobile as Taylor’s team but something shifted and Wembley awaited.

This though is the most wishful of thinking and the vast majority of sides who look like they are going nowhere at Christmas end up at that very destination come May, a notable exception being Colin Todd’s City side of four years ago who looked set to sail of to not much until “improvements” were made that relegated the side.

Todd’s sacking is a cautionary tale for the season, Mark Lawn’s Ghost of Christmas past.

Probably not up, probably not down it seems that City are going to bob around until the end of the season when Taylor’s contract is up and in all likelihood so will his time at Valley Parade be. One can assume at this point the same arguments for the sake of continuity and stability on behalf of Taylor as were voiced for McCall and probably the same arguments against it.

For me the key benefit of stability at this time is that the club would save the money spent bringing in staff, new players and new ideas with every change of manager which in the end so often result in so very little.

But Taylor was not hired to build on what is in place at Valley Parade and his remit is not the long term progress of the club it is the short term need for promotion and with that in mind it is almost impossible to imagine him staying if that aim is not reached, and entirely impossible to imagine it under the terms laid out by the joint chairman who appointed him.

So one wonders where Taylor will be this time next season, and suspects it will not be at Valley Parade. Hope springs eternal though and despite the dispiriting 4-0 defeat City go into the new year but six points off the play-offs.

Using last season’s table as an example City would need a points average of 1.56 a game to reach the play-offs and currently we score 1.2 which means that to get to last season’s seventh place total we would need 48 points from 26 games or 1.84 a game which – if extrapolated over a season – would give a club 85 points.

85 last season would have placed a team second above AFC Bournemouth and so the task for the second half of the season is set. City have to do as well as AFC Bournemouth did last season to get into the play-offs. To get to an automatic spot City would need 2.23 points a game which is akin to finishing a season with over 100 points.

One can be one’s own judge on how reasonable an idea that is.

City face Lincoln City with a team as mutable as any. After a 4-0 spanking in which only Gareth Evans seemed to come out with any credit there seems to be not a single place in the side not up for grabs and so predicting who is in the side is predicting which of the players Peter Taylor feels have done least poorly.

A host of faces may be exiting Valley Parade in the next month with Lenny Pidgeley having not shown so much as to suggest that he was worth bringing in over Jon McLaughlin. Richard Eckersley will go back to Burnley to a new boss – Brain Laws having left this week – but Simon Ramsden hopes to be fit again soon to take his place.

Also hoping to be fit to replace loanee Rob Kiernan are Shane Duff and Steve Williams, both of whom may play on New Years Day, and Michael Flynn’s return could see the end of the hot and cold blowing Tom Ademeyi. Lee Hendrie’s contract is up, and he was sitting on the bench for forty five minutes on the 28th which captain Jason Price should be heading back to Cumbria before too long with Evans returning to the squad.

City face a Lincoln City team bolstered by the return of Scott Kerr – former City man who played a blinder in the Bantams 8-2 win over Darlington eleven years ago – but low on points having sacked Peter Jackson to improve the club and then spent a year trying to get Chris Sutton to improve them and failing. No matter what Lincoln do they seem to be a team mired in the lower half of league two.

One wonders if – after his first three games none of which are at Fir Park – Stuart McCall might be tempted to test City’s resolve for players like Flynn, Ramsden or Lee Bullock hoping that they could play a role in an SPL side. More so if McCall has money to spend in Scotland would either of the pair he found in non-league football Steve Williams and James Hanson fancy a move up North? Certainly if I was the manager of Motherwell I’d be looking at both those young players as being able to make that step up.

January will see changes in playing squad, managers changing later no doubt. Improvements to either not necessarily following.

The football feedback cycle

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

Thus the goes football feedback cycle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case for the defence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those small victories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surely we can all be better than this?

The diary of not watching football

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snow, swearing, and why we are not going to Aldershot this weekend

The game at Aldershot Town’s Recreation Ground hosting Bradford City this weekend is off with the snow down there being worse than it is up here – and the BfB back garden test shows a foot of winter – and s the fact that the Shots are coming off the back of an FA Cup defeat to Dover, that they have signed the promising Wesley Ngo Bahang on loan from Newcastle United and the fact that they are 12th in League Two three places above City probably do not matter.

Indeed by the time this game is played – and we have been in the cancelled Aldershot trip trap before – the returning to fitness Gareth Evans may have been joined by the likes of Lewis Hunt, Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Michael Flynn or Shane Duff who could have crawled from the fitness room and burst back into action.

