Who’s better

I want Bradford City to be better.

A glib statement of the obvious? To some, probably. But for me it’s a genuine, earnest desire. I mean I really want Bradford City to be better. A lot.

The statement isn’t a direct reaction to the club finishing in it’s lowest league position for 45 years this season, the winning of a mere 15 league games in a season that averaged less than a goal a game, or even the wrangling over rent and where we are to make home. I have, and will always, want Bradford City to be better.

As they walked out at Wembley. As Wetherall belly-slid across the Valley Parade turf. As we greeted a grinning Carbone and a beaming Geoffrey. I looked forward to getting better.

It’s a want that all connected to Bradford City share, from the boardroom to those in the cut-priced seats. The truth is, however, we seem to have forgotten how to get better. And as we have seen in the last ten years if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.

In our four seasons and counting in the basement of English football, permanent and interim managers alike have bemoaned a lack of consistency from one week to the next. I find consistency an odd concept to embrace or value. I’m a believer that you’re either on the gain or on the wane.

Whilst sporadic fluctuations in the quality of human performance can be expected, and excused, more important is the general movement towards ‘better’ from the collective or any individual contained within it.

Great sportsmen and women will see a steep and long upward curve in ability and performance. They will then, at some point (and probably unknown to them) hit a peak, followed by a decent, which they will try to make as gentle and elongated as possible.

Tiger Woods will never eclipse the near golfing perfection he achieved at the start of the century. His challenge now is to minimise the rate of his decline and hope his still immense ability sees him to future victories as his powers diminish.

Sir Alex Ferguson has been the master at putting together team after team that have improved as a unit, then dispensing with those individuals that have peaked whilst retaining those with the longer curves of improvement.

We used to have knack for improving players. Remember that young, skinny lad McCall and his ragbag teammates in 1985 that grew individually and became more than the sum of their parts? Dean Richards oozing pure class from his debut to his departure and beyond. Sean McCarthy smashing up Norwich City in the Coca-Cola Cup before going on to score at Old Trafford for Oldham?

What about the lazy lad Blake we signed from Darlington? Wayne Jacobs seeing off an almost annual replacement left-back? Lee Mills? Jamie Lawrence? You’ll no doubt have your own favourite, dear reader, but what we saw were players getting better and our club benefitting from it greatly.

Bradford City players don’t seem to get better anymore. Last August the squad were pre-season promotion favourites, now, despite Jacko’s “everything must go” approach to the retained list, City would be forgiven for thinking the new telephone lines aren’t working properly . We witnessed the incredibly hard-working Gareth Evans seemingly give up on his City career with two months of the season left, and last week even the ever-positive Michael Flynn conceding that Bradford City is “a negative place to be“.

It’s telling that the last four Player of the Year recipients were all enjoying their first full season within the professional game, and as such, we cannot apply any metric of improvement:

  • 2008: Joe Colbeck. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. 16 disappointing months after his award he moved to Oldham, and then Hereford.
  • 2009: Luke O’Brien. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. Last seen sat next to Leon Osbourne on the substitutes bench as City were dismantled by Crewe.
  • 2010: James Hanson. Burst on the scene, all strength and no shortage of finishing ability. A second term disjointed by injury and questionable priorities.
  • 2011: David Syers. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and an eye for goal.

Time will tell if Syers can buck the trend, but the preceding three represented our most exciting and talented young prospects and all have failed to improve after their first season.

Jackson has signed the exciting prospect Ross Hannah, and the enthusiasm leaping from his twitter feed should hopefully see his first season in professional football be filed alongside that of Hanson, Syers and Steve Williams rather than that of Scott Neilson. But, in many ways, getting a good season out of Hannah isn’t the most pressing issue or biggest challenge for the next permanent manager of Bradford City.

Whether the board reluctantly appoint Jackson, or, as rumoured, continue to wait for John Coleman and subsequently expect him to repeat a decade’s growth and endeavour at Accrington in a 12 to 15 month period, the major challenge will be to get individual and collective development out of more established and experienced players. Creating a culture of improvement which is both inspiring and contagious within a dressing room.

There’s seems little point in throwing more of the precious wage budget at talents like Paul McLaren, Tommy Doherty, Michael Boulding, Graeme Lee et al when we continually fail to get the best from them, and then discard them without examining why. League Two has never been about having the best players, it’s about getting more from your players.

Off the field there is a lot of work to do, but lots of opportunities to get better. For all the criticism and scepticism aimed at the board recently, it’s worth remembering that they too want things to be better.
David Baldwin’s announcement about the new training facilities deal with Woodhouse Grove is incredibly welcomed. Negotiations with our landlords continue with the hope that a deal can be worked out that’s better for Bradford City.

We, as fans, can help make things better. Rival managers and players talk often of how the impatience of our large crowds can play into their hands. It seems odd that the greatest strength of our opponents is something we control. Let’s make that better.

Where Bradford City will be in 12 months time, in terms of both league position and physical location, is pure speculation at the time of writing. My only hope is that we all feel that we’re moving closer to where we want to be, and, as much as possible, enjoying the process of getting there.

As the rebuilding begins, let’s not immediately concern ourselves with being the best. Let’s focus on getting better.

Which way up is the map supposed to be?

The stretch of the M1 we followed to get down to Burton today was fraught with spells of heavy rain and high levels of spray, which made driving hazardous. And then three junctions before our turn off, traffic came to a complete standstill as an accident still some 10 miles ahead left everyone stationed.

In many ways it symbolised the year 2010 for Bradford City.

Faced with little to no movement on the motorway and with the clock ticking to kick off at the Pirelli Stadium, the atlas was hastily opened and an alternative route was worked out by getting off two junctions early. Abandon plan A, see you later non-moving traffic.

But what looked a good idea on paper proved to be almost as big a nightmare. The A roads we plotted as our short-cut were filled with heavy traffic, roadworks and over-used junctions through small towns which caused colossal tailbacks and took over 20 minutes a time to get through. Stress levels through the roof, but in the end we got into the ground just as the players came out for the game.

Perhaps if we’d waited on the M1 while the accident was cleared up we might have missed kick off, just like several City fans and even Burton’s planned starting player, Nathan Stanton, who had to be dropped to the bench. But as alluring and promising as the short-cut appeared to be in solving our immediate problems, the subsequent unexpected twists and troubles with plan B made it difficult to argue we had made the right decision.

Last February, Stuart McCall was forced out of the club he enjoyed highly distinguished spells of success with as a player – and who he still cares so much about he’s now even helping out the under 14s team – because it seemed his progress as manager was too slow and City were at a standstill. He’d made mistakes for sure; but after the majority of fans held up SOS banners begging him to stay in April 2009, he set about building a young hungry team which was just two or three players short of taking City into the direction we wanted to go.

Yet a few defeats around Christmas last year, and the impatience of many fans and members of the board became too strong and all of it was torn up. There had to be another, quicker path to realising the success we craved, it was felt; and rather like the alternative route devised from our road atlas this afternoon, his replacement Peter Taylor looked good on paper.

Ten months on, the evidence is mounting that getting rid of McCall as manager has proven a backwards step for this club. Sure, I know and understand the arguments about how McCall had been given almost three years and the lack of progress was there for all to see. I also agree he had sizeable transfer budgets and failed to make the most of them.  But after he offered to quit in Spring 2009 and after many of us begged him to stay, we saw tangible evidence of him learning from past mistakes which deserved more time to see through. After trying the short-cut approach of throwing money at people like Paul McLaren, he was building a team with great potential that could grow and take the club forwards over the next few years.

Taylor was an outstanding appointment for sure, but as City slumped to a seventh defeat in 13 league games this afternoon the reasons to believe he is the man to revive this ailing club are few beyond those that were apparent last February. The league position, the results, the performances and the level of passion have all declined since McCall fell on his sword.

For a week since the brilliant victory over Cheltenham Town, we’ve all basked in that warm glow of happiness and the positive mood was prevalent in the Burton away end at kick off and even through to half time, with City unfortunate to be a goal down after Jon McLaughlin brought down Lewis Young in the area and was unable to keep out Shaun Harrod’s spot kick on 31 minutes.

And though Burton had played well and hit the woodwork twice, City had been equally impressive and regularly cut through the Brewers’ defence during an exciting opening 45 minutes. Omar Daley, moved to left wing as Lee Hendrie was absent, twice cut inside and forced saves out of keeper Adam Legzdins. The hard-working David Syers had a long range effort tipped wide of the post. Then Daley produced a stunning run from the wing that saw him beat defenders for fun, before wildly blasting over from six yards.

The players were backed strongly by an enthusiastic away following. Confidence was high that we would come back in the second half.

But then, inexplicably, Taylor switched tactics and pushed Daley up front in a 4-3-3 formation, and the players changed from passing the ball around the pitch to direct balls to James Hanson and Jason Price. I remember McCall was often heavily criticised for not changing tactics or making subs early enough in games, but all season long Taylor has chopped and changed early and not for the first time it had a negative effect.

Why ditch a 4-4-2 formation that was working well in all but the scoreline? It sums up the lack of trust Taylor seems to have in his own players and over-dependence on functionality over style. City became one-dimensional, predictable and easy to defend against. Burton grew stronger and James Collins headed home former Bantam Adam Bolder’s cross to make it 2-0, after Luke O’Brien had made one excellent tackle but couldn’t get his bearings in time to stop the cross.

And therein lies the other downside to 4-3-3, which we often saw under McCall last season. By going so narrow in shape, the opposition have extra space to run at isolated full backs, often doubling up on them. Burton’s speedy wingers Young and Jacques Maghoma terrorised O’Brien and Reece Brown, the former at least standing up to the challenge admirably. Meanwhile when City had the ball they had no-one in wide areas to stretch the game, and moves kept ending with Brown crossing from deep and Burton’s defence – superbly marshalled by former promotion hero Darren Moore – easily clearing.

Just like the M1/A road dilemma, switching to plan B so quickly had not worked out as hoped. What of Plan C? Well when your subs bench contains three strikers, a defensive midfielder and two defenders, there isn’t one. With City struggling to provide the forwards any service, all Taylor could do was swap the front three and hope the ball fell kindly in the box. Daley was taken off, a bizarre decision but sadly typical of the level of faith shown in the Jamaican all season. With it, the opportunity to go back to using width was lost.

Burton’s third came after another successful charge down Brown’s part of the pitch – the shell-shocked youngster almost begging for the final whistle by this stage – and Russell Penn tapped home. City’s direct 4-3-3 approach failed to create a single noteworthy chance until a 93rd-minute header from Syers. The pre-match positivity had long since drained to silence and resignation, but not anger.

All of which leaves City having gone two steps forward and taken one step back over the past fortnight, and the longer-term outlook returns back into focus. This writer saw City director Roger Owen in a service station on the way home (but lacked the courage to ask one of McCall’s loudest critics what he now thought of Taylor and the results of the actions he was calling for last January). The two recent wins shield Taylor from the Board sacking him and the recent improvement should not be dismissed readily, but this week the pressure is on again.

The dilemma is whether Taylor’s ways will prove a success in the long-term and to keep patient as it stalls again, or whether it’s best to find a different route. Whatever the future holds, the current problems raise suspicions that, last February, the club took a wrong turn and is now struggling to work out which way up the map is supposed to be.

Perhaps it’s time to face facts, I think we’re lost.

When there’s no end in sight…

Part unfortunate, part self-inflicted. Bradford City’s fourth consecutive defeat carried greater meaning and misery than a mere glance at the fledgling League Two table.

Commentating on The Pulse, Michael Flynn – oh how he is missed on the field – perceptively summed up the home crowd’s inevitable discontent at 2-0 down as more than just unrest over a fourth league defeat in five, but because it caused further prodding of the open scar that is ten years of dismal failure. A decade ago City were facing Manchester United and Arsenal in the space of a week; no one needs reminding of the subsequent bumpy fall, and there’s a lot of baggage that will only be released when overdue success eventually occurs.

But until then, that baggage weighs heavy on this current crop of players.

This was a much improved display by City, easily their best performance in the league to date. Yet the confident visitors ultimately deserved the three points after narrowly holding the edge in most areas of the pitch. Those who write off Port Vale as an average side arguably miss the point of what it takes to succeed at this level.

Sure they were ungainly and a succession of physical challenges perhaps deserved greater punishment – both Marc and Justin Richards deserved second yellow cards – but those who succeed in escaping this division upwards are invariably as good at battling as they are putting the ball in the net. Four years on from Stuart McCall noting City needed bigger players to better compete, the Bantams are still some way off possessing the resilience that grinds out regular victories.

Back in a traditional 4-4-2 formation, City made an excellent start and for once managed to set the tempo of the game; but the narrow way the midfield was lined up and lack of pace in the wide areas limited creativity. Peter Taylor does not seem to favour out and out wingers and, although left midfielder Luke O’Brien and right midfielder David Syers acquitted themselves well, no one seemed able or willing to run at people.

It was all a bit predictable.

The main battle was fought between the two Richards and Luke Oliver and Shane Duff. City’s centre backs stood up to the physical challenge for much of the game, but criminally the whole team switched off from a Port Vale corner on the half hour and Marc powerfully headed home to give Vale a crucial lead in a game where the first goal felt so vital.

City argued strongly that the corner shouldn’t have been awarded following a Vale handball in the box during the previous attack, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of marking. And the decision was evened out minutes later when O’Brien appeared to haul down Gary Roberts inside the area, only for a free kick on the edge of the box to be awarded. Referee David Coote and his assistants gave bizarre decisions against both sides all afternoon. This was his Football League debut and one questions whether appointing him to officiate in front of such a large crowd at this stage of his career was a sensible one.

Although Vale’s goal rocked City for a five-minute period, they regained composure and were unfortunate not to equalise before the break. Jake Speight, making his full debut, continued to impress and one jinxing run from the corner flag to penalty area saw home defender Gareth Owen hit his own bar. Seconds later Speight missed an open goal when he unnecessarily handled trying to control the ball – he just needed to poke it home. Any half time boos were drowned out by supportive applause from other fans for the effort.

But while the atmosphere was much improved following Southend, limited patience meant in the second half the crowd again turned on the team when it needed to stay positive. Listen to opposition managers talk before they bring their team to Valley Parade and without fail they mention City’s crowd. All appear to use it as part of their tactics – how can we get them to turn on their own players? We supporters are being used against our own, and it’s time we wised up to it. As attacks broke down, the groans got louder and when Taylor made a double substitution he was booed for taking O’Brien off.

It can’t be a coincidence that, having got the visitors on the back foot and unable to get out of their own half for a spell, the sloppiness and uncertainty to City’s play returned when frustration from the stands was allowed to fill the air. Though there was no excuse for the craziness of the second goal which killed the game and could have a major effect on City’s season.

It was a comedy of errors. All afternoon Jon McLaughlin and his centre backs had attempted to play the ball out from the back, but the high pressing of the Richards’ usually saw it abandoned. This time the keeper rolled it out and a risky ball was worked up to Doherty, who was quickly closed down. The cultured midfielder attempted a woeful chipped backpass that McLaughlin failed to control under pressure, presenting Justin with a tap in.

The boos understandably rang out, but as the game kicked off and Doherty’s every touch was also greeted with boos a line had been crossed. I’ve no time for people who think it was right to boo City’s number 8, no matter how heat of the moment it was. It was disgusting, it was moronic and frankly it’s time such people found something else to do on a Saturday afternoon.

We cannot allow a culture where mistakes are booed, because every player will simply retreat into their shell and only play safe passes – and City will not prosper.

As I walked back to the car at the end I had a lively debate with a guy I know from the pub who reckoned Taylor should be sacked and Doherty is a waste of space. The Doherty-bashing is growing and I don’t understand it. Our problem is not that we have a player like Doherty in the side – but that we don’t have enough players as good as him.

Some of his passing during the game was stunning, he picked out balls that no one was capable of spotting or producing so accurately. He misplaced some passes and his mistake for the goal – which McLaughlin was hardly blamelessly for -was bad, but City need to build the team around him rather than get rid.

And that’s where the main problem left over from the Southend defeat remained. If 4-4-2 is to be used, a ball winner has to be deployed in the middle of the park so Doherty can do what he does best. But his partner Tom Adeyemi is, at this moment, badly struggling to adapt to this level. He looked poor in possession and incapable of winning the ball back. Dropping Lee Bullock was highly questionable and, until Flynn is fit, he or the impressive Syers should be starting alongside Doherty as they can do the defensive work that then frees Doherty to hurt the opposition with his obvious ability.

City battled to the end, but over the course of the 90 minutes the amount of decent chances on goal was worryingly low. Omar Daley, away on international duty, was badly missed and Taylor must contemplate signing a winger this week to replace Neilson. Gareth Evans struggled to make an impact and James Hanson – officially, at least, injured. Though there’s a whisper his off-the-field behaviour has angered Taylor – was missed. If 4-4-2 is continued, a Hanson-Speight partnership looks the best option.

And as the final whistle blew and an impressive Vale following loudly celebrating a win that keeps them fourth – but only seven points above City – it was the greater team ethic that had won the game, and which City must replicate.  The uncompromising Jon McCombe and Owen at the back, the close tie up of full backs and wingers and the clever inter-change between the two Richards up front – Port Vale were a team of intuitive relationships, which City are not yet close to matching.

Right now the players look too unsure of what each other will do, and only when they begin to feel and look like a team will fortunes improve. It will take time.

But in the midst of louder calls for Taylor to go and criticism towards Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn – the latter the subject of worrying rumours that he’s fallen out with Taylor, which he would be wise to publicly address this week – it has to be remembered this was an improvement. Good enough? No. But something to build on and take into next week’s game at Stockport.

The doom and gloom descends again, the pain of the last 10 years remains at the forefront of the mind. But the calmest people at Bradford City right now need to be Taylor, Rhodes and Lawn. As for us supporters, an atmosphere akin to Rochdale away last season has to be produced at Edgeley Park. It’s not just on the field where City need to become more of a team.

Idealism departs and the bigger picture shrinks

There’s something unromantic about allowing Scott Neilson to depart back to non-league circles and the lining up of out-of-contact Seb Carole as his potential replacement. But then idealism only gets you so far on a limited League Two budget.

Neilson quietly exited Valley Parade for Crawley Town on Monday evening, a contrast to the fanfare that had greeted his arrival almost exactly a year ago. After impressing on trial for the reserves against Middlesbrough, a three-and-a-half year contract was gleefully signed by the Cambridge City winger. And while the hope was he would follow the unexpected early season instant success of James Hanson and Steve Williams, we were quickly to become familiar with a player who had much to learn.

His full debut at Rochdale was thrilling, a purposeful run from his own half and deflected long range looping shot winning a low key JPT 1st round cup tie. ‘Scotty’ continued to play a part in City’s recovery from a slow start to the season, scoring in the 3-0 win at home to Chesterfield but then overshadowing a excellent individual display by inexplicitly shooting against the post when presented with an open goal. His crucial miss against Morecambe a few days later probably summed up a player with potential, but where further development was needed. Sven Goran Eriksson was a fan, making a serious enquiry.

