Transfer / Improvement

If you were to use the words “nothing has happened” in relation to the last two weeks someone might look at you askance.

Prime Minister, Brexit, Iceland, Etc.

If you did said it about Bradford City’s transfer policy you would be able to claim some level of accuracy. The list of transfers in June 2016 grows and the signing club is not Bradford City in any of them.

And that list includes some interesting names too. George Moncur – who joined Championship Barnsley – is the very type of player one might want to see in Stuart McCall’s new Bradford City team. Paul Downing – who joined MK Dons – is reported to have been a target that City missed out on.

No matter. As season ticket sales report to be slower than hoped for there is an idea that were Bradford City to make some impressive signings then bums would go onto seats. This is wishful thinking. While there are players who might sign at League One level who could convert the unconverted they are hard to think of.

If you, dear reader, believe that were we to sign the much lauded Bradley Dack, or Romaine Sawyers of Walsall, or Millwall’s Lee Gregory that the man sitting in his armchair watching Match of the Day will be beating a path to Valley Parade I’d suggest you are engaging in a wilful self-delusion.

There are a number of great targets available for sure but the people who know them are not staying away from Valley Parade for their absence. If you are the sort of person who knows who Mark Beevers is you have probably already got your season ticket sorted out.

If you are waiting for City to sign a big name then I would suggest that there is no name City could sign big enough to stimulate your interest.

So while it is curious that City are a few weeks away from pre-season and have allowed the player pool to be whittled away it is not exactly troubling. New chairman, new owners, new manager, new scouts, new targets. It might be unfortunate than Moncur and Downing have slipped away from City’s grasp but it is hardly surprising.

And it probably beats the alternative which is a scatter signing where you get the best players you can find on paper and nail them into system. If you want to know what scatter signing teams look like you need only cast your mind back to Monday in Nice where a group of very talented players with very expensive price tags were beaten by another group of talented players with much less expensive price tags who had been assembled with a little more care.

Or better still think back to Stuart McCall’s first spell as City manager where players were brought in and shipped out with an indecent frequency causing a team with as brittle a character as one can remember.

Players like Paul McLaren came in and were shipped out and one wonders how much care went into their signings. Three of the best signing in City’s recent: Gary Jones, Rory McArdle, and Stephen Darby; all came with a guarantee of character from assistant boss Steve Parkin.

When signing a player managers want to – need to – know about the character of the individuals they are signing. Skills are obvious – on the whole – but how do you know you are not signing a Jake Speight, or a Leon Osborne?

Take two of McCall’s signings. James Hanson is proved himself as a character and as a player for Bradford City. Steve Williams has proved himself as a barber.

Williams looked like a superbly talented footballer and a classy defender but the two conversation I have had with people who knew Williams said they same thing. He did not have the desire needed to be a footballer. He did not “want it” enough and it showed.

There is a celebrated story of West Yorkshire’s own Frank Worthington – a sublimely talented 1970s footballer – turning up to play for Sir Alf Ramsey’s England wearing leather boots and all over denim.

This was the England team of Bobby Moore and the Shelf Cowboy need not apply. He did not fit in, at all, and which accounted for his few caps in the same way that his move to Liverpool was – according to David Peace’s account and popular folklore – cancelled because his to STDs he picked up in the space of a week.

Shankley, and Ramsey, took one look at Worthington and knew that as good as he was on the field he was not good for the dressing room.

How do you find these things out? How do you get better at recruitment? I’d imagine it has a lot to do with scouting, with knowing the difference between a good footballer and someone who is good at kicking a football, and about having enough contacts to find that information out.

Maybe it can be done ten times in the space of two weeks. Maybe not.

We heard much talk of hoping that Stuart McCall had changed and had learnt as a manager and here it is. It might put a dampener on season ticket sales that City have not brought in ten players in a week (and I would argue that it does not) but it heartens me that no one at Valley Parade is bringing in ten new faces with a week or two preperation.

To me that is the first sign that McCall has changed and, dare one say it, improved.

The Ben Williams season continues with City facing Aldershot Town in the FA Cup

Williams from Williams

The first time Ben Williams became known to Bradford City supporters was during the first round of the FA Cup when – minutes into the game with Halifax Town – he was picking the ball out of the back of his own goal.

An inauspicious start to a campaign that would see Williams keeping goal at Stamford Bridge but his afternoon at The Shay better when Phil Parkinson switched formation and Filipe Morais and Billy Clarke turned the match and the season around.

Jon Stead scored – he always scored in the FA Cup – and Williams’ role was largely forgotten but he did make a very good save from a Williams’ close range header. I’d describe it as memorable but it seems that not a lot of people remember it.

Ben Williams save from Steve Williams. Steve Williams is a former Bantam who exited Valley Parade around the time of the change from Peter Taylor, to Peter Jackson, to Phil Parkinson . In the words for former Chief Scout Archie Christie when asked why the talented Williams had left said that the player “did not want it enough.”

Wanting it enough was big for Christie, and is big for Phil Parkinson.

Wanting it

The last three weeks of Bradford City have been the definition of “wanting it”. A trip to Millwall, a visit from Blackpool, a trip to Aldershot for the 0-0 draw that brings about this reply, and a 2-0 win over Crewe Parkinson’s team had dug in hard to turn a few good wins into an impressive unbeaten run.

Parkinson’s has taken his Bradford City back to the most simple of building blocks creating a team which fetishises not conceding in the same way Barcelona lust for possession. Parkinson’s City will not concede – so the thought goes – and as a result the result will take after itself.

One has to go back to 24th of October when Wigan Athletic took the lead past Ben Williams for City’s last concession. Williams could have done better with that strike, and he got lucky with a shot from Crewe on Saturday that slipped greasy off his body and flew back into play but Williams has earned his luck with his graft.

My issue with Williams’ goalkeeping style – that he allows too much of a gap between the defensive line and himself – is addressed by Parkinson compressing his defensive unit at the expense of his forward line leaving the forward line lacking numbers. It is meat and potatoes and City are criticised for a negative approach to the game.

Criticism is always relative though, and relative to the criticism one gets for losing.

The work

The work which Phil Parkinson’s team have put into the last two months is transformative. Players have developed pairings where previously there was confusion. Stephen Darby has found an unlikely partner in Tony McMahon while James Meredith probably thought reuniting with Kyel Ried was unlikely too.

The central midfield pair are of two of Lee Evans, Gary Liddle and the much improved Billy Knott are a product of days at Apperley Bridge. Knott would be the poster boy for improvement with his push back from the Ghetto of being an “attacking midfielder” into a genuinely useful box to box player.

Would be if it were not for the backline of Rory McArdle, Reece Burke and Williams himself. Calm has replaced barked blasts. Control has replaced scrambles. Stern has replaced soft when running at the heart of the Bantams team.

There is a significant need for a collective improvement. It has happened.

A Ben Williams sort of season

Bradford City’s season has become a Ben Williams sort of season. Capable of slips, and at times doing things wrong, but improved with hard work and no better/no worse as is shown on the field.

I’ve always found this aspect of football as – perhaps – the most understated joy in football.

To support a Liverpool in the 1980s, a Manchester United in the 1990s, a Manchester City now is to experience football top down where expectation is winning and winning is everything. Bristol City supporters last season – with a team outspending its league – expected the same. It is rare to have that in football, I’m sure most at City never will have had it.

For the rest the drama is in watching teams which are – and I struggle to find a better description – only as good as they are on the field. City are in a morass of teams in League One who are in a similar situation. The FA Cup against Aldershot Town offers the kind of assumption which the Bantams seldom get, and can never enjoy.

Aldershot Town are struggling for form in the National League but so were City when City rolled up at Chelsea last year – everything in the FA Cup is set in the Chelsea context for a while at least – and while the Bantams should win they will only do so with the same hard graft that has turned the season around.

Hard work, and hoping the mistakes go unpunished. A year on from his debut and we are all having a Ben Williams sort of season.

Branston loaned out to Rotherham

Guy Branston has been loaned out to Rotherham United for three months.

Branston – who was recruited as City’s skipper in the summer – put in his best performance for the club last week in the 1-0 win over Torquay United and it was thought that he would claim a place in the side with Andrew Davies’ suspension but it seems that the return to fitness of Steve Williams and the signing of Marcel Seip have seen a shuffling of the pecking order.

As Peter Jackson’s headline signing Branston has suffered from the change of manager at Valley Parade more than most although the rise of Luke Oliver was unexpected and has afforded City options at the back.

Phil Parkinson confirmed Branston’s loan move.

The building of our squad is still an ongoing process and I felt that the offer we received from Rotherham was a very good one financially for the football club. This is an opportunity for him to go and get the guarantee of first team football that we can’t offer him at the moment.

Branston is expected to feature in the Miller’s squad for the game with Bristol Rovers tonight while City are expected to give either Williams or Seip a place against Hereford United. Branston will not play in the FA Cup for Rotherham, nor will he play against City which – considering Jamie Devitt’s abilities to turn a man and tempt a foul – might not be a good thing for the Bantams.

On his loan – a return to Rotherham after a five year spell there earlier in his career – Branston could not have been more pleased.

When he told me who the club was I thought it was an opportunity to come and play football which is what I`m all about. I don`t believe in keeping benches warm so I took the opportunity and I`ve got a big grin on my face.

Branston added “I’m a different person. I’m calmer and more relaxed.” The mind boggles as to what he must have been like before.

When you have to change a winning team

There is an adage in football that a manager should not change a winning team and as the Bantams celebrated the uplifting result over Torquay United last weekend one can imagine Phil Parkinson would liked to have kept what the Bantams brought off the pitch on against the South Coast club and put it straight into the game with Hereford United.

However, having passed up the idea of appealing Andrew Davies’ red card Parkinson is in the rare position of being able to change a winning team by adding another player to it.

And that player seems certain to be Guy Branston who came off the bench to great effect against his former club last week and looks set to replace Davies. The next three games offer Branston a gilt edge chance to do all his talking – and he does like to have his voice heard – on the field. If in three games time Branston and City have thoroughly put the habit of conceding one or two soft goals a game behind them then the captain will have convinced all.

However with Steve Williams playing the full game at Gateshead as the reserves won 2-1 the more mobile defender might give the manager a choice to make between Williams and one of Branston and Luke Oliver.

With Phil Parkinson new to the job it is difficult to guess what the manager will favour: two big men, one big and one nimble, and so on, and Saturday will start to tell us how the Gaffer likes his teams to play.

Matt Duke celebrated his first clean sheet of the season in goal and Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall will continue at full backs. Luke O’Brien and Marcel Seip would both like a place on the bench but the new squads of sixteen rule looks like forcing Parkinson into a selection. Parkinson told BfB he is no fan of the drop from seven subs to five and preferred the more full bench. Personally I see no reason why a team should not be able to call on any registered player giving a limitless bench of which three substitutions could be made.

Also lighting up Gateshead on his first appearance and hoping to trouble the bench is Scott Brown although the sixteen year old looks like he may have to wait and watch Richie Jones and Michael Flynn who are growing into a superb partnership. It is hard to know who to praise more. Flynn for his comeback and the way he has worked well with Jones or Jones for his expansive play and work rate. Both are the sort of player you want in the heart of your midfield.

Kyel Reid will carry on on the left hand side. Norman Hunter – when City assistant manager – was once asked who the best player he had seen was and unexpectedly he answered “Leigh Palin.” The lightweight City midfielder – who struggled to nail down a place next to Stuart McCall in the mid-to-late-1980s – came with a caveat though as Hunter continued “for twenty minutes, and then nothing.”

Reid seems to have the same capacity to have a spell in the game where one is convinced that he is hardly worth a pair of boots and then another spell when one joins the flat footed defenders in being mesmerised by his play. If he could turn it on every week one doubts he would be in League Two, but as long has he keeps his defensive duties done then his on/off play does no harm and much good.

Adam Reed – who returned from Sunderland after going back North to get over injury in his first game at Burton – might trouble the right wing although Mark Stewart’s play when dropped back merited a standing ovation last week and could see him keep the spot. Jack Compton started in the position last week and will hope to feature again, Jamie Devitt is hoping to find a place in the side and could also feature.

Whoever does not feature at right wing may get a call alongside Craig Fagan up front. James Hanson may recover from injury and as with the central defensive pairing we will learn much about Parkinson’s approach to attacking options from who he picks. Playing with another big man would suit Hanson’s game and he could do well – as we saw against Barnet – in feeding as well as flicking the ball on. The likes of Devitt, Stewart, Nakhi Wells and Nialle Rodney all chomp at the bit for a place up front.

Which is good. City have a big squad – but a small playing budget, this season’s big squad costs less than Peter Taylor’s small one and one would struggle to say it is worse – and plenty of competition for places which Parkinson is a great advocate of. “It takes care of training” says the City boss.

Hereford United – second bottom of League Two – will be fighting the same fight as City won last week. The season starts to become established and teams do not want to be near the bottom when it starts to be set in cement. Last week’s win from City was great but to meet Phil Parkinson’s plan of being in the top half of the table by Christmas there is a need to pick up points at the least on the road.

The pressure on Parkinson – after last week’s result – will to be return with three and again we will learn something about how he approaches the game in how he sets out to get a win or keeps safe in looking for a draw.

Williams and McLaughlin in the reserves win over Gateshead

Both defender Steve Williams and keeper Jon McLaughlin played in Bradford City reserves’ 2-1 win over Gateshead.

The Heed – who are second the the Conference and hoping for promotion to the League this season – scored though former favourite (of mine) Kyle Nix but the Bantams pair of Naille Rodney and Adam Baker gave City the win.

The Bantams gave a first start to midfielder Scott Brown along with new recruit Marcel Seip who played centre back with Andrew Burns at right back.

The win is City Reserves’ third victory of the season in three games having already gone to Rotherham and hosted Hartlepool coming out on top.

Luke Oliver stands to his full height

It is cliché to say that six foot seven Luke Oliver stands head and shoulders over his team mates but on Saturday as City claimed a hard fought one goal win over Torquay United the defender put in the kind of performance that many of his more celebrated peers who have played the position over the past few season would have called a good afternoon’s work.

Signed by Peter Taylor and often seen (in a negative way) as that manager’s favourite Oliver has hardly spent his time at Valley Parade as the most popular player on the field but his honest work ethic and robust displays seems to have started winning over supporters as well as management. Since his arrival at the club Phil Parkinson has picked Oliver for every match.

Which is a turn around from the first friendly of the season when the rag, tag and bob tail under Peter Jackson were posted to Silsden FC with Oliver, Michael Flynn and Robbie Threlfall seemingly being sent a message to them that their time at the club was coming to an end.

Talk about “writing players off” Oliver – it seemed – was with Flynn and Threlfall part of Jackson’s cull of players. Four months later Oliver, Flynn and Threlfall have all played their way back into the first team but one might argue that of the three Oliver’s turn around is the most remarkable.

Peter Jackson signed and named as captain Guy Branston pairing him with Steve Williams in pre-season and Lee Bullock in the opening match against Aldershot. Draw up a list of players in the manager’s thought and Oliver would have been fourth or fifth. That same list now would have him around the top.

All of which is massive credit to the man who took some fierce criticism when playing up front for Taylor’s side and a good deal when he was back in defence. Such criticism I always found curious and could never agree with. Oliver’s displays were practical if not revelatory and his attitude excellent. A year ago today Oliver was leading the line for City in a 2-0 win over Barnet with little impact but great effort.

I could not say what other publications were saying about the player but looking forward to this season at BfB we talk about a player who had not let anyone down and could do a job when needed.

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.

Which perhaps is the key to Oliver’s revival in fortunes. By offering a calm reliability he has created a platform to move onto a higher level of performance. None of which is to suggest that the player has room for complacency just that he has reason to be proud of his achievement in winning over the new manager.

And winning over fans. Last season one might have found long odds on the Bradford End signing “One Luke Oliver” but so they did on Saturday in appreciation of another clearance.

Watching him commanding at the back against Torquay on Saturday one has to admire Oliver for how he has stepped out of the shadows cast by higher profile players and claimed a first team slot. In doing so he provides a message for all City players who are looking to edge into Phil Parkinson’s side about the application needed to claim, and retain, a place in the starting line-up.

So far Luke Oliver is the success story of the season but – typically – that story has been told in quiet tones. No bluster or bravado just honest, hard working displays which have been noted and rewarded.

City will not be launching an appeal about Andrew Davies’ red card against Torquay and with the loaned suspended the question now is who will be partnered with Luke Oliver, and not if Oliver is going to be called on, and that is a great credit to the player who after a season too big to not be a target has now stood to his full height.

Davies join City on loan

26 year old Stoke City defender Andrew Davies has joined Bradford City on loan for three months as the club look to address the defensive problems which have seen goals shipped.

Davies, one time of Middlesborough and Southampton, is six foot three and has experience at England u21 level. His first team chance have been limited at Stoke but as a senior professional his dropping down some four divisions to join City represents something of a coup for the club.

His arrival is expected to bring about a resuffle in the Bantam’s backline with one of skipper Guy Branston or Luke Oliver stepping down for the AFC Wimbledon game and the other perhaps following when Steve Williams regains match fitness having returned to training yesterday.

Davies is expected to make his debut tomorrow.

Patience is here and there as Bradford City face AFC Wimbledon

When the history of early 21st century football is written, the emergence of clubs with AFC prefixes will surely loom large. Whether they will be portrayed as grassroots revolutions or romantic daydreams only time will tell. At present their impact on the greater game is limited. They are a curiosity more than a threat to the established structure of the game. However, if AFC Wimbledon progress further up the divisions their ethos and ownership structure has the potential to reverberate throughout the professional game. The watershed moment would surely arrive if AFC Wimbledon overhauled the MK Dons.

However, we would do well not to over romanticise AFC Wimbldeon. Multiple promotions, and even a debt controversy, suggest that they are not FC United-esque mid-life crisis, revolutionaries. AFC Wimbledon are a limited company, albeit one dominated by the shareholding of their Supporters’ Trust.

Interestingly they also have an Independent Supporters’ Association, which suggests, in parallel with revolutions everywhere, Lincoln City for example, that factionalism is a fact of football life. So, is Saturday’s match at Valley Parade an encounter between two former Premier League clubs, or a vivid example of how a well organised grassroots football club can rise through the leagues to meet a former Premier League club which has spent a decade fighting crisis after crisis?

All that will fade into insignificance once the whistle is blown at three o’clock. The Dons arrive at Valley Parade off the back of an impressive 4-1 victory over Cheltenham. However, their form, like many in the division, is erratic. It has included a four goal thumping at Macclesfield. Are we in for another high scoring encounter? Few City fans would put money on their defence keeping a clean sheet, so it is probably a question of outscoring the visitors.

City have injury doubts over Kyel Reid, Michael Flynn, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall. Phil Parkinson has shown a reluctance to change the starting eleven during his short stint at the helm. However, perhaps the injuries and the poor second half performance at Crawley will force his hand?

Fortunately, he has options, although it appears that the most popular change among some supporters, Luke O’Brien for Robbie Threlfall, is the most unlikely to happen with the former Liverpool player seemingly the most likely to recover. Undoubtedly the defence requires work. The return of Steve Williams in a couple of weeks appears to be a formality. For Saturday Parkinson’s options are limited. Whilst he has wingers to spare, the back four is highly likely to remain in situ. We can only hope that the defence, and the captain’s Twitter account, have a quiet weekend.

The Dons game is beginning to take on some significance. Despite the team receiving praise for their free flowing football, and pledges that the fans would be content to have attacking football this season, some are beginning to nervously glance at the table. However, a similar glance at the calendar will reveal that it is still September. We have a new manager and a restructured team. Patience is a dirty word at Valley Parade, but show me the options?

The week we lost patience

It was always coming – the loss of patience that has fractured Valley Parade this week – but the surprise was not that it has arrived in such a short space of time but that the harbinger of trouble came from a sight thought consigned to City’s history. Luke Oliver in attack.

Oliver lumbered into the forward line and five days later Peter Jackson – the man who called the job as Bradford City his dream come true – was walking out of the club leaving a stunned playing squad and a lot of questions.

Questions that everyone – including Jackson – will struggle to find answer to. As he woke up this morning the former Huddersfield Town, Lincoln City and Bradford City manager is no longer a football manager. The Bantams pulled Jackson out of retirement – he was literally in a nursing home – and gave him one of 92 jobs in professional football.

And, Jackson said, the job he really wanted over all others. Think about that for a moment. Right up until – as Michael Flynn testified to – Jackson put on his suit and headed to the board meeting at Valley Parade Jackson was a man (according to himself) doing the job he had always wanted. Two hours later he became a former professional football manager now. Before City no one wanted him, and his experience of the last six months will do nothing to add to his employability.

What could have happened in that boardroom which would make a man inflict such a destiny on himself?

Retracing the steps following the defeat to Dagenham and Redbridge on Saturday it is hard to say. During the week Peter Jackson went back on his ideas of building a squada squad we are told has been bolstered by additional funding – after a game which had seen his side booed off.

Jackson talked about how great the supporters had been to him, how they had stuck by the team, and in doing so drew a line between the malcontent and those who did get behind his side. There are people who use Valley Parade as a place to vent their spleens and I have made my thoughts on those people known but there are more people who have turned up to Valley Parade regularly over the past decade through some pretty thin thin. Ten years without much manifest progress.

Those people – who Jackson credited as sticking by his team – are wondering what must have happened in that two hour board meeting that means that Jackson lasts only six months compared to the years they put in.

The Daggers game saw patience levels tested. It was the second home defeat of the season in only two games which levelled the number of home defeats which Stuart McCall’s side suffered in the 2008/2009 season, the point being illustrated not being about managers but rather about promotion prospects. For those who – with levels of optimism unjustified – thought that City were in the title hunt this season that was enough to see them lose patience. Perhaps Jackson – or members of the board – were amongst them.

It is said that in one board meeting former manager McCall threw a DVD of a game at a board member after a badgering session. Perhaps there was nothing for Jackson to throw. McCall carried on that season until he felt that promotion could not be achieved, Jackson had 42 games left but – we are told – believed that the club could do better with someone else at the helm.

For Peter Jackson it seemed that his patience with his four strikers was at an end and he declared that he would be bringing in an experienced striker. Jackson’s decision had some logic to it – a team that is not winning because it is not scoring will do no good to the education of any of the squad – but even were one to accept Jackson’s analysis that the problem City are facing is to do with not having enough smarts in the forward line his solution was by no means foolproof.

Recall – if you will – Peter Taylor’s signing of Jason Price – a player who has since moved on to today’s opposition Barnet – who was very much the type of experienced striker that Jackson talked about bringing in. The thirty year old Price looked good at Valley Parade but his presence did not spark a turn around in Taylor’s side’s fortunes and on his exit we were left with the same squad of players we had before his signing, although their noses had been put slightly more out of joint by having someone brought in over their heads.

If Jackson was under pressure to sign a player and did not want to – and there is no indication that he was not keen on bringing someone in or that he had not attempted to do so – then he certainly toed the party line. If Jackson did try a quarter of the managers in football to try find a new player and drew a blank then the suggestion he resigned on a point of principal of the club recommending via Archie Christie a new forward would paint the City boss in the most churlish light. If you have spent all morning being knocked back for players, why get upset when someone else has helped you out? Upset to the point of leaving your dream job.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

It was a chilling sight when all six foot seven of Luke Oliver lumbered into the attack for the end of the defeat to Dagenham. Not that Oliver cannot be trusted to do whatever job he is given as well as he can but that the situation in which – James Hanson having been removed – there was the requirement for a target man seemed to suggest that having taken off Hanson Jackson had – in effect – changed his mind.

Four games into the league season and it seemed that Peter Jackson was flailing. Pre-season was spent with the players playing a tight passing game which lasted but a half against Aldershot Town. Since then there has been a commitment to putting foot through the ball and trying to win anything from James Hanson’s head. Players like Mark Stewart – signed with one way of playing in mind – are decided to be too lightweight for the hustle of League Two football.

There is an irony in League Two football. The teams in the middle of the division play a big man, hit-and-hope type of game splitting the teams in the league who try to play the game on the ground. Those who play a passing game well are able to beat the lump up merchants and so rise to the top while the bottom of the league is full of teams who get muscled out, fail to press their passing game, and suffer under the strength of players in the division.

The best and the worst teams play football in League Two. Playing a physical, hit-and-hope game practically guarantees a place in the division next season. Get a couple of big lads and ping the ball at them and – like Peter Taylor’s team – you will still be in League Two at the end of the season.

Which sounds a good prospect after four games and one point but – in two years time – when City feel they have developed the development squad to such a degree where a promotion push is needed then a new way of playing the game is needed to get above the morass.

City’s best performance of the season to date – the game with Leeds United – was based around the kind of passing game which Jackson did not deploy against League Two teams for fear that his players will be muscled off the ball.

Looking at City’s four goals in five games this season three of them have come from what could be classed as passing football, the other being a set play flicked on by Luke Oliver at Oxford. Jackson needed to have more faith in the players he had brought to the club – and in his own judgement that he could bring them in and put them into a starting eleven which could work in League Two – and perhaps it was the thought of retrofitting muscle into his side which played on Jackson’s mind during that board meeting.

One wonders what was said and between whom. For sure in the days and weeks to come both the departing manager and the joint-chairman Mark Lawn will speak about their versions of events and probably reality will sit between them.

In the back of a Ford

City face a Barnet side who seemingly had no chance of being in League Two this season. Adrift at the bottom of League Two they looked to be relegated but for a late season push which saw Lincoln City cast out of football once more.

Having had a trip to Burnley in the League Cup in the week Barnet arrive at Valley Parade without a win since the opening day and on the back of two 2-2 draws. They are managed by Lawrie Sanchez who twice wanted the Bradford City job and have the aforementioned Price, Steve Kabba and Izale McLeod as a potent strike force.

With Colin Cooper expected to be put in charge of the team it is hard to say what the side would be. Martin Hansen has returned to Liverpool after a loan spell which – if anything – should teach him of the need to shout more. Jon McLaughlin would hope to return having played in a Reserve game at Rotherham in the week but Jackson did indicate that Oscar Jansson will start and that the club want him to sign for a longer loan deal.

Steve Williams was in line to return to the back four and – on form – Guy Branston would have had to be man to step down for him with Luke Oliver putting in excellent displays however news of Williams’ set back in training questions that. Robbie Threlfall and Liam Moore are expected to continue at full back.

Jack Compton will be wide on the left. Michael Bryan has yet to flatter and at the moment he – like most loan players – stands accused of using up a shirt that one of our squad could have. Not to put too fine a point on it but it is hard to see how picking Dominic Rowe in the three games Bryan has been at the club would have seen things pan out differently and Rowe would have been three games wiser.

None of which is to criticise Bryan just the wisdom of bringing him to the club given the long term aims that Archie Christie’s development project has outlined. Far be it from me to side with Mark Lawn but given a choice between what Christie talks of and the reality of signing more Michael Bryans, Ryan Kendals, or Louis Moults I’d side with the man who said that we should take a longer term view. Chris Mitchell could come in on the right.

Richie Jones and Michael Flynn – when they were not watching the ball sail over their heads – put in a good display against Dagenham and Redbridge. Dagenham, home of Ford, prompts a motor metaphor in most men and in this case it is that the pair represent an engine running away without the driveshafts and gears that connect it to the wheels. With Jackson’s 442 having been so static there was power generated but that goes to waste for the want of connections to the extremities.

Which returns us to the subject of Mark Stewart and how he would provide that connection dropping between the lines and allowing for some interplay between midfield and attack but – in a game of hoof ball – his skills are negated. Ross Hannah probably did enough to secure himself a starting place in the side next to James Hanson in the starting line up although Nialle Rodney might get a chance. All four of the strikers would – in my opinion – do well with good service.

Which is why the sight of a long ball being pumped to Luke Oliver is a good reason to lose one’s patience but probably not the reason that Jackson’s patience for the machinations of working at Valley Parade ran out.

There is a rumour that Peter Jackson wanted to bring in Danny Cadamarteri from Huddersfield for a second spell at City and that Mark Lawn blocked that on the grounds that having seen Cadamarteri he was unimpressed. This lacks the validity of being a good enough reason to quit your dream job, and again what could one say about a manager who thought Cadamarteri was the answer the City’s goalscoring problems?

Perhaps the biggest question of Jackson’s departure is how well he would have done in the fullness of time. He leaves an unimpressive record behind him of four wins, four draws in eighteen. There was a sense though that Jackson was just getting started and that things would improve. Would they have improved on the basis that Danny Cadamarteri was coming in to point us in the right direction? We shall never know.

Mark Lawn is expected to make a statement today about yesterday which was a remarkable day in Bradford City’s history and Peter Jackson is never shy of the media so will be getting his version out. Both will tell a story and it will probably involve an argument which got out of hand and a number of men who would not back down.

Patience, it seems, was in short supply.

Jackson veers between Kamara and Jewell

When the opening weeks of the season were put together by “the fixture computer” – which is to say some ludicrously complex set theory and a few blokes making sure that Hartlepool United get as long a trip away on Boxing day as possible – few people looked at the Bantams’ opening four games with any relish at all.

Aldershot Town looked like they could be tough – they were – and Leeds United away promised little. Following them up with trips on the road to Oxford United and Accrington Stanley and there was a sense that in these opening two weeks it would become apparent if the instant team alchemy which football managers dream of had taken place.

It had not.

Brighton and Hove Albion – now resplendent in a new stadium – and Chesterfield – then resplendent in a new stadium – both seemed to be touched by that alchemy last season with neither favourites for their divisions but both teams clicked quickly and they romped to titles. For everyone else it seemed there was but hard work.

And so there is for Bradford City. As everyone at the club and many in the stands talked about how this season the club would be starting to build long term and to create its own future rather than going all out for promotion. However an unhealthy – but not entirely unforgivable – hope that that future might start with a lightning strike of a team coming together instantly.

