If Parkinson is the Special One if City only get one point?

As time ticked out on Bradford City’s 1-1 draw with Walsall at Valley Parade Andy Halliday – playing right wing – stood defensively containing the visitors left back preventing him from playing the ball forward.

Play the ball forward – or beat Halliday with the ball – and the Saddlers would have a chance to create a chance. And from a chance they could turn the point time would give them into three. And that could not happen.

Likewise had Halliday tried to win the ball then City could have fashioned a chance to do the same but to do so risked losing position on the field.

As it was Halliday kept his man on the flank and the clock ran down.

Is Parkinson a special one?

Have no doubt, dear reader, that Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City side against Walsall will not have returned to the dressing room to an angry manager. Parkinson will not have blistered the walls with shouting nor will he have been furious at chances missed. In fact the 1-1 with Walsall is exactly how Parkinson would want his Bradford City team to play.

Of course he would have wanted more goals to be scored and fewer conceded. He would have wanted Francois Zoko to make more of the chance that fell his way in the second half, would have wanted Billy Knott to have confidence with his right foot when given the option to shoot with that, would have wanted Rory McArdle to not lose his location and head the ball cleanly seven yards the wrong side of the goal post. He would have wanted all those things.

And he would have wanted Billy Clarke to have run back to replace Andy Halliday when Halliday gave the left hand side of the Walsall attack too much space that allowed Anthony Forde to cross and Jordy Hiwula-Mayifuila to head in after slipping away from the otherwise excellent Gary McKenzie on his début. We all wanted those things.

But we have learnt Parkinson’s method over the last 3 years, 177 days of his time at Bradford City and nothing suggests that he would unbalance his team to try take all three points when he had one. The failures that prevented City winning were in execution for Parkinson, but not in the planning.

Which raises an interesting question for City fans to consider.

At 2-1 down to Chelsea Phil Parkinson did not send his Bradford City team to play an all-out attack, nor did he at 1-0 down to Leeds, but those wins came from a combination of maintaining City’s position in the game (which is to say, not conceding more) and taking chances that presented themselves.

One can – and I have – criticise that approach as not doing enough to commit to winning a game against opposition who aimed to draw at Valley Parade but one cannot deny that the overall approach for games does not differ between matches.

Stuart McCall – for example – was fond of changing his team with the ebb and flow of the game. Chris Kamara was too. I would suggest that both McCall and Kamara would have looked at the Walsall equaliser as a signal to make attacking moves, bring on strikers and generally try to create a win.

And I found both managers created very exciting teams to watch. One recalls McCall’s City 2-0 down at Accrington Stanley only to win 3-2 following the introduction of Barry Conlon. Barry came on and caused chaos on the pitch that City benefited from massively.

One recalls the game at Addams Park Wycombe under Kamara were City went two down early on and Kamara brought on Carl Shutt to create a 253 which made for a massively unbalanced game which ended up as a cricket score in favour of Wycombe. At two down, Kamara thought, City were not going to win the game anyway so why not throw in some chaos and see what happens.

Parkinson is not a manager who enjoys adding chaos into games.

McCall or Kamara might have thrown another striker on at Chelsea, or today, and it might have worked. For Parkinson though staying in the game and working hard has worked.

But it has only worked at Bradford City and Colchester United. Supporters of Hull City and Charlton Athletic found Parkinson intractable and unadventurous and were largely glad when he left their clubs because of his tactics and approaches. At Valley Parade today he defended a 1-1 draw, and one doubts he would apologise for it.

If one is happy with Parkinson’s games at Chelsea, and at home to Leeds and Sunderland, then one is happy with the approach that created it then perhaps one just has curse bad luck today and regret that ill-fortune did not favour City today while accepting that other days it does.

Parkinson’s football is the application of pressure towards steady progress. To want him to be different is to want another manager.

Seven

The frustrations of the afternoon were obvious to all. With injuries to James Hanson, Filipe Morais, and Andrew Davies Phil Parkinson reverted to his 442 deploying Halliday on the right, Mark Yeates on the left and Billy Knott with Gary Liddle in midfield behind Jon Stead with Clarke playing removed from the front man. The result was a less pressing midfield that contained the game more.

