Luke Oliver stands to his full height

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The enemies of football as Parkinson’s City claim a first win

The last time he left Valley Parade happy Phil Parkinson was called “the enemy of football” by then City manager Colin Todd after his Colchester United team battled to a point. As Parkinson celebrated his first win as Bantams boss it seemed that no matter what how much of an enemy if the game Todd might think he may be, he is effective against the opposition.

Torquay United came to Valley Parade and were almost entirely neutered in their attempts to win the game thanks to a defensive effort from Parkinson’s side the match of anything seen at City for seasons and despite the Bantams having a man sent off.

Lining up with two rows of four, and Mark Stewart behind Craig Fagan Parkinson’s side were the picture of tight defending and – when they had to be – smart enough to kill off the game when legs got weary with the Bantams having to play over an hour with ten men following the sending off of Andrew Davies in the first half.

Now, dear reader, our views may divert (at least until television reveals more) but from my bit of plastic in the near 12,000 filled seats at Valley Parade Davies went in aggressively on Danny Stevens taking both feet off the floor and even in getting the ball the red card that Carl Boyeson showed was (as little as I like to see City players sent off) the right decision.

(Sunday note: Watching again the only way the Ref could justify a red card is if he believed that because the tackle was two footed that it was automatically either reckless, dangerous and endangered an opponent thus a yellow card even if it got the ball and, by virtue if the goal scoring opportunity denied, a red card. If that is the case Davies would get a one match ban. It was certainly not a violent or aggressive tackle which would merit a three match ban. Having seen it again, and in the context of other tackles in the game, I would not have even blown the whistle for a foul.)

My views were not shared by most and Valley Parade went into uproar and most (including t’other half of BfB Jason Mckeown) thought that Davies had taken ball hard but fair, that Stevens had made a meal of the tackles – he was booed for the rest of the afternoon – and that Boyeson was wrong.

If Boyeson did get the decision right then it was pretty much all he got right all afternoon in which time and time again he showed a near contempt for the rules that he was on the field to enforce. For sure we can all forgive mistakes – one or Jason and myself will be wrong about the red card tackle – but what can not be forgive is seeing offences and ignoring them.

So when Kyel Reid – on a foray into the Torquay United half when City were attacking on the counter – turned Eunan O’Kane on the edge of the box despite the midfielder tugging on his shirt only to be hacked at and pulled down in the box and Boyeson gave only a yellow card one had to wonder which part of the rules he was enforcing. The part that says that denying a goal scoring opportunity mandates a red card was ignored, and thirty years of football tells me that that was one.

Of the goalscoring opportunities City created the lion’s share with Matt Duke having to save once low down to his right but spending most of the rest of the afternoon watching the heroics of defenders Luke Oliver and substitute Guy Branston who blocked and blocked again whenever the ball penetrated the wall which the midfield pair Richie Jones and Michael Flynn had put up which was refreshingly not often.

In a game when plaudits were available for all special mention goes to Michael Flynn who put in a box to box midfield display which makes one wonder why at the start of the season he was seemingly on his way out of the club. His combination with Jones – who is a fine player for sure and one with a great engine – made for a powerful midfield display nullifying the previously excellent O’Kane.

Oliver and Branston – and Davies before his departure – were immense. Again Oliver was on his way out at the start of the season but his performance today looked like the best defender to have taken to the field for City since the slide into League Two. Graeme Lee, David Wetherall, Matt Clarke et al would have all loved to have put in a display like this.

Branston loved it too. Not wanting to dismiss the travelling supporters who applauded him last year he was gracious in victory but his display was the sort of showing which seemed promised when he signed.

Some of Branston’s tackles walked the line for sure, but so did much of City’s play and one was reminding of Todd’s talk of enemies when City got tough. City under Stuart McCall (in his first two seasons) and once or twice under Peter Jackson could be a joy to watch but they could also be a joy to play again for the opposition. A side that wanted to pass and impress an opposition side, Parkinson’s City were more aggressive.

Torquay United will return to the South Coast knowing they have been in a game. Michael Flynn was booked for a hard tackle, Richie Jones lucky not to follow Flynn into the book. Branston cleaned out everything, Oliver put muscle in and Craig Fagan leading the line gave his defender Hell. City, for want of a better phrase, manned up.

Sturdy at the back, giving nothing away, and ending up with a clean sheet all City needed to do was score – not something has been a problem this season – and so the goal came in the last ten minutes of the first half when a cross in from Robbie Threlfall was headed on by Luke Oliver, taken under control by Craig Fagan and struck in with power.

Fagan’s fitness is returning and he is looking like a very good player. He nearly got a second in the second half when he latched onto a the ball when racing against goalkeeper Robert Olejnik and lobbing the ball over the custodian only to see it hit bar and post and bounce away. Threlfall’s had a direct free kick pushed wide by a diving Olejnik later. Another goal would not have flattered City.

Not getting a goal though City played out the last ten minutes at game killing pace and the frustration started to show. Kyel Reid toyed with a few Torquay players and got a couple of kicks for his trouble one of which could not have been said to have been near the ball. Boyeson seemed to be happy to let that – as he did the many deliberate handballs he blew for against Torquay striker Rene Howe go without further censure.

Not one player will have left the field without the warm handshake from Phil Parkinson. Liam Moore battled hard at full back well supported by Stewart who dropped back to the right following the sending off. Kyel Reid turned a performance which seemed to be going nowhere into a great display. Luke O’Brien and Nialle Rodney put in great shifts from the bench. Parkinson has drummed in the need for hard work, and he got it today.

It was a new Bradford City modelled by Parkinson. More canny, a bit more nasty, and victorious. The sort of thing which Colin Todd called the enemies of football but without the ability to trust officials to carry out their jobs as detailed (and I reiterate that the red card, to me, seemed sound but one correct decision does not a performance make) City had to look after themselves today, and did.

Twelve games in and City have moved up the table to fourth bottom but it seems very much like this season has finally got going.

Seip signs for City

29 year old Dutch defender Marcus Seip has joined Bradford City on a three month contract following a successful trial. The Dutchman is touted as a right back who can play central defence but it is believed that City are looking at the player for his central defensive position and not his play at full back.

Seip joins on a free transfer having left Plymouth in the summer with Phil Parkinson excited to have the new recruit available for tomorrow’s game with Torquay United.

Marcel is another quality player. The more quality players you can get in the building the better. Phil Parkinson

Torquay’s arrival at Valley Parade reminds one of Guy Branston – signed from the South Coast club following a superb display last season – and poises questions about his future. With Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver the regular pair until Steve Williams gets back to fitness – and Davies to return to Stoke at some point – it seems that Branston is increasingly being moved away from the first team.

Meanwhile Luke Dean has joined Harrogate Town on a month’s loan deal.

The smile, and how to retain it

The wife woke up at 5.45am as usual on Wednesday morning, discovering that she had still not refound her voice that had been lost in the wake of Bradford City’s thrilling penalty shootout win over Huddersfield Town. She was tired. Too tired really. The journey back from the Galpharm seemed to involve a couple of wrong turns and so we got home later than hoped. No voice and feeling utterly knackered – not a good combination for a Primary School teacher.