The 1-0 reversal at Accrington Stanley confirmed that City have – as was commented within my ear shot on Tuesday night – a long way to go. Having started that “long way” four matches ago that is hardly surprising and is sobering. Those looking at the Stanley team which finished fifth and lost a half dozen players miss the point of what the Bantams – and other clubs – try to build.

A half dozen players leave Stanley but the structures which have had the club progress to the level it enjoys remain, the culture remains, the team spirit remains. In short there is stability which enables Accrington to continue plodding along. This is very much the sort of thing that Bradford City are trying to build.

Bradford City and Archie Christie who arrived at Valley Parade from Dagenham & Redbridge in the Summer as the Bantams interviewed Daggers boss John Still and his backroom team before deciding that Still was the goods in the window and Christie the merchandise out back.

Christie’s plans are the dose of sense which has been missing from Valley Parade for over a decade. The Scot sees City as – perhaps – a better location to repeat what he had done in Dagenham on a bigger scale. The Daggers – fresh from League One – have come far with Still and company at the helm but getting it right at Valley Parade promises more than being a dot on the map of London football.

So Christie builds his development squad with the aim of bringing through three or four players a season who are good enough to press into the City squad. Logic suggests that might have to wait a two or three years to judge such long term plans rather than – as some seem Hell bent on doing – writing them off after that many weeks.

Christie’s work behind the scenes aims to create a stability for City to aid the manager who has struggled in his start to the season. Jackson – the man of Jose Mourinho action at Huddersfield Town – seems a reduced figure in the City dug out at the moment. What – when looking at in the Town dugout – seemed like calculated master strokes (Paul Barnes’ entry in 1998 which turned a 1-0 defeat into a 2-1 jumps to mind) when viewed in the home dug out seem to be random flailings.

Having played a tight passing game in pre-season Jackson’s side too often favour a long punt to James Hanson and while the switches in formation are more noticeable it seems as if Jackson has yet to decide a shape for his midfield.

Consider – if you will – Chris Mitchell who for all the talk of his only being in the team for set plays spend an hour of Tuesday night making sure that when a blue shirt came forward he was standing between ball and goal. He delayed, he stood up, he made sure that Stanley would not get through and all to the tune of people talking about how he should tackle more, even when doing so and failing would have left a bus sized hole in the midfield.

And so it was when Jackson went to a midfield that more evenly distributed the weight between Michael Flynn and Richie Jones rather than had Flynn forward and Mitchell back that Stanley wandered through the middle of the Bantams to get the goal which won the game.

It is hard to find anyone who could say that Mitchell has played well but taking him out of the position he was in brought problems and a pragmatist such as Jewell would see that as justification to have him in the side while the Chris Kamaras – given to flights of fancy – would think that another player who could add more going forward might be trusted to that role on the hope that both could be done. It was such a fancy which Jackson gambled, and lost, on on Tuesday night.

So Jackson flits between: a defensive midfielder behind three more attacking players, a tight three midfield with one winger and the unit of five which worked well at Elland Road; but so far he struggles to maintain a shape in a way which gains the upper hand in games. The first half against Leeds and Jackson had everything going right, when Leeds changed he seemed inactive.

On Tuesday night with scores level Naille Rodney came on for Ross Hannah to play a withdrawn role and the midfield to press on which seemed to leave City with far too many players drifting between the Stanley midfield and defensive lines and no one grabbing the ball. Bit by bit Jackson drifts towards Kamara and his hit and miss deployments of players and tactics and one worries that – like Kamara – it might be possible that Jackson finds the right combination at times and then moves away from it not knowing what is good.

In that one recalls the dogmatic Paul Jewell who stuck with the team he wanted to play after it had returned two points from twenty one in 1998. Jewell had an idea of how he wanted his team to play, and who he wanted in that team, and the same at the moment (and at the time) can not be said about Jackson.

So the City manager goes into the game with injuries ruling out David Syers, Lee Bullock and Simon Ramsden but with pressure to make changes to a team which has but one of the five points Jackson might have targeted.

Jackson is under pressure to drop James Hanson for reasons much discussed but doing so would strike one as popularist rather than practical – especially considering the team’s tendency to hit the ball long. Mark Stewart played no part against Accrington a week after looking superb against Leeds United but Naille Rodney – willing worker – has staked a claim and may get the chance. Ross Hannah was praised for his rewardless efforts on Tuesday but one doubts that he will be selected against Dagenham. Perhaps Jackson will use a 433 having tried it against Carlisle United in pre-season.

The midfield could see Jack Compton on the left and Michael Bryan on the right with Michael Flynn and Chris Mitchell in the middle but Richie Jones looks like a capable player waiting to find a role to fill and should Jackson not want a defensive minded midfielder then he may slot in next to Flynn. Bryan started Accrington well but faded.

At the back Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall are making good at full back – Luke O’Brien’s continued absence is the stuff of conjecture but it seems that Threlfall has made good his chance and is playing well which is more than can be said for Guy Branston who has struggled to put in consistent ninety minute performances since arriving. He is partnered by Luke Oliver who played a superb game at Stanley and if Steve Williams does return to fitness then dropping Oliver would be a very tough decision, although one Jackson would make if he had a clear back two in his mind the excluded the former Wycombe man.

Martin Hansen continues in goal. He shouted on Tuesday night, a couple of times, and that is an improvement and something the keeper can work on. A young lad Hansen has years of improvement in front of him and should not chuck his gloves over just because he has let in a few goals.

Nor should the rest of us.

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.

The value of local bragging rights

Consider – if you will – Burnley and Burton Albion. Two clubs which have not much to link them other than the fact that they finished the place below Leeds United and Bradford City in their respective leagues last season. Burnley nudged in behind Leeds in 8th in the Championship while Burton wound up just behind the Bantams in the lower reaches of League Two.

Cast your mind forward five years and can one imagine Burton (or a team in a similar position) playing against Burnley in second tier game? The Championship has the likes of Peterborough United, Hull City and Doncaster Rovers in it showing a kind of movement between the leagues which suggests that the likes of Burton playing Burnley has a likelihood to it. Teams like Swansea City and Blackpool have battled – and won – for the play off places which Burnley aim for. Burton are not the close to Burnley, but they are in sight of each other albeit from distance.

In five years time could one imagine Burnley battling with Manchester United for the Premier League title and Champions League? Even with unprecedented investment Manchester City have not been capable of doing that (thus far) and more and more the top of European football where Manchester United reside recedes away from the rest of the game where the likes of Burton and Burnley play. In the world of Oil wealth and Oligarchs the chance of Burnley battling with Manchester United is minuscule.

For sure it would only take a promotion for the Clarets to enjoy the odd game against The Red Devils but that is a long way from competing at the same level which – in the case of Manchester United – would include a top for finish to qualify for the Champions League. The idea of a Burnley/Manchester United Champions League match seems far less likely than a Burton Albion/Burnley play-off game.

Which is to say that Burton Albion are closer to Burnley than Burnley are to Manchester United and by extension that when one considers the idea that Leeds United and their supporters are not concerned with the rivalry with Bradford City because they consider Manchester United to be their peers then one must wonder why they are so keen to be in a contest in which they are so massively the junior partner.

No win, no lose

Of course two years ago Leeds United supporters were celebrating beating Manchester United at Old Trafford – a 1-0 victory in the third round of the FA Cup – but there was no shifting of the tides as a result of that. Leeds went on to promotion, Manchester United console themselves with a record number of league titles. Were City to record a similar win at Elland Road then one doubts too that there would be a reform of West Yorkshire football recognised, but it would be fun. Likewise were City to be defeated then having lost to the team that finished 7th in the Championship is merely an “as expected” in what is on paper one of the most mis-matched ties possible. When it came out of the bag this was 27th in the ladder plays 86th.

In fact it is hard to imagine any situation in which this game can go against the Bantams. The money generated from the gate receipts and the SKY TV coverage funded City’s first six figure bid for a player.

A win and everyone in claret and amber is happy for a time but this time last season City beat a team who finished higher in the league than Leeds – Nottingham Forest but in no way was it a springboard to anything bigger or better and it has no impact on the league form at all, nor did it matter after a month of the season when results faultered.

A draw and resulting penalties offers no shame and a defeat is softened by the estimated £200,000 which goes a long way in League Two. Even if the season gutting 4-0 defeat at Huddersfield Town was equalled then it would be set in a different context. The club is following a plan in which talk of promotion is gone and replaced with Archie Christie setting City as a University for 18-21 year olds looking to learn football. Nothing that happens in the first week of that could change that but the money goes a way to funding it.

Why don’t we all just, get along?

And perhaps that is where I divert from much of the build up to this West Yorkshire derby in which there taunting talk is of Cup Finals and opening day defeats because – to be honest – I find much of the local rivalry of football counter-productive. If we generously exclude the horrors of the 1980s on the grounds that we should all condemn the sort of morons who burn chip vans, riot around the South Coast and generally disgrace their club (and my county and country) and focus instead on the football clubs then from West Yorkshire to the West Country all local rivalry in football does is to distract. While Derby and Forest, Bristols City and Rovers, and Leeds and whomever they feel are falling out then the higher echelons of the game carry on trying to kick the ladder away.

Squabble about who is kings of West Yorkshire all you want, it makes little difference should Manchester City’s Executive Garry Cook’s plan for a ten team Premier League with no relegation come about. Rather than the 72 football league clubs standing as one against this sort of perversion of football there is argument, and there is weakness.

Moreover though I personally find the West Yorkshire derby to be a tedious affair. The games are interesting or course but almost everything around it is not. Try strike up a conversation with another supporter and not have it follow a familiar pattern that involves the words “chip van”. Sadly talking about Leeds United is talking about the racism of the 1980s, the violence and death caused by the infamous, disgusting subset of their supporters, about the equally loathsome subset that sing songs about the fire of 1985. Who wants to discuss such things? Who wants to discuss them with someone who would not condemn them outright?

The end of the season

It look ninety minutes of Saturday’s football for some supporters of both these clubs to declare the season over. The first half display which allowed Aldershot Town to best City and with ten minutes left on the clock and three goals conceded at Southampton you could find a good few Leeds fans on social networks saying that relegation was probably unless Ken Bates left and took his Yes Man (former Bantam and current Leeds manager Simon Grayson) with him. Bates apparently needs to spend some money or get out of Elland Road. Of course Bates has just bought Leeds having taken control of the club from someone who we shall call Ben Kates, who is almost definately absolutely not Ken Bates.

It might be interesting to see how the Leeds supporters – watching a team robbed of Max Gradel to a call up for Côte d’Ivoire and featuring the unimpressive (although I thought he had his charms) former City man Billy Paynter in the forward line – would react to choppy seas in the game but the same is true of City fans with talk of scrapping in the main stand within thirty minutes in an argument about manager Peter Jackson.

Jackson once scored in a thrilling 3-3 draw at Elland Road for City – his best contribution in his second spell at City – and was the subject of a rather amusing rumour that he was in fact a Leeds United supporter. A blood sample would show if his loyalties are East or Pudsey or not.

Jackson’s team is expected to feature a new keeper with Jon McLauglin recovering from illness and Martin Hansen not allowed to play by parent club Liverpool. Spurs man Oscar Jansson has taken up the gloves. The twenty year old Swede arrives at the club on loan from Spursbut coming into the West Yorkshire derby as a late replacement keeper does not bode well. Neville Southall and all.

At right back Liam Moore – another loanee – may also sit the game out giving Jackson the chance to move Chris Mitchell back to right back the position he seemed to end up trying to play on Saturday. Mitchell’s delivery is impressive to say the least and one can expect a place to be found for him in the side. At left back Robbie Threlfall is expected to continue but with Luke O’Brien reported move to Preston North End for £50,000 being but a rumour there is a question as to how the former Liverpool man went from nowhere to the first team so quickly.

Steve Williams will hope to be fit to play alongside Guy Branston but Lee Bullock will stand by to replace him once again.

Jackson is expected to keep faith with the shape his midfield which improved towards the end of the game with Aldershot with Michael Flynn in the middle although if Mitchell moved back then Richie Jones – fitness willing – may look to come into the middle moving David Syers out to the right. Failing that Dominic Rowe may make his first start of the season on the right. Jack Compton is expected to feature on the left supporting Mark Stewart and James Hanson who will test themselves against the fine man marking of former Bantam Andrew O’Brien and the, ahem, robust Patrick Kisnorbo. Stewart was unhappy with his first display for City on Saturday and has a tough night against O’Brien, Hanson deserved to be pleased with his goal scoring opening day and Kisnorbo represents a similar tough test to the six strong men of Aldershot faced on Saturday.

The game is the first of three away trips the Bantams have before returning to Valley Parade on the 20th to face Dagenham & Redbridge while anything that Leeds could gain with a result on this night would be lost should a defeat follow in the league to Middlesbrough on Saturday. A place in the second round of the league cup has some value, and so do local bragging rights, although it is not clear what those values are.

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.

The pieces come together as this time City’s squad will play at Hull

Rarely do pre-season matches live long in the memory; but as Bradford City travel East across the M62 to play Championship club Hull City on Wednesday evening, thoughts of the last such friendly occasion between the two clubs linger in the mind.

It was almost nine years to the day that a bunch of players representing the Bantams trooped out at Hull, but the youthful line up was not a decision manager Nicky Law had been able to make – it was forced upon him.  City were deep in the throes of administration, and it was strongly expected that a Creditors Voluntary Agreement meeting later that week would go so badly that the club’s existence would be ended.

Fearing the risk of injury at a time when they’d suddenly be scrambling for employment, the players – led by David Wetherall – refused to take part at Hull. Tigers’ Chairman Adam Pearson was fuming at the withdrawal of City’s star names, and a bunch of youngsters that included Mark Bower, Lewis Emmanuel, Danny Forrest and Tom Penford went down to a 3-0 defeat. It looked set to be the final game in our history.

Fortunately a CVA agreement was worked out, and Bradford City has trundled on ever since – achieving little but ongoing survival as a club. For Hull, stuck in the bottom division at the time of the friendly and still playing at Boothferry Park, the subsequent rise has largely being meteoric. Perhaps they could have fallen the way of the Bantams too after their two-year stay in the Premier League ended with colossal debts, but with Pearson back at the club to tackle a sizeable mess, Hull have so far had a relatively soft landing from their fall from the elite. They even had a reasonable shot at the play offs last season.

So roles not quite reversed tomorrow evening, and for Bradford City it will be an intriguing work out just under two weeks away from travelling to Championship Leeds in the Carling Cup. The West Yorkshire derby might have being at the back of Peter Jackson’s mind when accepting this friendly invitation – City stepping in at the last minute after Hull’s scheduled home friendly with Feyenoord was called off on police instructions – and the manager takes his squad to Humberside with the majority of its places pencilled in.

Up front Jackson has four strikers with limited experience and he has talked about bringing in a more street wise option. James Hanson was outstanding against Bolton’s David Wheater on Sunday, and will be heavily relied upon as the senior forward rather than considered the raw rookie of two years ago. Mark Stewart impressed greatly against Guiesley and did reasonably well against Bolton, while Nialle Rodney’s strong pre-season has probably seen him overtake Ross Hannah in the pecking order. Pre-season has been slow for the former Matlock striker, though he may be given a longer run out tomorrow.

Midfield remains a concern, but in the centre there is no shortage of options. Michael Flynn’s performances have been hugely commendable and – given how poorly the Welshman played when Jackson was Interim manager, as he struggled to return from injury – it was perhaps understandable that he was seemingly being pushed out the club. Flynn will surely begin the season in the team alongside either Ritchie Jones, David Syers or Chris Mitchell, though whether the alleged six-figure bid for Romain Vincelot which failed is followed up by other attempts to bring in a midfielder are unclear.

Jackson’s revelation that Robbie Threlfall can leave would seem to pave the way for left winger/left back Jamie Green earning a contract, especially as Jack Crompton’s decent performance against Bolton was not enough for the trialist to earn a contract to be City’s left winger. I prefer Green anyway, with his greater defensive focus. With each game that Dominic Rowe starts in pre-season, the question of how big a part of Jackson’s immediate plans he will be appears to be more positive for the 18-year-old. Rowe excites me and others, but we must keep a lid on expectations.

In defence Steve Williams was in brilliant form on Sunday and will hopefully be boosted by the confidence it must have offered. Personally I’m still a little unsure of Guy Branston – he seems similar in style to Luke Oliver which doesn’t always look as pretty as it could. Luke O’Brien has won the left back fight and on the opposite side will probably be Simon Ramsden but may be Mitchell.

Sitting near the dugout for the Bolton game, it was noticeable how Jackson and assistant Colin Cooper spent much of the time shouting at and criticising Ramsden. The injury-plagued defender did look a little rusty, but was constantly picked out negatively for his positioning and distribution before he was eventually subbed, looking somewhat downbeat. It seems the management team are looking for more from Ramsden and, if he can finally stay fit, they will probably get it.

Which leaves the keeper situation. Jon McLaughlin should play his first pre-season game on Wednesday, but the choice of back up to him is unclear. Trialist Mark Howard played the last three friendlies and conceded nine goals – he’s now departed. Rhys Evans and Jon Brain may get the call after their trial spells ended with the door still open. However it appears Jackson is about to announce the loan signing of Liverpool’s Danish keeper Martin Hansen before this friendly takes place.

With just two games to go before it really matters, this game is a chance for those who have impressed so far to further cement their names for the opener’s starting eleven; while for others on the fringes it will be a chance to do some catching up.

Whoever is selected, no one will refuse to play – and this friendly will thankfully be quickly forgotten because of it.

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.

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.

Here comes everybody

Benito Carbone made his Bradford City debut against Fiorentina playing 41 minutes of adored football in front of a Bantams crowd which loved him at first sight. The Italian against the Italians, it seemed to work at the time.

Another Bradford City number ten makes his debut for the club. Signed from Matlock Town, and against Matlock Town, the excitement around Ross Hannah has at time rivalled that of the little Italian.

Not in any national way of course – the transfer has but the odd mention outside of West Yorkshire – and not really in the local media either who have sensibly avoided talking up the 52 goal former non-league striker but nevertheless supporters are excited in a way seldom observed amongst the reserved of the Valley Parade terraces.

Hannah’s own infectious enthusiasm helps as does the fact that during the Summer the player – who hung up gardening shears – followed in the path of Shearer and picked up a golden boot type of award for scoring a hat or two full of goals last season.

The excitement of Hannah is measure in the back page of school books and on ripped up fag packets. It is in poorly formatted 442 formations on Internet message boards. No one elects not to put RH up front – like BC before him – because the assumption is that RH will do the business.

So Ross Hannah faces the club at which he turned his career around in his first game for the Bantams and is part of a stronger, older City team than the one which beat Silsden 7-1 but one which is still younger than most recent Bantams sides.

Hannah is expected to start the game with James Hanson and Mark Stewart also getting a run out up front and perhaps some of the players who helped bag seven at Silsden will feature. The midfield has many options although Richie Jones is not one of them – he is excluded not being up to fitness as yet – but expect Alex Flett, Lee Bullock, Dave Syers and Chris Mitchell to feature.

Goalkeepers Rhys Evans – back again – and Iain Turner try out for the number one jersey while Luke O’Brien seems to be set for left back over Robbie Threlfall. Guy Branston and Steve Williams will start what Peter Jackson hopes will be a partnership and Simon Ramsden is expected to make his long awaited come back.

Shove in Lewis Hunt, a few trailists, the odd other player from the Silsden game and you have a mixture of initials to be scribbled on bits of paper.

Pretty much all of them have RH in them though.

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.

Who’s better

I want Bradford City to be better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

The Damned Utd, David Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too many chiefs. Not nearly enough leaders.

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

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

Hate the team, I mean really hate the team

“Love the club, hate the team” or so went the special demotivational chant as City played Southend United on Friday night and its is almost impossible not to suggest that both players and supporters put in the level of effort that befit the result.

Which is not to criticise anyone who went down to Southend United for Bradford City – both players and fans were on the road for twelve hours that day – but that while some things in life are about the journey others are about what you do when you reach the destination and in terms of achieving a result it could hardly be said that either excelled.

It is said that one of the City players at the end of the game as he was “in debate” with a supporter colourfully told him – as a retort to something equally colourful – that he cared not about the abuse because he would not be at the club next season.

No more dog poo training pitch, no more hostile crowds, no more ludicrous level of expectation, no more revolving door on the manager’s office, no more seeing good players dropped for loanees, no more having the chairman tell people that you have under performed despite all the things listed. One can imagine that if you really hated the team the best punishment might be to trigger one of those contract extensions.

Which is only half in jest. While being a professional football is – no doubt – a superb job most of the time but like any job the minutia of it grinds and that grind must be apparent when after being dragged to and from Southend in a day the only thing to look forward to is more of the same. Certainly looking at Bradford City and they way that the club chooses to direct its resources would hardly fill you with anticipation that next season would be any better.

The club’s public position is that it has no money so there are no improvements in the offing and there is a tendency for the promises made one minute to be broken the next. Lewis Hunt is not involved at the moment, and as a player you will have your own views on that. You might also recall signing for a club which talked about having overnight stays which – seemingly – were not needed for Southend despite one assumes being budgeted for at the start of the season.

Against this backdrop the only real prospect of improvement is not from the club but from the players working together and summoning the individual character to improve and – in short – there is very little reason for them to do that. With many five game away from being out of work the motivation to put a foot in where it hurts (and by hurts one could say “leaves injured to make a trail for someone else in the summer impossible”) must be very low.

Such is the situation the players – and by extension the club – finds itself in. Fighting for Fourth Division survival with an army of near de-mob mercenaries. If we do have a club next season I do hope we stop this obsession football has with the season long contract and start giving players good, long, proper deals. To get loyalty, you have to give loyalty.

One wonders what loyalty Omar Daley will have left. Daley is out of contract at the end of the season and needs to impress with Rotherham United seemingly changed direction from the management which signed him two months ago and City being without a manager who can be sure of being in the big chair next season. The idea that he might be going to one of the Scottish Cup finalists lingers.

Daley will return to the City team on the left wing as Peter Jackson looks to recall the walking wounded for the game against Burton Albion which is being billed – somewhat curiously – as giving the winner a safe place in League Two next season.

The game is part of a good season for Burton which was ruined by games called off and the team has struggled with the arduous games in hand catch up of which this is the final one. The games in hand which people thought would propel them up the league have not and they hover nervously above the drop.

City hover above them, but are still nervous.

Jackson – who seems to see his hopes of being City’s full time manager evaporate in front of him – is tasked with getting the performance that has been lacking from his previous two matches and will try get the spark from Daley which has been lacking. Daley is expected to be on the left wing opposite Gareth Evans on the right but he could be deployed on the other flank, or up front.

However the Daley and Evans with Jon Worthington and David Syers in the middle seems to best suit Jackson’s style of play with Michael Flynn up front alongside the also returning James Hanson. Jackson’s dropping of A in a quest for more goals seems to have failed drastically. The replacements have looked no more likely to score than the maligned forward but the ball has spent less time in the final third.

Likewise the decision to drop Lewis Hunt is probably not the only factor in the seven concessions in two games but the disturbance to what was a decent defensive unit has helped not one jot. Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien have suffered at right back and Jackson is left looking at youngster Adam Robinson making his debut or someone else filling in. Steve Williams is back to partner Luke Oliver and O’Brien is expected back at left back.

Jon McLaughlin keeps goal.

A win will move City to fifty points – since two teams started to be relegated from League Two no club has gone down with that many – but only twice have teams with 47 points been relegated in those eight years which is motivation for Burton who would reach that total.

One wonders how Burton’s fans think of their club, and if they hate their players.

Note No comments on this. We have no time to moderate them during the day and after the game comments are best directed at the report.

The vote of some confidence

If Bradford City are confident going into the Friday night game with Southend United then one might wonder why David Baldwin – when talking about the £1 entry into Tuesday night’s game with Burton Albion – described the match as a “six pointer”.

City need a win between now and the end of the season to ensure League Two safety – although even without that win the teams below would have to outperform many a previous year – but it seems that that win will be the six pointer of Burton and not the evening in Essex.

Nevertheless the club are sure of a win – seemingly – with Mark Lawn talking about how City cannot afford to keep paying for Valley Parade in League Two when discussing the possibility of leaving the club’s home which is owned (in part) by former chairman Gordon Gibb.

Lawn is seeking negotiations with Gibb and with Development Securities who own the offices in the hope of getting the £700,000 a year rent reduced. How much one might realistically expect to get knocked off that figure is questionable but if one assumed City could get a 10% reduction when in this division the £70,000 seen gets swallowed up by player costs. Is is worth leaving our home over a sum which equals one Tommy Doherty for a season? Certainly Mark Lawn believes so giving City two years at the current status quo.

Nevertheless Lawn seems to be prepared to talk about City being in League Two next season and so – one assumes – he believes that that win will come. Certainly the club is showing enough faith to be able to forgo using recognised right back Lewis Hunt and watching Lee Bullock trying to play the role and giving away a goal last week one might wonder how the club have the hubris to do such a thing.

If the club are worried about relegation – seriously worried – then weakening the side seems massively counter productive leading one to think that while the talk is of six pointers and so on the belief is that next season will be another season of football in the lowest division.

City go to Roots Hall to find a Southend United team expecting the same. The Essex club are staying at this level and wind the season down having not achieved all they would like on their return to the bottom division.

Peter Jackson – who we are told is one of two names in for the job along with Essex rival Dag & Red manager John Still – takes his City team into the game with changes afoot. Jon McLauglin is expected to retain his place in goal but Lee Bullock seems set to make way for 18 year old Adam Robinson to make his debut at right back.

Robinson was promoted from the reserves and has a chance to make a play for Hunt’s position as second strong right back for next season. The rights and wrongs of the Hunt situation aside if financial reasons push City towards being forced to use our young players rather than bringing in players for cover that could be no bad thing.

Luke Oliver and Steve Williams are expected to be the central defensive pairing with Luke O’Brien returning to left back and Robbie Threlfall being dropped.

The midfield is without Michael Flynn – once more in the forward line – so David Syers will get a chance to partner Jon Worthington again and will hope to make a better fist of his performance while Leon Osbourne seems set get the call on the left. The right hand side is more questionable with Gareth Evans choking in his chance to lead the line and seeming set for being out of his ear but for the injury to James Hanson. Evans may feature on the right should he not be used up front.

Without Hanson and Evans Jake Speight is likely to be paired with Michael Flynn.

Going through the motions

Following a credible performance and result against Macclesfield on Tuesday night, that all but guaranteed League football for the Bantams next season, it seems that the players’ minds were already on their summer breaks as City put in a below par shift against the promotion chasing Gulls.

Minus goal scorer James Hanson and defender Lewis Hunt, City lined up with Lee Bullock at right back, Luke O’Brien on the left of midfield and with a front line of Gareth Evans and Michael Flynn. The system smacked of square pegs in round holes and was to prove decisive as the ad-hoc line up were found wanting when it mattered. If the mass exodus of fans after Torquay’s third goal is anything to go by, and with the chairmen looking for a financial boost for next season’s coffers, Peter Jackson’s hopes of turning an interim position into a permanent one, have taken a major blow.

The optimism brought by pre-match sunshine and a pocketed dead cert for the 4.15 at Aintree, simmered away gently in the opening exchanges as both sides began evenly, with neither side really threatening the opposition’s goal. The majority of City’s play involved working the ball aerially to Evans and Flynn, in the hope that the giant Torquay backline would mis-time a routine clearance header; unfortunately for City, they didn’t.

Torquay scored the first of the afternoon following a couple of debatable decisions from referee Mr. Miller. Jon Worthington was adjudged to have taken the man before ball in what looked to be a perfectly decent challenge and from the resulting free kick the Gulls were able to work the ball closer to the Bantam’s penalty area. This lead to Steve Williams conceding a soft free kick on the edge of the box and presented Kevin Nicholson with the chance to drill the ball into John McLaughlin’s bottom corner.

Torquay grew in confidence and started to knock the ball around with considerable ease, Gavin Tomlin and Shrewsbury loanee Jake Robinson providing the main threat for the visitors.

The second half saw City replace the ineffective Evans with Jake Speight, a change that was almost immediately rewarded with Speight just unable to stretch far enough to convert a Tom Adeyemi cross. This was to prove a costly miss, as moments later Lee Bullock, when looking in control, was out muscled on the touchline, allowing Chris Zebroski to power his way to the by-line and pull the ball back for Tomlin to accept the simplest of tap ins.

Just as the dead cert was pulling up at Beecher’s Brook, the game was put beyond doubt, as more amateur defending allowed Nicholson to play an accurate cross-field ball to the un-marked Eunan O’Kane, for him to square the ball to substitute Billy Kee, who finished from 4 yards out. Some home supporters chose to applaud a good piece of play, most decided that the exit door was more preferable; a sight that won’t fill our joint-chairmen with too much optimism when it comes to rolling out season tickets for next season.

In a late attempt to get something from the game Peter Jackson switched to 4-3-3 and introduced Scott Dobie which proved to only increase the space at the back for Torquay to counter in. A poor, lethargic performance was epitomised by Steve Williams late shot from 30 yards, City’s second best effort of the afternoon!

The contrast in ambition between the sides could be comfortably measured in light years; one side taking a good run of form towards the automatic promotion places; the other in managerial limbo, lacking direction and desire and with one eye on a beach and the big blue. All of which will alarm the powers that be and do no favours for the interim-manager; Jackson looked agitated for most of the afternoon, gesticulating and remonstrating in his usual touchline manner, towards players who seemed content to take the safer instead of the incisive option.

The club are reaching the point where their future intentions need to be communicated, with the manager, ground, players’ contracts and season tickets all high on the agenda. Until that point is reached it looks like we will have to be content with simply going through the motions.

Does a football club need a manager?

“Jockey.”

I’ve never understood the word when used in a football context. A player can “jockey” another player, I know that much, but to what effect I could not say. I know a man who does though:

The Manager.

