Phil Parkinson facing the face of success as Preston beat Bradford City 3-0 at Valley Parade

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Christopher Routis, James Meredith | Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Billy Knott | Billy Clarke | Jon Stead, Billy Clarke | Mark Yeates, Matty Dolan, Dylan Mottley Henry

The 3-0 defeat to Preston North End will be hard to take for Phil Parkinson and his Bradford City team but contained within it a number of sobering lessons.

The game turned almost entirely in the fourteenth minute when a hopefully ball forward to Joe Garner was demurred from by Christopher Routis, who then ended up on the wrong side of Garner, and then brought Garner down, and was then sent off.

Following that City enjoyed a good deal of good play and Jon Stead will look back at a shot well saved by Sam Johnstone (who frustrated City in a 1-2 reversal by Doncaster earlier in the season) but after half time when Gary Liddle – press-ganged into central defence – slid into Jermaine Beckford the direction of the match was sealed.

The three goals flattered Preston who played well and one was left with the feeling that but for a fourteenth minute sending off one could have seen a superb football match but with the certainty that for the visitor’s had enough talents they did not need all the help City gave them.

Mistakes

I’m not going to criticise Christopher Routis for his sending off but I am amazed by Phil Parkinson believing that the Swiss was ever going to be suitable to play central defender in this match.

Routis is titularly a central defender and perhaps it says he is a central defender on his passport but the skills that are needed to play a League One football game as a central defender (especially against Beckford and Garner) he does not possess. Rory McArdle does. Andrew Davies does. Gary MacKenzie does. The Preston three of Tom Clarke, Bailey Wright and Paul Huntington do.

And while hindsight is 20:20 playing Routis in the position was a mistake by Phil Parkinson and one that had consequences in short order. Without Davies and without MacKenzie one might suggest that Parkinson had only two central defenders left in McArdle and Routis and was forced into the selection but to that I would say he then had only one and had to play someone out of position.

Christopher Routis has shown time and again that he cannot play a central defensive position in League One. Parkinson made a call playing him there rather than dropping Gary Liddle into the back four and was rewarded for that with the performance one had come to expect from Routis even when Routis is playing well.

He does individual things well some of the time and is poor in team patterns. The curious thing about Parkinson’s decision to play him was that there were four very good examples of what good look like when it comes to defending in League One. It looks like Tom Clarke, it looks like Rory McArdle, and it does not look like Routis.

Not mistakes

Why Parkinson felt that Routis was capable is in his judgement and his judgement is sound most of the time. Routis aside Parkinson will look back on a team that showed much against a very good Preston North End side although there are areas of concern and lessons to be learnt.

Going forward City’s cutting edge depends on Jon Stead and Jon Stead’s mood seems to govern much. Against Preston he was not the Jon Stead who put Chelsea to the sword and was subdued. James Hanson – on the other hand – maintains a constant level of performance. It is not hard to see why managers have been frustrated with Stead in the past but Parkinson has a decision to make on the mark he sets on Stead.

The Jon Stead of Chelsea is a player one would take the edge of the budget for, the Jon Stead of Preston is somewhat lower in value, and only those inside the club know what offers have been made to the forward. With Aaron McLean still earning for City whilst in semi-retirement at Peterborough for another season there is a need for the City to have a player who can provide (in both scoring and creating) goals in games like Preston at Home.

If that is Jon Stead then one would be overjoyed – he has a #sowhat cult following and all – but the lesson of Preston for Phil Parkinson is that of the two Steads and the judgement the manager must show is which one will get get most of the time should he be signed, and how much is that worth?

There is value to be had elsewhere. City have no goalkeeper signed up for next season. Ben Williams saved a penalty and has some talents but if Parkinson wanted a keeper to control his penalty area and clean out crosses then Williams is not that man.

Which is not to take anything away from Williams but rather to say that this game with Preston is the type of match that Phil Parkinson needs to take lessons from.

We know what good looks like

To get promoted from League One you have to be good. Good looks like Bradford City’s performance with ten men in many ways. Short of a man the players worked hard and worked hard for each other. At times it was – to use a cliché – difficult to tell which side had the full complement of players but when Daniel Johnson first and later Chris Humphrey fired the kind of shots one takes when one has a man, and a goal, advantage the difference was obvious.

Good looks like confidence, and City can add more of that, and it looks like self belief and that is sometimes lacking from the Bantams. Mostly though those things need to be tweaked rather than overhauled and after the game one was left with the idea that City with eleven men would not be far away from Preston. That City have the right framework in place for promotion, but need to improve in some areas.

Phil Parkinson does not need a template for knowing what a team which can be promoted looks like but – if he does – Preston North End might represent it.

(Aside: Dylan Mottley Henry made his début and looked keen.)

I have seen Chris Brandon play

It had been quite a few years since I last took in a reserves game. The only one I actually recall was in approximately 2001 when a strong Manchester United strolled into Valley Parade and a City reserves record attendance of 6,000 witnessed a 3-0 away win. The club cashed in that night (rightly so?!) – charging a fiver a head.

That game could not have been in more constant to what I saw on Tuesday afternoon.

There is something quite strange about attending a game at 2 PM on a Tuesday. My sister (how did I convince her to go to this one?!) and I parked right outside the City club shop at 13.55 with no hassle at all. I spotted one Huddersfield coach a bit further up the road, and just outside the “executive box” entrance I walked past Mr Peter Jackson who was escorting an elderly gentlemen into the stadium. Some other City fans outside enjoyed some friendly banter with the ex City man and now Lincoln City manager (and lest we forget former Huddersfield manager).

It was free entrance for all supporters. In the Sunwin stand foyer, the canteen was open for business and there was a gentleman selling an A4 team sheet with the line-ups on for 10p a pop.

Taking up a seat near the halfway line, about halfway up (similar to my season ticket position in the Midland Road). I noticed that there were about 200 people in attendance. The crowd was a mixture of the retired, a few students, and the majority as it turned out had come from up the road and who loudly cheered every Huddersfield goal.