Still on the plus side, one of her teaching colleagues was a Huddersfield Town supporter. Be sure to ‘bump’ into her today…

And that’s what derby victories are all about – the bragging rights. The opportunity to get one over our friends, family and work colleagues and to continue taunting them for months to come – no matter what they try to argue back. In the wake of Tuesday’s victory for the Bantams, there were some attempts from those of a blue and white persuasion to talk its significance down. “It was only a Huddersfield reserve side” argued some Town fans, in view of eight changes made. Given Phil Parkinson made six for City, so too was ours by this logic.

“The league’s the most important thing” whined Huddersfield’s BBC Radio Leeds pundit Kieran O’Regan, as though it isn’t for City. Presenter Gareth Jones beautifully caught O’Regan out by then asking the former Terriers player when he thought Town and City would next face each other in the league. (Para-phrasing here) “Well we’re going for promotion this season, I can’t see Bradford going up. So not for a while.” “So you’re saying it will probably be a few years until they play each other? Well until then, Bradford fans now have the bragging rights don’t they?” Long pause.

What a night. The penalty shootout was utterly nerve wracking, but after Nialle Rodney struck the winning spot kick – euphoria. When Michael Flynn missed City’s first attempt, it was easy to fear the worst. As the twists and turns unfolded with the packed away end cheering or groaning, my wife was completely frozen in fear. She couldn’t move, so gripped with worry she was. The celebrations in the end were wild, while the Town fans looked as devastated as we would have. At 1-0 a group of home fans on the left side had attempted to charge at us City supporters in anger, only to be stopped by stewards. Trouble occurred outside as we headed home.

That is the ugly side of football that no one should enjoy, but it showed how much the game mattered for both sets of supporters in attendance. Yes it was only the JPT, but as Stuart McCall once said a game of tiddlywinks between the two sides would matter. Yes it was via the lottery of penalties, but two League One sides have now been dumped out of the cup by the Bantams which is impressive. Yes there were no league wins in-between those two victories, but perhaps the corner is finally turning.

The victory over Town followed a better weekend that followed a bad one and bad one before that. Now the challenge is to maintain the upwards curve of improvement and finally start to make an impression in the league. There has still only been one League Two victory to date, and past form would suggest City will follow up a heroic cup victory with a cowardly league performance. That can’t be allowed to happen, not least with a bumper crowd expected and in need of being entertained.

Torquay will be no pushovers – beaten in the play off final last season, and with memories of a 3-0 stroll at Valley Parade last April still fresh in the mind. But at the same time they are no world beaters – even by League Two standards, as they are only 13th so far. There’s no guarantees in football and City are in no position to underestimate anyone, but another slip up will be difficult to accept and the team badly need to keep the fans’ post-Huddersfield mood in tact come 5pm.

The six changes Parkinson made on Tuesday worked well and will give him plenty to ponder for tomorrow, although the five players who kept their place after Burton Albion were the five who truly excelled. Matt Duke, Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall and especially Flynn were outstanding at the Galpharm (even if Threlfall could have used the ball better at times). Indeed it was noticeable that Parkinson choose to keep the backline in tact and was rewarded by further improvement even if two goals were again conceded – at least two have been let in for six consecutive games now.

Duke might have made a meal of a couple of Huddersfield shots, but produced a string of terrific saves that will have done his confidence the power of good. Moore played with a level of commitment not usually associated with loan players, while so powerful was Oliver’s header for 2-1 that it brought back fond memories of David Wetherall. Threlfall will also keep his place tomorrow, though Andrew Davies will be recalled over Guy Branston. It was a mixed night for the club captain, who was superb in many aspects but struggled with his distribution.

In midfield Ritchie Jones and Kyel Reid should return, but Adam Reed is out and whether Jamie Devitt – on his way back from injury – comes straight back in too depends on Parkinson’s view on Luke O’Brien. I thought he was excellent on Tuesday taking people on, and he did a good job helping Moore when switched to the right midway through the first half. Chris Mitchell had another good game and set up the opening goal. He will probably be left on the bench and is unlucky to do so. Jack Compton should be back on the sidelines too, which seems right compared to what Reid and O’Brien offer. Flynn is the only certain midfield starter.

Up front, James Hanson’s absence on Tuesday offered fans calling for his permanent removal from the starting eleven a chance to press their claims. Rodney and Mark Stewart did well at times, but in my view Hanson’s presence was missed and when City struggled to clear their lines and keep the ball I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hankering for a target man of Hanson’s ilk. It was heartbreaking to see Ross Hannah’s big chance be ended by an awful challenge just seven minutes in, and with the former Matlock striker set to miss this game Stewart will probably take his place on the bench and Craig Fagan and Hanson – if fit- recalled.

Whoever is left out of the 11 from Tuesday can feel unfortunate, and for those who come in or who retain their place this week has seen the competition for places intensify. Parkinson needs to have a squad who can’t be sure of their places and who must deliver the goods at all times, and he needs to have people queuing up outside his office door pressing their claims for a starting spot.

Every reason then, to believe this squad should be sufficiently motivated to win tomorrow.

Every reason then, for the bragging to be able to continue.

Three cheers for pricing as Torquay United come to Bradford City

Bradford City extending – and offering to all – the £5 deal to Torquay United supporters is one of those things that makes me proud to be a Bradford City fan. Anyone willing to get up when it is still the night before to come hundreds of miles for a League Two game of football will into VP for a fiver.

Of course there are football league rules in place about how much the away fans can be charged if the home fans get reduced rates which push City’s hand in this but rather than saying what is not possible the Bantams have looked at what is, and we should be pleased with that.

Credit where it is due, but at Valley Parade these days it can be difficult to know where it is. Whoever it is should take a pat on the back.

For on Saturday there is an experiment or sorts and one which could change football in the same way that Geoffrey Richmond did when he introduced Quid-a-Kid. Cut the price down to a fiver for a rank and file league game and see what the impact on foot fall is. Will more people come because VP starts being cheaper than the cinema? Will people bring a friend because it is cheaper? Will more people come up from Torquay because having paid petrol and spent the time they are not faced with £20 on the gate? One hopes so for all.

The received wisdom in football is that as every game is a discreet event – Bradford City vs Torquay United will only happen once, unlike a movie which happens the same way over and over again – and so should be charged for in the same way a concert or play is. That there is a scarcity of supply and high prices regulate demand.

When Liverpool visit Old Trafford and the Merseyside fans are paying £45 a ticket this seems to be true. The game will only happen once and there is far more demand – people wanting tickets – than there is supply – seats for fans. Price elasticity of demand says set a high price.

The same economics are applied when Manchester United host almost anybody but there are times when the ground is not full because some games are less attractive than others and given a choice on how to spend your £45 one might decide that Liverpool is a better game than FC Thum.

However I would argue that the lower down the football ladder one goes the less discreet the games get. There are few matches that stand out in the calendar – City’s games with Leeds and Huddersfield have not been sells outs – and so the economics of the situation are changed. A game is not a discreet event – a one off chance to see the game which will be on Match of the Day in the flesh as Manchester United vs Liverpool is – but rather a part of a continuing roll of games which one consumes as part of one’s state as a supporter of a club.