Chief amongst the manager’s roles is deploying words like “Jockey” and – according to Fabio Capello – 99 words which communicate with footballers.

Nevertheless, jockey aside, a full knowledge of this subset lexicon would not seem to be hard to grasp. Most of the manager’s role seems to follow from that, or so it seems, with a four four two here and a craft transfer swoop there the manager’s job seems a bit, well, simple.

We have a man called Major Buckley to thank for phrases like transfer swoop by the way. A ex army man he brought the language of the tactical battlefield to football. He also used to year plus fours -the brassneck of the man – as he managed Blackpool, Wolves and Leeds United

The managers job can be boiled down to such simple elements that it is a wonder that anyone bothers with them at all and – in Bradford City – there seems to be a club which has decided to do away with the idea of a manager altogether.

At least a manager as Major Buckley would understand the term. Nominally City have Peter Jackson now and had Peter Taylor before but they would fulfil the role of trainer more than manager. Buckley’s Trainer got the players ready for the next game – essentially Jackson’s remit – while the Major got on with, well, managing.

Which is to say planning. Planning how to be better – including a flank sweep for a new inside right but for the first time as a manager not exclusively in player captures – and working towards those aims. Planning a new tactic, planning a ground move, planning the name of the local underground station in Herbert Chapman’s case. Back then the manager, with so much to discover, went and discovered it.

Which perhaps explains why most clubs seem to have the same tendency as City to reduce the manager’s job. With football clubs having got to a level of maturity where most would agree on the best way to do things many of the roles of the manager of old are done, and maintaining them is taken inside the boardroom now. One of the problems that the modern manager faces is that most of the things that managers of tore used to do to gain a competitive advantage have been done. From giving a ball each to the players to signing The Three Amigos it is hard to find anything new to do.

So – in the absence of innovation – the manager explains to his players the word “Jockey” and trusts to them that his one hundred words will bring significant improvements. Perhaps club’s will do away with the manager altogether. Indeed there was an attempt in the mid to late nineties for clubs to dub the man in the big chair as Head Coach or something similar.

City are in the process of recruiting someone to sit in that big chair although the role and remit of the successful applicant will likely not be that broad. For now Peter Jackson takes the team to Stevenage for his sixth game.

Looking to turn around a home draw and defeat in two away matches Jackson’s claim for the City job was strengthened with the news that Alan Knill had become Scunthorpe United boss this week and it seems the more Jackson does the job, the more it seems to rest with him.

A first trip to Stevenage for league football presents Jackson with a chance to do a double – City were booed for beating Boro earlier in the season – and to continue his itching towards the entirely modest reward of building City away from relegation.

The call on goalkeepers which has seen Jackson favour Jon McLauglin over Lenny Pidgeley is bound to give a steer on new contracts for next year and, it seems, that call is being made by Jackson.

A word on McLauglin who had a game of highs and lows last week but retains a level of popularity with Bantam fans that seems to go back to the idea that he should gave been given a chance rather than Huddersfield Town loanee Simon Eastwood.

It seems a long time ago now that anything that arrived at Bradford City with a Huddersfield Town connection should be automatically rejected by some fans. How times change.

Midfield pair Jon Worthington – back from suspension – and Michael Flynn are reunited with Gareth Evans on the right hand side. Jackson struggles to find a wide man in the set up he inherited with Kevin Ellison injured and Omar Daley out on loan but Leon Osbourne’s performance in the reserves suggests his name.

Certainly Jackson needs to find someone more effective than Scott Dobie on the left flank. The club are interested in Christian Nanetti who rocked up from QPR via Jamie Lawrence’s football academy and Ashford Town as they look to return to playing wide men.

Planning, Major Buckley would say, is for the war and not just the battle. Alas most decisions on and for managers seem to be made on a battle by battle basis. One has to wonder – in that context – if a manager is needed at all. If his role is reduced to one of trainer while the boardroom retain responsibility for the strategy and planning of the club – and putting that plan into action – then is a manager really needed?

Managers arrives talking about transfer budgets and wage budgets and one gets the feeling that Major Buckley and his ilk would have been certain that they would decide how much of the club’s resources should be employed in different areas and gone about deploying it.

Jackson seems likely to favour the back four of David Syers, Steve Williams, Lewis Hunt and Luke O’Brien although would no doubt been keen to point out that injury has forced his hand in selection in the games where the Bantams have been beaten. Luke Oliver has a chance of being fit.

Up front Jackson has seen his team struggle to score although it would not be true to suggest that City had struggled to create chances. Chib Chilaka showed his abilities with a good haul of five in his last two games and Darren Stephenson showed a willingness last week but Jake Speight was missed when he left the game last weekend and is likely to be partnering James Hanson.

Hanson dominates defenders. He does that because he already knows how to “Jockey”. One wonders who taught him to do that, and if the manager who did had anything much to do after.

Give the man what he wants

At the start of the second half watching Bradford City’s 1-1 draw with Northampton Town it became apparent that discussion of new managers in Peter Jackson and Gary Johnson or players like Jake Speight and Guillem Bauza who made his debut for the Cobblers that the only man who was going to be the subject of discussion was Referee Rob Lewis.

So lets give the man who wants to be the centre of attention what he wants. His own match report.

The game started quietly and Lewis got to make his first impact on eight minutes when a cross came into the Northampton boss from one of the Bradford City players and was handled by Northampton man Seth Nana Ofori-Twumasi.

Ofori-Twumasi’s arm was out and some might have said that there was no deliberate movement of hand to ball but the fact that the arm was away from the body probably justified the award of a penalty. Four minutes later when the trailing team attacked a strong tackle from Jon Worthington – the Bradford City midfielder – took ball before man but knocked the man over. It was a strong tackle but not an aggressive one so Lewis’ decision to give a yellow card seemed a mistake.

If Lewis were to have seen the tackle as not having made contact with the ball before the man then then the card would have been justified but if he did he would be mistaken.

Some of the tedious football stuff took up much of the rest of the half before Lewis could reassert his authority awarding a free kick against a Bradford City defender who headed the ball away while coming into contact with a Northampton striker.

Lewis’ decision was a curious one. Both players have to be allowed to contest the ball and neither went in with a disregard for the other. One has to arrive first and the other second but both have to be allowed to contest it. If Lewis is t give a free kick against either then one can only assume it is because he feels one has used his head illegally – ie head butted – so he should have sent off the offender.

The offender – it turned out – was to be booked a minute later for a badly timed tackle on a defender as he tried to clear the ball. It was a mistimed tackle and one which injured the the booked Luke Oliver but the yellow card was fair under the laws of the game. I’m never comfortable with the idea of booking mistimed tackles that lack recklessness but the laws suggest it.

Next in the book was Bradford City player Michael Flynn who was guilty of taking possession of the ball after a free kick which was attempted to be taken out of position. Flynn took the ball to a position on the field, Northampton tried to take the free kick from a different place, Lewis told them to take it from the position Flynn had suggested.

There is a technical argument that sees Flynn booked but moreover this seemed like Lewis being a petty man, booking Flynn for not doing as he was told, when he was told. The problem with booking players for technical offences like the “kicking the ball away” or “delaying the restart” is that if it is done once is has to be done every time – otherwise the referee is operating a system of favouritism.

So after Northampton scored later in the game Rob Lewis saw nine of the players leave the field without permission – a technical offence which requires a yellow card as a punishment – but opted to ignore that. Most referees would but few choose to ignore a goal scorer who celebrates by leaving the field of play. Lewis decided he would ignore that.

So giving the centre of attention can have the attention he craves one has to wonder why Rob Lewis watches one technical offence and decides not to book it and sees another and decides to? Either the laws of the game are to be applied in all situations or they are not and a defence of “common sense” is not relevant here. Technical offences are mentioned in the laws exactly because they are not the subject of judgement calls.

The second half and Guillem Bauza of Northampton put in a late tackle. The ball had gone when he contacted with the Bradford City and so the booking was deserved in the context of the decision to book Worthington earlier although that was Worthington for his first offence and Bauza had been given a verbal dressing down in the first half and seemed to give Lewis some attitude back.

Contrast that with Northampton’s Byron Webster who seemed to spend most of the second half avoiding Lewis’ attentions having at one point pushed a Bradford City player with two hands in the chest – an action which would seem to suggest discipline – and kicking the ball forty yards away from the corner flag after a corner. Lewis saw both these offences and decided not to book them. One is – once again – a mandated booking.

A penalty was awarded when a Northampton striker and a Bradford City defender came together in the box. It seemed that the Northampton Town striker jumped at he Bradford City defender who was the last defender and as such one might have expected a sending off but Lewis lacked the courage of his conviction to do that and perhaps the referee – should he not feel that a Bradford City defender had fouled a Northampton Town striker in a way that denied a goal scoring opportunity – might have felt that there was no foul and should have considered awarding an indirect free kick for obstruction.

Many, many yellow cards followed and the game was ruined as football match with free kicks given for very little and Lewis’ inability to maintain a discipline – having spend his credibility cheaply – failing to keep a flowing game. Having flashed yellow cards for little – or ignored them on an ad hoc basis – he decided that a knee high tackle by Jamie Reckord on a Bradford City player which was reckless and did not get the ball should only be a (another) yellow card rather than the red which the laws state.

The football match ruined the game petered out so the only thing on show was Lewis and his ego. He booked Jake Speight for reasons utterly unclear and let us make no mistake about this when the Referee is booking a player and no one has any idea what it is for then the Referee is in error pretty much all the time. Perhaps it was “decent” and considering with the resultant free kick being taken from where a Bradford City player had won the ball rather than where Speight was one would guess it is.

Lewis watches players commit the technical offences that the laws of the game he is empowered to enforce are broken and chooses to ignore them but he will not ignore someone talking out of turn to him. The schoolmasterly ego of the football Referee that can forgive anything but becomes zealous when someone talks out of turn to him never does not turn my stomach.

Bradford City’s Jon Worthington was sent off as he tried to clear the ball and caught a Northampton Town striker – only the second time he has caused the official to blow his whistle – which as a decision smacked against Lewis’ decision to avoid booking Webster. Why Webster (or any player, including some of the Bradford City player) can commit offences that go unpunished and Worthington is booked for the only two offences he is pulled up for shows Lewis being swept up in the emotion.

It is the late in the game, there is a foul and Lewis gets wrapped up in the excitement which is exactly what he is on the field not to do.

In the last minute Kevin Ellison was booked for stamping his foot on the ground perhaps out of frustration felt by the rest of us that he wanted to be involved in a football match but instead had to be a bit part player in the tiresome afternoon exhibition with one man at the centre of it. If only Lewis’ would tell us what exactly it was that Ellison did that he thought was the equal of the knee height tackle, the kicking the ball away, the being cheeky of previous bookings.

Rob Lewis – the man who once did not see Pedro Mendes’ goal at Old Trafford – made the afternoon about Rob Lewis and as a result ruined what could have been a good football match.

One hopes he reads this match report, it is all about him, because he made sure he was the centre of attention.

Just as the man wanted.

The fifth midfield shows as City face Northampton

In a season which promised much and delivered little it has been difficult to bring to mind any reasons to be cheerful as City look to the future but – when those reasons are brought to mind – chief in them is the performance of David Syers.

Signed at the start of the season from Guiseley Syers arrived at Valley Parade looking very much like an unnecessary third wheel in the midfield. With Tom Ademeyi added to an assumed midfield three of Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and Tommy Doherty it seemed that Syers was going to find first team opportunities limited.

His debut goal – the equaliser in a game with Nottingham Forest – did not harm his case but twenty starts later Syers’ honest endeavours have seen him not only elevated from signed up curio to hope for the future but also activate a second year clause in is contract.

Without a manager in place for new season let alone a set of players it is hard to see Bradford City 2011/2012 but were Syers to be within that somewhere and somewhere in the midfield.

The one thing that has united all four seasons of City teams in League Two has been midfield failure with the sum of parts so often being less than it should be. Doherty and co this season should have been a superb set up but not only did they often have the ball over their head under Peter Taylor but when they did get a chance to play they failed to take enough of a grip of matches. Doherty is the poster boy for this season’s midfield failure. A favourite of Taylor, a player of massive ability, but it just did not happen for him.

Nor did it happen for the Michael Flynn midfield under Stuart McCall the previous year. Flynn’s hard work did not cut a swathe through the division although the player himself performed well. In its way that year of midfield was no worse the much lauded previous season with Paul McLaren, Dean Furman and Nicky Law. All talented, none of whom were able to grab games by the scruff of the neck.

Paul McLaren – the senior professional – taken the blame for that but once again is a very talented footballer as was the first League Two midfield boss Paul Evans the fading of whom remains a mystery to me as well as one of the most disappointing player seasons I’ve ever seen.

Four season, four midfields and none of them simply poor at football but all of them coming up short.

Not so – at the moment – Jon Worthington who bestrode the City midfield like no other player at this level since we sank down. Worthington’s first full ninety minutes came last week at Morecambe and has he battled for every ball so did the rest of the team. It was inspiring to watch.

One has to wonder what Worthington – benched under Taylor who signed him – did to not impress the previous gaffer but in his old Huddersfield boss Peter Jackson Worthington has someone who knows the value of a proper holding midfielder.

The Flynn/Worthington midfield is a solid foundation – the Syers/Worthington one could have promise too – and one which has the kind of battering energy which is often seen in the teams which exit this league in the right direction.

Gareth Evans missed a penalty last week after a tireless display of not little ability while Kevin Ellison – who won said spot kick – seems set to take Scott Dobie’s place in on the left wing. Omar Daley has become available to recall from loan by Jackson after his first month at Rotherham and has let it be known to those who know him that he will play for anyone who gives him a contract for next season.

Also letting things be known this week was Jake Speight who tweeted to former City skipper Zesh Rehman spelling out the change in attitude at the club and his support for his new manager saying

speighty28: @Zesh_Rehman yes bro am good thanks! Yeah finally back playing new gaffers class 2 be fair! Its a lot better here now! How is it over there?

Rehman is enjoying Thailand – so he says – and is pleased that Speight is feeling the same as shows in his (that word again) energetic performances of late which hint at – rather than promise – goals. Perhaps the game with Northampton will be the day that Speight gets the goals that his input suggests but football can be unfair. Speight will be up front with James Hanson.

Jon McLaughlin may keep his place at the back after his clean sheet although Lenny Pidgeley hopes to be fit again. The back four of Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien also celebrated a clean sheet and will be retained for the Cobbler’s visit.

Northampton sit below City in League Two – although they too have a new manager in the highly impressive Gary Johnson – and a win for the Bantams would do much to secure Football League status sooner rather than later.

Which would strengthen Peter Jackson’s claim for the Bradford City job long term – and perhaps this time long term could be more than a season – so the likes of David Syers might be able to be considered to be part of the club for more than a season by season basis.

The feel-good factor as Jackson maintains pole position

As the Bradford City players celebrated a second successive victory at the final whistle, the bumper away following began loudly chanting Peter Jackson’s name and encouraging him to come over. The interim manager duly obliged, theatrically punching the air in triumph which prompted an almighty roar of approval. And someone made a joke about how Jacko must have had a blood transplant – because he no longer seems to bleed blue and white.

This has been one of the most remarkable weeks in my time supporting the Bantams. I was too young – not to mention not interested in football until I reached double figures – to have seen Peter Jackson the Bradford City player. Sure, I was aware and appreciative of his past history and emotional connection with the club; but all I’ve ever known is Jackson the panto villain who we booed and sang horrible songs about when he came to Valley Parade as Huddersfield manager.

We used to hate him; but now he is quickly restoring his hero status after one heck of a first fortnight back at the club.

Before his second win from three games, it had been confirmed Jackson will remain in charge until at least the Shrewsbury home game in two weeks. The bad news for the 40+ applicants that City’s managerial vacancy has attracted is it already seems implausible that anyone but Jackson will be taking residence in the Valley Parade dugout anytime soon. As City’s Board prepare to conduct more interviews, Jackson continues to impress and win over the doubters. Mark Lawn has already stated it is his job to lose.

The victory over Morecambe was achieved without the same level of grandeur witnessed on Tuesday night. And just like Rotherham, the Shrimpers have strong cause to feel aggrieved over a big refereeing decision that went against them. With 13 minutes played and the score 0-0, a mistake by Luke Oliver saw Garry Hunter charge into the area from a wide position only to be halted by a clumsy tackle from a desperate Gareth Evans. It looked a stonewall penalty, but referee Nigel Miller – who had a wretched game – waved the protests away.

A home penalty and goal then would have been undeserved after City began brightly with Michael Flynn (twice) and Oliver came close to scoring in the opening ten minutes. With the outfield line up unchanged, City continued where they’d left off on Tuesday in attacking with a persistence and attractiveness rarely seen all season.

To add some perspective – and not including the Stockport win, given it was against nine men – the number of goal attempts achieved during Jackson’s three games in charge is equal to the total shots City produced in Peter Taylor’s final five matches before Stockport (41). An illustration of the Bantams’ more positive-minded approach, which was rewarded on half an hour when James Hanson headed home the game’s only a goal after a Morecambe clearance hit Evans and looped up into the air.

It felt rough on Morecambe going into the interval. The home side had created plenty of opportunities with their own bright attacking play, which could have seen them take the lead after only 20 seconds when Kevan Hurst rounded Jon McLaughlin but shot wide of an open goal. Other chances were spurned, with Danny Carlton often in the thick of it, as the downside of Jackson’s more attacking approach was revealed with City’s back four left too exposed.

Jon Worthington and Flynn were working hard in the centre; but out wide both Evans and especially Scott Dobie were guilty of failing to track back, allowing home wingers to double up on full backs. Lewis Hunt in particular had a tough time and could justifiably have demanded more support from Dobie, who continues to looks short on commitment. Evans at least improved his defensive efforts after the break.

And though Morecambe battled hard in the second half, like their new stadium – somewhat laughably-named the Globe Arena (yes, I know, it’s a sponsor’s name – but still) – they looked increasingly limited and ordinary as the afternoon wore on. Once Kevin Ellison had replaced Dobie the Bantams looked more in control than ever. Only the fact that it was 1-0 did the closing stages provide hope for Morecambe and nervousness for City.

The visitors could have been out of sight well before then: Evans twice had belting efforts blocked by home keeper Joe Anyon, Hanson fired a volley narrowly wide and then a long range effort narrowly over, and Jake Speight had his customary weak effort at goal. Worthington was again outstanding in the middle, though Flynn worryingly had another poor game. Morecambe’s best chance was wasted when Stewart Drummond headed straight at McLaughlin.

Then deep in stoppage time Ellison barged through into the box only to be tripped, and Miller blew for a spot kick. This prompted somewhat worrying scenes of City players fighting over who took it. Ellison grabbed the ball, only for Speight to try to wrestle it from him. Steve Williams got involved with the arguments – probably as peacemaker rather than to put himself forward. Flynn eventually took the captain’s role of assigning responsibility to designated taker Evans, and then Anyon saved his spot kick. Ellison’s rueful smile told its own story.

But it mattered little as the final whistle was instantly blown, enabling the players and Jackson to celebrate with the 1,500 City fans (almost half the attendance) and for City to rocket up to 17th. Still some work to fully confirm their League Two status – but like Jackson’s chances of a more permanent contract, a massive step in the right direction.

The feel-good factor at full time

The feel-good factor at full time

Smiles everywhere as we filed out; in the final 10 minutes, the non-stop chanting that helped the players climb over the finishing line was memorable and as much of a highlight as Hanson’s goal. Suddenly the feel-good factor is back, and the impact Jackson has made on players and supporters in such a short time is truly extraordinary.

Is he the right man for the City job? I still don’t know, and personally I don’t think we should rush in to any decision. But whatever happens over the next few weeks – after such a dispiriting season – I just want to thank Jackson for restoring my enjoyment of football and my pride in supporting Bradford City.

And I never would have thought that he would be the man to do that.

Bradford City are to beat Rotherham United tonight

On attending a game, and when asked the question “Who will win today?” veteran commentator Barry Davies used to retort that if he had known that piece of information he would have no need to be at the match.

Indeed it was a point of some conviction for the Valley voiced microphone man that the joy of football – the thing that made it worth watching – was the competition within a single game. If Davies could have predicted the result of matches with accuracy he would have lost interest and I echo his thoughts.

In May 1981 it will be thirty years since I went to my first Bradford City game – a 1-0 reversal to Hereford United – and in the years between then and now the only thing I’ve been convinced by when it comes to predictions is that they play out over the long term and not that short.

I can predict, dear reader, that over the course of two or three seasons any given team will win over half the home games it plays, and that when that team goes away it will win less often, but these predictions (which, in truth, are more statements of eventualities) are possible because of the length of time of the sample. Given two or three years anomalies are ironed out and the data can be made lore and conclusions drawn.

A glance over the win ratios of the various names suggested as the next Bradford City manager reveal that the difference between the good and the rest is often within a deviation of around 10%. A good win percentage is 45%, a poor one 35% but most managers are in the middle. Roy McFarland – whom wikipedia tells us is the most successful City manager – has too small a sample for this statistic to be meaningful and an indicator of ability as noted by Paul Jewell’s lowly figure as a result of the season in the Premiership which saw view victories but a great result.

The object point being that it is only over time that conclusions based on statistical data – results in other words – can be drawn.

Which brings us to Peter Jackson – one game into what is rumoured to be three in which the former skipper can prove himself the man for the full time manager’s job – and his claim for the role which man press his claim for.

Jackson’s first time out as City manager saw an improvement of sorts. Losing while playing well (or at least excitingly) is better than losing while playing negative football or at least it is said to be although those who took Stuart McCall to task on the idea that emotion (rather than pure results) might be important are no doubt sharpening whatever implements one sharpens when one wants to cut a manager away from a club.

Having had one of his three games Jackson is looking back on Saturday as a good start and something to build on. Certainly he will have learnt much about his charges at Valley Parade from the ninety minutes although if he had said on day one that they team was not winning because a player very like (or very actually) Jon Worthington was not anchoring the midfield then for all the jibes that might of produced he would probably have been right.

Shod of a holding midfielder for most of the season Worthington’s exit to injury on Saturday weakened City’s centre and the Bantams boss will hope that he can call upon the player’s services in Tuesday night’s visit of Rotherham United. Worthington and Flynn – as a midfield – seems to have a good balance and the fact that Jackson picked that on his first day in the job saw me warm to him immeasurably. Indeed it is fair to say that from the days of often odd choices of players under Peter Taylor Peter Jackson’s first team – a 442 with a big man and a crunching midfielder – was very much template I would use.

(I make no apologies, by the way, for waiting for Jackson to do something other than walk through the front door to begin to comment on him in a positive way. At the start of the season The City Gent’s Mike Harrison was hauled down to Valley Parade for daring to suggest that Peter Taylor’s team might finish 8th. Demanding a huge positive reaction to the appointment of a paid caretaker manager sits alongside those early season antics in demanding fealty.)

The template perhaps but just as Taylor had struggled to assemble a squad to play his way so Jackson is left with the team bent out of shape. If when Kevin Ellison was swapped for Omar Daley between these two clubs a few weeks ago it suited Taylor it does not suit Jackson, and rumours have already started that City are looking at ways to undo the deal.

Not that either player will take a part in this match leaving Jackson looking at who he can deploy on the left hand side of midfield. James Hanson will start up front and Jake Speight may get the nod alongside him although Scott Dobie is pressing for a place if only because of Speight’s showing on Saturday. The loser of that could end up on the left wing. Failing that Leon Osborne, Tom Ademyei and David Syers might all want to play on the flank.

Gareth Evans will be on the right – I long to see Evans though the middle once more – with Worthington and Flynn in the middle. The back four of Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien seems to pick itself although O’Brien may be called to go forward. Lenny Pidgeley will – no doubt – remain in goal although Jackson might fancy giving Jon McLaughlin a game.

All of which details a team which will beat Rotherham United, of that there can be little doubt. It may seem a curious and bold claim but were I to engage in the relatively pointless process of prediction it is one I would make but make without confidence. Predicting the outcome of single matches is guess work, predicting the patterns over long periods is more possible.

Understanding that begs the question as to how – for the second time in a year – Bradford City are left looking at such short term indicators as if they dictate a long term significance.

There will be a moment in the game tonight where a bobble of a ball robs a chance which robs a victory, or brings a defeat perhaps, and that will dictate (so rumour has it) if Peter Jackson or John Hughes becomes out manager.

If one can make a long term judgement on the basis of such a twist then – unlike Barry Davies and myself – perhaps one can find out if Bradford City to beat Rotherham United tonight.

The misery, the ecstacy and the unforgettable goodbye

How the hell has it come to this? It is half time at Valley Parade and, with matchday companions visiting the toilet or friends elsewhere in the Midland Road stand, I’m stood alone with my thoughts. And they are becoming ever-darker.

Bradford City are 2-1 down to a Stockport County side that began the day six points below them in the relegation places, and we’re staring directly at the trap-door to non-league. “It’s not good news elsewhere” mutters the always-irritating PA announcer as he reveals League Two’s bottom club, Barnet, are 2-0 ahead in their game. The situation is looking increasingly bad, and City’s recent history of fighting relegation battles offers little comfort towards the likelihood of getting out of this mess.

I just don’t understand how this could be happening. I mean the relegations from the Premier League, Championship and League One made sense – we couldn’t compete on and off the pitch – but this time we really should be too good to even be contemplating going down.

And what happens if we are relegated? Mark Lawn told us a month ago that he doesn’t know how City could afford Valley Parade if they dropped into non-league. I don’t want to support some AFC Bradford City playing on a park pitch in the Evo-Stick First Division North next season, I like the way things are. And why do bad things always happen to us? I mean what exactly did we do to deserve this last decade? My gloomy self-pity continues as the players trot out for the second 45 minutes.

One hour later I’m celebrating more wilder than I can remember in years. Gareth Evans has just drilled an unstoppable shot through a crowd of bodies and into the far corner to improbably win the game four minutes into stoppage time. The level of joy inside is being fuelled by the built-up anguish inflicted upon us over the previous hour and a half. We’ve just gone through 90 minutes of utter torture, all of which can now be forgotten as I jump up and down like a five-year-old, only pausing to hug those around me. The players have chosen to run directly to the front of my block in the Midland Road stand to celebrate their euphoric moment. Eventually the cheering subsides, but I’m feeling so good and shaking all over too much to be able to sit down. In no time at all we’re punching the air as the final whistle is blown.

This is why we love Bradford City. This is what makes all the other crap worthwhile.

That Peter Taylor’s final game in charge could have such a climatic ending is hardly in keeping with the monotonous closing weeks of his reign, but it was nice for the outgoing City manager to part ways with the club in such harmonious circumstances. Whatever the rights and wrongs of his early departure, he at least leaves the club in a much more comfortable league position than it appeared at 3.45pm. There is much work to do still, but seven and nine point cushions over Barnet and Stockport respectively offer Taylor’s successor a sturdier platform to preserve the Bantams’ league status from.

For a time it looked like a comfortable final afternoon for Taylor. Finally ditching the ineffective 4-3-3 formation, City started the game strongly with James Hanson and Michael Flynn leading the line of a 4-4-2 set-up and Steve Williams taking advantage of non-existent marking to head the home side into a 14th minute lead from a free kick.

Hanson had already had a goal ruled out for offside and, though Stockport threatened with the impressive Paul Turnbull shooting just wide and having a goal disallowed themselves, a second City goal would have probably caused them to collapse. But on a dreadful playing surface, the ball-playing nature of Williams was to prove costly after the young defender dallied too long and was pick-pocketed by Turnbull, who charged forwards and finished low past Lenny Pidgley to equalise.

City at least continued to attack and two frantic goalmouth scrambles should have been rewarded by a re-taking of the lead. The first scramble saw a Flynn effort saved, the surprise-returner David Syers hit the bar and Williams fire a third attempt that was blocked on the line. The second occasion included Kevin Ellison’s effort being kept out illegally by Hatters defender Adam Griffin’s arm. A red card and a penalty, which an out-of-sorts Hanson wasted when his casual effort was pushed away by former City keeper Matt Glennon.

And when Stockport took a 2-1 lead six minutes later after Ryan Dobie was played through one-on-one and rounded Pidgely to slot home – despite strong suspicions of offside – that feeling of comfort 20 minutes earlier was replaced with despair that grew bleaker during the interval. In many respects City had been unfortunate, they’d had the majority of chances and forced numerous corners; but the combination of conceding two soft goals and missing a spot kick left you feeling that – once again – they had been architects of their own downfall. Williams had looked shaky, Tom Adeyemi ineffective as a wide player and Lee Bullock off the pace in the centre.

Taylor reacted by making two substitutions, with Adeyemi and Bullock giving way to Evans and Jake Speight in a move which saw Flynn pushed back to midfield alongside Syers. Yet as they struggled to get the ball into Stockport’s penalty area – never mind create a chance – during the first third of the second half, it looked a long way back. The bumper home crowd were on the players’ backs and it took all their bravery to keep going and force the tempo. To their credit they began to perform, and were rewarded by some of the most ferociously-positive support heard at Valley Parade in sometime.

The tide began to turn against Stockport – who’d begun time-wasting from the 46th minute – after Dobie’s flying elbow into Luke Oliver’s face gave an erratic referee no option but to issue a second red card. But as City continued to struggle to break down nine-men it still looked like a morale-crushing defeat was on the cards. This was going to be a dismal send off for Taylor.

One last throw of the dice – Robbie Threlfall for the bloodied Oliver – and never before have City gone so gung ho under Taylor. It appeared the Bantams were playing 3-3-4 – hey, it might even have been 3-2-5. Evans and the outstanding Luke O’Brien were playing as wideman and enjoyed loads of space against an over-loaded Stockport side; Lewis Hunt was also getting forward well. Numerous corners, endless balls pumped into the box, plenty of throw ins too. Speight hit the post, the crowd roared the players on even louder. The clock must have been ticking down ever-slower to the blue shirts.

