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.

Rewarding the wrong things

Bradford City are going to be looking at appointing a new manager soon and and in doing so will be asking a question as to if it is worth rewarding Peter Jackson for his work as “interim manager” with a full time contract. It seems difficult to believe the will be the case.

Two games – indeed two defeats – ago Mark Lawn talked about Jackson’s performance not being enough when the manager had a record of seven points out of twelve which edged the former skipper at just under two points a match. Having been told that those performances were not good enough one wonders if Jackson will be considered for a job the description of which seems to be “promotion form, all the time.”

Perhaps it was the idea that performance as well as results influence thinking in the mind of Mark Lawn – one half of the joint chairman and the half who was last to agree on appointing Peter Taylor owing to his style of football – that prompted Jackson to keep David Syers out at right back and put Tom Adeyemi in central midfield alongside Michael Flynn rather than Jonathan Worthington.

In theory Flynn and Ademeyi are an expansive middle two with one promoting and the other driving forward but in practice this team – as with all teams – perform better with a ball winner and Jackson’s results show that. When his team dig in, results follow, but without Worthington (or a similar player) much of the good play that City were capable of a month ago is theory, nothing more.

Ademeyi deserves a place in the team, Syers deserves a spot in central midfield, or so the thinking goes. The practice, as is often the case in football, differs.

Exhibit A: Jake Speight. Given three out of ten by one Sunday newspaper last week and generally considered to be not very good Speight was dropped today for Scott Dobie. While Speight has been doing whatever it is he does up front – you may not, or may, care for it – Dobie has been nominally out of position and seemingly either incapable of playing that role of having a lip out sulk and putting in very little.

His reward for such slight returns was to be given a role alongside James Hanson in the forward line and seldom did he seem to offer anything to suggest his was a better option. Jackson’s rewarding of Dobie’s anonymous performances make it hard to demand effort from the rest of the squad. “Play hard, because if you don’t you will be given a place in the forward line.”

Darren Stephenson or Chib Chilaka – who came off the bench for Dobie in the second half following five goals in his last two games – seemed to merit the position more and certainly seemed to put in more effort.

Not that City’s side lacked effort on the while today – nor that Jackson could not have looked back on the game without thinking that his team was hard done by – but some of what the manager was doing to impress at Morecambe with the characterful 1-0 win seemed to slip away, sacrificed on the alter of the more attractive.

The home side tipped a performance towards them from kick off edging, but not firmly beating, the Bantams and it seemed only a time before Jon McLauglin would be beaten. A shot pinged off his bar but it took a penalty by John Mousinho after Steve Williams’ jump in the first half was oddly penalised to give Stevenage the advantage. Mousinho is to Stevenage what Tom Doherty was to Wycombe Wanderers three seasons back. A player to envy.

But what good is envy? The Stevenage players continued to edge each tackle and carry on firmly in the play off zone after the win which was to follow in the second half but it is not because they are to a man better than the Bantams eleven. The idea that City’s players are inherently worse which seems to mark any half time in which the Bantams trail is not backed up by a look at the opposition teams which best us. We have League Two players, but so does every other club in League Two, and the challenge for every manager at this level is to get those players outperforming the division.

City’s second half display showed some character and Chilaka’s entrance helped matters but it seemed the Bantams were struggling on scraps. David Syers and Luke O’Brien pressed up the flanks and some supply from Adeyemi and Gareth Evans proved some delivery but it seemed that City were going to battle in vein.

Jackson will have looked at having to deploy Lewis Hunt in the middle with Syers at right back and ending up with Luke Oliver – a former Stevenage forward – back in the forward line. He will look at Tommy Doherty’s return in the reserves and Michael Flynn’s struggle to get in the game today and he will see options returning to his squad and he will probably wonder if he will get to be the one who decides how the midfielder returns to the squad, how Oliver is put back in the side, how to solve the goal scoring issues.

Syers scored, a tidy finish after Chilaka pushed the ball back to him in a crowded box, and it seemed that City might get a reward but the wrong things are seldom rewarded in the end, and Darius Charles won the game.

Jackson’s hopes hang in the balance as the feel-good factor recedes

Suddenly the unifying feel-good factor witnessed at the Globe Arena two weeks ago seems like a distant memory. 180 minutes of subsequently apathetic football have loosened Peter Jackson’s grip on pole position for the manager’s job full time. It may be wrong for his chances to fluctuate game-to-game like this, but this afternoon and last week have hardly offered compelling evidence in support of the interim manager’s cause.

Speaking ahead of this disappointing defeat, joint-Chairman Mark Lawn revealed it is likely Bradford City will make a final decision on the next manager around Easter time. Therefore Jackson probably has at least another four games in the hotseat to build a stronger case than his first five games provide. Few would doubt he has made an impact as he reaches his one month milestone in charge on Sunday, but seven points from 15 is hardly a significant improvement on the six points Peter Taylor collected during his final five games.

And therein lies his major issue to date. There just isn’t enough of a difference to the way City are performing with Jackson at the helm when looking at the widening picture. Initially the Bantams were playing a much more appealing passing style of football compared to efforts under Taylor. Yet both today and last week there has been a frustrating reverting back to direct football that sees the ball punted aimlessly in the direction of Jake Speight and James Hanson. Jackson can argue he doesn’t want his players to perform in this way, but this would hardly generate confidence over his leadership abilities.

Amazingly in a game where they were so clearly second best, City took the lead and for 10 minutes looked on course to sneak an undeserved victory. But a very impressive Shrewsbury side demonstrated why they are in the promotion shake-up by coming back to earn a valuable win. Rarely do dropped points look acceptable when you’ve held a lead in a match; and, although Shrewsbury’s winner came with six minutes left on the clock, the fact City had been unable to curtail their opponents’ dominance from kick off reflected badly on everyone.

Sure there were mitigating circumstances. Much of the pre-match focus was on how Jackson would compensate for the injured Luke Oliver at the back, but ultimately the absence of the suspended Jon Worthington was more crucially felt. City’s midfield four were badly out-gunned for much of the game and lacked the energy and drive to function as an effective attacking force. They lacked a David Syers.

Syers himself was thrust into a right back role he at least looked more comfortable performing compared to his efforts in this position against Northampton a week ago. With Lewis Hunt moved over to centre back to cover Oliver and putting in an extremely strong display, Jackson could argue he’d made the right call. But as the midfield already featured two strikers as widemen, there remained a suspicion all afternoon that there were just too many players lining up out of their best position, tipping the balance in Shrewsbury’s favour.

Particularly as Tom Adeyemi was asked to perform a defensive midfield position which appears more naturally suited to Syers and certainly isn’t ideal for the on-loan Norwich midfielder. For the first 45 minutes especially the midfield four were on the back foot and struggled to find time and space to attack, with Michael Flynn very average again. Shrewsbury hunted in packs down the flanks, forcing Gareth Evans and a much more willing Scott Dobie to defend for much of the half. But with so many players forced deep, the front two of Hanson and Speight were left badly isolated.

In other words, it was the same balance conundrum that Taylor had failed so badly to solve.

Were it not for an outstanding display from Jon McLaughlin, Shrewsbury’s dominance would have been rewarded with a 2 or even 3-0 half time scoreline. After getting away with making a hash of a low cross into the box, McLaughlin maintained his confidence and made a terrific double block from the dangerous Matt Harrold and Mark Wright. Just before half time Nicky Wroe was played clear on goal, but McLaughlin stood up well to make a brilliant one-on-one block. At half time all four sides of the crowd afforded the keeper a standing ovation.

City did begin to improve in the second half, with Jackson pushing Adeyemi further forwards so he could link up with Speight and Hanson. Though McLaughlin was still busy, having to tip over David Davis’ long-range shot and later on keep out Wright’s header. Darren Stephenson was handed a senior debut in place of the woeful Speight, and the crowd’s positive reception to his arrival helped the players to temporarily stem the tide.

Midway through the second half Adeyemi took advantage of a woeful punch downwards from Shrewsbury keeper Ben Smith to volley the ball into the roof of the net from the edge of the area; and for Jackson and City it was looking like a good day after all. Yet the wily Graham Turner made two inspirational substitutions – bringing on Tom Bradshaw and opening-day-of-the-season-City-tormentor Lionel Ainsworth – that re-shifted the momentum again.

City switched off from a throw-in, and Bradshaw struck with venom from distance to beat McLaughlin at his near post with 13 minutes to go. The substitute then won the game on 84 minutes after Jon Taylor had got free of Syers on the left – despite a strong suspicion of fouling the makeshift right back – and crossed for him to tap in.

In between City had effectively played upon Smith’s hesitancy in goal by swinging in some decent crosses that left him flapping. The best chance saw Hanson’s excellent run and cross for Dobie to head home thwarted by a defender on the line. On another day and with a bit more luck City could have won it instead of going on to lose, but then again they had benefited from some good fortune in defeating Rotherham and Morecambe.