We are not rocking up to Valley Parade on Saturday because we think the game against Torquay will be a humdinger. We are doing it because we are supporters of the club and – in way – subscribers of the club. We want the Bradford City experience – Torquay United fans want the Torquay United experience – and we pay accordingly. The sales model for games lower down in football is far more like a magazine subscription or club membership than it is a gig or evening at the theatre.

(Which is not to say that Manchester United do not have some supporters with that same mentality, not that the financial approach can be different because of the tip over where demand outstrips supply.)

When you subscribe to a magazine you do not know what will be in it when it arrives through your door and you do not get to pick and choose based on how tempting the offering sounds. When my copy of Melody Maker used to fall through the door (back when it was worth reading) if the interviews were poor (or about The Levellers) I just put it down to a bad week and waited for the next one but I only bought the more expensive glossies if there was something I liked on the cover.

Bradford City is more of a subscription service and Saturday tests how attractive that service is when it is priced at a dip into, dip out of level. If a case builds that should one charge less then it benefits supporters without harming club (and vice-versa) then momentum could start to build around the game which readdresses the idea of pricing.

Mark Lawn told us that it is usual for City to get about 1,000 walk ups but not all are paying £20 each (children do not, for example) so one can not assume that the £20,000 will become £5,000 this weekend nor how many more bums will be needed to press onto seats to make it profitable in the short or long term. If a Dad (or Mum, or both) brings three kids on Saturday and those kids enjoy the taste of football and want to come again then City could end up with a supporter for forty or fifty years.

How much is fifty years of support worth? Certainly more than the chop in price on Saturday just as the lads who are pushing thirty how that Quid-a-Kid was money well spent.

So kudos to whoever it was at Valley Parade who set Saturday’s price and one hopes that when they pour over the figures and analyse the uptake in matches to come as a result they get the results they deserve.

And one hopes that when Torquay fans stretch legs after a long journey North they raise a smile because football – for once – is looking out for them.

2011/2012 IV/IV: The teams

Following last season’s disappointment a new air of optimism currently surrounds the much changed, younger City squad compiled by Peter Jackson, but what can we expect from those who the Bantams will line up against in the new season?

With the loss of Bury, Chesterfield, Stockport and Lincoln from League 2 last time out, the division this year has taken on a very Southern feel with the addition to the League of Plymouth, Bristol Rovers, AFC Wimbledon, Crawley Town, Swindon and Dagenham & Redbridge. It seems that away day dedication will be pushed even further this year, with City set to clock up the miles – where are the Peter Taylor over night stays when you need them!?

The Favourites

For the first time since City were relegated to League 2 they have not been tipped for automatic promotion, that acclaim has gone to the league’s big spending new boys Crawley Town. Following last season’s romp to the Conference title and lucrative FA Cup run, only ended by the champions of England, Crawley have flexed their financial muscles once again signing the likes of Wes Thomas (Cheltenham) and Tyrone Barnett (Macclesfield) on huge salaries. Although popularity amongst other teams and fans will be in short supply, this is unlikely to phase Steve Evans who appears to have unlimited funds to see that the Red Devils make it back to back promotions. And with the likes of Dagenham and Stevenage proving that it is not impossible to make that immediate leap, it is unsurprising that the club have been highly backed at the bookies. Former Bantam Scott Nielson is still on the books and will no doubt be on the end of a ‘warm’ welcome when returning to VP, following comments he made after his City exit.

Hot on the promotional heels of Crawley are fellow league new boys Swindon Town. Over the summer they have introduced some Italian flair on the touchline following the appointment of Paolo Di Canio. Expect much gesticulation and passion when the Bantams meet The Robins in the final game of the season (and that’s just from Jackson!). In the close season Di Canio has signed the relatively unknown Oliver Risser and appointed him the club’s captain as well as several established League 1 players. Also don’t be surprised if a few hot prospects from the Premier League turn up on loan over the coming weeks – I’m sure Paolo will still have Mr. Redknapp’s phone number!

Former Torquay boss Paul Buckle will be hoping that he can use his League 2 experience to guide league newcomers Bristol Rovers back into League 1 at the first attempt. Signing the likes of Chris Zebroski (you may remember him drop kicking Matt Clarke in the face!) and Joe Ayinsah (Charlton), expect attacking football from The Pirates who visit VP in September.

As well as the new boys, League 2’s bridesmaids Shrewsbury Town have also been tipped to go well again this year. Following play-off disappointment for the past three seasons “Salop” will be hoping they can go one better and achieve automatic promotion this year. In the close season Graham Turner has signed proven League 2 players such as: Marvin Morgan (Aldershot); Andy Gornell and Joe Jacobson (Accrington) and will be hoping that these will provide the extra ammunition to get The Shrews over the line.

“Local” Rivals

With the loss of so many Northern teams from the division, local rivalries are few and far between for the Bantams this year. Nearest geographically are Rotherham United, who despite the loss of player maker Nicky Law to McGod’s Motherwell, will be hoping for a strong season under relatively new boss Andy Scott. Scott’s first priority will be to keep hold of the much coveted Adam Le Fondre, whilst quickly hoping he can get the best out of hard-working City reject Gareth Evans (‘The goal is that way Gareth…’). The Millers will be trying to make sure that they don’t fall away as they have in previous years despite promising starts. City host Rotherham in November, with the away leg early in the New Year.

One time City managerial target John Coleman, will be hoping that Accrington Stanley will be able to maintain their strong form of last year despite losing their best players to other teams (Ryan, McConville, Gornell). Coleman will have to manage once again on a shoe-string budget and has so far snapped up the likes of defender Danny Coid (Blackpool) and young striker Kurtis Guthrie, whilst former Bantam Rory Boulding still features in the squad. Expect Stanley to finish mid-table this year as the loss of quality players will surely take its toll.

Morecambe (Bradford-on-sea) are entering the new campaign with a rallying cry in the hope to recapture the ‘fortress’ mentality of Christie Park at their new home ‘The Globe Arena’ (incidentally it’s not an arena, it has 3 sides!). Shrimps boss Jim Bentley will be hoping the combative style of former Bantam loanee Kevin Ellison will help them improve on a disappointing 20th position, achieved last time out. A big City following will once again will flock to Morecambe in early September, with the return fixture at VP in mid-January.

Conference Call

Gary Simpson’s Macclesfield Town have been made favourites for relegation to the Conference this year. Despite a comfortable 15th place finish last season The Silkmen are tipped to struggle, with bookmakers offering them at 2/1 to drop into non-league. The Moss Rose outfit will be hoping that new signings Waide Fairhust (Doncaster), former Bantam Jonathan Bateson (Accrington), along with others like the quick forward Emile Sinclair, will be enough to steer them clear of trouble.

Second favourites to face the drop are Cheltenham Town, following their disappointing second half to last season, which left them with a 17th place finish – one place above the Bantams. This is not a sentiment shared by the Robins new signing Sido Jombati, who claims the club should be aiming for promotion. Cheltenham have invested mainly in non-league players, much the same as City, with the hope of bringing success to Whaddon Road next season.