Finally, salvation. A corner isn’t defended well and Syers does an outstanding job of keeping it in play by heading it across. Williams is at the backpost, his effort at goal hits a Stockport body but crosses the line. Unbridled joy, followed by a huge collective sigh of relief.

The urgency wasn’t as great in the final 15 minutes, but still City continued to press forwards and come agonisingly close through Speight (twice), O’Brien, Ellison and Syers. Five minutes of injury time almost up and, after Ellison appears to be hauled down in the box only for the referee to wave play on, the disappointment of only getting a draw is palpable. But then so is the relief at the fact you are no longer facing up to the despair of loss that was so painfully real 15 minutes ago. This is better than nothing.

And then there’s one last attack. And after superb work again by O’Brien the ball eventually runs free to Evans. And he shoots. And he scores. And for the next few minutes you scream at the top of the voice. And the level of exhilaration causes tingles all over your body. And for the rest of your weekend that feeling will stay inside, causing you to involuntarily smile at regular intervals.

And you can console yourself with the fact that, whatever we did do to deserve this last decade of hardship for Bradford City, it justifies going absolutely mental when celebrating scraping a win against a nine-men team bottom of the entire Football League.

Taylor gets a final chance to write his history

Peter Taylor exits Bradford City after Saturday’s game with Stockport County which is described by joint chairman Julian Rhodes as “possibly one of the biggest in the club’s history” but the judgement on his time at the club will not follow until the end of the season.

Taylor’s time at City has been marked with upset over negative play and managerial mistakes as well as the manager criticising supporters who he revealed today were the cause of his decision to leave but his position in City’s history will be written in May when he is either written off as an experiment gone wrong or written in stone as the man who had Bradford City relegated out of the Football League after 106.

An assessment which would be harsh for sure – you do not go from the Premiership to the Football Conference in just over a decade because of the guy who got the job twelve months ago – but one which will no doubt be made. Taylor’s only input into this writing of history is the tone he sets in his final game.

The final game with Stockport who – in something of a minor irony – have helped to seal the manager’s early exit. Mark Lawn and Rhodes talked about their requirements for the medium and long term when thinking about the next appointment but it cannot have escaped their notice that by changing manager Lincoln City and Saturday’s opponents have turned seemingly moribund seasons around with revivals.

There is something to be said for that approach too. It is football in the ludicrously short term – the financial position being what it is and relegation hovering City may only have a short term left – but increasingly it seemed as if the players had lost belief in Taylor and that they might benefit from another voice in the dressing room.

Be it David Syers and Tom Ademeyi being given the midfield roles against five Lincoln players, Scott Dobie being given the job of chasing high balls or Luke O’Brien and Lewis Hunt playing full back without anyone supporting them when they are doubled up on the players are coming under criticism for decisions made by Taylor, and on occasion that criticism comes from Taylor.

That they stop thinking that following the manager will lead to success is a problem addressed by Taylor’s exit, although after that one suspects the problems will begin and that chief amongst those problems will be finding a new manager who has the same effect on City which Steve Tilson has had on Lincoln to some degree or another.

If the benefit of Taylor’s exit is a change of voice in the dressing room then there seems little benefit in appointing Wayne Jacobs until the end of the season but the assistant manager has twice taken control of the club as caretaker in the past. The two week gap that follows the Stockport game suggests City will have time to bring in short-term appointment and that a caretaker taker will probably not be needed.

Names suggest themselves: Phil Parkinson and Brian Laws mentioned in one breath, Dean Windass and Terry Dolan in another. Martin Allen has previously impresses Mark Lawn and could get a chance to do again but those problems are for Monday. Saturday is more pressing.

The effect of Taylor’s departure on that game is hard to measure. The City players responded to Stuart McCall’s departure with a loathsome display at Accrington Stanley in Peter Taylor first game. In his last one might expect the squad to be equally nervous although perhaps they will feel they have something to prove to the outgoing manager. If they spot a trenchcoat in the main stand they may feel they have something to prove to the incoming manager too.

Taylor is likely to stand by the players who have figured in the majority of his squad although there is a sneaking feeling that he may employ a 235 1911 style in a final flash of “attacking football.”

Assuming he does not Lenny Pidgeley will keep goal behind Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver who more than most will be effected by Taylor’s departure one suspects and Luke O’Brien. A middle three of Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and Tom Adeyemi seems set to continue – one has to wonder why Jon Worthington was brought in – while the forward three could feature a return for James Hanson alongside one of Scott Dobie or Gareth Evans, and Kevin Ellison.

These players are tasked with winning the game – an everyone in for a pound offer which sadly was not extended to the visitors should see a few more bums on seats – and starting writing what could prove to the the last chapter in the 58 year old manager’s career.

A win and graceful retirement to Newcastle United’s backroom awaits, a defeat and he starts to become the man who killed a club.

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.

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.

Making the most of mistakes

Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, success in football is comes from errors, cock-ups and mistakes.

The best laid plans go wrong and what one is left with, just sort of works. There was no plan in place that after replacing Lennie Lawrence Chris Kamara would spend three months doing nothing and then suddenly go Hell for Leather for promotion, there was no plan that Paul Jewell would end up replacing him and turn out to be brilliant.

Happy accidents then, capitalised on. Normally though it is mistakes by other people which offer the best chance for progress and just as seats were taken at Lincoln City for the first game of 2011 James Hanson was take one of those opportunities. A bad back pass, Hanson on the ball, slips past the keeper and suddenly nothing seemed as bad as it had before.

It was Moses Swaibu who made the mistake. Not his first. It is said he stole a chicken from Asda over the Christmas holiday. “Voting for Christmas” maybe.

Peter Taylor’s team were without Lee Hendrie who had left the club without much fanfare along with Louis Moult who seemed to spend his time at City waiting for someone to make enough mistakes to give him a chance but failing to capitalise on those chances when they arrived. A reduced squad will perhaps give the impression that Peter Taylor has settled on his best team but the surprise return of Robbie Threlfall suggests that the manager still grabs numbers out of a bag to find his team.

Sometimes though his team seems to work. Lee Bullock returned for Tommy Doherty today and gave more of a bite in the midfield and when Gareth Evans was penalised for a handball and Ashley Grimes scored it certainly wasn’t part of the run of play, and it might not have been a penalty either. Evans himself was booked for a dive in the second half but only after he had scored the game’s winning goal barrelling forward and slamming in a great strike to the top corner just before half time.

The win was deserved although had Lincoln had a better striker than Delroy Facey then City might have surrendered the lead. The home side got desperate and Mustapha Carayol was lucky to stay on for a nasty foul on Luke O’Brien.

Brightening City’s afternoon though was the return of Steve Williams who looked insanely good and Shane Duff who played well. Williams came to City when the budget was cut following the failure to win promotion. The chance to bring in Hanson and Williams, match winners today, was capitalising on the mistake. If Peter Taylor can carry on capitalising then the season might not be over yet.

Improvements for the new year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The football feedback cycle

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

Thus the goes football feedback cycle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case for the defence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Pack up your Junior Lewis in your old kit bag and smile

Peter Taylor is taking his Bradford City team – Tommy Doherty, Luke Oliver, Lewis Hunt and all – to the scene of some success when he returns to Adams Park to take the Bantams into a game with the side he last tasted promotion with, Wycombe Wanderers.

Taylor took Wycombe out of League Two two years ago but a few months later was out of work with the Chairboy supporters talking about styles of play and unpopular players who were popular with him and Taylor given his P45 that would – eventually – see him pack his Junior Lewis in his bag and head North to Valley Parade.

Perhaps – one might think – the end of Taylor’s time at Wycombe was similar to the start of this season for City. It would be presumptuous to talk without having seen the games that followed promotion but our experiences at City tell us that when a Peter Taylor side is not winning matches then it is an ugly thing. Taylor has the triumph of footballing form over function.

Good for us then that Taylor’s side is winning – and it is worth noting that last week’s defeat was easier on the eye than I have perhaps given credit for Taylor’s teams being – and winning well. Spankings of Oxford United and Cheltenham have been backed up with excellent wins at Barnet and Bury with only the second half at Burton being a blemish.

To suggest there is a single key to Taylor’s team’s turnaround would be simplistic. Certainly the return to the starting line up of James Hanson has done much to aim the cause but it has been noted that when City are playing well often Lee Hendrie is at the heart of things and Omar Daley is not – he is at the front of things where he can do the most damage – and perhaps it is the change in formation and approach rather than personnel which has motivated the improvements.

When Leon Osbourne is terrorising defences – and he does from time to time – then Taylor is doing something right and allowing the young winger to play in a way where he is supported. When Osbourne is stuck on the flank like a lemon the chances are that the players are not pulling together.

So City progress nicely as do Wycombe who sit in fifth place and trundle away nicely in the division missing Taylor very little. They look at his return with suspicion – there is a debate on if the man who took them to promotion deserves booing – but mostly they will look for three points against a team who they will see if not as a rival for promotion then as the sort of team they need to get a result from.

City will field Lenny Pidgeley in goal with Zesh Rehman at right back rather than the injured Lewis Hunt who is returning to fitness soon but not this soon. Steve Williams is out for four weeks but Shane Duff returns to partner Luke Oliver – a player so unpopular with some of his own fans that they believe a different set of rules should apply to him which protect him less than others – and Luke O’Brien continues at left back.

Tommy Doherty is well thought of at Adams Park and next to him is one of David Syers, Lee Bullock and Tom Adeyemi and for a moment one wonders if Michael Flynn will ever be fit again, and where he would slot into the team if he was. Lee Hendrie – who is considering staying with City or moving to to MLS – is on the left. One hopes he stays, but the club knows better than to chase players with contracts.

Hanson takes the forward line with Omar Daley alongside should be be fit. Louis Moult stands by to replace him.

So there is it – Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army and all and it is curious to think that some two years ago City went to Adams Park and lost 1-0 as both teams hunted promotion. The game was close that day but Taylor’s side edged it. That was Peter Taylor’s Wycombe Army, before he had his bag packed for him and headed North to us.

A fickle thing, this management, and the protagonists of its story are as much enforced mercenaries as anyone in the game.

Shocking things in the FA Cup

What is an FA Cup shock? Last night FC United of Manchester beat Rochdale and the result was hardly unpredictable. In fact as the masses of disenchanted Mancunians descended on Spotland it seemed to me that it would be more of a surprise if the league club had won.

That is the problem with the FA Cup. Some clubs want it, others don’t, and when you turn up at a game you do not know which of those two your club will be in. If one side does not care as much about the game as they do the league on Saturday then even if you win, you don’t get a good game.

So it was more geography that meant I trotted up to Colchester to watch City and probably the fact that not many City fans were coming down to the game that means I ended up doing this match report. I was fully prepared for seeing a second string from one side or the other and not much of a game. As it was City went into the game with pretty much a full strength side, Omar Daley was out and Louis Moult in, and Colchester seemed to have done similar and the result was a bit of a humdinger of a game.

Colchester took an early lead, City equalised, that happened again and at half time you would have done well to pick who the higher league team were and certainly who the better one was. City seemed a soft touch at the back but in James Hanson have a striker who seems to be on his way to better things. Steve Williams did not finish the game limping off with a quarter of an hour left so any watching scouts from the East Midlands will have gone home early but it is to be hoped that Sven does not see Hanson who scored twice and put in a great troublesome performance.

Moult set up Hanson’s first goal with a nice pass between defenders as the first equaliser and Luke O’Brien set up Hanson’s second and City’s third with a corner. O’Brien also set up David Syers’ goal with a cross too. O’Brien has come on so much under Peter Taylor and like Hanson, Williams and Syers looks like players who will play at a higher level.

Two second half goals from Colchester United tipped the game their way with the second second half goal was a penalty which seemed to leave Peter Taylor fuming and in the end was the difference between the two teams. Luke Oliver seemed to challenge him fairly enough but any challenge in the box is dangerous in modern football. Oliver and Zesh Rehman are so far behind O’Brien and Williams and it shows when City defend.

Modern football does not seem to have much room for the FA Cup any more though. The game was exciting enough but at the end of the day (and after giving it a good go) City were out and Colchester through but it hardly seemed to matter to people. The excitement was not there and the game felt a little but too much like a pre-season friendly than what used to be one of the most exciting games of the year.

Perhaps it is cause City have been to the top and back that trips to Colchester do not inspire but then again Colchester’s fans wandered away from the game without much of a spring in the step. Maybe it is rose tinted glasses but we always used to get more excited by the FA Cup.

No complaints from the players today though

As it was this was an exciting game of football, both teams went for it, and it was not about cup shocks or giant killing or people who or have a day job scoring against professionals all those boring ITV cliches. It was just a proper game of football, and that was a bit of a cup shock for me.

Taylor enjoys the freedom of pragmatism

As decelerations of intent go, this was as loud as Bradford City have screamed all season. Recent victories over Barnet, Cheltenham and Oxford may have defused an alarming start to the season, but to triumph in the backyard of one of the early promotion front runners suggests the Bantams’ prospects for the campaign may be more in line with those heady pre-season expectations.

Bury came into tonight’s clash having won seven and drawn one of their last eight games – they hadn’t been beaten at Gigg Lane since an opening day 1-0 reverse to 2nd place Port Vale. Extreme downpours, which had the game in doubt even past kick off, left a soggy pitch not conducive to the passing brand of attacking football which is winning the Shakers’ rave reviews. But this was still some result for City.

Omar Daley’s 30th-minute spot kick ultimately won the contest – the Jamaican getting the opportunity from 12 yards which he’d been denied on Saturday when chasing a hat trick, as designated penalty taker Lee Hendrie, injured tonight, had been unwilling to step aside – after his superb run and through ball to strike partner Jason Price was illegally stopped by home keeper Owain Fon Williams. But this game was less won through individual brilliance, more collective endeavour.

Manager Peter Taylor had spoken pre-match of taking a more conservative approach, and while attacking intent remained the team was deployed deeper and the onus was on Bury to attempt to break them down. David Syers, brought in to replace Hendrie with Tom Adeyemi switched out wide, performed a central role that looked less sparkling than his previous thrusting style, but where he was simply sensational and the key man all evening in protecting the back four.

Syers’ return allowed Daley and Price to remain up the park and the willing runners of Leon Osborne and Adeyemi were encouraged to get forward when either forward had the ball. As such, the game plan of frustrating the visitors while posing questions on the counter attack was executed beautifully.

The quality that is evident in City’s ranks has truly emerged in recent weeks, and though this evening flair was reined back Tommy Doherty was again masterful in setting the tempo and spraying the ball around intelligently. Daley continued where he left off on Saturday in causing havoc. The theory with Daley is that his inconsistency sees him go missing on wet nights like this, but instead perhaps it’s worth contemplating whether previous tentativeness was in fact lack of confidence. Omar clearly looks a far more committed and happy player than the guy who missed sitters at Burton and in the first half on Saturday.

With Price enjoying easily his most productive game to date since signing on loan, City were a handful in the small bursts where they attacked. And while Bury can argue they were unfortunate to go in at half time 1-0 down having enjoyed 66% of the possession, the scars leftover from when City played them off the same park last January, only to lose to a penalty that never was, left sympathy in short supply.

The second half saw strong spells of Bury pressure; but other than Ryan Lowe’s shot that hit the post, a scramble off the line and a Lenny Pidgley save in the final minute, the prospects of that pressure leading to an equaliser seemed unlikely. This was largely down to a superb performance from the back five. Luke Oliver – so often maligned by supporters, including those of his former clubs, for his ungainly style – was outstanding and produced his best performance in a City shirt. Time and time again balls into the box met his head and were diverted out of harm’s way.

Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien continued their consistent form while Taylor would be wise to call off any search for an on-loan right back, such is the impressive manner Zesh Rehman has grown into the role. He may not be as effective as O’Brien when going forward, but Rehman’s positioning and reading of the game has come on in leaps and bounds from the panicky, dive-in-first-think-later form he was displaying for a great deal of last season.

The minutes ticked by ever slower. James Hanson replaced Daley, and within seconds embarked on a superb solo run and fired a sizzling long range effort which Williams did well to tip over. With Price also missing an easy headed chance back at 0-0, it can be argued City created the evening’s best chances even if they otherwise had to defend for long periods.

But best of all on nights like this was the incredible backing from us supporters. Bury’s sizeable away end was packed with City fans and the roof acoustics are favourable for creating a right old din. The chanting was kept up most of the evening, and in the second half every tackle and clearance from a City player was greeted by huge roars of encouragement. A major contrast to the emptiness of the three home stands, where vacant seats in two at least easily outnumbered those with bums on. A reminder, if it were needed, of what a huge club City are at this level.

Huge or otherwise though, it’s what’s on the field that counts; and as depressing as the dreadful start to the season was to go through it seems to have generated a spirit of togetherness between supporters and players that, frankly, has been lacking in recent years. Perhaps things got so bad that perspective and reason finally had to change. It’s no use believing we’re too big a club to be in League Two, if those expectations are too much for our League Two players to live up to.

Whatever the reason, the players and management are currently receiving vociferously-positive backing before they’ve done anything to deserve it, and such a revisionism seems to be allowing the pragmatic style of Taylor to flourish. Tonight City played like a team which knew it was probably the weaker side but which could triumph by accepting and dealing with such a truism, rather than acting like ‘big club Bradford’.

Like a number of visiting sides to Valley Parade in recent years City kept men behind the ball, made sure they controlled the tempo and that it was a tempo too slow for the home side to profit from. And unlike in recent times where pressure from fans meant this wasn’t possible – because we “should be beating little teams like Bury” – we supporters got behind them for doing it. This was like City at Sunderland in the first Premier League season; and just like that season deploying this strategy at the right times can help us to achieve our objectives.

Quite what is possible for this season now is unclear. City are three points off the play offs and eight from still third-placed Bury. Perhaps most symbolically of all, the league table now shows us as a respectable 10th. The corner seems to have been turned, and we have all played our part in making that happen.

What Price a win for the man who can’t do anything right?

In the week in which is was invited – but declined the opportunity – to give his manager Peter Taylor a statement of public backing a new public persona for City chairman Mark Lawn emerged: The man who can’t do anything right.

As Peter Taylor – buoyed from a 2-0 win at Barnet last weekend but thought to be a defeat away from being fired – seemed to rearrange the deck chairs bringing in striker Jason Price who on arrival was pronounced not fit enough to play Lawn was stuck between the rock of delivering the ringing but seemingly hollow “vote of confidence” in his manager or putting forward a more honest and realistic assessment of the situation at the club.

He gave the latter and in doing so perhaps he wondered how he had ended up in the situation he is. Taylor – a fine appointment the arrival of whom appeased those critical at the exit of Stuart McCall – had become a political millstone around the chairman’s neck. Even when he did the right thing, Lawn perhaps concluded, he could not do the right thing.

These thoughts evaporated over the course of an afternoon which proved only the old adage that there is almost nothing in football that cannot be mended with a cracking home win.

Building on last week’s victory at Barnet and a return to a 442 Taylor sent out a side that saw Omar Daley playing off James Hanson as last season’s player of the season returned from his time out injured with the type of performance that justified the anticipation of his return.

Hanson rounded off an afternoon that saw City enjoy long and deserved periods of control with a low, powerful strike from outside that box that arrowed past goalkeeper Scott P Brown beating him at his front post owing to the pace with which the striker leathered the frustrations of a spell on the sidelines with.

Hanson’s goal came as another fruitful combination with loanee Jason Price came to fruition the half time substitute taking a ball in with the defenders seemingly incapable of getting near the man mountain of a striker who is deceptively mobile and wonderfully haired.

Indeed it was Price’s head – not merely a housing for that impressive hair – which figured in the decisive goal of the afternoon as the Bantams pressured Cheltenham’s defence. The left hand side combination of Luke O’Brien and Lee Hendrie enjoyed much joy all afternoon and it was that axis which saw a cross to Price who powerfully returned the ball across the box to Hendrie who performed a close range overhead kick to give City the lead.

As good a goal as it was – and it was with the style of the finish equalled in impressiveness by Price’s strength at the far post standing as powerfully and solid as the Colossus of Rhodes at the far post and celebrating not with the players who had peeling away in front of the kop but with the Midland Road which has – with the rest of the fans – taken the boisterous forward to heart.

With a brilliant performance Hendrie’s afternoon as captain could hardly have been better but ended with him limping from a ludicrously heavy foul which seemed to have been prompted by the scoreline – “just because you’re losing” – but resulted in no card from referee Darren Drysdale.

Drysdale is infamous for having Dean Windass banned for five matches for a comment made in the car park and is – perhaps – the weakest referee in the entire Football League. He lacks not common sense but logic giving a series of decisions which seem to mis-assess the servility of offences. What can one say about a referee who thinks that being shouted at in the car park is a massively greater sin than a two footed lunge by a player who is angry because his team is losing?

Drysdale’s linesmen seemed to be penning City in giving James Hanson offside three times – each one controversially – although the flow of the home side’s pressure saw Price break though and Brown make an impressive save when one on one which denied the striker what would have been a deserved debut goal.

That Taylor’s recruitment of Price – the half fit player and all that – gave City purpose in the final third it was his bringing in and finding a place for Oliver Gill that did much to help City at the back. Gill and his fellow Manchester United loanee were impressive with the now centreback Gill combining with Steve Williams in a great defensive display.

Gill’s performance – capped with a superb clearing tackle at 2-1 – was even more impressive considering the character he and the side showed when a nothing of a cross was weakly headed by the loanee defender into a no man’s land between keeper Jon McLaughlin and Cheltenham midfielder (and one time Nicky Law target) Joshua Low who finished tidily.

The collective shrug, the recognition that the Bantams were playing well, and the spirit shown to shake off that error and continue what had been a good start to the game, James Hanson lashing over within the opening minutes. Indeed when Luke O’Brien roasted the Cheltenham full back on the touchline and crossed for David Syers to throw himself at for a diving header it was the least that City deserved.

Perhaps then Lawn might have looked over at noted that Taylor was summoning performances from a team of guys on loan from Old Trafford and guys who last season were playing non-league and working part time. Throw into that the guy who played in Hungary last year – Tommy Doherty was immense putting the the kind of performance that was promised when he arrived – and concluded that if it seemed that he could not do anything right in his back or not of the manager in the week then perhaps he could by simply no doing anything at all.

Indeed perhaps Lawn might conclude that if he can’t do right for doing wrong then perhaps he should try doing nothing at all. Lawn started the season with a plan (and perhaps not one I would have approved of, but that is not the point) that Peter Taylor has the remit of achieving promotion for Bradford City this season and until that is not going to happen (and perhaps after) then he will remain manager.

Football teams are made over time and after two wins on the bounce Taylor’s side starts to find a shape and way of playing which brings the best out of its members Lawn doing nothing is a way of doing something and with more afternoons like the 3-1 win over Cheltenham it may yet prove fruitful.

With Price – and a steady nerve – the man who can’t do anything right might just get what he wants.

Living the moment

There are few things in life as exhilarating as watching your team win away from home. The likelihood of victory is always far less on the road, and so the extra effort undertaken to attend and number of previous times that effort has gone unrewarded make days like Bradford City’s 2-0 win at Barnet all the more special.

Any win is fantastic of course, and filing out of Valley Parade having seen City collect three points provides a buzz that often lasts for days. But the collective thrill we feel from a home victory and the more exclusiveness of away wins are different types of joy.

Home wins are like being fans of huge bands such as The Beatles and Oasis – we share the music, occasionally in our snobbiness believing others don’t appreciate them in the same way (how can that moaner sat  in front really celebrate City’s last minute winner when they spent 89 minutes moaning how bad City are?) and there’s a great feeling when we come together (stadium gigs can be incredible).

Away wins are like following a band with a smaller fanbase which are unnoticed by the masses. It gives us more ownership of their songs, more room at their gigs and a slightly more rewarding feeling when they briefly appear on TV (Jools Holland and the Football League show?).

For those fortunate to be there for an away win, it becomes ours and reward for all those times we endured miserable defeats and a long journey home. In our last promotion year I was one of 200 City fans who attended West Brom away in September. We won 2-0 to get our season going, and for the first time performed like promotion contenders. A week later we beat Barnsley 2-1 with Gordon Watson’s injury time double, and as we celebrated promotion next May many fans pointed to the Barnsley win as the turning point. But those of us at the Hawthorns that day, we knew the truth.

On the Football League Show last night, a City fan texted in to declare they were still very unhappy despite the win. Well no offence to this fan, but you clearly weren’t at Underhill yesterday. It wasn’t that we saw a promotion-standard performance. It’s not as though any of the 424 of us present have extra reason to believe in the manager. But when your team hasn’t scored in four games and for 64 minutes of this must-win game you feel as though we’ll lose, the exuberant celebrations that greeted two goals in four minutes provided such a wonderful feeling that for the next week at least nothing else should matter.

Nothing else should matter – but building on the positives of City’s first away win of the season. In truth it wasn’t a sparkling display – who expected it to be? – and for sections of the first half and just after half time it seemed as though Barnet’s youthful exuberance would break through and score at any time. But if quality is still lacking in the Bantams, the work-rate and solidness which went missing against Morecambe last week had at least returned. It proved to be enough.

At the back City recovered from last week’s wobbles and looked the well-drilled unit that was so impressive at Rotherham 11 days ago. Oliver Gill was moved to centre back in the absence of Shane Duff and was excellent; Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien were their usual impressive selves. Special mention should go to Zesh Rehman, who not only put in a man-of-the-match-contender performance against a tricky winger, but notably led his younger defensive colleagues through the afternoon. How ironic it is that he has found the best form of his City career just as he’s unable to command a regular place. If only he’d been playing like this a year ago.

For the most part City still looked feeble going forwards – though Luke Oliver and Lee Hendrie both came close with headers. Confidence looks so short in some players, and there was a clear reluctance for any one other than Rehman, O’Brien, Williams and Tommy Doherty to take ownership during the first 45 minutes at least. Defender Oliver continued upfront, this time with winger Omar Daley as partner and four strikers sat on the bench. It wasn’t hard to see why fans are so frustrated at Taylor’s approach.

The debate about Oliver rages on, though it must be noted this was his most effective game up front to date. Today he looked like a target man off form, which is a major improvement from not looking like a target man at all. He had a good physical battle with the Barnet defenders, often penalised for fouls and occasionally winning free kicks.

Yet the low confidence in players and Oliver up front are connected, and to me where the frustration lies with Taylor. Yes we were having a poor start and there were loads of injuries, but we don’t have to play a big front man and there was no need to prematurely move to such desperate tactics. Taylor should have had more faith in the quality of his players to pull through. Instead it was too easy to launch it to Oliver and duck responsibility, something Leon Osborne and Daley were especially guilty of.

Taylor’s half-time words seemed to have some effect, and as City kicked up the famous Underhill slope in the second half they survived a couple of scares and began to take control over limited opposition. Still the frustration in the away section over the lack of subs began to grow, and a fierce debate raged over the merits of appointing Peter Jackson as our next manager. It was beginning to feel as though the effort of getting up early on a day off and making a 400 mile-round trip would carry no greater reward than a 0-0, and someone somewhere – Mark Lawn  perhaps – was probably drafting Taylor’s last rites.

But then City scored, twice. The frustration of the last few weeks was pushed out to be replaced by giddy excitement and joy. Both goals were remarkably similar, in that Barnet had a corner at the bottom of the slope and City broke up the pitch and netted. Each time Jon McLaughlin had claimed the ball and quickly threw the ball out to charging midfielders. Firstly Tom Adeyemi broke down the flank before cutting the ball back to Doherty. The pass lacked pace and should have been cut out, but the cultured midfielder was able to grab possession and fire a superb through ball to Osborne, who cut inside and finished expertly.

For a second there was silence. It happened right in front of us away fans, but we almost don’t quite believe it had. Then we celebrated wildly.

“Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army” bellowed fans behind me who’d been so vocally critical of him before. In front of me there were angry faces from other fans incredulous that these people could have the nerve to be so two-faced. Football. Fickle. End of.

The second goal, four minutes later, came after McLaughlin’s throw was collected by Daley, who scampered up the field and picked out the run of Adeyemi through the middle. The on-loan midfielder just had the keeper to beat, and coolly slotted the ball into the roof of the net to set up even more frenzied celebrations that for him included hugging the City fans in the seating section. At full time he went over to do it again, and it looked as though his dad was in the front row and that was why he’d raced over.

Tom Adeyemi hugs family members at full time

Tom Adeyemi hugs family members at full time (click to enlarge)

In those immediate seconds after Adeyemi’s finish, nothing else mattered and for our brain to allow ourselves to feel such unadulterated pleasure without logic or reason is what makes football such a wonderful sport. Back in Bradford I bet some fans felt disappointed, because Taylor would not be packing up his desk on Monday like we all expected. But it didn’t matter who was in the dugout – right now celebrating equally as wildly, and good on you Taylor. All that mattered – and should ever matter, really – was that City were winning.

The joy of the away goal continues as you began to calm down again – and you suddenly realise that, for the last few minutes, three sides of the ground have felt utterly miserable at what your team has just done to them and had little choice but to watch you leaping for joy, with huge envy. Intense pleasure in one corner of the ground, depression for the rest. In truth we’re rude guests, but then we’re usually too kind as hosts and let others behave this way on our own patch.

Not much else happened in truth. McLaughlin almost let a weak shot squeeze in; James Hanson was able to come on as sub, showing in just a few brief touches just how much he’d been missed and inadequate Oliver the striker really is; the Barnet left back made an idiot of himself. The win was never in doubt, we could even have scored again.

But to score twice having only managed four goals all season was beyond expectations, and to be able to drive home knowing this feeling of joy can’t be taken away until Saturday at least was just reward for seven hours in a car. Ultimately this win won’t mean much if City lose at home to 7th-placed Cheltenham next week, as Taylor will be sacked. Like at Torquay last season, it might have just prolonged the inevitable.