The majority of the City interest in this game was focused on a first real look at Chris Brandon, a summer acquisition from our local rivals that we faced in this game. “Brando” as he is clearly called by his teammates – derived by being able to hear every sound the players make in this environment – had a positive outing. He shows some excellent touches and close control and seems to be very comfortable with both feet. He wasn’t overused in this game, as most of the game was run in the centre of midfield and his teammates didn’t pass to him as much as you might have expected. As soon as ex City loanee Tom Clarke, who was playing right back against Brandon, was substituted in the second half, Brandon began to have more of an influence on the game. And his performance was capped with an excellently struck free kick from 25 yards out that flew past the Town keeper and into the net.

He nearly added a second late on as he surged into the area but struck just wide, as the goal opened up for him. The encouraging signs from this were that he completed a full 90 minutes and seemed to be fairly fit at the end of it. But in my judgement he looks at least 2 weeks off being fully match fit, allowing him to fully gain match sharpness.

With regards the rest of the City reserve team, five players had played a first team match this season and used this game to gain more match fitness.

Paul Arnison captained the side but was badly caught out for the first goal conceded by letting Joe Skarz get in front of him and got on the end of a cross from the right.

Simon Ainge looked really commanding on occasions in the air, but had a torrid time dealing with the lively Kiegan Parker. Ainge made an absolutely terrible mistake at the end of the first half by hesitating and letting Parker in for a lob – which should have resulted in a routine tip over the bar by Convey – but the young goalkeeper embarrassingly could only palm the ball into the net. Ainge looks some way off making the first team playing centre back – right back would surely suit him more, as his decision making at times is very sketchy.

Lee Bullock had a steady game, and had a few touches of class and influence.

Joe Colbeck threatened in the first half, but faded in the second. Colbeck took a poor penalty at the end of the first half, which was saved low to his right by the Huddersfield keeper.

The biggest disappointment was up front with the Conlon and Rory Boulding partnership. Both players had terrible games, especially Boulding who never got a meaningful shot on goal – and just ran around making bad decisions when in possession of the ball.

I was equally unimpressed with our young prospects Louis Horne and Luke Sharry on this display. Both players look a million miles off making a first team debut. Sharry gets out battled in midfield and his shooting leaves a lot to be desired. Horne seems to only know how to pass the ball back instead of going forward, and was guilty of “foul throwing” twice in one game. Terribly unprofessional.

The strong team that City reserves put out we heavily beaten by a better side who created more chances and were clinical in front of goal.

But putting aside some of the disappointments of the players’ on view – the key to this exercise was to get two of our most dangerous wingers getting more games under their belt. Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon could be the key players that could catapult us out of this league. The more games they play and gain match sharpness the better as we desperately need them both firing on all cylinders for the crucial weeks that lie ahead.

I picked up my ticket to the Notts County away game after the match. Can we put the Underhill disaster behind us and start playing like promotion candidates? A repeat of last season’s trip to Meadow Lane would do just nicely thank you.

Reduced choices – Bradford City vs Dagenham and Redbridge – League Two 2008/2009 preview

There may not have been any further injuries to emerge from last weekend’s FA Cup defeat to Leyton Orient, but Bradford City manager Stuart McCall has still found himself with two less players to choose from for tomorrow’s important league encounter.

Willy Topp and Tom Clarke have both departed Valley Parade during the week and, while each leave with most fans best wishes, it’s the latter one which causes the most immediate concern. Clarke looked an excellent proposition in the middle of the park and has been growing in confidence after a long spell out injured, but was recalled back to Huddersfield in time to face Walsall. He was initially signed to provide defensive cover, but leaves having successfully performed a role in the team it previously did without.

There’s been much debate at City in recent years about the merits of using a holding midfielder and, for much of this season, Stuart’s preferred to line up minus one. Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren started the season in the centre, largely sharing the defensive and attacking responsibilities. That continued when Dean Furman and then Nicky Law came in when injuries struck. After McLaren limped off at Rotherham, Clarke was brought in and the effect was a more balanced looking midfield and licence for Law to roam further forward.

It won’t work in every game, but the benefits of having a defensive midfielder on the books was shown in Clarke’s excellent showings against Chesterfield and Leyton Orient. Compare the more solid platform provided with the home games against Gillingham and Barnet, where the lack of protection provided by those in front of the back four played a huge part in the amount of pressure City wase put under. Clarke maybe gone but, with a new manager with new ideas set to take charge at the Galpharm, Stuart might be keeping tabs on how much he figures during the next few weeks with the January transfer window approaching.

Until then City will go back to a central midfield pairing sharing the roles. McLaren is expected to be fit enough to return and, though question marks over his start with City remain, his calm passing and dead ball skills will be welcomed back. Law will be reined in slightly but still expected to put his high energy levels to good use in the final third. They will sit between two widemen with much to prove. For a spell on Saturday Kyle Nix sparked City and it’s to be hoped he can recapture last season’s form as we wait for Omar Daley, Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon to regain fitness. Steve Jones makes his home league debut having impressed in patches against Orient. More will be expected of him as he finds his feet.

Up front the competition for places is fierce with Barry Conlon expected to be fit enough and Michael Boulding looking more like a player worth all that effort pursuing during the summer. Peter Thorne has been benched partly because of fitness but also partly on merit. It’s fair to say that the early season spark has been absent from his game recently, but it’s testament to the relative ability of City’s squad that, unlike two years ago when an out of form Dean Windass was still too good to be dropped, Thorne is kicking his heels on the bench. How it can be argued Topp deserved a run in the side at the expense of two of these three is beyond me.

Defensive failings still occupy many minds and last weekend’s showing was only marginally improved. There are calls for Mark Bower to return at the expense of Matt Clarke – who actually played okay last week. I can see the argument, but when some fans go to the extremes of listing Bower as our best defender and slate Stuart for ignoring him one is left wondering why it’s been so quickly forgotten that a year ago many were demanding Bower be dropped for Clarke. Lee will certainly start alongside one of them, with TJ Moncur and Luke O’Brien taking the full back roles in front of Rhys Evans.

Valley Parade is joint top with the New Meadow in League Two in terms of how many goals have been scored this season – and a visit from League Two’s top scorers is unlikely to slow that. England C international Paul Benson has led Dagenham’s surprise promotion challenge with 10 goals, though strike partner Ben Strevens isn’t far behind on eight. Twice they’ve hit someone for six but they’ve lost almost as often as they’ve won. Last year they triumphed at Valley Parade on route to avoiding relegation.

It will mean another tough afternoon for a back four which has lost some of its protection, though for much of this season Stuart has chosen attack as the best form of defence.