Once again Barnet have been backed to struggle this term, despite retaining the majority of their top performers from last year. Lawrie Sanchez continues as boss as the Bees aim to gain compensation for the move of last year’s demi-saviour, Martin Allen, to Notts County. With plenty of forward options in the form of Izale McLeod, Sam Deering, Steve Kabba and Mark Marshall (remember him embarrassing City last year?), Barnet will be hoping that they can sort out their defence which saw them leak 77 goals last season.

Hereford United will be hoping to make things a little more comfortable this year following their close shave for survival last season. Former ‘physio’ boss, Jamie Pitman, has signed the likes of Delroy Facey (Lincoln) and Stefan Stam (Yeovil) in the hope of playing attacking, entertaining football next term. The Bantams travel to Edgar Street in late October, with the Bulls coming to VP in February.

League Newcomers

Cash-strapped Plymouth Argyle will face a race against time to assemble a squad before the big kick-off on the 6th of August. With the likely take over by Peter Risdale not yet finalised and the club selling off the ground and its land to a third party: ‘Bishop International’ (sound familiar!?) it will be a success just to put a team out for the Pilgrims next season. Already potential signings have swerved away from the financially stricken club, Antony Elding (Rochdale) opted to sign for non-league Grimsby despite initially agreeing to sign for Plymouth. Survival will have to be their first priority and it is hoped that with the re-signing of influential defender Stephane Zubar, others will follow to sign up for Peter Reid’s cause.

The Crazy Gang return to Valley Parade next season and it is expected that they will bring more than 53 fans when they visit Bradford in late-September. Following five promotions in nine years, since their formation in 2002, AFC Wimbledon will take their place in the football league once again. They will start the campaign without last season’s top goalscorer Danny Kedwell, who has signed for Gillingham, but have retained the services of their player of the season Sam Hatton. Boss Terry Brown has signed up several new recruits: Jack Midson (Oxford); Mat Mitchell-King (Crewe); Chris Bush (Brentford) and Charles Ademeno (Grimsby) in hope of maintaining the club’s position in League 2 next year.

John Still’s Dagenham & Redbridge return to League 2 following only one season in League 1. The one-time City managerial target has managed to maintain the majority of his squad, but has lost key man, and former Bantams’ target, Ramon Vincelot to Championship new-boys Brighton. The Daggers are expected to finish mid-table this time out and will face the Bantams at VP in August, with the return fixture at Victoria Road in March.

Familiar Faces

Burton Albion boss Paul Peschisolido has signed several attacking options over the close season with the intention of pushing the Brewers further up the table than their 19th place finish last season. The Nottinghamshire club will be hoping to avoid the fixture congestion that plagued them last year. New signing Justin Richards (Port Vale) should be the main attacking threat and City play Albion away in October, with the home fixture in January.

Dario Gradi will take charge of Crewe for his 26th season at the helm. With the loss of Clayton Donaldson over the summer, Alex striker Shaun Miller will be hoping to fill the former Bradford youngster’s boots and build on his own 19 goal haul last season. Crewe have been internally backing themselves for promotion this year and will aim to get there playing attractive, technical football, the likes of which the Bantams experienced on the last day of the season.

Gary Johnson’s Northampton Town will once again carry high expectations into the coming season, with their expectant fans insisting that they improve on their disappointing 16th place last season. With a glut of new signings, including big striker Adebayo Akinfenwa, the Cobblers will enter the 2011/2012 season with aspirations of reaching the play-offs. City face Northampton at VP in late October and travel to the Sixfields Stadium in April.

Former City man Chris Wilder will be entering the new season in the hope that his Oxford United team can build on their promising first season back in the football league. Ex-City flop Paul McLaren will take his place for the U’s next season and will hope for more consistency in League 2 this time out. Experience seems to be the order of the day for Wilder who has also recruited former Leeds player Michael Dubbery and ex-Bury goal keeper Wayne Brown.

In a repeat of last season, Micky Adams will lead out Port Vale and will want to finish the job he started before leaving for a forgettable stay at boyhood club Sheffield United. Marc Richards remains the main danger man for the Stoke club and will hope that he can find sufficient support from new signings Gary Roberts (scorer for Rotherham from halfway at VP) and fellow striker Louis Dodds. Vale face the Bantams at Vale Park in September and at VP on Valentine’s day.

On the Buses…(or coaches)

Industrious Aldershot will be hoping to build on their solid 14th place finish last time out. The Bantams play host to the Shots on the opening day and will have to be wary of the goal-threat of defender Antony Charles who had success against the Bantams last year. Dean Holdsworth will be hoping that the recent loan deal for Reading’s attacking midfielder Jake Taylor will help get the Shots off to a flier… obviously after losing to City!

Gillingham have made several signings over the summer and diminutive boss Andy Hessenthaler will be hoping that by signing non-league success stories like Danny Ked well (AFC Wimbledon) will be enough to push the Gills one step further than their play-off spot last year. Hot striking prospect Adam Birchall, signed from Hessenthaler’s former club Dover, is already facing a 6 month lay off with knee ligament damage, which will leave the Priestfield club on the look out for another ‘Cody MacDonald’ type player from the loan market.

Southend will enter the new season hoping to gain the consistency that saw the play-offs elude them last year. Shrimpers boss Paul Sturrock has made several signings to complement last seasons top performers Antony Grant and Barry Corr. City will once again travel to Roots Hall on a Friday night (Decemeber) and will host the Essex club, again on a Friday night, in April.

Torquay boss Martin Ling will want his side to go one better this year to soar into League 1. In order to replace target man Chris Zebroski the Gulls have signed former Morecambe hitman Rene Howe, and have strengthened their midfield with the signing of left-sided trickster Ian Morris (Scunthorpe). City travel to the English Riviera in mid-February (Brrrr…) and host the Gulls at VP in early October.

Doing the right thing on the price of football

Q. What do you get if you travel 630 miles to watch your club play at Valley Parade?
A. After the sixty odd pounds you will put in your tank for petrol – a bill for £27.80 each.

Or at least that is what today’s cost of football survey tells us with City coming top of the League Two list of expensive days out.

A list that is – well – not right at all. The vast majority of people who go to a game at Valley Parade will be using the cheapest season tickets in professional football to watch the club and while a pie and a pint might set you back a bob or two the cost of getting into the ground – for most – is superb value.

The BBC’s figures show walk ups – to use the vernacular Mark Lawn did when talking about the 1,000 – 2,000 people who come to Valley Parade for a game who do not have season tickets including the supporters alluded to in the opening paragraph who would have travelled up from Torquay to watch the Gulls play City.

The same price would be paid for a guy who walked 630 meters from Bradford city centre on a Saturday afternoon and one wonders how often that happens. The door price at Valley Parade – over three times the season ticket cost – is expensive.

Need it be that way? BfB talked to Mark Lawn and he said that no one at Valley Parade had really considered bringing down the walk up price.

The pricing at Valley Parade is one of the things we can be genuinely proud of our club for. When times are hard for people Bradford City are not gouging into your pocket, they are showing a loyalty rarely afforded to fans in football. And they are doing the right thing.

Perhaps – in the interests of stability – City might look at the idea of the Price of Football survey and create their own shopping basket to tie the season ticket price at Valley Parade too. Football should cost the same as a trip to the cinema (currently VP is a bit cheaper), or a medium Pizza Hut Pizza, or three pints of bitter, or the average of these things. A built in escalator would stop the price of the season ticket falling behind inflation while underlining the message of cheaper tickets – that they align the price of football to other activities a person does.