Indeed Walsall seldom attacked through the middle and Liddle and Knott will reflect on a successful afternoon but Yeates was out of sorts on the flank and not involved enough to pick up the tempo of the game. Halliday was manful on the right. He was seven out of ten. Again.

The result was not so much a lack of creativity – chances came – as it was a misshape on the creativity. Stead held the ball up by fewer players ran past the forward line from midfield than had in previous games leaving him to pop the ball out from between his feet to anyone who might be near.

The supply from the flanks was sporadic. At one point Stephen Darby beat six men on a mazy dribble which was impressive but underlined the problem the players were finding. Without the reliable diagonal ball to to Hanson from McArdle City were less predictable but by virtue of that easier to play against. The paths to goal were improvised and Walsall’s backline stopped what they could. Dean Smith is a good manager and had his side well drilled.

But Smith, like Parkinson, hoped that what was created would tip the game his way but would rather not have lost. Walsall have not lost in eight away games and have their own trip to Wembley to plan for. City take up sixth place in League One.

It should have been a good day all round, but we have got used to better days than this. They are not long the days of milk and honey.

Parkinson has his thoughts on the bread and butter.

The Doc departs leaving Bradford City reflecting on lessons it never learns

Benito Carbone, David Hopkin, Paul McLaren and now Tommy Doherty. Players who have offered so much when originally signed by Bradford City; players who – for whatever reason – failed to live up to the expectations of others; players who left the club financially much worse off and looking somewhat foolish.

Tommy Doherty has today officially departed the Bantams, less than 12 months into a two-year deal. He is destined to go down in the club’s history as one of its poor signings. In many people’s eyes he failed to show the right attitude or application. For others though, the fault lies more with the club.

The Doc was City’s best paid player this season. A stella signing by manager Peter Taylor which probably prompted that ‘pre-season favourites’ tag the club has so badly failed to live up to. Many of us remembered his stunning performance at Valley Parade for Taylor’s Wycombe in February 2009. As he rocked up at Valley Parade, we licked our lips in anticipation of watching his superb passing ability over the coming months. The Bearded Wonder; the talisman; our own Paul Scholes.

But while the club spared no expense laying on a new playing surface that he could sweep the ball across, other pre-season plans – namely a new training ground demanded by Taylor – did not come to fruition. Let us not argue once more the effect this might have had on the season, but let us agree that – overall – it has been proven the foundations for this season were built upon sand. In money terms, Doherty was a significant investment for this club. But the infrastructure was lacking, hampering Taylor’s ability to get the desired return from his investment.

Doherty attempted to build up an understanding with new team mates on the same inadequate training pitch that Carbone and others struggled on. And rather than reach the heights enjoyed at other clubs, Doherty like others couldn’t live up to high expectations and in time became painted as a villain.

Worst of all, the club’s over-stretching in persuading such players to sign – instead of spending money in other key areas – keeps coming back to haunt it. Doherty may not have commanded the same level wage as Carbone; but, as they now struggle to pay their players on time and have offloaded the Irish midfielder a year early, it looks like a similar type of mistake.

Not that the club should be solely blamed for how disappointing Doherty’s City career proved. An injury picked up in pre-season refused to go away, and in each of his 21 Bantams appearances he was far from fully fit. Nevertheless his ability was there for all to see. At times he sprayed the ball around majestically, spotting runners and options that no one else in the ground – especially in the stands watching – had seen. As someone who enjoys watching teams pass the ball around with patience and skill (Spain in last year’s World Cup didn’t bore me, even if they did many others), for me it was a thrill to watch Doherty on the ball.

The problems, however, stemmed from the lack of players on his wavelength. With confidence especially low early in the season, it would be common to see Doherty pick up the ball deep and find no one was either embarking on a run or offering themselves as an option he could pick out. As we fans demanded he produce a defence-splitting pass, there would be growing frustration if his attempt to do so lead to possession being surrendered or the ball being worked backwards.

