Parkinson’s hardest job as Gary Jones leaves City

The biggest job Phil Parkinson has had since he got to Bradford City is to replace Gary Jones who will leave the club during the summer.

What is more Parkinson’s ability to replace Jones will be the decisive factor in if he is Bradford City manager this time next year.

Parkinson’s tribute to Jones vocalised exactly what City will miss about the captain. “Enormous contribution”, “right mentality”, “character”, “superb role model”, “heart and soul”, “I cannot speak highly enough of him both as a person and as a football player.”

Jones’ ability should not be understated – a League One club (like Rochdale) might judge from his performances last season that he was still worth a place in the team – but Parkinson will miss his leadership. Not since Captain McCall left had City been left with such a significant hole in the dressing room.

A good captain improves the players around him, he pulls them through games, and he inspires them to find something which without him they would not have. Stuart McCall was the example for his and anyone who watched him dragging a City team to the Premier League would have recognised those qualities in Jones at Villa Park, at Burton Albion, at Wembley.

Jones ensured performances from the players around him. After years of watching a team with the nominal leadership of David Wetherall, the withering leadership of Tommy Doherty, the slight times of Simon Ramsden, the shouting ineptitude of Guy Branston City had a player who led on the field and led well. Every great team has an avatar of the manager on the field and Jones did that for Parkinson.

Which leaves the manager with a problem. No matter who gets the armband next season Parkinson needs someone who shows Jones’ leadership. Someone inline with the manager, who can be the manager’s voice on the field, and can give Nathan Doyle a kick up the arse when needed.

Without that leadership any team stop being greater than the sum of their parts and then when parts start to misfire they become less still. We saw this as Stuart McCall’s side faded away for the want of the on the field character that, as a player, he shared with Jones.

That team was – and one could argue this at length – man for man “better” players than Parkinson’s side last season but they were a worse team and much of the construction of that team was in “right mentality”, “character”, “heart and soul” which Gary Jones brought.

And without that City – mid-table last season – cannot expect a better return next year and one doubts that a same again display from Parkinson will be considered acceptable for a boardroom which twitches more than not.

As Gary Jones exits Phil Parkinson has a lot of work to do.


Aside, from Michael Wood, on Gary Jones There was no way to fit this into the article above but as a story I think it says much about Jones. Before Wembley City were approached by The Sun to ask for single game on shirt advertising for the League Cup final. City would have worn The Sun logo on the shirt but at sometime before a decision was made the idea was presented to the two Liverpool born players: Gary Jones and Stephen Darby.

And it was Jones who replied that he did not want the club to take The Sun’s money.

Beyond revival, and revival

Two years ago to the day on Saturday, a goverment think tank suggested that Bradford, and other northern cities like it, were ‘beyond revival’, and that its residents should move south to places like Oxford, instead. Some people who may or may not be writing this match preview may or may not have had one or two things to say about that. It may have been some time in coming, but it feels like there’s a revival in this part of the city.

Bradford City have lost their first two games of the season. The team have a 0% record in the league, and have been knocked out of the cup by the team most of our supporters can’t even bear to say the name of, at least not without vitriol. In two games, the against column reads five.

I state these facts because, despite these, there is great pride amongst fans about the team — which should not be confused with misplaced optimism. After a shaky first match against Aldershot, the team played against Leeds on Tuesday in the fixture most of the squad had been looking forward to since the draw was made: and their interest in playing the game transferred into a good performance that, rightly, the fans have been proud of. The call of Saturday has returned for fans and players alike, it seems.

And so to this Saturday, where City take on an Oxford side who have likewise had two defeats. As we will hope that City will be galvanised by their spirit against Leeds on Tuesday, the U’s fans will be hoping that their side can also continue with similar spirit to that which saw them bow out in extra time against Cardiff. That town is looking for a revival of its own right about now.

In the preview of the match, this site’s editor spoke of what there was for City to lose out of the match with Leeds, and it seems that the answer to that was the impressive David Syers, down in a heap in the second half at Elland Road, after bossing the midfield, now seeking specialist advice on a knee injury, rather than a trip to the city we should all be living in this weekend. Steve Williams may also lose the chance to continue in a central defence that asks as many questions as it answers, after suffering a problem with his thigh. Ramsden and Bullock complete the list of the maladied.

This leaves Jackson with a choice of Premiership stoppers to stand between the sticks: if Williams makes it, the chances are that he will once again play alongside man-mountain Guy Branston, and it would follow that Jansson would continue alongside them, after their 90 minutes together in Leeds. Should Luke Oliver come in, a new centre-back pairing would give neither Jansson or Hansen the obvious communicative advantage. The impressive Liam Moore, who positionally is probably the most aware defender in a City shirt at the moment, will undoutedly continue at right-back, and it is likely that Robbie Threlfall will default to left-back, continuing to fuel the speculation surrounding Luke O’Brien’s availability and squad status.

On-loan winger Michael Bryan will hope to take a berth on the right-hand side of midfield. Whether he does or not will likely come down to his fitness relative to his new team-mates, as the extra half-hour of football played by on Wednesday by Oxford should be looked to be exploited by Jackson. Likely, Richie Jones will continue exactly where he left off on Tuesday in replacing Syers, and the Oxford midfield should look to bunch up around Michael Flynn, fearful of another strike like the one lashed in against Leeds. Compton will be unlucky to be dropped after putting in some hard work in both matches, and it will boil down to whether the team is to play wide (Bryan) or look for free-kicks (Mitchell).

Up front, neither of the burgeoning partnership of Hanson and Stewart are looking troubled by Hannah, Rodney or Wells, all of which have come on for a few minutes, and none of whom have yet to show their true mettle as yet, although there is a slim chance it could be Nialle Rodney who benefits from Syers’ absence, depending on whether the manager decides to use the impact player early, or late, on. It will be a huge surprise if his pace is not seen at all during the game.

For the yellow side (which means the excellent pink kit gets an airing), three of their employees took the think tank’s advice literally, and now ply their trade there instead of here: the manager, Chris Wilder, was part of the decent City 1997-1998 Championship-level side, as right back. Jake Wright was a youth-team throwaway who now captains the U’s, and Paul McLaren got paid far too much money for delivering far too little, far too recently.

Whether the revival bears fruit on Saturday or not, the change in attitude in City fans is refreshing to see. As with any study, a change in behaviour is only significant if it then goes on to be the norm. The think tank may have written Bradford off: but, despite many times thinking the team is beyond revival, the latest crop are showing that belief, passion, and pride are sometimes formed from more than the mere sum of parts.

2011/2012 II/IV: The players

They can hardly lose – the players of Bradford City 2011/2012 coming in the season after the team were booed, jeered and dubbed “the worst in Bradford City’s history.”

Set against that the currently players – as a whole – can hardly do worse but with the club stopping focusing on promotion as the only aim and starting looking at Development as the means that end in a higher division then the players are individually charged with achieving personal aims.

So if the City players need to end the season having improved what should each player consider a success for the season, and what standard should they be held against?

Goalkeepers

A good season for Jon McLaughlin is a busy one. The keeper has kept his place in the squad while all around him have been released and retains the favour of supporters but thus far the former Harrogate shot stopper needs to be authoritative in his goalkeeping and commanding of a back four that too often looked nervous in front of him last season.

A good season is to keep the gloves all year, a bad one sees someone come in on loan and leaves McLaughlin looking for a new club after the season.

Martin Hansen‘s dream season is a first month – and then two more perhaps – where he is a brick wall for Bradford City and returns to Liverpool with Pepe Reina allowed to leave and the Danish custodian allowed to take over. That probably will not happen but a good display against Leeds United in the League Cup would help raise his profile and his season is all about showing he can perform in League football.

Defenders

Bradford City are Guy Branston‘s grand project. The defender looks at Valley Parade as his opportunity to add a final achievement to his promotions and play off wins and that achievement is to stamp authority on a team which badly lacked leadership last year. Branston’s sights are set higher than any other player for the Bantams this season and anything less than playing near every game (eighteen red cards in his career suggests that one might expect a suspension of two) and making sure that the men around him put in good performances and win clean sheets.

One of those men is Steve Williams who has two years left on his contract so perhaps this is not the “big year” that is being talked about for the defender but Williams needs to bring a more constant high level of performance. A good season for Williams is few mistakes at the back which tend to interrupt excellent displays, and it is nailing a place alongside Branston at the heart of the back four.

A good season for Simon Ramsden is one without injury. Since arriving at City Ramsden has put in infrequent but excellent performances at right back and central defence owing to injury and it seems that should he stay fit that Rambo will do well. A good season for Simon Ramsden is living up to the promise of his fleeting appearances so far.

For Luke O’Brien this season is about giving up childish things and graduating from being a good young player to being a reliable good player. For this year to be a success O’Brien has to go past his last season of being given the pass which young players to not needing such excuses and putting in mature displays most often.

For the forgotten man Luke Oliver it is hard to imagine how he can break into the side with Branston in his way but – eighteen red cards remember – a good season for Luke Oliver is to be the able replacement to be drafted in when needed. Whenever called on Oliver has played with enthusiasm and
professionalism. Not the best player in the world a good season for Luke Oliver is to not let anyone down when he is called on and – despite the moaning of the malcontent – he never has so far.

For right back Andrew Burns the season is all about development. City are looking for a loan deal for the young right back to give him a few months of experience. If the season is a success for him he will come back and put pressure on the first team. If he ends with a dozen appearances he will have done very well, half a dozen might be more realistic and is a good aim for the youngster.

Similarly Adam Robinson – who seems set to back up for Steve Williams in the role of mobile defender – needs experience and might hope to get a few months playing in the non-league but a successful season is winning a new deal after his initial first six month contract expires and perhaps getting a half dozen appearances in by the end of the season.

For Lewis Hunt and Robbie Threlfall a good season seems to be finding a new club. How Threlfall fell from the player who people thought was too good for us to one who is thrown out of “the worst team in Bradford City’s history” is saddening and the fact that the club seemed to keep him in preference to signing Jamie Green promises something for the left back from Liverpool but all in all a good season for both is to end it as a professional footballer, and good luck to them both.

Midfielders

No player shows the potential of a successful season better than Dominic Rowe. Rowe is in the team in the absence of Omar Daley and mirrors the winger’s style of play charging at defenders with pace but differs in his type of delivery. While Omar went for the cut inside and attack the centre Rowmar goes around the outside to the byline and delivers.

A good season for a first year professional is to play a half dozen or more games but the likes of Burns and Robinson have players in their way. Rowe has the opportunity to get into the team and make Peter Jackson stop the search for a replacement. A good season for Dominic Rowe is to play a dozen games, get a few assists and a couple of goals but Bradford City – it seems – need more from the young winger.

In other words City need Rowe to have a David Syers season where his first proper year sees him establish himself as a first team player quickly. Syers’ challenge this year is not only to avoid the often talked about “second season syndrome” but to advance his game. As good as he was in his first year when given the opportunity to boss the midfield himself Syers was found wanting. A good season for David Syers is not measured in how many games he plays or goals he scores so much as how many midfield battles he wins. He needs to be everywhere on the pitch, as often as he can be.

Exactly the same can be said about Michael Flynn. Seemingly unloved by Peter Jackson Flynn’s performances have put him back into contention but Flynn has been in the heart of City teams which had soft centres. The decision for the manager is on if those teams failed because of Flynn, or inspite of him, a successful season for City’s number four is to make that decision for Jackson. Like Syers it is not just games played but midfields won which will be decisive for the midfielder in the year, the final year of his City contract.

At the other end of his Bantams career is Ritchie Jones who signed a potential four year deal with the club and has been brought in – aged 24 – to be a big player. Having slipped down from Manchester United to Hartlepool United to Oldham Athletic Jones has reached a place where he needs to stop the decline. League Two offers the base ground for footballers. If one does not make it at this level, one is not a professional footballer for much longer.

For Jones there is a need to make this season the one where he cements a regular first team place putting him in direct competition with Flynn and Syers. A good season for Jones taking the opportunity of being a new face at a new club and making himself undroppable.

Chris Mitchell may end up undroppable because of his delivery from set plays. A fine crosser of a ball Mitchell seems to offer City the sort of delivery which has been missing since – perhaps – Nick Summerbee left the club but arriving as a full back come central midfielder it seems that the young Scot will have had a successful season if at the end of it no one is saying that he is only in the team because of his delivery.

Jack Compton‘s season will have been a success if there is a battle for his services in January. His loan expires in the Winter and should the Bantams be trying to prise him away from Falkirk who have seen something they want back from the left winger then he will have done well. A traditional winger, and very one footed, there are worries about how Compton will fit into a team and a division in which every player has to work hard to get results but a partnership between O’Brien and Compton could have something of the Wayne Jacobs/Peter Beagries about it.

If he can be a regular between now and Christmas, and if he can provide the ammunition for James Hanson and his former Falkirk team mate Mark Stewart then he will have had a good half season.

A successful season for Lee Bullock is filling in. Peter Jackson has said that he wants to keep the midfielder because of his versatility. Bullock has played right back, centre back, holding and attacking midfield and perhaps for Bullock success is not judged in how many games he plays but in how many positions he plays them in. Not only that but how many loan players are forced to come in to cover injuries. If at the end of the year Bullock has filled whatever hole appears in the team he – and Jackson – will have justified his place in the squad.

For Luke Dean‘s place in the squad to be justified the midfielder who lost much last season to injury needs to start establishing himself as a member of the match day sixteen which – looking at the options available – could be tough. One gets the feeling that unless Dean gets a very lucky he will spend the season frustrated. A good season for Luke Dean sees him push ahead of the likes of Mitchell, Bullock and Flynn in the pecking order.

The likes of Alex Flett and Patrick Lacey have more time. They need experience on loan and a fist full of first team games but the onus on those players is to prove that they are worth another deal. Flett’s contract is up at Christmas and so has to impress quickly, Lacey has until then end of the season.

The same should be said about Scott Brown but to do so would be to ignore the anticipation around the young Scot who has a buzz about his early appearances and abilities. It is said that after watching Brown for fifty minutes Jackson got on the phone to get a contract drawn up for the sixteen year old so impressed was he and while it would be far too simplistic to say that the player needs to break into the first team he – more than any other brought into Archie Christie’s Development Squad – needs to start pushing for a place in the first team squad. He needs to make himself the default option when the manager starts looking for options. A dozen appearances would be excellent, but the proof of Brown and the Development Squad is in the number of loan players brought to the club to plug gaps perceived in the squad.

Forwards

Of all the players at Bradford City James Hanson has the longest current commitment to the club. Hanson is signed up for City until the middle of 2013 regardless of performance (Brown and Jones have longer options at the club’s discretion) such is the faith which three managers have had in the forward. Hanson divides opinion in City fans and there is debate about the player but – for me – there are two schools of thought on the player: Those who see him as a superb forward capable of winning battles against almost every player he comes up against and possessing a powerful, able strikers arsenal, and those who are wrong.

Success for Hanson is to be injury free of course – he will not like a season like last year – but it is also to carry on his weekly battles with the defenders of League Two and to create for his team mates. A dozen goals would be a good return but the same number and more of direct assists would illustrate the worth that he should be having in a team.

Benefactor of those assists should be new recruit from Falkirk Mark Stewart who comes to the club with a reputation as an intelligent player with the ability to link up with his fellow forward. A good season for Stewart is eighteen goals, a poor one and people will be making jokes that he is only playing because Jackson needs a Mar… Stewart up front. Perhaps realistically if the club are hoping for promotion in two or three years rather than one then a good season for Stewart is preparing for a second year promotion push rather than being judged on what he does in the next twelve months.

If Stewart fails then waiting is Ross Hannah. The chances of the former Matlock man improving on his 53 goals last season are slim but the striker will look not only to be getting into double figures for goals but will also hope to give Peter Jackson a selection headache. Hannah has to make it difficult for Jackson to decide which of his strikers he should be partnering James Hanson with. A successful season for Hannah is a good goal tally and a enough starts to suggest that Mark Stewart was not the default choice and to earn the extension to his contract for next season.

All of which is also true for Nialle Rodney and more. Rodney has only a one year deal and needs to suggest that he deserves another professional deal. A half dozen goals would suggest that the young man is delivering on his promise but games will be tough for Rodney if City are doing well, unless of course he is the man scoring the goals which bring good results.

Nakhi Wells is in a similar situation. A player who shown impressive touches in his early City career but will struggle to get games if the Bantams are doing well, and if the Bantams are doing poorly may struggle when he was in the team. A good season would be around twenty appearances and a half dozen goals but opportunities are limited.

More limited though seem to be the future for Leon Osbourne and Darren Stephenson. The former seems to have lost his place as the bright young thing and is now a very average player who has not been able to nail down a position and perhaps a good season for him is to establish himself with enough games to have proved a usefulness. The latter – Stephenson – has seen four players join the club ahead of him and will hope to get a loan move to give him experience and perhaps a half dozen games in the first team by the end of the season and the odd goal.

Too much pre-season

Pre-season rumbles too a close.

The defeat to Hull City was remarkable only because City wore a superb looking pink strip and Peter Jackson was not that pleased with the performance talking about some players having done well, others not so much.

New keeper Martin Hansen was a positive. The Liverpool keeper swatted a few away despite picked the ball out of his net three times. Nialle Rodney could have probably won himself a starting position had he scored, but he did not and Mark Stewart did giving the Scot the box seat come Aldershot.

This weekend’s two games represent the end of what seems to have been a long pre-season. The squad assembled for Silsden has pretty much stayed as it was throughout the games which have contained little of note with the Bantams beating teams below them and losing to teams above them.

So far, so dull really and there is a sense that most people can not wait to be done with the friendlies and onto the proper games. Twenty years ago the regular fan would rock up on day one and find a clutch of new faces, with rumours of pre-season but never having seen them or at least that is what it seemed like. Perhaps it was the day Carlos Valderrama rocked up for Real Valladolid and did midfield battle against a City team who fielded Paul Jewell at right back that pre-season became something I watched rather than something I heard about.

Pre-season seems to go on for more then the month it shows in the calendar and at this level it is unfulfilling. The game with Carlisle United represents a team close to City in the structure of football and perhaps the best chance of a decent game but with City’s squad – or squads – well defined at this stage the players seem to be keeping away from injury with a decent knowledge of who will be in the sixteen on opening day.

Indeed the back five of Hansen, Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Guy Branston and Luke O’Brien seems inked in and Stewart has added his name to James Hanson up front. The midfield has some movement but seems to have Dominic Rowe on the right, Michael Flynn in the middle and one of David Syers, Chris Mitchell and Richie Jones in there too. Jamie Green is trying to play for a contract but should he sign one then the left wing is his with only former Carlisle man Nakhi Wells seemingly offering another option.

The day previous to that match at Valley Parade a minor event occurs as City return to Horsfall Stadium as Archie Christie’s development squad take on Albion Sports in the Bantams’ first game against the former Sunday league club formed in 1974 and recently turned Saturday.

There is a family link for me – Uncle Bill used to manage them – but Albion Sports also provided the kit for my team at University. At the time it was the same kit which Bradford Park Avenue were wearing.

That Albion Sports – formed by two men named Singh just after Park Avenue went out of business – have move into sharing the stadium with the Stans perhaps has a significance beyond this game in the shifting patterns of local football.

Christie’s Development team is likely to feature a mixed bag of players with the likes of Luke Oliver keeping fit, Darren Stephenson trying to get back in from the cold and no doubt whichever trialists the former Dag & Red man scout has found.

Some do not care for the idea that Christie does more than scouting at City – why he should not considering his title is Head of Football Development one has to wonder – but there seems to be a benefit for a team which so freely hires and fires managers in taking the responsibility for passing players from the youth levels to the first team away from the temporary position of “manager”.

When Jackson leaves – and let us face it the only certainty about any manager in City is at some point his critics will outnumber his advocates and drum him out – then it is a good thing that young players like Scott Brown or Patrick Lacey do not have their development interrupted by the new broom of a new gaffer.

Christie’s role is to bring the manager – whoever it is – new players who are good enough to be given a first team role. He can do this though scouting and signing or he can do it through picking up young players and filing off the rough edges to make them good enough. If he can grab a player from a local league and give him a six months in the Development squad getting him ready to hand on to the manager then that is a way to improve the club other than just the hiring and firing of men in the big chair marked boss.

So plenty to play for at Horsfall Stadium, perhaps for both sets of players, but at Valley Parade there is a water treading and a waiting for the pre-season to be over and for football to begin.

Jackson left scribbling out his midfield options

I imagine that somewhere in the depths of Woodhouse Grove that there are any number of crumpled up pieces of paper with teams sketched out on them which Peter Jackson has produced as he tries to permeate his starting eleven for the first match of the season in thirteen days time and most probably the greatest number of changes come in the midfield positions.

The City team that lost 4-1 to Bolton in a performance which had no disgrace – more on that later – has a settled back four of Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Guy Branston and Luke O’Brien and while O’Brien was guilty of messing around rather than getting rid in the last minute to give the ball away cheaply and lead to the fourth goal by the visitors which was nicely finished by Ivan Klasnic the back four is stable and has promise.

Likewise the power of James Hanson up front and the movement of Mark Stewart seem to be the pair in waiting. Nialle Rodney bangs on the door after a superb dribble which took him by a number of Trotters and saw him apply a cool finish but it seems that Rodney and Ross Hannah will be bench sitters against Aldershot Town when the season kicks off.

The effectiveness of Stewart and Hanson remains to be seen. Hanson has the ability to dominate defenders but last season often that was wasted for the want of support. Stewart’s intelligent play seems to be a good match the idea being that if Hanson is winning the ball and Stewart running to where Hanson will nod the ball on to. Rodney and Hannah suggest that if Plan A does not work then there is something else in the locker. Looking over at Robbie Blake – playing for Bolton and warmly applauded by City fans – the mind drifted back to how Blake was the second choice to Isaiah Rankin back in 1998. The ability to make that switch in the season proved to be key.

Blake set up a fine second goal for Bolton running in behind the Bantams backline and picking out Darren Pratley who came out of midfield well all afternoon including a moment in the first half where having bested his marker he tumbled in the box under the sort of changeling from Mark Howard which is a penalty in pre-season at Valley Parade but will be a foul on the keeper at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge.

It was Pratley’s running which will cause Jackson to rip up more paper this week. He and Patrice Mwamba – who for my money should be in the England team – battled tooth and nail against City’s midfield two of Chris Mitchell holding and Michael Flynn attacking the the Bantams pair past muster.

Flynn seems to have gone from being stuck in the stiffs at Silsden and seemingly on his way out of the club to being the best Bantams player on show against the toughest opposition he will face all season.

Flynn’s attitude is obvious and excellent and his play saw him breaking forward and being a threat and he combined well with Chris Mitchell who’s holding abilities are second to his abilities from dead ball situations and one suspects that that second attribute is causing Jackson more scribbles. Mitchell’s corners to Hanson, Williams and Branston were a threat that nearly brought goals in the first half but one wonders if he is strong enough in the holding role to justify his selection.

Flynn too – while looking impressive in his own play – has been over the last two seasons a part of midfields which are soft centred. Was that Flynn’s fault or the fault of those around him, or the previous management, and could Jackson’s deployment of Flynn bring the best out of the player? This is where Jackson earns his money.

Mitchell and Flynn are joined in the mix by David Syers – the criticism of Flynn could be equally applied to Syers – Lee Bullock and Richie Jones. Bullock seems less in the running than the others but one can only imagine the permutations Jackson is running in training to try find an answer to this most pressing of questions. A good team needs a good midfield mix and history tells us that at City a good team needs a good start lest it be dragged down by a chorus of disapproval.

The widemen offer options. Jamie Green did not feature today with a potential third Falkirkian in Jack Compton on the left flank and Compton a more out and out winger than Green who could tuck in to provide strength in the middle. Strangely a lot seems to depend on Dominic Rowe who is improving game by game and if that improvement will manifest itself as quality performances in League Two games.

If Rowe can use his pace to effect and continue his habit of simple improvement of possession – when he loses the ball he does so in a better position than when he gathered it and this manifest itself in corners and throw ins – then he could find himself nailing down a place in the starting eleven. On his performance today that is a risk, but it might be a risk worth taking.

Pre-season matches at City are curious affairs. The crispy £10 handed over to watch the game could be the most that any of us pass to a turnstyle operator to watch the Bantams this year with season tickets making the per match price around £6 yet the expectation is often so low. Bolton’s third goal – like their first – was the sort of decision which they would never get in the Premier League and so seems of limit use to give in this game. If Owen Coyle can see his strikers barge Jamie Carragher and John Terry out of the way in the way that Guy Branston was and still be celebrating a goal as he was after Kevin Davies’ tidy lob then he will consider himself very lucky.

Jackson though will be considering his options. The chassis for a team is built, he just needs to figer out the engine.

Every man, his dog, and Simon Ramsden play as City lose 3-2 to Bradford Park Avenue

Forgoing the idea of local bragging rights Bradford City sent a team of trial players and juniors to Bradford Park Avenue losing the 3-2 but seeing sometime captain Simon Ramsden play a welcome 45 minutes in a City shirt for the first time this year.

Ramsden played the first half of the game alongside trialists Maxime Blanchard, Charlie Reece, Tom Elliott and a third Falkirk player Jack Compton and saw Nialle Rodney twice equalise for City. Maxime Blanchard arrived on trail with fellow Frenchman Loic Lumbilla who played the second half along with former City youngster Callum Bagshaw.

Adam Baker, Nathan Lawless, and James Nanje from City’s youth ranks also got to play in the game which was settled by a late Billy Law goal.

Following the prevailing narrative

Pre-season allows a different view on football.

Nestled at the side of the pitch the players – who will be seen from the height of stands and the back of terraces – are up close and personal in front of a few hundred supporters. Players who look almost like a fleshly blur when at the far end of Valley Parade are right in front of you. Live and loud.

Very loud in some cases. Guy Branston’s “discussion” with the Referee at Nethermoor was the sort of language which very much would be both foul and abusive but not only did the officials do nothing about it they did not even break stride or blink, nor did the players. Par for the course perhaps, and not something one appreciates when watching from the stands.

Football is a sweary game up close and the players have nicknames, and they all end with “y” or “o”.

One thing one might notice about the players this season – not those on the field so much as those watching their team mates – is the fact that they are not wearing suits.

This time last year there was much talk about suits. The problem with Bradford City circa Stuart McCall was that the players were a shabby mess of leisure wear and lounging around and the solution in the new, sensible, and obviously better regime of Peter Taylor was to get the players dressing professionally. To this end Roger Owen provide the money to kit out the Bantams in a nice yard of cloth.

That was the narrative of last summer. The rise of professionalism under Peter Taylor and the need for things like overnight stays which would not see the season out and culminating with the clumsily named Make-Tommy-Doherty-Ride-A-Bus-All-Night-Gate.

Those things are not important now, or so the prevailing narrative of Bradford City tells us, because the key the success is the Twitter team and the Development squad.

The Twitter team aptly describing the trend started by Ross Hannah to use the social networking site to talk about the Bantam in a really, really, really positive way.

Hannah, Branston, Nialle Rodney. They beat the drum proudly for Bradford City and this is a good thing. You can buy the PR and good mood which has derived from reading the daily musings of the assembling City squad but it is safe to say that the people who brought you Santa Dave would not have invested in it.

The Twitter team strikes one as indicative of a good squad dynamic. Of young lads getting on well together and enjoying being footballers. It is many things good, and nothing at all to do with the need for suits which was so important a year ago.

Likewise The Development Squad and the rise of “Woodhouse Grove” as the training facility – a far cry but not a long way from “Apperley Bridge” which this time past year we were being told was suitable – are the essentials in the current story of the reconstruction of Bradford City.

Not that one wants to complain about these things. Almost everything that has happened at City this Summer has been a progressive step which will have improved the club at the end of the season regardless of promotion but the worry is that this time next year if promotion has not been reached will the Development squad be hanging up at the forgotten back of someone’s cupboard next to Roger Owen’s suit?

Will City players be banned from Twitter as their peers at Leeds United and would that move be trumpeted as increased professionalism needed to sort out something shabby. There is a cycle of what we are told is salvation one season being shoved out the door the next.

These things would seem dependant on the prevailing narrative of the club, and that is not a good thing.

The prevailing narrative is a powerful thing and one which governs how we view the club in terms of its progress and how the club view us.

City spun from being on our uppers to putting upwards of six figure bids in for players while Peter Jackson has moved from being the man who does not always say what he means when he swears that he bleeds blue and white to being the arbiter of truth when he says that Omar Daley has not been offered a deal by the Bradford City team he now manages. If it is the case that there is no deal then someone might want to tell Omar Daley that. Regardless this shows how Jackson has changed in perception at the demand of the narrative the club creates.

Like Taylor and his professionalism, and like McCall the Messiah, Peter Jackson as City manager is subject to his own narrative arc. He is cast as Saul, converted by the blinding light to the one true path and ready to make good for the faith not in spite of his wrongdoing but because of it.

So the Development Squad goes to Bradford Park Avenue while the seniors will entertain Premier League Bolton Wanderers in the first game at Valley Parade of the season.

Jackson is seeking a gatekeeper and will use both games to try out someone to perhaps replace the ill Jon McLauglin for the first game of the season. Mark Howards’ attempt to impress on Tuesday night was not impressive and so Iain Turner – a wanted man – will be given the chance to keep goal if he wants it against Bradford Park Avenue, or Bolton Wanderers, or both. McLaughlin’s illness keeps him out of both games. Goalkeeping coach Tim Dittmer has been given a squad number.

Simon Ramsden is expected to make a long awaited return against Park Avenue for a team which is thought to be mostly the development squad and Ramsden will feature at and he is expected to partner Luke Oliver in the middle of a back four with Lewis Hunt next to him on one side and Robbie Threlfall on the other. At times last season that back four could have started games for City. Andrew Burns and Adam Robinson could feature in either game but it seems that Peter Jackson is moving towards Chris Mitchell, Steve Williams, Guy Branston and Luke O’Brien as his first choice backline. Expect those to get a run out against the Trotters.

Jackson’s attempts to pair new signing Richie Jones and player of the season for the season where there was no player of the season David Syers met with mixed returns on Tuesday night and the Bantams looked a sterner outfit with Michael Flynn alongside Jones. Flynn seems to be being edged away from the Bantams first eleven but has responded in what seems to be typical fashion for the Welshman with some gutsy performances suggesting he will not go quietly into the night.

Should he play on the Friday night the future for Flynn may have been decided, if not then he has a chance of staking a claim. The development squad against Avenue is expected to feature Patrick Lacey, Alex Flett, Luke Dean and perhaps Lee Bullock while Bolton will face a midfield of Jones in the middle, the impressive Jamie Green on the left, Dominic Rowe on the right and one of the Flynn/Syers/Bullock mix in the middle.

Leon Osbourne is looking too developed for the development squad but not enough for the starting eleven. Scott Brown could play in either squad. Scott Brown is the future.

Up front Jackson is expected to give Nialle Rodney and Nakhi Wells a chance for go at Park Avenue as he tries to get a deal for Wells with Mark Stewart and James Hanson looking favoured for the Bolton game. Ross Hannah is in the middle, a decent place for a forward. Darren Stephenson, already, is starting to look like like he will struggle to get a chance.

Hannah, of course, is not for playing now. He is to be thrown on with twenty minutes left of the Leeds game in the first week of the season and to snatch a goal. That is his narrative, and deviation from it will cause some upset.

City start the season hoping for a change of luck

The season starts at Silsden and the end is a long way away.

A long way in terms of the months until the start of May when the League Two season finishes. A long way in terms of minutes watching the Bantams and miles to travel to watch them. A long way in terms of the emotional turmoil which will no doubt follow in the forthcoming months.

Peter Jackson took over as City manager part way through last season having taken over from someone who took over part way through the season. He has transfer listed the entire squad, freed fistfuls of players, and brought people in. If things do not go well for Jackson then one might expect – if not welcome – a change to someone else.

City show the green shoots of recovery. More than recover they show signs of building for the future but the habit of habitual change may die hard and it may not be Jacko who enjoys the fruits of new training facilities and Archie Christie’s development squad.

So with this in mind Peter Jackson must select his squad carefully. Ross Hannah and Guy Branston have been headline signings. Hannah is a striker with enthusiasm aplenty. His personal goal tally for Matlock Town last season rivalled City and his zest for this second chance at League football is obvious to all. Branston – an experienced campaigner – it is said stopped on his way through Bradford to admire Valley Parade from a distance. Both Hannah and Branston seem to view the club as a graduation, or perhaps a deliverance.

Mark Stewart and Chris Mitchell have come in under the radar from Falkirk. Of Mitchell little is said, of Stewart much. Mitchell can play right back and delivers a ball well from the right back or holding midfield positions. Stewart comes in with the sounds of negotiations around him more than the buzz about his abilities. Falkirk believe they are owed money for him, City that they owe nothing and it seems that The Webster Ruling is being deployed. Webster’s exit from Hearts to Wigan might re-write the rules of football transfers but the player did little for football and one will hope that Stewart is more successful.

A striker by trade Stewart is talked off in the same terms as Gareth Evans but one hopes that – unlike the player who exited for Rotherham in the summer – Stewart is more able to grasp the opportunities when they arise and nail down a place in the side.

One wonders how close to the side sixteen year old Scott Brown will get during his first season. Signed from Clydebank big things expected of Brown but at a tender age perhaps those expectations are too high. He and 18 year old Patrick Lacey – signed from Sheffield Wednesday on a one year deal – are looking for the break in the clouds that may allow them to shine through.

Nottingham Forest’s Nialle Rodney has joined on a one year contract. He is 20 and described (by Peter Jackson) as being “extremely quick, has a lot of pace and has a good goalscoring record” which must be at reserve level. Of all the new recruits Rodney seems to have furthest to go to impress, but pre-season and a new club offer a fresh start.

In addition Jackson has a clutch of names from last season to get the most out of. People like Lewis Hunt, Simon Ramsden, Lee Bullock and Robbie Threlfall have all got much to prove after last season.

I addition Jackson casts an eye over a half dozen or more names who look to secure a contract with City having joined the club on trial.

Chief in these names is twenty year old former Leeds striker Tom Elliott who having played for the tiresome team three times and been loaned out to a number of clubs brings his six foot four frame to Valley Parade. He has previously played for Hamilton, Macclesfield, Bury and Rotherham United but not especially impressed for any of those. At twenty he seems to to be lined up for the Development Squad rather than the starting eleven.

American central midfielder Steve Arau joined City from Steve MacLaren’s Wolfsburg but did not stay long – David Syers is not joining Rangers but having tried and failed to sign Gary Jones the need for a central midfielder seems there from Jackson.

21 year old left back Jamie Green has suffered from the rapidly changing manager’s position at Rotherham United being favoured by Mark Robbins but falling from the first team under the two later managers. The five foot seven full back has played 62 games for the Millers and was well liked for wholehearted displays. The Bantams though are not short of left backs.

However with only Jon McLaughlin on the books Scottish goalkeeper Greg Fleming has a chance of securing a deal. The 24 year old has played for Oldham Athletic and Gretna and is currently at Galway.

All are expected to get a run out for the Bantams as are the remainder of the squad from last season and while that squad was largely unloved expect tonight a note of cheer for the return of Simon Ramsden, long time injured and looking for better luck next season.

But aren’t we all.

Pre-season preparations hit some bumps – time to panic?

Despite the arrival of two young players last week, there’s little doubt that the very public rejections of Tommy Miller and Gavin Skelton have proved the larger contributors to the current overall mood of us Bradford City supporters. Hot on the heels of Ashley Grimes and Clayton Donaldson turning down opportunities to join the Bantams, the fear is that manager Peter Jackson is targeting the wrong people and could fail to build a squad good enough to fulfil this season’s objectives.

Time is ticking, with the start of pre-season friendlies this week acting as another marker on the road to the big kick off in just under a month’s time. Other teams seem to be making a much better fist of strengthening their squad, while there are some murmurs of criticism that Archie Christie’s Development Squad plans are disrupting the focus away from the immediate priorities.