Whatever happens, it’s days like this which make enduring all the other crap worthwhile.

Where does one see Bradford?

A view which normally shows Bradford, but is foggy, taken this morning on 8th of October 2010Waking this morning in Bradford and looking out over the City one could not notice – as the photo shows – that something was missing. Indeed Bradford, it seemed, had gone.

From the back window of Clayton you can normally see Lister’s Chimney and the view over BD8 but not Valley Parade which as the name suggests is under the eye line, hidden from view.

One has to wonder what has been going on hidden from view at Valley Parade this week. A defeat to Hartlepool United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy came almost without a blip so expected was it after the woeful 1-0 loss to Morecambe at the weekend. Peter Taylor was linked to a move for Calvin Zola – Calvin Zola is not coming – and TalkSport and the Daily Mirror both noted that this weekend’s game was win or bust for the City manager of six months.

Despite the board of many and the co-ownership it seems that Mark Lawn will be the one to make that decision. Lawn famously said that he “had 2,000,000 more reasons to be frustrated” than other City fans and if one agrees to the idea that the more you have money the more you can care about your football club then one can only imagine how Lawn feels watching the things he has put into place to replace Stuart McCall that should have worked failing so miserably now.

Say what you want about McCall’s exit – and we have all said lots – but Lawn’s recruitment of Peter Taylor was a clear way forward and an outstanding appointment of a manager with a great track record. One might argue the length of the contract has caused problems or that the failure to get training facilities sorted out are restrictive to what the manager can do but few would say they should be the cause of a woeful run of form.

Would City be in any different position now if Lawn had given Taylor a five year contract not a three month one? Perhaps, but as Lawn – we are told – is considering paying out Taylor’s contract then the brevity of it becomes useful in this situation at least.

Taylor’s team take on Barnet who struggle at the foot of League Two also. Jon McLaughlin has kept goal no better and no worse than Simon Eastwood did but is more favoured and perhaps that says much about the nature of support at City. What is an offence one season may not be the next.

Reece Brown is not expected to return from injury to be right back so Zesh Rehman will continue while Oliver Gill is supposedly enforced at left back. Shane Duff is expected to return from injury to partner Steve Williams in the middle of Taylor’s defence. Lee Bullock will sit on top of them with Tommy Doherty expected to return alongside him.

If it is win of bust for Taylor then he should probably play Doherty. A weak midfield will lose the game and thus his job and so it will hardly matter if Doherty misses the first game of Dean Windass, Peter Jackson or whomever’s time in charge.

Michael Flynn’s recovery from injury came to a grinding halt at Hartlepool United where his hernia which was thought cleared turned out not to be after his substitute appearance. Lee Hendrie will fall in as the left hand midfielder – let us not say “wide man” and Omar Daley is expected to play on the right with Taylor adopting a 4411 as strikers appear at a premium.

Luke O’Brien seemingly is out of both the midfield running and left back. It is said that there are players in the dressing room who would not be upset to see the back of Taylor but that O’Brien is not one of them. Such shows great restraint by a player who has been ousted from the City team so often. Tom Ademeyi seems to float in and out of the side with little reference to his performance. Leon Osbourne and Robbie Threlfall both seem to have had time in the team which has come to an end.

Luke Oliver will no doubt lead the forward line and while I would not concur with the idea that he should not do that because he is “out of position” – few would have complained if midfielder Flynn had been fit enough to take the position in the attack – the fact that Oliver struggles to play the role effectively is a problem. Calvin Zola was rumoured to be arriving and did not and as Peter Taylor looked around the world of football for a striker to borrow his vision was as blank as the fogged look over Bradford this morning.

James Hanson edges closer to fitness and perhaps Taylor might be able to risk him, Gareth Evans is out for three months. Taylor”s inability to get the levels of performance out of Evans that they player is capable of minimises the effect of this – he was not playing well – but as a player he can do and the frustration of watching good players play badly under Taylor is epic.

City have gone four games without a goal and Taylor has a selection of strikers for the the role off the main striker. Louis Moult, Jake Speight, Chib Chilaka. Name the striker and he is not scoring enough goals. The net seemingly fogged for Bradford City.

Peter Taylor will hope to cut through that fog, to get the win, to extend his stay at the club which looks increasingly like it will be coming to an end with the next defeat. Should that be the case then Mark Lawn’s view at the future at Valley Parade would be as fogged as the view from it.

Where would we go next?

Our old friend Rafa has little to do with Morecambe

The school of thought – pretty much doused after the signings this week of two month long loan players – has it that if Peter Taylor did not get four points from his next two games that finish at home to Morecambe then he would be sacked.

The point at Rotherham United gave him one, anything less than a win would see him out the door. Probably not but that was the rumour which has since been replaced by the idea that if things have not improved for the Bantams by the time that new recruits Oliver Gill and Reece Brown return to Old Trafford then Taylor will be out of the door.

When Taylor became City manager – and let us not speak the name of the man he got it from for fear of offending the delicate ears of some readers who comment whenever it is mentioned – he was trumpeted as an outstanding appointment taking over from “someone” who speculation had it would have been fired could the club afford it.

Indeed at the time whose name I do not wish to recall was leaving this club at Gill and Brown’s good friends down the M62 Liverpool it was said that Rafa Benitez would be given his P45 if only the club had the funds to do so, or if the two owners could make up their collective mind about it. Rafa left that club in the summer about the time Peter Taylor was signing his season long contract with the Bantams and ended up at the San Siro and Inter Milan.

There were many scratched heads at the appointment and predicted a fall from grace for the treble winning Inter side who are now leading Serie A and romped to a 4-0 win over Werder Bremen in the week as Rafa’s replacement Roy Hodgson’s side struggle in the Premier League. Talk to those who concern themselves more with the fortunes of Liverpool FC and they will point the finger of blame at the Americans who own the club rather than the managers.

Nevertheless it is worth considering Benitez’s progress for a moment and comparing it with to events which have unfolded for Peter Taylor. Inter Milan were obviously in rude health having won every competition they entered last season while Liverpool are obviously not and were Hodgson to have returned to the San Siro and Rafa remained where he was one is tempted to suggest that very little would have been different.

So Taylor – a manager with a good track record – struggles at Bradford City and is rumoured to be a draw away from being fired and one wonders how much different things would have been were anyone else rather than Taylor been manager.

None of which is to say that managers have no capability for effecting change but rather that they are not the sole agent of it and – if they are not given the time, resource and remit – they will be as battered along on the winds of fortune as any supporter.

Take, as an example, Chris Sutton who was the manager of Lincoln for a touch under twelve months that ended this week. Sutton inherited his side from former Bantam Peter Jackson when they were placed twentieth and left this week with the Imps placed twentieth. The fact that he was not able to improve or make worse Lincoln in that time suggests that the problem is something other than the manager.

Rafa carries on Inter Milan’s success and looks to continue it, Roy takes on Liverpool’s decline and looks to arrest it while Peter Taylor gets to grips with what is going on at Valley Parade and one hope that he is allowed to fully grasp that task.

Taylor brought in the two defenders from Manchester United with heads scratched as to why they are needed. It seems that Reece Brown will come in at right back to cover injuries and that Oliver Gill might take the other full back slot over Robbie Threlfall leaving Shane Duff and Steve Williams to carry on their partnership at the back in front of Jon McLaughlin.

Such would be harsh on Threlfall who like Taylor impressed in his first three months and then had some tough times. Perhaps Threlfall will be reflecting that he and Taylor are currently enjoying the same fortunes and while Taylor is given a month, he is not. It is said that there are people in the City dressing room who say they would no be upset were Taylor be moved on but these are the kind of rumours that no one could substantiate and few would believe if it were not for the displacement of the team’s performances and the search for reasons for that.

Zesh Rehman – who launched his own foundation this week – is rendered almost obsolete by this decision too. What does one make of a situation when both right backs are injured and a loanee is brought in over the next man. Indeed what does one make of Rehman’s time at City which has seen some good performances, and some good periods of play like the end of last season, but have never seen him cement a place in the side.

A former Premier League player and one with the ability to play well Rehman joins a lengthy list of players signed by the club and later seemingly rendered useless. Supporters and the club have a tendency to lay these failures at the door of the player – be he Dan Petrescu, Michael Boulding, John McGinlay, Paul McLaren or Bruno Rodriguez – but the constancy of this sign and deteriorate through various managers, boards and years is something not to be dismissed so lightly. Rehman is another player that – it seems – the club have failed to get the most out.

The midfield starts to return to a shape that was anticipated at the start of the season with Michael Flynn almost ready to return. Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Tom Ademeyi have struggled from game to game although Ademeyi looked good on his return in the week but it seems that he would be the one to step down when Flynn returns. Lee Hendrie seems to have a long road bad to fitness done in half hour steps from the bench while David Syers deserves much credit for his introduction to League football and as he returns to the bench he should do so with great heart and promise.

Omar Daley returned to the forward line in a swap with Jake Speight and impressed although the idea that Taylor will only play one of the two lively forwards is frustrating. On paper the pair would seem ideal for channel running and getting close to the big striker but – perhaps to avoid predictability – Taylor prefers to have two who might win the ball up front and Gareth Evans and Luke Oliver providing weight to the forward line.

Morecambe sit 22nd in League Two – a place below City – and were bested 4-1 by Bury in their new home this week. They are the sort of team that City are always expected to beat and for once for Peter Taylor the expectations do not outstrip the things in his control, o el control del hombre de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme.

Perplexed

Picture the scene; it’s 9.45pm on Tuesday 28 September and the game between Rotherham United and Bradford City concludes. The 600 or so City supporters rise to their feet and applaud the Bradford City players despite their team failing to score in yet another league game.

The reality is that Rotherham United are still unbeaten at home in the league this season whilst Bradford City are still to win an away league game this season. So why the applause from the City faithful? Well, going into the game, it was quite possible that our team could be propping up the football league.

However, a determined team performance ensures that City gain a precious point and climb one place to 21st in Division 4. It doesn’t sound glamorous but the City supporters appreciated the effort shown by all of the players who played at the Don Valley Stadium. To me, this shows that at whatever level of football, if the players show effort and commitment, then most supporters will appreciate their efforts.

It was interesting to see that Shane Duff, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien were three of the City players who walked towards the City faithful at Don Valley after the game to return the applause to the supporters. For me, these three City defenders put in solid performances. O’Brien is enjoying one of his best runs in the first team whilst Duff and Williams are forming a strong partnership at the heart of City’s defence.

Williams was my man of the match and I believe that he has the potential to be as good as Dean Richards. At one point, Williams was beaten in the tackle but did he give up? No – he won the football back and dribbled it out of defence before playing an intelligent but simple pass to a colleague.

So, why am I typing further notes from the away game at Rotherham United when Jason has already produced yet another quality match report? Well, because today I read that our club has signed two Manchester United reserve players on loan for a month. I am perplexed.

The back five last night played well and it’s no coincidence that this good defensive performance occurred with the absence of Hunt, Oliver and Threlfall. (I know, Oliver played up front again and I’ll come to that matter in a bit.) I am all in favour of Peter Taylor remaining as our manager for many seasons to come. But with our poor start to the season I can understand why supporters are muttering that Taylor doesn’t know what he is doing. And I have to agree with that to a degree.

It will be interesting to see who starts at the weekend in the vital game against Morecambe. For me, if Taylor doesn’t start with the same five players who played in defence against Rotherham United, there will be plenty of already frustrated people whispering negative comments inside Valley Parade on Saturday afternoon. I simply do not understand why Brown and Gill have joined us for one month. Surely, if we are going to sign a couple of loan players, we need some forward players who can score goals.

Four goals in our first nine league games does not read well for us City supporters. We all know that Hanson is injured and Evans is lacking in confidence although his second half performance at Don Valley showed some signs of improvement. Speight, for me, despite not scoring yet for us, has been our best striker so far this season.

I’ve read comments both in support and against playing Luke Oliver up front. For me, I do not like playing players out of position and this includes starting with tall defenders playing up front. Maybe if you are chasing the game with 10 minutes to go, take a chance and throw a tall player up front. But, we shouldn’t be starting with Oliver up front. Unfortunately, Oliver is a Taylor signing and I fear that he will continue to start up front until Hanson fit again. And then, when Hanson is fit, do not be surprised if we see Oliver starting in the heart of our defence with one of the two Manchester United loan signings.

I am supportive of both the Bradford City management and players. However, if the Manchester United loan signings start against Morecambe and Oliver starts up front, I will not be happy. However, I will not be booing the players but I will be questioning Taylor’s judgement.

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.

The end of the beginning, or still something much worse?

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. The bubble of optimism that was growing after the Gillingham win had been painfully burst at Northampton three days ago. And a trip to a third-placed Rotherham side who had scored 12 goals in their previous four home games suggested only one outcome – a heavy defeat. Yet Bradford City put in a performance far beyond expectations to earn a draw that could easily have been more.

For the second Bantams visit to the Don Valley Stadium in a row, home keeper Andy Warrington was named the sponsors’ man of the match. This said much about the quality of the visitors’ display. It was no backs to the wall defensive job, with Warrington making stunning saves to deny Omar Daley, Tom Adeyemi (twice) and Steve Williams from snatching a priceless winner. City were comfortably the better side, and despite having to settle for a point will have returned back up the M1 with renewed confidence.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. Following the Northampton defeat, word reached BfB that an unhappy City Board had told Peter Taylor anything less than four points from the next two games will see him sacked. Another source claimed the manager has been given a month to turn it around. Whether either rumour is true, the fear is that this situation can’t go on much longer without someone deciding on drastic action.

This could have been Taylor’s last game in charge, but if any of the Board were at the Don Valley tonight they would surely have taken great heart from the way the team performed which should carry beyond whatever happens on Saturday. City began on the front foot, with the returning Daley causing problems down the left flank and the midfield trio of Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Adeyemi quickly getting on top.

Daley was one of the chief scapegoats for the Southend debacle almost exactly a month ago; and although he has been away with Jamaica for a short period, he has found himself shunned from any first team action. Yet if City are going to climb up the table they must surely utilise their better-quality players. And whatever is said about Daley, when on form he is just that.

As ever, tonight we saw a mixed bag from Omar and his decision making was familiarly poor at times. But he provided a spark that helped the team claim greater territorial advantage than we’ve managed on the road all season, and the first half ended with his fizzing shot from an angle forcing the best out of Warrington.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. If Taylor was dismissed, where exactly would that leave the rest of the season? Sure we might bring in someone who can turn our under-achievers into world-beaters and climb the league, but City’s recent history shows such hopes are highly fanciful and never realised. Too often the answer to the problems has apparently lied in appointing another new manager, yet still the club’s decline continues.

More likely there would be a short-term boost from a new man, but in the longer-run the problems currently afflicting Taylor would remain. And as well as the cost of sacking a manager, there’d be a need to fund his replacement’s demands in the transfer market. All in all it’s a risk that could see the season written off with over three quarters of it to go. Is that really the best route to take?

But until tonight at least, there’s been a conflict of emotions inside pretty much every City supporter. Sure it’s a daft idea to sack a manager after 10 games…but what has Taylor done this season to deserve our support? There’s been very little for us to be impressed by regarding his performance since the season kicked off, and we’ve probably all scratched our heads wondering why the great things he was doing towards the end of last season suddenly aren’t coming off.

Tonight though Taylor got it right. Aside from a 20-minute spell before half time, Rotherham were completely neutralised by the 4-3-3 formation and strong levels of effort running throughout the team. At the back Steve Williams and Shane Duff were simply outstanding – the former so able in winning the ball from a forward’s feet, the latter never missing anything in the air.

On either side of them, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien were contributing at both ends of the pitch. O’Brien in particular having a storming game which included recovering from a slightly rocky five-minute period where he’d made one mistake. What a talent Luke has become.

A perfect display? Not by a long shot. In the final third City continue to struggle to find the fluency levels that Taylor’s side were able to regularly achieve last season. Luke Oliver again gave his all as an emergency striker and had more joy winning flick ons in the second half, but the sooner James Hanson returns or a target man is signed on loan the better City’s ‘goals for’ column will look. Gareth Evans still appears short of confidence and high on indecision, but we should not forget what a good player he can be if he can recapture his form.

Early in the second half, City really got on top and were seemingly camped out in the Rotherham half. Warrington made his collection of breathtaking saves and other efforts were blocked or flew narrowly over. Several corners were won and the backing from the 605 Bantams fans was impressive.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. On the message boards so many fans were saying they weren’t going to attend and, as me and my friend supped pints in a sparsely-populated empty away fans bar inside the ground with less than half an hour to kick off, it seemed as though we’d be short of company outside in the stand. Yet there was a good following in the end, and the noise levels were impressive too.

Midway through the first half a chant of Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army thundered across the empty Don Valley bowl. When Daley was subbed, which appeared unfair on the winger, there were no boos like in previous games. At Northampton there’d been reports of ‘Taylor out’ chants, but tonight not one word of dissent was aired his way – at least within my ear shot.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. That it’d be a heavy defeat; that would then cause another managerial change, that would then split supporters, that would then end the season prematurely, that would then lead to falling attendances, that would then lead to the club’s downward spiral continuing, that would then lead to oblivion.

Even by recent standards it’s been such a dark time for every Bradford City supporter, and we’ve had little cause to believe we should expect to feel anything but miserable.

But the worst didn’t happen. And although a home defeat to Morecambe on Saturday might bring about all that we fear, perhaps we should begin to believe the corner is being slowly turned. It’s now one defeat from four, and the Northampton debacle aside there has been a steady improvement to performances. The poor start has been a colossal under-achievement, but that huge capacity to do much better means it’s not yet time to give up – on the players, on Taylor, on that promotion dream.

The season is still only at the beginning, but now we’re praying for that beginning to end.

Taking the next steps

As Peter Taylor substituted Louis Moult to widespread boos and groans two-thirds of the way into Bradford City’s eventual win over Gillingham last week, it was tempting to ponder just how long the City manager will be around to make such unpopular decisions.

This was the second home game in a row a substitution by Taylor was booed by some fans; and in the other two league home games there was the half time chant directed at him to “sort it out” against Southend, and booing the team off in victory against Stevenage.

Unlike his predecessor, Stuart McCall, Taylor is clearly not someone readily prepared to blame himself and believe those questioning him are right to do so, and one can speculate whether the reason his assistant Wayne Jacobs was sent out to face the media after the game was due to anger at having his decisions questioned once more.

A frosty relationship between manager and many supporters is beginning to develop.

The frustration last Saturday stemmed from the fact it was Moult rather than Luke Oliver taken off by Taylor. After a fairly anonymous start to his six-month loan stint at Valley Parade, the Stoke striker was finally beginning to show glimpses of his potential and was one of a handful of influential players helping City to get on top in the second half. Oliver meanwhile looked clumsy and awkward, the wrong man in the right place of City’s increasingly-frequent attacks. The sight of Gareth Evans ready to come on told us the hook was coming, but in many fans eyes Taylor was taking off the wrong man.

Football coaches often talk about the importance of going back-to-basics when things go wrong. If, for example, a midfielder produces a poor pass, he is encouraged to make sure he tries something much simpler the next time he receives possession, so he can quickly build up confidence again. When a team is on a run like City have been, it’s understandable Taylor would want to take a back-to-basics approach to selection and tactics. Start getting points on the board, then build up again from there.

Taylor’s approach against Gillingham strongly suggested going back-to-basics. Without James Hanson and after a loan striker turned down a move, the deployment of Oliver up front was all about better-retaining possession in the final third so the team as a whole could gain greater territorial advantage. Oliver was instructed to win and hold up the ball, thus bringing others into the game. Not fantastic to watch maybe, but effective. Basic you might say.

I personally believe Taylor got a better performance from his players than he’d dared hoped, particularly in the second half when Lee Hendrie’s introduction sparked more attacking impetuous and saw City gain a lot more joy from passing it through – rather than over – the visitors.

But this improvement suddenly made the tactic of Oliver up front far less effective, and what City really needed was a forward more comfortable in possession and who could make intelligent runs. The moment where Hendrie dribbled past a couple of players and produced a perfectly weighted through ball for Oliver, only for the tall defender to fail to control it with just the keeper to beat, summed up the sudden problem.

So like others I was willing Taylor to take off Oliver. And although I did not boo, I did groan and feel deflated when Moult was hauled off instead. This was surely a moment where Taylor could have been braver, shown more belief in the way his team was playing. But in the back of his mind perhaps was the risk of Gillingham scoring and City needed to go long ball in the final 10 minutes, where Oliver would have been needed.

But after so many times a City manager has been unjustly slated for his tactics when City have lost a game, Taylor ultimately deserves a lot of credit for the fact his tactics and substitutions ultimately delivered three valuable points.

As City head to Northampton this weekend, it will be interesting to see how much Taylor changes things around to build on the basics which have slowly started to come together since the season’s low point of the 2-0 loss to Southend. Both Hanson and Michael Flynn – another target man option – are not expected to be fit in time, so the chances of Oliver continuing up front would appear high.

But it should be recalled that arguably the best football City have played under Taylor so far, the final five games of last season, saw a 4-3-3 formation employed without a target man. This worked well because of the running and link up of Leon Osborne, Gareth Evans and Gavin Grant. It is that level of football City now aspire to reach again, and to which Taylor could consider evolving the back-to-basics approach from and look to employ at Sixfields.

Oliver’s move up the pitch enabled Steve Williams to return to the central defence against Gillingham, and the impressive display he and the fast-improving Shane Duff produced would suggest Oliver may have to join Zesh Rehman on the bench at some point in the near future. With Jon McLaughlin also looking more composed during the last two games, Taylor is moving closer towards a solid defence which has acted as the bedrock of his previous promotion-winning teams

At full backs, however, there are plenty of unresolved issues. Lewis Hunt and Robbie Threlfall have both attracted a lot of criticism for their efforts this season, but in many ways they are in excellent company as I struggle to recall many City full backs over the years who were not slated at some point.

In terms of Hunt, the criticism he’s receiving has to be balanced by the fact he is a second choice right back at a fourth division club. The wage allocated for this role isn’t going to be high, and so Taylor is limited in the options and ability he could bring in. Meanwhile Threlfall had a shocker at Shrewsbury on the opening day, and hasn’t recovered.

Luke O’Brien, who’s had his own dips of form, is arguably playing his best football of his career so far. The Gillingham half time switch around that saw Threlfall replaced and O’Brien moved to left back is surely likely to be continued while Threlfall rebuilds his confidence. But let’s not forget it is his form, rather than ability, which is the problem.

In midfield there are suddenly stronger options when a fortnight ago it looked a major problem area. Lee Bullock picked up the sponsors man of the match last week and his return to form benefited Tommy Doherty; while the arrival of Hendrie further brought the best out of both. For now Hendrie will probably remain on the bench, or start the game and be taken off, as he builds fitness. David Syers is beginning to look the part and should be fit to start; Omar Daley has been an unused sub for the last two games, and the Jamaican’s future is beginning to look bleak.

Up front there remains a troubling lack of goals, and the poor form of Evans and tentativeness of Moult leaves Taylor with some difficult decisions. Osborne’s first meaningful appearance of the season last week attracted derision, but his form at the end of last season showed promise and it would be worth getting behind the player – who has emerged through the ranks, remember – rather than writing him off so prematurely. For now at least Oliver classes as a forward option.

Northampton are fresh from incredible cup exploits over Liverpool, but in every other way will hopefully be stale. Taylor had joked about asking Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee to make sure the game went to extra time, and the fact Clobbers’ players were on the floor with cramp towards the end of their penalty shoot out win would suggest the Bantams will carry a fitness advantage from no midweek action.

City have so far lost two and drawn one on their travels, and though it is still early days the points return from the trips to Northampton on Saturday and Rotherham on Tuesday will say a lot about the team prospects for the rest of the season. A four-point haul would set City up nicely for upcoming easier-looking games and a climb up the table during autumn.

Achieve that and, come winter, it’s hoped the only frost we’ll be talking about is the stuff which forms on the ground, rather than the nature of the feelings heading towards and from the Valley Parade dugout.

Getting the message

First it was Jon McLaughlin, then Steve Williams and now it’s James Hanson’s turn. The Bradford City striker has joined his team mates in receiving public criticism from his manager Peter Taylor, the reasons for which are less than clear.

Taylor declared Hanson, “probably needs two kicks (up the backside). He hasn’t done himself any favours this year. He’s been a little bit unlucky with the hamstring injury – the imbalance he has got isn’t his fault – but in other areas he could have done better for himself and he knows that.” Last season’s top scorer has missed the last three games with injury, and has only started four matches this season. He’s certainly not hit the heights of last year to date, but it’s not clear what Taylor is disappointed with him for.

Rumours have circulated BfB’s way that Hanson has not exactly been the model professional off the pitch, and it’s been suggested he may not even be injured as reported. The tone to Taylor’s words don’t seem to allude to Hanson’s efforts when playing and give some legs to those rumours, and one is left to wonder whether it is wise for Taylor to make ambiguous comments, or indeed say anything about the situation in the public domain, when it can be left so open to interpretation.

Taylor has also not been afraid to criticise McLaughlin for making goalkeeping errors and Williams for not taking matters seriously enough, and it is quite unusual to hear a City manager talk so openly critically in this way about their players. The main school of thought on public criticism, which emanates from Sir Alex Ferguson’s unflinching stance, is that cross words should remain private and players are defended to the hilt in front of the microphones. We know Sir Alex is a tea cup throwing – or at least boot-kicking – type of manager, but no matter how badly behaved some of his players were, he’s never brought his true feelings to the public’s notice.

In our own working lives, many of us may have experienced similar approaches from our own managers. I’ve certainly had bosses who wouldn’t be afraid to tell me off or give me a kick up the backside when I’d deserved it, but when it came to talking to anyone else would defend me to the hilt and only say good things. Similarly I’ve had managers who wouldn’t be prepared to stick up for me and happily join in offering criticism in front of others, and like most people it’s the former style of management that I respond to best.

The one-to-one relationship between manager and employee/player is so vital. Trust needs to be encouraged from both sides; honesty and respect should be mutually contributed and recipicated. The most important person in McLaughlin, Williams and Hanson’s immediate future is Taylor, and it’s vital those relationships work in a way that sees the manager get the most out of them. Whether that’s putting an arm around the shoulder, or screaming in their face.

No one, apart from the manager and player can truly understand how well those relationships are working, because no one knows what Taylor says in private to any of his players. Public criticism for Hanson can seem harsh or unclear to us supporters reading, as we don’t know exactly what he has done to deserve it. But perhaps we are not the target of Taylor’s words, even if it seems they are meant for us to read. Perhaps Taylor’s spoke many times to Hanson and needs a different way of getting the message home. Perhaps when the Telegraph & Argus dropped through the Hanson’s household’s letter box on Wednesday so too did the penny.

Whatever the reasons for Taylor public criticism and however confusing they appear to us in-the-dark supporters, it’s to be hoped they’ve been made loud and clear to the one person who counts.

A timely reminder

Being a Bradford City fan has hardly been something to shout about over the last few years. Since the end of our Premiership dream a decade ago, we’ve suffered more than most supporters – administrations, relegations, dreadful football, questionable management and not even a decent cup run to speak of (unless we count last season’s assault on the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, where a penalty shoot-out victory over the mighty Notts County sparked a farcical pitch invasion).

We’ve watched teams who are traditionally our equals, Burnley and Blackpool, reach the dizzy heights of the Premier League whilst we have tried to get ourselves enthused about trips to the likes of Accrington and Aldershot.

What many of us had believed would be a short stay in the basement division of English football has turned into a four-season nightmare, which has shown little sign of ending anytime soon. The realisation that we are now a ‘proper’ League 2 club isn’t easy to accept.

The opening weeks of this season haven’t given much cause for us to believe we will be popping the champagne corks come May – before Saturday our 6 league games had heralded a total of 4 points and 3 goals. The various City-related message boards have been a hotbed of negativity (some of which is difficult to argue against), Peter Taylor has already been forced to deny rumours of a boardroom rift and every move he makes – whether it be giving a short-term deal to Chib Chilaka or appearing as a pundit on Sky – seems to be scrutinised to the maximum.

The fact a section of our support booed a 1-0 victory on the second weekend of the season says it all – the phrase ‘doom and gloom’ could have been invented for our club.

At Saturday’s game versus Gillingham it felt as though some of our supporters had seen enough. Ian Ormondroyd remarked on The Pulse prior to the match that the stadium and surrounding areas had a quieter feel about them and the area in which I sit was significantly less populated than it had been for a while. Although the actual attendance of 10,722 was only slightly down on previous weeks, the general feeling of malaise within the stadium made it seem almost cavernous at times. Those that did attend saw little in the opening 45 minutes to suggest anything other than another disappointing afternoon was on the cards.

The introduction of Lee Hendrie and Leon Osborne at half time seemed to have a slight galvanising effect on the team, if not all of the supporters. For much of the second period a goalless draw looked to be the only possible outcome, despite some uncharacteristically positive play from City. Whilst the atmosphere in the stadium showed a marked improvement on that of the first half, it wasn’t anywhere near the intensity we all know it can be – it didn’t seem to feel as though we could actually win.

Last week I, like millions of others, watched Arsenal practically destroy Portuguese side Braga in the opening round of the Champions League. After the Gunners casually knocked in goal after goal, seemingly scoring with every attack, I half-jokingly remarked, “I wish I supported a team like Arsenal.”

I’ve followed City for over 20 years and there is no way that I would ever switch allegiance to another team, but I watched that Arsenal performance with a mixture of pleasure and envy. I very much doubt that Bradford City could ever turn in a display like that in my lifetime and we are unlikely to ever have players who can match the skill of Cesc Fabregas or Andrey Arshavin.