In the end the day lacked conclusions. City are just about safe from relegation, but another few points are still required. Jackson could have been packing up his desk at full time, but Lawn’s pre-match comments revealed the assessment will go on a while longer. Lawn also claimed that results are what matter, and one has to wonder whether Jackson’s chances are little more advanced than a game of musical chairs. Will his latest result be win, draw and lose when the music stops – and will that determine the outcome?

Almost every manager I’ve known is popular at first – and there’s always that period where we almost believe they’ll be a superhero in what they are capable of achieving, before over time they prove themselves to be human with flaws that drive their popularity downwards. So while the six other managerial candidates can still hide behind their cape and remain superhero in their potential, Jackson – with some questionable team selections, iffy tactics and average performances – is left to reveal his defects that all the while reduce his chances.

Two weeks after looking a shoe-in for the job – for Jackson, you begin to suspect this story isn’t going to have a happy ending.

Differing career directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Life through a different lens

I always find these rare times Bradford City appear live on TV to be nerve-wracking occasions.

As great as it is for the great football god Sky to acknowledge our existence, the numerous dull City games they have managed to capture live over the years leave me fearing another occasion where a national TV audience is left underwhelmed. And when you know that audience will include friends, family and work colleagues who are only tuning in because they know you, there’s seemingly a lot more at stake than three points.

But more personal to all of that is the different perspective of watching the Bantams that sitting on a couch and watching them on TV provides. So much that is fantastic about supporting City is the live sights, sounds and even smells of cheering them on at games, and when so much of that is stripped away and your team appears two dimensional on a TV set, like any regular football match, too much is missing to truly enjoy it. Tonight could have been a brilliant game (it wasn’t), but watching it this way leaves you realising its impossible for Sky to accurately showcase to the people who matter in your life why City is so important to you and, ultimately, what all the fuss is about.

Tonight I’m watching the game on Sky at a friend’s house – he loves City as much as me and always goes to games – and with his brother, who only watches football from the comfort of his sofa and is annoyed at this lower league intrusion to his routine. “I can’t believe they’re screening this game” are his first words to me, and straight away I feel I’m having to apologise for my team interrupting his halcyon world of Premier League and La Liga football.

The live broadcast starts with Sky’s typically over-dramatic format showing us quick fire images of the “exciting League Two promotional battle” that Port Vale are part of. City are introduced as underachievers fighting relegation. The music is creepy and suddenly I’m really fearful for our Football League status, until Peter Beagrie pops up as studio pundit to reassure the nation that Bradford have simply had a lot of injuries and can still target promotion this season.

It seems to be a theme of the evening. “Bradford have used 35 players this season”, we are repeatedly told and each time it is quickly followed by “which just how difficult it has been for Peter Taylor.” True to a certain extent, but no one opts to mention – or perhaps would be aware – that this high turnover includes Taylor choosing to bring in young loanees ahead of supposed first teamers such as Zesh Rehman, Robbie Threlfall and Jake Speight, among others. Everyone employed by Sky tonight seems to share the view that City’s poor season is simply down to injuries, and that everything will be okay for us once the treatment room is cleared.

So nothing to do with Taylor’s tactics then, which tonight once more sees him start with the 4-3-3 formation that has proved so ineffective in recent weeks – and does so again. City’s three forwards are hopelessly isolated as everyone else stays deep behind the ball. Port Vale – whose manager, Jim Gannon, has spent a lot of time recently defending the 4-5-1 formation he favours, which proved effective at Stockport three years ago – easily win the midfield battle and you sit there in disbelief that Taylor can keep getting it so wrong.

A midfield three of Michael Flynn, Tom Adeyemi and Leon Osborne against a five is absolutely ridiculous, and for such an experienced manager to continue deploying his team in such an ineffective manner is bewildering. It is no coincidence that City’s best two performances of recent weeks – Chesterfield away and the second half against Wycombe last week – came when City lined up 4-5-1 and could get hold of the ball. In the first half tonight, Vale followed Crewe, Lincoln and Wycombe (first half) in dominating possession and carrying all the attacking threat.

Tom Pope headed a good chance over, Gary Roberts curled a shot wide and Lenny Pidgley made two decent saves. City’s only sight of goal came after Scott Dobie’s comically mistimed overhead kick attempt saw the ball run free and Kevin Ellison fire a rasping shot narrowly wide. It took 20 minutes to receive the first text message from a friend declaring this was the worst football they’d ever seen in their life.

Port Vale continued to press in the second half and took the lead four minutes in after Pope shrugged off a contact lense falling out and got free of his marker to send a looping header over Pidgley and Flynn. Pidgley, who seconds earlier had made a terrific save from a low shot, got into a heated argument with his stand-in captain Flynn. Surely now Taylor had to change things.

Only he didn’t, and rather than show intent to start chasing the game City continued to play as though they were holding out for a 0-0 draw. Vale pressed forwards with greater intent and Pope netted a second with a close range finish, despite replays showing he was narrowly offside. Pidgley was convinced the goal should have been ruled out and raced over to the linesman to complain. Not a single team-mate bothered to join him in arguing City’s case, instead walking off head down. Such lack of spirit and fight is deeply troubling.

City finally achieved a shot on target after 65 minutes when Gareth Evans’ free kick was blocked. Four minutes later Taylor finally let the shackles off his team by replacing Speight with the ineffective Leon Osborne, and suddenly it all changed. Now playing 4-4-2, City were finally keeping hold of the ball in Vale’s half and Speight displayed his early season form to cause the under-worked Vale defence problems. After Dobie headed the ball down, Speight brilliantly laid the ball into Adeyemi’s path to fire home and reduce the deficit with seven minutes to play.

The pressure grew on Vale in the closing stages, though at the times the delivery into the box was poor from City. Still, deep in injury time Lewis Hunt had a great chance to equalise after Flynn picked him out in the area, but after taking a touch he probably didn’t have time to make John McCombe was able to block his shot. Pidgley raced up for the resultant corner and a couple of goalmouth scrambles went unrewarded.

With the final whistle came an added sense of frustration – why couldn’t City have played like they had for the final 20 minutes during the first 70, when the game was ultimately lost? Why did Taylor have to approach this fixture so negatively, yet again? This was the 10th away defeat and, while it can be argued such a poor record and league position justifies a defensive strategy, how different might this season have proved if he’d been prepared to play positive attacking football more often?

The text messages of abuse from friends kept pouring in. In the past when we’ve disappointed on Sky I’d always been able to argue that what they’d just witnessed wasn’t an accurate reflection of supporting Bradford City. Tonight I have no defence – this really is how depressing life has become under Peter Taylor.

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.

Despair to be consoled by

In the midst of another season of crushed expectations for Bradford City, an unlikely glimmer of hope emerged at the most unexpected of moments – only to be cruelly taken back through a 93rd-minute Chesterfield equaliser.

On the back of four consecutive defeats that have pushed the focus from promotion to relegation, no-one expected anything positive from a trip to the in-form league leaders. Yet when James Hanson rose to head the Bantams into a 2-1 lead eight minutes after half time, aspirations of a glorious end to the campaign could be dreamed of once more. City were holding on – not without a few scares, but still holding on – and a look ahead to a week featuring meetings with strugglers Lincoln and Macclesfield offered renewed optimism regarding the ‘P’ word.

But just as it seemed the season had turned, up popped Chesterfield substitute Jordon Brewery to smash home a loose ball past Jon McLaughlin. And once again we were confronted by harsh reality.

And it hurt. A lot. As home fans began celebrating, for a couple of seconds a part of you refuses to believe it has happened. That life can be so cruel. That City are once again being kicked in the teeth. Of course we never dared believe the three points were in the bag as we lead deep in stoppage time, but we could taste them. And they tasted rather good.

Instead we had to cope with the feeling of defeat that – pre-match – the majority of us had expected to bear and so had prepared our defences for. It was a damage-limitation type of afternoon. One where you expect the worse and anything better is a bonus. If someone had offered us a 2-2 draw beforehand I dare say every one of us would have bitten their hand off. Even though we got just that, we departed the thoroughly-impressive B2Net Stadium in utter despair.

But also consoled. City have not only been moving backwards in recent weeks, but stumbling towards a dangerous trapdoor that could easily leave us kicking off next August with a visit from Kettering Town (or worse still, not kicking off at all because relegation to non-league had killed the club). We needed to arrest the slide before it became serious, and at the very least the rot has now been stopped.

City took on the best in League Two and almost bested them, and while letting two points slip through the fingers at the death further reduces those promotion hopes we held just three weeks ago – the gap to the play offs is now 9 points, in case you’re still interested – the level of performance and commitment displayed strongly indicates City won’t be falling into a relegation fight.