BfB did put together some research into the speed at which City have historically signed new players during the summer. But of the 114 summer signings made between Darren Moore on 4th June 1997 and the Scottish duo of Mark Stewart and Chris Mitchell on 1st July 2011 – there is no obvious correlation between how soon players arrive and how the team then goes onto perform. On average at this point of the summer, City have completed 50% of their business. The rejections of Donaldson, Grimes, Miller and Skelton would suggest Jackson is still less than 50% of his way through his summer recruitment plans this time around, but it may not mean that it’s time to panic.

For a start it’s worth considering what’s so good about signing players early? Do all the best players get snapped up immediately? Jon Worthington, Gareth Evans, Lenny Pidgley and Jake Speight all got signed up by clubs before July – would we have been happy to have signed them if they hadn’t played for us before?

As an example of the inconsistencies in the speedness of signing players we can look at two seasons where summer signings were made very late on. First in 2006, where Colin Todd had only made three of his eight close season signings with a fortnight to go before the campaign kicked off. The relegation that followed suggests it had a negative effect, though curiously City’s hastily assembled squad began that season in brilliant form.

Then there was the 1998/99 season, where Lee Mills was famously signed barely 24 hours before the season began and Isaiah Rankin a week after. Similarly with Todd in 2006, Paul Jewell had only made three of his seven summer signings a fortnight before the season began. No one needs reminding what the team achieved that season.

But when we do think back to those halcyon days, a lesson we can reflect on is the role players we weren’t sure were good enough went onto fulfil. The star players of that season included Peter Beagrie, Jamie Lawrence, Wayne Jacobs, Robbie Blake, John Dreyer and Darren Moore – some of which we were expecting Jewell to replace. Though Blake, Lawrence and Moore in particular had shown promise the season before, few would have predicted that they and other team mates were capable of scaling such heights as they did. It’s interesting to note that seven of the 11 players who started at Molineux on that never to be forgotten May afternoon were at the club the year before.

Which is why we shouldn’t write off the players who were part of last season’s dismal failures just yet. Jackson may have been keen to get rid of more when sorting out the retained list, but it would be wrong to tar them all with the same ‘not-good-enough’ brush and to assume a complete overhaul is needed if City are to have any chance of enjoying a good season.

A new goalkeeper has been targeted and is probably required. Jon McLaughlin had spells of good form last season, but perhaps isn’t ready to be entrusted with the responsibility of being number one for an entire campaign just yet. At full backs City were well equipped even before right back Mitchell arrived. A fully fit Simon Ramsden will seem like a new signing while Lewis Hunt hangs on; on the left side Robbie Threlfall and Luke O’Brien will continue to battle each other for the first team spot.

At centre backs City still have the talented Steve Williams to nurture. He was outstanding during the first half of last season before suffering a serious injury at Colchester in the FA Cup, but didn’t look the same player on his return and struggled to find form. Nevertheless he has a great future and should benefit from playing alongside new signing Guy Branston. There’s also the much-maligned Luke Oliver, who had a strong end to the season. It could be that Oliver leaves, but if he stays he can be a reasonable back up option.

In the wide midfield positions we come to the biggest problem, as Taylor’s reluctance to sign or keep hold of any wingers left City weak in this area. Should Jackson bring in wingers in addition to using youngsters Dominic Rowe and Leon Osborne, it will almost feel like a novelty to see players charging down the touchline and crossing the ball, instead of the route one stuff that was so often the main feature last year. BfB has heard an extremely intriguing piece of information over who Jackson is trying to recruit as one of his wingers. If it comes off, expect it to cause one heck of a stir.

In the centre City still have the hugely popular David Syers and are clearly looking for a regular partner to play alongside him. If this doesn’t come off though, City could do worse than turn to Michael Flynn. Jackson admitted he wanted to release Flynn at the end of last season and clearly hasn’t being able to see him at his best due to the struggles the Welshman had returning from injury. However if he can recapture his form of 2009/10 season – and with a full pre-season behind him there’s every chance – he can make a hugely positive impact. Lee Bullock is also a decent player to call upon, though it’s difficult to imagine he’ll get too many opportunities this season.

Up front the dearth of goals last season was a major problem, but it would be wrong to blame it solely on the strikers. The service they received was pathetic at times, and rather than them missing opportunities the team struggled to create any for them. Sadly James Hanson has been written off by a lot of supporters and is likely to become a major target of the moaners unless he begins the season well. I personally think he’s still got a lot to offer this club, and is capable of playing at a higher level if he can apply himself.

The summer recruits Hannah and Stewart have never played at this level, so despite their impressive goal tallies there is a big question over whether they can make the step up. For that reason Jackson probably needs to sign at least one more striker – someone with experience.

So a keeper, two or three wide players, a central midfielder and a striker. A host of trialists are attempting to fill some of these roles, but there are plenty of players available now or in the future who Jackson can target. A trickle affect runs through clubs’ recruitment efforts – sign the player you’re targeting, and a squad player is suddenly surplus to requirements and is sold to someone else.

Jackson will get there, and while players publically turning down his advances is not good for anyone’s morale, the squad he already has available is not as bad as we might sometimes think. In recent years City players have generally performed okay but failed to show it often enough. For City and Jackson, the key to this season may not lie in the ability levels of the players he already has and wants to bring in – but in the manager developing the players’ mental capacity to consistently perform to their true capabilities.

Bradford City’s squad and the art of equifinality

The players still under contracted at Bradford City for next season are available for offers as Peter Jackson’s curious remit as City manager continued to baffle.

Following today’s announcement of our retained and released lists, we now currently have a squad of thirteen players contracted to us for next season. I will be willing to listen to offers from other football clubs for all of those players though.

Jackson – the week to week manager – announced that he would be open to listening to offers for any of the current players which when set against the backdrop of financial problems makes some sense although City’s experience with mass transfer listing shows that seldom does a team swoop for the players a manager wants to get rid of.

Indeed when John Docherty Frank Stapleton announced he would sell any of the City squad Lee Duxbury and Lee Sinnott – two of the better players of the day – ended up at Huddersfield which is one rumoured destination for David Syers who with his team mates available for the right money.

“The right money” being the right term because while Jackson says City would listen to offers he stops short of transfer listing effectively ensuring that the buyer – rather than the seller – would be responsible for paying any fees to players as a result of a move.

Jon McLaughlin is City’s only remaining keeper while Simon Ramsden, Luke O’Brien, Luke Oliver, Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams and Robbie Threlfall remain as defenders. Luke O’Brien has been linked with a move to Greg Abbott’s Carlisle United while Steve Williams is reported to be on many a scout’s hit list.

Michael Flynn, Leon Osborne, Lee Bullock and David Syers remain as midfielders and Syers has been linked to both Huddersfield and Leeds United. Jake Speight and James Hanson remain up front and Hanson – it is said – may be joining Stuart McCall at Motherwell.

With City having – it is said – signed up players for next season including Ross Hannah of Matlock Town who watched City’s 5-1 defeat at the weekend then there seems to be planning in place for next term and that planning – one assumes – is being done by Jackson or it is not being done by anyone who would could describe as a football manager.

Indeed someone at the club must have made a decision to offer Dominic Rowe, Darren Stephenson, Adam Robinson and Alex Flett professional contracts, and to give Luke Dean a one year deal.

Rumour is king, we are but feal subjects to its whim but it seems that Bradford City are clearing the decks either for a summer of financial meltdown with the hope of a fresh start at the end of that toil, or just in the hope of a fresh start.

Equifinality would present both as the same as the thirteen players who remain at Bradford City are rendered up for sale.

Taylor looks for a repeat of his best week

In the immediate wake of such a demoralising weekend defeat – leaving Bradford City anxiously looking over their shoulders at the form of clubs in relegation trouble – it seemed impossible to believe the players could get anything from a Tuesday night tussle with the League Two leaders. But then City stunned everyone to beat table-toppers Rochdale 3-1 on their own patch.

It was a truly special evening – one year ago this week – with the team benefiting from a spine-tingling level of backing from their own fans which helped them to hit the heights after experiencing the lows at Accrington. Robbie Threlfall’s free kick to make it 2-1 prompted wild celebrations that were only bettered after Gareth Evans smacked an unstoppable volley into the roof of the net with three minutes to go. It was totally unexpected, which made the evening all the more special. A few days later bottom-of-the-table Darlington were defeated 1-0 and the clamour to extent new manager Peter Taylor’s contract grew momentum.

How Taylor will be hoping history repeats itself a year on.

The pressure on the City manager was pushed back up a notch after Friday night’s loss to Port Vale, and with tonight’s game against leaders Chesterfield quickly followed by a visit from second-bottom Stockport this could be a defining week for Taylor. Should City fail to accumulate more than a point from these two games, it might prove enough for time to be called on his rein.

Undoubtedly the Board are in a difficult position at the moment. There was some speculation – not for the first time – that the Wycombe game 10 days ago would have been his last had the team not delivered a much-needed win. It seems highly unlikely Taylor will be offered a new contract in May, but in the short-term the Board needs him to get some results so they aren’t forced to take action sooner – causing financial ramifications for next season’s budgets. Taylor shows no inclination to resign any time soon, so it would cost the club to sack him and find a replacement.

The Board clearly want Taylor to remain in charge for now, but ongoing poor results put them in a difficult position in that they have to balance the budgets against the possibility of the five-time promotion winner looking increasingly less capable of keeping the Bantams in the Football League. Stockport don’t play again until Saturday, so if City lose tonight and then to the Hatters the gap to the relegation zone will be just three points. Panic would ensue.

So Taylor and his employees need this to be a good week, and though the prospects of this evening defeating a side which has lost only twice on the road all season look slim, events a year ago this week underline how quickly it can change. Taylor at least has to believe City can win, and then his next job is to convince the players.

Of course it was only three weeks ago that the Bantams almost did defeat Chesterfield, when they were just 30 seconds of injury time away from a notable victory inside the Spireites’ new stadium. Despite the joy of equalising so late, that draw seemed to trigger a mini-wobble in Chesterfield’s outstanding season as they drew three and lost one of their next four; but a comfortable win at in-form Lincoln on Saturday has re-asserted their dominance and they lead the rest of the division by eight points. They have only lost one of their last 13 games.

The continuing rate of change and injuries seen at Valley Parade all season means that only six of the starting line-up at the B2Net stadium for that 2-2 draw are likely to be in the 11 that kick off the game tonight. Jon McLaughlin has again been consigned to number two behind the more experienced – and certainly more vocal – Lenny Pidgley, A year ago McLaughlin was also watching on from the bench with the more senior but not exactly notable Matt Glennon between the sticks. McLaughlin can look back with pride at the last 12 months, but his progress has not been as spectacular as it appeared it would be when Taylor turned to him over Glennon at the end of last season.

At the back it is disappointing that Simon Ramsden has managed to get injured so quickly again, and one worries if he was rushed back too early to play the full 90 minutes against Wycombe. Beyond that though, and given how many injuries he picked up last season too, one worries that Ramsden’s contract will not be renewed this summer because the manager – whoever that is – needs greater reliability at right back than the 29-year-old’s body will enable him. Lewis Hunt will continue to deputise on the right with Luke O’Brien at left back.

In the centre Steve Williams and Luke Oliver both made mistakes on Friday that may leave Taylor contemplating restoring Shane Duff to the starting line up. Oliver has featured in all but two of City’s league games to date but remains unconvincing at times. Williams’ return to match fitness – results were improving until he was injured at Colchester last November – could make a difference to a defence which has under-performed all season.

Whether Taylor opts for 4-3-3, 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 in the wake of the Port Vale failings is yet to be seen, but whichever he decides it’s to be hoped he selects the right players to suit his system rather than the questionable midfield choices of recent weeks. Michael Flynn’s presence is massive, but despite decent performances in his last two outings there is more to come from him. Jon Worthington was quietly impressing up to the Wycombe game and, if his removal from the first XI continues, it will say much about Taylor’s high player turnover approach. Tom Adeyemi will feature somewhere from the start, Leon Osborne possibly not.

Up front Scott Dobie has shown some good things in his two games to date, but at other times has looked off the pace and in need of improved fitness. Kevin Ellison couldn’t make the same level of impact at Vale Park compared to his memorable debut, but will be a key player tonight. Jake Speight made a big impression on Friday and many will expect him to start, but Taylor may opt to keep the hard-working Evans in the starting eleven ahead of him.

How to approach this week? In a sense tonight is a game to get out of the way. A defeat is widely expected and, looking at the league table, it will be difficult to be too critical of Taylor if it goes the way of the form guide. Yet a second defeat on the bounce would really crank up the pressure on him and the team ahead of Saturday’s game, which is unlikely to prove ideal preparation.

So Taylor looks for some sort of positive result tonight in order to build some forwards momentum or – at least – slow the backwards impetus that is threatening to suck City into non-league. It can be argued that this period a year ago was the best of Taylor’s rein at City. He badly needs a repeat, because otherwise this week could prove to be his last in charge.

Introducing the frontman

For what seemed the only time all afternoon, Kevin Ellison was quiet. Having just netted what ultimately proved to be a valuable winner for Bradford City, the debut loan signing amicably accepted a booking from the referee as punishment for over-celebrating with fans. But no sooner had the yellow card being flashed Ellison was back in rebel mode – turning around and raising a clenched fist salute to supporters in the Midland Road stand.

There have been many memorable debuts over the years, but it’s hard to recall a new signing producing such an influential impact on day one as the performance Ellison delivered this afternoon. Throughout the 90 minutes he displayed a level of passion and commitment we sadly don’t see too often from players loaned from other clubs. He chased every cause, harried every opposition player who came in his way and supplied moments of quality that helped the Bantams achieve a surprise but hugely vital victory.

At full time he again roared to the crowd and the early signs are that manager Peter Taylor has not just signed a greater-conformist to the type of football he wants to play, but a man with the swagger and confidence to become a talisman for the team. He has the raw edge of a brutish frontman from rock band (or better still, given his appearance, a punk outfit). You wouldn’t invite him to tea with your mum, you might not even want to go for a pint with him, but when he’s pumping up the crowd by acclaiming them – like he did at full time – you don’t half love him.

We have welcomed a new hero.

How Taylor needed this. There’s no doubt that his decision to swap Omar Daley with Ellison is a huge gamble and, as City struggled to keep in check a strong 2nd-placed Wycombe outfit during the first half, the absent Jamaican remained a talking point. Despite its failure in the defeats to Crewe and Lincoln, Taylor had persisted with a 4-3-3 formation that saw the middle three once again out-gunned. Wycombe, carrying the composure to pass the ball around patiently in City’s final third, always had a spare man and threatened to boss it.

City needed to keep hold of the ball and get it to a very isolated front three; so a player with the dribbling abilities and pace of Daley seemed to be the missing link. An early injury to James Hanson had also hampered home efforts to attack and, as quickly as the ball was launched in the direction of Ellison, fellow debut-signing Scott Dobie and Hanson’s replacement, Gareth Evans, it was coming back towards City’s defence as no one could hold it up.

After Dobie headed over from a corner in the opening five minutes, the best chances of the half fell to Wycombe. Luke O’Brien cleared an effort off the line, the lively Gareth Ainsworth headed over, Chris Westwood planted a free header wide, a decent penalty appeal was turned down and Lenny Pidgley – oddly recalled in favour of Jon McLaughlin – tipped Ainsworth’s shot wide of the post. The contrast between City’s hit-and-hope and Wycombe’s attractive approach play had neither his old fans regretting his sacking nor his current supporters believing he can turn it round.

But half-time adjustments belatedly showed us that Taylor does have the experience to make effective changes. The pedestrian Jon Worthington was replaced by Tom Adeyemi, while Ellison and Evans were pushed further deeper so that City were playing a 4-5-1 formation which matched Wycombe’s shape.

And not only did Ellison and Evans become much more involved by receiving a greater share of possession, they were able to run at defenders and place them on the backfoot. Meanwhile, with Michael Flynn sitting in front of the back four, the impressive Adeyemi and Syers had the license to get forward more often. From looking unlikely to create a chance in the box – never mind score – during the first half, City were suddenly asking all sorts of questions.

Adeyemi drove a couple of shots wide but then, three minutes after Syers joined Hanson in hobbling off injured, Ellison found the net after O’Brien’s superb cross to the far post allowed him to slide the ball home. Cue his wild celebrations that were replicated in all home sections. It felt like a while since Valley Parade had rocked quite like this.

Ellison almost burst through for a second goal, but was blocked off by a defender in a borderline legal challenge. No matter, his work rate and quality on the ball had suitably impressed all and his awarding of the sponsor’s man of the match was greeted by popular approval. We shall have to wait for a relatively quiet Dobie to match him for influence.

Wycombe pushed on in the final stages and substitute Matt McClure headed over their best opportunity. Just like when City had been leading at leaders Chesterfield in the closing stages a fortnight ago, amber shirts sat back far too deep and invited heavy pressure. The backline, which saw the excellent Lewis Hunt surprisingly brought in as centre half with a rusty Simon Ramsden at right back, looked edgy for much of the game but were much-improved during the closing stages. Steve Williams, who came on for the injured Syers in a move that saw Ramsden pushed to holding midfielder and Hunt over to right back, was a solid presence if occasionally too casual on the ball.

Results elsewhere mean the gap to the relegation zone remains six points – further underlying the importance of the three points – but the confidence that can be taken from a first win in seven games should spark the momentum needed to steer clear of trouble during the next few weeks. Though Hanson and Syers will both miss the rest of this month, the increased quality in the ranks brought by new arrivals and long-term injured returnees should prove enough to guide City to mid-table.

What a shame they can’t perform this way week in week out and be up for the game no matter the opposition: against the top seven to date, City have collected 14 out of a possible 27 points; against the bottom seven to date, it’s just 8 points from a possible 24.

Unless a miraculous upsurge in form occurs, this win will have come too late for Taylor’s hopes of extending his City future beyond May. But the pressure on the Board to dismiss him before then – which, in doing so, would likely force the club to dip into next season’s budget – has now been reduced following this victory, which ultimately should be considered a good thing.

Too good to go down, but not good enough to retrieve the situation and go up – Taylor’s time at City is heading for a mundane conclusion. Not that it’s likely to prove a quiet end to the season, at least not with frontman Ellison around.

Fleeting success

Sadly it seems that success in football – as in life – is always fleeting.

An ethereal thing almost as soon as it is grasped then success is gone, dissipated in the desire for a better success. We look back a decade to Bradford City celebrating staying in the Premiership only to set sights on European football and a “kicking on to mid-table finish” the next season. That year Manchester United won the treble and since have never been happy with domestic success alone since.

It is in our reach that we define our tragedy and doom ourselves to discomfort, or so it is said. Wycombe Wanderers under Peter Taylor were promoted from League Two two years ago and seem on course to celebrate similar success this year having seen this sojourn back to the fourth tier as an unwelcome diversion from progress. There was a time they were happy to be in the League.

What we have we do not value, and we want more or so it seems, and to this maelstrom we welcome Dominic Rowe and Alex Flett.

The (new) boys are back in town

Two of David Wetherall’s junior side Fleet and Rowe have been given squad numbers and the chance to claim a place in the match day squad. At the moment City’s new numbers 31 and 32 are welcomed to the first team squad with open arms and optimistic smiles. “These two,” the mind trots to thinking “could be big players for us.”

The mind is right to do so. That skinny sixteen year old who filled in for Ces Podd in 1982 was in Flett and Rowe’s position and and he turned out well. Watching the progress of players like Don Goodman, Andrew O’Brien and Dean Richards was a source of pride and joy for City fans in years gone by. Soon though this joy of the first team squad will fade.

Because then they will be required to be substitutes, and then “impact substitutes” who change games and then when they start they will quickly be required to make manifest difference on the field. Each time what was considered an achievement would be relegated to being a kind of failure. The rapidity of which this happens is always astounding.

However it is a natural thing – and often a good thing – to press all the players for more. There is a disappointment that comes when a player seemingly plateaus. When he gets onto the bench and is in and out of the team, or when he gets into the team but does not excel in it.

The diary of a journeyman footballer

This situation has repeated itself in City’s recent history. Names like Danny Forrest, Craig Bentham, Tom Penford come haunting from our recent past and no sooner do they than someone advances the ill-advised words “not good enough” evidencing that with the fact that one struggles to find a young player released by City who has come back to League football. Jake Wright and Emile Sinclair spring to mind, few others.

In his diary of a journeyman footballer Left Foot Forward Gary Nelson talks about the effect of releasing young players and how it breaks not only their prospects but their career paths. Nelson ponders on how such players could be expected to turn around their careers after such a sudden and grinding halt advising then team mate Kim Grant to stay at Charlton because the facilities are better and moving down never promises anyone a first team place.

Looking at the current Bradford City team which is besieged with often vitriolic criticism it is hard to imagine how much worse things would have gone had Tom Penford and Craig Bentham been in the the midfield. Football would be a lot better if everyone stopped looking as players as discreet replaceable commodities and started looking at them as raw materials to be crafted with.

Not that Bradford City behave in a way which differs from the majority of football clubs but the majority of football clubs – and Bradford City – are not successful after the traditional close season squad purge and replace. Perhaps this squad purging is generally counter productive for football as well as for the players involved.

Had City decided that we fans would be denied the delights of watching Steve Claridge, Moses Ashikodi, Ryan Kendall, Willy (Not Billy) Topp, Mark Cullen et al and decided that they would retain Danny Forrest since 2005 when he was released would the action of working with and giving the assurance of continued football to the same player then, again, one wonders how would have turned out any different. Ashikodi did not stop relegation, Topp did not fire us to promotion.

The received wisdom in football is that players – and young players – excel or move out and that process is successful in ensuring the best prosper but perhaps the input and development of a football club could see that the players who are under this cream of the crop grow into good squad members and, in time, more?

One wonders if Rowe or Flett will make the bench on Saturday – Peter Taylor is talking about welcoming old heads into the side so probably not – but if they what impact they will be expected to make. Certainly it could be said that this is not the time for throwing in new faces to a struggling team.

The line up

Taylor’s side have not recorded a win since Monday the 3rd January 2011 surrendering play off hopes to relegation worries in the process. The solution to this is – it is hoped – arriving in the form of experienced professionals replacing younger players. Richard Eckersley and Mark Cullen have returned to Burnley and Hull City respectively as the Bantams welcome back to starting line up contention Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt and Michael Flynn.

That trio’s return – and the possible recovery of Steve Williams and the delayed debut of Scott Dobie – could give the City side a radically different look to the previous game.

Jon McLauglin seems to be recemented into City’s goal with Lenny Pidgeley missing presumed “a bit injured, maybe.”

The back four would seem to be set for an overhaul with Lewis Hunt at right back and Simon Ramsden taking Shane Duff’s place as defender and captain alongside either Luke Oliver or a fit Steve Williams. Luke O’Brien is expected to stay at left back.

The midfield three of Jon Worthington behind David Syers and Tom Ademeyi is hard to break up – Syers plays well and Ademeyi retains his place regardless of performance – but Michael Flynn might be expected to return their of in the attacking three.

Flynn’s ability to add to the forward line could see him in place of the departed Omar Daley alongside James Hanson and Gareth Evans but such a move would not open a slot for Dobie or fellow new arrival Kevin Ellison. Taylor has rarely used Flynn as a midfielder.

A word on Daley

A word on Daley who – it would seem – has played his last game for the Bantams. The players inconstancy has been mentioned after his departure and in a way that is somewhat unfair on the winger assuming firstly that constancy is a base requirement rather than a rare thing in professional football and secondly making a criticism of the times he was unplayable on the field. “Constancy” and the pursuit of it is perhaps is the most ludicrous of all football terms. I kid you not, dear reader, when I tell you that I could be Bradford City’s most constant player were I to be given a shirt. I would be constantly very, very poor.

There is something unpalatable about the criticism of players – and Omar especially – for inconstancy. The demand seems to hem players in. Is it better that a player try nothing which may result in something good for fear of looking bad? One of the most encouraging things about watching David Syers this year has been his willingness to be brave in his play, is he mistaken to do that for fear that when something does not come off he will be labelled inconstant?

Which is not to say that players should approach the game in a random manner – there is a constancy of play which is not to be confused with constancy of performance – but rather that the heart of improvement is the ability to try and risk failure.

Give me, for one game, Leon Osbourne leaving players for dead and rifling the ball into the goal and I shall be happy to worry about his ability to repeat that later. I would have players who have a constancy in doing the brave thing, rather than ones who succeed every time at doing the easy thing.

These notions are thoughts of the future and the immediate problem of Daley’s exit is more mundane. Chief in his duties was pressure applied to defending players who attempt to recycle the ball. An opposition corner cleared long by City and Daley chased defenders into an early ball. Without Daley able to apply that pressure – often a facet of his ability to get to the vicinity of a clearance in quick time – then I fear that recycled possession will but the Bantams under increased pressure.

In short that without Omar to chase the ball down, and the threat of his pace, City will end up without a release ball and under pressure more. One of Ellison and Dobie may be able to provide an alternative outlet ball for defenders lashing it away because a failure to do so will result in City defending upon defending, and that has been a problem all season.

Riches

And so – for once – City have some riches (if riches is the right word) of resource to be embarrassed by and Peter Taylor gets a chance to field Flynn in one of a few positions while all Flynn needs to do is return the team to the type of form it was in before his absence and avoiding relegation should be a success.

But a fleeting success at that.

Thinking about when Bradford City need to replace Peter Taylor

There is an increasing desperation about Bradford City’s scramble for points to turn a season that was tipped for first place into one that avoids last or second last and one is reminded about the Liverpool legend Bill Shankley’s approach to his side’s seasons.

His lessons seem amazingly apt for City – a team which bookmakers and the board believed were going to be promoted as Champions. “First,” the Scot would say, “get the points to stay up and then take it from there.”

Hindsight is easy, but the club talks about promotion to the Championship until it is forced to face the reality of attaining a number of points to stay in the Football League. This happens season on season and perhaps it is time to learn from that when thinking about where things have gone wrong.

Tuesday night could not have been clearer as to where the team faulted following an ill advised shift to 424 that exposed David Syers and Tom Ademeyi in the midfield. After game Peter Taylor did not name the man he felt was responsible for the second Lincoln goal but spoke specifically about someone having not done the job of covering Syers – Ademeyi, one assumes – and from this cascade worries about the manager’s credibility in the dressing room.

Supporters are important to a club – and so is supporter confidence – but more important is the confidence of the players that following their manager will lead to success. When this is lost – when the players no longer believe that doing what the manager says will win games – then seldom does a team perform well. This – more than anything else – what the throw away phrase “lose the dressing room” means.

Going back years to Terry Yorath’s departure as City manager captain Mark “Two Fingers To The Elland Road Kop” Aizlewood was quick to defend the manager insisting it was the players who were to blame for the results and making a note that Yorath was doing the right things, but that they were not coming off for the team.

He still believed, Yorath still “had the dressing room” so to speak.

Jake Speight – when at Port Vale on loan – was quick to say how much he favoured Mickey Adams’s techniques over Peter Taylors citing the fitness levels brought by both managers. Speight is an edge case – disgruntled for some reason which I would not care to speculate on – but he clearly does not believe that what Peter Taylor is doing will bring success to the club.

Players will do a lot for a manager they believe in. If Taylor has taken Tom Ademeyi to one side and told him that he should have been standing five years behind Syers against Lincoln in case his only midfield partner lost the ball then Ademeyi could be excused for wondering that if he were there who would be covering the rest of the midfield?

That thought in his head – as it is in mine – it is hard to imagine how belief in the manager’s instructions can be sustained.

Which is not the same as militancy in the players nor should it be mistaken for that. Omar Daley was booed off after seventy minutes of Tuesday night’s game ostensibly for the crime of following his manager’s instructions.

Daley was hemmed in, seemingly told that he needed to reduce the gap between himself and the full back (which has been a massive problem and a massive gap) and critically to not go past his full back to be hit with the kind of ball into the channel behind the full back which he so enjoys running in, and he performed that task to the best of his abilities.

He seldom looked happy with the task he was given – it is not his natural game to have the ball fed into his feet, get clobbered by the defender, and then lay it off – and his body language is more expressive than most but he was obviously doing what was asked of him.

Booing him for that – to me – is akin to booing Luke Oliver for playing up field. To boo a player for doing what he is told is a call for militancy in the dressing room and for a player to turn to the manager when given the instructions to play in a way he does not like and tell the manager to shove it.

However any one of the ten other players on the field watching Daley trundle off to boos for doing what he was told to do will have looked at Peter Taylor in the dug out and again had cause to question their belief in the manager and his methods.

The methods are not working, they will not be changed, and the players are suffering. How long until they stop believing they ever will? Have we passed that point already?

Increasingly it seems that Taylor’s flaw is in his intractability in his approach to the squad. Taylor has a way he wants the team to play but he does not have the players to achieve it not because they are especially poor (or because they are especially good) but because they are not suited to the manager’s methods.

Taylor’s system at the start of Tuesday night required the two wide strikers to get the ball back to goal, lay it off and follow play on and in Gareth Evans he has a player who can do that as can the injured Leon Osborne but Daley is less able to.

Any manager has a choice of approaches in this situation. He either resigns himself to not playing with these two players because he only has Evans who can fill the role and uses a different tactic or he plays the way he wants to play, and tells the players to adapt.

The key concept being if the manager looks at the squad and picks that approach, the tactics, the formation to suit the players he has or tries to make the squad suit the approach. Taylor fails squarely into that second camp so rather than stopping playing long balls when James Hanson is injured Luke Oliver goes into the forward line.

The players then are given a bargain. Play the way I tell you to, because that way lays success, and should success not follow and the players end up abused, booed and called “not good enough” they are given the challenge of a continued belief in the manager’s methods which are failing and leaving them as fall guys.

The return of Lewis Hunt, Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn to starting line up contention provides something interesting to discuss but hardly provides Taylor with more options as to how to play, because he does not change how he plays on the basis of who is available. These players will come in and slot into the holes already mapped out or they will not come in.

So Jon McLaughlin continues in goal with – perhaps – Hunt at right back over Richard Eckersley. It is significant that Taylor picked up many players he has worked with previous because he knows that they have a belief in his methods (which have succeed in the past) and thus a belief in him.

Simon Ramsden may return in the place of captain Shane Duff rather than Luke Oliver who has an uncanny character to pick himself up after mistakes instantly and not let them effect his game – the irony being that if he made fewer mistakes that characteristic would make him a very good footballer – and Luke O’Brien will continue at left back.

The midfield three will see Jon Worthington anchoring behind a two – probably Ademeyi and Syers – with Michael Flynn replacing Daley in the forward and being more suited to the tasks afforded to that role. New recruit Scott Dobie is also set to come into the side but having not seen the former West Brom player since he was a much younger player it is difficult to suggest what sort of game he plays. Will the 32 year old be a balance for Gareth Evans – who returns to his former club sporting a tan which is impressive for Bradford in February – or will he be an alternative James Hanson continues that thankless task role. Time, and Taylor, will tell.

And City need three points, or one point, or just some points at some point in the future.

Sitting below City and having been beaten at home by Bury 4-2 in the week Macclesfield are the sort of team which Peter Taylor believed that his approach and formation would be steamrollering on the way to promotion.

The question now is if the players still believe it too, believe that doing what Peter Taylor tells them will bring enough points to stay in League Two at least.

Because if they do not then the club need to replace Taylor as quickly as possible.

Waiting to get lucky, but not the Andy Gray way

If you are planning something for the end of May, dear reader, the time is nigh where that booking can be confirmed.

Not that the optimistic Bradford City fan has given up on the season – not at all – but rather the focus of that optimism has slipped down somewhat from Champions, to automatic promotion, to play offs and now to the hope that the season will not contain a relegation battle.

Such slight returns are the stuff of football supporters. Seasons that start with a club tipped to go down end in the Premier League, seasons that start being about the promotion end with videos released called “The Great Escape.”

Managing the hard way, but not the Andy Gray way

Peter Taylor was appointed because Stuart McCall was not doing well enough and sits in exactly the same position with exactly the level of criticism. It is hard not to look back at this point to twelve months ago when the “not a proper manager” left the club in favour of the “experienced professional” and wonder how the dust settled so quickly that last season’s debates could be so quickly revisited without hint or irony or apology.

How many people were dubbed naive optimists for saying that replacing McCall would not improve the club? How many people promised an improvement under Taylor and are now saying the same about his replacement?

One would have thought that replacing McCall with Taylor to the net effect on movement towards promotion of not very much at all might have convinced one and all that the manager was not the problem but – having talked to Mark Lawn this week – then it seems fair to say that changing the man picking the team is not expected to change performance massively so much as it is an area which can be controlled when most cannot.

One wonders – assuming that Peter Taylor will be leaving City – what the next manager needs do to be more successful? There are hopes of changes in facilities and so on but those hopes are slim – City are not planning a ground switch as Chesterfield did at the start of this successful season for them – and so what is to be done to turn the club around?

The L word, no, not the one Andy Gray would use

Luck, it seems, is what City need.

Luck in a set of players. That when Player A meets Player B they gel, that they like each other on the pitch and off it. They the players become a team and that the team makes the players better.

Luck augmented by a manager for sure but the rapid changing of managers can not be expected to yield results even if we do know the reason for it now.

With luck the team wins early games, confidence grows and the unit is forged. A team like Chesterfield – buoyed by their new surroundings – go from also-rans to promotion probables on the strength of this.

Does luck exist in football? One recalls Golfer Gary Player’s comments on luck: “The more I practised, the luckier I got.”

Who will play, probably not Andy Gray although I doubt he is busy…

So this group of players – ineffectual for four defeats on the bounce games – go to the team chasing the League Two title and are called upon to create luck for themselves.

Jon McLaughlin shows a safe pair of hands, but he could shout more. Richard Eckersley looks good coming forward but he needs to tell the man in front of him that a full back can not defend on his own. Luke O’Brien on the other side is in a similar position. He motors back and forth well but he needs to tell the player who has watched a second man join in a flank attack that he (winger or wide forward) simply has to get back and defend.

The central defenders Luke Oliver and Shane Duff need to be more mouth on too but Oliver has to realise that as the big man at the back it is his job to organise the defensive line into a line and Duff needs to help him by paying more attention. Both do their jobs well individually – Oliver deserved credit for getting head up and sticking with it – but defending is not an individual thing.

If these lessons are not learnt then something of a cavalry arrives with Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt and Steve Williams all hoping to return to fitness soon. Ramsden and Hunt are hoping to make the bench.

New recruit Jon Worthington sits on top of a back four well and if he were to look at City and decide that a team which has had a half dozen captains actually needs a leader then he would not be far wrong. David Syers has been brilliant this season, he rarely goes missing, but he needs to realise that he adds more to the attack by arriving late than pressing early. Tom Ademeyi shows a powerful energy at times, but a more solid, constant flow in his game would make him a 90 minute, rather than a fits and starts, performer.

Those three might find the returning Michael Flynn takes back a position in midfield but Flynn is more likely to replace Gareth Evans in the attacking three with Omar Daley on the other side. Evans has shown admirable hard work and effort and that should secure him a place in the side, but seldom does, while Daley is Daley and at times unplayable. He needs to defend when told and he does.

James Hanson leads the line. He does that well and without thanks. He needs to get some thanks.

And he needs to get lucky, but not in the Andy Gray way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best keep that door open for a little while yet.

The football feedback cycle

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

Thus the goes football feedback cycle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case for the defence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just what The Doc called for – Tommy returns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A footballing evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brown and Gill sign on loan

Manchester United defensive pair Reece Brown and Oliver Gill have signed for Bradford City on loan for a month as Peter Taylor looks to refresh his squad with the City manager saying “They are both outstanding young players, who Manchester United rate very highly. We are delighted to have them on board”.

Brown is 18, Gill 20 and both enjoy high reputations in the ranks at Old Trafford – which Man Utd junior does not? – as well as connections within that club.