The luck of the draw

Watching the Bantams go out of the FA Cup 2-1 to Leyton Orient two frustrations of this 2008/2009 season struck me but only one left me surprised.

The Bantams interest in knock out competitions ended after a header former Leeds man Danny Granville headed home a well placed corner leaving City – who had got back into the game following going behind in the first half – tired and heading for the exit.

City had started slowly – a problem of late – and Graeme Lee’s continuing problems with TJ Moncur maintaining a position to his right hand side saw the skipper foolishly following the wrong man leaving time and space for Jason Demetriou to turn and pick out a fine shot to beat Rhys Evans from range. It was a deserved reward for the team from the division above having the better of the opening exchanges and there was a worry that as with Tranmere Rovers 3-0 win in a previous FA Cup tie that League One would just have too much quality.

Credit then City for clawing back into the game to such an extent that the first half ended with the Bantams in the ascendency much of which had to do with the Bantams midfield – second choice and second best – adding a needed steel to proceedings.

The quartet of Nicky Law Jnr being anchored by Tom Clarke with Kyle Nix on the right and debut loan winger Steve Jones replacing the injured Omar Daley were bullied out of the opening exchanges but added perhaps a little too much of the tough stuff with Clarke picking up a booking and Nix pushing in two challenges that had they connected could have resulted in red cards.

Nevertheless the muscle matched the visitors from the league above who’s robust style of play had seen a heavy challenge on Barry Conlon in the first ten minutes result in the in form 100 goal man coming off after twenty minutes with a back injury and considering that none of the midfield four would be in Stuart McCall’s all squad fit team then credit is due for the resurgence that bore fruit after an hour when a smart through ball allowed Michael Boulding – who ran tirelessly all afternoon – to get behind the immense Alton Thirwell who had a superb game for the visitors and equalise for the Bantams.

At that point City looked the team most likely but the goal galvanised the visitors who stepped up and within ten had taken the decisive lead. The Bantams had chances to equalise – Peter Thorne uncharacteristically heading the best of them wide – but Thirwell, Jordan Spence and midfielder Adam Chambers kept a strong spine to restrict City who lost by an edge, but just an edge.

Curious then that a decent turn out despite pricing villainy by the Londoner’s boardroom did not get behind City more. The Bantams battled with a team a league above and battled well. A nicer drop of the ball or a slice of luck and City could have been through yet the atmosphere was once again strangely muted. Hardly a surprise but whatever a crowd can do to push a team through we do not seem to do it, at least not at Valley Parade.

Surprising and disappointing has been the rumbling of balls around Bradford City this season. Four times the Bantams have been drawn out of hats and every time we have faced a team in the highest division possible. Huddersfield Town, Leeds United and Milton Keynes Dons have previously faced City in the cup this season all from League One.

With the Bantams doing well in League Two we could assume that a draw against anyone below us – and in every draw we have been in most of the teams have been below us in the league structure – would have been more beatable but rather than Grimsby Town away in the Johnsons Paint we end up with Leeds and rather than Chester in the League Cup we went to Huddersfield. Of course there is no guarantee we would have won those hypothetical games but City should not be down hearted about being out of all the cups but rather surprised at the bad luck that saw us get four tough games.

Leyton Orient was a winnable game – both in theory and during the match – but it was not Histon Town 1 Leeds United 0 and as we look to the league now and the next five months of trying to ensure promotion we should do so knowing that in all four of those games – save the second half against Huddersfield – the Bantams gave as good as they got against the teams we want to be playing week in week out.

Four times we played league one clubs. Once we learned a lesson, once we got an apology, once we played and won and once we played and lost. We are ready for that league.

Overcoming the margins – Bradford City vs Leyton Orient – FA Cup 2nd Round preview

We remember Ben Murihead stupidly running down a blind alley with 10 minutes to go, losing possession and Barnsley racing up the other end to crucially equalise. We remember Jermaine Johnson’s incredible dribble from his own half before shooting wide when reaching the penalty area, then a Nathan Doyle own goal gifting Millwall an undeserved win. We remember David Wetherall hitting the crossbar with a header before, erm, Tranmere proceeded to play us off the park and win 3-0.

The previous three Bradford City seasons have featured progress past the First Round of the FA Cup, before each time falling at the Second. We’ve allowed ourselves to dream of City’s name being included in that illusive 3rd Round Draw with the opportunity of a lucrative tie. On Saturday we dream again that this could our year as Leyton Orient rock up to Valley Parade – will it be fourth time lucky?

The so-called “magic of the FA Cup” will be duly hyped all weekend and City could, by some stretch of the imagination, be considered one of the giant killers of the last round after the impressive win at MK Dons – a result which looks more impressive each week as the Buckinghamshire club climb League One.

It’s doubtful whether the magic really will touch Bradford this weekend though, the stadium will be barely a fifth full and there’s a convincing argument that, unlike the last three seasons, an FA Cup run is an unnecessary distraction. Nevertheless as memories of recent disappointments remind us of the often thin line between success and failure it’s worth noting that City have twice this week been on the right side of such margins – Rhys Evans’ wonder save at Rotherham and Jack Lester’s miss at 2-2 on Tuesday – and it’s the sign of a good side when they’re the ones regularly benefiting from such fortune.

A good side. Worth emphasising to some of our supporters who still can’t manage to do anything but criticise and moan. Tuesday’s comeback win against Chesterfield was a fantastic game of football – arguably the most entertaining of our season so far. Yet still all some can do is focus on the disappointing first 25 minutes, pick on a couple of players who didn’t reach the heights of others and, perhaps most stupidly of all, moan that City we’re hanging on during the final 10 minutes. Let’s imagine our team had fallen 3-2 behind and had a man sent off with 10 minutes to go, wouldn’t we still expect our players to force pressure in the closing stages? Why shouldn’t Chesterfield fans expect any less of their side?

We witness an injury hit City side show tremendous character and commitment to recover from an awful start and win against an impressive visiting side, why can’t we enjoy it? All some people can do is look for negatives; there’s been some over-the-top moaning about Matt Clarke (who apparently was booed by some ‘fans’ in the Kop whenever he touched the ball on Tuesday), the medical experts amongst us have managed to blame Omar Daley’s injury on Stuart McCall and there’s a certain balding Irish striker who some attempted to argue was one of our worst players. I am staggered how any City supporter could have left Valley Parade on Tuesday feeling unhappy. As Alan Hansen would say, “it’s unbelievable.”