Neilson was the ugly duckling of an unsightly first team performance under Peter Taylor at Accrington, quickly finding himself shipped out on loan to Cambridge United due to concerns over his deficient fitness levels. He only returned for 20 minutes of the final game at Crewe, but an encouraging pre-season suggested he would make a bigger impact this season.

Alas, his two starts against Shrewsbury and Notts Forest saw deficient performances that hinted he would become a bit part player again. Repeated transfer bids from Crawley manager Steve Evans ultimately proved too tempting, presenting the chance to restore money into an over-stretched transfer budget that might otherwise have lead to more important players leaving.

But still the potential that was evident in Neilson is sad to see depart. On paper it may appear as though the step up to the Football League came too soon, but with time and further development a bright career at City might have been realised. Playing week in week out at Crawley may be more advisable at this stage, and in time it might be looked back on a temporary step downwards before returning stronger and wiser to this level.

With Leon Osborne’s role in the squad as a fringe player who could play a part this season, could Taylor and City afford to invest wages and time polishing up Neilson? Should the trial be a success, his replacement Seb Carole offers far greater experience and instant know-how. Taylor will look upon him a player who’d offer greater consistency and team discipline, not someone who’d hide in his shell and allow a Shrewsbury winger to rip his full back apart.

But as impressive as Carole’s pedigree is on paper, the memories of ‘ex-Celtic star’ Bobby Petta still linger at the back of the mind. If Carole can match Neilson’s work rate and appetite to improve Taylor will have a player who can deliver this season, but the trail of Carole’s career drifting down the leagues and in and out of clubs offers indications that enthusiasm is lacking. If City represented Neilson’s big chance, do we merely signify a regular wage to Carole?

Time will tell. But if the realities of League Two finances and pressure for instant success provide grounded logic to cashing in on a promising young player and replacing him with a rootless winger, it ignores the longer-term picture.

Idealism allows us to dream that Neilson could have grown and learned from his mistakes, becoming a star player who maybe one day would have been sold to a bigger club. Realism is that Taylor was only given a one-year contract and will probably be asked to leave if results over the next 44 league games don’t end in promotion, and so he has to prioritise accordingly.

A tough trip down South

Neilson’s City debut actually came against Torquay a year ago, with the then-newly promoted outfit going down to a 2-0 defeat as part of only two league doubles the Bantams achieved last season. And while the 2-1 victory at Plainmoor last January left the home side languishing in 20th place and only six points above the relegation zone, a spectacular end to the season lifted Torquay out of trouble and then some.

Torquay’s last defeat was at Morecambe on 27 March, the last time they conceded a league goal was Easter Saturday. Those nine consecutive clean sheets include a 5-0 demolition of a Rochdale side who expected to seal promotion that April afternoon, and two impressive league wins over Northampton and Lincoln this season. They are not the tentative outfit who allowed Gareth Evans to crash home two late goals eight months ago to prolong Stuart McCall’s departure by a week.

Neilson’s exit means five of the startling eleven at Plainmoor that winter afternoon have been let go by Taylor, and the rotation methods employed during the first three games of the campaign means we are still unsure who features in his first-choice eleven. Jon McLaughlin starts in goal and the back four he will be in front is likely to see some changes in the centre at least.

With Simon Ramsden out for a few weeks, Lewis Hunt will continue at right back while Luke O’Brien’s strong start to the season should see him hold the left back jersey. Williams – left out for disciplinary reasons last week and curiously receiving public criticism from Taylor – will hope to bounce back and continue his outstanding form. Luke Oliver and Shane Duff struggled to impress last week, despite the clean sheet, and Zesh Rehman may be awarded a first league start.

In midfield Michael Flynn’s 35 minutes for the reserves increases pressure on the midfield three of Tom Adeyami, Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty – none of who found their top form last week. David Syers will also be hoping for a full debut.

Should the 4-3-3 remain, Hanson and Evans will have either Omar Daley, Jake Speight or Louis Moult for company up front. There are rumours Barnsley striker Ian Hume is about to arrive on loan until January, perhaps providing that cleverness to a forward line which Taylor fears is currently missing.

Neilson’s exit leaves clubs counting the costs

Scott Neilson exited Bradford City on Tuesday to join Crawley Town less than a year after Stuart McCall recruited the winger to replace Joe Colbeck. A change of manager has see fortunes flourish for many but not for Neilson who after a loan at Cambridge United the assurances from Peter Taylor that he had a future at Valley Parade turned out not to have a future at Valley Parade.

Colbeck himself left not long after to join Dave Penney at Oldham Athletic but has since himself moved on to Hereford United after – not at all coincidentally – a change of manager at The Latics saw Paul Dickov installed and the winger who was City’s player of the season two years fall from favour.

Neilson cost Crawley an undisclosed amount, City paid some money for him, Colbeck cost some money when he went to and from Oldham. The moves went across three divisions in which players like Lee Hughes and Graeme Lee go around free while clubs like York City and Rotherham United want millions of pounds for centreforwards. This kind of low fee move that is rare at this level of football seems common at least on the Bradford City right wing.

That anomaly aside the two transfers represent an Escherism. Colbeck was great for City and this was put down to the confidence boost of Dave Penney’s involvement via a loan at Darlington but his “failure” at Oldham would suggest that Penney’s coaching was not the panacea it could be painted.

Stuart McCall coached Colbeck into a position where Penney bought him for a division above and where Sven Goran Erikkson was interested in signing Neilson but few would suggest that Peter Taylor’s calling time on Neilson’s time at City is down to the former England gaffer making him a “worse” player. Indeed Taylor is credited as a better coach than the other two.

Has Colbeck become a worse player in the year that he left City? Has Neilson? They have both been considered “good” enough at times but now are moved on. My years watching the rise and fall of footballers tells me not to trust the idea that footballers can be “good” or “bad” or at least the idea that those things can change in the space of months. They play well or they play poorly, there is nothing else.

All of which represents a mess of ideas rather than a set of data to draw a conclusion from but the money that has changed hands for both players – and for the four manager who have been in charge of them – points to an extraordinary cost of doing business in football.

Doubt not the judgement of either Taylor or Dickov or the motivations of their actions they have decided – for whatever reason – to move players on who previous managers have considered to be members of the squad but do so at expense to the club. The cost of whatever Dickov is played when recruited by Oldham Athletic is already augmented by the price of paying Dave Penney to leave and added to that are the costs of changing Penney’s squad. Colbeck cost £85,000 to sign, had to be paid and then was let go for much less all in the space of a year.

This extraordinary cost is replicated at almost every club which changes a manager and considering that the average club keeps a gaffer for eighteen months every other year a club can expect to have these sort of expenditure on the balance sheet. Trying to run a stable business in those conditions is impossible but the huge increase in administrations and financial problems in the last ten years has not seen a move towards retaining managers as a way of financial stability. Far from it.

As the number of clubs in financial trouble has increased the frequency of managerial changes has too with the costs that that involves. The financial stability that is talked about from the boardrooms of clubs is undermined by the actions of those who say it then fire the manager and let his replacement overhaul the squad.

Bradford City, mercifully, have avoided much of this in the last change of manager with McCall negotiating a lessened pay-off and Taylor retaining much of Stuart’s squad and so Scott Neilson’s exit and the costs that apply to it are rare in the medium term for the club if common in the long term. That is down to a good appointment in Taylor but there is a worry of the manager having only nine months left on his current deal and this unnecessary expenditure reoccurring.

All of which continues to point to the need for clubs to prize stability a point especially worth mentioning in the days following Peter Taylor walking down the tunnel at Valley Parade with his winning team booed.

Four months into his time at Bradford City the board should not have had to come out in support of their manager – indeed they did not – but as Neilson exits and City take a hit in the pocket it would make sense if the club affirmed a desire to plot a stable path forward under Peter Taylor.

Alas since January 2008 when Mark Lawn stated the club had had enough of short term thinking City have ended up with a manager contracted until the end of the year and worries over what happens at the end of that term if the next manager is not the sort to do as Taylor has and take on what he inherited.

Where the expectation levels lie

No one asked for this tag of promotion favourites. And after a week of pundits and writers building up Bradford City’s title hopes – to the obvious frustration of Peter Taylor – the weekend match reports of this first-day defeat to Shrewsbury will doubtlessly focus on how this was a surprise result.

The pressure is already growing, the expectations appear to be weighing on the players’ shoulders.

One needs to apply a pinch of salt to these predictions of Bantams’ League Two domination that have frequently appeared in the media and online over the last few days. But they don’t help matters, placing unwanted burdens on the team which should more realistically be expected to challenge for a play off spot this season.

And they can also be manipulated by rival managers. Prior to this game returning Shrewsbury boss Graham Turner stated it was nice to begin the season “against the pre-season title favourites for the division.” A wily statement which took all the pressure off himself and his team. It also set the tone for an afternoon where the 62-year-old continually managed to remain one step ahead of his counterpart.

As if to make a point of downplaying expectations of what his team is capable of, Taylor lined City up in a 4-5-1 formation which prioritised not getting beat rather than laying down any early-season marker. With Michael Flynn still injured and Tommy Doherty only just returning to fitness, Simon Ramsden was converted from right back to makeshift defensive midfielder alongside Lee Bullock. Gareth Evans and Scott Neilson provided the width and sought to support James Hanson, making it a 4-3-3 formation where possible.

But perhaps to Taylor’s surprise, Shrewsbury also kept men behind the ball and looked to make use of their obvious pace on the flanks by playing on the counter attack. The result was City had a lot of the ball, all afternoon. But while the patient passing backwards and forwards among the back four and to the midfield offered encouragement, the lack of space and options in the final third saw possession too often ultimately wasted by an over-optimistic ball over the top.

City did at least take the lead on 24 minutes, when an otherwise quiet and arguably unfit Hanson nodded the ball into the on-rushing Tom Adeyemi’s path, who then slotted the ball confidently past Shrews keeper Ben Smith. Temporarily, City got on top and Evans hit the post before forcing a good save from Smith. But the momentum was short-lived and then proved beyond City to wrestle back.

The equaliser came out of the blue and carried a touch of controversy. A Shrewsbury corner floated over to the back post, and Jon McLaughlin’s attempt to claim the ball was thwarted by what appeared to be a push from home striker Matt Harrold, but may have been more to do with a slight colliding with Steve Williams. As McLaughlin fell to the floor leaving an unprotected goal, referee Steve Rushton ruled it was the latter. Luke Oliver blocked one attempt on the line, but Jake Robinson was on hand to slam home the rebound. The protests from City players and Taylor were loud. At one stage the 4th official had to restrain Taylor.

The game was suddenly changed, Shrewsbury found their rhythm and began to attack incessantly down both flanks, with Lionel Ainsworth earning a lot of joy from running at Lewis Hunt. Williams impressed with a series of well-timed tackles, but the space afforded behind City’s midfield was troubling considering the defensive approach.

Ainsworth switched to the left flank in the second half, and proceeded to tear Robbie Threlfall into shreds. The former Huddersfield winger found the space to plant a perfect cross for Robinson – who had managed to free himself of marker Williams – and Town had both a lead and City in exactly the position they wanted them.

Memories of Germany 4 England 1 came flooding back, as Shrewsbury continued to keep men behind the ball and break with devastating pace when City committed too many players forward. Taylor instantly reacted to the second goal by replacing the disappointing Neilson with Louis Moult. But within a minute Robinson was played through one-on-one with McLaughlin, and duly completed his hat trick with a clever lob that bounced into the net.

The dilemma for Taylor was increasingly difficult: Try to make City even more gung ho and a scoreline worse than England’s World Cup surrender could easily have occurred. Doherty was summoned from the bench and instantly added a touch of class. City continued to attempt to pass the ball around patiently and work an opening, while conscious of not allowing the game to fall further from their grasp.

They might have enjoyed some help from an increasingly erratic officials. Evans managed to get in behind the defence and was hauled down on the edge of the area by former Rotherham defender Ian Sharps; but despite looking like the last man, the Shrews captain escaped with only a caution. Threlfall’s resultant free kick flew narrowly wide.

But two minutes later Kevin McIntyre was sent off for the home side, after crazily lashing out at Moult right in front of Rushton. The midfielder was upset by the way Moult had contested a 50-50, with the on-loan Stoke striker coming out on top. Given his side’s comfortable advantage it was stupid thing to do, and on another day might have cost his team.

Yet City couldn’t grab the initiative and get back into the game – not helped by having three decent penalty appeals waved away by Rushton. Substitute Jake Speight hit a volley agonisingly wide of the post and Hunt had a goal disallowed; but the game was up well before the end and Shrewsbury’s pace on the counter attack always carried the greater goal threat.

Muffled boos from some City fans at the end, but the overriding mood was resignation and a sobering sense of reality. It’s already clear that the creativity of Doherty and Flynn is going to be so crucial over the many battles ahead, and their full fitness can’t come quickly enough. Adeyami didn’t quite bring his pre-season form into the game, though played reasonably well. Lee Bullock passed the ball around effectively but isn’t the engine the team needs.

It was in the wide areas – both in midfield and at full back – where City came up especially short. Williams also struggled on occasions and Oliver had an afternoon to forget. Already Taylor may look to make changes.

But it’s not a time for panic, more a time to make sure expectations on the team are realistic and achievable. City are not going to runaway with the league like some have been telling us. And while a top three place is a realistic goal, it shouldn’t become a noose with which to hang around Taylor if his players come up slightly short of that target. Two seasons ago Stuart McCall’s City quickly faltered under the weight of expectation; it’s within our control to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself by sticking with the players.

This afternoon City’s limitations were exposed, now we need to start seeing their capabilities.

So now then

When last we convened for serious business, dear reader, Peter Taylor’s Bradford City had gone a half dozen games wining four and drawing two guiding the club away from the lowest finish since 1966 towards a middle of the league end point.

As we saw in the summer, a lot has changed since 1966.

These four wins: Crewe away and Northampton Town, Barnet and Morecambe at home; form the basis for the optimism with which City come into the season. In the match before the six game run – a 2-1 home defeat to Macclesfield Townthe situation was described thus: “PT seems to be doing at the moment is losing the confidence of the paying customer and relying purely on a reputation.”

Taylor was – it was said – “achieving (results) with Stuart’s squad not his own” and some four months on little in the personnel has changed but one doubts that when Taylor saw the squad he thought there was a problem with the ability of the side and recalling the Bury games before he arrived one would agree.

Nevertheless the attitude at and around the club has changed. Optimism – however founded – is in the core of beliefs on which performance is based and Taylor’s robust team is built on the idea of a long term belief in the success of the season rather than an obsession on individual games. Taylor – as with Paul Jewell – is keen for his side to shake off the hangovers or elation which rolled over from McCall’s side’s games.

So on opening day of the season as City go to Shrewsbury Town Taylor will be thinking not of the discreet entity but rather the forty six game whole.

Jon McLaughlin – who did not play a part against Bradford (Park Avenue) in the week – is expected to start the season as number one keeper. One hopes the young custodian makes no mistakes all season but should he – and one remembers the World Cup again – then one has to wonder if the clamour for his understudy to be given a chance will be as vocal as it was when McLaughlin played second fiddle to a faltering Simon Eastwood.

Should McLaughlin not play then Lloyd Saxton stands by but one doubts he will enjoy the same pressure for his inclusion as McLaughlin enjoyed twelve months ago. Junior Chris Elliott is the Bantams’ first choice.

Simon Eastwood Ramsden is captain and comes into the season as right back with Zesh Rehman and Lewis Hunt available as cover for the position, and for central defensive roles. Similarly Robbie Threlfall is left back elect with Luke O’Brien – his cover – considered by Taylor as much as a midfielder as a full back the very capable young Louis Horne also serves a left back cover.

Many may debate who is expected to start in the middle of the back four. Steve Williams is thought to be highly thought of by Taylor while new arrival Shaun Duff probably has not moved after a decade at Cheltenham to sit on the bench but Duff’s decade in the lower leagues does not suggest that pedigree of Zesh Rehman while Luke Oliver is – well – really big.

If Taylor has a job this season then it is to get the best out of a player like Zesh Rehman who no few people will tell you is a poor footballer – a concept alien to me – but has obvious talents which were the cornerstone of the six game run at the end of last term which the confidence for this year is built from. Likewise Steve Williams’s abilities are not to be squandered although were I to be a betting man I would suspect that the former barber will not be making the cut and Duff will make his City debut alongside Rehman.

You, dear reader, may have different views.

The midfield three picks itself when fit – or so we expect – with Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Michael Flynn presenting an impressive engine room but Doherty is not expected to make the game with Tom Adeyemi filling in in that way that might prove hard to dislodge. Michael Flynn is hopeful of playing but Luke O’Brien stands by to fill in for the Welshman. Ryan Harrison and Luke Dean enjoyed wretched pre-seasons with Dean breaking a leg and Harrison struggling to partake in the robust midfield battle.

Gareth Evans is likely to be leading the line in the absence of James Hanson who is suffering a back problem that will most likely restrict him to the bench keeping the former Manchester United and Macclesfield man out of a chance of playing in one of the wide berths. Louis Moult has not looked the same kind of battering ram as Hanson but could be used in the middle striker’s role to hang off the shoulder of a high defence.

It is hard to understand the significance of the two wider roles in Peter Taylor’s mind this season. 433 is a notoriously hard to play formation with a requirement for these two wide players to be able to either track back with on coming full backs or fall into the midfield to create a five while always being aware that should they fall too deep, not break quick enough, and isolate the central striker the formation becomes not only defensive but also utterly ineffectual.

Away from Valley Parade Taylor will no doubt hope to create a bolstered midfield and his selections in these two positions can flex to accommodate that.

Taylor is without the injured Leon Osborne and the suspended Omar Daley for this game but does have Jake Speight, Scott Neilson and Moult. Taylor has seen more of Moult than most others and will know how well equipped the Stoke striker who scored two in his first two pre-season games is to the wide role. Should the gaffer believe Moult can play a wide left role then it seems that he will most likely get that role with Neilson on the right otherwise Speight will make a debut.

As with Taylor bringing an optimistic side into this season there was a time when that looked highly unlikely.

Who do you think will be City’s most important player this season

On The 2010/2011 Season

Football is about players – or so The Great Man once said – and with Bradford City’s squad more tweaked than overhauled City fans will be able to see the movement and – one hopes – progress of various players this term and it is in this spirit The Barry Articles ask:

“Who do you think will be City’s most important player this season?”