Yet as I watched, I noticed something. With 10 minutes to go the Emirates Stadium was emptying rapidly. By the final whistle it must have been half full at the most. This reminded me exactly why I don’t support a team like Arsenal – who wants to be in an environment where success is treated with such apathy?

On Saturday, Steve Williams’ 92nd minute header provided a timely reminder of what supporting Bradford City is all about. As followers of our team we endure countless hours of sub-standard football, primitive facilities at away grounds and diabolical refereeing decisions but the sheer euphoria of a late, late winner makes it all worthwhile.

The scenes of jubilation inside Valley Parade were fantastic to witness after so much recent disappointment and the positive atmosphere among our supporters leaving the stadium made a refreshing change.

The win may have only lifted City 3 places up the table but there are 39 games still to play, which we can maybe begin to look upon with (extremely) cautious optimism. Nobody can argue that there aren’t still problems for our manager to address, such as the lack of experience up front, but for now we should enjoy the fact that City are unbeaten in their last two outings.

Whilst walking back to my car after the game on Saturday I heard that well-worn footballing cliché ‘the season starts here’ more than once. Let’s hope it really does.

The day after the sky fell in

Last week City had to beat Southend United and did not.

The sky did not fall in on Chicken Licken nor did the walls tumble down but the sense of dejection around City fans was palpable. There is a level of disappointment which goes beyond a moaning about the team or the players to just not talking at all. Rather than getting heads together and saying how this formation or that substitution would have sorted out the problems City fans around Bradford and beyond looked blank and shrugged. What is there to do?

Some carried on as normal – one has to be impressed with the tenacity of the people who are still arguing that everything will be right when Stuart McCall leaves the club when the evidence of swapping one manager for another once again illustrates that the manager was never the main of the problem – but even that carrying on seemed to be half hearted. Making the same noises because they are the noises you make.

Peter Taylor made his noises on the BBC’s Football Focus revealing his disappointment in the season so far, using “they” rather than “we” a couple of times and issuing an open invite to David Beckham to come to Valley Parade where he would get a game although one has to worry that with the three man midfield with two wide players up front if Goldenballs would fit into the Bantams line up.

It is that line up which Peter Taylor is being urged to change for the arrival of Port Vale on Saturday. Taylor deployed a World Cup style 4231 but the three given the role of dangerous players were anything but and the result was a massive hole between the midfield and lone striker James Hanson.

James Hanson has come in for some criticism this week – “just a pub player” someone said. People who think like that are wasting their money even coming to Valley Parade just as people who love Pot Noodles and Big Macs are wasting their money going to Noma. Of the reasons to be optimistic about the future of Bradford City Hanson figures highly and if he is fit he would be the first name on my teamsheet.

Hanson came off at half time last week as City’s 4231 faltered and the whispers are that the striker has not been fit all season. Taylor has the option of deploying Gareth Evans or Chib Chilaka as target man to give Hanson the chance to recover but seems to hold last season’s player of the season in high regard and – as I would – would probably play him every week if he could.

Jake Speight has returned to full fitness and liberty and is expected to make a first start for the club as one of three up front with Evans alongside him and Omar Daley dropped to the bench. Speight and Daley both seem to be charged with offering (for want of a better phrase) an x-factor to City’s line up and presently Daley looks some way away from being able to do that. One could speculate all day about why this is – tougher training, return to fitness, form – but the winger has always blown hot and cold and managing him back to heat quickly has been a challenge for City bosses.

Louis Moult is talked up much considering he is a Stoke City played facing Port Vale but after a poor show last week one doubts the loanee will make the side. Since the moment pre-season finished Moult has worn a City shirt well but not shown anything to suggest he is worth a place in the side. He is all promise and prospect but – at present – Taylor needs productivity.

The Moult Hole last week caused an issue for City’s two holding players Tommy Doherty and Lee Bullock – both of whom are expected to start in a three man midfield alongside probably Tom Ademeyi or perhaps David Syers – who ended up having to come forward to try fill the hole. Doherty has started to look impressive in his distribution while Bullock is struggling to get back to last season’s ways.

The defence seems a mixed bag thus far. Robbie Threlfall’s distribution is missed giving him the edge over Luke O’Brien although the latter has put in some good performances. Lewis Hunt is steady to a fault at right back – nothing gets past him really, he does not get past anybody really – but Zesh Rehman hangs on his shoulder looking for a place in the side. Anyone who things that Rehman he been “obviously the worst player at the club for eighteen months” (as was commented this week) is invited to go stand in the Wilderness Garden behind an eight foot fence on a Saturday afternoon.

None of Rehman or Luke Oliver, Shane Duff and Steve Williams have especially been woeful this term and occasionally some have been excellent. In defence popular wisdom has it that Taylor should pick a team and stick to it but one recalls how Paul Jewell would have three names on his back four and float in one of Ashley Westwood, Jon Dreyer or Andrew O’Brien to partner Darren Moore between Steven Wright and Wayne Jacobs seemingly at random although – perhaps – based on the opposition.

Jon McLaughlin, he plays in goal. He blamed himself for the first goal against Southend allowing the ball to get away from in turning possession over to the visitors. He must have been waiting for people to note his mistake, waiting for the treatment that Simon Eastwood got for similar.

As it happened the sky did not fall in.

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.

Everything looks bad right now

In the immediate minutes that followed Anthony Grant’s second half KO blow for Southend, the overriding mood in the air was not provided by the vocal anger of many apoplectic home fans – but the melancholy of everybody else.

This was all very miserably familiar. A game Bradford City ‘should’ win turning out to be a morale-denting defeat so formulated and repetitive over the past few years that it feels like we’re trapped in our own version of Last of the Summer Wine. Just like the world’s long-running sitcom, it ceased to be even mildly amusing a long, long time ago.

But as many supporters reacted with rage, unleashing levels of vociferous abuse that, even by Valley Parade standards, has not been reached for a good few seasons; it was the silent resignation of others which arguably represents the most concern. Worry not too much of those who text into Radio Leeds and log onto message boards to angrily point the finger, worry about those who may now be questioning their sanity in attending next time.

Prior to kick off I was buying my tickets for Stockport away and found a healthy queue of City fans handing over £20 to watch this evening’s game. With the first two league attendances of the season falling below the 11,000 mark, the hope that the shortfall of season ticket sales would be rectified by pay on the day supporters will be quickly dashed by evenings as wretched as this. Where three seasons ago a similarly woeful defeat to Accrington brought out a defiant spirit amongst supporters, tonight there was not even the slim consolation of an enjoyable atmosphere to keep the floating supporter interested.

Tonight Valley Parade was simply an ugly place to be. The boost of a commendable cup performance against higher division opposition was supposed to be act as the springboard that finally got the season going. When Tommy Doherty superbly played James Hanson through on goal after 10 minutes, we all prepared to celebrate the commencement of a promotion challenge after some false starts. Last season’s top scorer badly screwed his shot wide, and that was as good as it got for City.

Six minutes later Southend grabbed a lead that at the time seemed undeserved and slightly controversial – Barry Corr played through on goal but looking borderline offside, finishing impressively past Jon McLaughlin. But for the remaining 74 minutes the visitors made sure they were full value for the three points.

City’s formation and tactics were hard to fathom, but it appeared Peter Taylor had adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation particularly popular at this year’s World Cup. Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty sat deep; Gareth Evans, Omar Daley and Louis Moult interchanged positions behind Hanson. But the three attacking midfielders/forwards were highly ineffective and left a hole that saw attacks quickly break down. All three were guilty of failing to utilise space and charging down blind alleys while in possession, when they needed greater awareness of what was around them. The uncompromising Southend defence easily lapped it up.

Home pressure was sporadic and little thought was paid to setting the tempo. Southend chased and harried the ball high up the park and hit City effectively on the counter attack by flooding players into the box. Josh Simpson and Craig Easton both squandered easy chances to double the advantage as a ponderous City defence panicked and continually lost sight of runners. Taylor headed to the dressing room at half time with the Bradford End chanting at him to sort it out.

Yet rather than address the trimmings, he uprooted the foundations. If there weren’t many bright spots to the first half, surely the performances of Doherty and Bullock should have been considered something to build on. While at times forced too deep, both showed composure while others hastily whacked the ball up the pitch. Doherty seemed to benefit from Bullock’s close support and everything good came through them. But the dismal performances of Evans, Daley and Moult just ahead left them hopelessly outnumbered and they needed an extra body to help. How Michael Flynn was missed.

But although Taylor made the right decision to bring on Flynn’s understudy David Syers at half time, he oddly took Bullock off in a straight swap. And while Luke O’Brien brought a bit more balance by being pushed to left midfield, with Robbie Threlfall replacing Louis Moult, the taking off of James Hanson – which may have been due to picking up a knock – for Jake Speight saw the problems largely remain. Speight played well, but he was the only one who could effectively hold up the ball.

City went 4-4-2, and a midfield which had played reasonably well but been outnumbered became even more out-gunned, Doherty struggling to exert any influence. Initially City at least carried more purpose and came close through Speight and Luke Oliver, but on 55 minutes Grant fired home from the edge of the area after a free kick was partially cleared and the mountain became even steeper.

There was an element of misfortune, however, as only seconds before the goal City had been attacking with some purpose. But when Syers’ ball to Doherty hit a bobble just before it reached the midfielder, Southend were able to break up the pitch, force a throw in and score. That’s how bad things went tonight, even that much-trumpeted new playing surface let us down.

The anger poured down from the stands, with Daley the obvious target and bizarrely told to “get off the pitch” by some fans in the Midland Road stand. We’ve used all three subs, so are we supposed to play with ten men? But while you can argue he and the rest deserved it, the fury reigning down does not present a productive atmosphere for the players to perform in. It is no surprise that certain players disappeared into their shells and left others to take responsibility. When O’Brien whacked an improbable crossfield ball over that Daley stood little chance of keeping in, it was the Jamaican and not the young defender who received the torrent of abuse.

With 13 minutes to go hope briefly flickered in the shape of the stupid sending off of right back Sean Clohessy, after he needlessly hacked O’Brien having already been booked for time wasting. But there was no way back despite pushing Oliver up front, with ideas long since run out. An awful evening was summed up by second half captain Steve Williams lashing a shot high into the Kop from a ridiculous distance, for no obvious reason than frustration.

Valley Parade emptied long before the end, sparing the players from volume 11 boos. But most will be back. And if City are to live up to the pre-season expectations there is a battle they must overcome – coping with this pressure. Half the people screaming abuse were livid for City launching long balls at the back, the other half were having a go for passing sideways and not getting it forwards quick enough. The players need to learn to ignore their frustrations and play in the right manner. The only people they need to obey are their team mates and management.

Taylor took full responsibility for the defeat afterwards, admitting his team selection had been wrong. And in this situation City have exactly the right man to cope with the pressure and get the players going again. He needs to find a system that works for the players and he has to stick with it, rather than constantly changing tactics and players. He needs to get the most out of the ability of Doherty by setting up the team so he can dictate the play. He needs to select a regular back four that are familiar with each other’s position on the field rather than having to look over their shoulders. He needs to address the worrying lack of chances and goals the forward line is delivering.

But as the sun went down during the second half, it will rise again on Saturday morning. There are eight days to work on the training ground and 42 games left to fulfill expectations. Paul Jewell was in the commentary box this evening, a reminder that, while everything looks bad now, a bad start to the season needn’t prove the end of it.

Empathy but no space for sympathy for Southend United

Southend United have fallen from above the leagues and arrive in the bottom division struggling to stay alive, get a team together and with three games and one draw behind them struggling to get a win. It is a situation which City have found themselves in a number of times and it is hard not to feel some empathy.

Sympathy though will be in short supply. Bradford City need to win.

Not need to win in the two points to stave off relegation or win promotion or need to win in the “win or you get fired” way but with the team having put in a good performance in defeat on Tuesday after three unimpressive displays in the League – and the City about to get a good kicking in the media on Saturday – the early season malaise can be lifted with victory in this Friday night game.

Southend is home to Peter Taylor – he was manager too – although he harbours a reduced affection for the town he called home lamenting the decline of the centre. Empathy.

That Taylor’s time at Bradford City has so quickly started to sour is worrying. The best manager available to the Bantams is being criticised because his team have lost two away matches and heard a parting shot from Scott Neilson about PTs playing style which was booed against Stevenage in the last outing in the league at Valley Parade.

One cannot help but wish that Mark Lawn would occupy himself in stating for all that Taylor is the best manager for the job, that he is here for the long term and that he has the full throated backing of the board but alas Taylor’s remit presently only lasts until such a point where it is considered he will not take City to promotion and – for some people – that point has already been reached.

As curious as it maybe to some but wandering around the places where Bantams fans talk after the Torquay United game already the season had been written off – there is a ludicrousness to that assuming a great team gets three points from home games and one from away leaving the Bantams able to win the next two and be back on a perfect track – and for all one might say that only a madman would sign his name to such a comment those men have started to talk and Taylor’s job is already questioned and who is anyone to silence them?

The Tuesday night performance was a fillip. Taylor’s beamed with pride after the performance of his players on Tuesday night – they played hard and were beaten by a couple of long range laser guided shots – and perhaps most pleasing was the performance of some of the fringe players.

There is a speculation that Taylor has brought quantity and not quality to the club and that may be true – although few would have suggested that Tommy Doherty does not represent quality – but Taylor is betting on the idea that a good team comes not from having a higher eleven inked into your team sheet but from having one and a half dozen players who could all feature at any point.

It is experience like this that convinces all about Taylor. He knows football at this level and how to win at it and part of that is – he seems to say – ensuring that you have a depth of player who all can be used. I would agree with the manager. The notion that – at League Two level – there is an ocean of quality to choose from simply does not agree with the football we have seen over the last three years or longer.

So the performance of David Syers and Jake Speight – non-league signings awaiting their first start for City in the league – will be heartening with both showing their usefulness in the League Cup. Speight is itching to go and his header in the week seemed to bury the last of the decent that surrounded him while Syers performance was understated and on the whole unrecognised.

Syers is a rare thing. A player who shows his enthusiasm through his disciplined play, who shows his passion by sticking to his man. He has filled a huge gap in the side that would have been left when the last of the ideal midfield three of Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and Tommy Doherty departed on Tuesday and as resources in the middle are thin his first start seems to be imminent.

Seeing Taylor deploy Syers as well as Chib Chilaka on Tuesday night in a team which also contained James Hanson and Steve Williams showed the current manager’s commitment to continuing the recruitment of players from outside the League structure which shows an added depth to the squad. Without wanting to afford the plaudits to Syers before he has even started a game in players like Syers, Hanson and Williams Taylor gets a resource in the squad previous managers have not.

These players are the Danny Forrests, Craig Benthams and Jake Wrights of City’s past who have learnt that when you exit your league club you end up in a Supermarket or cutting hair and having been given the second chance you work for need to work harder to maintain it.

There is a lesson for many players who are in the squad, or have been, about attitude and one which Syers is testament to. Work hard and good things will come, and more power to his elbow in that.

Assuming the main midfield three are out then Syers will be alongside Tom Adeyemi and perhaps a press ganged striker or defender although probably Bullock or Doherty will return to action. The three in midfield are to be expected to have more work to do with the two wider players deployed on Tuesday night in a 451 being the strikers of a 433 if you will allow me the vagueness of tactical talk.

Gareth Evans is expected to be one of those strikers, Jake Speight hoped to be another with Omar Daley dropping down to the bench. There are few things in football that thrill me more than watching a winger like Daley charging at men but this season, and this set up, do not suit the Jamaican and one worries about his place in the squad.

Certainly Taylor recognises that as a player Daley offers an abundance of energy which can make an unplayable winger but the restrictions on his play and requirement to have him tuck in to the midfield and come back defensively weight heavy – certainly Taylor does not share the love of wide, wide men that his predecessors Stuart McCall and Colin Todd did. Daley represents is a tough call and one that assumes that City will both carry on with the 433 and Taylor for the foreseeable future.

James Hanson seems to be far too useful to not play in every game he can but he has been carrying an injury all season and Chib Chilaka represents an alternative in holding the ball up up front.

The backline will hope that Southend don’t bring Preston’s laser guided football ad that keeping the opposition to thirty yards will be as successful as it was against Stevenage. Zesh Rehman moved to right back to replace Lewis Hunt and will continue alongside Steve Williams and probably Luke Oliver who seems to have a much worse reputation than his performances suggest. Then again failing him coming onto the field and slaughtering a chicken then bathing in its blood in front of the family stand it is hard to see what Oliver could have do to live up to the reputation that the adequate no nonsense player seems to be developing.

It is said of Oliver that he is without skill – he is a central defender – and that he his a big turning circle which is true but as the defender tasked with going to the ball rather than tidying up behind he is hardly needed to spin on a One Euro coin. The fact that he does what he does and little else seems to take away – in some people’s eyes – from the fact that he does what he does to such a point where he is criticised after the Stevenage game where he is the heart of a clean sheet.

Perhaps he can juggle, dance and sing and that could win him friends but as long as he gets his head to what he can as often as he can and lets Steve Williams tidy up behind him I’m happy. Effort is all in the game but manifests itself in different ways.

Luke O’Brien will continue at left back in front of Jon McLaughlin. Bradford City goalkeepers and Southend United have previous history and perhaps it was that which prompted the move of the game forward an evening considering Saturday’s situation.

Certainly the racist Southend fans who left me threatening messages on my answerphone following the Donovan Ricketts sending off and the ructions that followed would be able to make a weekend of the trip to Bradford but never are the whole collection of football supporters represented by the thoughts and actions of a subset.

Empathy for the plight of Southend United then, but City, City fans and especially Peter Taylor have little room to offer sympathy.

The story, and the story not told

When they come to talk about Peter Taylor’s time at Bradford City they will say that in this season City were – once again – knocked out in the League Cup in the early rounds but after an evening of extra time and anything but the meek surrender that has come in previous exits to high division oppositions the Bantams can feel unlucky to not be in the third round draw.

Unlucky and unfavoured by a Referee in Christopher Sarginson who have carte blanche to the visitors from Preston North End who will remember a couple of great goals from this evening but will look back at the game with a worry that but for being allowed strong arm tactics which many, if not most, officials would have taken a dim view of they would have struggled.

Having bested Nottingham Forest in the first round after extra time City learnt a lesson and afforded less respect to the Championship side getting close and tight to them. Taylor sent out a five man midfield leaving Gareth Evans chasing shadows often but the ball when he could and at one point muscling his way past Sean St Ledger to hit a low shot that cannoned off Andrew Lonergan’s post and bounced away.

City were set up to counter-attack the visitors surrendering space to a crowded midfield and looking to suck Preston on, and spring a ball forward quickly but the problem that City encountered was not that this plan failed but that Referee Sarginson allowed it to be undone through unfair means.

One attack from David Syers – again impressive in the Bantams midfield – was broken up before it started when Keith Treacy rugby tackled the blonde midfielder to the ground with resultant finger wagging while right back David Gray stopped Luke O’Brien going forward with support to out number defenders with a two footed tackle that he was as lucky to only be yellow carded for as O’Brien was to walk away from.

Later in the game Paul Coutts and Gareth Evans would end up both going into a tackle with two feet. Both should have been sent off but Sarginson seemed to be Refereeing using something like pre-season friendly rules and as a result the team that muscled – and got away with – more ended up winning the contest.

Which was hard on the Bantams who matched the opposition stride for stride going a goal behind just before half time when Coutts hit a low drive unerringly accurately from range that arrowed into the bottom corner of Jon McLaughlin’s goal. McLaughlin was still cursing himself for letting the ball squirm away from him in the previous attack when he could have held it but once again made a half dozen superb saves.

As good as it was Coutts’s goal was outdone by Treacy’s winner in injury time which more or less finished the tie off. The midfield hit a powerful high and near unstoppable drive that swung out and into City’s goal. It was a superb strike and City’s heads – on and off the field – dropped after.

The Bantams had a time to win the game as Taylor added James Hanson and Jake Speight to bolster the forward line and then – as a last throw of the dice – threw on Chib Chilaka who showed his usefulness when a Lewis Moult throw in found him in the box and the man mountain shoved off three tackles to poke the ball to Luke O’Brien who crossed to Speight hanging at the front post to equalise.

On the front foot City huffed at Lonergan’s goal and Speight once again looked lively and dangerous. Extra time saw David Syers hit a looping shot that pinged off the bar but not long after Preston scored and the game was gone.

The Bantams deserve the plaudits for an evening of hard work and no little excitement while Preston will worry that without two exquisite strikes they seemed to have no path to goal. On loan striker Joshua King was nullified and were it not for the two well hit long rangers then they offered little else. City crafted more clear chances although a note goes to eighteen year old New Zealander Bailey Wright who came off the bench at half time for Preston and looked superb.

That Preston relied on low percentage football – and physical football – to win the game it the counter balance to City’s win over Stevenage who were they able to ping a shot in from thirty yards would have tonked the Bantams. If City did not deserve that win then – one is forced to say – they must have deserved this one.

Perhaps, perhaps not but certainly Taylor can take pride from his charges tonight and they way they matched a team from the divisions above in their approach. The records will show City went out before the last club had come in – again – but the evening told a better story for the Bantams.

A story which should have been different. Christopher Sarginson should not have allowed a good number of tackles tonight and players should have been sent off. He should have booked other players and at one point got to the stage where a player both straight armed Speight and then cleared the ball seventy yards after the free kick had been given and still was not sent off.

The sight of Treacy obnoxiously slowly wandering to take a pair of corners to waste time and try drag the game out to penalties was just the visitors showing a proverbial middle finger to the official having guessed that the man in black was not about to start punishing them as he should have. The whole game was littered with occasions where Sarginson saw offences that are mandated as cautions and opted not to book. In one hundred and twenty minutes of football these things would have added up.

The disappointment was not that City went out, or that City went out to a team that without two nice get of out jail free lashes from distance, but that the rigours of a Referee prepared to enforce the rules of the game as laid down (including – for those who would paint this as myopia – sending off Evans) would have probably made for a more exciting, better match.

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.

Idealism departs and the bigger picture shrinks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A tough trip down South

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taylor gets back to being tough with Williams injury

Steve Williams was left out of the squad for the game with Stevenage after breaking one of Peter Taylor’s club rules.

Taylor requires that players report injuries they have and Williams – following his excellent display against Nottingham Forest – did not. The manager’s rod of iron rule saw the defender excluded from the squad. Discipline in the squad – for Taylor – is everything.

Williams returns to the squad for the weekend game with Torquay United with the manager unequivocal in his punishment and the reasons for it. Williams had a day off when he should have been in having treatment on a sore hamstring – Taylor says – and that is unprofessional. Punishment done, Williams back in the squad.

For Taylor WilliamsHamstringGate gives the manager a chance to publicly re-flex his muscles as a disciplinarian following a summer in which it was hard for him to project that image. Gavin Grant might have reported every injury, never turned up late for training and always tracked back but being the manager of a player who is sent to prison for murder – especially the manager who had re-signed the player – painted the gaffer in a poor light.

Add to that Jake Speight’s jailing and – rightly or wrongly – City looked like a team ill disciplined and Taylor out of touch. Swinging the bat at Williams for his transgression in a public way reasserts Taylor as the hard task master – cross him and suffer.

While the public glare might be unfair on Williams once again the ends for Taylor justify his means. Taylor rates the discipline of his squad – which is to say their willingness to do as he tells them rather than to avoid yellow cards – above all. His comments on players reflect this working around the idea that if a player “works hard and does the right things” then he will do well. The right things are laid out by the manager.

Laid out by all managers up and down the leagues – one recalls the famed Ryan Giggs/Lee Sharpe party story – oft ignored by players. When manager Stuart McCall had Matthew Clarke and Barry Conlon out drinking and dealt with it half-heartedly, Taylor will not do the same.

The risk is that Taylor the Taskmaster – as Corporal Capello stands accused of – will squeeze the enjoyment from the squad with restrictions and rules but the manager would counter that enjoyment comes from winning and that is worth the sacrifices. The booing following a hard working victory undermines what Taylor is doing in that regard.

Williams moves on – probably in need of a break on Saturday following a superb display midweek – and Taylor reasserts for him, for the rest of the players and to Bradford City supporters that there is one man you should listen to at Valley Parade, and it is he.

How good is James Hanson?

When a shelf stacker and Guiseley forward put a couple of goals past Bradford (Park Avenue) on new year’s day two years ago one has to wonder if the people at the other Leeds/Bradford game asked the question “How good is James Hanson?”

For sure he had – by all accounts – dominated the Park Avenue defenders but – like Hanson – they were part times and while the Guiseley looked good he did not stride the field like a Colossus. Eventually Mark Ellis had a whisper to Stuart McCall who took him to Bradford City where he became top scorer in his first season.

When watching England beat Hungry on Wednesday night most of the discussion around our sofa was on the young players called up by Fabio Capello and the ramifications of that. There was a contention – by yours truly – that Newcastle United’s much coveted Andy Carroll should have been given a call up. Others thought that (amongst other things on a lively night of discourse) a player could not be judged as good enough for the England side if he had not been proven good enough in the Premier League.

So the question formulated that if Carroll might be considered good enough on the basis of a season not competing against the top class of English football how good could Hanson be?

Rewind to Hanson’s first season at Valley Parade and one recalls on many occasions turning to those around and exclaiming with an amazement that “that guy just does not lose headers!”

Indeed Hanson – when fit and on form – is uncanny in his abilities to rise high, win the ball and feed it accurately to his team mates. Ball winning was a Barry Conlon thing but Barry did not win as often, nor did he head it as accurately, nor did even he put in the effort of James Hanson and when watching last season’s player of the season very few would have put the limits on him that were placed on Conlon.

Conlon – it was said – had to have his best game to be as good as the rest of the side and “good enough” for League Two. Hanson – thus far – has not come up against a League Two defence where he did not enough the balance of play. Long may his superb attitude continue because – at the moment – one doubts that League Two is poising different problems than that game with Park Avenue.

Then came Nottingham Forest a team that – were it not for the randomness of the play-offs – be in the Premier League and the squad to go with it. Hanson – a half time sub – enjoyed as good a return against the twice European Champions as he did against League Two sides, and did in his non-league days. He won more in the air than one would expect against a League Two side, let alone a side who have pretensions for the Premier League.

So how good is James Hanson? Tongue in cheek one might say that if Andy Carroll might wear the three lions then why not give Hanson a call up? If one does not believe that having played in the top flight is essential for England honours – and Steve Bull‘s five in thirteen suggest that a player who has not been at the highest level can offer something to England – then perhaps the national management should be looking at the League Two players who impressively play up when facing a side from a higher division. Scalability in football play is a rare concept.

Returning to the question in hand – and not suggesting that he should be partnered with Wayne Rooney next game – how good is James Hanson?

Certainly he has proved himself able at levels lower than League Two and at League Two itself. His first game against a higher opposition did not curtail his progress so perhaps all one can say is that so far we have yet to see a ceiling on his abilities.

Perhaps though for an answer to the question we need to look not at ourselves, but at the stars. The younger stars of Nottingham Forest that is who were used that night and that manager Billy Davies described as having things come to easy to. Davies’ criticism that a young player has the big car and the nice house too early at his club and as a result they lack the hunger makes a sharp contrast to the two City goalscorers on the evening.

As Davies bemoans the BMWs that his teenagers drive Hanson and fellow goal getter David Syers and men of the match Jon McLaughlin Steve Williams know that a failure will take them back to the days of part time football and a day job. If they ever drive a BMW it is because they have rewarded themselves for a lot of hard work by replacing the broken down Skoda.

There is something utterly refreshing about watching Hanson, Syers, McLauglin and Williams play. When asking how good one of these players can be then the answer is something of a cop out – they can be as good as they want to be.

At present there is a debate on McLaughlin and if he is “good enough” as if this were a binary situation and one which should the player kick back and stop making the effort that has put in him in the position he is in now he would remain at the level he is now.

It is an excellent attitude which has brought them into league football and that same attitude that saw them as the core members of a team which beat Nottingham Forest. Maintain that attitude and it is hard to set a limit on what they can achieve, lose it and they will stop being “good”.

Peter Taylor and Stevenage

Fresh from his team’s heroic cup win over Nottingham Forest, this weekend Peter Taylor prepares for the first of eight games this season against teams he once managed. Since arriving initially as interim manager in February, much has rightly been made about Taylor’s strong managerial track record. But in-between successes at Gillingham, Hull and Wycombe there have been spells at other clubs which didn’t work out.

Tomorrow’s visitors Stevenage were one of them. It was November 2007 that Taylor became manager of the non-league outfit, an appointment which raised eyebrows around football. After enjoying back-to-back promotions with Hull in 2004 and 2005 and then keeping the Tigers in the Championship, Taylor moved onto Crystal Palace in the summer 2006 but couldn’t lift the recently-relegated Eagles back towards the Premier League. He was sacked after barely a year.

Which is when he popped up at Stevenage. Up-coming manager Mark Stimson had resigned to move to Gillingham, with the Boro third in the Conference and having won the FA Trophy the season before. Taylor was supposed to have signed an 18-month contract, partly due to a friendship with Chief Executive Bob Makin; but the apparent coup of appointing the man who famously made David Beckham England captain failed to see the club’s strong position built upon.

Matthew Kett of fcboro.co.uk told BfB, “Before Stimson left, the club was on the up and really looking forward to a good season. His departure led to a lot of player unrest with a number of players following the manager to Gillingham. Taylor walked into all that so it was not the ideal job. He basically had to re-build the squad from scratch, but the players he brought in were not good enough and we ended the season outside the play-offs after being in the hunt for the whole season.

“There were rumours that Taylor wasn’t very hands on while at Boro, but I don’t think his heart was ever in the job really. Taylor’s style of football was very much a direct approach. The players he signed showed this. We signed a lot of players with little or no technique, including Junior Lewis who seems to follow Taylor wherever he goes. He was one of the worst signings that season.”