Reece Brown is the brother of sometime England international Wes who has been hoping that entropy might take Gary Neville for most of his career and at twelve years his siblings junior the age gap between the two is akin to that of the Boulding brothers.

Oliver Gill is the son of Old Trafford Chief Executive and Glazier middle man David and while this was considered a nepotistic boon earlier in his career his more recent appearances on the bench have heard his name booed by supporters looking to vent spleens at his Father and the Americans he represents.

Sir Alex Ferguson called Gill into a Champions League squad last season paying tribute to the player’s development and discussing the paternal issues around the player.

Brown, like his brother, is a central defender who can and probably will play right back while Gill is a central defender. Brown is likely to come in to cover for Simon Ramsden while Gill will most likely displace Steve Williams in the side, a fact that pleases this writer not.

A long time watching as City face Rotherham United

We Bradford fans looking ahead to tomorrow’s game evening at the Don Valley Stadium do not have much reason for optimism.

Following the elation of a very good performance and last minute winner against Gillingham many believed a corner had be turned. Unfortunately despite the fact Northampton were supposedly dead on their feet following 120 minutes of midweek cup heroics City could not kick on. Bradford now go into the Rotherham game only two points off the bottom of the football league and could even be bottom before Wednesday comes. Many see tomorrow as a foregone conclusion and it is understandable to see why- Rotherham are yet to lose at home Bradford City are yet to win away.

Having faced my usual lecture following a visit from my grandfather this weekend about how I ‘should be playing football on a Saturday rather than watching that bunch of fairies’ I couldn’t justify it with my usual response that I enjoy watching Bradford too much because currently that is not the case. His favourite catch phrase of ‘you’re a long time watching from the stands but only a short time playing’ may begin to hit home. My feelings towards watching the offerings of the current Bradford side probably sum up the thoughts of many current supporters.

However, at least we can look back to our last outing to Rotherham’s home in Sheffield with happier memories. After thinking we had had the result stolen away from us in injury time we went straight up the other end of the pitch and forced a corner. On that day we managed 5 shots on target 11 in total on Saturday we mustered a measly 1 shot in the whole game.

Also on that day the scorers were, Michael Flynn and James Hanson for a side skippered by Simon Ramsden and how desperately do Bradford need those three back now. Unfortunately none are ready to face Rotherham which must leave Taylor thinking he is not the lucky manager that Stuart McCall suggested we needed during his unofficial radio resignation. And for those already beginning the Taylor out calls we must hold a certain amount of sympathy with regards to this because based on last season’s showing a Bradford City without Michael Flynn, James Hanson and Simon Ramsden is much like Liverpool without Gerrard, Torres and Carragher. On the other hand though Taylor decided to assemble a large squad over the summer and that does not leave him short of options.

Ramden’s absence will be felt even harder following the injury to his understudy Lewis Hunt who is likely to be replaced by centre half Zesh Rehman. The rest of the defence that will have to contain the division’s best striker, Adam Le Fondre, will depend on what system Taylor decides to line up with. Should he go with his favoured 433 then it is likely Luke Oliver will resume his target man role further forward with Williams and Hunt with Luke O’Brien maintaining his place to the left. However following Saturday’s failings at Northampton he may consider 442. In such a system O’Brien may push up to the left wing with Robbie Threlfall returning to left back. It is probable that Williams and Hunt may still keep their places but Oliver is well liked by Taylor and could be considered. The defence will be completed with ever present Jon McLaughlin between the sticks.

Further forward it is anyone’s guess what possible solution Taylor will try and find to cure City’s inability to not only score but also create chances. The midfield will much depend on whether Lee Hendrie is considered to have gained enough match fitness to start. In this case it is likely that David Syers will lose his place if 433 is continued but a 442 could well see Lee Bullock or Tommy Doherty dropping to the bench. Another option that Taylor will no doubt consider if to keep O’Brien at full back with Hendrie out wide a position that in the Bradford side that a certain cousin of his knows very well. This would allow O’Brien a license to roam down the left side and create opportunities on the overlap as Hendrie is likely to tuck in more central. A further option Taylor has available is to make it his set up all about pace on the flanks and although Omar Daley appears to be out of favour- he didn’t even make the bench at the weekend- Leon Osbourne may occupy the opposite flank to Luke O’Brien.

Finally, the most evident problem in the side, who will be chosen as the men who are supposed to score the goals. Unfortunately Bradford don’t boast a Le Fondre in their side. Instead our strikers this season have got a one goal haul between them in the first 8 league games and that was from a Gareth Evans penalty. Unfortunately Evans seems to be lower on confidence than anyone and a ghost of the player who took on James Hanson’s mantle at the end of last season and was at the forefront of Bradford’s good run in the closing games. His replacements in the last 2 games have been Jake Speight and Louis Moult. Speight has worked tirelessly since his introduction to the side and Moult has come with glowing references from his Premier League parent club, Stoke but appears to go missing for large periods of his matches so far. Many fans claim this is because Taylor plays him out of position and perhaps they may get their wish against Rotherham and see him played as a more central striker in a front 2.

One past Bantam declared that the player he would pick as a striker week in week out was Omar Daley. That former Bantam was Dean Windass and although I’m not too sure I agree with his opinion I would certainly give anything to see him lining up in a City shirt again. If that was the case I’m confident that even at 41, he’d have more goals than the 6 strikers we have played so far combined. After all you can guarantee he’d of had his hands on the ball before Gareth Evans for that penalty!

Despite having a few key players missing through injury Taylor still has many options available to him, the majority of which are his signings. We are now 8 games into the league season and Taylor said it may take him ten games to discover his best side, I worry that if things don’t improve in the next two he will be getting very few more.

The mood that cannot be shifted

It lasted a few short seconds, its ramifications will be felt for at least another week.

There were just 12 minutes left to play and Bradford City, leading 1-0, conceded a corner. Then, crucially, they switched off for a few seconds as they slowly ambled back, and quick-thinking from two Stockport players saw the corner played short and hurriedly whipped into the box. The Bantams had now woken up to the danger and were racing back to mark players, but it was too late. George Donnelly was able to meet the ball unchallenged and head it emphatically beyond Jon McLaughlin.

Two points criminally thrown away, after little more than a couple of seconds of madness.

That Donnelly’s goal clinched a draw his side more than deserved was no consolation. Draws where you lose the lead are always much less satisfying, and the frustration at surrendering a hard-earned winning position will now contribute to another week of misery and self-pity. The message boards will be full of abuse for certain players, the manager and the chairmen. It matters little this draw stopped the rot of four straight defeats, patience is in far too short a supply.

This was neither an especially good or bad performance from City – but it was a team display chronically bereft of confidence. Balls too often launched long from the back, a lack of creativeness in the final third. Arguments raged between players on several occasions, no one seemed capable or willing to show leadership and take the game by the scruff of the neck. No one wanted to be the one who messed up, when instead they should have been looking to be the hero. Not a fun game to play in, not a fun game to watch.

City’s first half performance was particularly poor and more quality from Stockport would have seen City’s edginess punished. County enjoyed plenty of possession and worked the ball around outside City’s penalty area sprightly. But tellingly in the box, they were as toothless as the Bantams have been all season. Barry Conlon, booed as usual, had one of his off days we remember all to vividly. McLaughlin was kept occupied by easily catchable crosses and a couple of tame shots.

But as we City fans endured a black humour-inducing drenching in the roofless away end during half time – where, unlike two years ago, common sense eventually prevailed and we were allowed to move to an empty stand with a roof – manager Peter Taylor’s words in the dressing room seemed to inspire a reaction from his players, who emerged with far greater urgency.

Half time at Stockport

Getting soaked at half time. Click on photo to view enlarged version.

On 56 minutes, Jake Speight brilliantly turned his marker and charged into the box, got back to his feet – after seemingly been kicked from behind – and rolled the ball into the path of the onrushing David Syers, who tapped City into the lead. Only the third league goal all season, and after his Notts Forest cup strike it makes the young midfielder the Bantams’ top scorer.

It was a goal undeserved on the balance of play, but then Southend and Port Vale’s opening goals in the last two games hadn’t been deserved at the point they crossed the line. City were defending reasonably well – Lewis Hunt and Shane Duff having their best games to date – and there was every reason to believe they could hold on for an ugly win. Though an underbelly of uncertainty led them to players dropping further and further back, without showing any intellect towards hitting County on the break.

But still as long as they continue to concentrate we’ll be okay, right?

After Donnelly’s equaliser City actually showed greater application and attacked with more frequency, even if ex-Bantam Matt Glennon was only troubled by a long range effort from Tommy Doherty. Speight continued to look lively, though City’s two star performers were wide midfielders Syers and Luke O’Brien. The latter in particular was excellent going forwards and embarked on several promising dribbles. The best moment where he beat three players and raced into the box, before what looked set to be a stunning winner was foiled by a last ditch block as he pulled the trigger.

But neither O’Brien or any teammate was able to snatch a second goal that would have lifted the mood, and instead the gloom remains and the pressure going into the home game with Gillingham on Saturday will be that much higher. There are slow signs of progress, and to at least come off the Edgeley Park unbeaten is something to build on. But even though it’s early days, time is running out.

Rumours have already reached BfB’s ears that certain people are eying up a potential managerial vacancy at Valley Parade, but to make a change now risks writing off the season far too early given how often recent history shows a change of manager makes very little short-term difference. And as attendances continue to drop and self-pity among remaining supporters is allowed to be indulged, the club can’t afford another season of nothingness.

The last two games may have only provided small things to build on, but that doesn’t mean we should kick it all down.

Instead, we must remember what’s missing. Stockport were the better team today, simply because their impressive number 4 Paul Turnbull was able to run the midfield and ensure his team enjoyed far greater possession. City’s number 4 is some two weeks away, and Michael Flynn’s return will make a huge difference to a central midfield which still came up short – largely due to a poor performance from Lee Bullock.

Jake Speight is looking an excellent prospect, but his game would benefit greatly from a stronger striker alongside him. James Hanson is further away from fitness and Taylor can’t afford to wait; his planned loan signing for this week has to be someone who can hold up the ball and bring the best out of Speight. Gareth Evans struggled again, but if you want to criticise Taylor today his decision to replace him with the ineffective Louis Moult should be the place to start. When City needed to hold onto the ball, the inexperienced Moult was not the player the team needed.

And as the defence continues to carry at least one mistake in them, the eventual return of Simon Ramsden will prove a massive boost.

These are three big players for City. And if Man City’s Roberto Mancini and Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp can appear on national radio and blame poor results on missing a few key players when they have both spent massive amounts building a squad – as they both did minutes after full time at Edgeley Park – why should City’s injury list be discounted?

Sadly for Taylor, City’s top three performers from last season won’t be fit in time for Gillingham. The last two games have featured as close to a settled side as he has put out so far this campaign. It is largely they who must turn around this increasingly desperate situation – and it needs be a challenge they relish rather than dread.

In an excellent Stockport pub before kick off, a Manchester United supporter reminisced with me about the time he watched his beloved Red Devils play at Valley Parade 10 years ago, where City were 18 minutes and a Gary Walsh miss-kick away from securing a credible draw. But let’s stop looking at the past and shaking our heads at how bad we’ve had it since. Let’s stop believing our heritage deserves us higher status.

Today’s goal was a joy because it was crafted two players who’d overcome considerable setbacks to be playing professional football, Speight and Syers. They have triumphed where millions of us have failed, after it looked as though they had failed too, largely through hard work and overcoming  set backs.

So let’s follow Speight and Syer’s example and not just deliberate how low we’ve sunk, but consider how far we can climb.

Time for Plan A?

As Saturday approaches I have begun my usual guessing game over what team Peter Taylor will choose.

Stuart McCall was criticised on many occasions last season for not having a ‘Plan B’ Taylor it appears has got a plan C, D and E. With the season only a handful of games old Taylor has already used 20 outfield players- that would quite possibly be more had Michael Flynn and Leon Osbourne not been missing through injury- and also 4 different skippers. Taylor has explained his high rotation of players and his reasoning is fair. Firstly he says does not yet know his best side and secondly there have been a high number of games in a short space of time, two of which have gone to extra time and therefore he has looked to give players a rest. However, with 4 games of the season gone, with only 1 win and 8 days since the last game surely now we will see what Taylor believes to be his strongest side.

The only player that has begun every game is Jon McLaughlin and although he was called into question by Taylor following the Torquay match he still remains first choice. There is no doubting that he is talented, assured and confident between the stick and it appears he will not let any previous mistakes affect him too easily. But he is young and needs not only some experience in front of him but consistency too.

Unfortunately his most experienced defender and club captain, Simon Ramsden has had his involvement limited by injury. This has seen his understudy, Lewis Hunt step into the vacant position and he has performed adequately, but no more than adequate. Hunt to me seems a more than able replacement for our consistent captain and yet at the same time his lacklustre, relaxed approach to the game leaves me thinking he could be a lot more than adequate.

In the first game against Shrewsbury he did not appear to be fit, which was unfortunately exaggerated as he tried to handle the impressive Ainsworth. In the following games he still appears to amble over to the touchline whenever he is required to take a throw in, rarely appears to be willing to receive the ball and as far as I can remember has never created an overlap for his winger. In fairness to Hunt we do not know what his instructions have been from Peter Taylor and he may well be ordered to be so conservative and concentrate on his defending- a job which he performs very capably. Even so I can’t help but hope we see a fit Ramsden taking the field again before too long.

The other 3 slots across the back 4 have not had had reduced options through injury and yet are still chopped and changed. I am a firm believer that an understanding between the defence and goalkeeper needs to be established from playing together regularly. How often did you see Sir Alex Ferguson line his side up without Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister when both were available, or Wenger without Tony Adams and Martin Keown or even Mourinho without John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho.

Those partnerships were part of some the most successful defences in the Premier League’s history because they were exactly that. Each player knew what their partner was going to do and their goalkeeper behind also created that same understanding be it Schmeichel, Seaman or Cech. Something our current number one Jon McLaughlin must do with whoever plays in front of him. I don’t doubt the ability of any of our current centre backs but all of them will play the game differently and if McLaughlin has a consistent partnership in front of him then that will allow him to become more confident in his decision making knowing what his two defenders in front are most likely to do.

So far it appears to be any 3 from Steve Williams, Luke Oliver and Shane Duff for the two centre half roles with last season’s captain Zesh Rehman providing back up. I was never a huge fan of Rehman last year, but do feel as though he became a lot more assured and solid when Taylor took over towards the end of the season and is possibly a little unfortunate to be overlooked. For me Steve Williams is a rough diamond and has the potential to play at a higher level. I would compare him to a lower league Rio Ferdinand in his style of play. However, much like Rio Ferdinand at the beginning of his career he is still inexperienced, still learning and prone to a mistake. For that reason I would suggest he needs an experienced, vocal leader alongside him. Luke Oliver, unfortunately, does not possess those qualities and although he appears to be Taylor’s favoured option – he has started every league game so far – I would still favour Duff. I do not base this so much on my own observations of Duff due to the limited amount of opportunity I have had to watch him but more on my second hand knowledge of the player from Taylor himself.

When Duff was signed Taylor acknowledged that it was because he felt that Williams and Oliver did not have enough league football experience and Duff has racked up almost double the amount of league appearances that Williams and Oliver have combined. Further, Taylor described him as a ‘good leader’ in the mould of Tony Adams. It is for those qualities that I consider him to be the perfect partner for Williams.

Left back is also a position that is very much in the balance with a decision to be made between two very different players. Robbie Threlfall probably began the season as the favourite after impressing on loan last season. He’s tall, and can boast of an extremely sweet left foot but has been found out at the beginning of this season while the smaller, quicker Luke O’Brien has impressed. Unfortunately, despite getting himself in promising positions O’Brien’s final ball and decision making in the final third leaves something to be desired.

Still if he could cross a ball like Threlfall he probably wouldn’t be playing for Bradford City. It is possible that following his outstanding first season and deserved Player of the Year trophy Luke O’Brien became over confident and it was a combination of this and the lack of competition for his place in the side that led to his disappointing second season. Now with Threlfall pushing him for the starting berth he has returned more determined with a point to prove and on current form deserves his place. That is of course unless Taylor chooses to deploy him further forward in midfield.

Midfield provides Taylor with a selection headache before he chooses his personnel, is the side more suited to 3 in midfield and 3 forwards or a more standard 4-4-2. We have seen both systems tried so far with varying degrees of success. One thing that can’t be denied is that there is plenty of competition, especially in the centre. For the Stevenage game we set up with 4-4-2 with Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty occupying the central roles. Both players are very good at what they do but are they not too similar? In that game both played very deep and this left a gap behind the strikers and meant they were not provided with enough support. This appears to be something Taylor also identified at half time when replacing Bullock for David Syers.

This would suggest Taylor favours Doherty, and despite being considered to not look fully fit by many supporters, I would agree that he has the edge. Doherty is more mobile than Bullock, a superb passer of the ball and, judging by his performance against us for Wycombe two years ago, he has the ability to dictate and dominate a game. His perfect partner would be Michael Flynn. Last season Flynn was one of our most impressive performers but unfortunately injury has ruled him out of featuring so far. So until Flynn’s return Tom Adeyemi and Dave Syers look to stake their claim. If footballer’s were judged on academic achievement both of these would be in the Premier League however despite both impressing in patches neither can justifiably believe they deserve to be a certain starter.

Out wide the sometimes brilliant but more frequently frustrating Omar Daley looks to have returned from his horrific injury lacking in confidence and a yard of pace slower. Unless Taylor can find a way to help him return to his previous best I fear that his days as the winger who could petrify fullbacks may be over. Following Scott Neilson’s departure that leaves a lack of options on the flank, O’Brien proved he is a more than capable on the left last year but that also means he has to vacate the position of full back. On the other side Gareth Evans is yet to find his best position as either striker or winger. You can guarantee he will give it his all in either position but as a winger he is probably better coming inside from the left as he did against Rochdale last year and therefore perhaps not the solution on the right. Leon Osbourne is yet to return from injury but after impressing at the end of last season there is reason to be enthusiastic about his return. He, like Evans may benefit from a more advanced role as a wide forward and considering the amount of different options we have in terms of central midfielders this would give an compelling argument for a use of a 4-3-3 formation.

That would leave 1 striker from 3 spearheading the Bradford attack. James Hanson, Player of the Season last year impressed all fans with his strength, ability in the air and work rate. Some do worry that he may suffer from second season syndrome and he hasn’t dominated defences in the same way at the beginning of this season. It is important to remember he was injured in the run up to the beginning of the season and will only be beginning to reach full fitness, he has not lost his ability over night and would appear to have the perfect qualities suited to a lone striker.

Big things are expected from loanee, Louis Moult following his arrival from Stoke and he has shown glimpses of fantastic ability in his limited opportunities so far but Taylor appears to prefer using him out wide. That leaves Jake Speight and although he arrived under a cloud he was one of the few positives that were taken from the game against Stevenage and helped him on his way to winning over the supporters. He works tirelessly and was a real handful for the defence, and reports suggest he is going to be rewarded with a deserved start come Saturday.

I had hoped putting my thoughts in writing would help enable me to understand Taylor’s thinking and give me an insight into his possible line-up for Saturday but still I am clueless. I suppose at the end of the day I’m just a fan and that’s why when the team kicks off on Saturday I will take my place in the stands and Peter Taylor will be in the dugout.

So over to you Mr.Taylor, I certainly still have complete faith.

The Invincibles

When taken over a long enough time line most things tend towards a level. Preston North End arrive at Valley Parade for the second round of the League Cup in a way that illustrates this perfectly.

Darren Ferguson – “Sonnov” of you will – was pleased to get his first win of the season for the team which under Alan Irvine seemed to be in permanent residence in the top half of the second tier of English football. Irvine’s side knocked on the door of the Premier League but never went in and the sight of local rivals Blackpool doing just that almost by accident is a hard one for the Deepdale supporters.

Not that one need consider Preston North End a team who should be in residence in the top half of tier two. In the 1980s and much of the 1990s they were a side who populated the bottom two leagues. After the war they were fixtures in the top flight. In 1888/89 won both the inaugural Football League and the year’s FA Cup without losing a game. To paraphrase Wells they started at the top and worked their way down.

Which is the real Preston North End? The Invincibles of the 1880s? The stable top flight club? The lower league side? The Irvine incarnation? If all things tend towards a level what level are Preston North End to end up as?

On Sunday morning the Wikipedia entry stated the club was in the Blue Square Premier with a note that some fan was “planning ahead” making his thoughts on the club’s level clear based – seemingly – on a start that saw them defeated by Doncaster and Swansea. A win over Portsmouth on Saturday might have changed his mind but the illustration of football as short term thinking could not be clearer.

Ignore the last 125 years, it is the last 180 minutes of football that count.

So to Bradford City and Peter Taylor who watched his side concede an early goal and have a man sent off before losing at Torquay United on the back of a win which the manager had to join some supporters in criticising and a defeat at Shrewsbury Town prompted some members of the Bradford City community to write off the season before 270 of the 4,140 minutes of football in a league season had been played.

This runs contrary to the great hope of Bradford City supporters that the maxim that all things tend towards a level will see the club level in the longer term somewhere around the position Preston North End are now – half way down the second tier. That idea holds that the mass of the club is such that eventually – and on a longer time frame – City will rise the leagues through osmosis.

Catchment area, size of supporter base, budget available all factor into that equation which works over a longer term than 270 minutes and there is an idea that the actions which the club and its management (and the management of that management) takes serve to hamper that osmosis rather than aid it. Each of us would have a different view on which actions these are.

The 270 minutes of league football might have delighted Bantams supporters not – in that context – hardly matters. The calculation is done over 1,000s of hours of play not three games but cup football concerns itself with those shorter time frames and the joy of those 120 minutes against Nottingham Forest in the last round of this competition stand as a marked contrast to the league season.

One could put this down to any number of factors but choice d’jour is the idea that the Bantams go from being the big team in every League Two game to the small team when playing tier two sides and the resultant release of pressure allows the team to perform better. It is a hangover from the World Cup thinking and England’s choking where the weight of expectation – for whatever reason it is in place – is a barrier to performance.

When the players are considered to be good by virtue of the shirt they wear they play poorly, when they are considered to be poor they play well that is if you consider the league games to have been poor so far, many do not although Peter Taylor does and post game after Torquay he once again charged the players with the responsibility of performing better.

It is not hard to see why Taylor makes this mental challenge to the players. If they can beat Forest – a team which would be acknowledged as “better” footballers, they can beat anyone. The key to that performance being mindset. That – more than the choice of substitute or formation – is what makes a manager able to effect his team.

Prime target of Taylor’s more public coaching is Jon McLaughlin who the manager singled out as having made a pair of mistakes which caused concessions on Saturday. Having given the young keeper the number one shirt Taylor rides the youngster. Twelve month ago when it was considered that Simon Eastwood was making a mistakes that cost game the clamour for McLaughlin was marked. One doubts that Lloyd Saxton will be given a place in the side for this Preston game, or that there will be calls for him to be played.

At right back Lewis Hunt continues in the place of the injured Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien is expected to come in at left back for the suspended Robbie Threlfall. Taylor could differ from his pairing of Shane Duff and Luke Oliver to return Steve Williams to the side – Williams perhaps being better equipped to to copy with the more finessed play of the leagues above. Zesh Rehman is also in the reckoning.

The midfield three of Tommy Doherty, Lee Bullock and Tom Ademeyi pick themselves with Michael Flynn out for a month although David Syers – impressive in the last round – could be drafted in over the Norwich loanee who has been given clearance to play from his own club or Doherty who struggled on Saturday and is “not thought to be fully fit” which is often football fan code for “player playing badly, but we don’t want to say it cause we like him.”

James Hanson and Gareth Evans have played almost every minute for City this season as two of the front three and with Louis Moult making little impression since the season started Jake Speight than did in the win over Forest one can imagine Peter Taylor may see a chance to change up front.

Speight is struggling with an injury but he is expected to play some part in the two games this week – City also facing Southend United on Friday night – while Moult more than anyone has looked out of sorts so far. A young player with a good few months ahead of him he has time to change that.

Omar Daley has looked out of the fit of the side thus far this season while Chibuzor Chilaka – given a squad number on Saturday – also stands by.

The Entire Unexpected Entrance of David Syers

Sometimes the difference between success and failure is a hair’s breadth, a slight thing, a nothing. On an evening like the 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest the difference is a chasm easily measured and evident to all.

For forty-five minutes the Bantams looked like a team ready to be beaten with some ease by a Nottingham Forest who represented the toughest draw in the hat in this League Cup first round. The Bantams were pedestrian, static, disinterested and Forest were not called on to be much better. At the end of the match – after the Bantams had scored twice – the change in attitude that had come at half time was the obvious and only reason for the turn around.

Matt Thornhill had finished off a cross which had seen Luke O’Brien left with two men to mark on the far post with Omar Daley – a threat going forward on his first game of the season – a long way away. The cross had come in too easily, the play that build up to the cross was too easy, it was all a bit too easy.

Tommy Doherty and Lee Bullock in the midfield were second best with a physical Guy Moussi and Chris Cohen finding space to play and the Bantams forwards were disjointed to say the least. Louis Moult had a rude awakening playing a pair of Championship central defenders who divided Moult and his partner Jake Speight and kept the one quiet.

Keeping Speight quiet would seem to be impossible. To call the player a handful would be an understatement. Even as the Bantams struggled the new recruit from Mansfield was in perpetual motion stretching defenders who had not a moment of peace. In the opening exchanges there was a problem getting the ball to stick for City up front but at the end of the match Speight had won enough battles with defender Wes Morgan that he was given the yard of space to control the ball.

Speight’s major contribution was winning the free kick which resulted in James Hanson’s winning goal. A ball played into the striker saw him turn Morgan and bare down on goal only to have his legs taken away. Morgan was – perhaps – lucky to not be red carded for the offence which was the culmination of any number of clashes which saw physical tackles resulting on players on the Speight on the floor often.

You can, dear reader, take a view on Speight and why tackles on him that saw him left on the floor resulted in so few free kicks but none would deny that the lively forward was a pain the the Nottingham Forest backside all evening. His flicks, his control, his ability to take control of a ball fast are excellent and he seems set to start causing trouble on the field for City, rather than off it.

The free kick for the foul a Speight was struck at goal by Simon Ramsden – a second half sub who settled into the midfield – with keeper Lee Camp showing the Bantams a half of the net to strike the ball to. Moult obliged and Camp saved only for Steve Williams to force back at goal and Hanson to tidy into the net for his first goal of the season.

Hanson – who also joined the action at half time – rarely lost a header all evening and Forest found him hard to cover. His power in the air – and the accuracy of those won headers – is uncanny. Lets hope no one notices before the transfer window closes and if they do lets value him alongside Adam Le Fondre at £3m to scare suitors away.

It would be easy to note Hanson’s entry – the target man coming on and a switch to a 433 – as being the difference between the opening forty five minutes of lifelessness and the second half of dogged determination. The ball stuck more but more than that the attitude changed and that change was marked in the entire unexpected entrance of David Syers.

David Syers signed non-contract forms this afternoon. He played for Farsley Celtic and Harrogate Town last season and played cricket in the summer. Twelve minutes after coming off the bench in his first proper game he fixed his eyes on a ball that went loose in the box and charged at it to touch the ball into the unguarded goal.

Speight had burst though and Camp had gone down well at his feet and Syers locked onto the ball and would not be stopped, eating up grass as he hurtled towards the ball. Determination evident, delight obvious. Syers – like Hanson, McLaughlin and Williams – shows the drive of a player who seems to appreciate the position he was in before being a footballer and plays in a way to ensure that continues.

Syers brought to the midfield a level of combativeness which had been lacking – he was pushed off the ball by Moussi and roared back with a classy chunk away of a tackle which typified the second half and extra time display – but one doubts that one can put the resurgence down to his entrance. The Dennis Compton of Bradford he may be but there was something else at play.

Nor indeed would one put the turnaround down to buttock/rocket interfacing by Peter Taylor at half time – the players did not come out fired up and angry – but rather there was a belief which started in the dressing room with perhaps a reminder that if the simple things of football were to be done well then the performance would improve.

Indeed it did and by the time Syers scored the Bantams had inched back into the game which – at the end of extra time – they had travelled the mile chasm of performance to win.

It was a win marked with this increasingly belief – this augmenting confidence – which manifested in performances all over the field. It is perhaps unfair to single out players in what was a entire team performance but Steve Williams deserves a mention for an outstanding display where he both rose the test test as a defender nicking balls away in tight Forest build up and a solid head-it-away kind of centrehalf. Shaun Shane Duff alongside him played well, Doherty sat back and moved the ball well. Jon McLaighlin made an outstanding save or two late on which early in a tentative display looked unlikely.

It was a well deserved win over a capable side. The draw for the next round will be interesting but whomever it throws up Taylor will hope City have learnt the lesson. When the players show belief in each other, confidence and faith in their own and their team mates abilities then there are fewer limits than one might think.

Another season of despair

On The 2010/2011 Season

I met a traveller from an antique land.

The modern history of Bradford City – which is to say the everything from the return to Valley Parade onwards – shifts on a fulcrum moment which happened ten years ago this month that City kick of a fourth consecutive season in the bottom tier of English professional football.

August ten years ago and – with bare faced cheek and a brassneck – I went to my boss and asked him if I could leave half way through the day because I wanted to go to the press conference that unveiled Benito Carbone as a Bradford City player. Carbone – at a cost of just under £55,000 a week – was the pinnacle of something that rose at The Bantams and – in the last ten years – fell.

Much has happened in that last ten years – two administrations, three promotions, BfB has had 112 more writers doing about 3,500 articles, the hole in the ground, a riots, the boss in question now is chairman of Bradford Bulls – but nothing has matched that moment. Geoffrey Richmond sitting at the head of a room of supporters and journalist proudly proclaiming the promise that his new recruit represented.

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert.

Valley Parade played host to former tenants Bradford Park Avenue and – soberingly and as a result of that time ten years ago – its current tenant Bradford City and is a transformed arena. The main stand rises high and is most often half empty or half full (your point of view on that) ready to host Premier League football which is a distant memory now.

Rippling away from Valley Parade the effects of City’s rise and fall fade. Peter Taylor tried to prepare for this season in different training facilities but that proved impossible – for now at least – and Apperley Bridge continues to be the host for the club’s day to day activities. Carbone said of City on his arrival that “nothing resembled a football club” including Apperley Bridge in his swathe of comment.

Players have come and gone most notably Dean Windass who partnered Carbone up front in the Italians first game. Windass returned but left the club after death threats following a sending off.

Managers have come and gone most notably Stuart McCall who was the captain and assistant manager when Carbone was signed. He, along with other players of the day Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall have reputations tarnished not by the continued involvement with the club but by the club’s decline from that day onwards.

In the wider football world though that day – and Bradford City in the Premiership – is a footnote. The other team in Paul Scholes’s wonder goal, the prototype for the likes of Hull City and Blackpool and a step on the evolutionary ladder from Barnsley’s single season in the top flight. Not forgotten but hardly remembered and remembered as one of many teams who tried and failed.

An ebullient Geoffrey Richmond stood on the field – a dozen City fans around him – in a blazing eyeball to eyeball argument with a Daily Express journalist who questioned his motives and motivations. It was a rare sight. The Empire builder questioned, raging against the coming tide which he would not be able to keep back.

He resurfaced briefly at Notts County and Leeds United, and then he was gone.

And on the pedestal these words appear: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

So ten years on Bradford City under Peter Taylor prepare for the new season and it is hard to imagine being further from that August press conference. The pitch – sun drenched on that day – has been improved at last but little else can be said to have.

Pre-season was low key to a point of hardly being considered during the tour of Essex which saw four games in seven days. The jailing of one former striker and one new one provided the news and perhaps there was a sense that nothing else from the club would match that so – other than the progress of the new grass – little emerged from the club. There is no good news, so there is no news.

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.

The best which can be said about Peter Taylor is that he has augmented what he found on arrival at the club rather than trying to rebuild salvaging some of the last two and a half years of work that Stuart McCall had put in. A look at Taylor’s assumed first eleven shows that the keeper Jon McLauglin, defender Steve Williams and striker James Hanson were all plucked from nowhere to be key members of this season’s side.

Indeed it is to Taylor’s great credit that one can skip through the team: Right back Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman at centreback, left back Robbie Threlfall was a target of McCall and co at left back, Lee Bullock was converted to a deep role by McCall, midfielder Michael Flynn and striker Gareth Evans brought in by the previous manager. Taylor has recruited Tommy Doherty for his three in midfield while Omar Daley – with 97 appearances for City – pre-dated the previous manager.

Rather than start again Taylor has taken what he found and added to it giving City a rare route to having some stability at the club. That he has only a one year contract is a matter of great worry – for every prediction which tells you City will be promoted you can find one which says we will end in mid-table which would result in the board not offering a new deal to the manager – with City highly unlikely to find as good a replacement for this manager as was found for the last.

His football is pragmatic to a point of unattractiveness at times but Taylor is perhaps the only reason for optimism at the club this season. A man who appreciates the value of building while standing in the bare, lone and level sands.

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.

Taylor laying out his formation for next season

In talking about needing to bring another attacking midfielder/forward to the club Peter Taylor has made it clear that he is favouring a 433 for next term.

Taylor’s 433 was deployed at the end of last term which finished with six unbeaten games and the signing up of Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and Tommy Doherty showed the the City gaffer had an eye on playing the formation that boast three in the middle. Now his talk about bringing in another flank man confirms it.

Already Taylor’s team lines up with Jon McLaughlin behind Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Robbie Threlfall across the back. The midfield three of Flynn, Doherty and Bullock are set for the middle but up front the picture is less clear.

James Hanson would seem a cert for the middle striker role but Gareth Evans would need to ensure that he maintained his performances at the end of last season to nail down a place on the right of the central striker. Evans also represents the back up for Hanson with defender Luke Oliver third choice for the position and it is expected that Taylor will be happy with that choice.

Should Evans not be right then Omar Daley – a pre-season under his belt – will probably be although the winger who missed most of last season injured can be used on the left where Leon Osbourne played at the end of last term. Gavin Grant – who has yet to sign for the club after playing non-contract last year – also was employed in these roles.

Daley divides opinion and his deployment in this kind of formation is a curious one. For the wide role Taylor requires players who are ready, willing and able to track full backs back when they break but are also have good enough judgement to know when to move to a more attacking position to bolster the attacking line as well as the abilities to make good with the ball.

The great thing about 433 is that it can turn into 451 really easily. The worst thing is that if you are not careful then it turns into 451 really easily.

Daley would be one of my choices on the flank but he will always struggle getting back and the player would need to show unbroken concentration to make the position his own. Evans would need Hanson to play every week to nail down the position. Osbourne has shown the willingness but probably would not be the player than anyone would go into the season with as a first choice.

So Taylor is on the look out for wide players who he can trust and no doubt his famed book of contact will be out to try find someone. One rumour had Robbie Blake about to sign for a return to the club although Taylor has multiple targets with the manager saying “I think I’ve got one in my sights but that doesn’t mean we will get him. You just have to see what develops, so there’s more than one that I’m speaking to.”

We await progress for the manager but – it is worth reflecting – that for the first time in over a decade City fans will not be in the dark over the majority of the side at the start of August and two months early nine of the starting eleven can be nailed down.

Oliver, Threlfall and Saxton sign for City

Peter Taylor has done what many thought would be impossible and recruited on loan Liverpool left back Robbie Threlfall on a two year contract with the Bantams as one of three signings the City manager has made to start off a summer of some recruitment.

Threlfall joined the Bantams after being scouted by Stuart McCall to answer the recurrent problem with delivery his sides had and the Anfield loanee proved his value with a performance and goal at Spotland in City’s 3-1 win over Rochdale that underlined his usefulness. From that point on Threlfall continued to show his talents with a deadball and his signing on a free from Liverpool – which was once thought to be an outlandish aim – is a welcome reality.