Kicking off with an unchanged line up for the first time all season, manager Peter Taylor had gone some way to addressing the balance issues of Tuesday night by withdrawing Leon Osborne and Gareth Evans into widemen of a five-man midfield, with Hanson a lone striker. This allowed Tom Adeyemi and David Syers to push forwards from more central positions and, with Jon Worthington assuming a deep midfield role that attempted to dictate the tempo, there was no repeat of the midfield being out-gunned.

Nevertheless Chesterfield started well and bossed the opening stages, taking the lead on 11 minutes when Danny Whitaker swept home Jack Lester’s pass – though the true cause of the goal came seconds earlier. Chesterfield had a goal kick, and while normally this is signal for all the outfield players to bunch together on one side of the pitch, Drew Talbot moved to a position on the opposite side to everyone else – leaving him free and in acres of space. Keeper Tommy Lee aimed his kick at Talbot’s balding head; and though Luke O’Brien had reacted and tried to close him down, he was out-jumped and taken out of the game. Chesterfield roared forwards and, with so many City players caught out by this innovative tactic, Whitaker made it 1-0.

Still we expected this. What was less anticipated was a strong response from City which saw Hanson’s long-range shot superbly tipped over by Lee and, after the resultant corner was half-cleared, Syers left unmarked to head home an equaliser from a superb Osborne cross. City would go onto evenly contest the rest of the half and Evans forced another great save from Lee. At the other end Lester was played through on goal, only to be denied by a magnificent last-ditch tackle from Luke Oliver.

Not that Taylor’s 4-5-1 formation was proving a complete success, as the physical Talbot continued to give O’Brien a difficult afternoon with both his ability in the air and with the ball at feet. Part of the problem was inadequate defensive support from Osborne, which allowed others to provide options for Talbot; so Taylor made an early substitution by swapping the young winger – who it was suggested had picked up a knock anyway – with Omar Daley. As much as Daley has a poor reputation defensively, he made a positive difference.

Early in the second half Hanson headed City into the 2-1 lead and sparked scenes of jubilation that arguably made for the highlight of the season. Evans had made the goal with an excellent cross, after retrieving a loose ball that followed Adeyemi breaking into the penalty area.

And suddenly City had Chesterfield where they wanted them, and suddenly the impossible looked on.

The Bantams set themselves up to counter attack, with Daley embarking on some promising runs that were only let down by a poor final ball. Hanson could and perhaps should have made it 3-1 after heading over O’Brien’s cross, but the chances were all at the other end. McLaughlin made a couple of brilliant saves; Craig Davies shot narrowly wide and then headed over a simple chance. City’s backline were much improved, with Oliver enjoying an outstanding performance. Alongside him Duff was displaying the form of earlier in the season, if a little too casual on the ball at times.

And it looked like it would be enough, before that cruel moment at the end.  As the ball flew in there was stunned silence, apart from one guy in front of me who instantly rose to his feet and screamed at Taylor to “f**k off”. On reflection, it was the City boss who was the true loser on the day.

For City had showed that they should be too good to get sucked into a relegation fight, and that a midtable position is the most likely outcome of a disappointing season. But midtable is not going to be enough for Taylor to earn another contract at City, and it is surely now a matter of months before he departs the club.

Taylor badly needed these three points, and he badly needed them to spark an upsurge in form. He too might have taken a point before kick off, but he would certainly not have liked it to be realised in such demoralising circumstances.

Both he and an outstandingly-noisy away following had been offered a glimmer of hope that this story might have had a happy ending after all. Instead all we are left with is the consolation of at least feeling consoled.

The unsolvable conundrum

From the moment the first ball was kicked at Shrewsbury back in August, finding the balance is proving an unsolvable conundrum for Bradford City manager Peter Taylor – and it’s badly unhinging the Bantams’ promotion efforts.

Is it best to take a more attacking approach to matches, committing men forward and asking questions of opposition defences – or should City be more conservative-natured and concentrate on becoming difficult to beat? City are so far proving pretty poor in both areas. Goalscoring has been a problem all season, which suggests they need to be more attack-minded, but defensive instability – just three clean sheets on the road all year – is easily exposed when gaps appear at the back.

Having gained little success from a defensive focus at Oxford and Aldershot, Taylor tonight shifted emphasis back onto attacking by lining up Gareth Evans and Leon Osborne in a three-man forward line with James Hanson. And in the first 10 minutes, where City were on top and attacking the opposition penalty area with a frequency not seen in the previous two games combined, all signs pointed to it proving a success. Crewe looked hemmed in, and Evans and Osborne kept switching flanks and finding joy by running at the opposition full backs.

But it was a false sense of security and, once Crewe settled down and got into their stride, the lack of balance in City’s approach was all too easily exposed. Again.

Crewe took the lead from their first meaningful attack on 15 minutes after Bradford-born Clayton Donaldson got free of his marker and tapped home Shaun Miller’s low cross; but it was the home side’s build up play and comfortableness on and off the ball that was already making a significant impact – and would prove the difference on the night. As promising as City looked going forward initially, the lack of balance it caused elsewhere proved their undoing.

When City had the ball Crewe appeared happy to drop back and wait before exerting pressure on the man in possession. Once City’s over-eagerness to forge a chance saw the move break down – usually through playing the ball to someone not in space – Crewe would pounce and suddenly come alive. The front two of Donaldson and Miller were outstanding in reading each others’ runs and, as red shirts piled forwards, City were easily outnumbered. Evans and Osborne failed or were never asked to track back, and so Crewe always had an extra man in space they could work the ball too. They were exceptional at passing the ball around at varying tempos, and City were chasing shadows.

Jon Worthington, signed on loan earlier the day with Lee Bullock ruled out for the season, looked to pull the strings in the middle and produced some excellent passes at times. But the middle three of he, David Syers and Tom Adeyemi were badly out-gunned. Meanwhile full backs Richard Eckersley and Luke O’Brien were doubled up on and struggled to get forwards when City did have the ball. Numerous chances were created and largely spurned by Crewe – though Jon McLaughlin did make one excellent one-on-one save – and a rout looked possible.

Somewhat surprisingly, City did equalise six minutes before half time after Adeyemi rolled a free kick for O’Brien to cross and Syers to knock across the face of goal, leaving Shane Duff to head home his first goal for City. And though it was undeserved, the fact the Bantams were level offered an opportunity to get something from a difficult night – well, for 30 seconds at least.

Crewe kicked off, City roared forwards but then lost the ball. A long clearance down the pitch should have been cut out by Luke Oliver, but instead he seemed to switch off and suddenly the superb Bryon Moore was clear on goal and finished well past McLaughlin.

Crewe were simply too good for City – the best League Two team this writer has seen so far this season – but the obvious frustration in the visitors almost acted as a leveller before half time. Evans was very late in a challenge, prompting a booking from the referee Kevin Wright and obvious anger from Crewe. Seconds later a strong tackle from Worthington resulted in a flare-up that caused Wright to send off Donaldson for apparently head-butting Syers. No longer could Crewe enjoy the advantage of seemingly having a spare man always available  – City had 45 minutes to make their extra man count.

Although it was almost 10 v 10. As the game recommenced following Donaldson’s exit, O’Brien went in strongly in the tackle prompting further outrage from Crewe. Wright, perhaps lost in the moment, mixed up the blonde-haired full back with Evans and issued a second yellow. Uproar followed and, after realising his error, Wright took back the red for Evans and booked O’Brien. On a day where a media pack was expected at Gresty Road in view of female referee Sian Massey having been scheduled to run the line, it was a major embarrassment for the official. “We want our woman back!” was the chant in the away stand.

City looked more purposeful in the second half. Omar Daley and Jake Speight were introduced from the bench, and with a numerical advantage to attempt to maximize Taylor opted for a bold 4-2-4 formation that saw City enjoy more possession and territorial advantage but, crucially, struggle to create meaningful chances. Indeed home keeper Steve Phillips only had to make one notable save, when the utterly-dreadful Speight suddenly had a clear sight of goal but shot tamely. Syers also had a great opportunity one-on-one, but panicked and sliced wide.

Flynn made his grand return from the bench as City pushed more and more players up the pitch, but the threat of the counter attack remained and Moore almost wrapped up the game after forcing a good save from McLaughlin. A half chance for Flynn saw him volley wide, but this was no night for City fairytales. Twice deep in stoppage time Adeyemi, who had a good game otherwise, blew opportunities to set up chances. City huffed and puffed and can’t be criticised for lack of effort. The boos from some away fans at full time were harsh.

But all is clearly far from well and Crewe’s performance was a stark measurement of just how far from promotion challengers City are. The Bantams tried to do the right things in the second half and worked the ball back and forth, but when not in possession too many players lack the intelligence and awareness to make runs and find space to help team mates. The contrast was so notable when Crewe had the ball, as the movement of home players pulled City apart.