With the campaign ending so disappointingly, Taylor didn’t stick around. “He joined us signing an 18 month contract, although this was later palmed off with the excuse that it was a 6 month deal with the view of an 18 month deal if both parties agreed,” added Matthew. “His aim was to get us promoted and then see us through our first League campaign.

“Of course, it didn’t work out that way and the end of the 2007/2008 season was one of the worst times to be a Boro supporter. We were losing every other game and the style of football was awful.

“Taylor came across as if he wasn’t really bothered and you got the feeling that he saw the job as a stop gap before going back into the League the following summer. He even had a poor relationship with the local media, once complaining about the length of an interview. It was 3 minutes by the way.”

That summer Taylor moved back into the Football League and Wycombe, guiding the Chairboys to automatic promotion, Stevenage also recovered from a difficult season, and appear to have little to regret about the way things worked out. “I thought Taylor was a good choice at the time and I’m sure that if he really wanted the job and gave it a good go, he could have at least got us in the play-offs,” concluded Matthew. “However, he didn’t seem to want it and I felt that he was just playing out the games at the end. He wasn’t bothered win, lose or draw.

“As you may know, since then we have re-appointed Graham Westley, which wasn’t a popular decision at the time. Westley was previously with us between 2003-2006, but left under a bit of a cloud. Since coming back he has built a good team and got us promoted as Champions.”

So don’t expect a warm welcome for City’s manager from the visiting fans tomorrow. While Taylor’s popularity levels have probably hit new heights in the wake of the way he managed to turn around Tuesday’s League Cup tie, the opinion of Stevenage fans show just how differently sets of supporters can form a view of a manager.

Paul Jewell, for example, is widely loved by us for what he did. Yet Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and – incredibly – some Wigan fans hold a very different view about the man who took City to the Premiership. Conversely Hearts and Charlton fans have more favourable opinions of Jim Jefferies and Lennie Lawrence respectively, compared to how the duo are perceived at Valley Parade.

What it shows, above all else, is how rare it is that managers replicate previous success when moving to different clubs. Few, if any, get it right everywhere they go, and the likes of Taylor have black marks on their CV they’d rather gloss over in favour of achievements enjoyed elsewhere. The times when it does go wrong should hopefully provide lessons to learn and get right in future. And if the spell at Stevenage didn’t work out for their supporters, one hopes we City fans will enjoy some benefits from a disappointing time.

City go into tomorrow’s match looking for their first points of the season, following the opening day defeat at Shrewsbury. Not only was the downbeat mood firmly washed away by Tuesday’s unexpected victory, but the fact it was achieved with seven changes to the starting line up underlines the strength of the squad available.

A spine is emerging. Jon McLaughlin bounced back from a less-than-convincing game at New Meadow to make a string of outstanding saves against Forest – all the more commendable after he suffered an injury in the second half. In front of him the two centre halves Shane Duff and Steve Williams were outstanding. Williams has made a hugely impressive start to the season and has seized the early initiative to become first choice. Zesh Rehman and Luke Oliver will have to bide their time.

Luke O’Brien or Robbie Threlfall for left back? The latter was torn to shreds by Lionel Ainsworth on Saturday , the former had an excellent evening on Tuesday despite also suffering from lack of defensive cover in front of him at times. Simon Ramsden should get his first opportunity of the season in his natural right back slot.

In midfield Tommy Doherty will probably line up alongside Tom Adeyami, who missed the midweek drama. If Robbie makes left back Luke may be pushed to left midfield, as Omar Daley went off injured half time on Tuesday and may not be risked from the start. Lee Bullock was also subbed at the interval, and the surprisingly terrific display of replacement David Syers may have pushed the former Farsley player – who finds out before Saturday whether his trial has been a success – above him.

Up front goalscoring hero James Hanson looked much sharper and fitter midweek, and was badly missed during the first 45 minutes before he came on. The second half of the game was broadcast live on Radio 5 Live, and summariser Kevin Radcliffe was full of praise for Hanson’s display. Gareth Evans was not involved at all and should be back, with Jake Speight or Louis Moult taking the other spot of a likely three up front formation. Speight in particular made a big impact midweek; and though it’s not the kindest of comparisons, his style of play does remind me of Danny Cadamarteri. Keep him away from the Night Nurse.

Stevenage have made a reasonable start to life in League Two, snatching a last minute equaliser to draw at home to Macclesfield before narrowly losing to Portsmouth in the cup. There main point of interest from a City perspective is the return of hero John Dreyer (assistant manager), who should deservedly receive a great ovation when he walks down the touchline.

This is a big afternoon for Stevenage, as Matthew explained, “I’m really looking forward to it. We had a good record away from home and the team will want to impress in their first away game in the football league. It’s also our first trip to a ‘big’ stadium since we played Leicester in the Cup a few years back. The club is on a high at the moment, so expect a noisy if not big away following.”

With special thanks to Matthew Kett of fcboro.co.uk

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.

The defeat that proves the favourite tag

Bradford City were – and in some cases still are – the favourites to win League Two although the 3-1 defeat at Shrewsbury Town has dampened expectations.

Football supporters have a love of “the odds” which denies their purpose. Odds are a commercial thing designed to attract bets and are driven by financial concerns. If every Bradford City fan were to go to the bookies and put £10 on Accrington Stanley winning League Two then the 100/1 offered now would plummet as bookmakers looked to cover the liabilities resulting from such an Accy win. Those falling odds – however – would not mean the Lancashire club were any more likely to win the league.

Odds are not probability and while there is a correlation of sorts between the two odds are financially driven and rise and fall on the basis of the money bet. In short – and on the whole – City were favourites because people bet on them.

So one must ask why this is the case. Why did the Bantams attract a chunk of the money in League Two along with the relegated clubs and play-off losers like Rotherham United? Has the signing of a few players called Tom and Tommy and Lewis and Louis really turned the squad around that much?

Certainly the crowd size – and an assumption that it comes with increased resources – attracts some interest in the club and the name has resonance but on the whole – and looking at the betting previews – then one name crops up in the previews and that name is Peter Taylor.

The City manager is the headline on Betfair saying “For a team that finished below halfway last season to be at the head of the market to win League Two this term shows just how highly Bradford manager Peter Taylor is rated.”

Taylor causes the bets, so the odds fall and City become favourites.

Watching his City side concede two in six minutes which took the draw and made it a defeat on Saturday Taylor could not hide his disappointment nor did he feel the need to avoid pointing fingers. Taylor was clear that when a five seven striker wins a header in the box it is the job of the “big men who are there to get it away” to have cleared – scorer Jake Robinson is a foot shorter than Luke Oliver – and when Robinson ran between an ocean liner sized gap Oliver and Steve Williams the manager made it clear that the defenders should have played better.

For a man who has been coaching clubs for over two decades the problems were obvious – indeed they were obvious to most – and they were down to performance and specifically the performance in the second half which fell short of the achievements of the first. Taylor in unequivocal in his approach to fixing the problem: The players have to play consistently well.

Which is why Taylor brings bets and why City became favourites. As a manager it is perceived he has been around enough to know how to win games and why they are lost. If your defenders leave gaps that big between them then you will be beaten and the fact that he is able to be unwavering in that analysis so early in the season is part of the abilities which impress people.

While City fans might knash the teeth and fret about the future Taylor will take City on to the next forty-five games with the same approach as he took then to Shrewsbury. Do it properly and you will do well, switch off at half time and you will get beat.

So when City lose 3-1 and Taylor comes out after the game to give his frank (and accurate) assessment of why the game was lost and how it could have been won it does not put off the gambling man but rather reaffirms the reason he put his money on Taylor in the first place.

Where the expectation levels lie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now then

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You, dear reader, may have different views.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The long pre-season ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watching the grass grow

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

The grass is growing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Another season starts with expectations outstripping realism

The World Cup final is two days away as Bradford City start a season in which Peter Taylor is mandated to take his team to promotion.

Starting by taking on Eccleshill United at Plumpton Park City’s manager is has a contract which last until the end of the season with the expectation being that should the Bantams not be starting next year in League One then they will be starting it with a different gaffer.

It is hoped that Taylor has the raw materials in place – he has a new flat pitch, money for overnight stays but crucially not the next training facilities he wanted – and has augmented a squad which last season finished fourteenth in the division.

The hope for Taylor – and all – is that the additions of Jake Speight, Tommy Doherty and Shaun Duff can make a significant difference. Mark Lawn has called Doherty a player good enough to play in the Championship which he may be but he, as with the rest of the squad, line up as League Two players against no doubt another twenty three sides who have squads peopled with players of similar quality.

Everyone has their great hopes at this time of year, everyone has their own ideas of how they are going to be the team that gets promoted.

A view of League Two – a League that Taylor has taken teams up from – tells us that the teams which win promotion are those who have a season marked with resilience. Rochdale recovered from the 3-1 defeat we visited on them at Spotland last season but City did not from the 3-0 defeat at the same ground the season before. The Bantams tendency under Stuart McCall to be able to carry any defeat into the next game as a merciless hangover was a marked characteristic of this.

Mental and physical preparation are key – Taylor’s talk of training facilities is recalled – and as the City manager starts his one chance at this club with these players he does so without the things he asked for. A realistic view of that is that once again the manager is in a position of having to over-perform in order to perform as expected.

Tonight Taylor will play players for forty-five minutes each changing the eleven at half-time but retaining the 433 he is set to play in the season for both halves. Speight, Doherty, Duff and Lloyd Saxton are expected to make débuts while Luke Oliver and Robbie Threlfall will make first appearances as City players proper.

Look out for Omar Daley – his last season ruined by injury this term he starts from a full pre-season – and for James Hanson to see if he and Gareth Evans can continue on the form they showed last term. Steve Williams has competition for his place from Zesh Rehman, Oliver and Duff and it will be interesting to look at the styles of those central defenders although all four are big lads able to clean out the backline.

Taylor has strikers Matthew Tipton and Lee Morris on trail. Morris was linked with City at various times in his younger years. The forward who made his name through his blistering pace is now thirty and has been released by Hereford United while Tipton has been released by Macclesfield the Welshman having had a career around the lower leagues.

The season starts tonight and ends in May 2011 which will be one hundred years since City won the club’s only major honour. Expectations are that we will have something to celebrate then.

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.

New deals signed

Lee Bullock, Steve Williams and Ryan Harrison have all signed new deals at Valley Parade.

Bullock put pen to paper on the two year contract the club offered famously negotiating without an agent.

Harrison – who recently broken into City’s first team squad – has signed his first professional contract for one season as has goalkeeper Chris Elliott.

Most impressively though Steve Williams has signed a new three year contract on improved terms which only only is a show of faith by the new management in the signing made last summer from Bamber Bridge but also ensures that as Williams’s star continues to rise the Bantams would be able claim a transfer fee should he move on within that deal.

As talk continues up and down the land at how new managers who arrive at clubs require millions to reshape squads one cannot help but be impressed by the way that Peter Taylor has knuckled down to work with the players inherited. A manager who improves the quality of what he has – rather than seeking quality elsewhere – is a very good manager indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 happy ending of sorts

Who would have believed, as we trooped out of Valley Parade despondently on Easter Monday, that the 2-1 reverse to Macclesfield we’d just endured would turn out to be the last defeat of the season?

That evening anger and frustration were the overriding emotions as the season was seemingly petering out towards a worst league finish since 1966, with a squad decimated by injuries looking increasingly disinterested. But instead the final six games have produced the second-best results sequence of the campaign, offering genuine grounds to feel optimistic about the next one.

Of course we’ve been here before. Strong ends to the season, after promotion hopes were long since dashed, are far from unusual in recent years. And the praise directed at the players now is somewhat tempered by the fact that, when it really mattered earlier in the campaign, they failed to deliver the goods. But still, the way we felt after Macclesfield were clumsily allowed to record that Easter Monday victory is a reminder that players showing little pride in wearing your club’s shirt is one of the most unforgivable crimes they can inflict.

City were comfortable winners at Gresty Road today in an encounter which had nothing riding on it, but that’s not been the case during other impressive recent results. Various League Two clubs entering the closing stages of the campaign still biting their nails have received little but misery from a seemingly guaranteed three pointer with the mid-table Bantams. The good run has left City in a final position of 14th – still a bitterly disappointing under-performance for a club with the resources to do better, but it could have ended much worse than this.

Ryan Kendall – brought on as sub in the first half due to an injury to Gareth Evans – got the only goal of the game mid-way through the second half after a quickly-taken free kick from Michael Flynn afforded the on-loan Hull teenager time and space to fire a low shoot past on-rushing home keeper Adam Legzdins.

But it could easily have been a more comfortable away win. Flynn had forced an excellent first-half reaction stop out of Legzdins; Robbie Threlfall’s long-range effort was too straight to beat the Alex stopper; Adam Bolder’s header was deflected over shortly after half time; Flynn’s low shot from a well-worked corner was blocked soon after City had gone a goal up; Kendall twice should have hit the target with close range half-volleys which he fired over.

Crewe were not without their chances, a free kick just after half time was tipped onto the crossbar by Jon McLaughlin and, seconds after City scored, Calvin Zola had an effort disallowed; but the visitors carried the greater vigour and work rate throughout. The approach play from the Bantams was generally impressive, though a lack of players willing to support Evans/Kendall in the penalty area often meant good passing moves broke down. And with the back four in excellent form – Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams especially solid – a late equaliser never looked likely.

It was a performance similar in approach and overall standards to the previous four. The six-game unbeaten end to the season began unpromisingly with a poor performance at Burton Albion. The point picked up was almost entirely due to an inspired performance from McLaughlin, who was brought in for Glennon, and who kept up his form to the final whistle at Crewe.

No one has had a more purposeful end to the season than the former Harrogate Railway stopper. A year ago on the last day he started at Chesterfield almost as a token gesture. Despite largely playing second fiddle to unconvincing keepers from Huddersfield, he ends this season in pole position to be number one for the next campaign.

And another meaningful moment that day was what initially seemed disappointing news. On-loan Luke Oliver, scorer at the Perelli Stadium, was recalled by Wycombe as the team travelled home. But with the giant defender having been converted to giant striker due to injuries, his leaving turned out to be a blessing in disguise. No longer could City hit the ball directly to a tall frontman in a depressingly ugly style, suddenly they had to play football.

Against Morecambe a few days later Peter Taylor employed a 4-3-3 formation that relied on wide players Gavin Grant and Leon Osborne supporting Evans, and the subsequent success has been significant. All three have shown a great level of work-rate, and the movement has caused opposition defences problems. Evans has recaptured early season form, benefiting from increased faith in his striker prowess, instead of being asked to play as a wide midfielder, and might have equalled injured top scorer James Hanson’s haul but for that early injury today.

For Grant and Osborne, who had yet to convince supporters of their worth, it’s been an especially good period. Grant looks a promising proposition who Taylor will likely sign permanently this summer, while Osborne is showing potential and had arguably his best game yet for the Bantams at Gresty Road. Meanwhile the midfield has began to pass the ball around patiently on the deck again in recent weeks, with Bolder recapturing his form and Lee Bullock and Flynn enjoying strong ends to the season.

The scorer of the first goal against Morecambe was Rehman, who had his name booed when it was read out before kick off. City’s captain has also rediscovered his form and looked excellent over the last few weeks, including when asked to play the less comfortable role of right back. Back in the centre today with Matt Clarke gone, he barely put a foot wrong recovering from his only obvious mistake to retain possession when it appeared he’d overrun it. Taylor has arrived at City with a reputation for employing dour tactics, but the freedom Rehman and Williams have been afforded to play the ball out of defence is a long way removed from the row Z approach League Two is known for.

All of which has helped City end the season looking more of a cohesive unit than they have all season. And what’s really encouraging for the 2010/11 campaign is that most of the players appear to be staying. While there has been calls for a culling of the squad, the good work Stuart McCall had initiated is being continued and developed.

Sure, there are positions Taylor needs to strengthen this summer and the lack of depth has been shown to be a problem all season, but the nucleus of a good side is already here and the immediate priority has to be securing the signatures of Flynn, Simon Ramsden, Bullock and others to maintain it for the next campaign.

Is it a good enough squad to build from? The table shows a big improvement is needed next season, but the 62 points the Bantams ended with is only five less than last season. Not a bad return considering the playing budget was slashed by a third.

As the final whistle blew, the players, subs and management walked over to applaud the travelling fans with great gusto, and in return received a warm reception. There was a real bond between players and supporters, exemplified by Flynn’s example; and even though things haven’t worked out this year, the signs are the players genuinely do care about playing for Bradford City.

We’ve seen the opposite when seasons have tailed off badly, and we know how horrible it feels to know the players you’re cheering on couldn’t care less about your club. The last six games might not have involved anything to play for, but at least the current crop have shown playing for City still matters to them.

But the final word should go to the away support. Some 700+ City fans travelled to Crewefor a fourth division game with nothing riding on the result. The atmosphere, from the pre-match pub sing-along to applauding the players off the pitch at full time, was outstanding. On the day Mark Lawn publicly declared cheap season ticket deals are over and questioned whether the Bradford public had the appetite for watching affordable professional football, he and others should keep in mind the strong hardcore of support this club enjoys and ensure efforts are concentrated on maintaining and building it. Rather than solely worrying about floating supporters who cannot be relied upon when the chips are really down.

During the final 20 minutes, almost everyone joined in the continuous chanting of “We’ll always remember – the 56.” It was hugely moving, bringing tears to some supporters’ eyes and immense pride in everyone.There may not be a great deal to remember about this season, but at least we can be proud of the manner we’ve remembered our past.

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.

Re-introducing Mr Motivator

Michael Flynn’s full time routine of walking around all four stands applauding Bradford City supporters was until last month a constant feature of the campaign. And though the injury picked up against Notts County was bad timing with his contract soon to expire, the team’s subsequent patchy form will have kept the influential midfielder in manager Peter Taylor’s thoughts before this inspirational, goalscoring return.

With the game approaching the third of four minutes of stoppage time and a draw looking to be the result, Flynn broke Barnet hearts and lifted Bantams spirits by quickly hauling himself off the ground – after an initial scrambled attempt had been blocked by visiting keeper Jake Cole – and coolly firing the loose ball into the net, though may have been offside. Flynn had made a shock return to the bench from where he was brought on by Taylor after 59 minutes, with City a goal down and struggling for leadership. He was at the heart of the fightback, and should remain at the heart of City’s midfield for next season.

For in recent weeks Taylor has been able to see Bradford City with Flynn and Bradford City without; and, though others have made a reasonable fist of filling his boots, the extra qualities he brings beyond football ability have been notable by their absence. He may not be the captain, but Flynn is one of the team’s leaders and visibly offers constant instruction and support to team mates, who look to him for guidance. City surely need the playing ability of Flynn next season, and they will also need his courage.

In truth Flynn’s winner was unmerited by City. Barnet arrived at Valley Parade with lingering relegation worries and an impressive away backing, and set about demonstrating that oft-seen lesson of the difference effort really makes. Football is so often about motivation, and for long periods of the game the greater incentive for winning was a more telling factor than respective abilities. Barnet often seem to save their best form for games with the Bantams and looked an accomplished and skillful team for large periods. In contrast, City just didn’t look interested.

Long before Albert Adomah fired the Bees into a 28th minute lead, there were warning signs that purpose was lacking in home efforts. It could be seen in the little things such as limited off the ball running when City had possession, a reluctance to chase lost causes, hesitation when closing down away attacks and laziness of simply hoofing the ball towards the forward line of Gareth Evans, Leon Osborne and Gavin Grant.

Barnet in contrast had energy and greater commitment, attacking with intent and impressing in their on and off the ball movement. Adomah’s goal was stunning, coming after a Bantams set piece had broken down and a quick counter attack, which exposed the high number of claret shirts who’d committed themselves up the field. The ancient but still effective Paul Furlong flicked the ball into the path of Barnet’s always impressive winger – no offence to Bees fans, but how is Adomah still at your club? – who volleyed the ball home. Jon McLaughlin – otherwise in great form again – might have expected to do better.

And though James O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall both came agonisingly close with long range shots either side of the goal, the Bees were good value for their lead at the half time whistle – which surprisingly wasn’t as heavily booed as such occasions typically generate. Just like Tuesday, Valley Parade looked notably empty – way below the “official attendance” announced. Perhaps resignation has taken over outrage; but perhaps more worryingly for the season ticket sales, many have simply had enough and already left.

But slowly in the second half, City began to crawl their way back and the manner they did was the most encouraging. League Two is much about direct football, but City stuck with a passing approach that is more pleasing on the eye and more encouraging than the limited long-ball style endured in recent weeks. Osborne twice blew great opportunities to equalise and frustrated by his over eagerness to dribble into crowded areas instead of looking for a pass, but as Flynn came on the side was switched from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 and greater fluency resulted.

Barnet sat back on their lead; perhaps aware relegation rivals Grimsby had quickly fallen 3-0 down in the second half of their must-win game with resurgent Torquay, and that they just had to hold on to be mathematically safe. But though City’s efforts weren’t always effective and the game still had a sense it was drifting away, Flynn’s presence seemed to spark greater motivation.

Steve Williams was enjoying one of his best games of the season in terms of distribution and lead well from the back. Threlfall was largely successful in muting Adomah’s threat. Evans continued to demonstrate astonishing levels of commitment, always the spark behind the more threatening attacks. Lee Bullock, arguably City’s best player, rarely wasted possession and made some great tackles.

And the introduction of Luke O’Brien for the disappointing Grant tipped the momentum firmly in City’s favour. Taylor shifted Osborne into a free role behind the front two of Evans and Flynn and the tempo increased further. City weren’t just pressing hard, they were cutting through Barnet with some of the most impressive quick-fire passing moves of the season. One such attack sent Evans charging forwards in a wide position, although his cross was too far ahead of Flynn, the ball was picked up by Luke O’Brien, who lashed home his first ever Valley Parade goal in front of the Kop stand he once cheered the club from when growing up.

The final ten minutes were frantic, the passing continued to be quick and decisive. From one move Flynn could only direct a header straight at Cole, from another Adam Bolder sent a looping header which crashed back off the crossbar. Yet despite being pinned back, Barnet almost snatched a winner when a counter attack set up almost the exact same opportunity as their goal, with Furlong flicking the ball on and Adomah firing across a powerful volley. This time McLaughlin was able to pull off an incredible reaction stop which saw the ball deflect onto the bar. It was the save of the season, bringing memories of Donovan Ricketts in his City prime.

Soon after Flynn struck the winner and what may have been a deserved defeat instead became a highly fortunate win. It’s a win which leaves Barnet still needing to pick up a few more points to be safe – though on this evidence they will be fine – and it’s a win which leaves the Bantams in 14th, and maybe still capable of a top half finish.

More than that, it was a performance which eventually demonstrated the players do have the desire and talent to play for this club, and deserve to be considered when new contracts are decided. For long periods they played at a tempo akin to pre-season, by the end they played as though their lives depended on it.

It’s no surprise who was the catalyst behind the sudden motivation, and who at the end was back in his routine of applauding the fans. He and his fellow super sub should be first in line when new player contracts are handed out.

Evans shows the routes to success

Few victories reward the heart more than the hard fought for victory and as City put a spell of bad form behind them with a determined performance over a Morecambe side which arrived at Valley Parade with four wins from as many games.

Peter Taylor – shod of his target man with both James Hanson out and Luke Oliver back at Wycombe and back on the bench – deployed Gareth Evans as a front runner with support from the pace of Leon Osbourne and Gavin Grant and was rewarded with good set of performances from his forwards but especially from Evans who perhaps put in his best performance in a City shirt.

The summer signing ran his legs down to the knees in an evening of working channels and following passes down to the touchline often with no support and no target to aim for in the middle. Evans ran, harried, held and often was chunked to the ground by a Morecambe side who has – some might say – conspired to have him sent off at Christie Park earlier in the season.

Indeed it was one of these chunkings that saw Evans have his legs taken away for a free kick on the bye-line which was floated over by Robbie Threlfall, headed on by Steve Williams and finished at the far post by Zesh Rehman.

Rehman peeled away to thank Peter Taylor enjoy the culmination of an improvement in his performances that saw him not only score what turned out to be the conclusive goal tonight as well as put not a foot wrong at the back. Whatever Zesh was doing wrong a month ago he is going doing right now, although his is still Asian and if that is why his name was booed as it was read out – and if you are one of the people who did the booing – then please would you not come to my site again because you are not welcome.

Adam Bolder – on the other hand – seems to have earned the ire of the support for reasons which elude me. A midfielder who arrived as one too many loan players in my opinion but has done a decent job filling the not inconsiderable hole left by the injured Michael Flynn Bolder put in a healthy shift of work tonight never shirking a tackle, never stopping running in a game in which the Bantams more or less owned the midfield area.

Aside from the usual reservations about loan players one could not fault Bolder’s application in a Bantams side that first and foremost built a platform for victory by defending stoutly and with a deep set midfield. In the closing minutes Gareth Evans was given a through ball and powered forward with it as if it were first minute not last to square a ball to Bolder who sidestepped and jinked and danced his way around the odd defender and goalkeeper Barry Roche to place into the goal and win the game.

Gavin Grant turned in a best display in a City shirt, Steve Williams looked confident, Lee Bullock controlled the positioning of the two lines of defence and there was little not to be pleased with from the way that Peter Taylor has managed to impose a structure onto a disparate group of a few first teamers – only Rehman and Bullock started the first game of the season – reserves and loanees.

System and structure are all, and are imposed well even against a Morecambe side who had a winning habit when arriving.

The visitors – however – appeared almost scared to play with eleven men looking as if they were worried about the expectations of a lofty position. They sidestepped the responsibility to create play and were restricted to a fistful of chances which Jon McLaughlin dealt with well.

So City rise to fifteenth and are mathematically safe from relegation but perhaps the lesson from tonight is more about how Taylor will manage City next season. A system put in place and players detailed how to play in it giving a variety of approaches and a number of routes to success.

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.

Taylor already signed for next season as City face Burton Albion

A curious week for Peter Taylor draws to a close as his City team face Burton Albion in League Two as the the League Two season draws to an end more closely resembling pre-season for next term under Taylor than the end of the disappointing 2009/2010 campaign.

It is the understanding of BfB – supported by the hints dropped in the T&A on Monday – that Peter Taylor has put ink on paper on an agreement to be Bradford City manager. Why this information should not be presented as so if it is so is probably down to management of the season ticket appeal the Bantams are running – 5,000 needed to keep a manager falls flat if the manager is already staying but perhaps not as flat as the week went for the Bantams.

The pair of one goal defeats for a beleaguered and injury hit Bantams side has burst the bubble of optimism although the expectation remains that Taylor’s Bantams will perform far better next season than they do at the moment remains. Taylor was never going to have a honeymoon period coming after a manager who remained popular until the end but the former Wycombe Wanderers gaffer managed to eke out a few good results before this current form.

Taylor is – it has been said – still the outstanding candidate for the job and the fact that Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes have – we hear – signed him for next season regardless of result is a credit to them.

Reading Mike Harrison’s interview with the man which is to appear in a forthcoming City Gent and is well worth a read he seems to be bedding in for the future with an interesting and different approach to the club than McCall had. He comes over as a man with a clear idea of the path to success and a healthy desire to follow that path.

The path takes him to Paul Peschisolido’s Burton Albion. Peschisolido took over from Nigel Clough – although former Bantams boss Roy McFarland has a three month spell following Clough’s exit for Derby – who was at the East Midlands club for some eleven years each one save one offered incremental progression. Such returns are well regarded in the game but would probably not be considered good enough by the oft militant Bradford City supporters.

The Bantams go to Burton Albion following a 1-1 draw at Valley Parade which was the first time since an early 1990s FA Cup game in which Gary Robson’s arse chalked up a goal doing more in one game that his brother did by sitting on his gluteus maximus. Taylor will certainly hope to have more of an impact that Bryan Robson.

The manager goes into the game with the same half team which struggled over Easter. Matt Glennon keeps goal while Luke Oliver’s continued deployment as a target man looks like it may continue leaving the defence shod of the six foot seven man who looks to join City in the summer.

Jonathan Bateson will feature at right back with Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams at the heart of the defence and Robbie Threlfall at left back. Youth payers Andrew Villerman, Phil Cutler and Louis Horne are all expected to be in the squad with Villerman thought to be interesting Taylor who is keen to assess what he can expect from the young players at the club.

Taylor has passed on his wisdom to Leon Osbourne but is not expected to hand him a starting role with Luke O’Brien on the left wing and Gareth Evans on the right. Adam Bolder – who I think is a good player although he seemed to be curiously booed during last week’s game – and Lee Bullock take central midfield.

With James Hanson injured, Evans in midfield, Boulding sunning himself in the Bahamas and Peter Thorne rock climbing in Mexico – perhaps – Ryan Kendal looks to start making a mark and Luke Oliver is expected to lead the line.

Being robbed of Hanson is a blow for Taylor and the City manager can rely on his worldy target man getting one in three for the Bantams next season. Kendal certainly has not shown anything to suggest that he is the man to get the one in two which Sir Bobby Robson would say a club needs to get promoted and much of the manager’s success will come down to his ability to find that goalscorer.

With – we are told – a manager inked in for next year one can see a City team emerge for next year. Taylor seems to like Williams and Oliver at the back. Hanson is in it up front and Omar Daley is the flair player wide in a working midfield that contains a couple of hard workers like Bullock and Flynn (or perhaps Bolder) and a tighter flank player.

These are – one hopes – the blocks of a promotion side. Certainly the first block of that is the signature of Taylor and if what is said is true – we have that.

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.”

Finding new meanings on predictably unpredictable days like these

Peter Taylor’s contract talks hinge on having the resources to make Bradford City a more organised, methodical and professional outfit both on and off the field – but until the future is truly resolved, old habits die hard.

Valley Parade has been home to farce and blunder for several years, and the comedy of errors which saw the Bantams blow 2-0 and 3-2 leads this afternoon prompted the sort of groans and boos from the crowd that are as seemingly traditional as a Billy Pearce pantomime up the road.