Likewise – depending on when the rearranged game is played – the likes of Tom Adeyemi, Louis Moult, Richard Eckersley, Jason Price and Rob Kiernan may have returned to their parent clubs while Lenny Pidgeley’s contract has expired. Such is the nature of modern football with the possibility that half the players on one side might no longer be at a club after the hand of nature intervenes.

The hand of nature intercedes in football increasingly commonly – it is to do with the effects of Global Warming moving the Gulf Stream – and clubs now switch to an orange ball in the winter months without even waiting for the snow. Ipswich Town added the blues lines to the orange ball in the interests of clarity. We get blasé about the orange ball but in the past it was the source of much mystery.

How many orange balls did each club have? What happened if during a snow game all the orange balls burst? Would a white one be used or would a game really by abandoned because the ball was the wrong colour? Perhaps most importantly why in July 1966 was an orange ball used for the blisteringly sunny World Cup final?

If we get blasé about the orange ball that is nothing compared to the tedium we have to the foreign player and his attitude to snow. There was a time when on the sight of snow a local paper would hightail it down to the training ground to find whichever South American or African player was employed by the club and would look suitability fascinated by the snow.

“He’s never seen the stuff,” the manager would say, “but he’s getting used to it.” The freezing player would be pictured in high jinx with his local team mates.

Most famously one of Wesley Ngo Bahang’s predecessors at Newcastle United Mirandinha was pictured messing around in the white stuff with team mate Paul Gascoigne. For reasons lost in the midst of time The Magpies Willie McFaul seemed to think that Gascoigne would be perfect for giving the Brazilian an introduction to the North East.

So Gazza and Mirandinha were thick as thieves with the Gateshead midfielder teaching the man from Brasilia about life in England. How to say Hello, how to say thank you and – infamously – how to say sorry.

The Gazza and Mirandinha combination came to Valley Parade for a Simod Cup match in 1988 where Stuart McCall played one of his two games against Gascoigne (the other being in Euro 1996, and after many glories at Rangers and Gascoigne dubbing the City man “the first name on his team sheet”, and each missed the games in the Premier League) and City were victorious 2-1. Mirandinha missed an open goal from six yards and Gascoigne looked good.

Mirandinha was an interesting player. Selfish, of course, and like our own Brazilian Edinho he seemed to keep a loose definition of tackling sliding in on defenders a little too often. One time early in his career at St James’ Park ‘dinha slid in clattering a defender to the ground as he tried to clear it. The Referee trotted over to have a word with the striker using the international language of the yellow card only for the striker to approach him with an apology in the words of English Gascoigne had taught him.

“Referee,” said the Brazilian his hands probably clasped together, “Fuck off.”

Which is probably why successful clubs employ people to settle players into their new environs and seldom allow the likes of Paul Gascoigne to do the job.

Willy Topp has gone, and it is to the sadness of all that he will not be photographed having a snowball fight with James Hanson or getting up to high jinx with Lee Bullock. There is Omar Daley of course, but for Daley the snow is the skiddy top that allowed Kevin Austin of Darlington rob him of a year of his career with the kind of horror tackle which has also mostly receded into football history but was – at the time – put down to the conditions.

A good reason why we are not going to be going to Aldershot.

Everyone loses as Zesh Rehman is transfer listed by Peter Taylor

I’ve always been the type of supporter who takes the manager’s side in public fall outs with players.

Paul Jewell v Lee Mills, Jim Jefferies v Stuart McCall, Colin Todd v Lee Crooks, Stuart McCall v Chris Brandon. Sure, I often understood the player’s grievance, but the way the would have behaved or lack of acknowledgement of the bigger picture left me ultimately agreeing with the manager’s point of view.

But when it comes to Zesh Rehman’s falling out with Peter Taylor, I have to stick my flag firmly in the middle.

This evening on BBC Radio Leeds, Taylor confirmed that Rehman has been transfer listed and stripped of the captaincy due to comments he made in an interview for the same station on Monday. Rehman had spoken out about how unhappy he is to have been dropped on more than one occasion to make way for inexperienced loan players, despite playing very well for the team and helping City achieve some good results. Rehman’s comments can be read here, but in summary he stated:

I’m not going to lie, it’s left a bad taste in my mouth having to watch the last few games from the bench. I’ve led the team to good results and performances and then I’ve had four young loan defenders, with 10 league games between them, come in and play ahead of me. Now, no disrespect to them, but at times like this I think you need experience. I’m club captain, have played over 200 games in my career so far and I think my experience could help the team right now.

“It’s not just me that’s baffled as to why I’m not playing, but my team-mates as well and I’ve been stopped by a number of fans too. But, at the end of the day, the manager has to pick the team that he thinks can win and you have to respect that and get on with it.”