And perhaps the walk up price should be the same. Tied to that figure with extra on top to reward people who commit their cash. If £7 is the cost of the City shopping basket then perhaps double it for walk ups. £14 is a more attractive proposition than £20.

That is fair, if old fashioned, thinking. A more modern and more radical approach would be to charge the same for both and to season ticket holders added value. Reductions on shirts, away travel, that sort of thing.

One doubts though that £6 – or £13 – difference will matter that much to the fan coming up from Torquay who obviously is following his or her club regardless of price. Those people deserve a medal for their commitment.

At the moment though the club is doing the right thing on pricing for season ticket holders and – if possible – it would be good to see them extend that where they can to walk ups. City are doing great things to keep football affordable for the fans who make the commitment to the club, it would be good to find a way to reward the most committed fans of other clubs, and set an example to the rest of the game as a way to do the right thing in football.

An ordinary Guy

On the surface at least, the arrival of Guy Branston to Valley Parade would go against Peter Jackson’s end-of-season aim to bring in players who truly care about Bradford City.

32-year-old Branston has played for 17 different clubs , and it’s difficult to avoid the term ‘journeyman’ when describing the distinctive-looking defender’s 400+ game career. It is exactly this profile of player – seemingly happy to play for any club and with no particular affection for the Bantams – that Jackson has talked of getting rid of. All of this is not a criticism of the manager or of this particular signing, but more a reflection of the realities that exist beyond nicely put sentiments.

As joint-Chairman Mark Lawn told the Telegraph & Argus in a somewhat duplicitous manner, City are not considered among the favourites for promotion next season – further pushing them down the pecking order when attempting to attract players. With finances also tighter than the previous season, the prospects of becoming wealthier would also appear lower at City compared to other clubs. Still a big club for sure, among the highest crowds in the division yes; but City are not necessarily so special when viewed externally through transfer targets’ eyes.

So as laudable as the principle of only bringing in players who are desperate to play for this club is, it’s not a strategy that will see the better available players appear on the Valley Parade pitch holding up a claret and amber scarf this summer. A big part of Jackson’s role is to sell the club to the players he wants, and to find common ground in the player and club’s ambition that can be realised by getting together. The signing of Ross Hannah is a good example of this. He had more attractive offers elsewhere, but the greater chance of first team football probably influenced his decision.

One wonders if the two-year contract Branston has received helped to sway him too. With his career almost over, the greater security a deal until 2013 offers is one few other clubs who might have been interested in his signature would have been prepared to offer. Despite talking up his Yorkshire background and desire to play for Jackson, uprooting from Torquay is a big deal and would undoubtedly been less appealing if there was a chance he’d be out of work a year from now.

Both the signings of Hannah and Branston represent an element of risk for different reasons. Hannah is unproven at this level, and the fact he will probably be looked upon as a key player next season could hinder the club’s efforts if he fails to make an impact. Just like a year ago with Peter Taylor, in Branston Jackson has signed a player on a longer contract than his own. As much as he complained about the squad he is stuck with from Taylor, it’s not hard to envisage a successor a year from now grumbling about Jackson’s players in a similar manner.

The reality of the situation – especially bearing in mind the tighter resources – is that Jackson will be like every other City manager in that some of his summer signings will be good and some will prove disappointing. The ratio of good to bad is likely to define how well the season goes, just as the summer recruitment efforts of Taylor last year proved.

So we welcome Branston to the club knowing that he is not some world-beater who will dramatically improve the club, but a lower league player with different strengths and weaknesses that we’ll get to know over the coming months. At some clubs, such as Torquay last season, he has done very well. At others, such as at his previous club Burton, he was less popular among supporters. His previous spell at Sheffield Wednesday will have provided him experience of dealing with the expectations of a big crowd, something which Lawn has identified as a key quality needed in players next season.

Such ordinariness though is a fact of City’s circumstances, and is not something to feel negative about. In recent years so many new signings have come with great expectations and failed to deliver that the idea of believing Branston is anything but a human being with some flaws seems foolish (yet in the past we’ve all been guilty of overlooking this fact in new arrivals). On paper he looks an ideal signing for a club looking to improve on its lowest league position for 40 years, and his imperfections have to be accepted and worked around because recruiting such a type of player is our place in English football.

An ordinary Guy, for an ordinary football club.

BfB watches the play off finals: Part one, Stevenage v Torquay United

45 minutes before the League Two play off final was due to start, it was announced kick off would be delayed by 15 minutes due to both sets of supporters struggling to get up the M6. It was just one of a number of indications over the unsuitability of Old Trafford as the venue for this showpiece occasion.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course, and the booking of Manchester United’s home – with the Football League forced to find an alternative venue when their Wembley booking was torn up due to make way for the lucrative UEFA Champions League Final being staged in London – was made months before the play off line up was confirmed. But the 269 miles Torquay fans had to travel and 185 mile journey for Stevenage supporters meant Old Trafford was hardly an appropriate neutral venue for everyone involved.

And as the team’s walked out 15 minutes later than planned, the number of empty seats outranked those with occupants by some 6 to 1. The 76,000 capacity Old Trafford has just 11,484 attendees, as both clubs surely rue how many of the town’s floating supporters had elected to watch the game at home on TV rather than getting up extra early today.

Seeing Old Trafford so under-utilised only throws up more regret from a Bradford City point of view too. Of course we were nowhere near getting into the play offs this season, but – aside from the basement division’s promoted top three and the two teams involved today – every set of League Two supporters in the land were today wishing they could swap shoes with Torquay or Stevenage. 15 years on from City’s 2-0 victory over Notts County at Wembley, where over 30,000 Bradfordians amassed down South, one can’t help but wonder how much fuller Old Trafford would have looked today with City’s presence.

And what an advantage tens of thousands of our supporters could have offered the players compared to the 5,000 Torquay and Stevenage each took today.

Alas it was not to be for us, again. And viewed on Valley Parade evidence it seems Torquay will be clear winners today. Their 3-0 victory over us some seven weeks ago may have been aided by injury and contract issues that left us with without a right back, but the manner Paul Buckle’s men had zipped the ball around suggested a team on the brink of something special. We saw Stevenage last August, in one of the season’s strangest occasions. An unconvincing 1-0 victory over the newly-promoted visitors was infamously greeted by boos at the final whistle. It didn’t feel clever at the time, but viewed in the context of how both sides’ campaigns went the reaction now seems astonishing.

Yet Stevenage start much brighter this afternoon, attacking an anxious Torquay down both flanks with Darius Charles catching the eye out wide and Stacey Long probing in the centre. They create a couple of early half chances that cause Gulls defender Guy Branston into some timely blocks, while Charles heads over a glorious chance. Stevenage’s always lively supporters maintain the dale cavese chant, out-singing their counterparts.

Torquay gradually come more into it, despite star player Chris Zebroski looking somewhat below par on the right hand flank. On the opposite side Jake Robinson is in the thick of the action, befitting a man who has dominated much of Torquay’s headlines this season.