Also returning from last season is giant of a defender Luke Oliver who signs on a free from Wycombe Wanderers. Oliver joins the club seemingly as a replacement for the departed Matthew Clarke and while many if not most would concur that the departing defender has better ability than the man who arrives the fact that Taylor has worked with Oliver at three clubs now speaks much about the character of the player and the trust the manager feels he can place in him which – perhaps – was not the case with Clarke.

Oliver also arrives on a two year deal where as as does 20 year old keeper Lloyd Saxton is signed for one who arrives to be understudy to Jon McLaughlin. Saxton has yet to play a football league game despite being named on the bench some thirty times for Plymouth last season. Saxton had indicated that he would prefer a first team role at a non-league club and now finds himself in the position McLaughlin occupied for two seasons on the bench at Valley Parade.

Taylor has indicated that McLaughlin is his number one keeper for next season and one can only hope that not only does the man who showed the virtue of patience seize the opportunity given but that he is protected in the same way Simon Eastwood was when he was wearing the number one jersey for the Bantams.

Eastwood’s critics were plentiful – as were Stuart McCall’s for keeping faith with him – but the saving grace for both and the hope for McLaughlin is that Peter Taylor shares the same views on switching keepers and – in short – will give the gloves to McLaughlin and leave Saxton sitting on the understanding that little good comes of rapid goalkeeper changing. It would seem that Saxton can expect to warm the bench for sometime.

Oliver competes with Zesh Rehman for the place of big centre half alongside Steve Williams or Simon Ramsden – most likely the former – in Taylor’s defence next season as well as having a role as emergency striker which few would relish seeing again. T’was like Andrew Tod has returned to haunt us.

Of the three Threlfall is most likely to be starting the season on the first team with the left back set to continue his role at full back come August 2010.

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.

Ramsden and Williams retained

City are holding on to Simon Ramsden and Steve Williams after the club extended their contracts for a second year.

Peter Taylor is thought to be a big fan of Williams who has an impressive first season at Bradford City recalling the young Dean Richards while Simon Ramsden performed well in the first half of the season before injury robbed City of the right back signed from Rochdale.

A Jon Bateson season that finishes at Crewe

Jonathan Bateson has been released by Bradford City after only nine months at the club and if ever a player summed up a season it is the young right back signed from Blackburn Rovers and released to an uncertain future.

The players released are Bateson, Rory Carson, Matthew Clarke, Matthew Convey, Matthew Glennon, Steven O’Leary and Luke Sharry and few of those names surprise. Matthew Clarke always seemed to be on the edge of leaving the club and Peter Taylor is expected to try sign Luke Oliver as a replacement. It seemed that only one of James O’Brien and O’Leary would stay and it was O’Brien.

It is Bateson – however – who sums up the season. A decent pre-season prompted optimism which was burst down in Nottingham with the team beaten 5-0 and 3-0 in four days and Bateson sent off for a two footed lunge on his debut.

Following that there was a tough comeback. Hard work and effort that brought lots of positive reports which struggled to be transffered into the results everyone wanted. Bateson was labelled as having great potential which his manager Stuart McCall’s team looked capable of putting in great displays but seemingly incapable of winning great results.

Bateson struggled to win a place in the side as other players such as Simon Ramsden established himself and the idea of Bateson winning his place started to seem more and more remote. Sure he could put in a good display when needed but it always seemed that he was settling in to the middle of things, despite the odd Johnstone’s Paint win.

So a change in manager brought in optimism but not a massive change in position because it seemed that the season had been cast in the middle. Zesh Rehman dipped his toe into playing right back and Bateson appeared again showing some stability but the die has been cast and stability saw out the season into mid-table.

Changes were made. Bateson exits.

So Peter Taylor finishes three months as City manager with a end of season middle of the table game which could see the Bantams reach 13th or may drop to 16th. Of the players released only Clarke featured in the side last week and he is expected to be dropped to allow for a Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman middle with Simon Ramsden and Robbie Threlfall at full backs in front of Jon McLaughlin.

Matt Glennon’s release is a big thumbs up for McLaughlin who seems set to be City’s first choice keeper next season.

Also looking at being nailed in for next season is the three of Adam Bolder – who may return to Millwall with Taylor wanting him back – Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn in the middle. Gareth Evans leads the line with Gavin Grant and Leon Osbourne supporting.

And no room for Bateson. Not been his sort of season.

City face Morecambe looking at a new type of football

The grimness of an away day at Burton and the realisation that the Bantams are going to fail to improve on last seasons league position has led to a dark cloud hovering over Valley Parade that threatens to consume all beneath it.

Mark Lawn – who two months ago flexed his muscles to rid the club of what he saw as the curse of Stuart McCall as manager – must wonder how everything he touches at Valley Parade seems to go wrong: Signing Willy Topp, signing Zesh Rehman, “giving” £600,000 to the player budget, replacing McCall with Peter Taylor. It seems that Lawn is finding what many involved in football do and something McCall would underline. That the will to succeed is not enough to ensure success.

Author Mark Twain – on one of his more crabby days – said that it was “not enough in life to simply succeed, other must fail” and this is very true in football. No matter how much work and effort you put in, no matter what you do, if enough other teams do better then you do not achieve the goals you have. Aston Villa are a great success but to win the league they require a lot of other clubs to fail.

As Lawn watches Peter Taylor’s team flounder both in position and play he must wonder how making the best possible appointment has started in this way. He need to ignore these thoughts. Football management is done over the longer term and in stability – the people who denied this as they railed against McCall can hardly point to Taylor’s arrival as proof of concept – and once again the Bantams are in a position of needing to keep faith in a manager, needing to give him time, needing to have stability.

(I knew I would end up writing those words, but I thought it would be more than two months before I did.)

The end of Taylor’s start at Valley Parade has provided difficult to watch but Taylor’s priorities – results over performance – are those that Lawn recruited and these priorities were evidenced in the 1-1 draw at Burton Albion.

As woeful as it may have been to watch the result in the East Midlands was a good one. Peter Taylor’s football is a football of percentages and grinding. It is a football of aiming for two points a game not a win in every match and as a part of that playing as – as one Burton fan said – “the worst team who has played us this season” but getting a point is the aimed for achievement, especially considering the injuries the club has.

Taylor’s football is about percentages and doing the thing that most often gets success. A football about setting an aim and putting in a level of effort to get it. Not 101% flogging players like horses but a measured effort that ensures that a level application can be given for every game. It is a football that is not tied up in the passion and chest beating of a Stuart McCall and in that it is a sea change in attitude for the majority of the players who were brought in by the previous manager.

Any sea change takes time and Taylor will have it if only because for all the criticism of Mark Lawn one would never call him stupid and to have not learnt the lessons of sacking a manager and the short term effects on the club in the last couple of months and to repeat that in another month would very much say he was so.

So the Bantams face a Morecambe side who are going for a play-off place and one can only hope that they have the same equity of Refereeing that the Bantams enjoyed at Christie Park when the roles were reversed. If at the end of the game Morecambe have scored two but had one chalked off despite it being over the line, have seen linesman raise and lower his flag as a striker sprints through and scores and seen one of the Bantams forward get booked, dive all afternoon, stick a knee into someone’s face and then score the winner then empathy with the Shrimpers will be high.

City have no Luke Oliver – who returned to Wycombe Wanderers with Taylor talking about bringing him back in the summer – a wounded bunch of players that includes top scorer James Hanson, Simon Ramsden, Omar Daley and Michael Flynn as well as a few players who are paid to stay at home. City’s striking options are limited and Peter Thorne is on a beech somewhere. Go figure.

Gareth Evans is expected to take the forward role in a 442 with Ryan Kendall or Gavin Grant supporting. The trio of Leon Osbourne, Nathan Clarke and Oliver Forsyth may press for places on the bench. The time is perhaps ripe for Clarke or Forsyth to be given a run out.

Certainly favouring the younger goalkeeper in the form of Jon McLaughlin on Saturday reaped rewards with the keeper saving a penalty and putting in a good display. Defenders Louis Horne, Luke Dean, Phil Cutler and Andrew Villermann and midfielder Ryan Harrison could all lay claims for a shot at the team.

Most likely all those players will have to wait for a chance that probably will never come. Youth development at City – as with most clubs – is far too invested in the preferences of a manager and if the club wanted to start making movements in that area then they could do so. A maximum number of over 23s on the clubs books of fifteen would be one way to ensure the manager is force to blood the younger players as would a requirement to give a certain number of the young players débuts.

Jonathan Bateson will continue at right back while Ramsden is injured – although the full back might be fit for this evening – with Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman in the middle. Robbie Threlfall continues at left back with indications being that he will be offered a deal at City next year. Luke O’Brien is expected to return on the left side of midfield with Lee Bullock and Adam Boulder in the middle. Stephen O’Leary, James O’Brien, Luke Sharry – the right hand side is up for grabs.

The season begins to sort itself out – Rochdale can be promoted tonight while Notts County’s Luke Rodgers is finishing the season he started by diving against City by moving to New York – but the Bantams have much work to do before next term.

Universal effort needed as City head towards their lowest league position in 44 years

In attending away games, there are certain irritants you get used to regularly experiencing; tedious travelling, getting lost around town centres while struggling to spot floodlights arching over buildings, hideous visiting supporters’ toilets, unwelcoming home fans and hit-and-miss food. In addition the home advantage factor increases the likelihood of seeing your team lose, subsequently making the journey home that much longer.

Yet one thing I’ve always struggled to accept when watching City on the road is lack of effort from the players. If I’m going to travel many miles and spend lots of money to cheer you on – often meaning the entire day has been given up for it – the least I should be able to expect is a minimum level of passion.

With great difficulty, I can accept heavy or unlucky defeats and the pain of questioning my sanity being there, but I’m only ever left to feel stupid for going if the players I’m cheering on are blatantly going through the motions. At least they’re paid to be there, and are being paid to do a job we’d all give our rights arms to be good enough to do.

Saturday’s trip to Burton was largely a brilliant day out – the sunny weather and choice of Bloc Party and Kings of Leon on the stereo meant the car journey flew by; the ground was impossible to miss and very impressive, featuring that rarest of qualities in new stadiums – character; the Burton stewards and staff were over-friendly and the food and away bar facilities inside enjoyable. But once more, the afternoon was let down by suspect passion from those wearing Bantams colours.

It was a strange performance,with a very wide spectrum of respective efforts from each player. If there was a sliding scale illustrating the difference, it would feature Jon McLaughlin and Gareth Evans at the top of the high effort barrier – closely followed by Zesh Rehman – and Gavin Grant right at the opposite end. Other players fell somewhere in the middle, with some efforts to commend and others to question.

When taking over in February, Peter Taylor had been able to harness a team ethic to City’s approach which took much of the good of what Stuart McCall had left behind. Injuries in recent weeks has robbed Taylor of the team’s spine, and many of those who’ve remained available have failed to grasp the mantle. How Michael Flynn, James Hanson and Simon Ramsden in particular have been missed. Many fans have again openly questioned the commitment of Omar Daley in recent weeks, they should have watched the 90 minute performance of Grant at the Perelli Stadium.

City were highly fortunate to take a point from this game, despite taking the lead in the second half. Jon McLaughlin put in arguably the best goalkeeping performance of the season, impressively keeping out numerous Burton attempts at goal which included saving a first half penalty. Matt Glennon has failed to make a notable impact since signing in January, and after this display McLaughlin should keep his place for the remainder of the season. First choice keeper for next season he has the potential to be.

But McLaughlin aside, the resistance was limited. Robbie Threlfall has impressed greatly to date and looks likely to sign during the summer when his Liverpool contract expires, but at Burton he was badly showed up by the outstanding Cleveland Taylor. All afternoon, the Burton winger easily dribbled the ball around the young full back, while Threlfall was repeatedly caught out by a ball played from midfield over his head to unoccupied space Taylor was charging into. It was a poor performance, which made the sight of Luke O’Brien relegated to the bench all the more frustrating.

And though the rest of the defence were generally solid – Zesh Rehman back in good form and Steve Williams enjoying a decent end to what can be considered a memorable season, though Jonathan Bateson struggled at times – the midfield allowed Burton to pass their way through too often. Lee Bullock was among the more committed players, but Adam Bolder and Steve O’Leary were again disappointing as Taylor lined City up in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation.

When Bolder has been on form he’s looked very accomplished – the Millwall loanee’s second half performance at home to Aldershot perhaps his stand out game. But recently that form has dipped and he has struggled to make any impact, at times looking disinterested. It’s been a funny season for Steve O’Leary, who impressed during City’s opening home game against Port Vale before injury ruled him out until the New Year. Despite an encouraging belated second start, away at Rochdale, opportunities have been limited under Taylor.

Although starting the last two games, he is giving the impression he knows he has no chance of an extended deal this summer, and so has nothing to play for. It was no coincidence City began to play better after the more zestful James O’Brien replaced him.

And though Grant and Luke Oliver did well for City’s goal, the rest of their efforts were not good enough. Oliver is a defender playing up front, so allowances have to be made, but he is not good enough to play such a role despite his height and goal return over the last game and a half. There was also something curiously flat about his goal celebrations in front of the City fans, as though it didn’t mean a lot to have put his temporary club into the lead.

His performance was hindered by how isolated he was from Evans and Grant, but, other than his effectiveness in the air, he lacks the hold up or passing ability to make a positive contribution as a frontman. A defender up front is a rare but not unprecedented occurrence at Valley Parade, remember Andy Tod? If the now-recalled Wycombe defender returns next season, it will be solely for his defensive ability.

While if Grant is still at Valley Parade next August, it will surely be due to past form witnessed by Taylor rather than the very fleeting glimpses of ability shown since signing for City on a non-contract basis. He looks tentative and slow to react to situations, and very unwilling to chase lost causes. But for his excellent run which lead to the goal, he offered nothing towards City’s cause and was deservedly subbed.

End of season is perhaps the time to try out players like Grant, rather than signing them up without properly viewing them only to regret it later. But end of season is also the time to try out youth players and, despite Taylor saying he will look to blood some in over the final few games, this was a missed opportunity to try out players who would have been guaranteed to show more commitment. Tuesday’s home game with in-form Morecambe looks less the occasion to risk them and, with City still to face promotion chasers Chesterfield and Northampton, further opportunities are limited.

Of course any player has to earn the right to get into the team, and young players shouldn’t be promoted to the starting line up ahead of more experienced players on the sole criteria they are more likely to try harder. But the lack of effort shown by some of the senior players City are relying on is worrying and there’s a risk of next season’s plans being disrupted if this campaign is allowed to end on the low note it’s heading towards.

Because as this draw saw City drop down another place in the league table, recent from is pushing the Bantams towards a lowest league position since 1966 – 44 years ago. To more than one generation of City supporters, it could be argued this team is the worst we’ve ever seen. In 1976 City finished 17th in Division 4, beating or least equaling that over the final five games of this season will be the smallest of consolations.

But not exactly much to market the season ticket offer on. There are three home games before the £186 offer comes to an end on Sunday 9 May – 11 years to the day City’s last promotion was achieved – but there is little beyond blind faith to suggest the Bantams will be celebrating a rise to League One come next May. Perhaps more than ever bold action is needed to entice supporters who may not go to games often right now but who might be persuaded into buying a season ticket; free entry to the Northampton game?

The players need to do their bit. Whatever their motivation may be, they need to find it or else stay on the sidelines. Certain players are almost carrying the team right now – that City didn’t lose to Burton was due to the commitment of some, but that City didn’t win is due to the lack of commitment from the others.

It caused more damage to the league position, but even more significant is the damage this poor form could cause to realising next season’s forecasted budgets.

The articles of association football club Bournemouth

The story is that in 1972 – Britain having ditched the hour shifts of summer time and gone decimal – some of the directors at Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic F.C. decided that the modernity that swept the land needed to encompass the football club on the South Coast of England.

So taking a lead from the naming conventions of the continent and the playing strip of AC Milan the club – which had just been promoted to the third tier – was renamed AFC Bournemouth and nothing was ever to be the same again, so the story goes.

Of course things were the same. AFC Bournemouth, Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic F.C. and further back Boscombe F.C. have similar league histories going up sometimes, going down sometimes but generally doing well for themselves as a steadfast member of the bottom half of English football.

Perhaps there was an idea that the AFC element would alter that patten – that following a more exciting European model – might move Bournemouth on in the world. It was a plan and in retrospect it seems like a far fetched one – but it is a plan to take the club forward never the less.

Planning is the talk of Valley Parade at the moment. It is said that after a meeting this week with Peter Taylor and the trio of the boardroom Mark Lawn, Roger Owen and David Baldwin that the interim manager is pleased with the plans that the club have hastily put in place at his behest and a gambling man would bet on the manager remaining in charge next season.

The club’s planning over the previous decade and a half has been – in places – dreadful from the days of signing Dan Petrescu and Benito Carbone and having them change in one place and train in another to the wandering blindly into giving up the club’s biggest asset in Valley Parade to the current, much discussed situation.

Let us not rehash these problems, dear reader, but concur that they exist and consider how they could be circumnavigated.

Having spend much of yesterday in and around Fanny’s Ale House in Saltaire within a stone’s throw of the buildings of Shipley College I recalled the Business 101 class I took back when The Doc was still City boss – which was rather grandly called The Organisation In Its Environment – and the lesson that said that businesses were guided by a set of principals.

The businesses – as a rule – were plc’s of which the Bantams are not but the principals which took the similarly grand name of Articles and Memoranda Of Association were in place to define to any and all what that business was about.

They divide into two sets being Articles – the aims of a company – and the Memoranda – which are the objectives. In short what the company is trying to do, and how it is trying to do it.

Aim: “Bradford City aim to offer season tickets to supporters at affordable prices”. Objective: “The club will ensure that season tickets price going to games in line with similar activities such as a trip to the cinema”.

One has to wonder if such a constitution exists at Valley Parade – they may do – and if such a constitution could be made public. A set of principals that tell supporters exactly what they are supporting and tell those involved in the club at all levels what they are signing up for.

If Peter Taylor does sign up to be City manager next season them signing players from the current set up will occupy him. Of the team that is expected to take the field at Dean Court tomorrow a half dozen of them are contracted to stay at the club and the rest are looking to impress.

Matt Glennon and reserve man Jon McLaughlin are both out of contract and one doubts that the senior man has done enough to ink his name on a contract. New manager’s often mean new goalkeepers.

Zesh Rehman is contracted to be around next season, Simon Ramsden has no deal but most would keep the latter – who returns to fitness – and release the former. The topper most of the achievements Taylor could have is to get Rehman playing like a player capable of operating at a higher level once more.

Taylor is said to be a massive fan of Steve Williams and one can see him being around next season and the same could be said for the massive Luke Oliver who seems to have stepped in front of Matthew Clarke who – it seems – is playing through his last days at Valley Parade.

Robbie Threlfall has no deal at Liverpool and one suspects no future there – when was the last time The Reds brought through a local lad? – although his performances have suggested that he is worth a deal from the Bantams if no one else offers him anything.

Ten years ago a player coming out of one of the top clubs would cost anyone interested £500,000 n the assumption that the Liverpools and Manchester Uniteds only took the best rather than the current situation where they take – well – whomever they can get their hands on. Now they are simply lads like those who City release and are looking for contracts at whatever level they can get one.

Not that Louis Horne or Luke O’Brien will be looking for deals. They both seem set to stay with City next season with O’Brien growing into his left wing role he will continue in tomorrow. The right hand side has Omar Daley and Scott Neilson with one injured and the other out on loan. Gareth Evans – another who is staying – will take the right hand side with Gavin Grant looking to get a chance to impress following his return from injury.

The middle two perm from the three of Lee Bullock, Adam Bolder and Michael Flynn with the latter moving up front to cover the repositioned Evans and Taylor no doubt wanting all three around next season. Certainly the ability to not have to change central midfield tactics with Bullock’s now spent suspension has been a boon and if all three can stay then Taylor has more of a chance to keep continuity in that area of the field.

James Hanson could hardly have had a better season seeing off Michael and Rory Boulding to establish himself as City’s leading striker and there seems to be more chance of his being snapped up from above than leaving to someone below. Ryan Kendall is looking for a club next term but even with his goal scoring antics last week he is to stay on the bench to allow Flynn to join the attack.

Rounding up the others Jonathan Bateson, Jamie O’Brien, Leon Osborne, Luke Sharry and Stephen O’Leary are all looking very much like they will struggle to get new deals partly through a lack of chances in the case of the injured O’Leary and O’Brien and partly through a failure to gasp those chances. The tragedy of the season is Luke Sharry’s first half against Port Vale where a promising player failed to take his chance with two hands while Leon Osborne has never had the impact to suggest he will have a future with the club.

Nevertheless as the club winds down the season going neither up nor down then all these players may get a chance to impress. It is ironic that as the Bantams weigh up who will get a deal and who will not their opponents AFC Bournemouth have had to rely on exactly that sort of player and sit third battling for a play off place with Notts County and Rotherham – teams adapt at spending other people’s money – with any plan they ever had to progress thrown out of the window.

Eddie Howe spins gold from what he has, but he has nice training pitches.

Update Since writing Bradford City – and me – have had various injuries. Simon Ramsden is definitely out giving Zesh Rehman the right back role. Gareth Evans has an injured foot that will allow the right hand side to go to the aforementioned Sharry perhaps and hopefully the youngster can make the impression he hints at. Gavin Grant could also feature.

Ryan Kendall will almost certainly get a game with Michael Flynn’s injury ruling him out while Matthew Clarke has a calf injury that ensures that the Williams/Oliver partnership can play again unless Rehman moves inside and Bateson can feature at right back.

I have a bad knee and am limping around the house getting on Mrs Wood’s nerves and wincing every time I walk. I have no idea where the knee tweak came but I have not suffered a heavy tackle or ran for a ball and as I hobble around the house I reflect on the idea that at times players are expected to get on with the game when they are feeling as I do, or worse.

This leads me to recall this story about former Arsenal man Perry Groves who when playing in a reserve game at Luton Town was hacked fairly viciously as he stormed down the left wing. Groves lay on the floor in front of the fistful of Lutoners who attend second string matches one of whom shouted “Get up off the floor you ginger puff” in the direction of Groves.

Groves, his leg being magic sponge, gingerly rose to his feet in time and turned to the stand to tell the supporter a cold hard fact.

“Mate,” said Groves, “That really hurt.”

Didn’t you used to be Hereford United?

Hereford United sit below Bradford City in the football pyramid at the moment – that is not that easy – and dismissed manager John Trewick who himself had taken over from Graham Turner, the manager who guided the club to promotions from the Football Conference and League Two two years ago.

The Hereford side mugged Bradford City in the first season under Stuart McCall were a big bunch of guys who assembled by Turner at the cost of only half of City’s purchase that year Willy Topp. Ben Smith who was signed from Weymouth for £20,000 in January 2007 and the rest of the squad were either picked up for free – or – in the case of nine of them including Robbie Threlfall they were brought in on loan.

Turner tried the same policy the season after with less success. The team that finished the previous season third and included the likes of Theo Robinson who now impresses for Huddersfield Town and Peterborough’s Toumani Diagouraga ended up bottom of League One with seventeen loanees coming and going in the season including once again Threlfall and former Bantam and, erm, “team mate” of Mark McCammon Moses Ashikodi.

Not that one should dismiss Turner’s methods for taking a team from the non-league to the division above City but the whole story of the rise and fall of Hereford United in the last three years is illustrative of the perils of building teams of loan players. Any progress made is done so on foundations of sand. The players brought in that brought success one year are gone the next and the manager is left scrabbling to find players of a similar or higher quality.

Loan players are a fact of life in all the leagues of English football outside of the Premiership and the odd additional face can help a club, get the mix wrong and the team is full of players who have an eye on the way back to their parent clubs. It is a mix that more often fails than succeeds, but it does sometimes succeed as Hereford prove.

Peter Taylor’s approach to loanees underlines his abilities as a manager. He has brought a half dozen new faces to the squad but few of them have gone straight into the team. Gavin Grant has not been put in over Omar Daley, Mark McCammon has not gone in over James Hanson, Luke Oliver had to bide his time rather than being put in over Steve Williams.

As with his retention of Wayne Jacobs and his keenness to sign Peter Thorne up as a coach Taylor values stability and knows how to maintain and maximise it.

The Bantams are in exceptional form having taken twelve points in the seven games Peter Taylor has managed (two home, five away) and now are looking up the table to climb towards a play off target that most think is unreachable. Other aspirations have been established: to finish in a higher place than last season, to end with a positive goal difference, to maintain a two points a game average over the next two months.

The Bantams continue with Matt Glennon in goal although Simon Ramsden will miss the game injured at right back so Jonathan Bateson is expected to fill in. Luke Oliver and Matthew Clarke continue in central defence and Robbie Threlfall stays at left back behind Luke O’Brien who is on the left flank.

Lee Bullock and Adam Bolder are building a partnership in the middle with both given a ball winning remit while Omar Daley may make the right hand side despite an injury last weekend. Should Omar fail a fitness test Gareth Evans may return or Gavin Grant could be given a chance to make his first start for the Bantams.

New face Ryan Kendall will probably start on the bench with Michael Flynn continuing up front alongside James Hanson.

Hereford’s aims are to stay in the division which – thanks to Grimsby Town’s continued inability to make a fist of staying in the league – seems likely to be achieved. The Bulls are looking to put a wretched year behind them and come back stronger next season.

They may do, they have before..

53 weeks ago – City were on top of the world

It was 53 short weeks ago that Bradford City crushed Aldershot Town on their last visit to Valley Parade. Two goals from the returning-to-form Peter Thorne, a beauty of an effort from the edge of the box by Dean Furman, a tap in for Barry Conlon and a comical own-goal set up by Joe Colbeck. 5-0, City fourth in the league with 11 games to go. The excitement was growing at the prospect of ending the season with the glory of promotion.

As we all know, it ended miserably with the platform that victory had laid on for City proving something of a peak to the second half of the season at least. The next nine of those remaining 11 were winless as the Bantams fell out of the promotion picture, the ending of the season with back-to-back victories thus meaningless. The backwards steps have continued into this season.

City now have a long way to go just to get to where they were after that Spring demolition of the Shots. The up and down nature of results since Peter Taylor took over the reins has at times given hope of a late play off push this time around, but the slip ups and barely decreasing distance from the top seven has all but extinguished such faint chances. After Saturday’s clash with Aldershot is over, there will again be 11 games to go – even a complete reversal of results compared to those nine games at the end of last season probably wouldn’t be enough.

If we could turn the clocks back to the final whistle a year ago and apply hindsight, what warnings would we now offer and to whom? Perhaps the most obvious would seem to be changing Stuart McCall’s u-turn over his threat to quit. As Taylor impresses for the composure and organisation he has brought to the team, the growing temptation is to look back over McCall’s final season and dismiss it a waste of time. If only Taylor had taken over sooner, it can be argued, the club might still be approaching the final section of the season with promotion hopes.

The ‘SOS’ demonstration at the end of the last season might be something we’d go back and urge the organisers to cancel. The holding up of banners in support of McCall has caused widespread debate even during this season, with the number of supporters willing to admit they displayed a sign surprisingly few.

Where I sit in the Midland Road Stand, a previously quiet and pleasant woman suddenly can’t stop ranting, during the last few months, about how poor a manager McCall is/was, and inadvertently slamming those who backed him. Prior to the start of recent homes games she’s repeatedly uttered, “Do you know who I blame for this season? All those supporters who held up signs supporting him at the last home game” out loud to everyone around her, the majority of whom did hold up signs. Sorry lady, it’s all my fault.

But perhaps we’d take a different approach if we could go back, considering where City might be today but for that late season collapse. If City have gone onto earn promotion during those final 11 games a year ago, there would have been no need to reduce the transfer and wage budgets by a third for this campaign – an action which has undoubtedly undermined efforts.

Instead we might warn McCall where it would all go wrong –  to be mindful of defending set pieces at Spotland a few days later, to make sure Barry Conlon and Matt Clarke are behaving while staying in Devon prior to the Exeter game, how tinkering with the team too much leads to the inconsistent form, how a linesman will rob the team at Morecambe, not to sign Paul chuffin Mullin, that certain players cannot be counted on when the chips are down, and why it’s so important he doesn’t let it all get him down too much.

Perhaps most of all we’d warn him not to publicly threaten to quit in the manner he did after losing to Bournemouth, because it seemed to only breed instability and nervousness in the team rather than help it. The decline was already starting and he needed to be more positive in addressing it. The Bournemouth defeat was the third in a row; worrying form – but it needn’t have turned into the disastrous form that would continue another six games.

Mistakes were made, as McCall himself readily admits, and they soon added up to something far bigger. Ultimately City’s failure this season is due to the failure of the one before, and the immediate challenge remains reversing those backward steps. 53 weeks after thrashing Aldershot 5-0, it is now the visitors who harbour the promotion hopes. They, and so many other clubs, have been able to catch up and overtake City over the last 12 months, it’s already going to be a long road back.

But like in any aspect of life – it’s not how many mistakes are made, but how quickly they are learned from. Sometimes it’s a torturous and miserable path, but if the resultant lessons can be applied positively it will be a journey worth taking. If we had not put up our SOS posters and if McCall had departed during the summer, it’s highly unlikely City would be currently employing Taylor. Someone else would have come in and, with the same budget constraints, may have done no better.

The lessons McCall learned from his first two seasons would not have been applied, the new guy may have repeated the City legend’s mistakes of hiring players not up to this level or lacking in desire. However well it can be judged McCall performed this season, there’s little doubt Taylor has inherited a squad to build on rather than start all over again – due to McCall targeting the right kind of players within the budget constraints.

And if the short-term deal works out and Taylor can replicate the kind of success he enjoyed at Hull, the misery of the last 12 months and the refusal of McCall to quit last summer will ultimately have been worth it. Life doesn’t allow you to turn back the clock, mistakes cannot be undone.  City have had 53 weeks of regrets and now more than ever is the time to apply those lessons. Taylor is impressing in both victory and defeat. We know he has the experience, he’s proving he has the knowledge, the main question mark is that of his own appetite – and that of the Chairmen – to make it work.

53 weeks on Taylor has so far used only seven players from the sixteen involved against the Shots last season  – only three of which have started the last four games. Luke O’Brien, Lee Bullock and Matt Clarke have themselves been the subject of healthy debates for much of this season, but all appear to be impressing Taylor. Meanwhile the futures of the other four – Thorne, Michael Boulding, Zesh Rehman and Chris Brandon – look decidedly shaky.  Taylor vowed to give everyone a go and would seem to already be making his mind up over who he would offer a City future too and who he’d move on.

Two of his own short-term recruits have yet to really feature but, after a disappointing performance in losing to Port Vale, may now get their chance. Little is known of Luke Oliver, other than his height, but he could make his debut alongside Clarke in the centre of defence. Gavin Grant has arrived on a pay-as-you-play basis and in need of building fitness. With Gareth Evans having a poor game at Vale Park, that fitness might be tested from the start tomorrow. Omar Daley too will be vying for only a fourth start in a year.

Daley is one of the few players not out of contract this summer and Taylor’s ability to judge the Jamaican is hampered by his understandable lack of fitness. So far Taylor has gone for the workrate of Evans and O’Brien on the flanks to start and, if Daley watched AC Milan’s pathetic surrender at Old Trafford this week largely due to widemen not bothering to track back and Manchester United murdering the Italians down the flanks, he will have some idea of what he needs to do to fit in with the new-look City.

Elsewhere Mark McCammon will have arrived for a month at City with greater ambition than swapping one sub bench for another, and Taylor may consider him to start ahead of James Hanson or Michael Flynn, the latter moving back to midfield. The arrival of Adam Bolder sees greater competition in the centre of midfield, with Steve O’Leary still on the fringes, but Taylor would surely be reluctant to leave out either Bolder or the in-form Bullock.

Matt Glennon keeps goal, having been faintly criticised in public by Taylor for not stopping Vale’s winning goal on Tuesday. Glennon’s spell at City has been curious for its lack of incident. He has made some good saves, but nothing too noteworthy. He has also conceded a few goals he might have been expected to save. He has impressed in the command of his penalty area, but the long-term custodian he may not be. Having played only seven games for Bristol Rovers, a third return of Rhys Evans this summer would be widely cheered by fans.

Simon Ramsden and Robbie Threlfall retain the full back slots; Steve Williams may face the axe for Oliver; Jon Bateson, Michael Boulding and Thorne wait impatiently for rare opportunities.

Running on Low?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City keep their heads as others lose theirs

Peter Taylor was thrust into unemployment by Wycombe Wanderers last October with accusations of dourness to smart over. But in the three short weeks since becoming Bradford City’s interim manager for the rest of the season, the 57-year-old is proving there’s a far greater edge to his methods.

When Rotherham United’s Adam Le Fondre fired home a stoppage time equaliser from the penalty spot, it appeared a well-deserved victory had been snatched from the Bantams’ grasp and what still looked a credible point in a promotion-chaser’s backyard would be all Taylor would take in support of his case for a longer contract. But heads didn’t drop, and Luke O’Brien charged forwards to earn a corner, which Simon Ramsden planted perfectly onto James Hanson’s forehead to fire home a dramatic winner. Dourness we can all get used to.

It was no more than City deserved for an impressive display which had the influence of Taylor stamped all over it. Organisation and shape have been the two biggest areas of improvement in City since the change of managers, and while both qualities could be filed under the dourness category apparently derided at Adams Park, they’ve helped what has looked an exciting team to watch all season become more focused and effective in its exhibiting of flair.

All afternoon at the Don Valley Stadium, the Bantams attacked with a purpose that caused problems for an oddly-nervous backline, largely lacking in the support of its midfield. A purpose that wasn’t about charging down blind alleys or pushing too many men forward, only to then have problems defending a counter attack. The midfield supported the front two of Hanson and Michael Flynn conservatively but dependably. If and when possession was lost, two organised lines of four were quickly in place to shield home attacks.

There is an element of directness about City’s approach; though with half of the Don Valley turf more closely resembling a beach than a football pitch, the conditions compromised passing football. But the mixing up of targeting the two wide players and passing through the engine room of the again hugely-impressive Lee Bullock and debut signing Adam Bolder ensured there was nothing predictable about the approach.

After former Bantam Nicky Law had forced a good early save from Matt Glennon, the territorial advantage and bulk of the chances were won by City in the first half. A defensive mix up almost saw Steve Williams head home, then a few minutes later Hanson blazed over from inside the penalty area when he should have scored. Rotherham almost struck when a goalmouth scramble saw three stabbed efforts somehow not cross the line – two were blocked on it by City players and the middle attempt hit the crossbar.

But City shaded the first half and continued to press after the interval with O’Brien and Flynn going close before City’s number four scored his first goal since Rotherham came to Valley Parade last December, firing home low and hard after Gareth Evans had charged forwards down the right flank and laid the ball into his path. Flynn again had an impressive afternoon in the unfamiliar striker’s role, before dropping into midfield late on. What Taylor’s use of his central midfielder says of the futures of Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne is becoming increasingly clear.

Evans’ role in the goal too deserved credit. Both he and O’Brien must be fearful of their own futures. Long term solutions for the widemen they probably aren’t, but the pair’s attitude towards making it work is admirable. It isn’t always perfect and both were guilty of losing the ball too often, but their obvious attempts to keep hold of it out wide rather than head-down take players on and risk losing possession is helping City’s midfield to support the front two more effectively and it was fitting the opening goal should be provided by one of them.

With Bullock and Bolder easily winning the midfield battle, the frankly woeful Nicky Law was subbed by Ronnie Moore as the home side pushed to come back. The pressure was sporadic, though crosses into the box did cause panic and Flynn and Robbie Therfall made two goalline blocks from one scramble before Mark Lynch headed off target. Minutes later Daryl Harrison fired wide with the goal gaping after Therfall was beaten too easily out wide. It was a let off which had Taylor screaming at his back four in anger over how they’d switched off, but with the clock running down it looked like City were going to hold out.