Rehman’s comments are far from out of the blue, a month ago he expressed similar comments to the Telegraph & Argus, after Reece Brown and Oliver Gill’s time on loan had come to an end and the Pakistan international recalled. Last week, a triumphant piece of reporting of Rehman’s Downing Street meeting with David Cameron on City’s official website initially included reference to the Prime Minister expressing his confusion of why he kept getting dropped – only for the offending paragraph to be removed from the page hours later.

Rehman was probably warned about his public comments, and one can understand why Taylor would be angry at having his authority questioned in this manner again. With his unusual background in football, Zesh is regularly sought out for interviews in the national media and has more opportunities than others to express his views. His latest public utterances appear very ill-judged.

On Radio Leeds tonight, Taylor, who had had been listening to Radio Leeds at home when Rehman spoke, explained:

There’s been a couple of situations recently he should have been disciplined for but didn’t. I think I’ve been very open…to say he’s very unlucky to be left out. Every time I’ve made a decision it’s been an honest one. I felt listening to him on your programme Monday night, that was very unnecessary…I think as a club captain he’s let himself down. The timing is poor, and I think he knows what he is doing.

But if it’s difficult to sympathise with Rehman’s actions, it is very easy to understand them. Of course Rehman’s City career has not been the success we hoped when he signed in January 2009. Last season the list of poor performances from City’s number 5 was disappointingly high. He was at times fortunate to retain a place in the starting eleven. But his end of season form was good under Taylor, and the manager could have easily got rid of him during the summer. We can all argue whether he deserved another chance this season, but in been given one he is surely then entitled to a fair crack of the whip.

Rehman would make few supporters’ best City XI when everyone is fit, but with so many defenders on the sidelines he has come in and performed commendably – including playing out of his best position, at right back. And the number of clean sheets and good results his precence in the team helped to earn was evidence of the positive difference he was making.

Then along would come another young loan player, and Rehman was back on the bench.

In such circumstances, who wouldn’t feel frustrated and angry at being forced to make way for young players who were hardly any better or capable? If, in our own jobs and careers, we were giving everything we had to the cause and knew we were making a difference, only for the person above us to decide to bring in someone else to do our job for a few weeks and force us into doing something less, we’d have every right to feel aggrieved. The right way of expressing that anger is a matter of debate, but Rehman’s choices doesn’t make his anger any less valid.

Rehman talks about younger, inexperienced players coming in – and we’ve all seen the struggles Reece Brown, Oliver Gill, Rob Kieran and, to a lesser extent, Rob Eckersley have endured when arriving at Valley Parade. But in some ways this isn’t really the point. Taylor could have brought in Glen Johnson on loan to play right back instead of Rehman, but if the general principle is the loan player is here for just four or five games and then departs back to their club what is the benefit in the medium to longer-term?

City badly need to have a settled team and a settled squad, who are realistically all equal and where the victors of the first team jerseys on a Saturday achieve their places on merit. For sure City have had injuries lately and, after Steve Williams was injured at Colchester last month, Taylor had no choice but to bring in a loan defender with Williams joining Shane Duff, Simon Ramsden and Lewis Hunt on the sidelines. But he did not need to bring in two defenders and drop an in-form Rehman. He could have signed just Kiernan and kept Zesh as right back, he could have signed just Eckersley and moved Rehman to his natural centre back position.

The point is that City’s reserve players should have the clear motivation of a first team opportunity to push for if there are injuries or loss of form; but if Taylor rules those reserve players are not good enough then why have a squad at all? And why the philosophy of having two players for every position if the back up guy can’t be trusted? If Taylor wanted to be so reliant on the loan market, he could have signed fewer players during the summer and targeted higher quality over quantity.

Rehman talked about other players not understanding why he was dropped – a favourite line used by players who speak out against their manager and one which frankly does him no favours. But it is worth pondering what message Rehman’s continuing dropping from the team for young loanees sends to the rest of the squad fighting for opportunities. What if Luke O’Brien was to get injured in training tomorrow, would Taylor bring in Robbie Threlfall or sign a loanee who is better at attacking than the more conservative-natured former Liverpool youngster?

But let us not pin the blame for this situation on Taylor, for it is a deeper issue running through the club which has led to this public bust up. 2010 has been the year of short-termism for City. The dumping of McCall, the trialling of Taylor and, most damaging of all, then only offering him a one-year contract. This season is all about promotion, and as things stand Taylor will be joining Rehman in leaving Valley Parade just a few months later. We had the outstanding candidate, he told the club what was needed to deliver success. That advice was rewarded with just a short-term contract and then failed promises – and it will be Taylor who carries the can for it.