Four straight defeats and the gap to the play offs is now larger than it has been all season. With a trip to leaders Chesterfield on Saturday it looks set to get worse before it gets better. Taylor is back to the drawing board of finding a way for City to be more effective offensively and boost the goals for column – without leaving the huge gaps in midfield that Crewe were able to exploit so effectively. But despite raised hopes along the way it is a problem he appears no nearer to solving than he was when Shrewsbury ripped City apart on day one.

Taylor’s future as Bradford City manager beyond May is in major doubt. At best, he is currently wavering on an ever-thinning tightrope – and, as we’ve seen all season, balance does not seem to be his strong point.

Peter Taylor Nil

M.O.D. Aldershot and this is my closest game so I’ve brought some of the lads and in the first minute I wish I had not. I’m not a football expert but I know that teams have got to play better than this if they are going to win matches and watching the last two games for the Bantams (The other one being the 2-1 defeat at Oxford) I can’t believe what I’m seeing. It is like a City team that don’t want to do anything.

They don’t want to pass the ball, they don’t want to take shots at goal. They don’t want to tackle, they don’t want to get in the way of the ball. They don’t seem to fancy the job of being professional footballers that much. You could pick out the odd good move and nice ball or something but what is the point of that? Tom Ademeyi missed a good chance early on and you knew that there was nothing coming after that. Dave Syers looks good, James Hanson looks good, some player look good but that is not really the point. Jon McLaughlin was back in for Lenny Pidgeley but when was the last time a team turned its fortunes around by changing goaly?

Maybe it is what we do down here but for me football matches are all about the unit, the team, and good and bad doesn’t even really come into it when talking about the players because when the unit fails the individuals fail. End of story.

Likewise a unit makes a solider (or a footballer) better. Leon Osbourne came on after twenty minutes for Lee Bullock and looks like a matchstick man wandering around a field but it is the unit’s fault that they do not cope with the change, and it is the unit’s fault that they do not support the weaker players and pull their level of performance up.

Stuart McCall used to do that as a player. McCall would not let one of his team mates have a bad game, and if he was, Macca would be geeing him up and pulling him through. A real leader which is what that City team lacks, but not that only thing.

With a new manager in Dean Holdsworth Aldershot had a little bit of a buzz about them but they did not lay siege to City’s goal or send waves of attacks at us they just seemed to win the game by default. They turned up, and won, and we did not turn up. Victory was not even difficult for them. Ben Harding looked impressive for them but no more impressive than the odd City player did. The point I’m trying to make is that they were allowed to coast to victory.

Trying to remember the better moments and there is hardly anything to talk of. Robbie Threlfall has a free kick, maybe, but mostly it was City defending and the only goal of the game by Anthony Charles never looked like being clawed back. The players did not want it enough, because they didn’t want to work together. I don’t know what goes on in the dressing room at City but I can’t imagine it is a very happy place because the players have no collective work ethic at all. Osbourne or Daley lose the ball and the rest of the players seem to look at them rather than trying to win it back.

It is eleven footballers and not one unit, and that is the fault of the man in charge, and requires a change in that man in charge regardless of where they train or whatever. A leader’s job, and Peter Taylor is the leader of the unit, is to create a dynamic in which the whole is more than the sum of the parts and in the year he has been in charge I have never seen City play like that.

A view is taken on if the situation will improve without a change, I don’t think it will, and so a change needs to be made either now or in the Summer when Peter Taylor’s contract is up. Mark Lawn will do whatever makes him most popular and so I’d be expecting a change sooner rather than later.

So another very depressing evening watching City. Everyone has their own thing they want from the team. Some people want great players and some want blood and guts. Me, I want to see a team that play as a team and in the last year Taylor’s not been able to do that and as the players wandered off heads down not one of them within five foot of a team mate it showed. There was some footballers on the pitch, but no team.

It was not so much Aldershot 1 City 0 as Aldershot 1 Jon McLaughlin 0 Richard Eckersley 0 Shane Duff 0 Luke Oliver 0 Robbie Threlfall 0 Omar Daley0 Tom Adeyemi 0 Lee Bullock 0 David Syers 0 Luke O’Brien 0 James Hanson 0 Leon Osbourne 0 Gareth Evans 0 Mark Cullen 0.

And Peter Taylor 0.

The goalscoring problem as City travel to Oxford

Tom Adeyemi’s season-opener at Shrewsbury; David Syers’ tap in at Stockport; Leon Osborne and Adeyemi’s crucial strikes at Barnet; Omar Daley’s clinical penalty at Bury; James Hanson’s tap-in and Gareth Evans’ belter at Lincoln.

And that’s it for Bradford City’s league goals on the road so far this season.

After 11 away matches the Bantams have netted a meagre seven times. That’s the worst record in the entire division, and says a great deal about why City are struggling to position themselves as promotion candidates. To put the goal-shy exploits into perspective, the last time the first 11 away matches of a City season saw less goals was the year we quickly drowned in the Premiership (2000-01).

With four of City’s next five taking place away from Valley Parade, a continuation of the improvement in the last away match is needed to ensure play off hopes remain alive following this crucial part of the season. Three of those four away trips – starting at Oxford tomorrow – are against teams currently above City in the league. Now is not the time to be affording more opposition goalkeepers clean sheets.

The fact Syers and Daley are joint top league scorers with four apiece underlines the lack of goals in City’s forward line. Last season’s top scorer Hanson (13) has struggled to recapture his form of a year ago, with just two of his five goals to date coming in the league. Evans (11 last season) has endured a difficult campaign due to injury and also has two in the league.

Jake Speight (one Carling cup goal), Louis Moult (one league strike) and Chib Chilaka (yet to score) had limited opportunities in the first half of the season. Daley has often played up front to largely positive effect, but will never be a great goalscorer. Luke Oliver’s brief spell as target man in early autumn featured no goals, Jason Price’s late autumn loan spell saw him net only once.

At the start of the season, manager Peter Taylor declared that he was lacking a striker with that extra know-how, and he must surely be wishing for a clinical forward who can sniff out half-chances and net regularly. Such players are always difficult to find, and City have been fortunate in recent years to have first Dean Windass and then Peter Thorne scoring goals for fun. It could be a while before we see a striker as prolific, leaving City’s Goals For column lagging behind others.

It would be wrong to solely blame the lack of goals on the strikers, as the service to the front players has been limited all season. We can quickly point to the lack of wingers in Taylor’s squad, which has resulted in a lower number of crosses from the touchline. City appear to favour working the ball into the box or direct passes for the forwards to attempt to make the most of. The crosses are largely supplied by full backs.

Years of inconsistent wingers hardly provide a convincing argument that Taylor is wrong in his alternative approach; but the fact City have failed to score in 10 of the 23 league games to date, and have only scored more than one goal in a game on four occasions, simply has to be improved on during the second half of the season.

It’s largely a question of balance. We know that under Taylor City will play more conservatively, but the priority seemingly given towards making City difficult to break down rather than taking the attacking initiative is placing a huge amount of emphasis on the first goal in every match. On more than one occasion when the opposition have scored it, City have collapsed as they get caught between suddenly requiring urgency to chase the game and maintaining cover at the back.

Witness the dismal displays at Burton and Cheltenham, or even the way City reacted to conceding to Barnet on Saturday. Perhaps the unfamiliarity of suddenly having to display attacking urgency is causing too many players to forget the defensive basics. When it’s a time for cool heads, City are consistently losing theirs.

Only three times this season have City overcome conceding first to get something from a game – the Carling Cup win over Notts Forest, the thrilling victory over Cheltenham and the disappointing 1-1 draw with Accrington. We go behind, and it seems to be curtains.

So not exactly a winning combination – struggling to score goals and reacting poorly to conceding first. Overcome these two problems, and City might still be capable of ending the season in the play offs. But it’s a question of talent,  it’s a question of spirit and it’s a question of confidence – all difficult for the manager to magically instil in his players.

Nevertheless City travel to an in-form Oxford with the play off spots still in sight and a week of feeling frustrated about slipping up to Barnet to get out of the system. Lenny Pidgley will keep goal having in recent days received criticism from a section of supporters over his recent form. In front of him will probably be Richard Eckersley, Shane Duff, Oliver and Luke O’Brien. Duff went off injured last week and struggled during the first half. As we saw in his first few appearances for City, it seems he is a player who takes time to recapture his rhythm after a lengthy lay off.

The biggest questions over Taylor’s selection lie in midfield. Tommy Doherty has been left out the last three games, the first two of which saw victories. Lee Bullock has performed well in his place, but City lack guile without the Doc’s impressive passing ability – not to mention the high reliance other team-mates place on him. Syers dropped below his usual high standards last week and, with two games in quick succession, may be rested for at least one. Daley will probably continue on the left wing, despite making a greater impression up front this season.

