Speight to exit City

Jake Speight is expected to sign for Dean Saunders’ Wrexham today completing a single season at Valley Parade and allowing Peter Jackson to continue building a new squad.

Speight signed for Peter Taylor’s Bantam for the princely sum of £25,000 but soon after was convicted of an assault charge he had not informed the club about.

This infraction set Speight’s career at the club off negatively and from that, for some supporters, he never recovered. The lack of goals – and chances – through the side also weighed on the player although one might point to his willingness to work hard and cover ground on the field as a mitigation of those problems.

Whatever the failings of Bradford City last season they were not owing to a lack of effort from Jake Speight.

Speight drops down a division to join former City striker Saunders’ side for an undisclosed fee. Ross Hannah takes Speight’s place in the hopes of City fans that the next strikers will be the right striker.

Four five what?

He looked down at the ground. There appeared to be no attempt to pass the blame or even highlight the virtues of the goalkeeper who’d blocked his shot. He should have scored and how he and his side could live to regret that moment.

Barely a minute later he’s celebrating though, two of his team mates had charged forward and ganged up on the exposed full back. They worked the ball effortlessly past him and sent over a low cross that’s tapped home. The villain a minute ago becomes the hero, 35,000 fans watching want to strangle him and many of their neighbours are quietly chortling as a former player of their’s strikes the blow.

Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, former Bantam, has just struck the second goal of Carlisle’s eye brow-raising first leg Play Off victory over Leeds United on Monday. The Cumbrian side were classed as underdogs having only won one of their last eight games, but were now in enviable position with 30 minutes and a home leg to follow. Leeds would pull a goal back right at the end and win impressively at Brunton Park three days later, but the tie had not been as straightforward as the Elland Road club might have assumed.

If the first leg result was unexpected, it was the approach of Carlisle which really surprised. There was no sitting back, concentrating on keeping the game tight and hitting Leeds on the break. They attacked from the first whistle, Bridge-Wilkinson unlucky with a shot clipping the post early on. Knocking the ball around confidently, they looked threatening every time they went forward.

Leeds are a good League One side and had plenty of chances, Carlisle keeper Kieran Westwood was in stunning form, but the Sky Sports stat on the half hour mark that the last five minutes had featured 74% possession to Carlisle showed just who was running the game. They scored soon after and, with Leeds expected to come out firing, seemed to up their efforts even more after the break. Bridge-Wilkinson missed that glorious chance but was soon mobbed by team mates after getting it right soon after.

The formation Carlisle employed for their attacking approach? 4-5-1. It’s something that City manager Stuart McCall, who is said to be taking in most Play Off games with an eye on new signings, will have noted. He came to Valley Parade last summer with fresh ideas, one of which included the aim of City being adaptable enough to play 4-5-1 in difficult looking away games. A decent pre-season draw against Burnley and narrow Carling Cup defeat to Wolves seemed to confirm it was a way his players could play.

Yet to some City supporters, 4-5-1 is a formation to provoke anger. Stuart has tried to play this way in other games during the season, with limited success. The formation is viewed as too negative and it’s argued City are playing for a draw. When Stuart opted for 4-5-1 at bottom club Wrexham in January steam was apparently coming out of people’s ears. The message from these supporters was to stick to 4-4-2 and stop being defensive.

They have a point about not been too cagey, but the success of only playing the traditional 4-4-2 formation in recent years is questionable. Omar Daley, Ben Muirhead and Bobby Petta are just three of the inconsistent wingers who’ve frustrated. 4-4-2 relies on wingers bombing down the flanks and getting in good crosses; but while there’s been several memorable days it’s worked, there’s also been several exasperating occasions where it hasn’t.

The secret behind the way Carlisle and I believe Stuart attempted to play, with 4-5-1, is to get midfielders charging forward from deep and causing the opposition problems in picking them up. The MK Dons played this system at Valley Parade last month and our defence struggled to mark the runners. It also needs a good defensive midfielder who can sit back and allow his four colleagues to take turns at charging forward at will.

The key, which is where Stuart has struggled, is the right personnel. Chris Lumsdon did an outstanding job for Carlisle at Elland Road by sitting back and allowing others to get forward, while Bridge-Wilkinson and Hackney particularly caught the eye with some killer forward runs. These players won’t be arriving at Valley Parade this summer but a Stuart-esqe defensive midfielder and attacking midfielder, or two, hopefully will.

Despite the fantastic opening hour at Elland Road, it all went wrong for Carlisle. For the final 30 minutes they were guilty of sitting too deep and holding out for 2-0, the late goal they conceded shifting the momentum. In the second leg they played 4-5-1 at home but were outclassed by a Leeds side who stuck rigidly to their 4-4-2, without playing any traditional wingers.

On this evidence a defensive formation to protect a lead it is not; but, if Stuart wants to adopt the 4-5-1 attacking principles of the MK Dons and Carlisle in away games next season, I’ll be one supporter at least who won’t be unhappy.

The Medley Moment

The days have past since the blast of Luke Medley’s left foot that change the course of City’s 2-1 win over Wrexham – probably more when all is told – and allowed Stuart McCall to taste victory at Valley Parade as a manager for the first time but the taste in the air is just as sweet.

Medley has been talking about his first kick – nice to have your first kick be one of the best goals at Valley Parade in years – and McCall has been speaking of relief now the pressure of hunting the first win is over and everyone else has fallen into line, rightly so. Like the first springs of love if you can not enjoy an eighteen year old lashing in a debut goal with his first kick then you can not enjoy anything.

Medley’s goal came from an impressive pass down the left flank by Kyle Nix whose contribution to the first win of the season can not be under-estimated. Pulled from Sheffield United by McCall Nix lost the headlines but did much to convince of his worth coming in on the left flank and getting to grips with the lack of width at Valley Parade to use the ball well pushing inside to the hardworking midfield of Eddie Johnson and Paul Evans. Evans was once again Imperious. The best player in League Two wears Bradford City’s number four shirt.

Nix’s ready supply of creative movement balanced out Eddie Johnson’s hard working but ultimately unprobing midfield work that is a worry. Johnson’s graft deserved a reward and as Nix tried to beat one too many bodies on the edge of the Wrexham box at the start of a second half that followed the Bantams best of the first twenty then even run of the last forty-five Johnson snapped onto the lose ball and hit hard and definitely into the lower left hand corner of the keeper’s goal. Johnson – like Andrew Cooke before him – had his goals celebrated for the obvious effort he puts in. Any player who works that hard deserves a reward.

Conversely what is to be said of Omar Daley the most enjoyable dribbler one could hope to see but often found wanting when pointing in the opposite direction. McCall obviously wants Daley’s attacking flair and more often than not – although not always – Daley does enough coming back to merit his inclusion but rather unfortunately for all when the winger is required to track back he is rather ineffectual in his efforts. Exhibit A is the noodle limbed wafted at a ball crossed by former Bantam Michael Proctor to another Neil Roberts who headed an equaliser. There is a call to be made on Daley and one suspects that McCall might accept his deficiencies at the back for his forward play and – for once – I’m not sure that is entirely the wrong idea should Daley maintain a level of effort.

Defensively City worried over Darren Williams – who will miss four weeks injured after falling in the first half – but a shorn Simon Ainge looks to be made of the right stuff for the step up and impressed at right back. The back five look anything but uncrackable and one hopes that long term unification could bring more solidity. Perhaps one is worrying over nothing, Donovan Ricketts was rarely troubled.

McCall will be troubled by the ratio of chances to goals – Barry Conlon works very hard but never looks like finding the goal – but will hope that the likes of Medley can make do until a rhythm is found and his team looks on the brink comes of age.

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