It all came to a head when Port Vale came to Valley Parade, early September. Having earlier produced some breathtaking passes as City tried to overturn a 1-0 deficit, momentum shifted back to Vale and Doherty lost the ball on a few occasions. Then a pass was played to him in a dangerous part of the pitch, and his chipped backpass to Jon McLaughlin allowed Justin Richards to race in and score a comically easy goal. The next time Doherty touched the ball, hundreds booed.

That afternoon probably sealed the type of relationship Doherty was to have with City fans. He was clearly angry to be treated in this way, and when he and club’s form picked up a few weeks later and Doherty was subbed late on to standing ovations in two consecutive games – Oxford and Bury – it was telling that he did not bother to clap supporters back or thank us for our support. On his return to Wycombe in November, he was sent off for an angry reaction to a challenge and again was clapped off by City fans. No response, no acknowledgment, no love for us it seemed.

A month later Doherty finally undertook an operation that he’d apparently needed pre-season, and that was to be the last we’d see of him playing for City. In its own way this hurried the departure of his manager, as the team’s style without their playmaker deteriorated drastically and it became increasingly dismal viewing. Taylor’s exit always threw up a big question mark over Doherty’s future – he’d walked out of Wycombe when Gary Waddock replaced Taylor at Adams Park – and with rumours swirling in recent weeks it seemed this early departure was inevitable.

Could he have given more to the club? Probably. Could City have done more to maximise his talents? Most definitely. But as we face up to a summer of worry and despair over the club’s financial future, Doherty’s place alongside Carbone, McLaren and co. as a foolish use of money is almost certainly assured.

Introducing the frontman

For what seemed the only time all afternoon, Kevin Ellison was quiet. Having just netted what ultimately proved to be a valuable winner for Bradford City, the debut loan signing amicably accepted a booking from the referee as punishment for over-celebrating with fans. But no sooner had the yellow card being flashed Ellison was back in rebel mode – turning around and raising a clenched fist salute to supporters in the Midland Road stand.

There have been many memorable debuts over the years, but it’s hard to recall a new signing producing such an influential impact on day one as the performance Ellison delivered this afternoon. Throughout the 90 minutes he displayed a level of passion and commitment we sadly don’t see too often from players loaned from other clubs. He chased every cause, harried every opposition player who came in his way and supplied moments of quality that helped the Bantams achieve a surprise but hugely vital victory.

At full time he again roared to the crowd and the early signs are that manager Peter Taylor has not just signed a greater-conformist to the type of football he wants to play, but a man with the swagger and confidence to become a talisman for the team. He has the raw edge of a brutish frontman from rock band (or better still, given his appearance, a punk outfit). You wouldn’t invite him to tea with your mum, you might not even want to go for a pint with him, but when he’s pumping up the crowd by acclaiming them – like he did at full time – you don’t half love him.

We have welcomed a new hero.

How Taylor needed this. There’s no doubt that his decision to swap Omar Daley with Ellison is a huge gamble and, as City struggled to keep in check a strong 2nd-placed Wycombe outfit during the first half, the absent Jamaican remained a talking point. Despite its failure in the defeats to Crewe and Lincoln, Taylor had persisted with a 4-3-3 formation that saw the middle three once again out-gunned. Wycombe, carrying the composure to pass the ball around patiently in City’s final third, always had a spare man and threatened to boss it.

City needed to keep hold of the ball and get it to a very isolated front three; so a player with the dribbling abilities and pace of Daley seemed to be the missing link. An early injury to James Hanson had also hampered home efforts to attack and, as quickly as the ball was launched in the direction of Ellison, fellow debut-signing Scott Dobie and Hanson’s replacement, Gareth Evans, it was coming back towards City’s defence as no one could hold it up.