And so Taylor has to focus all efforts on getting the club promoted this season in order to keep his job. So he has no time for short-term poor results and for developing players like Rehman, when his job will likely depend on very thin margins. He has to get a result on a Saturday, and another the Saturday after. If the best chance of doing that is bringing in a kid from Watford for a few games then who can blame him. Worry about a few weeks time, when that kid departs, later.

If Taylor had been handed a two-year deal and the buffer that this season was not promotion or bust, he could have channelled his efforts wider in developing a squad that would grow and improve over time and City would be all the stronger for that, rather than get rid of players who can’t quite do what he wants and needs in an instant. We are, in many ways, wasting Taylor’s talents by the pressure all of us force him to work under.

It is a great shame that Rehman is going to be departing this club. He is a clearly a fantastic person, who has done a great deal for Bradford City, even if you argue most of it has been off the field. He may not have boosted Asian attendances to Valley Parade in the way some hoped, but the manner of his work in the community and in acting as an ambassador for the club have been outstanding and could have significantly born fruit over time.

But sadly we are a club which has turned to quick wins over long-term thinking. And right now it seems nobody wins.

Cameron joins questions as to why Rehman does not get in the City team

Peter Taylor is talking once again about the need for more loan signings at Valley Parade as he looks at the shape of his squad.

We’ve been forced to get young lads on loan because of the injuries we’ve had in some areas.

Of so the City manager said. Going into the specifics of the squad City’s injuries seem to emanate out from the right back berth taking in Simon Ramsden and Lewis Hunt as well as Shane Duff and Steve Williams at centreback. The lads drafted in are Rob Kiernan, Richard Eckersley now and previous Oliver Gill and Reece Brown.

Zesh Rehman – who can play both the right back and central defensive positions – seems to have become persona non grata and when Taylor talks about the City squad Rehman – it appears – is not to be considered.

David Cameron this week joins the English bid to host the World Cup in 2018 – one of the things he will tell FIFA is that unlike the Russians racism is not a problem in English football – as the Prime Minister joins in with the national game.

Cameron and Rehman met last week with the PM praising the City captain’s foundation which aims to promote the cause of British Asians in football. Cameron has some nice things to say to the City skipper and – albeit only briefly reported on the City website before being removed – the Prime Minister offered this opinion as related by Rehman.

He seemed a little mystified as to why I had been in and out of the side this season despite leading the team to good results and performances.

Reaching the position of Prime Minister is a lot about being able to say the right thing to the right person at the right time – one of Cameron’s predecessors Tony Blair famously had a different favourite food depending on where he was when asked: Fish and Chip in South Shields, something French when down that London – and this need not always be considered what is correct but one has to wonder why Rehman cools his heels while Rob Kiernan and Richard Eckersley are in the side.

The arguments of playing other people’s players over our own in this case and – especially playing Tom Adeyemi over young, owned players like David Syers – has been talked about at length and is a separate question as to why Rehman is isolated from the squad.

(As much as it pains me to say it) Cameron is right that Rehman’s performances in the City side have seen good result and good performances – much of the optimism coming into this season was on the back of the last six games of last season which that Rehman put in a half dozen great displays – but nevertheless something in the mix of Rehman and Bradford City seems to misfire when it comes to a place in the starting eleven. The club seem to acknowledge this if only in their desire not to talk about it shown with the rapid use of the memory hole.

One could speculate about what goes on in the dressing room but it would be just that – speculation – but whatever the reason a cash strapped club seems to find money to bring in a player who can play while a contracted one is on the sidelines.

The club captain who cannot get in the team for a couple of borrowed players, the guy who does great work off the field but can’t get onto it. A player who plays well when he plays, but does not often play.

It is a mystery – and one that I have no answers for – but a mystery which even the Prime Minister cannot fathom.

Just what The Doc called for – Tommy returns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A footballing evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wrong type of match winner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two arrive, one departs on loan

Peter Taylor has been busy in the loan market today bringing in two defenders and allowing a striker out on loan.

Clarets Mad detail City’s signing of 21 year old right back Richard Eckersley. Eckersley has less than a dozen league games under his belt and has failed to make much of an impact at Turf Moor although he did set the Clarets back £500,000. Claret’s Mad report on City is best read in the context of the BfB debate on rivalry Burnley having a long standing needle with City which is hardly reciprocal.

Watford defender Rob Kiernan has also arrived. The 19 year old is a central defender has had loans at Kilmarnock and Yeovil Town but again has played fewer than a dozen games. Eckersley and Kiernan have arrived as the Bantams struggle for central defenders following Steve Williams’ injury.

Meanwhile Chib Chilaka has signed for Bradford (Park Avenue) on a month’s loan.

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