Of course there were things which didn’t go so well and Stuart will look to address these on Saturday. I’m full of admiration for the way he stuck to his guns with the line up on Tuesday. At 2-0 the diamond formation he’d employed did not look a clever decision but, rather than panic, he got the players doing the right things and the improvement was vast. It won’t work every game and may not be used tomorrow with no Daley, but Stuart has a lot more faith in his team than many of us supporters do and surely it’s time more of us got behind them, particuarly when they’re struggling.

Stuart is unlikely to make many changes for this tie. Nicky Law and Tom Clarke have both had their loan spells extended and both arguably enjoyed their best games in Claret and Amber so far on Tuesday. They will make up the centre of the midfield with new loan arrival Steve Jones, taking Daley’s place, on the right. Kyle Nix, who did reasonably well Tuesday considering it was his first game back from injury, will push his claims for a regular spot on the left.

The back five will be unchanged with Matt Clarke still causing concern but Graeme Lee winning fans over. At 2-0 down and in real trouble on Tuesday, strong leadership was needed and Lee stepped up to the mark in more ways than just his impressive free kick. TJ Moncur must improve on his recent showings while Luke O’Brien will reflect that it was a year ago this weekend he made his debut and how far he has come. Rhys Evans keeps goal.

Up front Stuart has a real dilemma. At last Valley Parade got to see what a talent Michael Boulding can be and it would be difficult to rest him with confidence improving. Same with Barry Conlon, who’s popularity is surpassing the ‘cult hero’ status of last season into genuine ‘fans favourite’. That could mean Peter Thorne is left out again, which might not be a bad thing with a busy Christmas coming and injury niggles. FA Cup rules allow Stuart to name seven substitutes, which will give some fringe players a chance – will Willy Topp be one of them?

Of course the last time Leyton Orient were in town they cruelly smashed our hopes of avoiding the drop with a two-goal burst which had people around me crying and the boo boys curiously gloating. That day City battered Orient and wasted a hatful of chances to be out of sight by half time.

It’s those margins of success and failure that good teams invariably benefit from and poor sides are left cursing about. If City are the beneficiaries on Saturday we supporters just might start to believe in magic again.

Battling back

City produced a fine comeback from 2-0 down to grab all three points and ascend into 2nd place in League Two.

It was a game full of incident and open play, and City’s superb resolve and spirit was highly commendable against dangerous attacking opposition.

McCall sprung a surprise in naming the starting eleven by leaving top scorer Peter Thorne on the bench. His troublesome back problems that have developed over the last few weeks is likely to be the reasoning behind not risking him from the start. With so many injuries to contend with, McCall tinkered with a diamond formation in the first half, with Tom Clarke playing the anchor role in midfield protecting the back four, and Omar Daley getting a free role to roam with menace.

Things could not have got off to a worse start when a long throw into the area was not dealt with, and Jack Lester rifled in a left foot strike beyond Rhys Evans to put Chesterfield ahead.

The game opened up and City had two good chances to level via Omar Daley – in particular when he seemed to have got clean through and just before he was about to shoot, an excellent last ditch challenge was produced by Chesterfield defender Downes, to deny the pacy Jamaican.

Things went from bad to worse when Chesterfield doubled their advantage on 23. A loose ball floated around the penalty area that City failed to clear and it was left to Darren Currie to produce a rasping left foot strike that took a deflection and flew into the roof of the net, prompting jubilant celebrations from the scorer.

To their credit, City never let their heads drop and really began to play with more purpose despite being 2-0 down. There was some nice interplay and with Michael Boulding a willing runner all night, City began asking questions of Robert Page’s Chesterfield backline. When Barry Conlon was fouled just outside the box, the resultant free kick was left to skipper Graeme Lee who smashed the ball directly into the net with a thunderbolt that threw City a lifeline.

And just before halftime a short corner produced a left wing cross that was headed firmly down by Boulding that drew City level.

The second half began with City in the ascendancy and should have taken the lead twice through Boulding. First, he was unlucky to see his strike bounce wide following an excellent cross from the left from O’Brien. Then he really should have scored when one on one with Page, but he dragged his shot wide of the target.

Chesterfield were still having a fair amount of attacking play though, and Jack Lester missed a very presentable chance when clean through on goal to the left of the box. But Evans did a brilliant job, making himself big, and only providing Lester with an acute angle left to shoot which he sliced into the side netting.

The penalty that was awarded in City’s favour that won them the game seemed to be a fairly harsh one from my viewpoint. Nicky Law did brilliantly to take on his man and dribble inside the box, but seemed to go to ground too easily (I haven’t seen the replay yet) and initially I thought Law was going to be booked for diving. But the referee pointed to the spot, and served as some compensation for the terrible offside decisions that were given against us attacking wise.

Battling Barry Conlon grabbed the ball and confidently stepped up to take the penalty (I must admit I wanted either Boulding or Thorne to take it!). What followed was an audacious chip (Dwight Yorke style in his heyday) that went straight down the middle for the Burly Irishman’s 100th League Goal highlighted by his flash of his undershirt in the goal celebration, which was rewarded with a booking.

City held on for the last 20 minutes against ten men (Goodall was sent off for a second bookable – his foul on Law inside the penalty area) largely thanks to an excellent save from Evans from a Jamie Ward effort, and TJ Moncur made a vital interception at the back at the death – nipping the ball away from Lester with the goal gaping inside the area.

Whilst they made it very hard for themselves, its hard to find anything to criticise about City’s under strength side tonight. Yes they started slowly – but their battling back from adversion is promotion form (demonstrated also away at Accrington to grab all three points).

Boulding had a productive night and never stopped running. Tom Clarke produced an effective display protecting his back four, as was his brief. And Lee really is producing “Captain Fantastic” performances consistently now – a really worthy replacement for David Wetherall. His strikes from set pieces are now something of a secret weapon ( 30 yards out against Bury, The winner away at MK Dons in the FA Cup and now tonight).

My only grip about tonight were my fellow supporters in the Midland Road stand. With 2 – 3 minutes remaining there was an exodus of people making their way to the exit. Having just seen their team produce a stunning comeback against a very strong side, surely the team are worthy of a standing ovation. Or at least a round of a applause from the over 11,000 home fans? No, some people want to leave early to “ miss the traffic”. It’s pathetic.