After Dobie headed over from a corner in the opening five minutes, the best chances of the half fell to Wycombe. Luke O’Brien cleared an effort off the line, the lively Gareth Ainsworth headed over, Chris Westwood planted a free header wide, a decent penalty appeal was turned down and Lenny Pidgley – oddly recalled in favour of Jon McLaughlin – tipped Ainsworth’s shot wide of the post. The contrast between City’s hit-and-hope and Wycombe’s attractive approach play had neither his old fans regretting his sacking nor his current supporters believing he can turn it round.

But half-time adjustments belatedly showed us that Taylor does have the experience to make effective changes. The pedestrian Jon Worthington was replaced by Tom Adeyemi, while Ellison and Evans were pushed further deeper so that City were playing a 4-5-1 formation which matched Wycombe’s shape.

And not only did Ellison and Evans become much more involved by receiving a greater share of possession, they were able to run at defenders and place them on the backfoot. Meanwhile, with Michael Flynn sitting in front of the back four, the impressive Adeyemi and Syers had the license to get forward more often. From looking unlikely to create a chance in the box – never mind score – during the first half, City were suddenly asking all sorts of questions.

Adeyemi drove a couple of shots wide but then, three minutes after Syers joined Hanson in hobbling off injured, Ellison found the net after O’Brien’s superb cross to the far post allowed him to slide the ball home. Cue his wild celebrations that were replicated in all home sections. It felt like a while since Valley Parade had rocked quite like this.

Ellison almost burst through for a second goal, but was blocked off by a defender in a borderline legal challenge. No matter, his work rate and quality on the ball had suitably impressed all and his awarding of the sponsor’s man of the match was greeted by popular approval. We shall have to wait for a relatively quiet Dobie to match him for influence.

Wycombe pushed on in the final stages and substitute Matt McClure headed over their best opportunity. Just like when City had been leading at leaders Chesterfield in the closing stages a fortnight ago, amber shirts sat back far too deep and invited heavy pressure. The backline, which saw the excellent Lewis Hunt surprisingly brought in as centre half with a rusty Simon Ramsden at right back, looked edgy for much of the game but were much-improved during the closing stages. Steve Williams, who came on for the injured Syers in a move that saw Ramsden pushed to holding midfielder and Hunt over to right back, was a solid presence if occasionally too casual on the ball.

Results elsewhere mean the gap to the relegation zone remains six points – further underlying the importance of the three points – but the confidence that can be taken from a first win in seven games should spark the momentum needed to steer clear of trouble during the next few weeks. Though Hanson and Syers will both miss the rest of this month, the increased quality in the ranks brought by new arrivals and long-term injured returnees should prove enough to guide City to mid-table.

What a shame they can’t perform this way week in week out and be up for the game no matter the opposition: against the top seven to date, City have collected 14 out of a possible 27 points; against the bottom seven to date, it’s just 8 points from a possible 24.

Unless a miraculous upsurge in form occurs, this win will have come too late for Taylor’s hopes of extending his City future beyond May. But the pressure on the Board to dismiss him before then – which, in doing so, would likely force the club to dip into next season’s budget – has now been reduced following this victory, which ultimately should be considered a good thing.

Too good to go down, but not good enough to retrieve the situation and go up – Taylor’s time at City is heading for a mundane conclusion. Not that it’s likely to prove a quiet end to the season, at least not with frontman Ellison around.

Fleeting success

Sadly it seems that success in football – as in life – is always fleeting.

An ethereal thing almost as soon as it is grasped then success is gone, dissipated in the desire for a better success. We look back a decade to Bradford City celebrating staying in the Premiership only to set sights on European football and a “kicking on to mid-table finish” the next season. That year Manchester United won the treble and since have never been happy with domestic success alone since.

It is in our reach that we define our tragedy and doom ourselves to discomfort, or so it is said. Wycombe Wanderers under Peter Taylor were promoted from League Two two years ago and seem on course to celebrate similar success this year having seen this sojourn back to the fourth tier as an unwelcome diversion from progress. There was a time they were happy to be in the League.

What we have we do not value, and we want more or so it seems, and to this maelstrom we welcome Dominic Rowe and Alex Flett.