Then we come to Adeyemi, who had his loan extended until the end of the season this week. It’s perhaps unfair to bring up the giddy predictions of pre-season during cold nights of January, but all season long the confident proclamation of a supporter sat behind me at Rochdale in July – that Adeyemi could be the Patrick Viera of League Two – has stayed in my thoughts. Adeyemi has had limited opportunities in his preferred central midfield role – he was outstanding performing it alongside Doherty during the win at Barnet last October – but overall his displays have been frustratingly erratic.

Adeyemi is performing a wide midfield role, but not one where Taylor demands he races down the wing and fires in crosses. He is asked to help the central midfielders, especially when City don’t have the ball, so they are not outgunned in the middle of the park. He is asked to show discipline in maintaining his position, winning back possession and quickly releasing the ball.

He is doing the same role Paul Jewell asked of Windass during the first few games of the 1999/2000 Premier League adventure, and like Dean at the time he is heavily criticised for it by supporters who fail to understand what he is being instructed to do.

But that said, his performances haven’t been great and the decision to re-sign him poses a question – “is he really the best we can do?”. Yet perhaps the bigger point is that, very soon, Michael Flynn should be back and Adeyemi dropped to the bench in a reshuffle. Why bring in a better player – especially if it’s on higher wages – if the inspirational Flynn will be back in two weeks and in need of that starting place?

Up front expect Hanson and Evans to start with Mark Cullen on the bench. Perhaps he will provide the goals that are badly missing – his youth record is good – or perhaps Speight can make an impact as he returns to first-team consideration following his unsuccessful loan at Port Vale.

Will a real goalscorer please stand up. Hurry.

Adeyemi to stay at City

Tom Adeyemi will stay at Valley Parade for the rest of the season after Norwich manager Paul Lambert agreed to extend the midfielder’s loan.

Ademeyi – who was not injured on Saturday before his removal – has shown some wonderful touches in his time at Valley Parade but struggled in others. He has 23 plus (hope springs eternal) 3 play off games to play at City and one might hope to see him put in 13 good games, 13 less so.

Such is the problem with Tom which Peter Taylor is all too aware of

Tom is absolutely fine. He has had some tremendous games and some not so tremendous ones – but you could say the same about everybody. He is learning the game and he will be a good player

Forgetting the basics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best keep that door open for a little while yet.

Hard work, and well deserved, as City beat Bury

If football matches are won in second of brilliance then those seconds are earned in committed and combative performances as City showed today.

It was Omar Daley’s brilliantly acrobatic volleyed finish from eight yards out – converting a deep and purposeful Tom Adeyemi cross – which ended as the difference between the teams and few would say the goal or the performance did not merit a win but that win was well earned in the moments around the Jamaican’s impressive goal.

It was in Gareth Evans running down a long strike to win the ball forcing it to Adeyemi to cross and in the rest of Adeyemi’s performance which was his best in a City shirt so far and provided an energy around the midfield which – combined with David Syers – took control of a midfield battle that gave the win. Bury’s Damien Mozika and former City man Steven Schumacher provided a strong and balanced middle two but City’s two were marshalled by holding man Lee Bullock and in taking out the middle two the visitors were rendered engine-less, less capable of driving the game into the Bantams.

The win was in David Syers’ truly awful miss with an hour on the clock and an open goal that was only better – or should that be worsted – by a Stephen Torpey one yard over the bar from one yard. As rank horrible as Syers miss was his reaction to that miss – a shaking off and gearing up to win the game – was the stuff of real success and real quality.

All over the pitch there were similar performances of players showing character and one was reminded by an offend said adage that one can forgive a player a mistake, but not not caring about a mistake. Jason Price recycled the ball well all afternoon – or until his replacement by the endlessly useful James Hanson – but when his lack of pace saw a chance fizzle out when freed in the middle of the pitch Price’s reaction was to keep on keeping on.

Muse, for a moment, about the difference between teams which look good and teams that do well – between Manchester United and Manchester City – and consider that the difference is in this attitude which for today was in place in Peter Taylor’s Bradford City team.

Luke O’Brien cropped up at right back to rob the ball from Bury’s Ryan Lowe after City had been left screaming for penalty following a battered down cross ninety yards further up the field. Curse the unfair decision – indeed Lowe was penalised for a handball which was hardly deliberate – but City and O’Brien kept going and this match report is not about how City were robbed by a dodgy referee as a result of that.

However – and if you are a Referee protectionist then look away now – City struggled through a first half that was defined by some truly atrocious decisions by Referee Colin Webster.

Webster booked Mozika for challenging with his elbow – always a curious thing to write up considering leading into challenges with an elbow is recommended as a sending off offence but leeway is given – and then less than a minute later watched the same player dragging back Syers by the shorts in the penalty area. Webster watched the offence and for reasons best known to himself and contrary to the Laws of the game decided to do nothing about it.

Other decisions – if an elbow is an elbow, if Efe Sodje’s foul on Gareth Evans was a “last man” and should have resulted in a red car – are judgement calls and one has sympathy with them but to watch a foul by a player you have just formally warned with a yellow card and to ignore that is just not officiating the game correctly.

I do not enjoy pointing out the failings of Referees – I would rather they read the rules of the game and applied them as written – but Webster needs to read those rules and understand them more fully before he officiates another game because today he showed that he does not know them well enough to referee a football match.

The players deserved better – both teams – because credit Bury with a stoic and committed display which could have merited a point or more had they had a little more luck but when they enjoyed their best chance they found Lenny Pidgeley – who signed a new contract to stay at City until the end of the season – as a solid block in the centre of the goal.

City though will look back to Gareth Evans’ lob which bespectacled keeper Cameron Belford saved superbly or Tom Ademeyi’s blistering, fading drive which Belford took from the air and consider that this was no win of outrageous fortune.

Hard work, and well deserved.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just what The Doc called for – Tommy returns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A footballing evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Doc in the house this Saturday

Tommy Doherty’s sending off at Wycombe will see the cultured midfielder miss the next league match. With the treatment room containing too many defenders and strikers’ James Hanson and Louis Moult sitting out Saturday’s defeat, the last thing Peter Taylor needed was problems in the middle of the park. Resources are stretched, but City can’t allow a lengthening absentee list to adversely effect results.

Exactly a year ago Stuart McCall’s Bantams side were recovering from a slow start, but still struggling to close the gap on the promotion pace-setters. Taylor’s City are now remarkably in almost exactly the same position. After 16 games, City are two points worse off than last season, but the gap to the play offs – four points – is identical. McCall was unable to reduce that disparity as autumn rolled into winter, picking up only seven points from a possible 15 in the run-up to Christmas. Over this same period, Taylor will hope to avoid a similar stuttering of form.

The upwards momentum which led to four wins from five games has been slowed somewhat by the two defeats down south, but two home games in quick succession offer a great opportunity to close in on the front-runners. With ground excellently made up over the past month, a realistic aim between now and Christmas is surely to break into the top seven positions.

With each victory to make up for the season’s poor start, the climbing of the table towards a position closer to where the club expects to be has restored degrees of optimism. But when a defeat sees City slide back down the league like on Saturday, success can again seem a dispiriting long way away. Typically when a team makes a strong start it can afford a few dodgy results and still maintain its high position; for others to catch up and overtake them, it usually takes promotion form.

The four wins from five was a good start and places City third in the form table, but realistically the Bantams need to keep going on runs of successive wins if they are to at least make the play offs come May. The Wycombe setback now put to bed, it’s crucial the winning habit is quickly rediscovered and maintained over the coming weeks.

The coming of two home games over a Saturday and Tuesday – like we now have with Macclesfield and Accrington due in town – usually prompts much anticipation and expectation towards picking up wins, but City’s record of converting such fixture sequences into maximum points is poor. The best sequence in recent times was a 1-0 victory over Morecambe and 1-1 draw with Barnet at the end of the 2007/08 campaign. Usually City endure defeats and draws, the last time a Saturday Valley Parade win was followed by a Tuesday home success was the Crewe and Crystal Palace victories in January 1999. Four months later City were promoted.

So while these two quick-fire home games look a great opportunity to grab two wins in quick succession, history suggests it will be a tough task. That said Macclesfield haven’t won away for almost two months, while Accrington sit at the bottom of the form guide having failed to win their last seven games. For any team with promotion ambitions, these two games are opportunities which cannot be passed up.

But City will have to negotiate the Macclesfield game without Doherty, and his increasing influence during recent weeks leaves a big hole for Taylor to fill. There are options on the sidelines at least, but all may involve a slight element of compromise to the team’s overall set up.

For Doherty is relied upon as the tempo-setter of the side, and City don’t have anyone with quite the same vision and passing ability to compensate – at least not with Michael Flynn still injured. Lee Hendrie could be moved to a central role as the next best thing, with Leon Osborne, Gareth Evans or even Luke O’Brien asked to play wide left.