But a minute into stoppage time the otherwise impressive Williams handled in the box and the referee gave a penalty – a harsh but probably correct decision – and Le Fondre beat Glennon from 12 yards despite City’s stopper guessing which way he’d go. It seemed a crucial goal for Rotherham in their fight for promotion, but despite looking as though they’d got away with an undeserved draw, the celebrations from the home fans was less concerned with their own team’s joy.

Hundreds of Millers’ supporters swarmed to the front of their stand to taunt the City fans nearby, seemingly having no interest with events on the pitch. Their pathetic reaction was more bizarre for how feeble they had been supporting their own players during the game. It was almost near silence, apart from faint booing of their team’s disjointed play. They also had the humiliation of what looked like a bear mascot banging on a drum at the front of the stand in an attempt to get them chanting. While most Rotherham fans are undoubtedly decent people, one has to wonder about the small-time mentality of those who choose to react to their team’s last gasp equaliser at home to a team in 16th by simply goading opposition fans. Maybe we should be flattered.

But with a rising sense of injustice at the way afternoon was to end, just like Alan Partridge needless to say we had the last laugh. A corner was quickly forced and with the match long past the three allocated minutes of stoppage time and with hundreds of Rotherham fans still watching us and not the game, Hanson powerfully headed home his 10th goal of the season to spark scenes of delirium. For the second season in a row, celebrations spilled out onto the running track between the stands and pitch. It was a goal which hurt Rotherham more than it will alter City’s season, oh the faces of their fans.

And despite what must have felt like a huge kick in the teeth when Rotherham scored and the subsequent obvious madness taking place in the stands which saw police rushing to the front to prevent the possibility of trouble, the players kept their heads and made sure they left the pitch with everything they deserved.

That, above everything else, is what Taylor has brought to City. Under Stuart McCall this season the Bantams were playing some exciting football which was great to watch as the players gave everything to the cause, but the results ultimately illustrated its effectiveness. The football isn’t quite as edgy, but the energy is being used in the right way and City look hard to beat, determined and know what their roles are. There is an air of calmness which is transmitting into confidence and belief. Taylor is instigating that calmness.

It’s felt all season long that the Bantams had a good enough squad to challenge for promotion, results like this and at Rochdale are proving that. It’s surely come too late this campaign, but McCall’s legacy is leaving behind tools which Taylor could effectively use to mount a promotion challenge, if given the chance, next season.

Sounds dour.

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.

Jacobs can’t shake off the staleness as City draw with struggling Grimsby

A  banner was unfurled over the edge of the Main Stand top tier as the players came out for kick off which seemed to be in support of Stuart McCall; but before we’d had chance to read what it said, it had been removed.

This didn’t appear to be an act of boardroom concealing, more concern from stewards that the banner was covering up advertising hoardings. Though it was a shame the supporter’s home-made effort wasn’t allowed to be draped over some of the thousands of empty seats.

It was not meant to be, and perhaps the same can be said of Wayne Jacobs as Bradford City manager. Having requested to Mark Lawn that he is interviewed for the vacant position during the week, this disappointing draw with second-bottom Grimsby was hardly the commendation he needed ahead of Monday’s meeting.  Already an outsider for the position, his chances seemingly reduced with each passing minute of goalless action.

Apart from Jacobs patrolling the dugout in suit rather tracksuit, it was difficult to recognise much different. For 90 minutes City huffed and puffed, but the well-organised visitors defended in numbers and carried a threat on the break. Oliver Lancashire and Joe Widdowson were outstanding at the back and, although the Bantams spent long spells camped out in the opposition half, clear cut chances were at a premium.

Robbed of injury to Omar Daley, Jacobs’ team selection could easily have been that of McCall’s. Though Gareth Evans was moved to the left instead of part of a front three, bringing more balance to the side than for last week’s defeat to Bury. Scott Neilson was recalled on the right and improved on a tentative start to produce an impressive second half display which was aided by Jacobs’ switching Simon Ramsden back to right back at half time, as City’s captain was more supportive going forward than Zesh Rehman in the first half.

But elsewhere confidence was obviously lacking. For much of this season City have been too desperate to get the ball forwards quickly instead of showing composure; and though midfield pair Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn impressed in patches, the middlemen were often cut out in favour of a long ball from the back towards James Hanson.

With Grimsby playing a higher backline in the first half, passes in behind the strikers from midfield was an effective option, but when Town dropped deeper it was back to route one. Initial panic was often caused from Hanson’s flick ons, but Town always seemed to have more numbers back to snuff out the danger.

Evans had the best chance of the first half when a good pass had set Hanson clear before he pulled the ball back to City’s number nine. But Evans’ confidence seems to have been unaffected by his double at Torquay two weeks ago and he fired over. It’s now three months since he scored at Valley Parade.

And it’s nine months since Peter Thorne – making his first start since going off injured against Rochdale in the JPT last September – scored anywhere. The top scorer of the past two seasons was effective in holding up the ball, but inside the area the sort of half chances he sniffs out seemed to allude him. Michael Boulding was introduced on 65 minutes and wasted a decent opportunity when shooting straight at Nick Colgan. Hanson and Neilson also fired over from promising positions, but the 0-0 looked inevitable long before the assistant referee signalled four minutes of injury time.

Matt Glennon was a virtual spectator, other than an important save from a well-worked Grimsby corner just after the break. Despite the visitors’ relegation worries, they seemed content with a point and made few efforts to push forwards in numbers during the final 20 minutes. It was an afternoon to forget.

Which quickly pushes the focus back onto the managerial situation and, with Martin Allen and Russell Slade watching from the stands, they and others would seem to be in a better position than Jacobs after he oversaw this mediocre display. Jacobs’ best hope of earning the job would surely have lied in truly differentiating himself from his former manager, given Lawn’s rather tactless hint McCall would have been pushed had he not jumped.

In time, Jacobs would surely stamp his own mark on the club. But his chance always lied in the short term and this City display was much of the same and therefore makes it more difficult for him to convince Lawn and Julian Rhodes he could do a better job than McCall.

But whoever does come in has a job to do in quickly building up confidence and belief in a team which has become too used to feeling hard done by. Not losing today means the spectre of falling into a relegation battle remains distant, but with two tricky trips to Lancashire to come before a visit from a Darlington side showing faint signs of improvement – however futile – the urgency for improved results is increasing.

Like this drab draw which was seemingly decided long before the end, City’s season seems to be drifting to an inevitable mundane mid-table conclusion. That Jacobs was unable to make an impact means it will surely now be an outsider entrusted with shaking things up.

The legacy of Stuart begins as the Bantams welcome Grimsby Town

The pile of CVs has been sifted through, the initial interviews held. Events are moving quickly and we may have a strong idea of who the Bradford City caretaker manager for the rest of the season is to be before the weekend is over, possibly even before kick off of Saturday’s visit of Grimsby.

For the players especially, it’s a case of who they need to impress. It’s perhaps testament to just how small former manager Stuart McCall’s squad was – or his indecision – that there are no senior players rotting in the reserves. However well or badly they have performed, each player has it all to do all over again. Wayne Jacobs will be in charge from the touchline, but it may be a question of who might be watching from the stands.

And if the caretaker-to-be is able to run the rule over his new charges, he shouldn’t be too disappointed with what he to work with. McCall had to work under tough financial constraints which will have hindered his ability to build the team he wanted, but what the players lack in quality they have almost always compensated by their effort.

I’ve always found that a fair summary of how well a manager did can only be drawn after a lengthy period, and though we may in time label McCall a failed manager it would be premature to do so. Like with Nicky Law and Colin Todd, we may soon discover a change makes no difference, in which case the proportion of blame McCall would be considered to deserve for this season’s under-achievement lessens.

But what we do hope to learn in this season’s squad is that McCall has achieved one of his original stated aims, revealed during his first interview after becoming the manager in May 2007. He said then, “I think back to the first time I was here when we signed people like Greg Abbott, John Hendrie and Chris Withe…they went on to be great servants for the club and loved being part of it…I want to bring in players like that who will hopefully develop and grow with the club.”

McCall’s Monday departure ensured few people were too bothered with talking about the Bury defeat, and the post match comments of defender Simon Ramsden appear to have been widely missed. He told the Telegraph & Argus, “The gaffer has got a history with the club from playing and manager. You can see the club means a lot to him, as it does with all of us. Every time you put on the shirt you should wear it with pride and give 100 per cent.”

If three, four or five of the current crop of players can become entrenched in the hearts of us supporters in the same vein as Abbot, Hendrie, McCall and co, the departing manager can be considered to have delivered some success. If these players can continue their development and lift the club forwards, the foundations can be credited to the biggest legend of them all for rubbing off the passion he had. McCall didn’t view managing City as just any old employment, his legacy may prove to be a playing squad which shares this outlook.

The worry is the eventual long-term successor might rip this work up, rather than build on it. But if the caretaker-to-be is watching and they’re looking to do more over the next three months than merely put themselves in the shop window for a better job, tomorrow could be the day the players start proving themselves as key components of the next chapter.

Quite who’ll be given the chance to impress is another question. This is Jacobs’ second game in charge of the club after acting as caretaker for the then-Division One club’s trip to Stoke back in 2003. He certainly caused an impression that day, consigning Dean Windass to sit amongst us away fans. Second time around, Jacobs will certainly pick Matt Glennon in goal with the experienced stopper having had little to do but conceding six goals in his first four Bantams games.

The passionate Simon Ramsden was outstanding as a centre back last week and will surely continue there alongside an equally impressive Matt Clarke. I didn’t agree with the decision to push Zesh Rehman over to right back, and though Stuart could no doubt explain the logic to me I’m not sure he’d go as far as to claim it worked. The promising-but-raw Jonathan Bateson may be recalled, with Luke O’Brien at left back.

Last week Omar Daley reminded us of his frustrating inconsistency after an ineffective performance as part of a midfield three, which at one stage drew an angry tirade from Michael Flynn. In the second half a Bury breakaway was thwarted by the Jamaican racing back to clear, which emphasises how his patchy form cannot just be labelled as ‘laziness’. He should start in what may instead be a 4-4-2.

Flynn and Lee Bullock will look to continue in the middle, though this writer craves for young Luke Sharry to be given more opportunities before the season ends. Steve O’Leary skippered the reserves to a rare win midweek and may be considered ahead of Bullock. Chris Brandon and Scott Nielson, both struggling for form but not involved with the second string, will hope for a recall. Leon Osborne is back from injury and worth considering for the bench.

Up front Jacobs has the luxury rarely afforded to McCall of having four fit strikers to choose from, though form is another matter. Gareth Evans netted twice at Torquay, but still looks unconfident and is fast-becoming the main target for the boo boys. Michael Boulding flatters to deceive and James Hanson and Peter Thorne’s recent injuries leave them rusty.

Grimsby rock up to Valley Parade deep in relegation mire, winless in 19 and 13 points behind City – but if that gap has decreased come 5pm Saturday, Bantams’ alarm bells will start to ring.  The Mariners have not beaten City in 11 attempts and their last win at Valley Parade was back in 1997. They’ve managed just 20 goals in 28 league games this season; if they play half as bad as they did against City at Blundell Park earlier this season, a comfortable home win will be achieved.

Personally I would be sad to see Grimsby go down. Cleethorpes is a pretty ugly place, but there are worse away ends than the one at Blundell Park and the fish & chip shop nearby is astonishingly good. They are six points adrift of safety and former City striker Neil Woods has so far been able to turn the tide.

According to the chairmen City go into this game with nothing to play for; but with such an uncertain future for the players and coaching staff, it’s not a time to be deliberating the summer holidays just yet. McCall’s legacy does not deserve to be players who’d give up trying now, tomorrow is their first chance to honour the former boss.

The saddest of endings

Stuart McCall’s farewell lap around Valley Parade applauding supporters was a heartbreaking sight – but it was also a beautiful moment.

His actions at the end of the 1-0 defeat to Bury said everything that is fantastic about the City legend. He knew the game was up and that, whether on Monday it will be announced he has resigned, left by mutual consent or been given the sack, it was no longer up to him whether he could stay. But there was no quick retreat down the touchline; he showed typical courage and respect in going out to applaud his supporters.

And the reaction back was equally fitting. Sure there’d be typical murmurings of discontent about McCall during the match and many had exited the stadium before the final whistle, but this was a time for  putting aside misgivings and showing appreciation for the man, the legend, who will ultimately always retain the respect and adulation of City fans.

It was the saddest of farewells, handled with the greatest of dignity.

There’s been a fear among many of those fans who’d been demanding a change that, if action wasn’t taken swiftly, McCall might be subject of the sort of unpleasant abuse other managers have received in the past. No one wanted it end ugly, and it sums up the bond between McCall and supporters that the parting of ways is as amicable as can be. I was close to tears as I applauded McCall’s farewell lap, and I have so much respect to him for taking the time to do it.

Once the farewell had been competed, Bury manager Alan Knill walked over to McCall and hugged him. He was humble in victory, as is easier to be, admitting that, just like at Gigg Lane a fortnight earlier, the Bantams were unfortunate to lose. Undoubtedly City, who hurled everything including the kitchen sink at the visitors during the closing stages, deserved to take something from the game.

Yet I don’t agree that City – and McCall – had been unlucky to lose this time. I was disappointed with McCall’s formation and tactics. And though I wanted him to remain as manager, there is something troubling about the evidence presented in front of us over the lack of progress this season.

Even before kick off, City seemed to have a whiff of desperation about their approach. Playing 4-3-3 is not new this season – the merits or otherwise having been debated on this site only a day earlier – but 4-3-3 with James Hanson, Gareth Evans AND Michael Boulding? Three up front worked earlier in the season due to those employed to take the two wide slots of the front three – Evans and Neilson – been able to play out wide. But Boulding and Hanson are largely better through the middle and leaving Omar Daley in the middle three meant the balance to the team wasn’t right and the style of football suffered.

It reminded me of then-Shrewsbury manager Gary Peter two years ago, realising the season wasn’t going to plan – and therefore his own future was in doubt – and just deciding to “go for it” every match. He picked a team at Valley Parade full of attacking intent, but City tore into them with two of the four goals coming on the counter attack. Peters was shortly afterwards sacked.

Playing 4-3-3 like City did yesterday suggested a lack of confidence in the players. Even in a must-win game, McCall and City needed to show patience and have a greater game plan than just going for it. It was a contrast to the visit of Bury last season, where a more measured and composed approach eventually brought a late Bantams winner.

At the back at least, recent defensive problems were partly addressed with Simon Ramsden moving from right back to centre back alongside Matt Clarke – and the pair put in as outstanding and assured defensive displays since David Wetherall and Damion Stewart dominated at the back in 2006. Luke O’Brien had a tough afternoon, but characteristically stuck to the task.

However the decision to play Zesh Rehman  at right back was curious and ultimately flawed. Zesh is a good player, but has not had a good season and there’s frustration and even unfair suspicion over why McCall is seemingly unwilling to leave him out. At right back, Rehman kept losing his man and unnecessarily diving in for challenges when he just needed to stand up and block the path to goal – often leaving him on the floor and out the game, while the winger charged on.

Rehman played at right back towards the end of last season with limited success, but that was due to some disappointing performances from Paul Arnison. As well as Ramsden, City have the able Jonathan Bateson as a natural right back who gets forward well, and he should have been included instead.

City nevertheless competed well and were unlucky to go behind, but then the desperation was too strong again. On a difficult pitch and with Hanson competing well, playing a more direct style of football had been tolerated if not approved. Yet with 25 minutes to play Daley was withdrawn for Peter Thorne, and we had the sight of four City strikers and just two midfielders. As intentions go it was clear there would be no passing and running down the flanks, but that the back four would simply be charged with launching it forwards.

This long ball football would be understandable with 10 minutes to go, but with over a quarter of the game still to play it was premature panic. Thorne added a much needed touch of class up front and his link up play saw the ball begin to stick in the final third, but for a period it seemed as though the players had lost heart, couldn’t find a way back and were at a loss of what to do next. Heavy pressure belatedly commenced in the final stages, but the team set up suggested the manager didn’t believe his players could come back by playing football.

It was perhaps the ultimate of ironies. That a manager who made his name as a player for his combative and inspirational skills in the middle of the park, had resorted to abandoning having a midfield in order to save his job.

And yes the argument goes that on chances, possession and territorial advantage, City did not deserve to lose. There’s an argument that the referee should have awarded a penalty and sent Bury’s Afe Sodje off. There’s an argument Bury didn’t look anything special. But ultimately the difference between the sides was the composure and organisation of the visitors and the fluster and anxiousness of City.

I don’t believe this is typical of McCall’s reign, but perhaps why we’re now saying goodbye to the City manager is because it is typical of McCall’s reign when things are going wrong. In his first season there was the autumn collapse of form that saw eight winless games and promotion hopes up in smoke. Last season the collapse came at the end of the season, lasting nine games, and this season’s recent run of poor form since December has been strikingly familiar.

At these difficult points we see too much indecision in the team selection and tactics. We see what initially seems a couple of set backs become a crisis of confidence. We see a slow and stuttered speed to the recovery. We see a manager trying to put a brave face on matters, but taking the setbacks too much to heart instead of instilling confidence into others. We see a football club quickly dropping down the league table.

Ultimately, as Stuart has acknowledged repeatedly in recent weeks, it’s a results business. No matter how much we supporters want him to be a success, the results simply haven’t been there. It is incredibly disappointing that it has come to this and it will take some time for many of us to fully recover and be enthused with City and football again, but if there’s a consolation it is that it has ended more painlessly than it might have.

Indeed the tone of McCall when speaking on the radio after the defeat was almost that of a relieved man. Acknowledging the circumstances of the game been so typical of the season to date, he even allowed himself a chuckle about his own misfortune. He seemed remarkably relaxed – but sad – and perhaps that was because the pressure could now be released off his shoulders. On the BBC One’s Football League Show last night, he even texted in to thank supporters again and to apologise he couldn’t have done a better job.

The special bond he has with the club and supporters remains in tact, and while for many that would always be the case the memories are at least not going to be added to by the sight of ‘McCall out’ chanting and the visible type of abuse which many of his Valley Parade dugout predecessors have endured.  It still sickens me that, after a 1-0 defeat to Doncaster in 2006, then-manager Colin Todd found his car had been attacked by City fans – I can’t imagine how I’d feel if such acts of horror had been inflicted upon McCall.

Nine months before that boxing day incident, I’d written an article for this site about why I didn’t want McCall (or Peter Beagrie) to become our next manager. My reasons were that I feared the souring of the special bond we supporters have with McCall, and that it would end with the usual suspects reigning down the boos.

A year later and, with the club in dire straits, I was prepared to abandon those fears and believe McCall’s installation as manager could have the romantic ending we all felt it would. As he prepares to clear his desk on Monday I feel devastated it was not worked out, I remain unconvinced it is the right move to part ways now, but I’m also happy that is ending relatively agreeably.

The City legend has given so much to this club across four decades, his lap of farewell at Valley Parade yesterday was yet another unforgettable Stuart memory.

The problem with John Terry and the England captain

I don’t know the number of people who want John Terry removing as England captain and how that has increased since the confirmation that he might be – well – a bit of a git but I’m not one of them.

That is not because I think that Tezza and his wandering eye should be forgiven for his antics that seem set to lead to Wayne Bridge pulling out of his England role of being a reserve to Ashley Cole. It was that role Bridge perfected at Chelsea and one struggles to recall any player who has ever so clearly put being paid over being played. 129 games in the last seven years is a waste of a career and the fact that he has yet to play more games for the clubs who offered him the big money to leave Southampton than he did for the Saints is a damning statistic.

Bridge’s level of ambition aside it is not that Terry’s behaviour should be forgiven it is that I would never have picked him for the England captaincy in the first place. Steven Gerrard is a man who leads on the field, he near single handled won the European Cup one season and to me always seemed an outstanding candidate.

That said Gerrard was involved in a brawl in a bar and while he was cleared of any wrong doing legally had he been England captain would he have been called to account for the company he kept and the fact he was out drinking until the wee small hours? Others talk about Wayne Rooney as a potential England captain. If he had the job would he be required to curb his on field emotional outbursts to stay within the remit of skipper?

The problem with Terry’s role and the position of England captain in general – the position that Red Tops are calling for Terry to lose – is that for all the decrying over how poorly the Chelsea man represents the country neither Terry, England boss Fabio Cappello or the bosses at The FA could point to a job description for the position.

Naturally on a personal level we can all come up with a list of what we consider the most important things for the armband wearer to have and probably the vast majority of them would not include sharking on team mate’s better halves but there is no set of guidelines – as far as we know it – which the FA can point JT at and give him a cast iron reason why he should lose the position.

Should such a job description exist then the same people who are calling for Terry to be hoisted by the yard arm – The Red Tops – would have been the people who when David Beckham was England skipper would have been saying that the position should be all about the results on the field and the winning mentality within the dressing room and nothing about the personalities outside it.

As with the use of nameless “sources close to” Terry while objecting to super-injunctions the media are perfectly prepared to indulge in any double standard to sell newspapers.

Bradford City have had four captains this year: Peter Thorne, Zesh Rehman, Michael Flynn and – on Saturday – Simon Ramsden and most City fans have an idea of who they believe is best suited to the role although it might be worth noting that in Saturday’s 2-1 comeback all four were on the field when the goals went in.

In football leaders are Heaven sent while captains are often titular. Short of putting a rag in Stuart McCall’s mouth Rangers could not have stopped him showing the same leadership he did at City even though other players had the armband. Good teams have many people who are prepared to lead and taking the captain’s role from John Terry will not stop that ability coming through on the field.

Moving forward one suspects that despite the furore of the weekend this story is a seven day wonder and by the time South Africa comes around England will have largely filed John Terry and Wayne Bridge alongside the Steven Gerrard scrap, the Frank Lampard radio phone in and numerous other Earth shattering events that are supposed to have forced action from the national squad but in retrospect hardly wobbled the needle on a Richter Counter.

Moving forward – and before anyone else is given the armband and named England captain – it might be worth a set of guidelines emerging as to what the requirements of an England captain are and what is considered to be outside that remit. If the job is about representing the nation then why remove Beckham from the job? If it is about results then why even discuss Terry’s future?

Until a set of criteria exists that the occupant of the position has to work within then we are going to forever be trying the Captain accused in Kangaroo courts, deciding on an ad hoc basis what we want the job to be.

Out of a clear blue sky

As the sun shone into the breakfast room, all you could see outside was the sort of transparent and uniformly bright blue sky that you never spot on an away trip to Morecambe. It was only at the other side of the building, where the light dusting of snow was still frozen to the parked cars, that there was a clue as to just how cold it had been overnight, even in Torquay.

A walk down to the marina showed that the temperature was rising, without quite reaching Riviera standards. It had been much warmer in Bournemouth last March and we know how that game went. City were woeful and, as those of us at the game learnt much later, Stuart McCall’s post-match interview had included a promise to resign if City did not finish in the top seven.

But Torquay in January was different – and it wasn’t just the physical temperature that was lower. Everything was lower, not least City’s league position and all the reputations that hang on such matters. This time round, the question of how much longer the City manager might remain the City manager looked increasingly out of his control.

One of the great beauties of going to these ‘smaller’ grounds is that the stewards will generally talk with you, rather than at you. You get bits of information, tips about who to watch out for and even a tale that, when last Saturday’s game went from a 2-0 home lead to a 3-2 away win, the stewards had to prepare themselves for a possible pitch invasion as a protest against the manager. Hm. Sounded a bit like two of them on a knife edge, then.

The man to look out for, according to the friendly steward, was the midfielder who could be mistaken for the mascot – his words, not mine. Danny Stevens is 5’ 10”, according to the club website. Club websites, unlike BfB, are not to be relied upon. He must be nearer to 4’ 10”. And he is so fresh faced that I bet he isn’t allowed to play in night games. But he certainly played in the bright spells of this game.

City started with the eleven that finished at Lincoln. Bateson, Rehman and Evans all started on the bench, alongside the returning Thorne and O’Leary. The second half display at Sincil Bank had clearly convinced the manager that this was his best ‘formation’. By half time he was equally clearly unconvinced.

I would dearly love to tell those who were not among the 300 or so travelling fans just what the ‘formation’ at kick-off was, but I am struggling. There was an obvious back four, with captain Ramsden returned to right back. Michael Boulding was naturally playing up front, but for much of the first half he might have fallen out with the rest of the team, so rarely did a claret shirt get anywhere near him. Daley and Neilson stayed wide, which brought them near to my seat and thus into my focus. Otherwise the midfield was largely anonymous.

One of the main reasons for that anonymity was the persistent long high ball up the middle to, yes, Michael Boulding. Once again the opposition centre backs must have thought it was their birthdays. Torquay, on the other hand, who must be used to playing on a narrow, but otherwise splendid, surface, kept the ball on that surface much more often, not least when feeding it to the aforementioned Stevens.

If I was a proper sports journalist, I would be able get away with phrases like ‘tormented the City defence’ and ‘ran them ragged’. Instead, I shall just settle for saying that almost every note I made of a Torquay attack in that first half – and there were plenty – featured the number 19. After 15 minutes it was his run and shot that forced Matt Glennon into probably his best save of the game, as he tipped it round his left hand post. Sadly, Glennon was unrewarded. The resulting corner was not dealt with and one huge centre back really did think his birthday had come, when his shot from around the penalty spot went through the crowd of players and low into the net.

One the rare occasions City did keep the ball on the floor, Michael Boulding had a shot that went narrowly over and Chris Brandon also put his one effort some way off target. At half time the sun was beginning to set over Plainmoor.

The City manager, having changed the team at half time at Sincil Bank, went two thirds of the way toward changing it back again at half time at Plainmoor. Off went Williams, on a yellow card and looking like a sending off waiting to happen, and on came the second of City’s captains, Zesh Rehman. Ramsden kept the armband. And Gareth Evans started in place of – oh, yes, that would be Brandon. This time I really can report a 4-4-2. Better still, I can report energy, enthusiasm and, for the first time in this game, a team that looked capable of troubling the home goalkeeper.

A shot from Evans was pushed away by the keeper, before the Torquay leading scorer, Scott Rendell, who had already risen from the dead (or a collision with Matt Clarke) once, had to leave the game with a broken arm. Not that this stopped the home team continuing to pressurise and force City into last second blocks and conceding corners.

And then, with the sun having set over his left shoulder, out of the old wooden stand came the old wooden gunslinger. No, that’s not fair, is it? Far from it. But up stepped captain number three (Ramsden still retaining the armband) Peter Thorne, last seen in a JPT game two centuries ago. And maybe my pre-match chat with the stewards had got back to the Torquay team. ‘If he gets on, he’ll be our best bet for a goal’, I’d said. OK, so you won’t find his name on the score sheet. But you ask their defenders about him. And ask the keeper who had to make two stops from close range within the first few minutes of the poacher’s arrival.

The second of those saves, following an Omar Daley run, brought the corner that was to replicate Torquay’s first half goal. This time it was Gareth Evans who poked it home (sorry, keeper – terrible pun!) through the melee that hadn’t cleared it. Under ten minutes left, but for the first time in years City were back level in the late stages of a game and still had eleven men on the pitch.

Sustained City pressure actually made it look, incredible as it seemed at that moment, as though we could win this one. The home keeper was being reminded by the ref that another exercise in time-wasting would not be tolerated. And then up popped the fourth official’s board with a bright red 4 on it. And then up popped Captain Ramsden, now corner taker extraordinaire. This time it was a curling free kick on to Rehman’s head, down into the same melee and, via Evans’ toe poke (sorry, keeper, done it again!), into the net in front to the ecstatic visiting fans.

Could City hang on for the remaining three minutes of stoppage time? Of course they could! Only some petty argument between Matt Clarke and Elliot Benyon, which brought a pair of yellow cards, would interrupt the oh so smooth progress to three away points.

Over the last umpteen weeks, we have bemoaned our luck. We have pointed to refereeing decisions that have changed the course of the game. We have examined statistics that showed every week how we had more shots at goal, more shots on target, more corners – and fewer goals than the opposition. All of that changed yesterday. City have not come away with a more blatant theft of three points since a Dean Windass belter of a free kick at Yeovil, where even Mr Singh didn’t manage to ruin our day.

Maybe the tide has turned. Maybe Gareth Evans’ confidence will now return. Maybe Peter Thorne’s battered body will hold up for another three months. On such fragile building blocks will the remainder of City’s season rest. Until Thorney’s arrival, it looked remarkably like the sun had set forever. Now the future is that touch brighter. But how dark might it be at Valley Parade next time out?

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 perspective of Bradford City’s winter of misery as Notts County come to Valley Parade

The snowy weather continues to make life stop-start. It has caused disruption to Bradford City’s season, it has caused misery around the country.

Hours of media attention has contributed to making snow the number one topic of conversation. A Channel 4 News reporter spent a great deal of time interviewing a weather expert in the middle of a wintry Manchester last week. When asked how recent conditions contrasted to the famous big freezes of decades ago, the expert began replying that it’s nothing in comparison to how bad it was then. The interviewer hurriedly cut him off by asking a different question, thereby unintentionally revealing personal aspirations that what he was reporting on was something more historically significant than merely a spot of bad weather.

The here and now is dreadful, who needs the perspective that others had it worse than us in the past? Certainly not the Channel 4 viewers, watching at home on widescreen TVs and keeping warm through central heating.

Perspective is not always welcomed and, as City’s season looks set to unpause again with the visit of Notts County, the opportunity arises to move away from the depressing mood which has engulfed the club since Rochdale waltzed around Valley Parade at the beginning of December. There has only been five games since, despite the seven weeks which have passed. With even the only win of that period widely derided rather than celebrated, a miserable outlook concerning the state of the Bantams has been as difficult to shift as any deep snow.

Has it ever been worse for City then it is now? Perspective might be found from recalling the scary moments when the club almost imploded through administration, from the misery of relegations even from a higher league, or from the fact that City’s history is not without its basement league periods. But the present occupation of League Two midtable below the likes of Morecambe, Accrington and Aldershot is an unhappy one. Many are sharing the outlook of that Channel 4 news reporter – we’ve never had it so bad.

Which, looking from an even wider perspective, offers an interesting clattering of outlooks with Notts County. With this being City’s fourth occasion locking horns with the Magpies this season, the wide range of emotions which has fuelled their season has largely glimpsed through Bantams’ eyes.

The halcyon-dreams of domination prompted by the 5-0 opening day massacre at Meadow Lane. The losing faith in Ian McParland which saw the under-pressure manager dance down the Valley Parade touchline when it looked as though his team had won the JPT tie late on in October, only for a late City equaliser to contribute to his sacking five days later. There was the short-lived reign of McParland’s replacement, Hans Backe, who enjoyed his first win in charge by defeating City in the FA Cup during November.

Backe has gone, incredibly the mysterious richer backers Munto Group have already gone. Suddenly a club with seemingly realistic dreams of climbing all the way to the top is saddled with a level of expenditure and wage bill an average Championship club would struggle to cope with. Reports suggest that, if Executive Chairman Peter Trembling can’t find replacement backers with rich pockets, the club will fold in two months. From the bright days of August, the dark throes of winter see County crawl into Valley Parade with its very future in doubt.

Of course the here and now for County is a respectable fifth-place position and seven point-lead over the Bantams. But as many green-filled eyes from BD8 looked on at Meadow Lane this summer and wondered out loud why it wasn’t us been taken over by rich backers, the uncertainty at County offers plenty of reasons to breath sighs of relief that mysterious folk with questionable motives targeted someone else.

Just like driving cautiously in the snow and passing a BMW driver who’s veered off the road, on Saturday should we look over at the away fans and feel smug or sorry about their misfortune?

So City’s season starts up again with the gap to a play off spot a-still-bridgeable six points away. For how poor recent form has been, the distance has only grown by two points since City drew 2-2 at Northampton at the beginning of October. The most pressing concern is to reverse the shocking home form which threatens to undermine efforts on the road to reduce that gap.

The statistic of a paltry three wins from 11 Valley Parade has been oft-quoted over the past fortnight. Perhaps the clearest indication of the damage can be found in the fact that, since the last home win against Hereford in October, six of City’s nine league games have been at Valley Parade. Seven points have been taken from those three away games, with just three acquired on home soil. The pressure for a maximum home haul is mounting.

Matt Glennon has been signed up to provide greater reassurance to an oft-nervous backline. Ultimately replacing his former team-mate Simon Eastwood, City’s as yet squad number-less first choice stopper arrives with plenty of experience but question marks over rustiness following a lack of senior football. I saw him earlier this season play for Huddersfield reserves at Valley Parade, and what stood out was the volume and regularity of his booming voice ordering around his young back four. While Eastwood improved over time, his rawness still caused him to concede soft goals. The number one quality sought in Glennon is reliability.

The other big player news of the week concerned Michael Flynn’s public rejecting of transfer speculation of a switch to League One. Flynn’s commitment to the cause, even when not playing at his best, is one to build a team around, especially as the 29-year-old has many years of good service in him. He’s also rejected more vicious suggestions of unhappiness at not being captain. The perpetrators of this rumour seem to have a dubious agenda against the awarding of the armband to Zesh Rehman, for what they consider questionable grounds. Let’s just say they probably read the Daily Mail.

Zesh will continue to lead out the team and partners the returning Matt Clarke at the back with Steve Williams taking a turn for suspension. The ever-reliable Simon Ramsden will take up right back with Luke O’Brien on the left side. It remains a personal frustration towards some supporters this season that many are out to deride O’Brien and continually label him not good enough. Last season, Luke seemingly couldn’t put a foot wrong in many fans’ eyes despite obvious rough edges, now he’s playing better and taking on more responsibility and people are seemingly out to slate him.

A few fans have called for his dropping to be replaced by the “hungry young Louis Horne”. At what point did Luke lose his hunger? Perhaps OB can take consolation from the fact the last OB was widely derided by some during the early part of his career – and he’s not done bad since.

In midfield alongside Flynn will be regular partner Lee Bullock and then the still unanswered dilemma of whether to play 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. In the last home game Chris Brandon spearheaded a diamond formation and was subsequently keen to point out a lack of chances so far this season. This formation seems to suit him best, but arguably doesn’t suit City.

James O’Brien – goalscorer last time out – is also in contention alongside Scott Neilson and Omar Daley. Recently watching last season’s goals of the season DVD – with the delights of the always-brilliant Keith Coates commentating – I was pleasantly surprised to recall just how well Daley played up until his injury against Darlington. He scored a number of fantastic goals, created plenty of others too. At full pace and with only the resistance of an opposition full back, he made things happen and his improving fitness offers expectation he can make things happen for City this season.

Up front, Michael Boulding should be fit and may take the place of Gareth Evans, who’s confidence has been dented in recent weeks, partnering top-scorer and rumoured-Huddersfield target James Hanson. City’s chance-to-conversion-ratio is poor and the return of Peter Thorne is anxiously awaited.

Notts County’s last VP visit saw a slightly weakened team and tomorrow we should have the dubious pleasure of watching then-rested Lee Hughes partner Ade Akinbiyi or Luke Rodgers in attack. Graeme Lee will hope for a happier return than his sending off for persistent kicking of Boulding in October. Kasper Schmeichel should be kept away from the corner flags.

Dave Kevan is the caretaker in the dugout. Sven may watch on from the directors box – though it’s rumoured patience has reached its limited and this might be his final game.

Sven probably really has never had it so bad.

 

As Seen On TV

I’ve got a bad throat. That means I can’t shout at the referee, which would normally take all the fun out of going to a football match. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

In a game where six goals were scored by five different players, it may seem churlish to spend much time discussing one man, even when that one man comes straight to Valley Parade from the Premier League. So, for a while I shall leave all mention of the referee. But you have been warned.

City were forced into one change from last week, with Steve Williams failing a fitness test, Simon Ramsden moving to centre back and Jonathan Bateson coming in at right back. What looked like a fairly predictable 4-4-2 showed rather more fluidity than might have been expected, albeit frequently at the cost of depriving the team of any width.