The (new) boys are back in town

Two of David Wetherall’s junior side Fleet and Rowe have been given squad numbers and the chance to claim a place in the match day squad. At the moment City’s new numbers 31 and 32 are welcomed to the first team squad with open arms and optimistic smiles. “These two,” the mind trots to thinking “could be big players for us.”

The mind is right to do so. That skinny sixteen year old who filled in for Ces Podd in 1982 was in Flett and Rowe’s position and and he turned out well. Watching the progress of players like Don Goodman, Andrew O’Brien and Dean Richards was a source of pride and joy for City fans in years gone by. Soon though this joy of the first team squad will fade.

Because then they will be required to be substitutes, and then “impact substitutes” who change games and then when they start they will quickly be required to make manifest difference on the field. Each time what was considered an achievement would be relegated to being a kind of failure. The rapidity of which this happens is always astounding.

However it is a natural thing – and often a good thing – to press all the players for more. There is a disappointment that comes when a player seemingly plateaus. When he gets onto the bench and is in and out of the team, or when he gets into the team but does not excel in it.

The diary of a journeyman footballer

This situation has repeated itself in City’s recent history. Names like Danny Forrest, Craig Bentham, Tom Penford come haunting from our recent past and no sooner do they than someone advances the ill-advised words “not good enough” evidencing that with the fact that one struggles to find a young player released by City who has come back to League football. Jake Wright and Emile Sinclair spring to mind, few others.

In his diary of a journeyman footballer Left Foot Forward Gary Nelson talks about the effect of releasing young players and how it breaks not only their prospects but their career paths. Nelson ponders on how such players could be expected to turn around their careers after such a sudden and grinding halt advising then team mate Kim Grant to stay at Charlton because the facilities are better and moving down never promises anyone a first team place.

Looking at the current Bradford City team which is besieged with often vitriolic criticism it is hard to imagine how much worse things would have gone had Tom Penford and Craig Bentham been in the the midfield. Football would be a lot better if everyone stopped looking as players as discreet replaceable commodities and started looking at them as raw materials to be crafted with.

Not that Bradford City behave in a way which differs from the majority of football clubs but the majority of football clubs – and Bradford City – are not successful after the traditional close season squad purge and replace. Perhaps this squad purging is generally counter productive for football as well as for the players involved.

Had City decided that we fans would be denied the delights of watching Steve Claridge, Moses Ashikodi, Ryan Kendall, Willy (Not Billy) Topp, Mark Cullen et al and decided that they would retain Danny Forrest since 2005 when he was released would the action of working with and giving the assurance of continued football to the same player then, again, one wonders how would have turned out any different. Ashikodi did not stop relegation, Topp did not fire us to promotion.

The received wisdom in football is that players – and young players – excel or move out and that process is successful in ensuring the best prosper but perhaps the input and development of a football club could see that the players who are under this cream of the crop grow into good squad members and, in time, more?

One wonders if Rowe or Flett will make the bench on Saturday – Peter Taylor is talking about welcoming old heads into the side so probably not – but if they what impact they will be expected to make. Certainly it could be said that this is not the time for throwing in new faces to a struggling team.

The line up

Taylor’s side have not recorded a win since Monday the 3rd January 2011 surrendering play off hopes to relegation worries in the process. The solution to this is – it is hoped – arriving in the form of experienced professionals replacing younger players. Richard Eckersley and Mark Cullen have returned to Burnley and Hull City respectively as the Bantams welcome back to starting line up contention Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt and Michael Flynn.

That trio’s return – and the possible recovery of Steve Williams and the delayed debut of Scott Dobie – could give the City side a radically different look to the previous game.

Jon McLauglin seems to be recemented into City’s goal with Lenny Pidgeley missing presumed “a bit injured, maybe.”

The back four would seem to be set for an overhaul with Lewis Hunt at right back and Simon Ramsden taking Shane Duff’s place as defender and captain alongside either Luke Oliver or a fit Steve Williams. Luke O’Brien is expected to stay at left back.

The midfield three of Jon Worthington behind David Syers and Tom Ademeyi is hard to break up – Syers plays well and Ademeyi retains his place regardless of performance – but Michael Flynn might be expected to return their of in the attacking three.