Steve Baker Stalwart City fan and Bantams Bar regular

I think the most important player for City this season will be Robbie Threlfall. Taylor has assembled a squad of 6ft somethings, so is clearly playing for tactics that allow the team to make the most from set pieces. Threlfall’s delivery from set pieces for much of last season was excellent and led to many goals. If City are to mount a promotion challenge, then we need to make the most of set pieces. Gone hopefully are the days of the “Schumacher” free kick, where the ball was played short with the recipient panicking and not knowing what to do with the ball next.

Assuming Threlfall is the number 1 choice left back, he surely will be tasked with free kicks and corners. His performances dropped at the end of the season – maybe due to fitness and maybe due to not knowing where he would be playing his trade next season. His ability to get the ball in the box from wide areas quickly and with pace are something a lot of our players could take note of. If he has a good season and delivers like he did at the start of his loan spell, I expect City to do well. Taylor has bolstered the attack after Thorne and Boulding left, and he seems to have allowed Michael Flynn to have licence to push on, with Bullock and The Doc protecting the Welshmans roams forward.

Having said all this, I hope that we do unearth a gem from somewhere and they come along and have an outstanding season and play a major part in a promotion push. If you discount the astute loan signings of Adeyami and Moult, look for Scotty Nielson to make the impact he promised last season, and for young Ryan Harrison to make his mark on the first team fringes.

Patrick Dowson City fan and Musician

So many options, and on the face of it Gareth Evans‘ name may not be the first to spring to mind. I almost went for McLaughlin, and I am looking forward to seeing his development. But whilst we seem spoiled for choice in central Midfield and Defence, it is where the goals are coming from that most concerns me.

Hanson should kick on and continue to be the imperious aerial presence we know and revere. But with Speight and Moult as unknown – albeit promising – quantities, we need to look to our number 9 to develop into the player that we saw scoring two of the best Bradford City goals of recent years in one glorious game. It’s impossible not to be impressed by his work rate, but inconsistency in front of goal and loss of confidence blighted his season and he needs to improve his 1 in 4 goal ratio if he is to succeed. If he can continually reach the form that he started and finished last term with, and avoid the slump that came between we could have a real player on our hands.

Taylor may play him on the wing or down the middle – and the debate is still open as to what his best position is – but with his enthusiasm and versatility, I would expect his name to be on the starting line-up more often than not. Especially since last season’s renaissance coincided with the appointment of Taylor.

The long pre-season ends

As Lee Bullock turned a chance to get a fifth goal in City’s comprehensive 4-0 win over neighbours Bradford (Park Avenue) wide of the post following a powerful run by Tom Adeyemi the Bantams’ pre-season came to a merciful end with little learnt and little needed to be known.

Peter Taylor sent out a first half team assembled of players not expected to play on Saturday afternoon’s season opener against Shrewsbury Town with new face Seb Carole on trial and playing on the right with David Syers in the middle and suspended for Saturday Omar Daley on the left all ahead of – surprisingly – a first City appearance for Tom Doherty.

The bearded midfielder’s forty five minutes showed the glimpses of what Taylor sees in the player sitting deep and moving the ball around usefully finding the active running of forward pair Jake Speight – who dropped off well and showed a useful turn or two – and Louis Moult who is a strong looking, hard working striker who is instantly impressive in his play and attitude.

Moult scored his second goal for the club – and City’s second of the night – controlling a pass just outside the box and hitting a mid-height controlled shot past the visiting goalkeeper.

Moult’s goal added to a Steve Williams headed goal from an Omar Daley corner which saw the young defender jump unopposed in the box to head in. Williams and his defensive partner Shaun Duff started flat-footed allowing two chances in the first five minutes to test Lloyd Saxton in goal but that spell at the start and a pair of shots by Spencer Harris and David Heagrey at the end Avenue did little to threaten despite playing with spirit.

Spirit which City either lacked or controlled. Moult and former City man Tom Claisse both went in for a ball with studs showing and in League football both would have been punished the same but Claisse’s aggressive shove of Moult to the ground showed the difference in approach from the teams.

Which is not to say that City did not care – on the contrary, they do – but that Taylor’s side focus upset from incidents like that, stings from defeat, grumpiness from misplaced passes and pushes them into the performance. Avenue, seemingly, just push them into pushes.

Taylor watched the game from half way up the main stand trying to communicate with Junior Lewis and Wayne Jacobs on the bench with a series of hand signal and mimes which – in time – turned into a series of shouts. “Three subs?” Jacobs bellowed up to a nod, later before kids keeper Chris Elliott came on a head stuck itself over the dug out and was pointed at in a “am I coming on?” way. A couple of mobile phones maybe?

As technology failed City did not. A 433 after half time saw a team more resembling that which one might expect on Saturday with Gareth Evans being supported by James Hanson and Scott Neilson in the forward line which immediately looked lively. Hanson has grown as a player – in his play – and as a human – in his build – from his time last season looking a long way from the part timers he was playing against.

Evans moved well making himself an option always and held the ball when needed, bringing others into the game. Neilson charged up and down the right. Both got goals.

Evans’s reward for an inventive ball flipped over to Neilson was a return pass for the striker to accurately power in from the edge of the box to make the game 3-0. Ten minutes from time Neilson is given the ball and the freedom of the box to get a fourth.

The comprehensive nature of the win aside the game offered little for Taylor to learn. Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall combined well down the left in the second half as they did at the end of last season, Evans looks to have brought his fine end of last year to the start of this, Lee Bullock looked controlled and quality as he did last year. You can see the theme building.

This was City’s first game of pre-season at Valley Parade – a bedding in for the new turf of which it is said with justification that one could play a snooker game on it – but it was the last game of a pre-season which went back to the start of April when Taylor’s side ensured they would stay in League Two.

Four months of build up to a season which starts on Saturday.

Watching the grass grow

Players sent to prison for a weekend, players sent to prison for twenty five years. Accusations of lies told to City by Jake Speight, from City by Guiseley. Plans coming to pass, plans falling apart. All along though there has been a constant message coming from Valley Parade.

The grass is growing.

City look forward to a season in which increasingly they are tipped for promotion with a grounded optimism based – perhaps – on three years of League Two football on which it was observed that it was not the best but the most resilient sides which got promoted. The sides who were best able to learn from and forget the last result to move onto the next.

So three days after Rochdale City play a final pre-season game and one is reminded how Peter Taylor’s side turned around in the three days between an atrocious defeat at Accrington Stanley to a fine win at Spotland.

That resilience contrasted with Stuart McCall’s side which lived on rollovers and hangovers that took the baggage of one game into the other be it from eight game unbeaten runs of ten game spells without wins. Taylor’s side are less emotional, and from that comes the idea that they will be a more stable creation. Flatter perhaps but easier to play.

Like the grass at Valley Parade which has been the club’s main news focus of the summer.

The turf at Valley Parade has been relaid on the instructions of Peter Taylor who wants a green carpet. Gone are the Peter Beagrie Bog relaid for the left winger to enjoy in the second half, gone are the sandy beaches of the box and in the place comes the luxurious carpeting in City’s new home.

City’s new home and Bradford Park Avenue’s old ground – the other Bradford club spent some time at Valley Parade as a part of the decline to termination at the start of the 1970s – but the Wool City Derby is one of football’s forgotten games last played competitively 1969 with the scores left standing – hanging even – with City having won 20 and Park Avenue 21 of 58.

Park Avenue’s progress up the leagues is slow and City fans debate the merits of that but they start a season in Northern Premier League Premier Division three leagues below the Bantams.

Avenue will most likely field three former City players – Kevin Sanasy, Diddy David Brown and Tom Claisse – with the former player especially interesting to see. A hotheaded player when a Bantam but Sanasy who had some ability and it will be interesting to see how he has progressed.

The Bantams hope to have Michael Flynn fit enough to play a part in expectation of a return for the opening game of the season at Shrewsbury Town on Saturday although Tommy Doherty is unlikely to play in either. Tom Adeyemi, Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien are likely to be the midfield three behind Omar Daley and Scott Neilson supporting Gareth Evans with James Hanson out injured with goalscorer from Saturday Louis Moult starting on the bench alongside Jake Speight.

Jon McLaughlin sits behind a back four of Simon Ramsden on one side and Robbie Threlfall the other with Zesh Rehman and one of Shaun Duff, Luke Oliver and Steve Williams alongside, most likely the former.

Here comes the season

Rochdale and Bradford City took to the pitch with the words of  The Stone Roses’ “This is the moment I’ve waited for” blasting out of the Spotland PA system. And while we all know that moment is really still another week away, there’s a sense of liberation in reaching this point.

The close season is almost over, another lengthy break from football survived. For the sizeable travelling City support, Saturdays have now returned to being about going to the football. 46 league games to look forward to, three cup competitions to take a curious interest in.

We’ve made it. Now let’s get started.

There’s so much analysis and debate about whether pre-season friendlies really matter, but I think what we all want to gain at this time of year is re-assurance that the players are ready and able for the many battles ahead. And in a decent workout against opponents who begin next week a league above, there was much to feel assured about. City were every bit Rochdale’s equals this afternoon, and that was while missing key players.

A few weeks back, manager Peter Taylor  stated this game was ideal preparation for Shrewsbury, and the 4-5-1 formation he employed in the first half offer strong clues to his thinking for the tricky opening day trip to the New Meadow. The sole forward today was the clearly confident Gareth Evans, who has maintained his strong end of season form into pre-season at least. While not best suited to the target man role, Evans was charging all over the final third to make himself available to others, attempting to hold up the ball so midfield runners could get forward and support him.

Apart from a tentative performance from Omar Daley on the left wing, this approach was largely successful with Scott Neilson in excellent form and on-loan Norwich teenager Tom Adeyemi catching the eye with his box-to-box style. Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien largely held central positions in the middle of the park, and the ball retention from City was particularly impressive. Patience took precedence over urgency, as the ball was methodically worked around the pitch. Robbie Threlfall came closest to scoring during the first half, with a long range drive.

Taylor reverted to 4-4-2 after the break, with new strikers Jake Speight and Louis Moult brought on and O’Brien moved to left wing. Within 10 minutes of his first appearance in claret and amber, Moult latched onto Adeyemi’s through ball and firing a perfect low shot into the bottom corner to put City in front. Taylor had previewed Moult’s arrival on Friday by stating he was signing a striker who offered something different to what he had, and his style of playing on the shoulder of the last man is certainly that.

The lead was short lived as former City loanee Chris O’Grady found space, following a partial clearance, to fire a low shot past Jon McLaughlin; with the City keeper initially unsighted due to the number of players in the box. And when a minute later Lewis Hunt – another half time sub – tripped Jean Louis Akpo-Akpra inside the area, a credible win looked set to turn into defeat.

O’Grady’s run-up for the penalty was similar in length to Blanco’s for Mexico against France at the World Cup. As he got closer, he kept adjusting his pace, while McLaughlin erratically moved left-to-right on his line and feigned to commit himself to going to his left. The mind games were won by City’s new number one, who did actually dive to his left and superbly kept out a decently-struck spot kick. It should be noted McLaughlin’s performance was far from flawless, he looked very tentative from crosses in particular. But as confidence boosts a week before a season go, he couldn’t have asked for a better moment.

City shaded the final 20 minutes, with the much-discussed Speight making more of an impression as the game went on. He is quite small with quick feet, but what  really stood out was his strength in holding up the ball. The reaction from supporters near me when he came on suggests he has much convincing to do after what’s gone on, but by the end he’d offered some evidence to justify Taylor’s faith.

Defensively City looked strong all afternoon. Zesh Rehman barely put a foot wrong, Oliver caught the eye with his passing ability. His half time replacement Shane Duff seems to be an excellent acquisition and Hunt, who looks a bit like Richard Edghill, should be adequate back-up for the on-form Simon Ramsden. A big question mark with the 4-5-1 formation, if employed, is the tracking back of the midfield. Certainly Neilson cannot afford to allow opposition full backs to brush past him in the manner Joe Widdowson regularly managed in the first half.

Adeyemi almost snatched a late winner with a superb long-range shot that was tipped over, and when the final whistle was blown seconds later a buzz of satisfaction emanated from City fans as they warmly applauded the players off. The first Saturday back – none of the others are likely to be as relaxing as this.

For as the season kicks off for real at 3pm next Saturday, the expectation levels also return. City are touted as favourites by some bookies, and how that will translate into the weekly battles remains to be seen. What will our reaction be if City lose at Shrewsbury? 45 games still to go, but the pressure will surely increase. And while this workout offered plenty of indications that the players are taking on board Taylor’s instructions, applying it when the grumbles are reigning down from the stands is another matter.

Can the patient passing approach withstand the predictable bellows of “FORWARDS” from some fans?

All we know about this season is that City will win some games and City will also lose some games (the rest will probably be draws), and how the ups and downs are managed will probably determine whether this is the season it finally comes together.

Rochdale may still be a league above us, but that didn’t stop our light-hearted chants about how small and rubbish their set up is compared to ours. We, and others, consider Bradford City “too big for League Two”. But that inevitably creates a level of pressure on the players which their rivals on the pitch simply don’t feel. Whether it lifts or weighs them down cannot be calculated during a relaxing pre-season game, but we’re about to find out whether they have the mental strength to make our dreams come true.

This is the moment, the moment to go back into the pressure cooker.

The start of the most interesting season

This season will be fascinating. Every move will be analysed, every game mark a position, ever result considered as a proof of a concept about building slowly and in a determined fashioned. One can only guess at the outcome too – a team that takes change as part of progress, that sees development as a thing done over years, not over a summer.

It will be a very interesting League One season for Rochdale.

After the best part of four decades in the basement division Rochdale have gained an upward mobility which saw them promoted last season despite having sold – to a club who plead poverty for a figure they did not disclose – their best player in Adam Le Fondre but prospered because of the strength of the unit. Defender Craig Dawson is looking to move on this summer with the club waiting for someone to match the £1m valuation they put on him and – once again – Keith Hill will look to his side’s whole being able to withstand the withdrawal of one of the parts.

Rochdale are an object lesson in the idea of retention. Keith Hill has been at the club since his retirement being in charge of the youth side, then the assistant manager and finally as manager. The squad has long service – captain Gary Jones has played 229 games for the club – and with that has come a resilience.

One could take issue with other things about Spotland but on the field there is much to admire about Rochdale and their progress this term represents a test of their ideals.

Bradford City represent something of a contrast being a club that has firm and fast plans off the field which have seen the club be rightfully proud of being one of only two professional football clubs in the black as well as taking firm action against troublemakers. The commercial side of operations at Valley Parade come on a pace we are told and off the field – despite the legacy of huge debts ten years ago – the club are in rude health.

It just goes wrong when kicking a football come into the equation. It would not be true to say City do not have a plan on how to go forward – they have lots of plans – and they change on a regular basis.

Over the summer Peter Taylor has gone about augmenting what he inherited when he moved into Valley Parade while keeping some things in place. Wayne Jacobs, Michael Flynn, James Hanson, Steve Williams and Jon McLaughlin have all benefited from this as the manager recognises that all retention builds institutional knowledge. Nevertheless Hanson and Williams both arrived as part of the club’s plan of harvesting the lower leagues. That came after the club’s plan of spending £600,000 on talent. Remember City’s Mexican academy? City had a plan that included with Royal Racing FC Montegnee and the development of young players? A side note here is that the Bantams Belgian partners picked up Willy Topp on January three years after City took him from them RRFCM’s grasp.

While Rochdale have been pursuing a single approach, City have had many and perhaps they would have all failed in the long term but having not been given that time who could say?

Taylor’s one year contract evidences this – clearly the best man for the job – with the club hedging bets so that another plan can be sprung into place to replace the current one which at the moment is “the right thing.” If you buy enough lottery tickets then one day you will win, maybe.

Taylor has something of an injury crisis on his hands with James Hanson – who is expected to lead the line for the season – struggling to be fit for the first day with Gareth Evans and a new mystery striker who the manager hopes to sign today – replacing him in the forward one of a 433.

Evans would be deployed as a wider player alongside the likes of Scott Neilson, Jake Speight, Leon Osborne who is injured, Omar Daley who is suspended for the opening day of the season and perhaps Ryan Harrison and Norwich loanee Tom Adeyemi who are midfielders who may move forward.

For Speight the chance to play in front of his new fans and start to build bridges after a summer of sentences and suggestions will be welcome. If every a player needed a good start to his City career it is Speight.

City’s idea midfield three are Flynn, Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty but the bearded maestro is injured suggesting that Adeyemi may be used in the middle although Luke O’Brien may slot onto the left hand side of a three as he did last year. With James O’Brien leaving this week City seem light in the midfield area with those three, the Norwich loan player and youngsters Luke Dean and Ryan Harrison and perhaps Taylor will be looking to replace the exiting Irishman.

At the back the Bantams have some strength and the names write themselves on a team sheet: Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, new recruit Shaun Duff and Robbie Threlfall; Luke Oliver may yet end up pressed into attack once more – that is a pudding that is only for the eating – and Zesh Rehman would seem to be marked to provide cover for Ramsden and the central players.

If Taylor has one aim this year it should be to get Rehman – who has a pedigree of playing Premiership football – to perform appropriately consistency. Rehman put in a half dozen excellent performances towards the end of the last season under Taylor and if the manager is the manager everyone (seemingly including Fabio Capello) thinks he is then it will be in getting performances out of the likes of Rehman which will evidence that.

In goal Jon McLaughlin is expected to get the number one shirt with Lloyd Saxton to wait for his chance as McLaughlin did.

City face Rochdale and then entertain Bradford Park Avenue at Valley Parade on Tuesday before starting the season on Saturday at Shrewsbury. At least that is the plan.

When pre-season is not pre-season

If you missed Bradford City’s 4-0 win over Stambridge United last night then you are not alone. BfB did little to cover it and a straw poll of City fans responding to news of the opening goals on Facebook seemed to show that they knew that some games in Essex were coming, but they did not know when.

City won the game with goals from Leon Osborne, Scott Neilson, Omar Daley and James O’Brien – a second four goal win in as many days following the 5-1 victory over North Ferriby United – and word came from the South that City had been given a good game by the part-timers from Essex although many would debate how much of a game non-league footballers at the level of the club’s City gave played so far can give professionals.

Indeed there is a charge at Peter Taylor’s door that his pre-season preparations are weak and that is is no benefit to the players to have easy victories over poor opposition. Certainly Taylor’s aim is not to create an interesting and exciting set of games but is he creating a useful set?

Sadly – or perhaps not so sadly – no answer can be reached for some time. Since the days of Chris Kamara – if not before – every City manager has looked at pre-season as if it were non-competitive league matches to be treated as significantly as Johnstone’s Paint early rounds or end of season dead rubbers (which is to say as lightly as a professional club every takes a game, but still as if it were a “proper” match) but Taylor seems to take a new approach.

Taylor is doing everything he can to ensure that pre-season matches – at this stage – are not taken seriously by his players and that the games are re-contextualised as a part of training. A means to an end and not an end in itself.