Simon Eastwood had a mixed game. As early as the fifth minute he was saving with his legs to send a shot over the bar and two or three other excellent first half stops kept City in touch. The benefit of one of those saves was, however, very short-lived once Kevin Ellison put home the rebound for Rotherham’s equaliser. Lee Bullock had reacted first to an earlier rebound off a Simon Whaley free kick – of which more in a moment – to give City an early lead. But another Ellison goal following some neat, but defendable, build-up play saw the visitors go in at half-time with a 2-1 lead.

Whatever the team talk had been, Luke O’Brien’s surging run and Michael Flynn’s crashing shot in the first minute of the second half looked to have set up an exhilarating pre-Christmas cracker. Andy Warrington in the visitors’ goal (who is nowhere near the superannuable age he may seem) had had little to trouble him in the first half. Now he had to make one save at the foot of his near post to beat out an Evans pile driver; another to tip over Bullock’s shot after an Evans run and cross; and a third, toward the latter stages, when a 30 yard thunderbolt from James O’Brien looked a certain goal.

Meanwhile, at the other end, the now largely unemployed Simon Eastwood was tasked by nothing worse than the occasional back pass to his left foot. That is until the 78th minute when he was beaten by a quickly taken Roberts free kick from just over the half-way line. The lob went over him as he scrambled back to his line, entering the net via the cross bar to put the visitors 3-2 in front. Their fourth goal, two minutes from the end, was a tap in for Drewe Broughton, which brings me back to the start of the game and all the bits I’ve so far missed out – each and every one of them featuring Lee Probert, our star visitor from the Premier League.

Only a few weeks ago everyone at Valley Parade was bemoaning the woeful performance of the referee against Accrington, one Mr Cook. Bad as his display was, City still had only themselves to blame for not sending Stanley home empty handed. Mr Probert showed how it should be done. He’s a Premier League ref and they do things a little differently. They’re on first name or even nickname terms with the players; they know who has a reputation for diving and who pulls shirts all the time; and they are more likely to play the advantage rule, as Mr P did, to his credit, several times.

However, they also like to talk – and talk and talk and talk. Mr Probert illustrated this perfectly in the first five minutes. He adjudged, quite correctly that the aforementioned Drewe Broughton had struck Simon Ramsden with his elbow. Broughton must have considered himself well and truly told off, judging by the length of the lecture. The rest of us judged him extremely fortune not to be shown a card of either colour, despite the early stage of the game. (What difference, by the way, does it make if you commit a bookable offence five or thirty-five minutes into a game? I bet Mr Probert can answer that one.)

Broughton, however, had clearly not been sufficiently well told off, because in the ninth minute he swapped defenders and Matt Clarke felt the power of his elbow. This time even Mr Probert had to produce a yellow card and leave us wondering what might have happened if he had done the job right four minutes earlier. Playing with ten men after nine minutes tends to have its effect on the game.

But within four more minutes Mr Probert set an entirely different standard for what constitutes a bookable offence. Lee Bullock hung a leg out just outside the centre circle. It wasn’t a dangerous tackle and it was his first foul. Perhaps 13 minutes into a game is acceptable for a yellow card to be produced for an innocuous offence. Bullock shrugged his shoulders at the waving referee, while others tried in vain to point to the disparity with the much more serious and dangerous offence which had previously resulted in a telling off.

But, having set the 13 minute standard for innocuous fouls in midfield, Mr P had changed his mind by the 17th minute. Michael Boulding, with his back to goal and the ball at his feet, attempted to turn Pablo Mills. Mr Mills is not noted for his gentility, as the City physio will be able to confirm when Boulding’s injury has been fully assessed. For hacking Boulding to the floor from behind, a few yards outside his own penalty area, Mills’ punishment was a free kick. Not a card; not a lecture of even the shortest duration; not even a firm stare from the ref. It could, in fact, be argued that Mills won his side a distinct advantage for the rest of the game, given that Boulding remained on the pitch for just three more minutes. The standard had changed back again. The only justice was that this free kick gave City the lead.

Lectures, bookings, goals and other stoppages produced just two minutes of added time, but that was enough to see Simon Ramsden flattened again after yet another leap from Broughton. Neither Mr Probert nor his fourth official, who must have been within a very few yards of the incident, saw anything wrong and play was restarted with a throw in, but only after Stuart McCall came on to the pitch and Ronnie Moore troubled the referee with a few words of his own.

Just five minutes into the second half, Gareth Evans was away down the right flank, outpacing Pablo Mills with some ease until, just in front of the assistant referee, Mills took both his legs, ensuring that the threatening run came to an abrupt and illegal end. So, for his second blatant offence of the afternoon, each depriving a striker of a run on goal, Mills had to be punished. And aren’t Mr Probert’s talking-to’s severe? You just ask Mills, because that’s exactly what he got. In another part of the pitch Lee Bullock must surely have been wondering what he had done wrong.

Within five minutes of that Mills lecture, Michael Flynn was late with a sliding tackle and there was a holding of breath from the City faithful. Anything might be about to happen to Flynny, but the actual result, a yellow card, while entirely correct, came as a great relief.

Which brings us back to that third goal from half-way and another difference between League Two and Premier League officials. We are used to ‘the correct blade of grass’ syndrome with our refs; perhaps we should watch more TV to spot how far away from the foul you can take the free kick if you have a Premier League ref. This one was so far away that it brought Stuart McCall on to the pitch again, this time without the excuse of an injured player.

A pretty obvious hand ball, so clear that even the handler, Nicky Law, almost gave himself up, produced nothing and Michael Flynn being pulled back brought only a theatrical wave of the arms from Mr P. Two very decent penalty claims, either of which could have changed the course of the game, were not seen. The additional five minutes, which became six, brought another booking. Matt Clarke must have spoken out of turn, unless, of course, Mr Probert had by now reverted to the Lee Bullock standard for yellow cards.

The game ended in stunned silence from the home crowd. City had not deserved to lose and this time the standard of refereeing really had had a major impact, many times over, on the outcome of the game. I almost (but not quite) could wish for the return of Mr Singh.

But I should end on a positive. There were some splendid displays in claret, with Bullock, Flynn and Ramsden to the fore, but none more so than the man who never missed a header all day and made sure his clearances were definitively cleared. He has his detractors and is not the most cultured of players, but Matt Clarke deserved any Man of the Match award. Not that I heard who was actually given it, so furious was I with our visitor from on high.

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.

Pre-Christmas gets underway as City welcome Rochdale at the start of a big week

This could be a pivotal week in Bradford City’s season.

A win against Rochdale this evening would place the Bantams on the cusp of the play offs, follow that up with a win at bottom-placed Darlington on Saturday and the talk may even be of automatic. A defeat against Rochdale this evening would keep City wedged amongst the midtable traffic, follow that up with anything less than a win at bottom-placed Darlington on Saturday and the talk may even be of manager Stuart McCall’s future.

A couple of weeks ago Joint-Chairmen Mark Lawn likened City’s campaign to a pot of stew – “all the ingredients are in and we are simmering away. But now is the time we have to look to turn up the gas and bring it to the boil.” The temperature began to increase with the 3-0 success at Grimsby a week ago, a further two victories this week would see the vapour begin to rise. After Darlington, City have a week without a game before a busy Christmas period featuring six matches in three weeks. Often a critical phase of a campaign, this week’s target is to go into it in a strong position.

For now though the focus is firmly on Rochdale, who arrive at Valley Parade second in the league and with a string of impressive recent results. Keith Hill’s side has won 4-0 at leaders Bournemouth and triumphed 2-1 at fourth-placed Dagenham, who previously were unbeaten at home. They have defeated current play off occupants Bury and, last time out, Notts County at Spotland. They could go top with a victory tonight and, after two successive play off failures, look a strong bet to make it third time lucky and seal a first promotion since 1969.

As the likes of Accrington, Cheltenham, Burton and in the fact the Bantams can testify, the Dale are from invincible. But the impressive side built by Hill is well respected among City supporters for the attractive style of high tempo football and ability to mix it up with crafty counter attacking when required. Chris Dagnall already has 10 goals, Tom Kennedy is a classy attack-minded full back, Will Buckley a determined winger who tore Paul Arnison to pieces so badly last season the now-Darlington right back’s summer departure became inevitable.

Rochdale’s promise and fact it has wrecked City’s own promotion chances for two seasons in a row – plus the fact Dale’s manager, chairman and supporters appear to dislike the Bantams –  give this encounter the level of anticipation no other League Two club coming to Valley Parade can generate. How good is this Bradford City side? Tonight arguably offers the biggest indicator of the season’s prospects so far.

The line up to undertake the challenge is likely to unchanged side from the one which largely impressed at Blundell Park a week ago. Simon Eastwood’s rehabilitation continues in goal in front of a back four that will feature ex-Rochdale full back Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien. Consistency of selection in defence has been a characteristic of Stuart’s managerial reign, for better or worse, and the fact the present incumbents collectively improved enough to keep a clean sheet at Grimsby will ensure Matt Clarke and Jon Bateson remain on the sidelines for now.

The midfield three will be Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and James O’Brien. The latter’s return at Grimsby made a clear difference and his corner deliveries have improved throughout the season, with the Irishman setting up a number of goals in recent weeks. Chris Brandon and Scott Nielson will be back up, but how we long for the sight of Omar Daley taking a place on the bench. The Jamaican was due to play in the reserves last week before the game was called off, the next second string fixture is later this week. Stuart will be grateful the number of other injuries has reduced, thereby lessening the urgency of Daley’s long-awaited return.

The front three will probably be James Hanson, Gareth Evans and Simon Whaley. Michael Boulding is pushing hard for a start and the close-to-returning Peter Thorne still has a significant part to play, making the competition for striker positions fiercely competitive. Hanson’s strike record of seven goals from 18 starts is highly impressive. Evans is not far behind on five goals from 17, and will hope to rediscover his scoring touch after some recent bad misses. Whaley struck a memorable goal on his debut and, up against a side he was playing for just 17 days ago, has plenty of incentive to build on an impressive start.

As will a certain Rochdale forward. For the third game in a row City are lining up against a former striker and for the third game in a row that former striker has a point to prove. Chris O’Grady’s brief loan spell at Valley Parade last January was a curious one given many City supporters were so quick to turn on him and criticise Stuart for signing him. Many of those same supporters were, around the same time, demanding Stuart bring in a fourth striker to compete with Thorne, Boulding and Barry Conlon.

O’Grady’s scoring record before was impressive, and while he undoubtedly struggled to make an impact in the two sub appearances he made (he was recovering from an injury), I’ve never seen a player given so little time before being universally slagged off. Should O’Grady start and complete the game tonight, he will have more than doubled the time he spent on Valley Parade pitch than when he wore Claret and Amber – a whopping 39 minutes.

No doubt O’Grady will be booed by some, but such is the regularity of former players lining up against the Bantams this season the fear is not so much the law of the ex, but the law of averages which dictates whether he will have the level of influence on the outcome Steve Schumacher and Michael Symes have previously enjoyed, or what Barry Conlon and Graeme Lee endured.

But as Stuart will be telling his players in the dressing room prior to kick off, it’s what City do which counts. Tonight is a tremendous chance to take a step forward from constrained to capable, this week is a tremendous chance to upgrade the season’s hopes from reasonable to realistic.

In other words, it’s time for Stuart to serve up his stew.

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.

Accrington nearly don’t come to Valley Parade but the happy ending becomes more predictable

The heavy rain of the past few days must place Bradford City’s home fixture with Accrington Stanley in a modicum of doubt, but then the prospect of Saturday 21 November being a blank Saturday for the Bantams seemed very real a few weeks back.

Accrington, the club that wouldn’t die, almost died. Given six weeks to pay a six-figure tax bill, the collection buckets were rattling around the Crown Ground earlier this season as part of rescue efforts which brought out the best in its North West neighbours. Yet not enough money was raised and its claimed officials arrived at the club’s High Court hearing with no plan B and left with the gratitude of a local businessman stepping in to make up the shortfall. Accrington live on, and the prospect of early season results been invalidated – to the joy of those Stanley beat and the despair of those they lost to – and of a 23-team division with only one relegation spot was ended.

As Southend prepare to take on the national media’s attention as club basket case, that Accrington survived may have caused some to indifferently shrug their shoulders and consider how, for every League club that it’s reported is on the brink of financial oblivion, something always turns up and their survival is assured. And while everyone enjoys a happy ending, the reputed predictability is breeding subsequent hostility from some, just ask Darlington. Poor old Accrington, struggling to get by. Hang on, didn’t they spend £85,000 on one player (admittedly later sold for a profit) 18 months ago?

Last Saturday Bournemouth were in town with the strong criticisms of Rochdale Manager Keith Hill still echoing. Ahead of Dale’s 4-0 success at Dean Court, Hill had stated, “They overspend and it is to the detriment to clubs like ours and it is happening too often now…i’m sick of it continually happening.” Having been stuck in the basement league since 1974 and with a largely untroubled recent financial history, Hill and Chairman Chris Dunphy are clearly aggrieved at how their efforts to live within means see them lose out to others who gamble more recklessly with their future. One wonders if Hill’s pre-Bournemouth mood was influenced by his team’s home defeat to Accrington the week before.

For as Accrington seek to climb back onto a more stable financial future after the local community helped to prop it up, what’s the most morally appropriate way to progress? There were stories of a nine-year-old Accrington girl emptying the contents of her piggy bank into a collection bucket last September, would it be right for the club to spend money during the January transfer window? And if not then, when? Hill’s views on Rotherham United, with two recent spells in administration, purchasing his star striker Adam Le Fondre earlier this season probably aren’t printable.

Rochdale and their supporters don’t seem to care much for Bradford City, but the Spotland club may have a small degree of respect for the way joint Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn cut the cloth accordingly over the summer after pushing the boat out a year earlier in the quest for promotion. City were the first club to fall into administration following the ITV Digital collapse, but while many others who followed were quickly able to brush off mistakes and get busy in the transfer market again, the self-inflicted scars continue to cause pain for the Bantams. Plenty of people lost out due to the infamous six weeks of madness, but Bradford City and its supporters remain high on that list too. Those financial woes may largely be a thing of the past, but the lesson has not been forgotten.

The conservative but sensible actions of the City Board has seen Manager Stuart McCall’s playing budget reduce by a third  but, though its widely agreed he’s used it admirably, regrettably it appears a small minority of supporters don’t appreciate the ramifications. City’s 1-1 draw with Bournemouth, joint leaders no less, should have generated a greater mood of approval if not satisfaction, but the injury list which hindered efforts was brushed off by some to make way for criticism.

Theres nothing like managers playing people out of position to trigger red rage from a certain breed of football fan, and the circumstances which saw Zesh Rehman in midfield and Michael Flynn up front were slammed in a manner which deliberately ignored the bigger picture. A reduced budget means Stuart simply can’t retain the strength in depth and the same level of quality, so the length of the injury list is likely to prove a more telling factor this season. And when it does, players will be asked to take on unfamiliar roles and performances are going to suffer to a degree. A negative perhaps, but one which has to be tackled positively.

The injury situation clears up slightly this week with James Hanson returning to partner Gareth Evans and Scott Neilson up front, which will allow Flynn to return to the attacking midfield position he is performing so effectively alongside Lee Bullock and either Chris Brandon or James O’Brien. Just one player’s return it able to make that much of a difference, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that competition for places continues to be undermined by the unavailability of Peter Thorne, Michael Boulding, Steve O’Leary, Omar Daley and Leon Osborne. No longer down to the bare bones, but Stuart is hardly flush with options. A loan signing has been suggested, at the time of writing there are no few faces.

At the back the big question concerns whether skipper Zesh Rehman will reclaim his place in the back four or whether Matt Clarke – impressive in the last two games – will retain the role. Rehman has struggled for form of late and Clarke’s general solidness alongside Steve Williams may give him the nod in the way he took Mark Bower’s place in the team two seasons ago after the former defender also vacated the back four to help another area of the team.

At right back Simon Ramsden should also be fit enough for a return, ahead of Jonathan Bateson. The former Blackburn youth player has struggled with his distribution of late, though continues to display a great attitude and a confidence to get forward.  Luke O’Brien is left back – and there are a couple of interesting talking points concerning last season’s player of the year. The first is that O’Brien has been asked to take on more responsibility, as part of the new-look 4-3-3 formation, with strong encouragement to bring the ball forward more.

The other talking point is how, in recent games, the lack of cover afforded to the 21-year-old from midfielders in front  has been targeted by opposition managers. At Macclesfield, for example, Emile Sinclair was instructed to use the space in front of O’Brien to cause problems. It’s for this reason the selection of James O’Brien to play in front of him, rather than Brandon who likes to drift around the pitch, is widely preferred by fans.

Simon Eastwood keeps goal and has shown improvement of late. He will need to be wary of a reasonably strong Accrington line up that will include former City striker Michael Symes. An away win would see Stanley climb above City and give rise to promotion hopes, but such success may not be considered the fairy tale stuff it would have before the tax bill reminder came through the door.

As City try to achieve more from less this season, it could be argued a Bantams’ promotion would be more romantic than a club who’s name is often-proclaimed the most romantic in football.

Money changes everything as AFC Bournemouth come to Valley Parade riding high

Often unable to field a squad of eighteen, crippled by financial problems and with a manager just out of his twenties it is something amazing that AFC Bournemouth are top of the league.

Eddie Howe’s side sit ahead of the likes of Rotherham United and Notts County and while they were panned 4-0 by Rochdale last league game out they lead League Two with supporters and an increasingly excited media looking at Dean Court with admiration talking about the spirit the young manager has built.

The Cherries recorded an impressive win at Valley Parade last season when the Bantams were confident that they expensively assembled squad would roll over the visitors and perhaps it is that spirit carried on that drives Bournemouth.

Perhaps it is the mentality that saw the club escape from a seventeen point deduction gives them the self-belief that puts them top. The theory has it that football matches are won – on the whole – by the team that needs to win most and AFC Bournemouth want to win when they roll up to Northampton, Crewe of Hereford because they are used to needing to win.

Rotherham United and especially Notts County need to win for different reasons. These big money clubs in League Two are a new phenomenon but one which is increasingly reoccurant. Peterborough United where one a couple of seasons ago and Shrewsbury and City were – one supposes – last year. City’s experience was that when the winning mentality slipped away and the change that an injection of cash had made was negligible. Money changed everything, but it changed back.

City face AFC Bournemouth in middling form following a 2-2 penalties win on Tuesday night and a 2-1 reversal at Notts County the match before with a wasted two points in a 2-2 at Macclesfield being the last league game out and a 1-0 win over Hereford being the last league match at VP and the last clean sheet. City’s habit of conceding two a game is making winning hard.

So the news that Simon Ramsden is returning to fitness is heartening. The abilities of Jonathan Bateson were well showcased in the week when he slotted in nicely at right back compared to fellow youngster the unfortunate Luke Sharry who meandered the field for forty five minutes before exiting. Bateson will step down when Ramsden returns but having only been in training for a day the impressive signing from Rochdale is expected to be on the bench.

Similarly Gareth Evans is expected to make a place on the bench following his heel injury last week with Michael Boulding – also pulled off a half time (“Blimey, at Mansfield we only used to a half an orange.”) after a poor forty five minutes. To see why Boulding blows so hot and cold one need think back to Mansfield’s 2-1 win at Valley Parade two years ago in which Boulding stormed from forty yards with pace to get behind David Wetherall and Mark Bower who – as always – defended high up the field.

Watching Boulding struggle against a Port Vale side that played two lines of four and compressed the defensive areas Boulding could not use his pace to get in behind the back four because there was no space behind the back four. Boulding always stuggles in these situations but when one looks at his best displays for City – the two at Gillingham last year – he has room to run into.

AFC Bournemouth – riding high and confident – might be more liable to leave that room than Port Vale were and perhaps forty five minutes for Boulding before Evans’s return is a wise idea.

Elsewhere Lee Bullock returns from suspension and will return to the midfield alongside Michael Flynn and James O’Brien who put in a superb display for his forty five on Tuesday night with his two deliveries from set plays getting the Bantams back into the game. O’Brien’s display on Tuesday seems to have cemented his place in the City side alongside Bullock and Flynn. The emergence of a solid and trustable midfielder set up is something manager Stuart McCall was not able to do last season.

Scott Neilson links up between midfield and the attack of Boulding and James Hanson who scored his sixth goal for the Bantams this week and is the leading scorer.

At the back Ramsden or Bateson feature alongside Zesh Rehman – back in the back four after midfield duties – and Steve Williams with Luke O’Brien at left back.

In goal Simon Eastwood who is back to heroic status after his three penalty saves on Tuesday night. Eastwood had high tribute paid to him by Williams in the week who called him “shot stopper number one”. Williams is a right of course and perhaps the confidence of the visitors will see them punting shots at the reflexes of Simon all afternoon and forego the cross which causes the problems.

We should be so lucky.

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.

The excess approaches as City look to start again at Dagenham & Redbridge

I was asked by the wife “Who are City playing next week?”

“Dagenham and Redbridge.”

“That is not fair,” she said “having to play two teams at once. Do they have 22 men on their team.”

Mrs Wood’s cheekiness aside Stuart McCall may soon start to wish he could field two teams on the field as after he saw his side’s ten game unbeaten run come to an end last week against Crewe and was left in the rare position of wanting to reward – rather than make corrective changes to – the side.

None of the City players left the 3-2 defeat with anything other than gold stars leaving the City skipper looking at excesses of talent in all areas of the field.

Up front – for example – Gareth Evans has returned from a highly unjust sending off at Morecambe which interrupted him in excellent form but in his absence Michael Boulding has three goals in three games and the principal of motivation by visibly rewarding achievements says he can not be dropped despite the odd dereliction of duty in the endless chasing role against the Railwaymen.

James Hanson’s ball winning abilities are endlessly useful and he scored a superb goal last week making him hardly droppable and Peter Thorne – well Peter Thorne has the luxury of being able to be benched at the moment which considering the club practically put his left arm up his back until he signed for another season with his right I’m sure he appreciates.

Three players and – should the City manager keep the formation that sees a tight three in midfield with one lose on the wing that worked so well, or should he retain the diamond that looked great going forward in the opening half hour against Crewe but let in two goals – then he has two slots in which to place them or the option to start fudging players out of the positions which seem to suit them such as dropping Boulding into the advanced midfield role where Scott Neilson has sat and where Chris Brandon played last time out for the latter two thirds of the game.

The solution is to play three forwards.

McCall gave Neilson great credit for his performances since he arrived at the club from Cambridge City despite giving the toothpaste smiler a bench place only on Saturday which allowed Brandon’s return. Brandon had performed well – a late goal against Notts County included – and won his place in the side despite a nagging feeling that as a player he does not put in enough “work”, “work” being defined as running around chasing the ball and tackling people which while simplistic has been an important addition to City’s arsenal this year that was lacking last.

Of course the figure of Omar Daley – looking at a return at the end of October in a Tuesday afternoon reserve game against Leeds United – looms large over the pair. Opinion on Daley was divided but his injury and the decline and fall of the promotion campaign are linked post hoc, ergo propter hoc and my breath is baited at the thought of this side which needs a tiny bit more to win games having a player who does that tiny bit more that wins games in it.

For the moment though the solution is to play two wide midfielders.

In the middle Michael Flynn – who put his hand to scribbling this week revealing that he used to be a postman and Peter Thorne enjoys surfing (the sea probably, not in the way that Bobby Petta used to enjoy surfing – is the definition of an undropable player impressing more and more with every game and spending the time out to applaud the supporters at the conclusion of ninety minutes. Lee Bullock has also made himself undroppable having switched from a passable if somewhat frustrating attacking midfielder into a defensive lynchpin. Bullock allows the play around him, moves the ball on, makes himself available. Any success the team has at the moment is in no small part down to him and the management’s belief that he could be switched to that more rearguard position.

Stephen O’Leary made a cameo and impressed before losing his place through injury – he is back soon – but James O’Brien is in good form keeping up the running, harrying and work rate of the squad. Should O’Leary’s come back prove as impressive as his first game then one might expect to see him in the side again soo but as it is the solution at the moment is to play Flynn, Bullock and James O’Brien. Three in the midfield.

The back four is settled although Jonathan Bateson knocked firmly on the door with Simon Ramsden currently an immensely impressive right back and cover for the central defensive roles filled by Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman. Williams continues to wobble in a single minute of a game while looking like a player with ability above and beyond for the other 89 making him the Rio Ferdinand of Bradford City. Luke O’Brien is proving that the season after being player of the season need not be a problem.

Four at the back. Simon Eastwood in goal. No problem then. City need only play thirteen players and considering the opposition have twenty two that will not be a problem.

More seriously though as Stuart McCall challenges his team to put together another ten game run the difficulties of his position having more than a team of players who deserve a team place. The likes of Boulding need to be rewarded for coming onto the team and doing what is asked of them in the same way Barry Conlon did last season but doing so would require other important players to be left out.

The balance, and how to cope with and maintain excess, is the challenge now.

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.

Stalling

At 2-0 ahead and with only 15 minutes to see out, Bradford City’s players might have been forgiven for considering the hard work to be complete and that their smooth climbing up of the gears to control the game boded well for the season’s journey ahead. But if the cruise control option was slipped into, a late Northampton bump punctured any daydreaming and saw three points demoted to one.

A point which at least stretches City’s unbeaten run to nine – the last time such a feat was achieved came when Lee Mills and Robbie Blake shared 15 goals during the December and January spell of 1998/99 promotion season – but the missed opportunity leaves an increasingly-meaningful early season League Table still displaying City behind the early-season pace setters. Those nine games now include four draws – three of which saw City advantages succumbed after the clock passed the 70-minute mark. But for dropping those six points, the Bantams would be sitting joint second. The conundrum of having enough in the tank to last the distance during matches needs solving, so early season form can advance into promotion-challenging.

It should have been a heartening afternoon’s work for City. Robbed of the services of Gareth Evans, James Hanson and Peter Thorne, manager Stuart McCall was left pushing square pegs into round holes in order to keep faith with the 4-3-3/4-5-1 system which is serving his side well on its travels.  Lee Bullock was moved into the unfamiliar role of target man, with right back Simon Ramsden taking his holding midfield slot.  The opening 15 minutes offered largely negative indications to the yet unanswered question over the squad’s strength in depth, with Northampton forcing pressure and only failing to open the scoring due to lack of composure. But gradually City’s players found their feet and took more of a command as a dull first half came to its conclusion.

Bullock in particular came out with plenty of credit for the level of competence he displayed in holding up the ball and winning knock downs. Of course it wasn’t the same as having Hanson’s extra running all over the final third and greater willingness to track back, but the discipline of holding position in a crucial area, which Bullock does so well in maintaining when undertaking his regular deep midfield role, was something other players could utilise, firing balls towards the part of the pitch they had confidence he would be in. Either side of him were Michael Boulding and Scott Neilsen who both worked hard tracking back and making darting runs down the  flanks. Boulding has arguably not contributed such a level of effort for the team during his previous 40 Bantams career starts.

Ramsden too looked solid protecting the back four and marked his return from injury by opening the scoring five minutes after the interval when his shot from the edge of the area was deflected over Cobbler’s keeper Chris Dunn’s outstretched hand.  The goal was part of a more purposeful start to the half by the visitors, which continued four minutes later after a free kick was aimed at Bullock to knock down into the path of Boulding, who brilliantly volleyed home. The subsequent celebrations seemed to involve every outfield City player and the obvious happiness they possessed towards Boulding for netting his first goal of the season suggests the strong team spirit on evidence in recent weeks stretches beyond the regular starting eleven. Boulding continued to play in a manner which makes it impossible for Stuart to drop him when others return – now he needs to maintain it.

Further goals might have followed for City, most notably when Boulding was denied a second by a superb low save from Dunn, after his view of the shot from a fair distance had been obscured until the last second. Northampton continued to show spirit, almost getting a goal back after the referee David Phillips bizarrely ruled a sliced clearance by Jonathan Bateson caught by Simon Eastwood was a handled backpass. Awarding Northampton an indirect on the six-yard box line, the 11-man City wall was able to scramble it away. Eastwood also made two brilliant saves to add to his growing collection of notable stops, but continues to look weak when dealing with crosses. Despite some questionable decisions by Phillips, the game was petering out.

Which is when cruise control may have been adopted and when Northampton unexpectedly came back, netting first through substitute Alex Dyer when his effort from the edge of the area flew past Eastwood; then equalising with a minute to play after a hotly disputed free kick was crossed into the box for the oddly-named John Johnson to fire home. As City’s players came over to applaud supporters at the final whistle, the looks of dejection were clear.

A lesson of sorts had been issued to the players. The incredible level of hard work and dedication they exhibit is something which must be maintained throughout because, as Northampton proved, there are other teams who can muster similar levels of determination to challenge them back. And though Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams, Luke O’Brien and Bateson all enjoyed outstanding games at the back and Michael Flynn was as inspirational as ever, the spine of City’s team still needs to get stronger in order for these nine unbeaten games to prove the start, rather than the peak, of something.

Achieve that and City really can put the foot down and accelerate into the distance.

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.

The Ruthless Streak

“I’m absolutely delighted by the performance, but disappointed by the result.”

McCall’s post match thoughts seemed to speak for 500 strong travelling support coming away from Underhill, after giving their (we’re now not ashamed to call these players ours) boys a hearty, and deserved ovation after a game that could, and should have been won. The reason we didn’t leave with three points was due to a lack of a ruthless streak in all twelve of our players.

Before I go any further I should probably point out that due to living at the wrong end of the country for a year this was only my second City game this season, the first was Notts County away.

The difference between the two experiences could not be more pronounced. Suddenly we are in possession of players who refuse to recognise a lost cause, hurrying uncomfortable defenders into mistakes. A captain who personally tells his players what he wants from each of them individually before the match. And arguably most importantly, a group of supporters who burst into spontaneous applause to show their appreciation to the City players whenever they are anywhere near.

The game itself should have been over after half an hour. City created chance after chance, taking full advantage of the famous Underhill slope. In a refreshingly honest post-match interview Barnet manager Ian Hendon called it “Men against boys”. McCall’s away system, in which the only constant seems to be the back four and Lee Bullock in the holding role, gives City an advantage as each player seems to be able to easily fill in for each other, which gives us the attacking fluidity that brings to mind Manchester United in the past few years, or Brazil in a World Cup. That’s right, I just compared us to Brazil.

The first goal came from a driving run from Michael Flynn that he constantly seems capable of, leaving the Barnet defenders helpless and squaring for James Hanson to tap in.

By this point Hanson’s goal could have made it three nil. Within the first ten minutes James Hanson found himself with a free header from a James O’Brien corner, which caused problems all game for the flapping Barnet keeper and Manuel Almunia look-alike, Jake Cole. Just before that, Scott Neilson had a golden opportunity to score, but his shot was deflected wide.

Just before the half time break, the never tiring Gareth Evans pulled the ball back from the by-line for Flynn, who looked for all the world like he was going to give City a deserved two nil lead at the break until Barnet defender came from nowhere with a crucial block.

The point is that if we are looking at promotion, then we have to be looking to be putting away most if not all of these chances or we’ll just get punished. As inevitably happened in the second half of this game as Barnet eventually got back into the game.

Barnet’s two equalisers both came from unmarked headers. And both showed how little confidence Williams and Rehman have in their goalkeeper. Simon Eastwood is also lacking in a ruthless streak. While he looks a very technically able player, he just needs to make a decision and trust himself with it. Although there is no excuse for Rehman leaving John O’Flynn unmarked to head in Barnet’s first equaliser, Eastwood was caught in no-mans land, unable to decide whether to stay on his line or go and get the ball. He eventually helplessly, watched the ball loop over is head into the goal. There were a few more Eastwood moments, most notably Rehman saving his goalkeeper by heading off the line. Either Eastwood convinces the two centre-backs to trust him with some confident goalkeeping and communication, or he has to be replaced.

Barnet’s second goal was a result of a magnificent, slaloming run and cross from Albert Adomah, chief tormentor in last years 4-1 reverse. As good as it was, you could only feel that a more experienced, nasty team wouldn’t have even let him get started. Lee Bullock, otherwise impressive in his holding role in front of the back four, should have brought Adomah down, given City a chance to regroup and taken a booking for his team.

The second half wasn’t all negative, in fact is was a very enjoyable end-to-end encounter. In the end, any team could have won it. City regained the lead after Rehman showed the attackers how its done by smashing one into the top corner after another O’Brien corner. James Hanson had the chance to put the game to bed, but the ball was caught between his feet after a promising performance from Jonathan Bateson was capped by a full-length charge up the pitch on the counter attack to put Hanson in. Bateson looks more than able to step into the big shoes of Simon Ramsden who he replaced after Ramsden came off injured.

Both teams could have won it at the death, Mark Hughes embarrassingly shanked one wide for Barnet when he really should have hit the target. Just before, Neilson managed to find a final bit of energy to burst into the Barnet box only to fire straight at the keeper.

Even taking only a point back home, the future looks bright to me at City. McCall looks to have learnt from mistakes made in the first two years of his tenure. And this team can only improve, especially with the support they are receiving from our notoriously negative fans. If we can find this ruthless streak then a League 2 team will soon be on the receiving end of good old-fashioned mauling.

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 right path, and sticking by it

Whatever direction Bradford City was heading towards following the home defeat to Lincoln City two weeks ago, the corner has seemingly been turned.

After starting the season with three defeats, one point and no goals, it’s now three consecutive wins, nine goals and a progression beyond the first round of the Football League Trophy for the first time since the club was awarded a bye to pass it in 2005. The gloom is fading away and quiet optimism is becoming louder.

Tonight was the first time Stuart McCall’s team has managed to convert a losing position into victory since a 2-0 Chesterfield lead was overturned at Valley Parade 10 months ago. As the players raced over to congratulate Scott Neilsen’s winning strike in front of 300+ City supporters, the spirit in evidence was a welcome contrast to the referee-influenced collapse at this ground last season which was to trigger the beginning of the end to City’s promotion push. On a night where the sponsors were all about paint, an attractive picture of City’s prospects for the campaign was completed by the final whistle.

In the second half especially, City were excellent tonight. Since the relegation to League Two in 2007, envious eyes have been cast towards the Lancashire hosts and the attractive, effective manner Keith Hill lines up a team which has achieved consecutive top seven finishes. With the support of a well-trained ball boy team ensuring throw ins could be hurriedly taken, it was quick-fire, incisive passing in and around City’s penalty area with the skillful Will Buckley, Adam Rundle and Chris Dagnall leading the threat. Yet City were able to respond with some of their best attacking football of the season.

Limited chances were created by both sides during the first half; save for a rattling of the cross bar at both ends with the impressive Luke O’Brien’s miscued cross deceiving the less than impressive Dale keeper Kenny Arthur and coming back off the woodwork and Dagnall being brilliantly cued up at the other end but smacking a well struck shot off Simon Eastwood’s bar. Neither side were able to take control, but each had spells of dominance where the final ball was narrowly lacking.

An early impressive feature about Stuart’s team this season is the movement on and off the ball and, when on the attack, Neilsen, Chris Brandon, Michael Flynn and Gareth Evans were particularly effective at popping up all over the final third and dragging markers out of position in the process. A high level of work rate, a missing ingredient in the second half of last season, was evident too. A good visiting attacking move saw a low cross only narrowly avoid the onrushing Evans, but instead of allowing the ball to simply roll behind, Brandon willingly chased what looked a lost cause and was rewarded by the ball bouncing off the corner flag onto his feet, to allow him to force a corner. Little things such as this were witnessed across the park in this game and recent matches, and so far appear to be making up for any loss of quality the summer’s departing players took with them.

City especially began to get on top in the second half with Steve Williams and Flynn going close, and it came as a surprise when Dale defender Craig Dawson smashed the home side into the lead after a free kick wasn’t adequately cleared. This provided another test for City, with memories of the poor responses to going behind in games last season still raw. Rochdale threatened to finish off the game for a five minute spell and City had to thank Eastwood for one especially brilliant one-on-one save to deny substitute Scott Spencer. In fact the on-loan Huddersfield keeper enjoyed a largely encouraging evening, making a number of excellent saves at crucial times and only causing the briefest of flutters when he miscued a clearance. Even then, it was a moment later overshadowed by the number of times Arthur did the same.