Flynn’s ability to add to the forward line could see him in place of the departed Omar Daley alongside James Hanson and Gareth Evans but such a move would not open a slot for Dobie or fellow new arrival Kevin Ellison. Taylor has rarely used Flynn as a midfielder.

A word on Daley

A word on Daley who – it would seem – has played his last game for the Bantams. The players inconstancy has been mentioned after his departure and in a way that is somewhat unfair on the winger assuming firstly that constancy is a base requirement rather than a rare thing in professional football and secondly making a criticism of the times he was unplayable on the field. “Constancy” and the pursuit of it is perhaps is the most ludicrous of all football terms. I kid you not, dear reader, when I tell you that I could be Bradford City’s most constant player were I to be given a shirt. I would be constantly very, very poor.

There is something unpalatable about the criticism of players – and Omar especially – for inconstancy. The demand seems to hem players in. Is it better that a player try nothing which may result in something good for fear of looking bad? One of the most encouraging things about watching David Syers this year has been his willingness to be brave in his play, is he mistaken to do that for fear that when something does not come off he will be labelled inconstant?

Which is not to say that players should approach the game in a random manner – there is a constancy of play which is not to be confused with constancy of performance – but rather that the heart of improvement is the ability to try and risk failure.

Give me, for one game, Leon Osbourne leaving players for dead and rifling the ball into the goal and I shall be happy to worry about his ability to repeat that later. I would have players who have a constancy in doing the brave thing, rather than ones who succeed every time at doing the easy thing.

These notions are thoughts of the future and the immediate problem of Daley’s exit is more mundane. Chief in his duties was pressure applied to defending players who attempt to recycle the ball. An opposition corner cleared long by City and Daley chased defenders into an early ball. Without Daley able to apply that pressure – often a facet of his ability to get to the vicinity of a clearance in quick time – then I fear that recycled possession will but the Bantams under increased pressure.

In short that without Omar to chase the ball down, and the threat of his pace, City will end up without a release ball and under pressure more. One of Ellison and Dobie may be able to provide an alternative outlet ball for defenders lashing it away because a failure to do so will result in City defending upon defending, and that has been a problem all season.

Riches

And so – for once – City have some riches (if riches is the right word) of resource to be embarrassed by and Peter Taylor gets a chance to field Flynn in one of a few positions while all Flynn needs to do is return the team to the type of form it was in before his absence and avoiding relegation should be a success.

But a fleeting success at that.

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.

The wrong type of match winner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The optimist and Omar Daley

If you are the type of supporter who rarely views games away from Valley Parade – and with 11,000 at home and about a tenth of that number following City away that includes a great many of us – then the next time you see Bradford City they will have played three games and shaped much of the season.

City take on Bury at Gigg Lane on Tuesday night and on Saturday week Peter Taylor takes his team back to former club Wycombe Wanderers and sandwiched between is an FA Cup first round game at Colchester United and do so having won three of the last four games.

Rollocking good wins over Oxford United and Cheltenham as well as a ground out display at Barnet have seen Taylor’s City team turn around. Those nine points – were they not firmly ensconced in “the bag” – would have seen City at the foot of League Two and probably the manager out of a job. Oxford United’s supporters insistence that Taylor would be “sacked in the morning” seemed a little wide of the mark five goals later.

Indeed five games after the 1-0 Morecambe Taylor – should he get a result against Bury and other results go the way he would want – then the Bantams would be tickling the play offs.

Not only that but wrapping five past Oxford – and beating Cheltenham – could hardly have been more enjoyable. Taylor side have – on occasion – played entertaining and winning football.

This balance of enjoyable and winning is especially relevant agianst Alan Knill’s Bury side. Last season City faced Bury twice in the space of a month and twice Bury manager Knill stated after the game that his team was outplayed and twice saw his team victorious the second time being in Stuart McCall’s final game as manager.