Which is not to say that there is not a seriousness to the training that Taylor, Junior Lewis and Wayne Jacobs put the players through – quiet the opposite – but that Taylor is keen to ensure that his players know the difference between training time and the business time of the season.

Matches kick off at three in the afternoon, seven forty-five in the evening in proper games but Taylor breaks this association moving the kick off around an hour here, two there and ensures that games are presented to players and to fans in a different situation.

Eccleshill United aside the games – up to the race trim of the final week – are all far flung keeping the Bantams away from City fans who season on season extrapolate the entire league’s nine months or play on the basis of the first game they see in July. Rightly or wrongly players are judged in their rawest form. I never – and still don’t – think much of Michael Symes based on watching his first performance for City at Farsley Celtic. The likes of Stambridge might get a few extra people to have a look at the Bantams but in all likelihood two men and a dog will be watching City rather than the backing of an active travelling City support.

These things break the link between what happened at Stambridge and what will happen at Shrewsbury on the first day of the season. Breaking that link says to the players that they are in build up now suggesting that they are preparing for something in August not playing for the tiny glory of winning in a pre-season game.

Not that winning is in question. The teams are a distance below City’s standard but win, lose or draw one doubts Taylor would care any more than he would care if the Red Bibs beat the Yellow Bibs at Apperley Bridge. The aim is not to show how good – or poor – City are by winning games over the best opposition available it is to prepare the players.

Taylor believes this is best done by taking the pressure away from these games, making them more like a practice match than what we now know a pre-season games. It is building relationships between players, patterns of play on the field, understandings and partnerships. In a way Stambridge United, North Ferriby United and Eccleshill United are doing the job of human traffic cones to be trained against but not designed to challenge the City players in any way other than not allowing them to fail.

I mean that with no disrespect. Taylor approach presents City’s players with the opportunity to play against an opposition which as long as they approach the game in the correct way they will benefit from it. City played Didi Harmann and Joey Barton in a Manchester City midfield five years ago in pre-season and Steven Schmacher and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson spent the afternoon having passes picked off which – while purposeful practice – was unrewarding and represents a slight return. If Lee Bullock and James O’Brien play as they can then they spend games in possession, using the ball, building confidence.

The merits of Taylor’s approach will be evidenced in the season itself but – rarely in modern football – City have a manager who wants to approach pre-season as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

First day back

Like the final stages of the return journey from a lengthy holiday, where the streets and surroundings suddenly become recognisable, Bradford City’s opening pre-season friendly at Eccleshill this evening delivered a mixture of joy and surrealism at the familiarity of it all. Life as we know it is just around the corner again, but the freshness of the ordinariness makes it all seem hard to imagine. Soon we’ll be uttering how it feels as though we were never even away.

City were comfortable winners this evening – eventually. A less than steady first half performance had all the hallmarks of that first day back in the office after vacation, where we’re more keen to show off our suntan and share holiday stories than settle back into the humdrum of work . City struggled to pass around the ball on a ridiculously bumpy surface, and found their non-league hosts more eager and focused to make an impression.

Though that thin line between competitive and combative was sadly crossed in the middle of the first half, where an over-the-top challenge by a home player left City youngster Luke Dean laid on the floor for over five minutes – eventually departing on a stretcher and straight to hospital. The half time queue for the Gents included a City director who told us supporters how Dean not long since recovered from a broken leg (the same one now badly injured) and we all hope a promising career has not just come to a premature end.

Fresh from warning friendly opponents to play these warm-up games in the right spirit, a clearly livid Peter Taylor ordered his counter-part Ian Banks to substitute the player who made such a reckless challenge. Those within earshot of the City manager claim he threatened not to bring out a team for the second half if the change wasn’t made.

But there was a lack of justice about withdrawing the player similar to that seen in the Burnley game two years ago. Why are such actions excused on the grounds it’s a friendly when they carry such potentially significant consequences? Despite Eccleshill hosting City’s reserves this season, if Taylor is still City’s manager next summer there will be no pre-season return to Plumpton Park.

But aside from a few other over-eager first half tackles, the game was played in the spirit it should and Eccleshill deserve credit for an industrious first half display which saw Jon McLaughlin much the busier keeper. City’s new number one tipped one long range effort onto the crossbar and palmed away another shot as the midfield badly failed to grasp control. If there was one minor positive of Dean’s withdrawal, it is that his replacement James O’Brien immediately exerted more influence in the middle of the park.

Going forward City struggled to make an impact. Matthew Tipton made his debut up front and within the first two minutes began lecturing Omar Daley about how he expected to be supported, in a manner you wouldn’t assume a guy from Macclesfield hoping to impress would talk to an experienced international. Daley looked tentative and failed to make much impact, a few dribbles ending with the wrong option taken.

The relative quietness that pre-season games are typical of was interrupted at one stage when Tipton unsuccessfully kept in an over-hit pass. In a league game opposition supporters would sarcastically cheer such a moment, so Tipton decided to produce the sound effect himself. A character, as they say.

Gareth Evans put City in front shortly before half time, when he hurriedly closed down a dithering keeper, who’s attempt to clear the ball upfield smacked against City’s number nine and bounced into the net.  The keepers’ embarrassment was shared by Evans, who looked uncomfortable celebrating that he’d shown him up. The impressive Luke Oliver almost made it two from a corner, as the second half City team warmed up on some grass behind the goal in preparation to take over.

Only the two O’Briens continued after half time, where a much stronger performance ensued. Michael Flynn took over alongside O’Brien in the centre and the visitors dominated the play. There can be few meaningful lessons to take home tonight, but the first half midfield without Flynn and the second half with the Welshman offered a visible reminder of his importance to the team this season.

The forgotten Scott Neilson also impressed, taking players on for fun and regularly bursting into the box. On the opposite flank the development of Leon Osborne seems to continue as he showed glimpses of his talent. It’s a big season for both players, but the early signs are encouraging. With second half captain James Hanson looking sharp and second trialist Lee Morris showing a few nice touches, the play was almost entirely in Eccleshill’s half. Numerous good chances were created with clever football, the woodwork was called into action twice.

Although not really tested, Shane Duff and Robbie Threlfall both caught the eye at the back, and a clean sheet was never in doubt. With a few minutes left, Hanson latched onto a rebound and powerfully fired the ball into the roof of the goal. Full time whistle blown seconds later, the handshakes between rival players and coaching staff was notably warm given the anger of an hour earlier.

So City up and running, but still with a long way to go. The first friendly is always a novelty which quickly gives way to tedium and anxiousness for time to pass more quicker. But there’s something hugely enjoyable about visiting friendly non-league grounds at this time of year, and the chance to drink beer while watching the game in the evening sunshine was a too-rare opportunity.

Football without the anxiousness, worry and inevitable pain. Joyful and surreal indeed.

Believing in evolution as Taylor gets to work on next season’s squad

The back end of May has become a disengaging time to be a Bradford City supporter.  The season has just ended, and it’s way too soon to be looking ahead to the next one. But then the inevitable disappointment of the campaign just gone means few want to spend much time reflecting on its ups and downs.

Meanwhile the play offs are in full flow and there’s a tinge of jealousy towards the clubs who beat us to earning an extended end to the season. Next year will be the Bantams 10th consecutive Football League campaign – pretty much all of them began with perceived realistic expectations of earning at least a play off spot. Each ended in relative disappointment, leading us to watch others enjoy the experience on TV, while at-the-time City managers – Stuart McCall last May and Peter Taylor this time – are often employed as pundits for Sky.

If only, we whisper quietly. Maybe next time, we hope.

But as Taylor surveyed Dagenham’s 6-0 annihilation of Morecambe on Sunday for Sky, his real job has to remain at the forefront of his mind. He, like the rest of us, will enjoy a holiday at some point, but putting together a squad good enough to at least be appearing on Sky at the back end of May 2011 is an objective for which the hard work has already begun.

There’s a notable change of direction to the recruitment plan this summer, and it’s not just because a new manager is having  a go. The back end of May is traditionally a time where a large number of players from the season just past are beginning their search for new employment, as they are released, with the summer then about recruiting better alternatives. It’s an approach that inevitably produces mixed results, but this time the focus is on building rather than replacing.

For besides the questionable departures of Matt Clarke and Jonathan Bateson, almost everyone who could be released is being offered a new deal. It means there won’t be such a huge influx of new signings and trialists, as is often witnessed during pre-season friendlies. Try to form a team of City players who will be at the club next season, and for once you can already name a full XI.

Taylor’s decision to keep faith with most of the existing squad shows that the past season hasn’t been a complete waste of time. A number of players were given their debuts by McCall and allowed to develop, often at the detriment of results.  The rewards are the basis of a squad which Taylor can spend the summer strengthening, rather than the oft-seen approach of starting from scratch.

Evolution, rather than revolution, is in the air. Sure we saw some poor individual and team performances from those who’ll led the club to a dismal league finish and who will be back in June, but the high turnover of players approach of recent years has hardly led to success. The opportunity is there for every player staying to firmly write themselves into Bradford City’s modern history and be loved by supporters years after they leave, rather than appear as a footnote alongside a large number of quickly-forgotten Bantams.

The first priority for Taylor this summer will be to ensure everyone he wants to stay sign new deals – far from a given in some cases. Will the players be offered the same terms to what they are on now, or will they be asked to take pay cuts? Did some sign on relatively low wages and now be expecting a decent rise for decent performances last season? Will other clubs show interest and make better offers?

Keeping hold of Michael Flynn is a must. The Welsh midfielder quickly established himself as the heartbeat of the team in his first season and many supporters would like to see him made captain. Lee Bullock also impressed in the new role of defensive midfielder, even some of his biggest critics in the stands saw fit to recognise his improved performances by laying off.

Leon Osborne took a late season opportunity to avoid the released list; following the example of Jon McLaughlin, who is in pole position to become number one keeper. Next year will be make or break for both, as impressing in a few end of season games is a lot different to doing it for a full campaign.

Steve Williams and Simon Ramsden are signed up for next season, but what of the other out-of-contract defender, Luke O’Brien? Last summer he rejected a long-term contract from City, apparently choosing a one-year deal so he could negotiate improved terms this summer. It was a risky move; although the home-grown youngster had built on a solid first season to take on more team responsibility, many supporters were critical of his performances.

More crucially are the views of Taylor, one look at him as left back at Accrington and O’Brien never got to play in his position again. He was switched to left winger, before moving out of the starting line-up completely for the last six games. This was partly down to Taylor feeling he needed a rest; but with on-loan Robbie Threlfall impressing at left back and apparently set to be offered a contract, O’Brien may need reassurances of his own future before signing a new deal – one which is unlikely to be especially improved on the past season’s either.

Once the existing players are either signed up or departed, Taylor’s initial summer signings are likely to be the loanees he brought in during the final few weeks. As well as Threlfall, Luke Oliver – released by Wycombe – is very probable to return. He impressed as centre back, but the sight of him as emergency forward in April was a grim one that hopefully will only be repeated when City are trailing in a game and time is running out.

Like Threlfall, Adam Bolder will probably have other offers to weigh up, but appeared to enjoy his stay and may be enticed by the prospect of regular football. Ryan Kendall looked an accomplished finisher but offered little more; a competent back-up striker he could prove and he will probably jump at the chance of that, as he isn’t likely to make it at Hull – despite Flynn talking up his potential in their local paper.

With Gavin Grant also set to stay, Taylor should already have a large squad before even beginning to approach players with no previous City connections.  Zesh Rehman, Omar Daley Gareth Evans, James Hanson, James O’Brien and Scott Neilson already had contracts running into at least next season, though whether Taylor would have chosen to retain them all and where they fit in with his plans is questionable. Neilson has barely had a look in while James O’Brien struggled to hit the heights he enjoyed in the first half of the season, under McCall, on his return from a lengthy injury.

There is also the option to sell any of them. Rumours have already started up that Hanson is attracting interest from Championship clubs. If founded, it presents a difficult dilemma for the City manager. Cash in to have more transfer funds to develop the squad, or believe a suitable replacement wouldn’t be available so keep the young forward?

On Hanson’s part, the lure of a move to a higher club and better wages must be balanced with the likelihood of regular football and whether it is better to continue developing at the club which plucked him from non-league. It is quite a dilemma, though it’s rumoured on the message boards that an improved contract has been agreed in recent days.

But whether one or two leave, the sorting out of the futures of out-of-contract players and loanees wanted permanently should then leave Taylor with a clear idea of what is missing. Aside from the odd back up player – McLaughlin and Ramsden will need cover – Taylor’s focus will be on improving what he has – a clear head start on previous City managers who spent the summer desperately filling holes.It will be about evolving a decent but limited squad into one capable of challenging for promotion.

This time, the disengaging back end of May is about ensuring the foundations for next season are more solid than usual.

Pride in your football club

Like going for a meal at a restaurant as part of a large group, only to be stuck sat next to someone you don’t really know or like; Bradford City and Macclesfield Town laboured through 90 minutes of tedious and repressed interaction – conscious that more fun was been had across the rest of the table and around the room.

35 Football League fixtures took place up and down the country today, only the Championship game between Derby and Ipswich carried as little meaning as this fixture. The easter weekend is traditionally a time for nail-biting, but such drama was absent from the menu of a clash between teams who began the afternoon 16th and 18th. Pride was all that was at stake, the enthusiastic cheers from the visiting fans and players at the final whistle indicated which club found greater pride in winning at Valley Parade.

Instead the clash of the day was between supporters of the same club. When Zesh Rehman allowed himself to be caught in possession on the edge of the area just before half time, former Bantam trainee Emile Sinclair was able to skip through and fire a low shot past Matt Glennon which brought understandable groans of despair from home fans. But when seconds later Rehman’s next subsequent touch was greeted with loud booing from some, it seemed once again Valley Parade had descended into an arena where those who moan the loudest are allowed to represent everyone.

Yet the internal anger at seeing City’s captain booed poured out from the main stand through loud cheering and applauding  when Rehman prepared to take a throw in, and quickly fans from all four sides of the ground were joining in to drown out the boos. It was an uplifting moment triggered by those who so often have to remain silent and allow the volume of anger to dictate subsequent decisions. It was acknowledgement that, while yes Rehman had made a bad mistake and has clearly had a poor season, the undoubtedly high level of effort put in on and off the pitch this season does not warrant such a reaction.

It was about supporters showing pride in their club.

For those who did boo Rehman’s every touch during the final five minutes of the half, what is there to say? Of course they have as much right as anyone to express their views, but booing your own player is putting personal views on team selection ahead of the greater needs of the team and club. It is just as counter-productive as the mistake by Rehman in how much it helps the team.

There’s also a high suspicion it is influenced by some form of resentment about the community efforts Rehman has spear-headed, and mis-guided opinions about why he is even at the club. All season long some fans have half-joked that the Pakistan international only starts games to attract Asian supporters, to the point some even seem to believe it. It is insulting to the player, it is insulting to Stuart McCall and Peter Taylor, it is insulting to the other players, it is insulting to everyone connected with the club.

And so a player who gives his all but struggles for form is singled out for booing in a game where the commitment of many others in Claret could be questioned. City were poor across the pitch, with the lengthening injury list costing Taylor the spine of a team and ripping much of the heart out.

Wide men are in short supply, resulting in central midfielder Steve O’Leary taking an unfamiliar right wing spot and looking far from comfortable. With left back Luke O’Brien struggling to make an attacking impression on the left wing, a predictable route one approach was taken by both sides – the visitors ridiculously over-reliant on the long throws of Matthew Lowe.

Ryan Kendall and Gareth Evans started up front, but the partnership looked disjointed and awkward, with neither able to effectively read each other’s games. A wonder goal against Dagenham aside, Kendall has barely had a kick in the three home games he’s been involved in so far and was withdrawn at half time.

So with the ball not sticking up front or outwide, it was half of direct balls knocked back and forth, only punctured by Rehman’s mistake which gave Macclesfield the lead. Big changes were needed and Taylor shuffled the pack by withdrawing the left back playing as left winger and pushing back the striker in his place; bringing on a right back and moving the central defender at right back to the centre, so the other central defender could push up front; and bringing on a winger to play up front with the defender.

Players out of position is a fact of football life, but City’s square pegs in round holes approach is as much self-inflicted as it is necessitated by injuries.

But the impact was instant, with the former Silkmen Evans charging down the flank and firing in a low cross that substitute Gavin Grant – the winger moved up front – dummied to enable Luke Oliver – the defender pushed into a striker role – to fire home.

It should have provided the momentum for a third Taylor home victory, but the lack of urgency instead enabled Macclesfield to hit back and inflict a first home defeat. Shaun Brisley was allowed the time to run to the byline by the switched-off Robbie Threlfall and Steve Williams, and fired a low ball across which former Lincoln striker Ben Wright fired home.

City had 29 minutes to find a second equaliser, but failed to dictate the tempo and looked unconcerned by the obvious time-wasting efforts of the Silkmen. Evans, one of the few players to demonstrate the necessary commitment, shot narrowly over from distance, then Adam Bolder had two chances in the area but wasted them both. It was an especially poor second half showing from the on-loan midfielder, who kept taking the wrong option and failed to show enough appetite to drive City forwards. Michael Flynn was badly missed.

And the 11 players which ended the game had an unfamiliar feel when thinking back to just a few short weeks ago. Taylor has been able to bring in his own players and allowed others to leave, but the Bantams look no better for the changes even accepting the lengthy injuries. If the club has saved significant money from allowing Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding to leave early, it may be in the best long-term interests compared to pitching them in this meaningless game. Yet the availability of either might have made things different.

While the lack of wide players makes Taylor’s decision to allow Scott Neilson to spend a second month on loan at Cambridge all the more baffling. What is really been gained from his exile at the Abbey Stadium when City don’t have enough fit wingers to select? 18-year-old Ryan Harrison was awarded a senior debut, but nerves appeared to get the better of him. Overlooked fellow sub Leon Osborne may reflect upon this as the afternoon his Bantams career was effectively over.

And though it doesn’t really make much difference to the season that City lost this game, the loud cheering of those visiting fans at the final whistle was significant. It mattered for a club like Macclesfield to win at a club like Bradford City, it should matter to Bradford City to lose to a club like Macclesfield, or anyone. It should be a privilege to play for this club; but to many of the players who allowed the game to drift away, it looked anything but. This should hurt, but it doesn’t seem to.

So City suffer their first pointless easter since 1998, where caretaker Paul Jewell’s chances of the full time job looked to have been ended by an uncommitted squad drifting along in mid-table. This time around there is no such doubts about Taylor’s future – the contract offer will presumably remain on the table until it’s signed – and the hope is a similar scenario will lead onto the kind of promotion success City were on the brink of achieving by easter 1999. Six games to go and City’s players are allowing the season to drift into nothing, but this club and its supporters deserve better than that.  

There is nothing to play for but pride, but pride in playing for Bradford City should be stronger than this.