You either commit to supporting the team or you are simply a spectator with no heart in caring about the team when they deserve some support or a pat on the back. People would be quick to boo the entire game if the team lost but to not reward a winning team who have dug really deep to deliver an excellent result is really not on.

At the rate that people were leaving the ground before the final whistle it was like we had lost 4-0.
Anyway, well done to Stuart and the lads. Our position in the table is very encouraging. And what is more encouraging is that I don’t think we have even hit top gear yet. From the way things look tonight, a top three finish is very achievable by this team, who like to do things the hard way.

Part two of four – Bradford City vs Chesterfield – League Two preview

There’s little doubt this is an important week in Bradford City’s season.

On Saturday it began with the low-thrills win at Rotherham and tonight’s game is a great opportunity to increase pressure on those near the top and move further clear from the chasing pack, which includes visitors Chesterfield. Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Leyton Orient carries the possibility of a lucrative 3rd round tie for the winners, while events in the days before it will also be far from insignificant.

Thursday is deadline day for loan deals until January and, with five league games in December, manager Stuart McCall has much to do to ensure he has sufficient options. After tonight, Tom Clarke and Nicky Law’s loan deals expire and, while Stuart appears keen to retain them both, it appears likely only Law will be allowed to extend his stay. With Huddersfield caretaker manager Gerry Murphy keen to give those players who he nurtured through Town’s youth academy the opportunity, Clarke is expected back at the Galpharm.

Murphy’s philosophy may lead to his on-loan option Steve Jones making the opposite journey on the M62 and former Leeds winger Seb Carole remains a possibility Clearly a right-sided midfielder is badly needed by Thursday, even if it’s just the retention of Law. Stuart may be running up a large phone bill over the next couple of days in pursuit of targets.

Clarke and Law will feature from the start tonight as City look to continue in the manner they finished at the Don Valley on Saturday. Paul McLaren’s injury isn’t expected to be serious enough to see him missing for long, but in his absence Clarke’s more defensive-minded approach should allow Law to get forward more regularly in the way he did for the final half hour on Saturday.

On the flanks Kyle Nix is back in contention after injury and made a 10-minute cameo on Saturday. He may replace Leon Osborne, who Stuart revealed was disappointed in his own performance at Rotherham. The youngster has apparently been playing well in the reserves and will look to inspiration from the likes of Luke O’Brien and Joe Colbeck as he tries to cross that psychological barrier of doing it in the first team. Whether he is ready for the test of a five-figure Valley Parade crowd remains to be seen.

Omar Daley will remain on the right wing. Many fans on Saturday were frustrated to see the Jamaican switched over from his usual spot on the left and it was fair to say he was less effective. Stuart might allow himself to feel a little smug after persisting with Daley on the left last season and receiving criticism from some supporters for playing him ‘out of position’.

What is clear is the service to City’s forwards needs to improve. Stuart may wish to chop about after Saturday and recall Barry Conlon after his introduction indirectly saw the team score two quick-fire goals. Michael Boulding would be favourite to be left out with Peter Thorne possibly taking his turn for a rest on Saturday.

At the back Rhys Evans and O’Brien will be in high spirits while Matt Clarke and Graeme Lee will be hoping for their first back-to-back clean sheets since August. TJ Moncur will be looking to get forward in the same effective manner as O’Brien, though has the added defensive responsibility of playing behind Daley.

The last time Chesterfield were at Valley Parade their supporters taunted their manager Lee Richardson with the chant “you don’t know what you’re doing”. The former Halifax and Huddersfield midfielder is still in charge, with his team unbeaten in seven and climbing the table after a slow start. Having been injured for both meetings last season, Jack Lester (35 goals for The Spireites from 53 appearances) will line up against City and scored for Nottingham Forest on his last visit to Valley Parade. Jamie Ward, who had a superb game on that horrible afternoon 19 months ago is winning plaudits and attracting attention.

He will be with Chesterfield until January at least but who will be lining up for the Bantams over the same period isn’t fully clear. We wait for Chris Brandon, Colbeck, Lee Bullock, Dean Furman and now McLaren to return from injury and, while it leaves a larger reliance on loan players than Stuart would probably like in the short-term, it’s nothing on the situation two seasons ago where so much of Colin Todd’s long-term plans depended on them.

If it’s to be good bye from Clarke and Law tonight, let’s hope it ends in the same way their loan periods started.

What’s next?

It wasn’t pretty, it was far from convincing and it will be quickly forgotten – but the most relevant description of Bradford City’s 2-0 win at Rotherham would be ‘job done’.

The open manner of attacking football which manager Stuart McCall is largely pinning City’s promotion hopes on was rarely exhibited, but some of the other equally important qualities that any side with promotion aspirations was. It may have been played out in the unusual and somewhat soulless setting of Sheffield’s Don Valley stadium, but Rotherham provided that familiar awkward test and the Bantams had to display steeliness, grit and determination. Ultimately the three points earned by Luke O’Brien and Nicky Law’s second half strikes will be all that matter come May.

Not that it was a bad performance from the pre-season League Two favourites. Rotherham United supporters might consider that their entire home crowd can be dumped into one stand of their temporary home as an indicator of their place in the world, but they will also know their team would be battling with City for promotion were it not for that 17 point deduction. For 70 minutes the Millers dominated possession and posed plenty of questions of a defensive line which has being needing to provide answers.

Rhys Evans made an early low save and the City stopper had a busy afternoon. With widemen Jamie Green and Dale Tonge causing plenty of problems, numerous balls were fired into the box and Matt Clarke – who appears to have heeded the wake-up call from losing his place in the last home game against Barnet – and Graeme Lee stood up to the battle.

Not that Stuart would have been happy with how much they had to do. In the middle of the park City were second best for much of the game and possession was too easily squandered. There’s seemingly been a learning curve all season about the best way to play, with many players often taking the direct option of launching the ball forward as quickly as possible. While it’s effective at times – some of City’s better first half opportunities coming this way – it needs to be used in the right way. In the early stages there was a reluctance to slow the tempo and pass it around, instead the ball quickly sent forward and invariably returned just as fast.