Those performances typified the end of McCall’s time at the club and formed much of the problems that Taylor had at the start of this season. McCall’s City played well but got beaten, Taylor’s side just got beaten but as things turn around for the current City manager he must hope to not suffer the same outrageous fortune as was suffered at Gigg Lane last year. Now City have slipped into a knack of out playing the odd team it is enjoyable that that is being reflected in the result.

(As a note about mentioning of Stuart McCall in this and other context. I grow tired of hearing and pretending that one of the most significant figure in the last few decades has no significance. If you don’t like mentions of Stuart McCall when that significance is called upon on this site – or if you want those mentions to be aggressive – then please feel free to take a number, stand in line, and kiss my arse.)

Enjoyable being a key word for Saturday’s win. The joy painted over the faces of the players as they roared into Oxford was marked and one can not help but wonder if the likes of Omar Daley and Lee Hendrie might have wondered when in treatment rooms for extended stays that those days would ever come again. Daley’s celebrations earned him a booking but few would deny a player who has suffered so much his moment in the sun.

Few I say but some would. As a player Daley is frustrating for sure but the level of criticism that pours forth to him would suggest he is something other than the player capable of winning games as he did on Saturday.

They key – perhaps – to understanding the Daley game is the oft said idea that he takes the wrong option which often means he takes an option which does not come to fruition (not always the same thing) and there in is the frustration of the man. Arriving four years ago Daley was rightly accused of laziness – his woeful defending coast City dear against Leyton Orient – but in the years which have passed his development has been noted.

Yes, he takes wrong options but he is brave enough to make a decision, to take an option, and that speaks to his character and his improvement. Football is full of players who will take your money and try make sure they never look too bad and as a result never do anything that good – j’accuse Andrew Taylor – but Daley risks standing out for the wrong reasons in order that he might at times stand out for the right ones.

His enjoyment on Saturday was shared by all who had bitten the tongue when frustrated by his running in the wrong direction who did not lambaste him but just hoped that next time would be another of those times, and it was.

Lenny Pidgeley is expected to make a second start for the Bantams after a good debut and the back four of Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams who was peerless on Saturday, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien will continue in front of him.

Tom Adeyemi was something of a passenger in the first half against Oxford and David Syers’ hammer finish from the bench suggested the one over the other. My call would be Syers to play alongside Tommy Doherty but when you are in the position that Taylor seems to be taking City into one does it by managing players and whatever he is doing with Syers is clearly working.

Lee Hendrie and Leon Osborne play on the flanks in what is this writer’s favourite type of midfield. Four men with one fast and wide and one tighter and more on the flanks. It is the same balance of a midfield as Jamie Lawrence, Stuart McCall, Gareth Whalley and Peter Beagrie.

Up front City wait for a call from the FA to find out if James Hanson will be suspended following his red card on Saturday which City have appealed and Jason Price stands by to start in his place. Omar Daley is alongside, finding his niche.

So three games on the road begin and an optimist would say that City will be back at Valley Parade with 23 points, a place in the second round of the FA Cup and a triplet of great performances that got great results. That optimist probably never grumbles at Daley either, probably enjoyed Saturday more than most too.

Doherty’s arrival reveals Taylor’s intentions

Every summer, I do my best to avoid getting sucked into the hype of the up-coming season. But like almost every other Bradford City supporter, the news Tommy Doherty has signed for the Bantams has increased my optimism and anticipation towards attempt four of escaping League Two.

It’s too early to be making any credible predictions of lifting the League Two title or finishing in the top seven, but Doherty’s arrival does offer strong indications of what we can expect to be viewing come August, and the type of entertainment that it will provide us.

Peter Taylor arrived at Valley Parade last February with perhaps more pre-conceptions formed than any other in-coming City manager in modern history. Sacked by Wycombe Wanderers the previous October to complaints of playing boring football, a widespread view was quickly formed that, under Taylor’s interim reign at City, we’d see regimented, organised football that would get results, if not get us onto the edge of our seats.

The first few games quickly backed up this theory; as although City began to put more wins on the board, it didn’t make as thrilling a watch as predecessor Stuart McCall’s 4-3-3 approach that had made enjoyable viewing until it lost its way in November. But then, at the mid-point of Taylor’s trial, we saw a different approach that relied too much on the in-form James Hanson and barely involved the centre of midfield.