Peter Taylor and the Bradford Bug

City earned a hard fought victory against playoff contenders Aldershot, as Peter Taylor’s influence on the club continues to yield positive results.

The manner of the defeat to Port Vale in midweek was disappointing given recent progress – and Taylor was quick to admit the City players had not lived up to the standards that he expected in the Vale game.

But it was the reaction to that defeat that was the question this afternoon – and City didn’t disappoint despite a bumpy start.

Matt Glennon disappointingly split a long range shot – only able to palm the ball into harms way – which allowed Anthony Straker the chance to nip in and slot home the opener as Aldershot took the lead.

But City did not let the goal affect their confidence. Within five minutes, they had drawn level and produced a goal of real quality.

Michael Flynn, again playing in a more advanced role compared to his usual central midfield position, chased a long ball on the right and shielded the ball away from the Aldershot left back Charles. He then turned and produced a perfectly flighted cross with his left foot from the right wing, which top scorer James Hanson brilliantly headed home to level things up.

Hanson has had a dream first season at City – his first in League football. Combining hard work up front with some quite superb finishes – he has proved he can finish in the air (as you would expect), but he also has got some great finishes up his sleeve with his feet (remember that bicycle kick against Crewe at home?!).

And in this game, he was everywhere. Defensively clearing crosses from corners, and tracking back to defend like I have seen no City centre forward do in many, many years. It all seems to be part of Taylor’s ethos of “not letting any player neglect their defensive duties” and not allowing any player to cruise through games, regardless of their position, which Omar Daley confirmed in his post match interview.

After the equaliser, City had their tails up and produced another fine goal, which proved to be decisive. A very good run and cross from Luke O’Brien on the left ended with Omar Daley taking possession. After feigning to shoot once, he then turned and produced a rocket of a strike with his left foot that sent the Kop wild.

City then engaged in a tight contest for the remainder of the game, with the emphasis being on defending and trying to stop the opposition from scoring rather than adding to the lead.

Glennon redeemed himself for his earlier error with an excellent save from a first half Aldershot effort, and the City keeper commanded his area brilliantly and caught every cross in the second half.

City had a real let off with 15 minutes to go when substitute “Marvellous” Marvin Morgan took on debutant City defender Luke Oliver, beat him, and whipped in a perfect cross onto the head of Marlon Jackson, who astonishingly missed his header from 5 yards when it looked harder to miss than score.

But the Aldershot defence were certainly not immune to mistakes, – in particular second choice keeper Venezuelan Mikhael Jaimez-Ruiz, and the concession of a third goal could easily have happened. In particular with two very strong penalty shouts. Omar Daley went one on one with a defender, and with Daley leaving the defender in his wake, he was clean through before he appeared to be impeded before trying to finish off the move with a goal. But the post match interview with Aldershot manager Kevin Dillon told a different story – with Dillon angrily suggesting that he thought that Daley took a blatant dive that would apparently be shown on “Soccer AM” next week. Surely they are not that short of material? I suppose only a replay will settle that score.

The strong shout for a penalty for City late in the second half. Debutant Gavin Grant, only for Omar Daley with 25 minutes to go, produced a strong run and seemed to be felled in the area when surrounded by two Aldershot defenders. The penalty shouts were waived away by the referee but City hung on to clinch all three points.

There is a definite improvement in this City side with Taylor in the managerial hotseat, and his record now reads four wins from seven games, including highly impressive away victories at top three sides Rochdale and Rotherham.

Admittedly, he has brought in players on short term deals until the end of the season, but there is no reason why any of the players he has brought in (expect for Robbie Threlfall, who might go a League or two above) could be playing for Bradford City next season. Adam Bolder in particular has impressed, and did again today, breaking up play, playing simple balls well and having an influence on the game.

For me, Peter Taylor needs to be handed a new deal as soon as possible. His positive vibes around the club, about how he is enjoying it and has caught the “Bradford Bug” is very pleasing to read. He is and was an outstanding appointment, and if he is enjoying it that much, then lets hold up our end of the deal and give Taylor this chance to finally get Bradford City out of this awful league next season.

But to leave the much discussed managerial debate behind, wont it be interesting to see which of the current crop of players will be with us next season? For me, I’m afraid Peter Thorne’s time at the club looks to be over. Thorne has been brilliant and prolific for City in previous seasons, but I don’t think he fits into Taylors ethos of “a striker that is willing to put in the work defensively”.

Equally, the expensive and underperforming Chris Brandon looks to have been given the boot by Taylor. And James O’Brien, Michael Boulding, Zesh Rehman and Scott Neilson look to be players that Taylor doesn’t seem to rate as the “right” kind of players to get us promoted from League Two. I trust his judgement and that seems to point towards us having an almost completely new squad once again next season. How many times will we need to rebuild the squad before we get it right?

Another day, another loan signing as Adam Bolder joins

Adam Bolder has signed for City on loan from Millwall as Peter Taylor continues to make changes to the Bantams side.

Bolder – who is expected to make his début for the Bantams in the game against Rotherham United tomorrow – is a central midfielder who played 166 games for Derby County and brings to four the number of loan players the Bantams have at the club with Gavin Grant being a non-contract player and Matt Glennon having signed a short term deal.

Bolder is expected to take the a central midfield role which may see Michael Flynn moved out to a wider position, or dropped and as such one has to wonder what the aim of bringing him to the club is. The central midfield position in any team which is not doing well is always to be questioned but few would suggest that Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn are the reason the Bantams are not doing well.

Indeed the performances of both have been rightly lauded during the season and Bolder’s arrival – should he displace one of them in his month long loan deal – only serves to throw more uncertainty at the City side.

One can understand Taylor’s bringing in players to cover the gaps in the City squad. The strength of Mark McCammon is needed to play Taylor’s direct football and the delivery of Robbie Threlfall adds something to the arsenal that we have struggled with since Paul McLaren’s exit. These signings give the squad added breadth.

As with Grant and the move on of Scott Neilson, Luke Oliver who will displace either the promising Steve Williams or the (frankly) best player on display against Darlington Matthew Clarke new signing Bolder – a central midfielder – seems to offer more of what we have.

A glance through the pedigrees of Bolder, Flynn and Bullock does nothing to suggest that Peter Taylor is bringing in an improvement to the side so much as a different face. Taylor is very pleased with his capture and he is no doubt a good player but once again we see a situation where first team experience is being given to another team’s player rather than our own.

Oliver, Grant, and Bolder could all end up signing for City but what will be achieved by that is debatable. After all Lee Bullock was signed on loan and then full time to replace what we already had and now, two years later, he could end up on the bench watching a loan player in his shirt.

How this plethora of loanees is going to effect the development of the likes of Williams, Neilson, Luke Sharry, Leon Osborne et al is anyone’s guess. How is the harmony of the side helped by having the majority of the starting eleven on short term deals is also a worry. All of the short term players are probably good footballers and Taylor has an eye for a player and a character – one recalls the armband and David Beckham – but the use of so many loan players is perhaps a definitive problem with the short term approach the Bantams seem to be taking at the moment.

Some might say that it is not important to build a team at a club, that players are bounty hunters and collecting enough good players in one place is all that is required. These people would not include Rochdale manager Keith Hill, or Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson.

Perhaps Taylor believes that before he can build a future with City – be it with the squad he inherited, the one he is making from loan players or a third one – he needs to win the “trial” for manager’s job he has in front of him. Wins now mean that relegation is banished and the loan players can go home or become full members of the squad.

One hopes so because switching one set of league two players for another set of league two players is a very curious definition of progress and replacing players signed on loan and then permanently with another set signed on loan and then permanently is no one’s idea of a change.

Neilson joins Cambridge United on loan

Former Cambridge City winger Scott Neilson has joined Cambridge United on loan as Peter Taylor continues to make changes to the City squad.

Taylor has brought in Gavin Grant which seems to make Neilson – who Sven Goran Erikkson enquired about earlier in the season – cost City £7,500 earlier this season and replace Joe Colbeck in the side.

The merits of fielding loan players rather than those contracted to City in the long term have been debated before but it seems that with our players going out on loan and the likes of Luke Oliver, Mark McCammon, Robbie Threlfall and Grant all in the City squad it would seem that the approach of not giving experience to another club’s players over our own has changed with the change of manager.

Neilson will be at Cambridge United for a month.

Luke Oliver joins from Wycombe

Peter Taylor has gone back to Wycombe Wanderers to sign the Ormondroyd sized central defender Luke Oliver as the new city boss continues to make changes to the Bantams side.

The 6′ 7″ defender Oliver has fallen down the pecking order at Wanderers since Taylor’s exit and is expected to rival Matthew Clarke for the role of clearing it out defender alongside Steve Williams. One may wonder where this leaves Zesh Rehman’s City career.

Taylor is offering Scott Neilson on loan to clubs in the hope that the winger can get some first team experience. One might suggest that such is on offer at Valley Parade should the manager not decide to fill our team with non-contract and loan players signings.

This is a low

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Searching for an end to uncertainty as Bradford City travel to Torquay United

After a week in which it had been widely expected Stuart McCall would be given the sack, Bradford City travel deepest South with the immediate future continuing to be clouded by doubt.

The City manager remains; but should the Bantams return from the 600-mile round trip to Torquay pointless, it will surely spell the end. Then again it seemed as though defeat to Lincoln would trigger McCall’s dismissal, and before that the loss to Bury, and before that the draw at home to Cheltenham.

Uncertainty prevails. Visits to the Bantams’ official website have become more regular and tense – such is the expectation of been greeted by a statement announcing McCall has gone. Message board rumours emanated by someone who “knows someone who works at the club, his sacking will be announced tomorrow” become more regular and take added credence. A few times earlier this week, the sound of a text message  arriving has left me wondering if it’s someone letting me know he’s gone. Whether we want a managerial change or not, we’re all waiting for what seems like the inevitable – but it remains all quiet.

The silence, from the boardroom, is deafening. We’ve been in this situation four years ago with Colin Todd – who’s then-unpopularity still far exceeds the growing levels of discontent towards McCall – where growing pressure to make a change was met with no public comment from the club.

It’s clear that Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes can’t really win if they say something now – as any statement would increase the pressure on McCall regardless of what it contained, even public support would be dubbed the “dreaded vote of confidence”.  Yet the lack of comment can also be viewed as a lack of leadership and, with the local media typically falling in line, City supporters remain completely in the dark about the future of the manager.

A defeat on Saturday and it all starts over again. The continued checking of the website, the message board rumours, the bleep bleep of the phone. Perhaps this time it really would be it, but then perhaps McCall will be in the dugout at Valley Parade at least one more time, with Bury at home next. We can say with confidence that Torquay away is a must-win game for City’s already unlikely promotion hopes, but we have little idea if Torquay away is a must-win game for McCall.

Yet the significance of the result at Plainmoor cannot be understated. This week McCall has talked more than once about the importance of winning, no matter how it’s achieved, and the long-awaited delivery of three points would be the perfect tonic for the January blues afflicting everyone connected with City.

A midweek of inaction might have seen the Bantams slip as low as 19th, but instead results elsewhere left the club firmly stuck in 16th. City make their furthest away trip of the campaign with the play offs the longest distance away they’ve been all season, but the 10-point gap isn’t unbridgeable if a revival can begin quickly.

Who will be charged with beginning such an upturn is less clear, after McCall spoke earlier this week about rooting out the faint-hearted and dropping players who couldn’t handle the pressure. If the early substitutions made at Sincil Bank are any indication, that may include Zesh Rehman. The City captain has endured a tough season and may have only retained his place in recent weeks due to the raft of suspensions involving his defensive colleagues. He was badly at fault for both Lincoln goals, in almost exactly the same manner, and, though his half time replacement Steve Williams also looked a bit unsteady, the former hairdresser may take Rehman’s place.

Matt Clarke, left on the sidelines for much of the season, had a very strong second half at Lincoln and is arguably the most in-form of the three natural centre backs. The standout central defensive performance of the season to me remains Simon Ramsden in the JPT at Rochdale, and McCall may consider switching him into the middle and continue playing the promising Jonathan Bateson – subbed at half time too against Lincoln, but more than likely for tactical reasons – at right back. The only certain starter of the back four at Plainmoor will be Luke O’Brien. Matt Glennon keeps goal.

In midfield Omar Daley impressed against Bury and Lincoln and is becoming more effective with each returning game. The Jamaican was used on the right at Sincil Bank, and Chris Brandon may be moved to a more orthodox left wing position to provide balance after a somewhat disastrous first half at Lincoln in the free role. Brandon’s failure to make an impact was the fault of others as much as his, but the slight upwards curve in recent form needs to continue for him to sustain what for him is a regular run in the starting eleven. Scott Neilson is also in contention against opposition he made his City debut against last August.

Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn should take the central midfield spots with Steve O’Leary finally nearing full fitness and expected to be ready to provide competition from the bench. The usually-consistent Bullock was poor last week, while Flynn is struggling to hit the early-season heights. Former Leeds midfielder Bruno Riberio, now 34, has been linked with a move to Valley Parade, due to a long-standing friendship with goalkeeper coach Nigel Martyn.

Up front, Peter Thorne is surprisingly set for a place on the bench after scoring in his return to action for the reserves in midweek. With goals drying up of late, City are desperate for the sort of striking prowess Thorne possesses. Just remember his record at City – 69 starts 32 goals. How different might City’s season have so far been if they could have called upon Thorne more than a mere five times up to now.

Gareth Evans – who looked out-of-sorts at Lincoln and badly needs a rest – will partner Michael Boulding – who has shown decent recent form – in attack. James Hanson – his transfer fee finally agreed – is still injured.

Torquay’s return to the Football League may not be reaching the same heights as their Devon counterparts Exeter last season, but they are reasonably positioned to avoid relegation. Last week they blew a 2-0 home lead to Burton and ended up beaten. On Tuesday Barnet’s Paul Furlong netted for them to earn a 1-1 draw at Underhill. They’ve not won in five games, one less than City’s current dismal run.

Ideal opposition for City to get going again? Nothing is certain with the Bantams right now, although surely City’s winter of discontent and McCall’s reign as manager cannot both continue for much longer.

Can they?

The emotional freeze

Supporting Bradford City has become miserable, gloomy and demoralising – and this feeling just isn’t going away.

Defeat at Bury this evening means it’s one win, one draw and five defeats since the start of December. We can officially decree that we’re undergoing a disastrous winter – with a run of form to match the Spring of 2008/2009 collapse and the Autumn of 2007/2008 calamity. Thank goodness we don’t play during the Summer. We’re desperate for an end to the despair, for now just the short term fix of three points will do to raise spirits.

But top of the ever-growing list of worries is the long-term effect of this disastrous run.

Tonight’s game followed a well-worn and familiar script. City were far from out-played by in-form opposition and yet again the evidence suggested the gap in quality between the Bantams and the majority of the League Two promotions is minimal. As per usual, City deserved more than they earned. Chances, possession and territorial advantage seem to be areas they win every week. Goals for verus against, a battle won less often.

And just like the last few weeks, it was a refereeing decision which ultimately cost the team. With the score 1-1 and half an hour on the clock, Stephen Dawson had charged into the area with just Matt Glennon to beat. The debut keeper rushed out to reach the ball, but pulled away from making a challenge after Dawson tapped it past him. The Shakers’ midfielder then hurled himself, untouched, to the floor and the referee Scott Mathieson – the man who awarded Rochdale two hotly disputed penalties when City were beaten 3-0 at Spotland last season – pointed to the spot.

It can perhaps be argued that, by initially attempting to make a challenge before pulling out, Glennon invited Dawson to make the tumble and ensured it looked a penalty to Mathieson and his linesman, both a fair distance away. Yet the lack of contact and obvious intent of Dawson to win a spot kick rather than go for goal cannot be considered anything but cheating.

Ryan Lowe converted the penalty and, as he wheeled off in celebration, began shouting towards the livid City fans behind the goal who’d reacted angrily to the penalty decision. It was as though Lowe was upset that supporters could have the temerity to question his team’s honesty. Well Ryan, I had a perfect view of the incident and your mate dived.

That moment was ultimately to prove decisive. Bury had taken the lead when Mike Jones was able to tap the ball home after Glennon had saved an initial effort. City levelled quickly when a scramble in the box lead to Efe Sodje scoring an own goal, and though Bury often threatened a nervous back four, the visitors – forced to play in old Bury white shirts due to a kit clash – gave as good as they got with Chris Brandon and Scott Neilson causing problems out wide.

But the penalty set back momentum and confidence, it wasn’t until the second half that signs of fight from the temporary whites returned. Numerous chances were created, the best a Brandon effort from a tight angle which smacked the outside of the post. Tellingly though, home keeper Wayne Brown was barely tested with efforts on target too straight and often tame.

Omar Daley came on and provided some spark, Rory Boulding was introduced later and looked anonymous. His older brother battled hard but his towering marker Ben Futcher was always going to have the beating of him in the air – how James Hanson was missed. Gareth Evans again disappointed, Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn had some decent spells on top but at other times were outgunned. The possibility of a deserved equaliser remained up until an uneventful four minutes of stoppage time.

But deep down, you never really believed it would come. The players can put together some good moves, but confidence and composure is draining with each recent setback and it leads to possession too often been surrendered. The spirit and determination to get hold of the ball and charge forward was still there, but somehow it doesn’t quite seem as strong as it once was. Because of all these reasons and more, the Bantams look a team short on quality right now.

But the downbeat mood is not just evident on the pitch, within the away end there was a strange subdued mood to the evening. At times strong vocal support was offered to the players, at others there was an eeire silence and resignation. City supporters are split about the reasons for the season’s nosedive and, specifically, over Stuart McCall, and this seemed to manifest itself into a lack of atmosphere so unlike typically following City on the road.

We’re all just miserable. We can’t agree on what the cause of the latest run of failure is, we certainly can’t agree on the solution. The mood seemed dark, the belief had slipped. Why are we here tonight? Because we want to be, or because we feel we should be? Suddenly watching City is becoming a chore rather than a pleasure.

So at Gigg Lane we sat in muted disunity. We were freezing cold with a ghastly wind further lowering the temperature at regular intervals. We watched our struggling team beaten by opposition which had cheated us to prosper. We’re fed up of this dismal predictability and, with failure such a typical feature over the last 10 years, we’re almost bored.

Of course this can’t go on forever and, when the pain of tonight dies down, those of us who were at Gigg Lane will be able to take comfort from how well the Bantams played in the second half.  City will eventually win again and we’ll all be able to start feeling better.

But the longer this run of poor form goes on, the greater the long-term damage is likely to prove.

A muted victory

From a fixture Stuart McCall couldn’t feasibly win, at least the Bradford City manager was able to enjoy the satisfaction of three points.