Alternatively Osborne or Evans could play wide right so Tom Adeyemi moves to the centre with David Syers. That would leave a very inexperienced central midfield pair; so quickly building an understanding over who would take up the more offensive and defensive side of the partnership would be crucial, otherwise the opposition might overrun them. The duo performed well together when City were reduced to ten men on Saturday.

Finally there is the forgotten Lee Bullock, who has not started a game since the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy loss to his former club Hartlepool. Last season Bullock was converted to defensive midfielder and showed his best form since joining in January 2008; but he has struggled to hit such heights this season. A recall could free up Syers to play a more forward role and to be asked to dictate the tempo rather like Doherty, though this could be a big ask of a player who has still only made nine starts in professional football.

Such considerations will occupy Taylor’s mind for much of this week, but he at least will be thankful to have a range of options to cover for the loss of Doherty. As Doherty benefits from an unscheduled break, the challenge to the players is to ensure he isn’t badly missed.

The wrong type of match winner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Peter Taylor turned around Bradford City’s season

The contrast could not have been greater. A month to the day since Bradford City departed the field to yet more angry boos in the wake of a dispiriting home loss to Morecambe, jubilant scenes greeted the final whistle at Gigg Lane as the Bantams recorded a fourth win from five. The immediate future looked bleak on October 2, now it appears hugely exciting.

Midway through the second half at Bury, a massive argument between the two benches over a strong home challenge prompted a boisterous chorus of ‘Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army’ from the large travelling support. Compare that to the scenes at full time against Morecambe – part of which were captured live on the excellent Bantams Banter podcast that week, where in the words of Tom or Dom: “Taylor’s being booed, he’s just walked onto the pitch and is being absolutely annihilated.” – and for the City manager to still be employed is an achievement in itself.

After the Morecambe loss City had slumped to 23rd – or a ranking of 91st out of 92 professional teams who play in England. It was a new low point of a 10-year slump which has featured numerous “it can’t get any worse than this” moments. But 31 days later the Bantams have climbed to 10th position – a remarkable recovery after it had appeared the only way we’d be exiting League Two would be via the relegation trapdoor.

And for that Taylor deserves a huge amount of credit. In the wake of the Morecambe loss, tabloid speculation took hold that he had to win the next game or would be dismissed. Taylor and City pulled back from the brink, winning 2-0 at Barnet in a thrilling manner. But even then it seemed Taylor’s future remained right on the knife edge and, as Cheltenham took an early lead at Valley Parade the following Saturday, the end appeared close.

City recovered to win while producing their finest display of the season so far; and though a 3-0 setback at Burton once again raised question marks, victories over Oxford and Bury have firmly pushed away the pressure of the sack. Now to keep going.

Above all else the turnaround has been achieved by placing a greater emphasis on the quality Taylor has available. The less-than-inspiring end of September/early October, which featured defender Luke Oliver up front and seven hours without a goal, saw City play some quite dreadful long ball football. It was back-to-basics, desperate tactics seemingly aimed at grinding out results. It was also horrendous to watch.

At Barnet Taylor went back to 4-4-2 and employed Tom Adeyemi alongside Tommy Doherty, to provide the cultured midfielder with greater support – and City struck two quality goals in the second half to win the game.

Doherty’s early games were relative quiet and unassuming, with the summer signing attracting the kind of criticism gifted players like Nicky Summerbee and Gareth Whalley received for their shortcomings. He looked quality from day one, but struggled to get team mates on the same wavelength and to make the sort of clever off-the-ball running he has the ability to ping a pass to.

In recent weeks it has been a privilege to watch someone of such talent making a big impression, and his performances against Cheltenham and Oxford have drawn comparisons to Whalley. I feel we are very lucky to have such a superb player for this level; he is pivotal to Taylor’s side.

Now that he has settled in and built up fitness, Lee Hendrie is also making a huge difference to City. He scored the crucial second goal against Cheltenham in what was his best all-round performance for City. Hendrie clearly has a clever football brain and the vision to spot things others don’t see. Here until January at least, with each excellent performance the likelihood of another team coming in is growing.

But for now he is not only helping Doherty increase his influence, but setting a superb example to others in helping Taylor evolve the team’s shape. Hendrie is not an out-and-out winger, but a wide midfielder able to tuck inside and help central team mates. His good habits appear to have been taken on board by Leon Osborne, who is growing into his right midfield role, and the shape of the team looks more solid, particuarly when City don’t have the ball.

The third creative player who’s authority has grown is Omar Daley. Deployed up front alongside James Hanson or Jason Price, Daley has revelled in the trust his manager has placed in him and is causing all kinds of problems in a free role. He regularly pops up all over the final third of the park, and this is proving difficult for defenders to pick up.

Balancing out this trio’s flair is the ball winning and athleticism of David Syers or Tom Adeyemi, who carry greater defensive responsibilities. Syers has looked strong going forwards in games, but Taylor is clearly looking for more positional discipline and the more withdrawn style he displayed at Gigg Lane on Tuesday is likely to be more the norm than the attacking midfielder who has already scored four times this season.

With the defence continued to look solid, in keeping with the start to the season where goals against wasn’t a huge problem, City are looking tougher to beat and capable of scoring regularly – particuarly with full backs encouraged to carry the ball forwards. The balance has been achieved, enabling the flair we were beginning to fear would never be a feature of Taylor’s management to become the telling factor.

So City march on; and though there is no guarantee the upturn inform will continue, the manner of recent displays suggests Taylor has found most of the answers to the strong questions been asked of him a few weeks ago, and that he can continue building from here.

Now who thought that would be the case a month ago?

1999, and all that

It’s 10-and-a-half-years since Oxford United last visited Valley Parade – but the remarkable period in City’s history which that end-of-season game was part of ensures the memories remain vivid.

Oxford home was Bradford City’s penultimate fixture of a Division One campaign on the brink of ending in glory. A week earlier, the Bantams had defeated QPR 3-1 at Loftus Road while promotion rivals Ipswich Town incredibly lost at home to bottom-placed Crewe. Fantastic news for City – lifting them into the second automatic promotion spot on Goals For with two games to go – but the Portman Road result was not so good for Oxford, who were battling with Crewe and five other clubs to avoid the drop.

With City facing Oxford at Valley Parade a day before Ipswich’s tough away encounter at 4th-placed Birmingham, there was genuine optimism this was going to be the weekend that City – with a far superior Goals For total (Goal Difference wasn’t used back then) – would seal promotion to the Premier League. The easy part of the bargain seemed an inevitable victory over a struggling Oxford who hadn’t won in five. What could possibly go wrong?

That day was almost a living nightmare. I still have video highlights of the disappointing 0-0 draw, taped from Yorkshire TV’s Goals on Sunday, and even watching years on you can still feel the tension that was rife among the sell-out home crowd. City struggled to rise to the occasion, Oxford refused to lie down. They even created the better chances, forcing Gary Walsh into a couple of superb saves.

The Valley Parade clock seemed to tick by worryingly fast, the atmosphere was flat – we all just seemed too nervous to even attempt a chant. I felt sick in my stomach as the growing sense of realisation we weren’t going to win – and therefore might have messed up our promotion chances – sank in.

In a cruel and horrible twist, deep in stoppage time Stuart McCall was presented with the easiest of chances right in front of us in the Kop. He headed the ball over the bar, and the split-second we allowed ourselves to believe we’d got out of jail gave way to crushing misery. McCall was inconsolable as he left the field – the TV highlights capturing a shot of a ball boy attempting to hug him, only for the skipper to brush him off.

It all worked out wonderfully in the end of course: Birmingham beat Ipswich the following day to leave the Tractor Boys a point behind. A week later came that stunning victory over Wolves, which sealed City’s promotion and lead to wild scenes of jubilation in the away end and back in Bradford. And in hindsight we could look back on the Oxford draw and feel glad we didn’t win, so we got this never-to-be-forgotten moment at Molineux. Oxford were relegated, despite winning 5-0 against Stockport in their final game.

Although I still look back on that afternoon against Oxford and feel sick at the despair we endured, with each passing year of disappointment there’s part of me that longs to experience such disappointment again. True we’ve had some truly miserable times over the past decade, but for City to be up their fighting for promotion and to have some many sleepless nights hoping they could cross the finishing line is a different kind of emotion – and one we’ve struggled to come close to experiencing since.

It’s impossible to find the words that do justice to just how much promotion meant to us that year, but perhaps things have now become so bad that, if and when success does return to this club, we’ll feel just as happy as we did then.

For much of the club’s subsequent fall, there’s been a feeling promotion should be our right rather than the astonishing achievement 1999 was. As such, if we had achieved promotion from League One in 2006 or League Two in 2009, the celebrations would have probably felt more reserved. A sense of entitlement that we were simply fulfilling our right, rather than delirium that our lives could be blessed with something so remarkable.