Questions continue to be asked of Paul McLaren, who it’s felt can do more. This is the sort of game where a midfield leader, a Stuart if you like, is badly needed and McLaren is the closest we have. His manager must be looking to McLaren to demand the ball off others to then deliver sensible and, when the opportunity arises, killer passes which set City on their way. McLaren was guilty of taking the wrong option too often in the first half and moves broke down. Like with other City players who’ve struggled, the management is capable of coaching more out of him. Should Stuart succeed, McLaren will be a better player for it.

Two widemen were employed, with Leon Osborne brought in on the left and Omar Daley switched to the right. It was unusual to see Daley on this side and served to only remind us that, while his pace and dribbling skills are such a potent weapon, his final ball into the box can sometimes be poor. Daley was City’s best attacking outlet but Osborne too was a willing worker.

The second half became a fascinating battle as Rotherham continued to exert strong pressure and waste some good chances, but City slowly began to play in the right way. Possession wasn’t feebly squandered seconds after been won. There was some impressive passing with some moves agonisingly breaking down when one pass wasn’t quite good enough. City also seemed to work out when to go direct and when to slow it down. In short – they began to play like a good away side.

So while heavy pressure in City’s box continued, more and more gaps began to emerge at the other end and the counter attack was on. The ball was played quickly to Osborne or Daley, who used their pace and the space to get City on the attack. Nothing was to come of it at first, but as Rotherham showed a degree of naivety in how far forward some of their players went, the opportunities were increasing. After Tom Clarke was brought on for the injured McLaren, Law suddenly had the licence to get forward even more and this made a difference.

Seconds after Barry Conlon also joined the action, City got their counter attack spot on. A Rotherham corner saw plenty of red shirts forward, but the was played towards a galloping O’Brien, who burst forward to the edge of the area and hit a low shot which appeared to leave Rotherham keeper David Stockdale unsighted as it flew into the bottom corner.

Two minutes later Rotherham fans thought their side had equalised as Drew Broughton’s header from close range was magnificently pushed onto the bar by Evans, but then another counter-attack delivered a killer second goal as Law’s shot from distance flew past Stockdale into the same corner of the net as O’Brien’s.

With the game effectively won City were able to slow the tempo and pass the ball around in a calmer manner. An O’Brien dribble forward was illegally stopped and the resulting free kick fired over, while a great passing move resulted in TJ Moncur wastefully stabbing the ball well wide of the goal. A third would undoubtedly have flattered City.

Those sat near this writer will have to excuse my over-exuberant celebrations for both goals, particularly the first. For most of the game the cold air around me was polluted by one supporter who’s non-stop moaning about his team was not only moronic and largely unrealistic (they are League Two players, but I doubt even Premiership players could manage what he expected our players to do), but his choice of players to ‘target’ was ludicrous. All game long I watched an excellent performance from our young left back, O’Brien, and all game long I listened to irrational abuse about how rubbish he was, with this fan often calling him a four letter term beginning with T. That was when he wasn’t yelling equally ridiculous abuse about Osborne and demanding Stuart sub him.

Is this the way we should be encouraging our younger players? No one says we should gloss over if they fail to reach the standards required for first team football, but when they’re not even having bad games it was hard to listen to this fan’s clueless rants. So when O’Brien struck the first I had to fight every urge to turn around and call my fellow supporter a four letter term beginning with T, though my mouth dropped to the floor in astonishment as he joined in when others later started a chant praising O’Brien.

But in some ways it was that sort of afternoon. The Don Valley stadium is a horrible place to watch football and the freezing conditions had us longing for the final whistle well before it was due. Any attempt to build an atmosphere by the 1,600 City fans was largely lost in the wide open space and, for those of us with limited eyesight, it was difficult to see the ball at the opposite end of the pitch when it got darker. It can’t have been much fun for the players either, with three sides of the ground completely empty. It was a matter of getting the win and moving onto the next game.

Rotherham’s 17 point deduction should mean the Don Valley stays on the fixture list for League Two sides next season – another incentive for City to get the ultimate ‘job done’ and earn promotion.

Unfamiliar familiarity – Rotherham United v Bradford City – League Two preview

This is the seventh season out of eight to feature Rotherham away on Bradford City’s fixture list, though there will be nothing familiar about Saturday’s trip.

The financial difficulties which the Millers have struggled to overcome during the last few years has resulted in a temporary move to Sheffield’s Don Valley stadium. With a running track around the pitch and the stands – of which for only one side is there a roof – positioned well back, it will certainly be a contrast from the intimacy of Millmoor.

For Rotherham the move was born out of necessity as Millmoor’s landlord, former Chairman Ken Booth, demanded too much rent and not enough access to its facilities for it to be financially viable. Attendances have slightly dipped through the six-mile relocation, though with only two home defeats so far it’s clear the players have adapted to new surroundings quickly.

For us Bradford City supporters, it should be a case of being thankful for our lot. Clearly the Bantams have suffered from financial troubles in recent years and the two relegations since leaving the Premier League can be blamed on it to varying degrees. Yet both City’s spells in administration came before the sort of point deductions which have been inflicted on Rotherham for three consecutive seasons. As for a former chairman owning the ground and the struggle to make rent payments, a move to Odsal looked a possibility back in February 2004.

Which goes to show that, if there can be positives to take from what this club went through, it’s the timing of it. Pity the marketing men at Rotherham, who this summer had to work out how to sell season tickets for a club which had moved to a nearby city, which wasn’t fully guaranteed to be allowed to continue by the Football League and who even then started with a 17 point deduction. The self-righteous whining from Leeds United supporters last season has ensured many of us hold little sympathy for clubs who break the rules by getting in such debt, but things could have been much worse for us during those dark days and at the time that didn’t seem possible.

For City at least, such difficult times are now part of the history books and they approach the only proper League Two Yorkshire Derby of the season with strong promotion aspirations. Last week’s defeat to Wycombe may have tempered confidence among supporters, but manager Stuart McCall will know the true quality of a good side is how it responds to set backs. So far this season the players have made a good fist of it.

The team is likely to be similar after Stuart’s attempts to bring in a right winger on loan drew a blank. Rhys Evans keeps goal behind a back four slowly recapturing its early season solidness. Paul Heckingbottom came through the reserves unscathed midweek and Stuart may consider giving Luke O’Brien a breather. TJ Moncur seems to be comfortably first choice ahead of Paul Arnison on the right and Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke continue in the centre.