Against an already doomed home team which has lost its last two games 4-0, only a similarly convincing scoreline for the Bantams would ensure victory would truly be considered a victory. That Steve Williams’ 23rd-minute strike was the sole occasion the ball found the back of the net will have done little to ease the darkened mood triggered by the midweek Rochdale humbling. Indeed the sight of City players’ blatant attempts to time waste long before the final whistle was due offered a clear indication that, while the win ultimately reduces the gap to the play offs, a vast improvement is needed for the season to conclude with a top seven place.

Not that Stuart seemed to be overly-perturbed after the final whistle. A victory is a victory and the points reward for winning 1-0 is the same as winning 4-0. Darlington showed a degree of spirit in the second half – on the evidence of this and City’s recent trip to Blundell Park, there is more hope to be taken from the Quakers’ efforts even if the League Two table makes it implausible to argue they can avoid relegation – and with City wasteful in front of goal for the game’s first two-thirds, the home side might have snatched a late point due to endeavor if not ability. In the end it was an afternoon for getting the three points, climbing back on the coach and moving on.

A more convincing victory still appeared on after a first half easily controlled by the visitors. Back to playing 4-4-2, Matt Clarke took the place of the injured Zesh Rehman, and a more solid performance from the former Darlington centre back alongside Williams was the platform for a 45 minute period where possession was dominated by claret and reasonable chances were readily created.

James Hanson came close early on with a shot deflected over, Simon Whaley almost scored direct from a corner, the recalled and impressive Scott Neilson might have done better after charging into the penalty area and seeing his low drive blocked by home keeper Nick Leversidge.

Lee Bullock, Hanson and Williams continued to go close and soon after Williams was rewarded after popping up at the back post to head home Neilson’s corner. It was a good moment for the former non-league defender after the difficult evening he’d endured midweek, it was also the third away league game in a row he’d netted. City continued to press and Hanson headed just wide.

At the other end Darlington’s efforts to pass the ball around on the deck were admirable but largely impotent. That the half chances they created almost all came on the counter attack said much about their lack of authority on the game.

But it was during the second half where the promotion credentials of the Bantams could again be doubted. City have held a 1-0 lead at half time in eight of their 20 league games this season, but the dilemma of whether to continue in the attacking manner which had earned that advantage or sit back and protect it is one which is leading to uncertainty and awkwardness.

Initially City’s intent was to get that second goal with Hanson again twice going close, but slowly the team began to drop back and ambition became limited. Stuart attempted to encourage fresh impetuous by introducing the dropped Gareth Evans from the bench for Michael Boulding, but the former Macclesfield striker’s confidence has clearly taken a dip of late, and he did little to reignite purpose to the attack.

Though questions must again be pointed at Boulding, who was well shackled all afternoon by former City defender and Quakers captain, Mark Bower. His introduction from the bench against Accrington helped City to pile on late pressure and he almost won the game late on with a shot that hit the post. Boulding can consider himself unfortunate not to have started the next game against Grimsby, but having got his chance at the Darlington Arena his failure to again take it was mystifying.

Often Boulding is excused for anonymity by relative poor service, and while he was provided few sights of goal, he must surely be prepared to work harder. Boulding looked unhappy to be subbed and went straight down the tunnel, where he was followed a few minutes later by Stuart for what may have been a tongue-lashing.

James O’Brien was shortly after brought on for Whaley – the on-loan Norwich midfielder again looking the best player on the park in terms of ability, but often failing to make the most of many opportunities to cross the ball with some poor deliveries.  As the home side finally starting to exert some pressure, Simon Eastwood had to tip one effort round the post and blocked a shot from further out which was straight at him. By then the visitors’ time-wasting got too much for referee Neil Swarbrick, who booked Neilson for unsubtly kicking the ball away. City’s ball retention was poor and will not go unpunished if it continues during the next four league fixtures, all against promotion rivals.

When the final whistle was blown it was met by a faint smattering of boos in the away end, but the overall cheering and chanting of Stuart’s name suggested the general mood was that, while dissatisfied with the performance, at least a difficult week had ended in a positive way.

There are still plenty of issues for Stuart to ponder – the return to playing 4-4-2 may have made City look more solid, but the high work rate the 4-3-3 formation has been built around was curiously lacking. Little confidence can have been taken from the second half display, though the clean sheet is not to be sniffed at.

So a muted victory, and one which may be best judged retrospectively in a few weeks. The hope for Stuart must be that this the game acts as the springboard for a run of good form going into the second half of the season, rather than proving a blip which had more to do with the Darlington formbook. Perhaps, in a week where we at BfB have looked back to the last promotion season and how the team ultimately benefited from losing 3-0 at home to QPR late-autumn, this win will have provided the tweak which makes the difference.

The tweak being the change back to 4-4-2 and return of Clarke, who has surely earned the right to now keep his first team spot. It wasn’t spectacular, but the first game after the tweak in the 1998/99 season, a 1-0 success at struggling Oxford thanks to a header from a set piece in the 23rd minute, offered few clues of what was to come then.

Anything similar this time around, and this will be later judged a fixture Stuart won in more ways than one.

The loop continues at Darlington

There was a depressing predictability about the reaction to the defeat to Rochdale this week which saw the Bantams beaten 3-0 by a League Two team that played a slick, flowing, football beyond their status. For some Rochdale were not given credit for a performance which made them near unplayable while others rubbed eyes with an amazement and wistfully asked when City would play like that.

Perhaps the answer to that goes back a decade to the team that was promoted to the Premiership who played with the same bottomless confidence and belief in each other that Rochdale showed. At one point – and without looking – one Dale defender headed out from a corner to the release valve man who trotted the ball up field for another attack.

It was akin to Peter Beagrie turning a right back and putting the ball to the far post because he knew – he had the confidence that – Lee Mills would be under it to head in and from the stands it looks like telepathy. Perhaps 3-0 Bradford 2009 will be to Spotland what Chelsea 2-0 2000 is to City fan – a high watermark in performance.

City’s job following on – and specifically Stuart McCall’s job – is to minimise the result and move on from it learning what can be taken from the game and rebuilding the confidence of a side who were found to be second best. This season started in this manner with the 5-0 defeat at Notts County requiring a mental rebuild as well as a team reshaping.

Options for moving players around are available but more importantly players like Steve Williams, James O’Brien and James Hanson have had their first taste of that flavour of bitter defeat and McCall needs to work with those players. Part of building a squad based around young players gives these problems of inconsistency perhaps by virtue of the unexpected. Steve Williams will have never played against an attacking line which moved around as much as the Rochdale one did. He can learn from that.

As the dust settles from the Rochdale game the Bantams sit nine points off the automatic promotion places – the same distance as on Tuesday afternoon – but four off the play-offs. Bottom place Darlington represent a chance to close that gap.

Darlington are a club cursed by a stadium far too big for their needs an inability to get the local public interested in filling it. As a club they bought into the dreams of the last decade and a half’s promise of big football and like City they have struggled to make that a sustainable proposition. In the summer they employed Colin Todd and Dean Windass to hammer together a squad from spare parts – including former Bantams Mark Bower and Paul Arnison – and the did a manful job before departing to leave Steve Staunton – a fifth former Bantam in the sentence – who struggles against situations such as his inability to play the excellent Steve Foster again for fear of triggering the offer of a new contract the club can ill afford.

Darlington lived beyond there means – Rochdale’s Chris Dunphy would have them out of the league no doubt – and as usual the supporters are left to pick up the pieces left behind when businessmen/safe crackers have moved on.

The cost of administration and football failure is never better illustrated than the woman in Darlington who saw her B&B business in trouble after the club defaulted on the debt it had run up housing a loanee signed to sit on the bench when the clubs met at Valley Parade back in February chasing promotion in a way they could not afford.

That night Darlington played what could be called “a hard game” and one Kevin Austin challenge on Omar Daley snapped the midfielders leg in half (Hey – I’m no Doctor) and stopped the player form kicking a ball in anger until this week taking the Bantams promotion campaign with it.

Daley’s return for the reserves is a hint at things to come rather than a burst back into the side. Omar played 45 minutes but will be taking the long road back and it seems that Simon Whaley will be filling in for him until his return, perhaps exiting when he is fit.

Whaley and fellow support striker Gareth Evans were neutralised by a canny Rochdale side leaving Stuart McCall with a tactical head swim. The 433 took care of Grimsby – the team one place above Darlington – but was ineffective against Rochdale and the manager must decide which of these two games is reflective of his formation’s effects.

Simon Eastwood will keep the gloves after an athletic display on Tuesday blotted by having the ball placed through his legs for the first goal. The defensive four will probably remain as it was – or at least it would if I were manager – but some would switch Simon Ramdsen into the middle with Steve Williams and put Jonathan Bateson in at right back while others favour Ramsden and Rehman rather than Williams. O’Brien is unchallenged at left back save other young players but has put in a good level of performance this year and certainly is forgiven Tuesday night.

Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock emerged from the mid-week game without criticism – indeed perhaps it is tribute to their strengths that Rochdale played the game on the flanks rather than through the middle – and will keep the middle of field although that could be with one of James O’Brien/Chris Brandon in a three of with Scott Neilson and Whaley/Brandon on the flanks in a four.

Neilson looked lively coming on on Tuesday night – an admirable attitude that deserved more than an ironic cheer for his header at goal in the last minute – but will probably be restricted to the bench. James Hanson will almost certainly start and will match himself against Mark Bower and – as Foster cannot play and Ian Miller is injured – someone from the Quakers youth side. Knowing what we do about Mark Bower one might expect McCall to keep Gareth Evans alongside Hanson – Bower struggled with powerful players – and leave Michael Boulding on the bench. A three would have Whaley/Hanson/Evans along the front.

Darlington – despite the trails – represent a tough game approach the match with nothing to lose and written off before kick off. City start rebuilding confidence once more – stuck in a kind of loop between bad results leading to unbeaten periods interrupted by bad results. It is midtable form and needs a kick start to move it onto being play-off contenders.

Darlington – who attempted a kick start last season living beyond their means – offer a start warning about trying to break that loop.

Reacting to the cold, sifting the good from the bad

Defeats are always worse in the cold.

A miserable night and a miserable result for Bradford City going down 3-0 at home to a Rochdale side that – in a League Two context – redefined ebullience.

As the bitter winter drew into Valley Parade the Bantams were beaten by what was probably the best team to come to the stadium in the two and a half years since relegation.

All had started bright enough for Stuart McCall’s side when the early exchanges saw City pinging a cross over that James Hanson turned just wide of the post and the 433 formation that saw James O’Brien return to a midfield alongside Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock and Gareth Evans and new boy Simon Whaley flank Hanson up front seemed to pile pressure onto the side which had ambitions for the top of the division.

Ambitions they would realise by the end of the evening and with no little help from City – Steve Williams’s attempt to clear a ball and his inability to step up after he had given that ball away saw a ball ended up being fired under Simon Eastwood for Dale’s first goal scored by Chris Dagnall.

The visitors played like a team brimful of confidence and as drilled as any who have been to VP for years with every man pressing at City. The full backs added to the wide men to force City’s two wide strikers to come back and be employed as weak midfielders – almost wing backs at times – resulting in a poor first home start for Whaley and Evans’s worst game since he signed for City.

The two wide played stolen away James Hanson cut a lonely and easily policed figure up front while James O’Brien struggled to get a grip in the midfield – the problem with 19 year old players is that they are, by nature, inconstant and hindsight says that McCall would have been better with the more experianced head of Chris Brandon, not that I would have made that decision at 19:45.

Luke O’Brien and Simon Ramsden – who later switched inside to cover (one assumes) an injured Zesh Rehman leaving Jonathan Bateson on the flank – were exposed by Whaley and Evans’s inability to perform both jobs adequately and the ball inside Ramsden ten scattered minutes after the first goal was centred by 39 minute City loanee Chris O’Grady for Dagnall’s second.

The Bantams players got heads up after but the support on the whole rounded on the players with not one player saved a lashing of tongue (and often worse than lashing, but let us concentrate on the main thrust) and a suggestion of their inability. All teams who are not winning at half time are booed of these days, but is there not a distinction to be made between a team playing badly and another team playing well and – if that is a distinction – was it the case on this evening?

Rochdale played as well as any side who have come to Valley Parade in this league have done and showed signs of belief in each other that the Bantams aim towards. One could spend fifteen minutes at half time reviewing every City player to find a problem in his performance but ultimately the main problem the Bantams had tonight was that they were playing against a side that played brilliantly. Swapping out any of the City squad, switching formations, changing personnel: none of those things would have altered that.

Last season’s 3-0 reversal at Spotland saw Paul Arnison hung out to dry for not being able to cope with Will Atkinson who presented a myriad of problems for Simon Ramsden tonight. When does it stop being the fault of our right back that a cross has come over and start being the credit of their left winger? Did right backs up and down the First Division lose their jobs the week after Peter Beagrie ripped them to shreds in 1999?

The build up of understanding between Dale’s pairings – the two at the back, the midfield pair, wide payers, the forwards who caused problems all night with a running off the ball and movement that border on zealous – was honed and the strength of will in the squad was evident and there as an example – no, as something to aim for – to City and to all sides in League Two and beyond. Well drilled, confident teams will always do well, they should always do well.

Rochdale got a third – O’Grady scoring after some more defensive hi-jinx – but any bad luck the Bantams had in the odd run of the ball was made up by two or three great saves which earned him a man of the match award in a match that City could hardly get into. Scott Neilson arrived late and nudged a headed chance at goal but the result was a long time decided at that point.

Ultimately while supporters will no doubt go into a catatonia of debate over the reasons and machinations behind tonight’s result – and while everyone will have a different take on those elements – it will be Stuart McCall’s decision as to sift out what he considers to be issues which can be addressed and those which came around as the result of an excellent performance by the visitors.

I have said many times in the past that the key to dealing with results good and bad is to minimise and move on and that is McCall’s task now. To isolate the problems which can be addressed and to address them, then ignore the others and not let the fact that another team has played well force his thinking away from the idea that the side – the young side – is learning and improving. Tonight was a lesson, and a spanking, but it is something which is learnt from.

The Rochdale fans asked if they could play City every week – considering the one win each of the season then we might take them up on that – but in all likelihood should they maintain that level of performance it would have to be in a division above. The last time Rochdale were promoted The Beatles were number one (with Get Back, which, oh irony, they did) and Keith Hill’s side have managed to escape promotion twice over the last two years.

City on the other hand take stock, sift the good from the bad and move onto Darlington on Saturday. Seasons are made up of cold winter nights like this and how they are reacted too.

City go to Grimsby waiting in the balance

Michael Flynn put into words the season for City when he said “If we had cut out a few mistakes, we would be higher up the table than we are.”

That Gareth Evans – who has put in much to his first three months at Bradford City and more than deserves the break for this – blasted a last minute penalty wide of the post on Saturday allowing two points to squirm away proved Flynn’s protestation. The Bantams are a team inefficient giving away enough goals to counteract the many good things that go on at the other end of the field but with a balance that when upset may tip one way or another.

Certainly Grimsby Town will have an empathy with such problems after sacking Mike Newell some half dozen or so winless games ago and giving one time Bantam striker Neil Woods the chance to take the team, well, not very far. Woods got the job on a full time basis on Monday afternoon underlining the effect of getting rid of Newell which seems to be that the former manager no longer has to turn up to work but still is paid while the new incumbent goes about the role with the same resources. The attempt to tip the balance of Town’s early season displays having either no effect at all, or a counter effect. Certainly the “new manager/new beginning” which is often hoped for simply had not happened at Blundell Park.

Not that any more than the usual would be of the opinion that the way to tip the season towards success would be a manager replacement but rather the manager himself looks for ways to cut out the mistakes starting with a 442 on Saturday that was – well – duller than the usual 433 but did stop the customary two goals a game concessions. Perhaps the return to two wingers was a preparation of sorts for the return of Omar Daley who would have been backin reserve team action this week were it not for a rearranged juniors match at Valley Parade.

The middle three of Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and one other has worked well – and provided no little excitement at both ends – this season but a pairing of Bullock and Flynn with Omar Daley on the left and new recruit Simon Whaley on the right could be the shape that the Bantams will take into the Christmas period. All of which is long sighted talking and rather harsh on Scott Neilson who has on the whole been excellent since joining the Bantams. It also assumed that Chris Brandon will not continued to be shoe-horned into the side or – if one rumour is to be believed – will be leaving for Greg Abbott’s Carlisle in the transfer window.

Evans and James Hanson are expected to retain the forward places with Michael Boulding restricted to the bench against the team that list him as a favoured old boy. Boulding performed well coming off the bench on Saturday and might get the nod over Scott Neilson in an attacking three but the hard work of the younger pair has been one of the base blocks of City this season and is not something to change.

The back five of Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien in front of Barry Conlon Simon Eastwood is also expected to remain. Ramsden’s return on Saturday showed his quality while Luke O’Brien continues to be an able full back and an attacking force. The middle pairing impress some, but not all, and may have to cope with the attacking prowess of Barry Conlon as the former Bantams hopes to get a start against the club he left last season.

Far for universally loved Barry left City under a cloud of discipline and drink – letting himself down – but in his one and a half years at City his full energy performances showed a way forward that the Bantams have followed – James Hanson and Barry are not dissimilar players although Hanson’s ability to get both headed and kicked balls somewhere near his intended target puts Conlon to shame.

Much of last season was a debate about the merits of Conlon and Omar Daley but in the last three months of the season when one was at Grimsby and the other injured – effectively giving some supporters who used the words “get rid” a little too much for my tastes what they had wanted – the Bantams imploded. The balance upset, tipped the wrong way.

Not repeating this is the task Stuart McCall faces.

Struggling to find more

How do you get more out of 100%? As Bradford City manager Stuart McCall observed his players running themselves into the ground while attempting to get the better of League Two early-pace setters Bournemouth this afternoon, that’s the conundrum which must have occupied his thoughts.

Injury-ravaged to the point a central defender had to play in midfield and a central midfielder was deployed up front, it was difficult to find fault with the level of effort his last men standing devoted to the pursuit of earning three points. Coaxing out a greater level of application and smartness already looks key for effort to be rewarded by success.

For as extreme as the injury list seems at the moment, such circumstances appear more likely to be later repeated than addressed by sizeable team strengthening in January. As the second half began to drift into a pattern of stalemate, a look behind his shoulder at the substitute options offered Stuart few solutions.

The danger of a reduced investment in the playing squad was always going to be a lack of strength in depth. Stuart is left with no choice but to fill his bench with youngsters who may not yet  be ready for first team responsibility and are even less likely to be ready to be trusted to deliver a desired level of influence on matches. The worry is those senior players giving 100% will be allowed to get away with dropping a few percentage points, while still keeping their place. Not only does Stuart face the challenge of getting more from 100%, he must ensure 100% remains the minimum.