Robinson, you may remember, began the campaign with a hat trick against City for Shrewsbury. In late January he was loaned to Torquay, and the paperwork caused headaches for both clubs. First United played him before he was eligible – eventually leading to a one-point deduction. Shrewsbury, amazingly, failed to prevent Robinson from playing against them; an administrative error which came back to bite when Jake netted twice in a 5-0 romp for Torquay over Town. He also played twice against Shrewsbury as Torquay overcame them in the play off semis.

Just before half time Stevenage got the goal they deserved through a long range effort from the impressive midfielder John Mousinho. It opens up the game more and Branston almost equalises when he heads wide from a corner, but as the half time whistle goes he knows his team must improve.

There is a renewed determination as they attack towards their fans, with Zebroski forcing a good save from Chris Day and then Billy Kee messing up a great chance when played through one-on-one. Stevenage, who have built a reputation for playing physical football and possessing strong levels of fitness (training sessions last 10-5 each day), seem happy to soak up pressure and play on the counter attack. From a rare set piece, an unmarked Darren Murphy heads wide when he should make it 2-0.

It doesn’t look like Torquay’s day, a feeling reinforced when Robinson’s long range belter smacks the cross bar. The longer the half goes on, the rarer Gulls attacks become and the game seems decided before the four minutes stoppage time are signalled. They may be rattling around in an empty stadium, but the roar of Stevenage fans at full time is still impressive in volume.

Stevenage probably haven’t had the credit they deserve this season – the play off semi final win over Accrington widely put down to Stanley underperforming; while it can be argued Torquay didn’t turn up today, causing the defeat – but they will probably cope better in League One next year than last season’s play off victors, Dagenham & Redbridge. And there provide interesting ideas for others to consider – how many other teams will next season train until 5pm?

But in addition to feeling jealous at Stevenage celebrating, for us City fans the day ends back where it started in considering long distances. Next season’s League Two is already much more southern-based, so for the shorter journey of two clubs – Stevenage – to go up and Torquay to stay down is disappointing.

305 miles from Valley Parade to Plainmoor, though the distance between City and Stevenage is now much further than we’d ever have expected 10 months ago.

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.

The supporting act

Sometimes in football you are the centre of attention. Sometimes all eyes are on you. Your game, your result, your players, your Headlines the next day.

You have signed Stanley Victor Collymore and he is making his debut against your local rivals, or you have a goalkeeping crisis and the same match up sees Neville Southall playing.

You have appointing the former England skipper as manager – starting with a TV game – or you are playing in the Sunday sun for a place in the Premier League.

These times you are the subject of attention. The be all, the end all. Leeds United, Millwall or Wolves in these cases are reduced to being a supporting act in your drama.

Jake Robinson played while an unregistered player for Torquay United in a game with Hereford United in February and as a result the Gulls were fined a point.

The South Coast club chase a play-off place and losing points – they will appeal the decision no doubt – is not helping that aim nor is losing games. They arrive at Valley Parade as the main player.

Will they see the world – or the footballing aithorities at least – as against them and compound a bad week with a performance that befits a team in sulk or will they arrive determined to mark back the points lost with a display that turns what would be a creditable draw into a win?

Focus is on them, attention is on them, and we are but a supporting act in their drama.

Which is perhaps no bad thing. City’s season drama seems to be coming to a close. The win over Macclesfield Town has seen the Bantams start looking up the table rather than at the relegation places. City have one of the two games in hand left in the league with the other being Bury’s game with Burton Albion and it would take unprecidented achievement from the bottom half of the division to put the Bantams in trouble now.

The credit for that being laid at Peter Jackson’s door. One can talk all one likes about the fitness of Wayne Jacobs and Junior Lewis to have taken on the caretaker role and one could make a case that they would have done an adiquate job (and cheaper job, that point perhaps being of significance in a week when City negotiated on the basis of having no money) but Jackson has done the job put in front of him and credit is due to him for that.

Credit to him and to the players who responded to him. Jake Speight’s Twitter feed is a curious thing but his statement to Zesh Rehman – that things had improved under the new gaffer – said much about the problems that preceeded Jackson.

Jackson’s successes at City have conincided with his inclusion of Jon Worthington – a former charge at Huddersfield (perhaps they both wear black and white scaves when they are at Town games? Back to Twitter again) – and one who has made himself undropable in the Bantams side.

A ball winner and play stopper a player like Worthington provides a level of double cover for the widemen and full backs able to aniticpate and break up attacking moves on the flanks in addition to the need for wide men to track back. The Bantams struggle for goals but contrary to Paul’s opinions in the week I beieve that if a club are winning matches then they are scoring enough goals.

Worthington is undoubtedly not City’s highest earner and as the Bantams look at negotiations with Gordon Gibb around the cost of Valley Parade it is worth noting that it is not the lack of funds – but rather the inability to make best use of those funds – which have held the club back in the last few years.

City go into the game without James Hanson – injured at Macclesfield – but with the possibility of Tommy Doherty making a return following his operation. Jon McLaughlin should keep goal behind Lewis Hunt, Luke Oliver, Steve Williams and one of Robbie Threllfall and Luke O’Brien. Gareth Evans on the right and one of Leon Osbourne and Kevin Ellison will take the left hand role. Worthington and Doherty or Tom Ademeyi will take central midfield.

Hanson’s injury is expected to give Michael Flynn a role up front with Scott Dobie. Not that the names in City’s side really matter. We are cast in a supporting role on Saturday. The game is Torquay’s win or Torquay’s loss.

Macclesfield Town game off

City’s trip to Macclesfield Town has been called off owing to a waterlogged pitch which is captured by this photograph from Shane Duff who tweeted “Can’t believe they made us travel. Back to Bradford for training.”

The Moss Rose Ground has been subject to heavy rain over night which has left the pitch unplayable.

Silkmen chairman Mike Rance hit a disappointed note saying

We’ve been pumping water from the corners for the best part of two hours, but the water levels are so high that is was always going to be a losing battle. I understand Bury and Altrincham are also off and such has been the downpour I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more matches get called off.

Should Barnet win at Northampton and Stockport win at Torquay then Macclesfield would drop into the bottom two with Burton Albion – due to play Bury – put at the bottom of the division having played eight fewer games than Stockport. That is 17% of the season – including a game at City – which Burton have to play.

City will drop below either Lincoln City or Hereford United depending on the result of the game between those teams who play today but no further leaving the Bantams 19th going into next week’s home game with Peter Taylor’s former club Wycombe Wanderers.

City could move up a place after Torquay United (erm… no, Hereford) field unregistered player

Sometimes mistakes happen. To err is to be human.

This article talks about Torquay fielding a player against Hereford which could cause them problems. The player – of course – played against Torquay for Hereford.

So Mother, Father, kindly disregard this letter.

Wrong

Bradford City could move up a place in League Two after the news that Paul Buckle’s Torquay United fielded an unregistered player could see the Devon side fined three points.

Striker Jake Robinson, who is on loan from Shrewsbury Town, is the player in question and after scoring last night against Hereford it was discovered that the player should not have been on the field having not been registered in time.

The Gulls have offered a mea culpa but are expected to be given the standard penalty in such situations – a fine of three points – which would move them from thirty three to thirty and thus put them under the Bantams.

File under “Take it where you can get it.”