The other Clarke will continue in midfield. City’s line ups this season have largely not featured an out and out holding midfielder and the hope has to be that Paul McClaren, alongside Tom, can get forward more than he has been afforded to. Lee Bullock is close to a return to fitness and McClaren may be aware he needs to show more in order to keep his starting place. Nicky Law will play on the right with Omar Daley likely to provide the team’s main source of attacking inspiration from the left.

Up front Michael Boulding will be hoping to get the nod over Barry Conlon, with the latter still sweating over a new contract offer in the new year. There are some concerns over Peter Thorne’s recent performances, but there’s no one you’d rather have on the end of any decent chances the rest of the team can create during the game.

Rotherham are not without their problems having lost experienced keeper Andy Warrington to injury and with only Steven Cann, who played his first senior game midweek and was on the end of a 3-0 defeat, to call upon between the sticks. Manager Mark Robins too has been left frustrated by the loan market and, unless any late attempts prove successful, it will be a big day for the 20-year-old South African. They also have their own Omar, who is perhaps more Willy Topp.

One familiar face will be Alex Rhodes, who joined the Millers from City during the summer. The winger was an excellent proposition on his day, as Rotherham themselves know only too well, but lacked consistency. Had Stuart kept him on it’s likely he’d have barely figured for City this season up until Joe Colbeck’s injury, so his regularity for Rotherham suggests City would be finishing above them even if they’d not suffered that heavy points deduction.

Like City, Rotherham will be aiming to put their financial troubles behind them but the impact which the credit crunch has had on so many parts of UK life has yet to be realised in football. With the UK heading for recession tough times may be ahead and typically its lower league clubs who will suffer.

If United had trouble with season tickets this season what about the next, when people’s spending will become even tighter? This week Rotherham announced half-year season ticket prices which are still more expensive than it cost for a full City season ticket. If levels of support are to be maintained in 2009/10 season clubs are going to have to consider the sort of innovate pricing approach which has succeeded at Valley Parade, though that might be difficult for clubs like Rotherham to implement with money in short supply.

If City can march onto promotion this season they should have few problems retaining their support should they keep similar prices, which would once again leave us pleased with our timing and thankful for our lot.

Too much ying for City’s yang

If there was one positive for us Bradford City fans to take as we exited Valley Parade at full time it was that it’s unlikely we’ll witness as wretched a second half performance from our team all season.

Going in at half time in a far from commanding 3-2 lead, the players appeared unsure whether to keep attacking or see out the game and failed to do either with any conviction. And although it’s questionable whether Albert Anomah’s 75th minute prodded equaliser crossed the line, there was no disputing how deserved it was – or how fortunate City were that the two points lost didn’t become three.

This was an afternoon in which much of what’s good about City this season was on display, but was undermined by much of what’s not good. Three times they took the lead in the first half and each time it was well taken. First Barry Conlon nodded the Bantams ahead after 10 minutes following a fine team move out of defence which resulted in Peter Thorne’s clever lay off been crossed into the box by TJ Moncur. Paul McLaren’s superb free kick delivery on the half hour was aching to be nodded home and Thorne did just that to put City back in front. Conlon then got his second – and sixth of the season – after finishing well from Moncur’s pass for 3-2. Recalled to the starting line up after his midweek heroics, the Irishman had an excellent afternoon and has now moved ahead of Michael Boulding in the goalscoring charts.

Yet in between those three goals were two soft ones at the other end to grimace about. Conlon’s opener was cancelled out after a woeful Moncur back pass sold Rhys Evans short, but even then the City goalkeeper should have made a better fist of clearing the ball instead of dallying and allowing John O’Flynn to roll the ball into the net. After Thorne’s header for 2-1, Anomah beat Luke O’Brien on the byeline and got a shot in which Evans did well to save, only for slow defending to allow Nicky Nicolau the space to slam the ball home. Conlon then struck again to re-establish a lead City’s first half efforts deserved.

A half which heavily featured attacking football from both sides. Manager Stuart McCall, without the suspended Omar Daley, moved Boulding out wide and brought in Conlon; but while Boulding had enjoyed an excellent game on the left wing at Grimsby eight days ago he was a huge disappointment. Whether he was unhappy to be switched or there’s some anxiety at playing in front of a large demanding crowd which is hindering, he failed to produce what was expected. Worse he was woeful at tracking back and helping out O’Brien; the latter too often left exposed against the threat of Anomah, who thankfully couldn’t cross as well as he could dribble.

Going forward Boulding was little better and, with Nicky Law playing in fits and starts, City played without the wide threat which has helped them to stretch and win games this season. Stuart must have recognised this and no one would have blamed him had he brought Kyle Nix or Leon Osborne on at half time, but instead he persisted with a line up which wasn’t functioning properly.

Barnet came out strong in the second half and their threat never went away. With pace on the flanks and a midfield not afraid to put a boot in, it became more and more one-way traffic as City struggled to keep them at bay. Rare home attacks carried a threat – Law and Conlon both going close – but the visitors enjoyed far more of the ball and posed too many questions of a fragile backline.

And herein lies the problem with City at the moment. There’s no doubting the attacking quality within the ranks, shown here despite the absence of key players, but when they do go in front there is some uncertainty over what to do next. Once again we see too many long balls launched in the hope the strikers can hold the ball up, but the offside flag or strong, and sometimes questionable, Barnet challenges limited this effectiveness. Stuart seems to want City to pass the ball about from the back and this often works well, but when the nerves are prevalent or the lead is slender ‘hit and hope’ seems to be favoured. To Barnet’s credit they must have noted this and sought to apply pressure on City from high up the pitch.

In such situations it’s as if City have one less player in midfield and the ability to slow the game down, keep passing the ball around and take the sting out of Barnet’s attacking momentum seems to be beyond the players. They will often work really hard to win the ball back, only to lose it cheaply seconds later. It meant the defence was overworked and the equaliser seemed inevitable.

The sight of Dean Furman having to limp off the field was distressing, given he was the only member of City’s midfield successfully doing the right things. His injury might have meant Stuart decided to keep Boulding on when his ineffectiveness should have been rewarded with an early exit from play, but three minutes later City were kicking off again and seemingly lacking the belief and composure to get back in front.