For the opening 45 minutes at least, City got about the Cherries in a crafty manner which might well have brought greater rewards than Gareth Evans’ cancelling out Brett Pitman’s opener. The visitors were far removed from then-manager Jimmy Quinn’s defensive stranglehold tactics which had paved the way for a 3-1 success at Valley Parade last season, commendably passing the ball around in a confident manner which ran throughout the team. Eddie Howe’s side were comfortably the best team City have entertained this season, but their attempts to play a high defensive line encouraged the Bantams to find success from playing low through balls in behind it, which might have been punished more often but for some tight offside calls.

Michael Flynn – the midfielder deployed up front – was effective in holding up the ball and working space to thread passes in the path of forward runners, while Chris Brandon and Scott Neilson – playing more as orthodox wingers in the first half – showed a willingness to make runs from deep. Evans wasted the best opportunity when a through ball had been timed exactly right and he charged clear with plenty of time to weigh up his options. His attempt to shift the ball to his preferred left foot saw the angle closed down by Cherries’ keeper Shwan Jalal and the eventual shot was screwed well wide of the far post.

Four minutes later Zesh Rehman – the central defender playing in midfield – helped to gift Bournemouth the lead after his hesitancy in clearing a loose ball allowed Anton Robinson to be played through into space between Steve Williams and the recalled Matt Clarke. With just Eastwood to beat, the former non-league player laid the ball into Pitman’s path for an easy tap in.

There were angry complaints from home supporters, who claimed Pitman had been ahead of Robinson and the ball played forwards, thus making Pitman offside. Both referee and linesman missed any such infringement, and Pitman curiously ran off to gloat at City supporters in the Main Stand.

But if heads dropped, the 100% remained and Evans atoned for his earlier miss three minutes before half time after Lee Bullock’s perfect pass enabled him the time and space to round Jalal and run the ball into an empty net. It remains a troubling statistic that only once this season have City come from behind to win – Rochdale away in the JPT; but since Lincoln triumphed 2-0 at Valley Parade last August, only one side – Crewe – has managed to score first against the Bantams and maintain a lead for the full remainder of the game.

Though City dominated the half’s final minutes they were to enjoy less territorial advantage after the break as Howe re-organised his defence so they held a deeper backline. It was at that point the effects of so many injuries were starkly visible as City struggled to execute a game plan that would lead to meaningful control of the match. James Hanson’s injury had been kept quiet – one suspects the local media are starting to become frustrated by Stuart’s economical sharing of team news this season – and City’s top scorer was especially missed once the space for Evans, Brandon and Neilson to run onto through balls was no longer afforded.

City needed someone who could hold up the ball so other players could get forward and provide options, but despite best efforts this is less Evans’ game and certainly not Flynn’s. Neilson and Brandon were able to pick up the ball out wide, but were too isolated with attempts to dribble forward ineffective. Rehman – the defender playing in midfield – largely stayed deep alongside Bullock and Flynn – the midfielder deployed up front – was too high up the park to make his trademark surging forward runs.

City went narrower in midfield with Neilson pushed further forwards and Brandon encouraged to roam, but by then Bournemouth had reverted to playing on the break and the pace in their locker compromised how far full backs Luke O’Brien and Jonathan Bateson could support the attack. It meant the best efforts to play through or or over the Cherries defence went largely without reward.

Which is where more than 100% is needed. The craftiness to try different things, switch play more often and attack with more fluency was compromised by tiring minds and legs, and the options to freshen things up were limited. Other than James O’Brien’s curious non-involvement and the welcome sight of a recovering Simon Ramsden, Stuart had three youngsters with five career Football League starts between them as his subs bench.

One of them, Rory Boulding, replaced the injured Evans with five minutes to go and looked lively, but the inevitability of the stalemate had set in long before. Bournemouth had the better second half chances, although but for the occasional slip up both Williams and Clarke defended well. Bullock might have won the game for City in the closing stages after his header from a corner was superbly kept out by Jalal.

The result leaves City exactly where they were before kick off and exactly where they were five weeks ago – four points off the play offs. With another 30 league games to play it’s a reasonable position to be, particularly taking into account the woeful start. But that the last seven league games have returned just one win suggests more is needed in the tank to stay in touch with and ultimately climb amongst the front runners.

The returning injured players will add to what’s in that tank, but getting more than 100% from the players available is the puzzle which must be solved to avoid the busyness of the physio room determining the outcome of the season.

Finding out what you are good at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to get a head

Football matches are won and lost in the players heads. Not James Hanson’s external cranium and the way he batters it against pretty much every ball that comes his way but the insides of the noddle. The brain.

Notts County have won more than the odd game before kick off. They roll up to some backwater and have names that the other side have heard of in the team, “Oh look it is Lee Hughes”, and the hapless sort go onto the team to play County already beaten.

So it doesn’t matter if County have the best players in the league which they probably do because they could turn up with five guys with one leg wearing slippers and they would still win the match.

That is what happened to City on the first day of the season and what didn’t happen in this FA Cup first round exit. We had enough belief to have a battle and that battle was lost to a couple of goals in the minutes around half time but the fact that City ended the game with a shout of a match levelling penalty probably says a lot about how Bradford City have levelled a game with County in the Johnny Paint’s Cup and how we look at them not as the invincible just as a good team.

They are a good team but so are we. We are a more direct team than we have been for sometime and that causes problems for other sides. I think that when Omar Daley is back into the team instead of Scott Neilson who is a great player with a great future (but Omar is a match winner) then we will float up the league and settle somewhere around the third of fourth place.

We hear a lot about the effort that City put in. Graeme Lee wasn’t playing but he could learn a lot from Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman in terms of being at least as bothered about your teammate’s performance as your own. He could however teach that pair a thing or two about defending. City defend as a team but don’t defend brilliantly and are often found chasing a shadow rather than a man with the ball.

Lets not get too upset about this. Rather that than no chasing at all which is where we get back to County and the brain game they play. At the moment they seem scary and they have good players but Lee’s time at City would say that that is not enough and if they can keep the side playing to win and not slip into the mire that the Bantams ended last season in then they will have done well.

Not that I’d miss coming here or the supporters of County who sang without irony “2-0 in your cup final” in a cup competition, when the biggest crowd they will play against this season will probably be at out ground. I don’t know who the most intelligent fans in football are but it sure as Hell is not these people who get all angry because someone wants to know where the money for these players comes from.

In reverse order City should have had a penalty at the end when Michael Boulding was brought down but as Stuart McCall said the referee was behind play by fifty yards and could not give it because of that. Answers on a post card as to why that is not the same as Sir Fergs saying a Ref is unfit.

Simon Eastwood made some great saves but so did Russell Hoult and they had a half dozen players out showing the mental belief which they show in spades is deep running in the squad.

Boulding equalised at close range and City had a 45:55 share of the game. The two goals around half time knocked the Bantams out of the FA Cup at first time of asking but heads back be held high because we lost the game on the pitch, not in the dressing room, and even with the millions and billions of pounds we still have Wembley ’96.

That day City were romping through the division, Kammy’s side seeming fated to get promotion. They had belief. They won that game at Wembley walking out of the tunnel to see 40,000 of us an 10,000 of them. Won it before kick off really.

All in the head you see.

Filling the holes to make Bradford City’s promotion bid wholesome

Stuart McCall’s managerial career has so far been characterised by openness and honesty, and the Bradford City boss’ frustration was typically exposed by his body language after watching his team dominate for 90 minutes against Macclesfield Town only come away with a 2-2 draw.

Having walked over to applaud travelling  City supporters following the final whistle, Stuart turned away and began shaking his head in a manner which revealed a lack of satisfaction despite the Bantams recovery from 2-0 behind. The half time advantage enjoyed by the Silkmen had been clawed back within the second half’s first 15 minutes, but despite continuing to press hard for a deserved winner, the ball just wouldn’t cross the line for a third time. City had almost double the shot count and forced double the amount of corners, yet as Stuart shook his head and headed back to the dressing room he must know his team lacked more than just a bit more luck.

Defensive shortcomings continue to undermine City’s cause. Having begun the season conceding eight goals in two matches, the leaks have been somewhat filled but the Bantams remain far from watertight. Four minutes into the afternoon at Moss Rose, a seemingly overhit clearance by home keeper Jon Brain was allowed to run between central defenders Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman and Colin Daniel headed the ball over the onrushing Simon Eastwood and into the net.

All three City players appeared culpable with Williams missing the chance to head clear, Rehman’s indecisiveness causing him to move too late towards cutting out the ball – in the process allowing Daniel to run through – and Eastwood seemingly too quick to rush out his goal when staying on his line might have offered him a greater chance of saving the effort. The sun was probably in Eastwood’s eye – someone forgot to bring along a goalkeeper cap – and he had been warned, conceding a similar goal when warming up with Jon McLaughlan. The goal was messy, the goal was feeble and such goals have been conceded too often during the campaign’s first three months.

Macclesfield had only three purposeful attacks during the first half; the second of which required Luke O’Brien to clear off his own line after poor marking from a corner and the third saw another goal conceded after Emile Sinclair crossed low for Hamza Bencherif to bundle home. That was four minutes before the end of a half City had otherwise dominated and if the Bantams are to make the step up from mid-table to promotion contenders the team’s backbone is going to have to become stronger.

Simon Eastwood has played 18 times for Bradford City and Simon Eastwood has conceded 30 goals. The young keeper’s form may not be the sole reason for City’s defensive shortcomings, but his numerous slips ups – punished or otherwise – breed uncertainty across his defensive colleagues. At times he has made superb saves which have earned City points, but in almost every game he seemingly presents an unnecessary opportunity to the opposition and continues to fail in commanding his area. Last week Stuart spoke of retaining the on-loan Huddersfield youngster beyond January but, while it’s clear he is potentially brilliant goalkeeper, the concern is the rate of improvement he’s shown since the start of the season hasn’t been quick enough to suggest he should be trusted to continue it through a whole season. If Stuart has the budget for a replacement now – and that could be a big if – he may consider his options ahead of next Friday’s trip to Meadow Lane.

Meanwhile Rehman endured another difficult 45 minutes and, despite pushing Lee Bullock close for man of the match against Hereford last week, his recent form is erratic. Up against the imposing Ben Wright, who was the focal point to Macclesfield’s route one game plan, Rehman at times allowed himself to be bullied and on other occasions got too tight in trying to prevent Wright from laying off the ball. During one home attack Sinclair was offered the chance to run at Rehman. With little cover behind City’s captain, Rehman dived in to make a challenge which might have seen him win the ball or risked him giving away a free kick, on this occasion he was left on the floor with Sinclair sprinting away. Merely standing his ground and holding up Sinclair seemed the more sensible option. Rehman and Williams are building a promising partnership, but the redemption of Matt Clarke to first team duty may not be the unthinkable option many fans considered it to be at the start of the season.

Defensive failings aside, City carried the game to Macclesfield and spurned numerous first half chances. Scott Neilson shot just wide, James Hanson headed over, Gareth Evans was denied by a good defensive block and the best move of the half saw Michael Flynn superbly play Neilson through one-on-one only to be denied by Brain’s strong reaction save. Macclesfield were reduced to playing like an away side, on the counter attack, with the impressive Sinclair – once a Bantam – enjoying a fascinating battle against Luke O’Brien which the young defender emerged from with plenty of credit.  The boos from some City fans at half time were born out of frustration, but were still inexcusable.

But though the 4-3-3 formation had proved reasonably effective again, Stuart switched to 4-4-2 in the second half introducing Michael Boulding for the flagging – and again unimpressive – Chris Brandon to partner James Hanson and pushing Neilson and Evans into wide positions. If the goal City were now attacking had inadequately been protected by the visiting defence in the first half, the hosts fared little better playing in front of it during the second.

Brain has previous with City after laughably allowing David Brown to score the only goal in the league meeting two seasons ago, and displayed hesitancy in everything he did. His first three involvements in the second half saw him misjudge a long punt forwards which bounced over his head and just wide of the goal, palm a weak Hanson effort back into a dangerous part of his penalty area when he should have scooped the ball up and slice a back pass clearance out for a corner. Each mistake encouraged City further, each mistake added to Macclesfield nerves. It seemed implausible Brain would end the game with a clean sheet.

Sure enough City got back into it after Hanson headed home James O’Brien’s corner and eight minutes later Flynn’s low long range effort was parried by Brain straight into Williams’ path to tap home and spark wild celebrations. The momentum growing, City continued to pile on the pressure and a more dominant City 45 minutes of attacking football has not been seen since City recovered from 2-0 and 3-2 down at Luton last January. James O’Brien saw a free kick sail just wide, the lively Neilson brilliantly cut inside but shot too straight towards Brain, Flynn typically attempted another long range effort which went narrowly past the post, Boulding spun his marker but the resultant strike lacked pace and Rehman saw a scrambled effort cleared off the goal line. In the second half only Luke O’Brien and Jon Bateson failed to muster a shot on goal.

As City pushed on, gaps emerged at the back and Macclesfield enjoyed a five minute spell of pressure which saw Wright head against the post and Ross Draper shoot wide, but the one way traffic soon recommenced and Evans almost managed a headline-stealing winner against his former club when his great run and deflected long range shot bounced off the crossbar. The half time booing was replaced by a standing ovation for the players at the final whistle and it was difficult to recall a more impressive half of football from City all season.

So many positives to take; but although League Two results elsewhere show the leading pack isn’t sprinting away, that the impressiveness of City this season hasn’t placed the Bantams among them can no longer solely be attributed to that slow start. Stuart needs to find a way of shoring up the defensive holes or risks them ultimately sinking the club’s promotion chances.

The chase continues as City welcome Hereford to Valley Parade

As was learned two years ago, the chase is rarely fun in football.

Bradford City’s first season in League Two was defined by a poor start which left too much ground to make up during the campaign’s final two thirds. Good runs of form had led to hopes of a late play off push, but each defeat felt that more significant as the chasing pack remained out in front. A contrast to the emotions of last season where a strong start kept City in the top seven for virtually the entire first three quarters of the campaign, meaning defeats felt more careless then terminal.

The slow start to this season has left City with catching up to do again. Although the eight-game unbeaten run in the league saw the gap close, the last two defeats have seen it widen again. Stronger conclusions can be drawn from the league standings with each passing week, and the 13th position the Bantams currently occupy – albeit only four points off the play offs – make less than enthralling viewing. Saturday’s visit of Hereford offers the chance to kick start the chase.

The two defeats have prompted a slight puncturing to the growing mood of optimism, exposing the fickle nature of some City supporters with a small number re-commencing with questioning the ability of manager Stuart McCall and prematurely writing off the season as another destined to end mid table. It’s easy to have faith when things are going well; the most encouraging outcome of the recent setbacks is that only a minority of supporters have lost theirs.

Nevertheless Stuart will know as well as anyone the grumbles will increase if another weekend goes by without a win and, with no reported new injury concerns, will have spent much of this week contemplating a few dilemmas ahead of picking a team to bounce back. The biggest question raised by supporters’ concerns goalkeeper Simon Eastwood and the slim balance he offers between stunning saves and stunning cock ups. Both goals at Dagenham could be blamed on the Huddersfield loanee, further testing Stuart’s patience.

As is often the case in these situations, the level of criticism has gone somewhere past sensible. While few supporters would be willing to argue Eastwood’s case, he has not been as bad as some are making out. The cries for Jon McLaughlin to take over ignore the reality that barely 1,000 supporters have seen him in competitive action, or that he began this season with the same level of senior professional experience as his young rival and has shipped in more than a few goals for the reserves. He may be a better keeper, but no one can know for sure and his name might as well be Jon McAnyone-else. It’s an all too familiar type of argument in recent years, you could almost rehash some of last year’s debate about Matt Clarke and Mark Bower, replacing their names with Eastwood and McLaughlin where applicable.

The back four too is prompting unease, with Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman impressing at times but struggling to retain their command through a full 90 minutes. The smart money is on Simon Ramsden eventually moving over to centre back for one of the pair as the season progresses, with the promising Jonathan Bateson brought in at right back. Luke O’Brien continues to hold his own at left back.

In midfield Stuart must decide whether to continue employing the three across which works well on the road but less so when City are the home side, or go back to a more traditional 4-4-2. Lee Bullock’s superb performance against Crewe didn’t prompt the level of praise it deserved while Michael Flynn is matching him in the consistency stakes. James O’Brien is a bit more hot and cold, but is surely worthy of a longer deal when his temporary one expires at the end of this month. Chris Brandon may be brought in to make a four man midfield, although has plenty of convincing to do after a woeful showing against Crewe.

Up front Michael Boulding is expected to have shaken off the bug which ruled him out of playing at Dagenham and be back in contention. Conspiracy theory fans were happy to speculate that his late withdrawal from the matchday squad at Victoria Road was due to him being upset at Stuart for relegating him to the bench following three goals in three games, though if even the tiniest grain of truth was found in this rumour it would look worse on Boulding than it would be considered a harsh managerial decision. The fact Stuart stated after the match Boulding would have started if fit also blasts more than a few holes into the unfounded speculation.

Which may mean an instant starting eleven recall for Boulding, but more likely he will be on the bench with James Hanson, Gareth Evans and Scott Neilson up front. After a bright start Neilson has struggled for form of late, though the difference he made when coming on against Crewe and lack of alternatives makes it unlikely he will be benched for now. It’s worth noting Stuart began the season with Joe Colbeck while still waiting for Omar Daley to recover from injury, with Neilson signed up on Joe’s departure but probably expected to be back up when the Jamaican returns. Neilson has another month at least to prove his worth on a more consistent basis.

Visitors Hereford were last here during Christmas 2007 and the questionable refereeing decisions which paved the way for a 3-1 away success that day left City languishing in 16th place with 24 games to play and prompted Stuart to effectively rule out City’s promotion chances. Promoted to League One that season before coming straight back down, Hereford are improving after a slow start but are yet to register an away win.

For both, the league table reveals there is much work to do in climbing among the promotion runners and then staying with them. Defeat may not be a disaster tomorrow, but the chase would seem that little bit tougher.

A defeat to be proud of?

I have never walked away from Valley Parade, having just witnessed a home defeat, with such pride and optimism for the future.

Crewe and City came into this game with starkly contrasting form. City unbeaten in ten games, league and cup, and Crewe having lost five games on the bounce. Nonetheless, the reinstatement of wiley old Dario Gradi ensured that a very different Crewe side would show up to Valley Parade compared with the team that had heavily unperformed so far this season following their relegation from League One.

The game began well for City – forcing a number of early corners. But it was Crewe who stuck first in devastating fashion. From an acute angle from a throw in, the live wire Calvin Zola produced an unbelievable strike that even some of the home fans applauded. It was the best goal produced at Valley Parade for some years – and was reminiscent of Luke Medley’s strike for City against Wrexham in 2007.

Zola, a real handful and danger every time he touched the ball, performed at a very high level in this game. There is no doubt in my mind that he was the best striker that has been on display at Valley Parade for many, many years. I guess that’s what £200,000 buys you at this level.