Perhaps the ongoing frustrations of League Two life and never-ending despair that we can’t seem to bottom out now mean that a promotion from League Two would leave us feeling just as happy as Wolves 99. While the twists and turns leading up to it would at times leave us as emotionally-traumatised as the last time we played Oxford.

All of which seems a long distance away as City welcome Oxford tomorrow while 20th in League Two. Wins over Barnet and Cheltenham lifted spirits and breathed new hope into a season heading down the pan, but the setback at Burton last week has again dampened the mood. There’s less anger than post-Morecambe, but things still feel very on edge. Another defeat tomorrow – or even a repeat of the outcome when City last played the Us – and the pressure will rise again.

The task in hand is far from easy – the Oxford of 2010 do not represent anything like the home banker to City that the 1999 match-up suggested. Like City the last decade has been hugely difficult for United, with the 1999 relegation quickly followed by demotions to League Two in 2001 and out of the Football League in 2006. For three seasons the club enjoyed the highest gates in the Conference but failed to climb out of a division they appeared too big for – sound familiar, eh? – before beating York in the play off final last May.

The manager is another reason to look in the past. Chris Wilder played 45 times for City during the 1997-98 season, before moving to hometown club Sheffield United on transfer deadline day.

After impressing as manager at Halifax, Wilder guided Oxford back to the Football League and is a name who often crops up when debating a managerial change at Valley Parade. Wilder and Oxford have started well and lie in 11th place ahead of their trip to West Yorkshire – though their recent league form is just as inconsistent as the Bantams.

Jon McLaughlin will continue in goal for City – despite another bout of public criticism from his manager after Burton last week and the added pressure of Lenny Pidgeley arriving on trial. The defence will see two changes as the departing Man United loanees Reece Brown and Oliver Gill leave gaps that will be taken by Zesh Rehman and Luke Oliver.

Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien will keep their places, but the disruption to back four selection throws questions over the value in signing the two youngsters for a month and looking to build with them. Or to quote Rehman, “No disrespect to the two lads coming in (on loan), but I don’t think they did anything that I felt I couldn’t do.”

Lee Hendrie is fighting to be fit after missing last week, with Tom Adeyemi set to return and battle with David Syers to play alongside Tommy Doherty. The early signs are that Syers provides the midfield with greater balance, and his last two performances make him difficult to leave out. Leon Osborne is slowly developing into a decent player, but continues to be the target of some supporters.

Up front, it’s hoped Omar Daley will be trusted to return to the free role position he was performing so well, with Jason Price and James Hanson vying to start alongside him and the other making a very good sub. Price has so far won plenty of praise, but Hanson’s return makes him less needed than he was a few weeks earlier when Oliver had to play up front. Timing is everything in football, and it remains regrettable Taylor couldn’t have signed a loan striker earlier than he managed.

Jake Speight, Louis Moult, Robbie Threlfall and Lee Bullock are all battling to return to the side, and could yet play a significant role in the season. And as the visitors remind us of our enjoyable past, it’s perhaps the last trip City made to Oxford which should provide the greatest inspiration.

City won 1-0 in December 1998, to reverse a two-game losing run. That paved the way for a superb run of form – eight wins from the next nine matches – and solved the final piece of then-manager Paul Jewell’s promotion squad conundrum which had seen the team selection evolve after a dreadful start. Robbie Blake was switched from right winger to partner Lee Mills, it all fell beautifully into place. The immediate challenge for Taylor is to shape his squad in a similar fashion and unearth the right formula that will turn an under-achieving team into promotion contenders.

Tomorrow will hopefully see another positive step towards fulfilling that aim – so in time we can party like it’s 1999.

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.

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.

I know there was a dog

Those familiar with the work of Charles Schultz – or Aaron Sorkin – will know of the satirical nature of Peanuts characters Charlie Brown and Lucy the the boy’s attempt to kick an American football.

For the initiated Lucy holds the ball and Charlie Brown goes to kick it but at the last minute Lucy pulls it away and Charlie Brown ends up kicking air and falling over yet Lucy is able to convince Charlie Brown that next time he tries to kick the ball she will not pull it away and he will not fall on his backside but she always does and he always does.

Its so sad, eventually in life everything becomes routine

At Bradford City there is a similar routine which began in earnest last weekend in which the Lucy convinces all that a swing at the ball that is sacking the manager will not result in the club falling on its backside but it always does. Following a proper rotten start to the season Peter Taylor has started to gather a band of critics who look to convince all that they should take another run at the football.

Taylor spent most of the week in a fury. Early on he was angry at the way his players were treated by supporters who booed Tommy Doherty after the midfielder’s mistake cost a goal against Port Vale but then he was angry at rumours he had fallen out with Mark Lawn and offered to leave should be be paid off.

That anger faded and was replaced by an anger at The Jamaican FA for flying Omar Daley around the world only to give him an hour of football – City will now no longer play ball with the Caribbean side – and perhaps it was a week of fury that tired out the manager who could barely muster a disappointment at not being able to recruit a loan striker.

Taylor is hopeful of a new face up front to cover James Hanson who is injured for another three weeks but with Gareth Evans, Jake Speight and Louis Moult all fit – as well as Daley and Leon Osbourne to call on – one wonders if Taylor does not have enough up front as City face Stockport County at Edgeley Park.

The strikers are having a curious time of it at the moment at City. Evans’s penalty against Stevenage is the only winner the club have scored in the League this year but Speight has impressed with performances. Moult is – well – not often on the field and as often is the case this seems to be the greatest qualification for a place in the starting eleven.

“I can’t believe he plays Evans over Moult” expressed one irritated soul who must see something in Moult that suggests that the almost non-corporeal endeavours of the Stoke loanee thus far will translate into some huge effect were his given a starting role. The players who are not in the team always seem the solution to the problem but as England wrapped up 4-0 and 3-1 wins using the majority of the players who featured in the 4-1 defeat to Germany perhaps we should treat those concepts with scepticism.

Not that the problems that Taylor has at City are as obviously solvable as England’s – there is no Lampard to drop – and should Taylor deploy Evans leading the line and Speight behind him dropping to a four man midfield when he risks once again sending out a side ill equipped to attack.

The two flank players of Luke O’Brien and David Syers – who should be fit from injury – offered little in the way of traditional attacking play and the middle two of Doherty and Tom Adeyemi have yet to take a game but the scruff of the midfield and there in an increasing worry (aside from the “Doherty is rubbish!” worry that is generally scoffed at by anyone with half a brain) that Ademeyi does not yet have the wherewithal to cope with a robust League Two midfield battle. A switch between Syers and Adeyemi seems possible, if unexplored thus far.

Lewis Hunt will continue at right back with Robbie Threlfall at left back the former Liverpool man hoping that he will never have an afternoon like last week again the best of which can be said that at least he kept involved in the game. The partnership between Luke Oliver and Shane Duff seems to be on borrowed time at the back and Steve Williams appears a superior choice for either. Jon McLauglin continues in goal creating an amusing contrast to Simon Eastwood last season. Fans slaughtered while the manager defended Eastwood, with McLauglin something like the opposite occurs.

Taylor’s side need a win of course – when do football clubs ever not need a win – and one wonders how loud the calls for the manager to be out on his backside will reach should that win not be forthcoming. Perhaps they will be drowned out by a deep sigh of resignation and the words “Oh Good Grief.”

When there’s no end in sight…

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was all a bit predictable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for Plan A?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

Peter The Consequentialist

Consequentialism has a simple message for football: An action is considered to be good if the outcome is good and thus Bradford City’s 1-0 win over a Stevenage side who returned to Hertfordshire with the applause of their supporters ringing in their ears would only be considered to be not only a good result but also a good performance.

Indeed it would be very hard to find fault with many areas of Bradford City’s display. Defensively Peter Taylor hit every note right pre-empting the visitors switch to a more direct football by bringing on Zesh Rehman for today’s captain Shane Duff. Luke Oliver – the man of the match for some today – seemed to struggle in the game but in the end too the plaudits at the heart of a back four that conceded no goals.

Indeed the best chance that Stevenage had came when Luke O’BrienDuff passed back straight to Yemi Odubade holding his head in his hands and not watching as Jon McLaughlan spread massively and dug a foot into the striker to save the day.

The midfield sat atop the back four let little of consequence past with Tom Doherty and Lee Bullock, and later David Syers, blocking and forcing the visitors into what has become known as Hollywood shooting. Football which seldom gets rewards and is often the result of impressive defensive play.

That the Bantams ended up playing a game at Valley Parade in their own half, that so much ground was surrendered to a visiting side who three games ago had never played a Football League game, of no concern to the Consequentialists. The result was good, ergo everything was good.

The decisive goal – when it came – came from a Gareth Evans penalty that was a result of a tidy bit of play that saw the Bantams stretch down the right hand side. The ball cut back to Bullock who took it forward and was cut off by an ill advised lunge by Joel Byrom. Evans put the penalty in with a calmness.