The performance of the backline is clearly a huge concern. Graeme Lee has looked much more the player of early season during the last two games, but he needs to be more commanding of the troops around him. Tom Clarke is a decent player but struggled as the game went on and it was O’Brien’s toughest afternoon to date, not helped by that lack of support in front. Moncur considers himself a right back, but the doubts are still there. Much of the recent defensive shortcomings have been blamed on Matt Clarke, but I believe he hasn’t been as bad as others make out.

Not that City particularly missed him, but there is someone sat in the same dugout who it can be argued they are. David Wetherall was always going to be a tough act to follow after retiring last season, but it’s the way Stuart is now trying to get City to defend which is perhaps causing teething problems. Wetherall’s lack of pace meant City had to defend deeper and the back four are now trying to play a higher defensive line. This is working reasonably well – though defenders need to be more decisive in possession when opposition forwards are pressing them – but was seemingly abandoned in the second half due to the midfield’s lack of control. The pressure grew, but the more forward players didn’t drop further back with the defence and huge gaps emerged which Barnet were able to exploit.

After Barnet’s equaliser there only looked to be one winner as the impressive visitors continued to attack. At least the defence did well to prevent a late winner with some excellent headers and blocks, how frustrating for them it must be to see the ball come back towards them so quickly after.

The full time whistle was met with boos, but it’s questionable how this sort of reaction helps anyone. There still remains a lot to be positive about when assessing City’s chances this season and the problems afflicting it can be sorted in time. Some fans said that last season City would have lost the sort of game they won against Bury midweek, well that’s true about this game too.

An unexpected late Halloween horror show at the back to endure, but the ability to keep producing fireworks at the other end has left City in an excellent position in the league. Those shortcomings will need to be banished in order to stay there.

Stuart goes in without his wingers – Bradford City vs Barnet – League Two Preview

Stuart McCall never got to the by-line.

He never skinned a full back and he never cut inside.

Little legs and a low centre of gravity Stuart McCall would have been a rubbish winger but his City team is all about the men on the flanks.

Omar Daley’s random darts have confused enough defences this year to make him one of City’s most dangerous players and the route of lots of chances but while no one else can understand a word he says Referees can and have booked him enough to suspend him.

Joe Colbeck offers something different but still important for City beating men with accurate crosses but injury at Grimsby has him sidelined and Stuart is left looking for new wingers.

Nicky Law did a reasonable job on Tuesday night but did not give the supply line that Colbeck or Daley does and Kyle Nix might be able to do what Joe does but movie left but only on a good day and the Rothstrailian hasn’t had one of those in a while.

So options like Leon Osbourn and Billy Topp in a wide role are getting talked about. Expect one to sit on the bench but Nix and Law to be the guys next to Paul McLaren and the brilliant Dean Furman.

Similarly up front Barry’s heroic header on Tuesday will bring him a place on the bench behind Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding.

At the back Matt Clarke is back and could replace Tom Clarke which would be harsh on the loan player from Udders who did well alongside Graeme Hammer Boot Lee. Tom Moncur and Luke O’Brien are full backs with Rhys Evans in net.

Barnet are without Jason Puncheon since last year after if wowed then transferred but they do have Luke Medley now which says a lot about where the club seems to be going.

They messed about in the top half of the table for a bit but are bottom half now. Expect a battle but one City can win if the squad can keep in mind the fact that the flying wingers are not replicated.

Not so much Plan B as Style B.

Where the pieces fall

The ball would not drop.

It held in mid-air like the frost had clung to Bradford’s trees this first Winter morning and took time to come down to the crisp grass of Valley Parade.

Later it would fall to Barry Conlon – of course to Barry Conlon – who would stand straight and head past Wayne Brown.  Allowing Conlon to head past him was the only one thing the man in the Bury goal did wrong all evening but a half hour before that moment it would be Michael Boulding trying to take down a looped cross from Peter Thorne and – when on his own in the middle of the penalty area – control and convert the chance.

The chance had come when Brown had sprinted back to his line to scoop away a back pass by David Buchanan which had seemed to be going into the visitors goal. Boulding’s pressure had forced the error but that would be no consolation as the ball steadfastly refused to sit up to be struck hanging in the air from Thorne’s cross.

Wins, promotions are made of such things.

This phrase seems to be commonly uttered at Valley Parade of late as the Bantams slump – the dire Bantams of Darlington eight days ago – nestle in to second place in the table with 14 games gone. If promotions are made of late goals and of the late goals that Conlon seems to have more of a hand in then they are also made of characterful performances where the Bantams ground out that rarest of things – a home win against an opposition who would have been happy with a point.

Happy and deserved. Bury were a desent side who came to Valley Parade with a game plan to anchor the midfield and hit on the break.  After a half where City edged the game once the mismash of players had started to build an understanding of each other the Bantams began to convert possession into chances.

Nicky Law Jnr came in on the right wing for the injured Joe Colbeck and offered little going forward but his attitude and approach was typical of a City performance which ensured that despite some interesting probing by The Shakers the defensive line remained solid and from that came the win.

Bit by bit in a first half City took more and more control of possession in the game. Tom Clarke – in for Matt Clarke – looked to have a head beyond his years and put not a foot wrong. As the game wore on into the second half Luke O’Brien would become more and more important as a distribution outlet and as a capable defender. His current form would keep Paul Heckingbottom out of the side.

From Boulding’s chance onwards City mounted attack on attack save sporadic meanders forward by the visitors with Dean Furman’s deep role allowing him to control the passage of possession and Paul McLaren probing forward. Law’s right wing role did not offer the outlet of Colbeck and City struggled to breakdown Bury but with the lion’s share of the ball the game was the Bantams to win.

A free kick for an arm in Furman’s face dummied by McLaren and struck with hitherto unpredicted venom by Graeme Lee and the ball pinged up into the air looping down to the waiting head of Conlon who after scoring joined the rest of Valley Parade in expecting referee Mr Friend to be anything but but tellingly as his central defenders were booked for complaining Wayne Brown said nothing.

The goalkeeper twice watching how the pieces fell in front of him. Two similar situations, two different outcomes.

Colbeck’s injury could keep him out for months, Daley is suspended for Saturday and Peter Thorne took a whack and could join Mark Bower, Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon on the sidelines. Like all managers Stuart McCall’s test is to make the best of the pieces that fall to him and second after fourteen games he would seem to be making a good fist of that.

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