Football viewed from afar

The thing about seeing City twice a year is that you spend the rest of the time trying to guess what the team are like.

You read match reports and watch highlights and your head makes up the rest of the game. You try to guess why the team does well or badly. You add the bits you read to the bits you see and you try see what makes the team good or bad from a long way away.

You get to see the odd game. Torquay is not that far from where we live and so you turn up all happy because you are getting to see the team you used to support week in week out but now you only see a couple of times and when you do you make sure you know all the names of the players and what people think of them, how they look on the Football League Show but seeing them play is different.

Wearing all white they look different to the claret team that kept me up watching Sky Sports News to see the winner against Forest or the one who had struggled to a win last week. I was expecting that kind of dour grinding out of a result. It didn’t take long to change.

I would have thought before today that John McLaughlin was a much more confident keeper than he looked when he stood stock still when tiny Gills winger Danny Stevens ran from the middle of the pitch and put the ball past him but he isn’t. He looked raw and not really the player who had demanded a chance for first team football like you’d believe from reading the talk about City.

Lots of supporting City from down here is about reading. You read the club’s website and you read the Telegraph and Argus. You read Fred Bloggs Bantams, BfB and Bantams Fan. You read Claret and Banter and The Official Message Board and you join in but you know you are cut off from it all because when you watch Zesh Rehman who you are led to believe is the worst sort of rubbish you think you must be watching a different player and when you see the so called bearded wonder Tommy Doherty you can’t see what people see in him at all.

I wanted to see Jake Speight today to see if you could see the horns and tail and I wanted to see more of Luke O’Brien because I liked his hustle last year. Louis Moult was supposed to be the great white hope. He hardly got noticed.

Rehman came on cause Robbie Threlfall was sent off after ten minutes for a handball that was caused by a lot of confusion and seemed a bit harsh but when you only see City a couple of times a year and they have already gone a goal down and conceded a penalty and had a red card then you think that everything is unfair. McLaughlin saved the penalty and then made a couple of other great stops. It is funny to see a footballer like McLaughlin who’s confidence lags behind his ability. Normally it is the other way around.

McLaughlin could have been at fault for the second goal when Chris Zebroski seemed to back the ball into the net but it was hard to tell in the melee. It seemed that the City keeper needed a drink of what they people who watch City drink. They assume that the Bantams are great and just need to play that way, McLaughlin can play great but doesn’t seem to know it.

City never looked like winning the game after the sending off although last year’s hero Gareth Evans looked good and James Hanson was good having two headers which could have been the first the home team conceded in the last fifty years or something. Three wins out of three for them so far. Taylor went to a wing backs formation taking off the disappointing beardeo and the fact that we were in the game as long as we were was something but I was glad for once to not have to be driving all the back to Bradford cause there was not very much to cheer you up.

Its funny but some of the City fans don’t want cheering up or the only way they do want cheering up is by Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes taking what they call drastic action. Over a drink before there was talk about Steve Cotterill and how he should have been appointed rather than Peter Taylor and how much of a difference that would have made. After there were more grumbles but no one really knows what drastic action is including me.

At the game some people got aggressive and there were boos and jeers. This always upsets me cause when I left Bradford I thought that the thing about only going to away games from then on would be that you only got the great support that we had at Tranmere 5-4. Not like that now.

The joint chairmen are in a funny position now. They gave the fans who wanted a change of manager a change of manager when Taylor was appointed so how can they justify not doing it again? Lawn and Rhodes gave the decision making at City over the the people who moaned the most and if those people are moaning again why not do as they say? Apart from the fact that we are three games into the season and have got what almost everyone agrees good manager. You have to wonder how long it is before stories about how nice the suits City wear are not enough to stop the fans from looking at the City board after changing manager time and time again but never changing fortunes.

So I’ll go back to reading (and writing) and wonder what state the Bantams will be in the next time I see them. We used to say it couldn’t be much worse but it always can and even when down and struggling today it never seemed that Taylor could do much other than make sure his players kept their heads and hung in the game. Last year Evans got us a bit of luck in the last minute and today we were in with a chance of that for a long time. It wasn’t to be and it looked unlikely for most of the match.

On Tuesday perhaps Speight will be in the team to play Preston North End and I’ll be back to following City from afar. Funny it is easier to see what is going wrong from miles away or at least it seems to be.

Idealism departs and the bigger picture shrinks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A tough trip down South

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

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

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

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

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

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

The excuse

Michael Flynn has spoken about how he believes that the new Bradford City manager needs to put some rockets up backsides at the club. Flynn said

We need somebody with a big character who won’t take any messing. Some of the lads might feel a bit too comfortable and a few need a rocket up their backside.

Comfortable is a curious thing at a football club. One the one hand one wants the players to feel relaxed and at ease to allow themselves the freedom to express, to make mistakes without being pilloried, to be able to minimise defeats and move on from them however when the players slide too far along this scale of comfortability then they become complacent and defeats are not felt as keenly as they should be. If the blame for a loss can be put elsewhere – Referees, pitches, the quality of the opposition, injures – then it allows the players who retain self-belief but should that blame be constantly deflected then the players will no longer behave as if they are responsible for the performances.

Certainly Stuart McCall favoured the pattern of giving his players he room to breathe and could oft be heard criticising officials for the plight of his players. For what it is worth I agree with McCall that it was – in no small way – the fault of Referees making a string of atrocious decisions the apologies for which must have rung in Stuart’s ears when he heard them from men in the middle the Monday he left the club but I doubt that were I Bradford City manager I would have allowed the players to be left off the hook so easily.

Paul Buckle – the manager of Torquay United – would have the same thought. After his side had out-played City but lost two two late and unlucky goals from the Bantams he offered his players no place to hide saying that they should have done more to win the game. Since then results have not improved – one draw and three defeats from four – and Buckle’s position at the club is questioned. The response he was looking for from his players in not engaging in what could be called “excuse culture” he has not had.

A trip up to Cardiff sees Dave Jones and his team sitting in fifth place in the Championship despite a trip to Newcastle’s St James Park which saw the Bluebird beat 5-1. After the game Jones would hear not a word against his players talking about long trips, injuries and suspensions having taken a chunk out of his side who lost to a great Magpie’s performance. Jones would not allow his players to take any responsibility and a few days later they were back to winning ways 2-0 over Peterborough United.

Two managers, two approaches and the converse which one might expect with Jones’s side doggedly in the promotion hunt and Buckle under pressure. If City were in the position Jones’s has Cardiff in would excuses be a problem? We are in the position Buckle’s side is in, would we accept his strident denials of any external responsibilities? Would Michael Flynn’s kick up the arse aimed at Torquay not be seen just as kicking the players when they are down? Perhaps.

Famously after Wigan Athletic’s opening day defeat to one squeaked goal to nil against Chelsea Jose Mourinho shook Paul Jewell’s hand and said to him “I hope you stay up.” Jewell firmly returned the shake and replied “Yeah, I hope you do too.”

Jewell would not allow his Wigan players to consider themselves on a different level to any of the other teams in the top flight but when Arsenal stole a win from the Latics Jewell was quick to blame the officials. Jewell understood that “excuse culture” is nothing of the sort. Excusing the players – or not doing – is a tool to keep the pressure off the squad when one wants it to be and not in other times.