With the fourth official about to indicate four minutes of injury time and City’s defence having just snuffed out a dangerous Dagenham attack, Adam Bolder and Robbie Threlfall casually knocked the ball back and forth by the edge of their own penalty area in almost comical fashion. Before supporters’ could scream “it’s behind you”, Bolder was predictability robbed of possession by the Dagger’s sub John Nurse, and the resulting cross spectacularly headed by Luke Oliver into his own net.

Two points criminally dropped, and that after City had already allowed a seemingly comfortable two-goal cushion to be wiped out – Oliver’s partner Steve Williams also netting an own goal to make it 2-2. Taylor has sufficiently impressed enough during his short trial for results to now almost become irrelevant in the longer contract negotiations, but the late relinquishing of control of the game offered another wearisome reminder of the amount of assembly his squad requires.

All of which diverted the focus from what should have been an afternoon about James Hanson. City’s top scorer scored twice in one game for the first time to take his season’s tally to 14 goals. After a mid-season dip, the 22-year-old has netted five in eight games. Should he manage another four in the final eight matches, he’ll have scored more goals in a season than any City player since Dean Windass in the 2005-06 season. A remarkable achievement for a player Stuart McCall signed from non-league Guiseley as a back-up striker last summer.

Hanson got the afternoon rolling with a close range header from Threlfall’s corner in the second minute to put City into a lead they looked comfortable holding on to for much of the afternoon. Dagenham, who arrived with realistic play off aspirations, looked surprisingly lacklustre and barely threatened but for the long throws and dribbling skills of Danny Green. It was a typical route one approach from the London outfit, which with Hanson’s defensive support on set pieces was largely neutralised.

The first half chances almost completely fell City’s way. Omar Daley, back on form after a tough Tuesday evening against Notts County, was a menace on the right and from one counter attack forced a great save from Tony Roberts. Soon after the Jamaican was leading defenders a merry dance in the penalty area, but took too long to shoot and saw his effort blocked. Gareth Evans, continuing up front, had two efforts at goal which caused Roberts concern. Soon after half time Hanson struck the post with a towering header from Daley’s cross and the on-form Luke O’Brien’s long range effort was unconvincingly half-blocked by Roberts and almost sneaked in.

But the momentum was shifting and the disruption caused by changes to City’s midfield helped Dagenham to gain control. First Daley, trying to bring the ball forwards on the counter attack, pulled up in obvious pain and a suspected hamstring injury that saw him hobble off to the changing room and out of service for at least a fortnight. Then the all-action running of Michael Flynn, another player back on form after an early-year dip, was surprisingly withdrawn for the more static Steve O’Leary.

At first this didn’t matter, as seconds after O’Leary came on City were celebrating when Hanson again got on the end of a Threlfall dead-ball and expertly planted a header into the bottom corner. But the obvious sighs of relief caused from seemingly putting the game out of sight proved costly when Nurse fired home from an angle following good work from an otherwise subdued Paul Benson just two minutes later.

Dagenham suddenly exploded into life.

Josh Scott wasted a glorious chance to level, but soon after Nurse cleverly peeled away from Williams from a free kick, which gave him space to head the ball into the net via the City defender’s thigh. Dagenham were swarming all over City, who couldn’t seem to keep hold of possession and regain control of the midfield, with O’Leary looking rusty and Bolder afforded little time. Aside from a big penalty appeal when substitute Ryan Kendall – who replaced Daley – hit a low cross towards Hanson that seemed to hit the hand of a grounded visiting defender, the pressure was mainly on Glennon’s goal.

But then Kendall, who’d struggled to time his runs and get close enough to Hanson to read his flick ons, suddenly got both right and was played in by his partner to lob the ball beautifully over Roberts, putting City back in front and triggering wild celebrations that, at the front of the Kop,  spilled onto the pitch. When Dagenham had made it 2-2, the celebrations at the other end by eccentric old-timer Roberts caused outrage. Roberts pulled up his shorts comically and began pretending to fire a bow and arrow. While no one enjoys seeing opposition players celebrate, the humour failure of those with a close-up view in the Kop was disappointing. Still at least we had our panto villain.

Meanwhile the referee was booking Kendall for taking his shirt off and the young striker, borrowed from Hull, was finally impressing by sitting on the shoulder of the last man and making darting runs, just as the mutterings of “he’s not up to this level” were starting to become audible. And City should have seen the game out, and looked set to see the game out, before the madness of City’s comedy duo gifted the equaliser and prompted more Roberts’ celebrations. Dagenham might even have won it 4-3, but Benson headed a presentable opportunity over.

This unpredictable ending was untypical of Taylor’s reign so far, and as his influence continues to grow it is unlikely to be witnessed too often. Composure gave way to panic, confidence replaced by fluster. City’s previously compact and on-form midfield meant the long balls towards a fragile backline were less threatening and at times Dagenham couldn’t get near Bolder and Flynn. But the changes saw City lose their authority leaving lessons to learn and conundrums to solve.

Oliver and Williams had impressed as a centre half pairing on Tuesday, but both suffer from lapses in concentration and after the game Taylor revealed he’s ordered them to improve their communication. Matt Clarke was again left out of the 18-man squad while Zesh Rehman began to redeem himself with an improved performance at right back. All season long the question of what is City’s best back four has gone unanswered. Consistency in all but the injured Simon Ramsden is lacking.

Daley’s absence should now open the door for Scott Neilson – who’s one-month loan at Cambridge United is due to expire – to be tried out by Taylor during the next few weeks. Lee Bullock’s calming presence was missed during the latter stages, and if Taylor can sign up Bolder, Bullock and Flynn for next season the Bantams should be very strong in the middle of the park. Luke O’Brien’s recent form is so good it now poses the question over whether he could be considered first choice left winger for a full campaign, should Threlfall’s loan move be made permanent.

Hanson may be on a two-year contract, but an improved deal might be worth proposing to him with the likelihood of higher league interest this summer. A deciding factor of a successful promotion campaign next season may be finding a strike partner who can score as regularly. Despite the excellent goal, Kendall needs to show more to demonstrate his worthiness of a permanent offer. Evans may be lacking goals, but offers the versatility and work rate Taylor will continue to rely on.

With the contract negotiations expected to be concluded positively within three weeks, Taylor’s blueprint can be properly implemented and the future of players permanent and temporary can start to be resolved. That the plans are based around greater organisation and more conservative tactics might suggest an end to unpredictability and excitement that days like these exemplify.

But after years of failure – for City, the meanings of ‘unpredictability’ and ‘excitement’ could be redefined as actually succeeding.

Finding something to play for

Bradford City lose a game under Peter Taylor – and the general outlook is that the season just needs to be seen out, with the focus quickly moved onto getting it right  for the next one. But then Bradford City win a game under Peter Taylor, and the urge to check the League Two table and remaining fixtures becomes strong enough to leave you wondering whether the club could still make the play offs. Then Bradford City lose a game, then win again, then lose again. A constant swapping of hope and realism that you know will probably result in disappointment but you can’t help but wistfully daydream might still end in glorious celebrations.

The Bantams go into this evening’s home game with Notts County back in downbeat mood; and though Saturday’s defeat at Hereford isn’t the final nail in the promotion bid coffin, there aren’t too many left until its firmly closed. Tonight is City’s game in hand and a victory would push them up to 15th and close the gap to the play offs to nine, with nine games to play – back to looking up those remaining fixtures?

Realistically the ghost has been given up by all but some supporters, but the reluctance to fully let go stems from the alternative monotonous reality of a meaningless end to the season.

We have all summer to feel bored and do other things with our weekends, wishing we could go to Valley Parade. And while City going into the final few weeks with nothing to play is a familiar reality, there’s a growing feeling at this time of year that we have make the most of what’s left of the season. We only get to go to Valley Parade six more times between now and early May. We only get to go to Valley Parade six more times between now and the middle of July.

Which means until it’s no longer mathematically – or at least tediously – possible, our time is wasted contemplating the form guide of League Two’s play off contenders and filling in the excellent BBC predictor as optimistically as possible. If City can win tonight and on Saturday and if Bury can continue to implode and if Northampton collapse and if everyone stops winning and if, if, if.

Stupid. Pointless. But what else is there?

For Taylor at least, making sure the last few games are meaningful is his most realistic goal. Joint-Chairman Mark Lawn has begun initial talks over a longer contract, and the results and performances over the eight games Taylor has been in charge of have provided plenty of reasons to support extending the relationship. After tonight he will be half way through his initial 18-game deal, but with the new contract far from sealed, he can’t allow his players to drop standards in the run-up to the summer break.

Saturday’s defeat has dampened the mood and even lead to a small number of City fans questioning whether another deal should be offered to the interim manager. Every City fan who’s had a go at the BBC predictor over the last few weeks would have calculated a Bantams win from the trip to Hereford. And though the recent defeats at Aldershot and Port Vale could be excused given their higher league positions, losing to a side on a terrible run of form and near the relegation zone is rightly criticised. Just think of Stuart McCall still in charge and imagine the reaction.

A win might have set up a  realistic late promotion push, but instead the changing of a winning side – perhaps motivated by Taylor’s desire to evaluate his players and with a busy week of games in mind – backfired dismally. The likelihood that Hereford’s sinking position meant their players wanted it more must not become regular, with seven of City’s last 10 games against opposition going for promotion or battling to avoid relegation. Taylor has to instill greater desire and work rate; he only has six more games at Valley Parade on his initial deal, he may yet only have six more games at Valley Parade as City manager.

Huge game for visitors Notts County

Notts County certainty rock up to Valley Parade with the kind of butterflies-in-the-stomach and sweating-over-the-league-table outlook absent from City’s run-in. So much has been written about County’s eventful season – on this site and elsewhere – but whatever the rights and mostly wrongs of their approach, the world’s oldest professional football league club have been left with a very capable squad which may end the season lifting the League Two title.

The size of the task for City tonight is huge. County are unbeaten in the league since Tuesday 9 February – eight games ago. Since the JPT penalty shootout defeat at Valley Parade in early October, they have lost only four of the 29 matches they’ve played. If they win their two games in hand they will be within three points of Rochdale, with the Spotland club yet to travel to Meadow Lane. They’ve dominated the headlines, for largely the wrong reasons, all season – but there’s an increasingly strong chance they will attract some positive exposure too, for a short while at least.

For while the outcome of entrusting mysterious owners and their lofty ambitions of Premier League football has so far been self-inflicted damage – the new owners have inherited an initial £6m worth of debts from the publicity-shy Munto Finance and narrowly avoided going into administration last month – if and when those debts do catch up with the club, there will be others angrily demanding justice. Under Munto County signed up a playing squad they couldn’t afford, under new owners County are using a playing squad they can’t afford.

If Notts gain automatic promotion and then fall into administration, how will the club who finishes fourth feel? County are effectively cheating their way to a place in League One and no one in an authoritative position seems to care.

Yet with all this turmoil and high turnover of managers, that County have kept it together on the field is somewhat remarkable. Tonight they are robbed of the services of their top and third highest scorers – lookalikes Lee Hughes and Luke Rodgers – due to suspension. This leaves County relying on strikers Karl Hawley (four goals), Delroy Facey (one goal) and Ade Akinbiyi (no goals) to lead the line, though a potent midfield which includes goalscoring midfielders  Ben Davies (ten goals) and Craig Westcarr (nine goals) carry a clear threat.

Since Steve Cotterill took over as manager, County have five clean sheets from six games and former Bantam captain Graeme Lee has become a key figure of a defence backed up by the reputed £15k-per-week keeper Kasper Schmeichel – rumoured to be entitled to a £200k bonus if Notts are promoted. Kasper is said to have impressed onlookers this season, though his bizarre appeals for a foul when missing a cross that allowed the tiny Chris Brandon to head home an equaliser, smashing up of a corner flag and then punching of a hole in the dressing room wall, during the City-County JPT tie, means few connected with City hold him in such high regard. Expect boos for him tonight.

Bully’s suspension and mis-firing loanees offer Taylor food for thought

Hoping to score past Schmeichel will probably be a strike partnership of James Hanson and Mark McCammon/Ryan Kendall, with midfielder Lee Bullock’s two-game suspension forcing Taylor to contemplate moving Michael Flynn back to the middle of the park alongside Adam Bolder. Another option is the under-used Steve O’Leary or even returning skipper Simon Ramsden in the holding role and Jonathan Bateson continuing at right back.

Robbie Threfall plays at left back after his loan deal was extended, while a weak performance from Luke Oliver at Hereford leaves Taylor with a familiar problem of who to play in the centre of defence. Matt Clarke is quietly winning appreciation from fans. Zesh Rehman is nearing full fitness and might be given another go alongside him, or Steve Williams – star of a two-page article in this month’s Four Four Two magazine – may be recalled.

Out wide Omar Daley was likely left out of the starting line up at Hereford in order to be fresh to start this game in front of the usual mixture of Daley fans and haters arguing it over in the stands. For some reason Daley’s match-winning contribution against Aldershot has attracted a hostile reaction from those who point to his lack of consistency; but, if Taylor can coach higher standards into the Jamaican, City have a superb player who can make a difference. It was sad to see Luke O’Brien dropped at the weekend and he will battle with Gavin Grant and City’s own Dirk Kuyt, Gareth Evans, for the other wide berth. Matt Glennon keeps goal.

Taylor is making City more organised and disciplined, but his reign has so far produced unpredictable results. Tonight should be a great atmosphere as County bring a good following up the M1 in confident and vociferous mood. Tonight City play a team desperate for the three points and uber-confident of getting them. Tonight City’s players have limited motivations and ambitions, and probably could shrug off a defeat as expected.

But tonight should be about those players showing character and demonstrating a willingness to take up the fight of next season leading City towards the type of promotion push County are mounting. Tonight should be about giving everything, because it’s not acceptable to believe there is nothing to play for. And tonight should be about City fans responding to the away atmosphere by outsinging them and supporting their players in winning every tackle and completing every pass.

After all, we’ll be wishing we could do so come the summer.

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.

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.

Another day, another loan signing as Adam Bolder joins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pragmatic Taylor gets his first home win

While Peter Taylor was plotting to take Bradford City to two wins in five days Mark Lawn was considering pulling out the club to put the Bantams in administration.

Lawn’s ire came after his car was vandalised by some City fans following the Accrington Stanley game last weekend. Lawn’s upset abated as he described,

The general abuse shocked me and I won’t stand for it. It’s more than out of order. I talked to Julian (Rhodes) the following day and said that I felt like taking the loan back. Then Bradford City would be in administration – it’s as simple as that. We have all these wonderful fans but there are always some who want me out. But what would they do then? If I took my £1 million loan back, what do they think is going to happen to the football club? Never mind my share investment capital, without that loan the club would not exist.

Lawn wants the offenders to come to him to talk the matter over, and to be banned for life and to face criminal damaged charges and rightly so. The joint chairman is right to make a clear statement that such behaviour is unacceptable.

What to make of Lawn’s follow up statement is up to the individual fans – be they those who attack cars, those who turn up week in and week out for decades, who raise money to pay for today’s match winner James Hanson, those who kept the club in business twice in the last decade:

I’m a fan like them and I’ve two million more reasons to be frustrated.

The £5,000 donated to the club by a supporter via The City Gent paid for two thirds of James Hanson’s transfer represents a significant fan investment in the club and paid off handsomely for the Bantams today with the former shelf stacker turned City top scorer starting and ending the conclusive move of the match that saw Darlington dispatched from Valley Parade on the wrong end of a 1-0 defeat.

The result seemed in little doubt once the Bantams – who started the game effectively with new signing Mark McCammon and Hanson operating as a powerful two man battering ram – took the lead when Hanson played a smart ball deep to a confident Gareth Evans down the right flank who centred to McCammon only for Hanson to spirit in front of the new boy to convert.

Hanson should have doubled City’s advantage when a similarly well crafted move came to the striker who hit a good shot which was saved by young keeper Shane Redmond who – along with the central defender Ian Miller – put in superb performances that did much to keep the Quakers in with a chance of salvaging something from the match right up until the final whistle.

Not that the forward line of the visitors – well marshalled by Steve Williams – looked like taking those chances. The visitors lacked confidence and often lashed the ball on the slightest sight of the net threatening very little.

When Darlington did muster an attack they found Peter Taylor’s City more resolute than one would imagine they would have been under Stuart McCall but – as a result – a touch more tedious.

Twenty minutes from time and substitute Omar Daley played a fine cross field ball thirty five yards from his own goal and as Michael Flynn took the ball to attack Daley meandered forward more bothered about maintaining defensive position in front of Robbie Threlfall than joining the mounting attack. It was not uncommon over the afternoon and typified City’s approach to the game. Being hard to beat rather than beating the opposition out of sight.

Taylor’s side got a first home win for the new manager and the second win in three. His pragmatic approach to the game becomes clearer with his withdrawal of McCammon and introduction of Michael Boulding who spurned a last minute chance to set Hanson’s up for a double. Boulding’s arrival saw City’s midfield switch to a prescribed path of playing early balls to try get behind the Darlington backline. Flynn and Bullock would play the ball long – often without looking – to the groans of the supporters but Taylor was satisfied that the players were following his plan.

Sitting back, hitting a team on the break, and sneaking a win. It was a far cry from the expansive 433 and dashed hopes of Stuart McCall’s three years at the club but as Taylor takes his Bantams for three away games at Aldershot, Rotherham and then Port Vale on the road in in the next ten days such an approach could prove useful.

And three points won at Valley Parade is a welcome Saturday afternoon but it is an afternoon tinged with sadness and Peter Taylor and his practical football took over from Stuart McCall’s dream of glory and shows signs of reward. City have beaten the top and the bottom sides in the last week and done so with the same common sense, simple type of performance.

Drifting away was the dream of McCall for sure, but with it it seems goes that of a club in which the supporters who have done so much to keep the Bantams in football are at the heart of Bradford City. The club exists at the behest of the joint chairman – he makes that very clear – and feels things more times more than any other supporters.

One hopes that he fells he has 2,000,000 reasons to feel happier today.

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 last days of Rome

On arriving at a club we often hear how a new manager has made five or six changes from the previous gaffer’s last team and on watching Stuart McCall’s side of players rag-tagly out of positioned for the first half of a a sixth winless match on the trot at Lincoln City’s Sincil Bank one could not be struck by the notion that should the Bantams have a change in the big chair sooner rather than later then his first job would be to put players back into position.

Simon Ramsden moved into midfield, Omar Daley up front, Chris Brandon wandering around in “the hole” and after the two goals that proved decisive Michael Flynn in the forward line. Players out of position seem to be the precursor of manager removal.

That City boss Stuart McCall got his first half team so wrong caused an unsolvable problem for the Bantams which could not be fixed after forty-five minutes. The second goal saw Brian Gilmour slice through the centre of the same flat footed, square defence that was exposed at Notts County on the opening day of the season.

The pairing of Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke is chalk and chalk. Two players who can clear the ball out without the pace to clean up behind them and they were exposed by Gilmour to get the second. The first goal came from Brian Gilmour setting up Chris Held for a close finish and came as City’s heads were down following more linesman “fun”.

That the official had been subject to some vile abuse from three or four City fans at the front of the away end may have played on his mind when Omar Daley rounded Steve Watts to burst towards the penalty area only to being sent sprawling – Decision: Free Kick to Lincoln – is little excuse for a wretched afternoon of poor decisions. His role in the first, match swinging goal came from keeping his flag down as Gareth Evans felt the force of both Watts’s hands in his back.

He was a poor linesman – perhaps making errors, perhaps seeking redress – but no one deserved the level of homophobic abuse hurled at him by a shameful handful of City fans who tellingly pulled scarves over their faces when later a scuffle broke out when another supporter was ejected.

Horribly City’s players put heads down after the foul on Daley was not given and after dominating for the opening half an hour and having a great run by Luke O’Brien well saved and a Gareth Evans shot eke wide found themselves quickly two goals behind. Problems were evident, City had crumbled like ageing marble statues.

The problems – however annoying the re-occurrence of them was – were addressed at half time in the dressing room and City came out with Ramsden back at right back, Rehman off and Steve Williams on and Michael Boulding adding to the forward line. Cue a forty five minutes of near constant Bradford City pressure.

That that pressure resulted in only a single goal when Michael Boulding finishing smartly after good work by Luke O’Brien who – as with Matthew Clarke – had as good a second half as he did a poor first was partly the goalkeeping of Rob Burch but mostly City’s difficulties in breaking down a backs to the wall second half from the home side which one rarely sees from a side on their home turf but won them the three points.

(A note here on recent weeks: Lincoln, unlike Bury and Cheltenham, did not feel the need to cheat and the game was all the better for it.)

The Bantams tried, tried, tired to breakdown the home side who were playing like an away side but it was to no avail. At one point Matt Glennon was in the forward line and even the BBC called the Bantams unlucky but ultimately McCall had made a big mistake with his team selection but had seen the problem and fixed it. In the end it was too late, but it was not mistaken by those who saw it for too little.

These people – the six hundred or so who travelled to Lincoln – came not to bury Caesar, but to to praise him. There were the odd pocket of people voicing anti-McCall sentiment but on the whole as the Visigoth sacked the streets a single word rang out from the Bradford City support not too a man but to a point.

“Stuart, Stuart, Stuart.”

A silence

There was a temptation to simply link to the previous four match reports this website has offered and invite you – dear reader – to mentally flip a few names to make your own Cheltenham report.

It is easily done. A referee who once again begged the question “bent or bloody rubbish?” A City defender sent off for two yellow card offences that even after the argument as to if either offence was actually a foul – today for Steve Williams one was, one was not – were offences repeated across the field without punishment being given (Append:) although whatever one things about the challenge Williams certainly did not foul Richards in the penalty area.

Cheltenham striker Justine Richards and City's Steve Williams

Penalties feature heavily of course. Williams was sent off for a dive which frankly was better than Stephen Leslie’s dive Shrewsbury but was still a dive. Justin Richards – today’s woeful sprawler – is a cheat but at least he is better at it than Leslie is, in that he dive looked more convincing.

Once you have mentally created the match report add the odd comment to the bottom. Add one that blames the Bantams for the run of refereeing decisions and another that manages to aim that blame squarely at manager Stuart McCall. It is the masochist opinion but one that is often heard.

Nevertheless long after I had accepted the machinations of another official who was either unfit to Referee or had decided he wanted a specific result (I know what I think) the Bradford City players – told to spend more time playing and less time sulking about the string of corrupt/useless that blights their games by manager McCall – turned in a performance of credit. Down to ten men with a sending off which was at best a mistake/came courtesy of a bottle of whiskey in the referee’s room the players turned in a performance that took control of of the match.

Indeed the first half lead given by James O’Brien’s tidy finish after visiting keeper Brown had flapped at a corner was the least that City deserved and a chunk of luck for Michael Flynn when he drove from long range or James Hanson when he got into the box after a smart move through a packed midfield would have resulted in a more healthy scoreline.

That that midfield was packed caused problems for the game. With Simon Whaley return to Norwich the previous day and Omar Daley not yet fit enough to start a diamond midfield with Lee Bullock at the base – Bullock pretty much neutered the visitor’s midfield single handedly – Flynn and James O’Brien in the middle and Chris Brandon at the tip. It was a tight middle and robbed of flank players compressed the game into what was often a frustrating to watch mass of football.

Nevertheless the protection to the back four – and latterly back three – offered by the midfield snuffed out the Cheltenham threat comprehensively and the single goal should have been enough to win the game but Referee Craig Pawson and his intervention in the game that was oh too familiar. The game was perverted and rendered – well – boring as Pawson like the previous four officials at Bradford City matches decided he and his decisions would be centre sage. It is football pantomime, and everyone grows out of pantomime.

What does the club do from now? Stuart McCall told his players to focus more on the game and less on the Referee and so they did but the focus of the game – the reason for the result – was another inept/biased performance by an official. Should the club kick up a stink about the way that the last five games have been tipped in one direction or another by this brand of officiating then it seems to exasperate the problem but saying nothing is unnatural and goes against our need to protect our club.

The Bantams plod on though doing enough to win games but having them turned away from victory and as people turned away from Valley Parade trudging home in the snow on Saturday evening there was not a criticism or players or manager but a silence.

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.

The loop continues at Darlington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reacting to the cold, sifting the good from the bad

Defeats are always worse in the cold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Mastering the winning habit

There’s a saying connected to self-improvement. It’s about how everything you can confidently do now, at one stage in your life was considered difficult.

As Bradford City’s campaign of personal development progresses from learning to create chances, to scoring goals, to becoming difficult to beat, to the new challenge of turning draws into three points more often, tentative steps were taken at Blundell Park towards elevating the Bantams to credible promotion candidates. And while it will be hoped last night is looked back on as significant come the end of the campaign, like a kid learning to ride a bike with stabilisers, it was a progression aided by support which won’t always be there.

You see Grimsby Town were just that bad.

It’s seemingly become a tradition for City to arrive at Blundell Park with the home side on a wretched run of form; but the lack of confidence, aptitude and intelligence the Mariners possessed last night suggests relegation from the Football League is no less a formality than that of rock-bottom Darlington. In each of the last three trips to Cleethorpes, City manager Stuart McCall has shook hands with three different managers in the opposite dugout. On Monday Grimsby appointed former City forward Neil Woods despite a winless caretaker stint. This removed the possibility of a short-term lift from a new appointment, though perhaps rather late in the day the Town board has grasped the concept of stability.

Stability for City was the return of the previously-successful 4-3-3 formation and more positionally-solid James O’Brien for an off-form Chris Brandon, with the result a well drilled team versed in the job it needed to carry out. Simon Whaley was handed a full debut ahead of a clearly exhausted Scott Neilson and brought an extra dimension to City’s play. Confident in possession at all times and making some clever on and off the ball runs, if James O’Brien’s hard-working performance put Brandon to shame, the more effective manner in which the on-loan Norwich winger drifted around the pitch will have been noted by Stuart too.

With Lee Bullock carrying out another unassuming but valuable role protecting the back four, the platform was set up for City’s forward players to attack inventively and Whaley’s long range effort sneaked past one-time rumoured Bantams target Nick Colgan to put the visitors 1-0 up on 24 minutes. City had knocked the ball around impressively at times, but the goal was the result of a more direct manner after Simon Eastwood’s long kick and Bullock’s flick on. Stuart has previously made no attempt to apologise for his team mixing up their play and this goal provided a strong argument for incorporating such a style.

Grimsby’s resistance was limited, defender Oliver Lancashire’s header from a corner forcing a stunning save from Eastwood the only time the impressive central defensive partnership of Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams was troubled. And the biggest concern at half time was that surely the home side couldn’t play any worse and of the increasing regularity second half leads have been lost by City this season – Burton, Barnet, Northampton, Port Vale and Accrington. Time for those self-help guides.

Yet with so many doubts to plague the mind, the continued assurance of City after the interval saw the predictable early second half Grimsby urgency dampened with ease. Nicky Featherstone shot wide and there were a couple of throw ins into the box to defend, but it didn’t take long for City to be back into the ascendancy and the determination to finish off the game was obvious.

Whaley and James Hanson both went close before a corner was only half cleared and James O’Brien whipped over a troubling cross which Town defender Paul Linwood bizarrely headed across his own goal, presenting Williams with an opportunity to head the ball into an unguarded net from two yards. As every City outfield player rushed over to congratulate the former non-league defender, the sight of Grimsby players’ heads down, not even bothering to berate each other for conceding so poorly, will surely have troubled every Mariners fan.

From there onwards the game was comfortable with City continuing to carry the greater purpose and intent. Gareth Evans, who’s not quite reaching top form at the moment, should have scored a third after been played through one-and-one and shrugging off a defender, but curled his shot wide. Luke O’Brien, also not quite at his best last night, hit the side netting. Hanson then finally wrapped up the evening after racing onto Evans’ through ball and finishing emphatically. It was the top scorer’s seventh of the season and the superb manner he lead the line all night – winning flick ons and also displaying no little skill with the ball at feet – was a contrast to his target man predecessor and now Grimsby’s number ten, Barry Conlon.

It’s at this point I should really add comment about how disgraceful it was that the majority of away fans booed and sang uncomplimentary songs about the Irish striker. Whatever his failing were in a City shirt, effort was not among them and the great moments he provided us City fans should not be discounted. So I should really add comment about it was a disgrace, but…well, to be honest, I have a sense of humour.

The stick he received was hilarious and the comedy was added too by how badly Conlon played. His big chance to silence the barrackers came shortly before half time when the ball flashed across the box towards his right foot. He ended up kicking fresh air. In response the abuse was interrupted by a mickey-taking chant of “Barry! Barry!” Once sung in affection, but as Conlon was subbed in the second half and Hanson scored a minute later, it was clear we’ve all moved on. Sorry Barry, though given the way you smiled towards us after chasing an over-hit ball which went out of play, I figure you have broad shoulders and a sense of humour too.

A late save from Eastwood preserved the clean sheet – important as it was only City’s second on the road this season. But while City have played better and not won this season, the qualities which delivered the three points stand them in good stead for the tougher battles ahead. In hindsight, that City were only 1-0 up at half time was the best thing which could have happened. A chance to face up to previous fears and play through difficult memories of tentative starts to the second half been punished by conceding.

Every player took responsibility in pushing City on, and by the end of the night every individual battle had been emphatically won. With Michael Flynn and James O’Brien driving the team forward and the movement of Whaley and Evans causing problems, the workmanlike performance was not without its flair.

The win elevates City to 10th and the distance to the play offs has been reduced to two points. After a week off which will allow the fitness of returning players to improve, the self-improvement programme of developing a winning habit continues. From a visit to second bottom of the league to a home game against second top, Rochdale.

This time City will have to do it without the stablisers.

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.

Struggling to find more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Finding out what you are good at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Griffith seems to be a player born without any footballing talent. He can – howeve