Eastwood’s save would prove crucial, as City regained composure and began to threaten again with Neilsen and Brandon going close. The deserved equaliser came through Flynn’s powerfully struck free kick which Arthur was unable to keep out. With an early injury to Peter Thorne, Flynn had taken the captain’s armband and delivered a strong audition for the job full time by the manner he notably kept geeing up his team mates and leading by example. Special mention should also go to the oft-maligned Lee Bullock alongside him. Bullock by his nature is quiet, unassuming and easy to criticise. His discipline in holding his position allowed others to make those clever runs and, though the former Cardiff midfielder is rarely going to produce match-winning cross field passes, he equally rarely gives the ball away. A player appreciated by the manager and team mates, if not all supporters.

By now City were in the ascendancy and it was Neilsen who was to strike the winner on his full debut. Rochdale had been on the attack, but when possession was gained it was quickly played up to the young winger, who charged at Dale’s back-peddling defence and used the support of Jonathan Bateson  to create space for a shot which deflected off a defender and looped over the despairing Arthur into the top of the goal. On the day Joe Colbeck was sold to Oldham, Neilsen’s all-round performance indicated his is capable of nailing down a first team jersey.

The response from Rochdale was limited and City continued to look the more likelier to score with Evans deserving a goal for a performance full of effort, but finding Arthur equal to his long range effort, and James Hanson, who had replaced Thorne, also going close. Leon Osborne, who had come on for Brandon at 1-0 down, caused problems on the left against Dale’s struggling right back Matthew Flynn.

But on a night of strong performances from City, it was the back four which perhaps deserve the most credit. Bateson’s debut at Forest had been one to forget after his disgraceful lunge on Nathan Tyson resulted in a red card, but he began to redeem himself with a strong showing at right back which included getting forward well. In the centre, Williams continues to look anything but a hairdresser and the man of the match was probably returning Dale defender Simon Ramsden, switched over from the right back to play alongside Williams and seemingly unbeatable in the air and on the ground.

All of which leaves Stuart with new defensive options to mull over ahead of a return to league matters at Shrewsbury on Saturday. Such a trip would have seemed daunting two weeks ago, but can now be taken with increased confidence. City might lose and with it some of the gloom would return, but the excitement in watching this team develop and grow in stature will continue to be felt regardless. Increasingly I feel proud to be a Bradford City supporter and proud to support the young players who wear our colours. Three wins in a row isn’t a time for getting carried away, but the  early building blocks are taking shape and beginning to make sense.

The only thing which hasn’t really changed in the two weeks since defeat to Lincoln is the reality it’s going to be a long season; but with the right direction seemingly found, it increasingly feels like a long season to relish.

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.

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.

Next: Cheltenham

The disorder of the day is a question of Peter Thorne.

Thorne took a pay cut to sign an extension to his City contract and was lauded for it. He has a fantastic scoring record for the Bantams which – Dean Windass aside – is probably not matched since Lee Mills ten years ago but that was four games ago and the whispers against the City captain have started.

“Why don’t you do us all a favour and hang up your boots Thorne!” said someone on the kop – how dare he assume to speak for me I angered – and sure enough the short termness of football thinking is brought to bear on our centre forward who slogged though a tired game on Tuesday night ineffectually.

Thorne will score again. You know it. I know it. Peter Thorne knows it. Stuart McCall knows it.

Nevertheless much of the criticism of Thorne comes from the fact that not only has he yet to score – no one else in six hours of football has either – but from the fact that he is the captain.

I’ve never approved of a striker as skipper – or a full back, keeper or winger for that matter – preferring a player who is more in the heart of the side in central midfield or defence just as McCall the player was for the Bantams. Alan Shearer skippered Newcastle United from the front line as did Kevin Keegan but for every example of a half decent non-middle man skipper in the for column Bobby Moore, Alan Hansen and John McGovern are on the other side. Strikers don’t often make good skippers.

However when recalling the teams of Moore, Hansen and McGovern casting eyes around the field would have shown four or five other able men who could have taken the armband while looking around the City team one sees Zesh Rehman and… erm… that is about it.

Rehman, Chris Brandon, Michael Flynn are all names banded about but as Lincoln put in their second goal on Tuesday night no City player was suggesting great leadership. David Wetherall was an obvious choice to replace Stuart McCall who was himself an obvious choice to replace Peter Jackson when he headed to Newcastle in 1987.

No player is suggesting that they would be a better captain than Thorne no matter how well or badly the striker is managing to do the job and frankly if there is a player in the City side watching his team mate’s long faces and thinking that if he tried gee anyone up then he would face some kind of PFA demarcation dispute then he is not that man to captain my club.

Seriously. If someone in the current City side is a great captain just waiting for the armband then they are hiding it bloody well.

Zesh Rehman though is likely to have the armband as Thorne feels the effects of four games and is rested. Rehman’s partner Steve Williams is likely to keep his place despite his tumble on Tuesday even with Matthew Clarke fit again. Simon Ramsden looks good at right back and Luke O’Brien is in at left back.

Simon Eastwood is going to spend four months being criticised at City and may as well get used to it now. Five, two, three, none it matters not. When he plays badly he gets it in the neck, when he plays well he gets it in the neck.

Stephen O’Leary took part in Tuesday night’s warm up but not the game leaving Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn to pass the ball around Lincoln until such a time when (according to Simon, a Lincoln fan in line with Ramsden’s tackle) that never a penalty happened. The pair are likely to continue although O’Leary and Flynn would seem more suited to battling away against a newly relegated side.

City’s forward line is likely to be where Stuart McCall makes changes. Michael Boulding turned down Cheltenham to join City and his pace may be used to do to the home side what Lincoln did to us. James Hanson and/or Gareth Evans might be employed as target men and McCall may opt to play with a lone striker with Joe Colbeck far right, Hanson on the left with Evans up front.

Or Thorne might play.

The simple

Bill Shankley said that Football was a simple game – made complicated by fools – and so in that spirit we shall, dear reader, keep this short and simple.

City lost to Lincoln City 2-0 after missing a penalty which would have turned and excess of possession into the goal advantage required to win the game. Michael Flynn saw Rob Burch save his spot kick but impressively Flynn – who had a great game at the hub of things for City – did not let his head drop.

Heads though were lost when the Bantams were paggering into the visiting team and got caught on a break with Simon Ramsden being penalised. The Referee was so sure that Ramsden’s last man foul was a penalty that he gave him a, well, a yellow card.

It was that sort of refereeing all night long. Spineliness, gutless, worthless and of a sort to create a terriable game of football.

The penalty went in and heads were lost with Steve Williams erring and a second goal going in. Gareth Evans could have got one back but Burch – a keeper Stuart McCall wanted to sign but was outbid for – saved well twice and City completed a fourth game without a goal.

One thousand and one solutions then for the problems City are facing and one will be taken which guarantees perhaps only that the vast majority of people will be left unhappy.

Unhappiness being the order of the day – to each his own grumble – but until that penalty went and and as that penalty was saved City did not do a lot wrong.

Scant consolation as the most simple thing – Shankley may say – is that unless you score more goals than the opposition you will not win games.

Tonight was simple: they scored theirs, we didn’t. From that the complications begin.

Bradford City prepare to face Lincoln City in a modern football match

Back in the day when newspapers were typeset by hand, Jimmy Hill’s chin presented Match of the Day and Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine had yet to be applied to the job of applying three points for one win and sorting such a collection of results into an ordered lists League tables after two games simply did not exist.

Not that it was impossible for the scholars of 1974 to work out that a 3-0 defeat on the opening day of the season put Cloughie’s Leeds bottom of the First Division or that a win, a couple of draw and a few defeat in said man’s first six games only gave his side four points but with the effort that had to go into totting up columns, creating news print and video overlays for Television to roughly project onto brightly coloured pictures there seemed very little point in bothering.

The table at that stage did not mean anything after all, and if it did you could be sure that Shankley’s Liverpool would be top of it. Tables tended to turn up in newspapers and magazines in September after about ten games and then they were accompanied by football managers of the day warning that said table could not be read until everyone has played everyone else at least once – except for Jimmy Sirrel who insisted it did not lie.

The modern football table – the sort that sits all summer with naught in every column – is more of a database waiting to happen and has given rise to an obsession with starting counting league position by the minute of each game. In fact ten years ago City were forth in the Premiership for the 22 hours until Manchester United won moving us and everyone else down a place.

Match of the Day made a return this weekend and had the top four places of the top division coloured golden to indicate Champions League slots – somewhere Platini fumes – with the aforementioned United excluded, lagging down in eighth position with zero points in zero games.

Back in my day in March a half blind man would draw a dotted line somewhere approximating the promotions places – and he were always wrong – if you were lucky.

All of which is preamble to saying that aside from the fact that Notts County are top and everyone else isn’t the League Two table means – frankly – “nowt” which is just as well because if it were to mean something City would be third bottom.

The opening point of the season came with the weekend 0-0 draw with Port Vale which presented a Bantams side that – rather surprisingly considering the previous week – had very little wrong with it.

The back four did not put a foot wrong with Steve Williams starting to impress in that way that suggests he is taking to professional football better than Matthew Clarke – who he replaces in the side again tonight – would take to cutting hair in Bamber Bridge. He is partnered by Zesh Rehman and is in front of Simon Eastwood who are both a clean sheet further away from Notts County.

City’s full backs against Vale probably had more pitch to play in than they will in most games this season with the Valiants anything but. Simon Ramsden – it would be amiss of me not to point out after a number of discussions with “our Rovert” on the subject – could have done with more support in front of him when he came forward with the ball while Luke O’Brien could do with putting a bit more air into his crosses with the hope of beating the first man. If not air then variety as the promising young left back’s play became a little easy to read on Saturday.

Promising young left backs though are not in short supply at Valley Parade with Louis Horne ready to replace O’Brien who was sliced in half by Anthony Griffith at the weekend and may not play. Horne – for the uninitiated – is the son of Peter Horne the man in charge of youth development at VP but those who have seen him put in a few games ensue suggestions of nepotism with phrases like “he looks a bit good.”

Horne is a bit good although which bit is not yet clear. He can use the ball, tackle, and has a good head on him and while that is deployed at left back often he does take the left wing and – in the humble opinion of this writer – might want to try his hand in the centre of midfield.

Not that City need any more number fours with Michael Flynn and Stephen O’Leary finding a way of keeping the back door closed and O’Leary especially useful in taking the ball from the central defenders and moving it on with minimum fuss. The pair look set to anchor behind the roving Chris Brandon – who will face up against his former Town boss Lincoln manager Peter Jackson – who comes inside and left flank man James Hanson who loses nothing in the air and comes in from the flanks to add to the attack.

All of which leaves City a little thin out wide but we should not mind the width if we can feel the quality and the quality of City’s approach play impressed on Saturday.

Approach play good and the strikers were not able to profit with Boulding seeing the best of the chances saved. Peter Thorne struggles with four games in eleven days and so may sit out to allow Gareth Evans to lead the line. Michael Boulding is expected to partner.

A decision is made, a result is reached, and City move on

If the season started here in the third match following the week in Nottingham then it started slowly with a 0-0 draw with Port Vale which saw the visitors get the point they came to West Yorkshire for and City stop conceding after eight goals had been lifted out of Simon Eastwood’s net since the season started.

Indeed so clear was Stuart McCall’s desire to ensure that the Bantams would not be looking at a hefty concession rate that the changes had been rung and the solution was found in a full midfield that saw two number fours – Michael Flynn and Stephen O’Leary – hold and Chris Brandon nominally given the right hand side but spread himself over the middle of the pitch in the kind of performance that his status called for.

The industry of the Flynn and O’Leary pairing allowed Brandon to enjoy his roving role – James Hanson was also nominally left flank but spent more time at the far post assisting the strike pair of Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne – and linked the midfield to the forward two effectually or as effectively as the Valiants would allow with their deep sat five and midfield on top.

As such the pattern of the game was set. Vale’s ambition was limited and City’s measured with the Bantams controlling play in the first half to such an extent that at one point a twenty pass move probed either side of the visitors backline without finding a way through. City’s best chance came when Hanson – powerful in the air – won the ball for Brandon to take into the box and Michael Boulding to try finish only to find Chris Martin standing tall to make a save. I tried so hard to come up with a joke about Coldplay’s lead singer but as with City just lacked that touch of inspiration.

Vale on the otherhand failed to convert a few crosses that flashed past the City box for the want of men in the box and some good defending from – especially – Simon Williams who made his home debut with a performance of genuine quality calmly showing a class to slot alongside Zesh Rehman and a physicality to cope with the ageing late sub Geoff Horsfield.

Williams and Rehman kept Marc Richards in pockets save an stinking shot from an actuate that Eastwood took confidently. Second half and City had James Hanson go close cutting in with a shot and could have won the game late on when a cross from Simon Ramsden – who did a grand job down the right with an acre in front of him and little support with Brandon playing more inside – hung deliciously but Hanson rising at the wrong time.

Hanson impressed too although seemed to fade in the last quarter of the match. Gareth Evans came off the bench and hit a dipping shot over the bar. Michael Flynn tested the keeper from range, Luke O’Brien did the same.

Flynn and O’Leary responded to some aggressive play by Vale with a series of lively challenges as the Bantams seemed to find a pairing that looked interested in joining a League Two battle. Vale’s four Anthony Griffith was lucky not to see a red card after a string of feet off the floor tackles ended in Luke O’Brien getting spun and limping through the rest of the match. Born in Huddersfield perhaps he was an excitable Town fan. Regardless he was lucky to stay on the field long enough to be substituted.

Flynn showed a willingness to battle but O’Leary was something of a minor revelation making himself available in midfield for passes, getting stuck in and using the ball well it was a mighty promising display and one that might keep Lee Bullock cooling his heels on the bench. Late in the game Vale put on former City favourite Claus Jorgensen who was roundly and warmly applauded but in the last five minutes that despite some bluster both clubs were happy to see out goalless.

The men on the bench – the management that is – made the point today with a team that joined the battle for League Two. Tuesday night Lincoln City come to Valley Parade and City will look to build on this match but as with the team of Paul Jewell’s eleven years ago – who drew early on with Sheffield United and Bolton Wanderers making the two points from seven games – the shakedown of the start of the season was brought into context later in the season.

Today City did not let anything past – or look like letting anything past – and anything that comes later comes from that.

Will things go as expected? City play Port Vale looking to put the week behind them

When it comes to first weeks of the season they have never come any worse than this one for City.

Ten years ago we were sitting fourth in the embryonic Premiership table after a win against Middlesbrough. A decade on and we are at the foot of an equally new League Two table smarting from a 5-0 defeat and out of the League Cup. That was the week that wasn’t.

Wasn’t very enjoyable that is – unless you like the City of Nottingham – but probably not unexpected. When Championship side (and lest we forget, twice European Cup winners) Nottingham Forest came out of the hat for the first round of the League Cup – away to boot – not a single City fan would have said that the Bantams were anything other than rank outsiders.

Likewise when Notts County started spending money in the summer culminating in recruiting Sven Goran Errikson the majority of Bantams fans would have thought it a surprise if the Bantams had come back from the Lower League all-stars who are assembling at Meadow Lane with a point.

That both things came to pass is the way they did – scoreless and remorseless – has distorted those original assumptions that when City kicked off against Port Vale in the first home game at Valley Parade they would probably have no points and be looking at a few midweeks off after a cruel draw.

Stuart McCall has had little but food for thought in the last five days having played perhaps five different formations during the two matches and used sixteen players one of whom – Jonathan Bateson started his City career in the worst possible way with a red card for slicing Nathan Tyson in half for what seemed like little or no reason. Bateson could not have impressed less.

Steve Williams could have impressed more – it was not a week of full throttle – but he has most probably done enough to secure a debut alongside Zesh Rehman and in favour of Matthew Clarke who seems to be fall guy for the five goals that Notts County put past City despite – whisper it – having a better game than Rehman that afternoon.

Simon Ramsden has started his City career well and slots back to right back after a sojourn at centre back and Luke O’Brien is left back.

The midfield should revert to the four in the middle with Joe Colbeck, Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon although James O’Brien played on Wednesday night with Brandon cooling his heels. As a boyhood City fan robbed of his first year as a Bantam Brandon should be bursting to impress and one hopes he puts in a performance that suggests the desire than comes from playing for your own club. So far such as been lacking from the left midfielder but tomorrow can be his Alpha, should O’Brien not get the nod over him.

In the forward line Gareth Evans impressed on Wednesday but is expected to step down to allow Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding back into the line.

Having draw with Rochdale on the opening day Port Vale got arguably a more testing League Cup trip than City – to Sheffield United – and won it although that was more down to comedic goalkeepering which one hopes Simon Eastwood – the City stopper who makes his home debut – will not follow.

The season is young – baby young – and already City are thrashing around but in football everything becomes right with a win and at Valley Parade – under McCall at least following years of home defeats – wins have become expected and City are doing as expected thus far.

No apology needed

There will have been much to occupy Bradford City manager Stuart McCall’s thoughts as he made his second return journey up the M1 in days on the back of a heavy defeat. A degree of pride was restored on route to yet another early exit from the League Cup, but the aggregate 8-0 score from the two trips to Nottingham tell of a shocking start to the season that sees pressure building ahead of its first home game. At the final whistle Stuart told his players “the season starts here”, but the fear remains that the last few days are a taste of what’s to come.

City were much better at The City Ground compared to the general feebleness evident less than a mile away at Meadow Lane on Saturday. Mindful of playing too open again, which had contributed to the heavy opening day defeat, Stuart opted for a 5-4-1 formation with James Hanson taking the left wing spot when City were on the defensive and fellow debut signing Gareth Evans asked to take on a lone assignment that was supported by Hanson when City were on the attack.

The objective was to frustrate a talented Nottingham Forest side, who passed the ball around quickly and accurately only to be frustrated – for 47 minutes at least – by a well organised Bantams backline which was able to plug gaps. In a dull first half the only chances of note were a Lewis McGugan free kick Simon Eastwood did well to tip wide and a Lee Bullock header over after some promising City build up play.

Essentially, it wasn’t pretty from City. The notion of playing defensive football and only one striker is something which upsets a number of City fans, who will happily roll off the number of times it hasn’t worked and tell you they’d rather watch City go for it and lose. But, considering the gulf in the two sides, there was plenty of encouragement to be taken from how well City contained their Championship counterparts and a feeling that, with more practice, such an approach can pay dividends in some away fixtures this season.

Steve Williams made a very impressive full debut and Simon Ramsden, switched to the centre, demonstrated his versatility and made one crucial first half tackle when it appeared Forest might score. Zesh Rehman – captain for the night – recovered from a torrid afternoon on Saturday to look more assured and debut full back Jonathan Bateson got forward well when he could. In midfield Michael Flynn looked promising covering the back four, though the formation didn’t seem to suit Joe Colbeck who was anonymous for much of the night.

It’s up front that will have given Stuart some of the strongest encouragement for playing this way on the road again, with Evans performing a brilliant job holding up the ball and allowing others to get forward. Stuart’s previous attempts to play with a lone striker have been hampered by the lack of striker who could adequately play such a role, but Evans’ effectiveness and work rate suggests he now has that striker. The downside of City’s tactics was that, predictably, they were less of an attacking force in the final third, with the number of black shirts getting into the box when on the attack too few for possession to be fashioned into decent chances. Still as Evans battled hard and Hanson showed some good dribbling skills, Stuart may have been tempted to glance ruefully over to Meadow Lane on his left and wonder what he might have done differently last Saturday.

The other problem with defensive tactics is when the opposition score and the urge to find a plan B, though how well City did in almost coming back at Elland Road last season when sticking to 4-5-1 shows it’s far from game over. Two minutes into the second half Forest claimed the lead when Nathan Tyson found space on the left and crossed for Paul Anderson to head home. City might have equalised after Evans brilliantly held up the ball and picked Hanson out, but his burst through one-on-one with Paul Smith was cut short by a late flag for offside.

Any encouragement sought from the move was extinguished by Forest instantly going 2-0 up after Tyson again provided a brilliant cross which was tapped home by Dextor Blackstock. The impressive McGugan added a third after another flowing move and the night ended with further misery after Bateson’s none-to-clever lunge on Tyson was rewarded by a red card and the Forest striker having to be stretchered off.

So beaten, but it was difficult to fault the players’ efforts if not their quality. A Forest-supporting friend told me afterwards that his side’s second half performance had been their best for some time and the consolation for Stuart is that City won’t be facing opposition of this calibre in the league. Yet still these are worrying times, pre-season optimism is ebbing away and City go into two successive home games without yet having managed a goal.

But while others can lose their heads with worry – a visit to City’s official message board finds one fan demanding Stuart be sacked should City lose to Port Vale Saturday – the man in charge must not lose his. As Stuart’s thoughts of the defeat occupied his mind travelling back up the M1, the so-far positive stance he’s adopted in defeat is far preferable to the miserable persona of the end of last season. The only worry when hearing he was planning to play more defensively-minded at The City Ground was how much he talked of it upsetting supporters in the past – as though he’s previously stopped himself doing it for fear of upsetting some geek on a message board.

No matter what, Stuart is still widely-loved for his close relationship with this club, but a certain detachment is needed from him in order to worry less about letting people down and focus solely on doing the right thing. City may be out the cup, but against higher division opposition on top form it’s difficult to muster any meaningful reasons to criticise Stuart for that. Instead, like Stuart, the focus should be on the next game and the much work needed ahead of it towards getting the season belatedly going.

Not a great night in City’s history, but the biggest positive may prove to be that Stuart is not attempting to apologise for it.

Former England manager gives City a lesson

The opening day of every season is about learning lessons after three months of playing football in a hypothetical context give way to ninety minutes of reality and sometimes that reality is cold and sobering.

Bradford City’s lessons today were sobering. The afternoon started with a minute’s applause for the late Sir Bobby Robson. Robson had a lesson which he passed on to another manager who like Magpies boss Ian McPartland had seemingly endless riches to spend – a young Jose Mourinho – who relates the story as “One of the most important things I learnt from Bobby Robson is that when you win, you shouldn’t assume you are the team, and when you lose, you shouldn’t think you are rubbish.”

The World’s media came to watch Sven Goran Erikkson and the millions which are being pumped into Meadow Lane and went away purring about the home side caring hardly at all for the visitors who were but ballast in the story.

When Brendan Moloney pushed forward from full back leaving Lee Bullock to simply not track him back and allow him to score. Bullock’s head was down with the Bantams 4-0 down but he should have done more, put in more effort.

That he did not came after a grinding ninety minutes. City began brighter than their visitors with Stuart McCall having opted to send his side out to try upset the home team with a high line and a pressing forward line. The theory that McCall employed was – one assumes – that being at home and under scrutiny County would play similarly but alas they did not preferring to approach the game almost as an away match and sat back to play on the counter-attack.

So City pressed and as the season with fifteen minutes old Joe Colbeck had been unlucky to see his header saved after some great approach play and Peter Thorne look menacing on the far post with the ball under City’s control and City looking easy on the ball. County’s responses seemed to be entirely physical with Moloney especially guilty of some fearsome challenges with studs showing. City faced a midfield battle and bit by bit were edged out.

Edged out perhaps because while Bullock and new signing Michael Flynn looked tidy in possession and decent in the scrap they often found the ball pumped over their heads and when it was pumped in between Matthew Clarke and Luke O’Brien City were incapable of dealing with the ball across and expensive import from Shrewsbury Ben Davies finished on the far post.

It was not especially deserved and City should have kicked themselves with Clarke and O’Brien – not for the only time today – incapable of stopping the ball getting across the face of the box. New keeper Simon Eastwood hardly showered himself in glory with his control of the backline – very little – but collectively this was the beginning of errors that continued all afternoon.

That said City should have been level – or had the chance to be level – when Peter Thorne was shoved with two hands from behind by keeper Russell Hoult at a corner minutes later but the referee was curiously unmoved. The game was littered with pushes and free kicks many of which were given for much more malignant offences and not giving a penalty there was pre-season refereeing.

One had thought that the studs showing challenges were the results of being rusty – rather than a desire to be rustic – but they continued throughout the game with Graeme Lee engaging on any number of lunges h simply did not do for the Bantams last year. Anyone who wondered what Lee used to do at City and thought he would not be missed will not have hung their head when another long punt bounced in front of and over Zesh Rehman – who had a poor afternoon – and fell into the path of Lee Hughes who rounded the keeper and scored.

On to Lee Hughes now who rejoiced in his goal celebrating in front of the City fans who were taunting him with chides about his conviction for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving four years ago. Hughes faced the boos and on scoring pranced in front of City fans with delight.

There is a misunderstanding around Hughes when he is booed and responds to that jeering with his self-congratulatory dancing which would eventually get him booked in this game. Hughes is not booed as a former player like Graeme Lee or because he has long hair and is dubbed “Gypo” or because he has dived in a previous game. Many, if not most, people find Lee Hughes and his actions when arrested as being despicable and have the opinion that his playing cheapens the game of football. I think a man has a right to earn a living and Hughes does so but what is he trying to say when he goes to away fans and taunts them?

He has not proved fans wrong as a former player putting one over his old team mates would or silenced the people giggling at his hair yet he acts like Dean Windass returning for Sheffield United did. Frank Leboeuf said “He might be a good but footballer but he is a shit man” and no matter how many goals Hughes scores in this or any other season he has not proved anybody wrong. His prancing leaves a bad taste in the mouth as do the County fans who praise him. One can only hope that Sven and the Munto Group asks why their centre-forward is being called a murder and is as repulsed by the behaviour as I am.

Hughes got his second goal through another failure by Luke O’Brien to cut out a cross from the right. His third from a shameful dive from Luke Rodgers prompting the question of if County are going to be so good do they have to cheat? Seemingly so but the fourth goal killed City’s hopes off.

Steve Williams, James Hanson and Gareth Evans all made debuts off the bench and performed well with Williams looking mobile at the back coming on for Clarke who had had a better game than Rehman but had been replaced anyway. Evans and Hanson took the flanks coming on for Colbeck who had looked good in the first half and for Chris Brandon. Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding combined well with Brandon to see Boulding flash a shot wide.

The fifth goal came as the game dragged to an end leaving City looking back at ninety minutes of a defensive performance littered with individual mistakes – although Simon Ramsden looked good and pocketed Jamie Clapham – and a choice of approach from McCall that got it wrong and flew in the face of the manager’s talk of the Bantams learning to go away from home and play ugly, shutting up shop and being hard to beat.

County seem to be going onto bigger and better and perhaps their is no better illustration of the future for the Magpies than Hughes. Sneering success, at at any price, no matter what.

For City’s part though the short hop over the Trent to Nottingham Forest for the League Cup – bizarrely we parked next to the Brian Clough stand this Saturday afternoon – and then to Port Vale in League Two on Saturday looking to start the 45 game season anew.

The media beyond League Two are calling Hughes sparkling and toasting Sven’s perfect start but rather than the Swede one recalls the other former England manager and the lesson he would give for both teams today “When you win, you shouldn’t assume you are the team, and when you lose, you shouldn’t think you are rubbish.”

It’s Here

The League Two season is back with a bang on Saturday as Bradford travel to Meadow Lane in a reverse of the opening fixture of last campaign. And for Bradford faithful still reeling from last season’s disappointment, this is all that matters. Forget the long running saga at Newcastle United with an untold number of messiahs. Forget Leeds United’s third season in the third flight of English football. And please, forget last season.

Stuart McCall decided to stay with the club this summer despite suggesting otherwise last term. Managing at a young age is always a learning curve and there isn’t a manager out there that hasn’t made mistakes at some time in their career. But in my opinion, this club and it’s fans would rather have somebody with a loved for the club at the helm taking it one step at a time, than a manager with no passion who will come and go within two seasons at the most. The fans have cried out and it appears that stability is the way forward.

McCall has been busy this summer with his dealings in the transfer market, with no less than twelve players departing, not including Dean Furman, Steve Jones and Nicky Law, and nine coming in. Only goalkeeper Simon Eastwood has so far come in on loan as McCall plays the waiting game with the clubs in higher divisions to see who is available following pre-season. Eastwood’s arrival at the club shocked many, with an experienced keeper expected to come in alongside Jonathan McLaughlin. Only time will tell if this turns out to be a bad decision, but it is telling that Eastwood’s contract is only until January rather than a full season, with McCall preparing himself should the opportunity to bring in somebody different arise. Quite who will be playing between the sticks for City also remains a mystery with Eastwood not doing himself any favours with a nervous display in the final pre-season game against Carlisle.

Zesh Rehman has made his move to Bradford permanent and has been rewarded with the club captaincy. Much has been made of Rehman’s work in the community following his loan move last season and it appears that the club see Rehman as the ideal role model for youngsters in the local area. At a time when club finances are tight and extra revenue is a priority, it will be a challenge for Rehman, along with Omar Khan, to influence the Asian population to make Valley Parade their second home.

Jonathan Bateson, Simon Ramsden and Steve Williams join Rehman as new signings in Stuart McCall’s new look back line. Ramsden in particular looks like he could be the solid right back that has been missing at Bradford for a while now, though Paul Arnison will feel disheartened that his efforts last season resulted in his exit from the club. When Arnison played last season, City tended to fair better defensively. The facts don’t lie. However, it was apparent that McCall was unsure about him with Tom Moncur and Zesh Rehman preferred at times in what was evidently not their strongest position. Ramsden looks composed, strong in the tackle and fairly good in the air. Add to this that he can also play in the centre and has featured regularly for Rochdale in three successful seasons by their standards and you can understand why McCall has brought him to the club.

Gareth Evans and James Hanson, dubbed The Co-op Kid (I prefer The Idle Working Man – Ed), have bolstered McCall’s striking options. Both are young and play with a real desire which is a joy to see. McCall has high hopes for both and this is supported by the clubs willingness to pay a fee to Macclesfield for Evans services. Hanson looks like he can offer height in the attack, in the absence of Barry Conlon, and comes to the club with a decent scoring record in the last two seasons. Experienced duo Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne are still with the club and both agreed to cut their wage bills accordingly, with Thorne rewarded for his loyalty by becoming team captain. Up front, City look a lot stronger this season and it may be a weight off Peter Thorne’s shoulders. Michael Boulding openly admitted his disappointment at his goal tally last season and will be expected to do better this time around.

Following a fluster of activity in the days before the season opener, Stuart McCall has brought in three central midfielders, an area which he was keen to improve on. The signs are that Michael Flynn, City’s second signing from Huddersfield this summer, will slot in alongside Lee Bullock to form what looks like a solid pairing. Flynn ranks alongside Simon Ramsden as McCall’s best signing in my opinion and his ability to score and create goals from midfield will fill the void left by Nicky Law. Michael O’Leary and energetic James O’Brien have also signed, albeit on short term contracts. Luke Sharry missed the chance this pre-season to stake his claim for a place in the team and may now find himself the odd man out with many feeling Chris Brandon is also above him in the pecking order.

Omar Daley’s absence may be missed, with City only having the aforementioned Chris Brandon, Joe Colbeck and Leon Osbourne to turn to on the wings. Arguably Rory Boulding, Gareth Evans, Michael O’Leary and Luke Sharry can all play in this position too, but City do look thin in this department. Rumours of a loan move for a winger from an unnamed SPL club allay fears somewhat though undoubtedly Daley’s comeback will be in the back of everyone’s mind. Osbourne has looked impressive this pre-season and looks ready to make the step up to first team duties. Chris Brandon will be looking to make up for a torrid season last time round and will be a very important player for City should he stay free from injury.

When you thought things couldn’t get anymore unpredictable, Sven-Goran Eriksson appeared at Notts County and shook the football world to the core (or League Two at least). His arrival at Meadow Lane marks one of the most bizarre appointments in history and mounts the expectation on County to achieve things in the short term. Ian MacParland’s job will be under scrutiny with the media circus that unmistakably follows such a high profile appointment. In the last few days, Stuart McCall has claimed he is not envious of the position County find themselves in, words which as a fan I cannot help but agree with. Clubs in the situation Notts County now find themselves have the potential for success, but also dramatic failure. Should County fail to gain promotion this season, they will probably find themselves starting from scratch with a new manager and possibly a whole new team next term. It is once again easy to see why fans at this club, who have suffered the repercussions of bad decision making by the money men in the past, strive for stability and a realistic approach.

Last season’s skipper Graeme Lee will probably be coming toe to toe with former team mates and, unfortunately, may receive a hostile reception. The culture of booing ex-players and managers is one that I’ve never understood, though there are factors in some cases. It is understandable that a Crystal Palace fan would be annoyed at the sight of Iain Dowie, not for the obvious reason, but for the way in which he departed the club to become manager of Crystal Palace. Lee, however, put in some solid displays last season, though he did have a dip of form which coincided with the teams inability to win games and keep clean sheets. Nevertheless, any players that represents our club should have our support and his departure was not turbulent and instead was a financial decision. It must be hoped that his exit from the club will suit both parties, with Lee himself wishing the team luck in the coming season. I will leave the defence of Lee Hughes to somebody braver than myself.

How the tables have turned from this time last season when County came to Valley Parade and suffered at the hands of a superb solo performance from Peter Thorne. The City captain has a tendency to score against County, something Graeme Lee may be given the duty of preventing happening on Saturday. I would be happy with an opening day draw in all honesty, but the optimism of the travelling Bradford fans says otherwise. City are out to ruin the party celebrations for Sven’s men are will make themselves heard – win, lose or draw.

The new season is here.

The route to success for Notts County or Bradford City

When last we kicked a ball in anger there was anger after the Bantams promotion push had fizzled out and beating Chesterfield was an inglorious end to a year of promise.

Three months later and while it seems that much has changed the Bantams start the season with six players who would have featured in the team which kicked off last year with Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding leading the attack a good example of how Stuart McCall has been able to cut costs while retaining the integrity of the squad.

The five forwards this year swap James Hanson and Gareth Evans for Barry Conlon and Willy Topp which is easily argued to be no worse and perhaps better with Barry’s rambunctions being matched by Hanson’s vigour, at least in theory.

If such claims of parity could be made for the strikers then they would not be applied to the two keepers who combined are not as old as Neville Southall was when he kept goal for City and the worries over that inexperience are rumbling.

Simon Eastwood seems favourite to start as he battles Jon McLaughin for the gloves and I am forced to say that I have never seen competition for the number one shirt bring about anything but uncertainty in the past.

One can only hope that one of the two claims the spot which Rhys Evans grew to suit. Evans exit remains a mystery with the obvious hole left behind by his exit but last season’s failure has been attributed to poor morale and one can assume that some of those who exit do so because of what might be known as “off the field reasons”.

Paul Arnison’s exit was down to such and Simon Ramsden is considered a more than adequate replacement playing right back more like a central defender than a winger. Again McCall has cut while not losing quality, although the people at Rochdale take issue with the statements that Ramsden has joined the Bantams on comparable terms to those he was on at Spotland.

Zesh Rehman has joined the club full time and replaces Graeme Lee – who may very well take the field for Notts County after his summer move – and it is hard to see that exchange as worse for City. Rehman has played at a higher level than Lee and on the evidence of last season is no worse a player and much more of a talker. Good player Graeme Lee but not the lynchpin we hoped for. Rehman could be.

Matthew Clarke is still Matthew Clarke although this year faces competition for his place from Steve Williams who impressed more than any in pre-season. Expect Williams to grow in ability over the opening months at City has he gets used to the ways of professional football. He promises a mix of Clarke’s physical play and the mobility of a Dean Richards or Andrew O’Brien.

At left back Luke O’Brien has a one deal and little immediate competition for the role however cover is provided by Louis Horne who is making similar progress to last season’s player of the season.

The midfield has been talked about at length over the summer. Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock are the two senior men with James O’Brien, Stephen O’Leary and Luke Sharry offering a much shallower depth of quality that last season’s midfield which of course assumes that one believes that last season’s midfield had quality.