Sven Goran Erikkson revitalised Ruud Gullit’s career by accusing the midfielder of having “glass knees” during their time together at Sampdoria. Gullit’s parting shot at Sven as he left to return to AC Milan went along the lines of “I showed you” to which the Swede explained his admiration of the Dutchman and his desires to be showed up by eight superb months of football. Excuses are a way of balancing the responsibilities a player takes and good manager’s know when to use them and when not to.

Who knows what approach the next manager of Bradford City will take towards the linguist tools of his role. Perhaps he will be like Buckle in reaction to Stuart’s excessive excuses and perhaps he will get the same results as the Torquay boss or perhaps he will strike a perfect balance letting his players feel they can control their football destinies but shielding them from outrageous misfortune.

Either way it is worth remembering that these “excuses” are tools of the manager and when employed by a Jewell giving his players the belief that they can compete with anyone or a Jones telling his players to move onto the next game without worry are at least as much about the mentality inside the club as outside it.

Smash and grab at Torquay

When the fixtures for the 2009/2010 season were published last June, myself and some fellow Bradford City supporters highlighted Torquay away on 30 January 2010 as a game that we’d go as Plainmoor was a ground that none of us had visited before. So the 30th January started at 7am with myself and three friends leaving West Yorkshire to travel south towards Devon. It was nice that one of the other three lads offered to drive as I’d driven us to Exeter last season. By 9.15am we were in a Tesco cafe, just off the M42, eating an eight item English breakfast with free toast. Our driver was happy as he was the only one with a Tesco Clubcard so he collected all of the points (which is was what we were hoping for come 4.55pm that afternoon).

After a relatively easy journey down the M5, we arrived in Torquay just after 12.30pm. After checking into our accommodation, the four of us met the fifth member of our group who had travelled by train from Maidenhead. We headed towards the town centre but after speaking with other City supporters and some of the locals, we decided to get a taxi to the ground. As we had to wait 20 minutes for a taxi, it was into The Clocktower pub for a swift pint. So, onto Plainmoor and after visiting their excellent social bar, Boots and Laces, we finally went through the turnstile at about 2.59pm. My initial estimation for the away following was about 300 although I’d not realised until the final whistle that there were some City supporters sat in a small section of the main stand.

So we all started to point out who was in the staring eleven and it soon came to light that McCall had decided to opt for a 4-5-1 formation with Michael Boulding as the lone striker. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before Torquay scored following a corner which was only half cleared to the Torquay defender Robertson who struck a neat right foot shot to the delight of the home supporters. The remainder of the first half seemed to go very quickly and we played far too many long balls which were the wrong tactics with such a small man playing upfront on his own.

Credit to McCall and Jacobs though as the ineffective Brandon was taken off along with the unsure looking Williams (I have to say that I thought that Williams was brilliant when he first came into the team and I hope that he can re-discover his early season form) at half time and they were replaced by Gareth Evans and Zesh Rehman. We reverted to a 4-4-2 formation and although Torquay started the second half brightly with captain for the day Ramsden clearing off the line, we slowly began to get a foothold in the game. Daley started to get more possession of the ball and as a team we started to realise that we had to get the ball into wide positions if we were going to cause the Torquay defence any problems. A point should be made about the referee, Mr East, who seemed to get numerous decisions wrong. An example for me was when he booked the Torquay striker Zebroski for time wasting when he infact passed the ball back to Luke O’Brien for a throw in.

With about 15 minutes remaining, McCall finally brought Thorne on who had been warming up for about 20 minutes. Off went Neilson so we now had Thorne, Evans, Boulding and Daley on the pitch. And about five minutes after Thorne coming on, we equalised when Evans scored his first goal since November following a corner taken by Ramsden. At this point in the match, I think that most City supporters would have settled for a point which was probably slightly harsh on Torquay. However, there was one final sting in the tale in the four minutes of added on time when Thorne flicked on a Ramsden free kick and there was Evans from about three yards out to score his second goal of the match and send the City supporters inside the ground into ecstasy!

When Mr East blew his whistle to indicate the end of the match myself and four friends were shell-shocked. I don’t think that any of us could believe that we had actually won the match having played so poorly in the first half and been outplayed for the first part of the second half. We just stood on the mini terrace applauding the players and then watched as the City supporters exited the ground. McLaughlan and a couple of the other subs were now on the otherwise empty pitch going through their exercises so I decided to chant “there’s only one John McLaughlan” much to the amusement of my four friends and I think to McLaughlan himself.

So, an evening was spent in Torquay consuming a curry in the rather good Maha-Bharat and talking about how we got three points over a pint or two of the excellent Otter beer in the recommended Hole in the Wall pub.

Another tale

Being in Birmingham and having no extra cash, again I was at home during the Torquay game when City trailed by a goal coming into the last ten minutes. Apparently the kids rule the TV around final score time every week, so I’d been following it online, then I went to make the tea and turned off the computer, hoping against hope for some good news from 5Live.

I check the old paper in the recycling, are Torquay really 4th from bottom? This leads to inevitable question, If 4th bottom are better then where does it leave us? Check clock on cooker 4:35, that leaves us 15 maybe 20 minutes maxium to get something, draw would be ok, better than nothing I guess.

Then they tell us Torquay 1- Bradford 1 (Always Bradford by the way, never Bradford City, has the rest of the world forgotten our full name?)

Arms aloft, almost laughing in disbelief, we never score equalisers/winners late on but I’m a bit happier and the wife knows that she’ll have a slightly less depressed husband if the scores stay the same.

By the way, the delay between the Torquay goal appearing online and 5Live telling us of the goal is a good 5 minutes, so again I’m thinking there was probably more time left in the match for City to find that elusive winner. Anyway nowt else is heard from Plainmoor. We go to Sports Report – de duh de duh de duh de duh etc – “No! The main headlines of the day aren’t that Liverpool beat Bolton or Tottenham drop points at Birmingham, just get the the results!”

I’m thinking T for Torquay, more or less the last result in England to be announced, slowly James Alexander Gordon plods through the scores in that same familiar way he has for may well be ever…

The Battle of Trafalgar Final, British Fleet 1 French Navy 0

The way James Alexander Gordon says the score means you already know the result before he gets to the away team, this pattern has seeped in through the years, so I know the routine, when a team loses the way he says their score sounds like an old headmaster talking disapprovingly to a naughty schoolboy, “Oh dear I am disappointed, you must try harder next week”

Finally, the most important score is coming around.

Then it happens: Torquay United 1 (As he speaks, my thought process is, hang on! that isn’t a draw tone of voice, and it sure ain’t a Torquay have pulled a result out of the bag voice, it’s the oh dear must try better voice, meaning there is only one possibility remaining) Bradford City 2.

It is moments like this that drag me right back to why I love this team, can’t help it, it’s that long awaited hit which does it. Every week recently are the questions of why I still follow this team from a City I left as a 12 year old nearly 23 years ago, and watching them sink over the last decade has been cruel, but I can’t pull myself away and never will.

So thanks Gareth, repeated viewings of your goals conclude they are as ugly as hell but again so beautiful.

Out of a clear blue sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can they?

A professional always gets the job done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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