City fought back from the early set back with some more pressure, but were then let down by some naïve defending. Joel Grant almost doubled the Alex lead as he charged at Zesh Rehman with pace, who backed off and backed off even into his own penalty area without putting a challenge in, where Grant produced a couple of step overs, leaving Rehman on the seat of his pants. Grant drilled a low shot that cannoned off the left hand post. The warning signs of a 2nd Crewe goal were there for all to see.

And the Railwaymen did double their lead courtesy of Zola again. An uncharacteristic mistake by Steve Williams in possession at the back , left the loose ball to Zola, who quickly reacted and hit a fierce shot that stuck the post and curled into the back of the net. 2-0 inside 23 minutes. It was clear that City’s spirit was really going to be tested.

But they never gave up, and didn’t let the scoreline affect their performance. More City pressure ensued , and Micheal Boulding from six yards out was presented with a chance that was harder to miss that score. But he struck the bar, to the despair of the home fans. Boulding was being given some stick in the Midland Road stand right from the word ‘go’ from one fan in particular (“Thunder” as he was known in the days that we were in the Premiership, the predominant Voice of Midland Road) who slated Boulding for not chasing down a heavily mishit long ball from Rehman. Unbelievable.

And it came as a great relief to City and Boulding when a quality piece of attacking play reduced the scoreline to 2-1. Flynn sprayed the ball down the right for James O Brien ( who had an off day ) who produced a first time cross that Boulding headed into the back of the net on the stroke of half time. Game on.

City again pressed early in the 2nd half, but were dealt a killer blow as ex City Midfielder Steve Schumacher’s long range shot bounced awkwardly in from of Simon Eastwood and flew into the back of the net for 3-1. Previous City teams, even last year’s team, would have given up on this one.

But not this season. Scott Neilson was introduced for Chris Brandon and City reverted to a 4-3-3 which again seemed to work so much better than a standard 4-4-2. The absolute domination of periods of the 2nd half in this formation should surely convince McCall that 4-3-3 is the formation to start with home and away. And Micheal Boulding contributed to another City goal as he produced a quality cross that James Hanson volleyed in quite superbly. City continued to dominate, had shots that were cleared off the line, whistled wide, and a very strong penalty shout which was turned down in favour for a free kick just outside the box which was subsequently wasted.

But time ran out for City. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. And the home crowd showed their appreciation for City as the final whistle drew the game to a close.

McCall has assembled a squad that deliver the minimum requirements that the Valley Parade crowd demand. Effort, passion and determination. And we can even forgive the team for losing a game as long as every player has worked their socks off. It was very evident in this game that every player did. Simon Ramsden in particular had a solid game, but what really stood out was his appetite and commitment to get City back into the game even when they were facing adversity and 2 goals down. He had urgency in his play and even the simple things like making sure the ball was put back into play really quickly when it landed into the crowd was so good to watch.

Chris Brandon didn’t have his best game – but his work ethic and commitment could not be questioned. And McCall has got this from his players all over the pitch. There are no passengers or players not willing to put the work in, and that makes me as a City fan really proud. McCall’s ability to combine good seasoned Pro’s like Ramsden, Boulding and Flynn with non League talent like Williams, Neilson and Hanson who never stop working hard and are getting better by the game, has been the key to the recent unbeaten run and reason for optimism this season.

The key thing though, and only worry, is that we need to get into the playoff’s this year as a minimum as that is the only real sign of progression under McCall in this results driven business. Our home form this season has been too mixed – 2 wins, 2 draws, 2 defeats – and we really need to improve that sequence if we want to turn a fully committed team into a successful one.

The stats of the Crewe game (26 shots on goal, 15 on target, 16 corners) show that the players are giving their all to the cause. Whether they can match their effort with points on the board in League Two remains to be seen – and will be the key question come May.

But as far this team being a team who are enjoyable to watch and give their all to the cause, there is no question in my mind that it’s the best City side I have seen this decade. I just hope that success follows them as it is nothing less than they deserve.

The Crewe joke and how not to be the butt of it as the Alex come to Valley Parade

There was a joke in football in the eighties that went along the lines of asking who the strongest team in British football was to which the answer was, hilariously enough, “Crewe, because they hold the rest of them up.”

That such a jest is outmoded is largely down to the opposition manager Dario Gradi who took charge of that laughing stock club and in a near two decades made alterations which changed the public perceptions of the Gresty Road club.

Crewe, the Football League’s shining example of a well run club to writer David Conn in his 2003 book The Beautiful Game, became synonymous with the development of young players with a series of high profile internationals either coming through the ranks or were picked up following release and turned around.

Gareth Whalley, Stuart McCall’s midfield partner in 1999, came from Crewe.

This track record is largely credited to Gradi and his youth development skills but credit is shared by a whole club prepared to rise or fall on the strength of the talent unearthed. A poor crop of youngsters could see a bad season or relegation but that was never considered a failure of the system which brought rewards on and off the field and certainly not a reason to change that system.

Gradi moved upstairs after his sixtieth birthday but has been called back to the job as caretaker following the dismissal of one of his successors. Crewe, it would seem, have staggered from the light of what they did well for twenty years and perhaps that is why they find themselves back near the position of mirth.

City’s attempt at continuity in management seem to be more faltering with manager McCall given a break from the attempts to oust him as his team continue a run of ten games without defeat that was made more impressive by the changes made in the midweek penalties victory over an unamused Notts County who once again employed the technique hence forth known as “If not a win then spin.”

Ian McPartland tells the vast majority of County fans who were not at the game that they were robbed and that Graeme Lee should not have been sent off and it is not true but creating the suggestion takes some pressure off him.

To be clear City got everything they deserved on Tuesday night.

That this was the case came from a squad capable of fluidly filling in roles in a formation and take responsibility for the performance. Leon Osbourne has yet to win me over but he let no one down on Tuesday for the majority of the game and can take pride in his display.

The winger will no doubt be dropped with James Hanson ready to come back from illness but Michael Boulding is becoming increasingly hard to displace in the side and when Gareth Evans returns from suspension – and the Ref who sent off Evans would have had cause to red Graeme Lee three times despite the Magpies manager’s protestations – Stuart McCall might have to pick between Boulding and Scott Neilson on the right hand side providing an interesting pointer to the longed for day that sees Omar Daley back in claret and (reduced amounts of) amber.

Michael Flynn put in an outstanding performance on Tuesday as he continues to be the ball winning and passing midfielder of our dreams while James O’Brien is starting to look equally impressive. Lee Bullock will return pushing Chris Brandon back to the bench.

Jonathan Bateson is unlucky to have to step down following two good displays and a switch for Simon Ramsden to the middle is not out of the question but Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams are likely to return at the expense of Bateson and Matt Clarke.

Luke O’Brien has been a joy to watch of late and one recalls the Crewe idea that a team might rise and fall on the strength of it’s young players.

If Huddersfield Town rise on the back of goalkeeper Simon Eastwood then it is because of Tuesday night’s two penalty saves which galvanize a player who was mobbed coming off the field.

Mobbed with the rest of the players. Slowly building, improving, not losing. Dario would be proud.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bradford City fans celebrate Simon Eastwood's penalty save

Happiness will be revenge as Notts County face City again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wonderful world of zero welcomes City and Morecambe

Zero.

Not the greatest number in football but one which welcomed with the ferocity of Chris Brandon’s powerful lash into the back of the net for the third goal in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Chesterfield.

Welcomed because after seven games – six in the league – in which City have not lost he goal difference which took such a battering on the opening day of the season at Notts County has been repaired.

Zero. Even. Balanced and while leaders Bournemouth and the aforementioned County are both in double figures the nice round nought confirms the recovery the Bantams have made both in terms of results and in confidence. The Bantams go to Morecambe in the same confident mood which marked the trip to Meadow Lane in August.

City have faired poorly in the two league trips to Christie Park losing both games 2-1 despite taking the lead in both games. The Shrimpers were in the non-league when the Bantams were in the Premiership, it is not hard to see why they dig deep.

At the moment though there is hope that City will be able to dig deeper which says much about the character the Bantams have shown in the last dozen games. Chesterfield summed up the Bantams so far – not massively better but consistently so and ready to battle for victory.

Michael Flynn typifies that battle answering the call from early in the season that while Stuart McCall can pick a nominal captain the onus is on the players to show leadership – claim the armband as it were – and the midfielder who scored impressively on Saturday has risen to that challenge. Forget who has the armband, leadership is leadership and Flynn is part of a group of players ready to stand up and be counted.

Flynn’s midfield partnership with Lee Bullock – who he paid tribute to in the press following Saturday’s win – and James O’Brien has been the driving force behind this impressive run. It is a midfield of out muscling and then using the ball and it works well. Scott Neilson – further out right and joining Gareth Evans and James Hanson in the forward line – provides a speedy and useful outlet while the two forwards provide constant motion.

Jonathan Bateson stepped in for Simon Ramsden on Saturday and did little wrong while Luke O’Brien battled to a great display. Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams combine strength with pick pocket defending and while the triangle with Simon Eastwood is far from impregnable it has the same confidence that runs through the side and is markedly different from last season’s heads down pair of Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke who after conceding a single goal seemed to suck the ball into repeated danger.

Morecambe sit 18th – credit for a small club punching above its weight and not running into trouble with the tax man – and got a creditable draw with Dagenham and Redbridge at the weekend. The Shrimpers are also on a seven game unbeaten run with the only win in that set of draws being the 2-1 win over Notts County which got into the papers.

That is the only win they have had in League Two this season. Better than zero.

City enjoy being the little bit better

Seven games, five win and two draws and it seems a long time since the Bantams left the two games in the opening four days in Nottingham looking at the season to come with desperation, a desperation further vanished following the 3-0 win over Chesterfield at Valley Parade.

In those days there was talk about Stuart McCall The Player and Stuart McCall The Manager – a distinction between the two – and there was questions about the latter’s selection of captain, captaincy changed by exclusion and injury to Peter Thorne that saw Zesh Rehman take over the armband and culminates today in the sort of display which Stuart McCall The Captain would have been proud.

The Bantams’ win came from a solid and constant display of superiority over the visitors minute by minute being better by increments, grinding down John Sheridan’s Chesterfield with the better performers in claret geeing and improving those around them.

James Hanson will have better games, so will Luke O’Brien but those two players can take huge credit from the way that even in tough situations – and Hanson was up against a fine defender in Robert Page – neither hid from the ball or the game. Players made their mistakes in public, recovered in public and were encouraged and supported by their team mates in public.

All of which is tribute to Zesh Rehman, captain today, who put in one of his best performances for the club and one of the City defensive displays of sometime making a useful Chesterfield side look ordinary. Rehman and Williams marshalled Wade Small, Donal McDermott and towards the end of the game Jack Lester using the Zesh’s power in the air and Williams’s ability to nip in and emerge with the ball to end the game in control of a good set of forwards.

Credit too to the midfield three of James O’Brien, Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn who used the advantage of numbers and an abundance of confidence to win a midfield battle against an impressive Derek Niven who deserves credit for running his legs down to the knees trying to win back control from a City side who were capable of switching from the directness of a ball to Hanson or Gareth Evans to the patient possession.

It was an early, direct ball to an isolated Michael Flynn – lost up field and oddly alone – who meandered into the box and with the away defence expecting a cross bent the ball into the far side of the goal past Keighley born keeper Tommy Lee.

Perhaps there is a way to measure the togetherness of a team – lacking last year but in evidence this – that comes when looking at goal celebrations. Flynn slid on his knees in a cover version of Emmanuel Adebayor enjoying the moment, his team mates enjoying it too.

From then on the game was City’s to lose and Chesterfield enjoyed a spell of fifteen minutes around half time when they tested the Bantams. Lee Bullock deserves credit for his work in this period. Bullock arrived at City as an attacking midfielder but since his move into a containing role he has been a revelation and was my man of the match.

Chesterfield’s best chance caused their defeat. McDermott had a chance which Simon Eastwood did superbly to save from Niven and Darren Currie airshotted. Eight seconds later Scott Neilson was sweeping the ball in for the Bantams’ second goal after Gareth Evans had won an aerial ball, taken it into the box and dragged a shot that was pushed out and popped in.

The celebration. An eye on Zesh Rehman charging back to congratulate Eastwood’s save, Steve Williams joining in. Credit for all, credit deserved.

A third goal came when Chris Brandon – off the bench after a great display by James O’Brien – lashed in a lose ball in the box after Lee had committed himself making a save from Neilson. Another sub – Michael Boulding – could have rounded the keeper for a fourth while Luke Sharry’s cameo saw him set up Neilson who pinged the ball off the post. Four would have flattered and this was a game about taking advantage of being a little better and not thrashing the opposition.

Not ill deserved would have been a red card for Jack Lester who put feet and arm over the ball in a vicious foul on Lee Bullock. Most of the City squad piled in to a push and shove brawl with the game won and no need for further cards.

I guess they just felt the need to show togetherness. Nine games into the season and the table starts to look both relevant and interesting. City nicely positioned, trips of Morecambe and Northampton on the road to come. This season – and City – is up and running.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City visit Shrewsbury as the start begins to end

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The contrast of Colbeck leaves City

Young player leaves for club in higher division who pay money for his services is the Dog Bites Man of lower league football but Joe Colbeck’s exit to join Oldham Athletic on transfer deadline day bring to an end one of the more confusing and complex careers at City that was far from an ordinary story.

To some Colbeck was an exciting right winger who over his five years in the City side had charged at left backs making City play well and being missed chronically when injured. To others he was too be jeered and sworn at in a way that was genuinely shocking. Some said that he would never made a footballer, other than he was the best footballer we had.

Within view of where I sit at Valley Parade I can see one guy who would have JC as the first name on his team sheet coming to blows about his abilities at times and another who considers the Leeds born winger so offensive that he will swear in front of his own children at City’s former number seven.

The background for Colbeck’s duality fades into insignificance as he leaves but it had something to do with a red card against Oldham Athletic for crossing a ball that had gone over the touchline and to down with driving, powerful runs that opened up defences. Colbeck is equally capable of exciting forward play as he is of terrible challenges which were often not just badly timed. His foul on Dean Lewington resulted in a much deserved red card but the season before he was lauded as players of the season.

A contradiction of appreciation then with some upset at his unwillingness to sign a new deal in the summer after a final game of the season where fans were singing “You’re not fit to wear the shirt“. It is not hard to see why he looked for an escape route from Valley Parade especially – as is obvious from the move up a division – he could be considered in the bracket with fellow Oldham man Dean Furman as being “too good for us”.

Even those who were against him should worry about how Colbeck was dogged by a group of fans who created an atmosphere in which the exit of someone who enough people thought was good enough to be player of the season wanted out. Forget one’s personal opinion on Colbeck and ask yourself if it is right that one group of supporters continue a campaign to unsettle a player to a level where they become disproportionately loud so as to no doubt be the dominant memory the player will have of the club? As with the Save Our Stuart McCall debate at the end of last season once the discussion has been had and points made is it not right that players (or managers) are allowed to get on with things?

For my part I shall remember Colbeck for performances like Saturday where he was not massively effectual but he constantly got involved in the game. I’ll save my ire for players who hide from the ball and one could never accuse Colbeck of that. I’ll miss him, I will not miss the divisiveness and I worry that a dangerous precedent is set where those who grumble most are being allowed to set the tone.

Nevertheless Scott Neilson scored one and made the other in City’s first game post-Colbeck and we can all get behind the new right winger. It is just a shame that Valley Parade could not do the same for a player recognised as talented such as Colbeck.

The sound of silence as City face Rochdale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A professional always gets the job done

The drive from York to Bradford is quite a nice one on a Saturday lunchtime; with Fivelive on in the background it represents the calm before the storm. Today however, I had to find a different route thanks to the Bramham Park music festival and, discovering myself stuck behind a traction engine near Harewood I had an ominous sense of foreboding.

That said, I wouldn’t trade my journey for the trek faced by the reasonable number of Torquay fans who will still be making their way south, with, let’s face it, rather little to talk about.

Today’s match was an interesting, if not always entertaining affair. Torquay did not, like so many before them, come simply for a draw – though despite their open play, never really created anything of notice. This openness afforded both teams the opportunity to play some nice football in patches and when City did, they looked impressive.

For much of the first half City looked nervous, hardly like a team that had scored 5 only seven days prior. But when the ball found Luke O’Brien or Joe Colbeck, and the space and width were exploited City burst into life.

A fantastic move on about the half hour, which saw a delicate chip from the comfortable looking Williams finding the head of Hanson, whose cushioned header was met by a lovely control and volley by Evans – just wide, was probably the highlight of the first 45. On about 45 minutes and 59 seconds however came the breakthrough, which left barely enough time for the ref to restart before he called for half time. The goal, a James Hanson header from a subtly chipped James O’Brien free kick was a well-earned reward for City who had been dominant without being spectacular. It was also a fine reward for those who hadn’t hurried off for their half time pie.

As I reflected during the break the word that came to mind was professional. Nowt fancy I’ll grant, but a professional performance from City over all, professional from Simon Eastwood whose ears must burning from all the jeers that were desperate to leave the mouths of City’s boo boys.

Professional also from a back four that attended to their defensive duties before surging forward. Professional from Colbeck, who despite not having his best match, seemed to be at the centre of anything positive that hadn’t come from Luke O’Brien. Professional from Gareth Evans who chased every ball regardless of whether he had much chance of catching it. My only gripes at the interval where that we still seem to lack pace and though James O’B played rather well, he is not a natural wide player.

The second period was something like a childhood trip to Morecambe; we were always going to get there in the end so there was no real need to rush and once you got there, there was very little to write home about anyway.

City were always in control of a match they were always expected to win. And, despite neat passages of play involving the O’Briens, or Colbeck, or Evans, Or Hanson, with the ball failing to hit the net, I feared that those natives with shorter attention spans would become restless.

Fortunately for all, the last quarter of an hour saw the introduction of the much-anticipated Scott Neilson. The former Lilywhite instantly lifted both the team and the fans with a couple of quick, direct, enthusiastic, and relatively successful surging runs. He reminded me of an ‘on-song’ Colbeck, though the fans seemed much happier to forgive Neilson’s couple of slips than they ever have with Colbeck.

Neilson was positive and he was fast. Quite frankly it served as a reminder of just how effective Omar Daley can be and the thought of both playing on the flanks really does fill me with a sense of excitement. I’d just finished telling my mate that I thought Stuart McCall could have possibly tried Neilson and Colbeck together for that bit of extra pace rather than bring Chris Brandon on, when the number eleven sprinted onto a through-ball and applied a cool finish to end the game.

Again, a nice reward for a professional, if not spectacular City performance and a nice reward for Brandon who I felt brought a bit more balance to the left side when he was introduced.

I started by saying that this match was interesting if not always entertaining and it was; McCall’s collection of youngsters, rookies, basement-bargains and until recently, amateurs, turned in a thoroughly professional performance and look like they’re starting to gel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probably won’t be Scott Neilson’s.

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