Objectively the choice of Nicky Law, Dean Furman, Paul McLaren and Bullock is incredibility strong however wise man say that team with a strong midfield get promoted and obviously we did not. Stuart McCall has to make changes to move the team on from that and so he has.

On the flanks Omar Daley will be missed – he is “out until Christmas” but rumoured to be on course to join the squad before that – but Chris Brandon comes into the season fit and looking useful. Joe Colbeck is on week to week contracts but as long as he plays well this week, and then next week, few will have a problem with him. Cover on the flanks is thin on the ground although Rory Boulding and Leon Osborne are available.

City’s summer of cost cutting has been far from mirror at Notts County. Sven – of course – has arrived but it is said has spent much of the week talking to lawyers about a story that concerns a blonde which reminded me of another story about when Eriksson left England but I’m far too in fear of legal action to even mention that…

So we shall move past him onto a squad that has been bolstered by the signing of Lee midfielder Ben Davies from Shrewsbury and – more notably – forward pair Lee Hughes and Karl Hawley following a significant investment from a consortium of mystery which could not be held in more suspicion in the football world outside of Meadow Lane if they were gruff looking sortd who owned disused Theme Parks in episodes of Scooby Doo.

It is said that at some point they will be signing Dietmar Hamann and Sol Campbell. Let us hope that is after the weekend.

What will be at Notts County will be and there is very little that football fans can do to stand against the cavalier attitudes taken to ownership in the modern game.

City tried spending to get out of the division and failed. Notts County’s owners are unlikely to balance risk and prudence as Mark Lawn says City have which may see The Magpies to achieve what City could not last season.

The long term effects on County will be seen in time – the other Magpies though that they were going places when they got big investment – but City start out the season with a mix of players: some young lads, some old heads, some local lads made good; and if that is not the recipe for success then success is not worth having.

Now though football starts again. Great.

Through the looking glass

Through the looking glass

It’s almost upon us, as always in a summer bereft of international action, the gap between end and start of season stretches out like a shimmering hot desert, the oasis of that first game still a mirage on the horizon. The Ashes wets the whistle but nothing quenches that thirst like the first roar of the home crowd, the first sight of a new team lining up, full of optimism, the first goal of the season from a man in a claret and amber (or now mainly claret) shirt.

This summer has been all about money, Manchester City offering the England Captain £250,000 to join the Eastlands revolution, Real Madrid buying up just about every sought after footballer on the planet and bizarrely, Sven-Goran Eriksson being installed as director of football (though some think he might be manager in all but name) at the newly oil-rich Notts County.

Of course for those of us not owned by rich consortia from the middle east, the opposite has been true, purse strings have been tightened, wages have been slashed and optimism is a word whispered quietly, especially around the streets of Bradford. You see, we bantams have had our fingers burned. Cast your mind back to last season, full of bluster and bravado after the signings of players with proven calibre in a level above, we played Notts County in a mirror image of this seasons first game and, it must be said, came away fairly happy with a 2-1 win. However, the tale was a cautionary one, we flew too high too fast and came down with a bump, now it is Notts County with the millstone of money around their necks and I for one, think this will aid us.

This league asks for passion and desire, with an ability to deal with the physical side of things, something maybe players such as Paul McLaren didn’t have the stomach for, in this respect I believe the signings we have made, whether they be forced upon us by circumstance or not, will be ideal for the league. Steve Williams and James Hanson have served their apprenticeships in non-league, they know the game is kick and be kicked. Non-league is no longer a footballing wasteground, the level of football has long been improving and there is no doubt that players coming from that background can step up, you only have to look at Stockport and Peterborough in recent years for examples of how buying players with a point to prove from lower levels can work.

Gareth Evans and Simon Ramsden know this league well, Evans should hopefully develop and blossom alongside the experienced finishers we have in Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne and Simon Ramsden seems to be the kind of solid, no nonsense full back Stuart has been looking to fill that gap for some time.

So come the first day of the long awaited season, when Sven looks out onto the Meadow Lane pitch and wonders what the hell he’s got himself in for, City fans, with our hearts full of pre-season optimism, should relish being the poor relation as it might just have forced our hand into getting what we wanted all along, a ticket out of this league.

Where we will feel the pain as the cost cut squad is shaped

Seventy minutes into the friendly with Barnsley looking over the City side the shape of the squad for next season post £700,000 cost cut emerged and with it the nature of the squad and season.

Around the field City had replaced first teamers with younger players and Luke Sharry was making a case for being considered a central midfielder rather than a wide man to be back up to Lee Bullock when the thinness of the squad to come became apparent.

Not that you would see this from looking at the front players. Massive kudos to Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne who have both taken pay cuts to stay and form part of a four man team up front with Gareth Evans and James Hanson.

I confess I miss Barry Conlon’s robust style and the idea that Willy Topp might have been good but individually James Hanson and Gareth Evans offer no less than Topp and Conlon – well – is Hanson puts in the energy that Conlon did as his pre-season performances suggest he might then their is no reason why he can not be equally well thought of (assuming one thought well of Conlon that is).

Likewise out wide Joe Colbeck this season is no worse than Joe Colbeck last when he came into the year as a well thought of player of the season aside from the fact that the wide man is on week to week contracts and has had a half year of “atmosphere” at Valley Parade. Colbeck, like Chris Brandon, is an able footballer and Omar Daley (unloved, again, but his importance was shown in his absence) create a threesome of players who should be at the top of the division but starting with one injured City are already down to bare bones and hoping for the impressiveness of young players.

Luke Sharry – as mentioned – could be great back up for Lee Bullock and could be the player he hints at being in reserve games but hoping that Sharry can perform is not the same as dropping in Nicky Law Jnr to cover an injury. At one point last season we had six midfielders out (Colbeck, Daley, Bullock, Furman, McLaren and Brandon) and put together a team that beat MK Dons whereas this season it would be hard to see us being able to withstand such losses.

The hit of cutting costs is felt not as much in the quality of the squad but the strength of it. Good players but one worries if we got injuries and – two seasons in League Two tell us we will get injuries.

Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Matthew Clarke are covered by Simon Ramsden who is covered at right back by Jonathan Bateson. Luke O’Brien faces competition at left back from Louis Horne but both are young players and we are hoping both will transfer potential – to greater and lesser extents – into performances. Good players, little back up.

The signing of Simon Eastwood came with confirmation that he and Jon McLaughlin will be given the chance to fight over the gloves at Notts County and for the first half of the season.

Two inexperienced keepers is worrying – I have seen few good teams without a settled goalkeeper – as is the gap at number four.

City are closer to finding someone to fill the hole only in seeming to have decided that Grant Smith, Joe Keehan and a few others are not “the man”. Last season Dean Furman only signed at the end of August and perhaps in a month we might all be marvelling at John Fleck running riot in midfield.

Perhaps not though. This morning comes news of a bidding war for Leeds United’s Fabian Delph between Spurs and Aston Villa which City would take 12.5% of and as last season’s other big money side Shrewsbury Town sell Grant Holt at a £100,000 loss while Joe Hart – who they get £500,000 for should he play a full England game – so City are in a position of trimming the cloth today but perhaps being affluent tomorrow. Sign up a rookie keeper now and it we are in the top half at Christmas and find ourselves well off go get someone else perhaps.

Last season was budgeted as promotion or Delph leaving – this season it is assumed (sensibly) that neither will occur and the cloth is cut accordingly. Delph may stay until Christmas, until next summer, until he retires and City do well to not push out boats on the strength of his transfer status.

Nevertheless it is probable that at some point City will have over half a million coming in to the club and perhaps the season is shaped by staying in and around contention for as long as possible until that occurs. Should Delph leave at Christmas then the Bantams could move through the league in the last four months just as we did last year – only in the other direction. Similarly is we get that windfall on the last day of the Summer transfer window we are left with a squad and money hanging over us Notts County style for months.

There is a school of thought – which I subscribe to – that money in League Two is largely wasted and the teams rise and fall through spirit and morale.

That and keeping fingers crossed than injuries do not hit as hard this year as last.

Barnsley beat City 2-0 in pre-season showing the sum of the things we already knew

The warmth of the sun and the warm glow of pre-season continued as Barnsley beat Bradford City 2-0 at Valley Parade the visitors being good value for the win which – of course – is utterly meaningless.

Meaningless of course but all we have at this point and from that point of view the defeat gave City and Stuart McCall the same lesson which Burnley and Owen Coyle got when the men from Turf Moor arrived at Valley Parade for the start of pre-season. That any game at any level is lost by mistakes.

Those two mistakes from the Bantams came either side of half time the first being a corner that was allowed to pass in front of Jon McLaughlin in goal and behind the central defensive pairing of Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams and when none of the three claimed it opposition centre half Steve Foster did and the ball nestled into the back of the the goal.

Barnsley’s goal came after a decent first half for City that saw some good work with the forward players Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne combining well with the three forward midfielders Lee Bullock, Chris Brandon and Joe Colbeck with Bullock good all afternoon and Colbeck quiet but disciplined.

Brandon and Boulding combined well working the ball around a returning Darren Moore for Boulding to drag his shot wide. The punishment for allowing a corner to travel across the face of the goal aside a level scoreline at half time would not have been unfair.

Nevertheless Rehman and Williams seemed determined to make sure that that error never reoccurred and next corner both went, both made good contact, both ended on the floor. Rehman wandered off looking groggy to be replaced in the middle by Simon Ramsden who was giving a good account of himself at right back. McCall seems set to have his right back hang back and his left back go forward and Ramsden and Luke O’Brien are his players for that tactic.

Likewise his wide midfielders suit those roles with Colbeck covered and Brandon able to – and willing to – drop back and combine with a full back. All well save the gap at number four that yawns wide open. Grant Smith took the position in the first half and was not able to stamp his authority on the game nor was second half replacement James O’Brien.

The second mistake in the second half ended the Bantams realistic chances of winning when a lose pass from Luke O’Brien (Although it may not have been the left back, the view being spoilt by Stuart McCall blocking my view so James O’Brien or Chris Brandon may have been the man) being picked up in midfield by Jacob Butterfield who put the ball in for Jon Macken – a player Kevin Keegan once paid £5m for – to finish coolly. Give the ball away cheaply and you will lose matches.

City gave run outs to James Hanson, Gareth Evans and Leon Osborne – Hanson looked full of running and his a cracking attitude – while Luke Sharry got a chance to play central midfield showing no little ability. Should Sharry be dubbed first reserve for Bullock going into the season I would not be unhappy at all.

However the number four gap continues two games and two weeks away from the start of the season. James O’Brien and Hugo Colace got involved in tackling that would result in booking and O’Brien looked frustrated by his inability to grasp the chance and take the position that begs for a player.

Back to football as City take on Barnsley

The season, or should that be the open season, started early this year with Stuart McCall and Mark Lawn facing City fans in a forum leaving them happy on the way out but foaming at the mouth when typing.

It was one of those weeks where one is happy to get to the football as we do with the pre-season visit of Barnsley on Saturday.

City face the South Yorkshiremen in good pre-season form with the XI loss to Manchester City being largely forgotten about and McCall is able to further shape a squad that tellingly is numbered for the season but lacks a 1 and a 4.

Andy Holdsworth was to be that four before he jumped on the midfielder pile at Oldham. Some say that as a decent ball player with League One experience Holdsworth should have had the boat pushed out for him – the HMS Infinite Money one assumes – because he was obviously the missing piece in the puzzle.

These people have heard of Paul McLaren and, one assumes, know the concept of irony but these two things do not link.

Holdsworth joins Joe Keehan in exiting with the tanned man not making the grade and going home. Jordan Hadfield and Grant Smith have much work to do before being considered the man for the four but one recalls how Dean Furman did not sign for the club until August and wonders if similar might be in the works.

Hadfield, Smith and Estonian Jevgeni Novikov will have a run about alongside Lee Bullock for City against the Tykes. Joe Colbeck gears up down one flank, Chris Brandon the other although Rory Boulding and Luke Sharry will get runs out.

Behind Colbeck will not be Paul Arnison who formally ended his Bantams career as his contract was cancelled by mutual consent. Arnison and Mark Bower look set to join Darlington and while any miss Bower – I believe that that as good as a player as he is the team needed Matthew Clarke in it in League Two – we will miss Arni who was never massively popular.

As a full back I liked Arnison. He supported his winger going forward better than almost any right back player since Brian Mitchell left the club in the early 1990s which I thought made up for his failings at the back which saw him often too advanced but tellingly played in the City sides that performed well last season. Judging his performances on the field I would say that McCall made a mistake letting him go but the rumours dogging the North Easterner are that he is not a good character to have around the dressing room and so he exits.

Simon Ramsden takes the number two shirt from him and will – with Jonathan Bateson backing up – play alongside the pairing of (Perm two from) Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Matthew Clarke. Luke O’Brien and Louis Horne are the left backs and both will feature.

The number one shirt is up for grabs. Jon McLaughlin may take the gloves but with McCall stating his desire to bring in a loan keeper City might have a new man signed to play between the sticks by the time the teams run out on Saturday.

At the other end of the field James Hanson celebrates his professional contract he signed this week and is looking to continue his good form. Gareth Evans, Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding complete what looks to be a stronger striking line up than last season.

City kick off the season in two weeks – Sven is waiting – and already the season long debate over management has started. The best answers for all are victories.

Bantams weigh up the options as they head to York and beyond

As with anyone forced to confront big spending in these tough times the Bantams return to the possibilities of having a positive income refreshed after a rumage through the bargain bins.

Paul McLaren joined Graeme Lee in leaving the club, Michael Boulding started talking reduced terms and suddenly the likes of Andy Holdsworth – one of the best hundred players to take the field for Huddersfield apparently and player of the season the year before last – turns up for a game just as people start talking about Lee Hughes.

Such shopping is far from Harrods but it is not Lidl either which seemed as if it was going to be the shape of the City squad to come.

That bargain basement rumage seems to have turned up two players for now with the possibility of more to follow.

Steve Williams and James Hansom both suggest themselves immediately while a clutch of midfielders race to be most impressive with Joe Keehan adding himself to the list of James O’Brien and Jordan Hadfield.

It is sometime since City so clearly trawled the non-league market to pull in Williams, Hanson and Keehan and one wonders if the qualities that make someone a very good part-time player can be transferred to League Two level.

While the step from League Two to the Championship is one of class then that from non-league to League Two is of lifestyle.

As League Two players the new signings will be on around £25,000 a year which is not just a long way from the money being offered to John Terry but is comparable with the full-time jobs non-league players hold down now.

I’m no expert in how much a hairdresser in Bamber Bridge takes home but anything over £25,000 gives someone like Steve Williams a genuine decision to make.

League Two’s rank and file players are professionals earning in some cases less than non-league counterparts may get from the day job.

Such roughness of figures aside the point emerges that the non-league amateur or semi-pro might not be in professional football for financial rather than playing reasons and the step up to League Two level is less one of fitness and training rather than pure ability.

If the ranks of the non-professionals do offer fruit for the picking then City are in prime position to offer attractive terms being still one of the top half of spenders in League Two but having holes in the squad to fill.

The likes of Williams, Hanson or Keehan look to claim those rich pickings. Keehan’s half on Wednesday night showed a combative midfielder built like a tank and coloured like a tomato but the role he auditions for alongside Lee Bullock is of paramount importance to the Bantams side and one wonders if it could be handed to a rookie.

With financial pressures eased Stuart McCall may look to bring in a name such as Andy Holdsworth to replay and hopefully improve on McLaren last term. Certainly there is no position on the field worthy of more attention.

Nevertheless Alan Mannus has yet to be tested in goal but was worryingly quiet and punchy at Park Avenue.

The defence for Notts County is more or less picked with Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Matthew Clarke who will miss the York game through injury and Luke O’Brien lining up. Likewise Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding will open the season with the likes of Brother Rory, Gareth Evans and Hanson looking to be in the seven subs City will keep on the bench next season.

Joe Colbeck seems pencilled in for that first game but with the player on week to week deals and Oldham reportedly interested one wonders for how long he will be at the club. Replacement Luke Sharry looks more of a central player when replacing Colbeck but shows talent. Leon Osbourn seems to have much work to do before he is able to stand up in League Two but is warmly backed by supporters in a way that Colbeck or Omar Daley could only dream of.

The middle of the midfield is a mix at the moment with many players looking for a place next to Bullock.

McCall must be heartened by the names that have suggested themselves so far in pre-season but as he watches City take in York he will note that the team has requirements for the goalkeeper, the holding midfielder, one if not both wingers, and after plugging holes continue to build for the season ahead.

Trusting the outcome of friendlies is like trusting the weather forecast – but what else do we have to go on?

The forecast for today had been heavy showers and a heavy Bradford City home defeat to Premier League Burnley, but the unexpected bonus of bright sunshine shoving through the grey clouds and City coming from behind to earn a deserved victory offers a timely reminder against fearing the worst and taking too much notice of what others say.

Expectations for the new season have been dampened by player sales, wage budget slashing and the glass half empty attitude your average City fan seems to typify, so the prospect of a Bantams side peppered with trialists achieving anything better than a respectable defeat seemed remote. Come 5pm the grey clouds had at least been temporarily pushed into the background – both above and inside Valley Parade.

It would be premature to make too much of this result and performance, but it’s certainly a better start than the 3-0 half time scoreline that City began last year’s pre-season with. It should also be noted that one team performed in front a large number of their own fans, undertook a team huddle prior to kick off and reacted with anger and petulance when things began to go against them – and that team opens the new season playing Stoke and Man United.

Not that it had looked that way after an opening 20 minutes which saw Burnley pass the ball around with a nonchalance that reflected their elevated status, posing plenty of questions of a nervous-looking backline which included trialist Steve Williams. The returning Robbie Blake, again curiously booed by some City fans, looked a menace on the flank and, from his burst towards the box, 37-year-old Graham Alexander was able to unleash an unstoppable shot past youth keeper Matt Convey to put the Clarets in front. City looked disjointed, with the central midfield of Lee Bullock and James O’Brien – another trialist – pushed too far back and the Boulding brothers isolated up front.

Yet City were able to turn the tide largely thanks to two widemen who’ve come in for criticism for much of this summer. Chris Brandon is somewhat unfortunate to be bunched into the ‘big four’ group of high-earning underachievers the club has been trying to discard. He missed almost all of the season through injury and his return coincided with the team’s damaging March collapse in form. Having only made four starts, he has barely had a chance to make his mark. On this evidence he can offer much to City in the coming season, if, as appears likelier, he stays. He worked hard to harry for possession and charged forward to good effect, always looking to play an intelligent pass.

Meanwhile Joe Colbeck, who also suffered from injury problems and the expectation of instantly being able to rediscover form, has upset some with his refusal to sign a new contract. Any doubts about his commitment were quickly dispelled with an encouraging display which saw some surging runs down the right and some threatening crosses into the box. Both Brandon and Colbeck’s willingness to track back, win the ball and then keep it helped Bullock and James O’Brien become more influential, thus creating opportunities for the Bouldings.

It was from good hustling on Alexander by younger brother Rory that City were able to equalise. After winning the ball he charged forward and played a perfect pass to sibling Michael in the box, who pulled the ball back for James O’Brien to fire home. With each passing minute in the first half, the young midfielder looked more at home on the Valley Parade pitch.

Shortly afterwards the other O’Brien, Luke, played Michael Boulding through on goal to fire past Brian Jensen for 2-1. Luke is another player who it’s perceived has messed the club about with contract negotiations over the summer and some appear to want him to fail this season. The excellent way he had charged forward and released the ball at the right time was only surprising for how unsurprising it felt. This kid has come a long way from getting skinned alive by Gareth Grant in previous pre-seasons to become the type of forward-minded full back Stuart clearly craves.

Burnley responded to things going against them in the same manner as last year’s pre-season meeting – strong tackles and petulance. Left back Stephen Jordan deserved more retribution than referee Chris Oliver’s disapproving wiggle of the finger after a string of poor challenges. Maybe it’s this type of will-to-win spirit that City should aspire to emulate, though the resultant lapsed focus saw the previously-confident looking visitors become increasingly ordinary. Record signing Steve Fletcher might have equalised following a goalmouth scramble, but managed to blast the ball into an empty Kop from barely two yards out, while Convey made a decent save from a Wade Elliot shot.

City in contrast looked increasingly assured. New signing Jonathan Bateson impressed at right back, Williams and Matt Clarke were solid. The Bouldings were both lively and Michael in particular looked a different player from the one who too often sulked anonymously for long spells during home games last season. A bit more composure in front of goal would have seen a bigger half time score.

But if there was much from the first half to encourage manager Stuart McCall, watching from the press box, it was the second half that provided the strongest evidence yet that it can be third time lucky this season. The entire team was swapped around, with a higher number of youngsters and trialists, but the apparently weaker side continued to take the game to Burnley and knocked the ball around impressively.

The star performers were again on the wing. We’ve seen Luke Sharry impress in pre-season last year, and in an unexpected right wing role he shrugged off a nervy start to make an impact with some dangerous runs and clever use of the ball. Meanwhile Leon Osborne, who has enjoyed more first team football than Luke, was in excellent form down the left. Never shying from possession, he was regularly charging down the byeline and creating chances for front two Gareth Evans – strong and purposeful on his debut – and trialist James Hanson.

Chances were created and wasted, with almost every second half attack seemingly involving either Sharry or Osborne. There are fears the decreased wage budget will mean City have to rely more on their younger players next season, but if the price of tighter purse strings is the positive development of these two promising footballers joint-Chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes would do well to keep the piggy bank hidden. After all, who would have expected Luke O’Brien’s stunning progress this time last year?

Alongside Osborne and Sharry were the much talked about trialists Jordan Hadfield and Grant Smith – most of this talking from them bellyaching about past injustices. They had a chance to show what they can do and both displayed promise in winning tackles and setting up attacks, as well as making some effective forward runs. It will be interesting to see how they both progress through the other friendlies, but the early indications are that both are strong contenders for a contract. Simon Ramsden made his debut as a centre back alongside Zesh Rehman, while Paul Arnison and Louis Horne looked solid at right and left back respectively.

As impressive City were, it must be acknowledged that Burnley’s performance became more and more disjointed to the point that even threatening a late equaliser would have felt an injustice. The only City player who would have trooped off disappointed at the end was second half keeper Alan Mannus, who had nothing to do in his first trial game. The fact so many City players had something to prove – be they on trial or from the youth set up – must also be a factor. Few Burnley players had stronger motivation than building up their fitness in the final stages, a place in the team against Manchester United is not going to be achieved by busting a gut at Valley Parade.

But if it’s too early into pre-season to be excited by how easy City made it look, the positive signs should not be discounted. At the very least, a revised forecast for what City can achieve this season might be in order.

Evolution meets revolution when Burnley arrive at Valley Parade

Before the start of last season when a should have been ten men Burnley squeezed a last minute pre-season win once City has brought the kids on few would have predicted that in twelve months time the length of professional football would separate the clubs.

Nevertheless Burnley took that scrapping spirit, one supposes, into all their games last year and ended up winning the play off final. One would rather they were in the top flight over Reading so more power to their elbow. There Premier League is a maelstrom and change becomes revolution fast. Two years in the top flight changed Bradford City forever and tomorrow marks the end of that old Burnley.

In contrast City rumble onward after last season’s late collapse put pay to all that justified early season promise and arriving into this season are blessed with the stability of not having replaced manager Stuart McCall at the end of last.

McCall has enjoyed the near unheard-of luxury for a City boss of being able to continue crafting his squad as a work in evolution rather than the club throwing all away and starting again and as such will only be in a stronger position this year than last, and than a manager who would have replaced McCall would have been in.

Such is the virtue of stability – not to be confused with indolence – which allows for the exit of Graeme Lee for financial reasons and his replacement by an already bedded in Zesh Rehman. Rehman plays his first game full time for City and his reaction to the element of the Burnley support who shamed their club last year may give an indication for his readiness for the available captain’s arm band.

Lee was joined in exit by Paul McLaren although Michael Boulding talks of reducing his wage to allow him to stay and Chris Brandon, the last of the expensives, is training for his first season proper for the club he supports so should need no encouragement to provide good value, value being the lesson learnt from last season. Value and the need for harmony.

A lack of harmony seems to have cost Paul Arnison his his career at Valley Parade and Simon Ramsden and Jon Bateman both joined the club in the summer and can play right back. Luke O’Brien was the left back slot to himself while Rehman and Mathew Clarke seem to be the choice for the middle two but with only Simon Ainge at senior level as back up another body is needed.

A body is needed beween the posts too. Rhys Evans was moved on quickly at the end of last term and Jon McLaughlan is off saving penalties for Great Britain. It will be interesting to see who pulls on the gloves tomorrow.

Up front Peter Thorne returns but may not play, none of us are getting any younger, however M. Boulding and new boy Gareth Evans along with Rory Boulding will show their faces expect “that lad from the reserves” to play, scuff in a goal and not be shut up about for months.

Last season that oar was Luke Sharry who looked like an able midfielder and is, in my mind at least, worth putting in the squad as back up to Lee Bullock following the fruitless and pointless chase for Nicky Law Jnr.

The chase for Dean Furman was equally fruitless but much more required. Oldham signed him leaving City looking Jordan Hadfield, who looked up for a scrap when he played at Valley Parade, to try fill empty boots. We can but hope. Three of last season’s five central midfielders have gone and with one of them, Brandon, half out the door and needed to replace the still injured Omar Daley on the left it is not hard to see where City need to strengthen.

Joe Colbeck looks for a better season on the right with Daley injured and Steve Jones, last season’s sometimes effective winger back At Burnley after his loan giving him a free run at the side.

Expect that, a few kids, a pile of people you don’t know on trial and a lot of huffing and puffing that tries to extrapolate the most random ninety minutes over the next ten months.

The slow incantations

Sometimes we are all twelve.

We are caught frozen in a moment drawing the names of eleven men over ten minutes when nine o’clock seems too long ago and you pass the time before your eighth trip to the bathroom of the work day trying to work out who will be City’s number seven next season.

something for days in Mr Fraine’s Spanish class and no pursuit for grown men but one that is hard to avoid. Football has long since moved away from being a Winter sport but every other Summer lacks the distraction of a World Cup or European affair leaving those months as official mulling it over time.

We have much to mull. Last season’s collapse for one, what Rochdale think of us for another (No comment).

More so we chomp at the bit putting in names like Ramsden and taking out Lee. Omar Daley, not fit until Christmas, and how to replace him without Joe Colbeck fills my mind.

Moreover is the hope that by keeping Stuart McCall we will see a gradual improvement in the squad. The pleas for McCall to stay were based on the idea that by working with the players a communal improvement will be evidenced but looking at the names scribbled here I worry about Lee Bullock and who will play alongside him. I have a question mark in goal.

Saturday and Burnley – a curious game in last pre-season – give a beginning of the answers to these questions but as football spans twelve months not nine it is spread thinner and revelations of the type that one hopes for when writing incantations of positions on a Summer afternoon come slowly.

Time for pre-season optomism?

There are times during the season where it’s neigh on impossible to get some City fans to say anything positive – but the prevailing mood amongst many so far this summer has been as dark as any last-gasp home defeat.

Some have gone as far as to believe the club faces a grim relegation battle next season, others can’t hide their envy towards clubs we were once able to look down our noses on. Within the last week though, it seems the new season is increasingly something to feel excited about. The fixtures are out, the majority of players we wanted to keep have agreed to stay and Zesh Rehman and Gareth Evans have joined Simon Ramsden and Jonathan Bateson on the ‘Players In’ list. It poses the question, is it time for pre-season optimism?

Those supporters who’ve taken a glass half empty look towards the future can fairly argue they are only following the club’s lead. At the end of last season, a gloomy picture of the playing budget for the next emerged. Manager Stuart McCall has consistently spoken of players needing to take wage cuts and played down the chances of capturing some of his transfer targets. Meanwhile the joint-Chairmen, Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn, have only been noticeable by their silence. No proclamations of targeting back-to-back promotions, no news of novel initiatives such as Lawn’s trip to Mexico last summer.

Undoubtedly, the uninspiring messages have been deliberate. Expectations over the past two seasons – much of which triggered by management and boardroom – have proved too high for the players to cope with. The feeling was that City had to get promoted in each of the last two seasons, but the much lower level of hype this time around may be about reducing the pressures of failure. The ambition is surely the same as the last two seasons, but the confidence in achieving it third time around is guarded against making public declarations.

Meanwhile some other clubs are spending significant money or at least talking about it. Rotherham have seemingly changed overnight from a club who end each season with an asterisk next to its name in the league table, due to points deductions, to big spenders. The seemingly terminally under-performing Notts County are set to acquire Middle East backers who are talking of lifting the club to the Championship within five years. That City and Shrewsbury began last season in similar positions of apparent affluence compared to others but still failed is forgotten by those who believe City can’t compete. But if a smaller budget rules a club out of triumphing over others, how on earth are Exeter City kicking off a League One campaign at Elland Road in a few weeks time?

Much of City’s finances depend on the future of the so-called ‘Big 4’ – Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee, Michael Boulding and Chris Brandon – who arrived last summer to widespread excitement. Their continuing employment is said to have severe repercussions over who else can be brought in alongside them, leaving McLaren, Lee and Boulding encouraged to take up their release clauses and Brandon free to talk to other clubs despite having another year left on his contract. Had any of these players not managed to disappoint last season, it would have been interesting to see how much their high wages really are an issue.

It’s not just getting them to move on that’s caused unrest among fans, but that plans to bring in new faces have apparently had to be delayed until their futures are determined. A couple of weeks ago Nicky Law’s decision to spurn City for Rotherham was seen as the fault of these players, by compromising Stuart’s ability to match the Millers’ offer. The arrival of Gareth Evans, who has turned down other offers, contradicts this and suggests City do still have the resources to compete.

That said it’s far from ideal that Stuart is trying to build his team for next season while not knowing if some of the positions are filled. It’s claimed Lee and McLaren are attracting interest from other clubs but, given the wage budget-cutting measures at City are far from unique in the bottom two tiers of English football, it s improbable all four will receive attractive offers to move onto pastures new. Will they be prepared to take a pay cut and stay? It seems unlikely and, while footballers can largely be tainted with the same brush of money-grabbers, it’s doubtful we supporters would volunteer to take a pay cut in our own employment and these players won’t find it that much easier to pay the bills than most of us do.

Of the four, Boulding and Brandon’s continuing presence in Claret and Amber next season would be the most popular – yet even if they all stayed it might not be the disaster some fear. We’ve seen plenty of players over the years disappoint during their first season but become well-liked players in time – Peter Beagrie and Claus Jorgenson spring to mind – and, given their previous careers, if they were joining us this summer as new signings we’d probably be excited to welcome them.

At least the futures of the rest of the wanted squad members have been largely sorted. For a club which ultimately only narrowly missed out on a play off place and can largely thank a dodgy run of form for undermining a top three challenge, tearing everything up and starting again makes no sense. With Omar Daley not expected back much sooner than Santa, Joe Colbeck’s role will be more significant. Despite suffering a disappointing campaign, only five League Two players set up more goals for their team last season. Lee Bullock and Matt Clarke get more stick than they deserve, and will hope to maintain their best form for longer periods next term. They may be at different ends of their careers, but Luke O’Brien and Peter Thorne were two of City’s best performers next season and can once again play a key role this time.

One player we won’t be welcoming back is the aforementioned Nicky Law who, along with fellow loanee Dean Furman, was one of the bright spots of an ultimately disappointing season. When on form Law looked too good for League Two level and, if not City, his next destination was surely at a higher level. Instead he’ll be plying his trade at Rotherham and, while the son of the former City manager might claim he doesn’t owe the club he was on loan to any loyalty, the fact it wasn’t long ago he was thanking its manager for saving his career leaves a bad taste. Still, his previous relative obscurity should give us confidence in Stuart’s ability to unearth more gems like him.

Whether there are many more like Furman is another matter. Said to have been offered a deal by Stuart, his acceptance or rejection may determine the level of pre-season optimism. If it proves to be the latter decision, it will surely be due to the offer to play at a higher level, which in its own way may make the pain easier to bear compared to Law’s defection. Whatever happens, the success of Law and Furman should give other clubs’ more talented younger players the encouragement to follow in their footsteps if offered the chance to move to BD8 on loan.

Furman signing would leave City’s central midfield looking strong, though there are still other areas of the team for Stuart to build. More faces will arrive, the pre-season friendlies will commence in three weeks time and pretty soon it will be time to head down to Nottingham for the season’s start. Between now and then, the excitement should only grow.

The reality of the last two campaign is we’ve felt better about our team when they’ve not been playing, through the summer, than during the season itself. Pre-season optimism can be dangerous, foolish and, when looking at the mood among other clubs, too wide-ranging to have any meaning; but during these long summer days it’s all we’ve got and it would be preferable to countdown to the start of another 10 months of ups and downs by at least looking forward to it.

In the middle of things

BfB struggles. A server move hit us two weeks ago and nothing has been the same since.

Things that used to work no longer do, comments are broken, Jason could not log on, links that were added vanished, errors littered the front page, the guy in charge of shouting at the people who hosted the server (me, in other words) lost his job and things dragged on without an update for ages.

Things dragged on at Valley Parade too. Simon Ramsden came into the club to play right back and a war of words started between Rochdale FC and City boss Stuart McCall with Keith Hill – manager at the Spotland club – accusing the City gaffer of lying about how much was offered to the right back who joined City and stating that the Bantams were telling the current squad that they could afford to pay x while offering y

If McCall wants to make anything of it then we have dealings with Rochdale’s solicitors. They were very zealous in the past. The date of Tuesday night on 23rd of February 2010 should be interesting.

If McCall has wrongly told some to sign up for less then they have believed him with Matthew Clarke, Lee Bullock and Peter Thorne putting pen to paper. There was much upset about Nicky Law Jnr going to Rotherham United but I would suspect that shouting loud enough to the players leaving Premiership and Championship clubs this summer on frees would find far too many players who are in the Law/Kyle Nix attacking midfielder role and what City need is to retain Dean Furman.

Furman seems to be interesting Oldham Athletic. I’m not surprised. Oldham are also said to be trying to get Benito Carbone but face competition from Walsall. The Saddlers are managed by Chris Hutchings – obviously Carbone’s time with the former City boss for four months in 2000 was not wasted.

Some have said that Carbone might come back. The stuff of dreams. Dreaming is good. Carbone seems to be constantly at the end of his career but City are – at the moment – in the middle of a close season of uncertainty. Oldham have sniffed around Graeme Lee but he – as with the other big earners Chris Brandon, Paul McLaren and Michael Boulding – shows no signs of going. One hopes if they do stay this unwillingness or inability is not held against them. As Jim Jefferies’s time following Hutchings at Valley Parade showed the only thing worse than having high earners on the wage bill you can not shift is having high earners on the wage bill you can not shift and you leave in the reserves.

If Lee, Boulding, McLaren, Brandon line up for City next year lets all make sure that we get good value out of the money we have to pay them even if we are in the middle of getting rid of them.

McCall is in the middle of trying to bring in Gareth Evans from Macclesfield Town but worries about the potential cost of the 21 year old striker. One wonders what Keith Hill would say about City’s abilities to afford Evans. How City’s pursuit of the young Evans or the 37 year old Carbone will end is not known but City seem to be in the middle of building another squad which the bookies think will challenge for promotion next season.

The Bantams though are talking down chances. A League Cup first round tie at Nottingham Forest is viewed on as unwinnable and the opening game at Notts County is “tough”. A look at the City squad with the addition of names linked reveals little when viewed through the prism of last season’s “World Beaters” and how the wheels fell off the wagon with weeks left on the season. Put simply any eleven players pulled together for a League Two campaign could be the next Brentford and the fact that the Bantams join Lincoln and Shrewsbury in the fixtures shows that spending money is no guarantee.

So in the middle of the mid-year break it is hard to say which way the Bantams will go next term. Things at BfB still do not work properly but they will be fixed in time. Such is the problem with writing in the middle of things. It is not knowing how things will end it is the shape of them when they do.

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