The forward three of Evans, James Hanson and Omar Daley were disjointed in the first half but maintained a discipline in the second that saw them utilised in the pursuit of a clean sheet. The forward line dropped back onto the midfield who dropped back onto the defence who tried to push out and it was all good because the outcome was good.

The penalty aside City enjoyed only one other chance of note – Omar Daley breaking at the start of the second half and pushing the ball past three defenders hitting a fading shot over – but for all the visitor’s attempts they looked more dangerous as a statistic than they did on the field. The chance given over by O’BrienDuff was the best that troubled the Bantams.

Daley and Tom Adeyemi struggled to find a place in the game with Adeyemi poor today by virtue of the fact that his role was so isolated in the side. The attacking midfielder in a team which did not attack he enjoyed a better afternoon scoring the goal last week at Shrewsbury but that that was the one in a defeat, no matter how fruitless it may have seemed his his performance was today a consequentialist would say it was good.

Daley – on the other hand – is one short of a hundred games for the Bantams but cut an isolated figure on the left hand side of an attacking three with the requirement to pull back and bolster the backline curtailing his advances. His role in the side would seem to be to stay as solid as he can and then – if he can – provide the spark that makes the difference.

Any trouble for the Bantams side was marked by the agitated figure of Peter Taylor surging forward from the technical area to blast his team with instructions. Moving like a marionette with its strings tangled Taylor fumed at his side enforcing the defensive unit in an attempt to ensuring that the win was not lost. The big decision of the game – to replace Duff with Rehman – Taylor judged exceptionally well although the consequentialism which dictates the merits of the display also judges the quality of the substitution.

In short everything was good, but cause it ended well.

Nevertheless – and the statement is remarkable when said out loud – the Bantams were booed off for wining the game 1-0. Indeed through the second half that saw City build the wall of a defensive which could not be breeched there was an increasing grumble that Taylor should “sort it out” which – considering the Bantams were in the lead and not especially living on the edge – was to be assumed to be a desire for a more attacking game to be adopted.

The consequentialism as opposed to a deontological approach which would have it that football is for the enjoying and a victory without enjoyment is no victory at all, or rather that it is a bad victory and that it needed rectifying.

All of which send the mind drifting back to a Saturday in February in which Stuart McCall’s Bradford City side battered a Bury team which ended up winning 1-0. McCall bowed to the pressure (which came from both the terraces and the boardroom) and exited after that game with an idea that his deontological approach was not what the club needed.

The club needed – it was said – a manager who won games and evidently Peter Taylor is that manager and one has to wonder what the 57 year old gaffer would make of the reception his side received for the three points they worked hard to win.

Indeed what is one to make of a group of supporters who boo when the team does not win, boo when it does and seemingly will only be sated when the club are winning every game with a flourish, probably scoring with exactly the kind of Hollywood football which did not work for Stevenage?

The descenting voices who complained that the club needed to forgo all in favour of victory are now complaining that the wins are not attractive enough. A lesson for Mark Lawn – perhaps – in the merits and effects of appeasing the malcontent.

The Bantams have a first win of the League season and go to Torquay with points on the board, the unique sound of a Bradford City team being booed off for winning a game rattling in the hollow, empty, otiose Valley Parade.

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

Where the expectation levels lie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now then

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You, dear reader, may have different views.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who isn’t optimistic at the start of every season?

On The 2010/2011 Season

Who isn’t optimistic at the start of every season? I am always optimistic but this season I sense a certain difference around VP. Perhaps because, and this is in no way having a go at Stuart, City have a manager now who has got clubs out of this division before. I know that’s no guarantee but it’s not a bad thing to have in your corner.

I was at Bradford City this week and people who are normally quite cynical were openly saying that they feel this is the club’s year. You can see why they feel this.

Peter Taylor has kept the logical strong choices from Stuart’s squad and let others leave. Taylor has also brought in some exciting talent. There’s a Norwich City fan in our office and he is raving about what a good loan signing Adeyemi is.

Also when you look at what else is around, Notts County and Rochdale no longer provide competition and those sides coming down to League 2 are not in the best of health.

Are there enough goals in the team? I think there are if Moult is as good as people are saying he is. With him you have Hanson, Evans, Doherty, Flynn and Adeyemi…that should give you 70 goals at least. Then there’s a fully fit Omar hopefully and the defenders chipping in with a few.

One thing is for certain, Bradford City have got to stop being a big fish in a small pond. They need promotion to help them get back to the Championship – their natural home in my view.

It’s getting harder for the club to flog even cheap season tickets and failure again this term would only make that tougher still.

But let’s not end on a negative, because that’s honestly not how I feel. City will challenge for the top spots and they have the squad to get them across the line. I was there for the last promotion, I want to be there for the next…this season.

Note: Derm Tanner the BBC Radio Leeds Commentator/Presenter will be covering the Bantams on t’ wireless this season.

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

On The 2010/2011 Season

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

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

Steve Baker Stalwart City fan and Bantams Bar regular

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

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

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

Patrick Dowson City fan and Musician

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

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

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

The long pre-season ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watching the grass grow

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

The grass is growing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here comes the season

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

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

We’ve made it. Now let’s get started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The start of the most interesting season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When pre-season became interesting

At some point after the middle of the 1990s pre-season became a thing of interest.

Perhaps it is the rise of Sky Sports and the need for constant football, perhaps it is the public’s thirst for the close season to end as quickly as possible, perhaps it is clubs trying to spin out two or three extra big money games in a season but whatever has caused it pre-season in modern football has become much more of a big deal.

Looking at the likes of Guiseley who had Bradford City on the pre-season fixture list until recently the games against league opposition offer a chance of a pay day in excess of most league matches. Kendal Town play Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic and walking around the Westmoorland town one would struggle to miss this fact – that and the fact that Chas Hodges is playing in town soon – which is a marked contrast to the games within the regular season which pass without note in that part of the Lake District.

Certainly City’s return to action against Eccleshill United was eagerly anticipated with a good number of Bantams fans looking at pre-season as a welcome return to normality.

Turn on the ubiquitous Sky Sports News today and you will see highlights from pre-season matches up and down the land. Last year when Newcastle United lost 6-1 in pre-season to Leyton Orient then Sky’s talking heads damned the Magpies to a season of struggle in The Championship. They won it.

So in tone and in the minds of supporters and on the balance sheet pre-season seems to be interesting in a way which it was not previously. Pre-season matches happened for sure and occasionally they would be seen in the newspaper (as is my recollection) and talked about in vague terms by very few who seemed to have a mystic view of the new players on the first day of the season.

Steve Gardner turned up as an unknown on the opening day of one year with the words “He looked good in pre-season” offered by a City sage who had seen such things. The sage was considered rare and some what obsessive – like people who go to more than one date on a band’s tour – while extrapolations about Gardner, as with Newcastle, turned out to inaccurate.

At City the change over from a pre-season which was the preserve of the dedicated and the players probably occurred around the time that Chris Kamara was manager and City played Newcastle United in which Peter Beardsley and Tino Asprilla weaved majestically and a high quality Middlesbrough side in a two day period and then went on (again, if I recall) to play Santos of Brazil in a game which saw the only – to date – overhead back heel volley goal.

Compared to that the reality of the season seemed something of a let down. The circus had come to town and then left us with some reality where Norwich and Swindon – not Newcastle and Santos – were the opposition.

Peter Taylor managed Southend at the start of that period and Gillingham around the middle but perhaps it is his experience a England u21 manager which shapes his thoughts on how preparation games should be treated. He talks about how the Bantams could have played some big teams at Valley Parade – Premier League Burnley played at VP last season – but for the newly laid pitch but it is clear that Taylor sees these matches as build up to Shrewsbury Town on the first day, no more or less significant than any other training session and certainly not wasting the fresh grass on for a few extra quid.

So City have no big name on the fixture list – Rochdale are the highest placed side we face – and a swathe of games against low opposition including North Ferriby United who City play at one on Saturday afternoon. Taylor talks about the games in terms of being build up, fitness getters, and while supporters can watch the manager does not see them as being spectacles. His threat to take his team home at half time at Eccleshill says all you need to know about how Taylor prioritises.

Not for him an evening watching Beardsley and Asprilla run rings around his players. Not for him bowing the knee to boys from Brazil.

So a City squad of around twenty-two will be split into two teams of eleven with the aim of fitness not performance. City are without Michael Flynn (Groin), Tommy Doherty (Calf), Luke Dean (Broken leg) and Jake Speight (Broken promises) but Tom Adeyemi will make his debut following his arrival on loan from Norwich City and have Matthew Tipton and Lee Morris looking to earn contracts.

The game kicks off early for those who fancy a trip to Grange Road but one doubts that anyone will be encouraged to slam in an overhead backheel.

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