City became a long ball team, and though there are merits to such an approach at League Two level, it was dispiriting to watch the back four repeatedly launch the ball long to Hanson’s head. Short, incisive passing had become other teams’ preserve.

And for me it hit rock bottom when Hanson’s season was ended by injury at Bournemouth and, for a game-and-a-half, we had the sight of giant on-loan defender Luke Oliver up front, with the same long-ball approach. The games against Macclesfield and Burton made depressing viewing, and the suspicion was growing that City would become all about tall strikers and winning percentages the following season.  Was this really Taylor’s way?

Thankfully the final five games – after Oliver had been recalled by parent club Wycombe – saw a revised 4-3-3 formation which relied upon the front three’s on-and-off the ball movement and the midfield three passing the ball around intelligently. The five games ended unbeaten, with the wins over Morecambe and Northampton among the best performances of the whole season. Once again, confidence in what Taylor was trying to implement could be felt.

And though the news of Oliver’s permanent arrival earlier this week left me uneasy, the capture of his former team mate Doherty has lifted spirits because it is a statement of intent of how Taylor sees City lining up next season.

Put it another way – he hasn’t signed Doherty with the aim of the defence bypassing midfield in favour of Hanson’s forehead.

It now looks increasingly probable that City will become a passing side next season. Taylor is keen to re-sign out-of-contract Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn, and the likelihood of the pair lining up with Doherty gives City – relatively speaking – the most capable collection of midfield passers in years. Already it looks as though the 4-3-3 Taylor ended the season using will be continued – a formation which also quickly becomes 4-5-1 when required.

It suggests Bullock continuing to play the holding role, or moving forwards alongside Flynn so Doherty can perform it and three needing to strike up an understanding. Despite rumours of a new striker arriving, Taylor might already have designs on selecting Omar Daley and Gareth Evans as wide forwards, with Hanson in the middle. Both Daley and Evans can drop back to midfield if need be, in the same impressive style Taylor lined up Wycombe at Valley Parade – with Doherty at the heart of attacks and off the ball running a key factor – in February 2009.

Such an approach excites me. Winning regularly is of course the most important factor to any choice of tactics, and we City fans could arguably put up with long ball football if it got City into League One next season. Yet there is something to be said about trying to do things the right way, and the idea of City becoming a passing side, playing in a style pleasing on the eye, is one which could pave a route back up English football’s pyramid.

We go to watch City because we want them to win, but being entertained along the way would be widely-welcomed too. And the idea of City passing the ball around the pitch, finding and exploiting gaps through clever running and patience, would be appreciated by many supporters. Throw in Taylor’s strong emphasis for organisation, and the template of City’s last successful promotion attempt wouldn’t look too much different to Bradford City 2010.

Since Paul Jewell oversaw that triumph, a number of managers have generally tried to deliver success through the traditional 4-4-2, with little success. Jim Jefferies’ sides were too overloaded with attacking intent; Nicky Law’s attempts to play passing football limited by such thinbare resources and questionable selection in the middle; Bryan Robson’s deviation to 4-3-3 more about not getting beat; Colin Todd’s return to 4-4-2 strong defensively but let down by over-reliance on inconsistent wingers.

We saw McCall adopt many different approaches during his two-and-a-half-year reign, but failure to adapt to visitors’ defensive intentions and lack of confidence to keep faith in tactics and players when a losing run began undermined his work, especially when he really had the personnel in 2008/09.

There are no guarantees Doherty can be the catalyst to making Taylor’s suggested approach a success in the same way McCall was for Jewell – look at the excitement Paul McLaren’s arrival triggered and subsequent disappointment over his performances. There are also big question marks about whether the traditionally impatient Valley Parade crowd would tolerate patient football, with the spectre of it falling down under a torrent of boos and screams of “forward!” easy to imagine. But if things slot into place, Taylor’s likely approach could deliver success and leave us immensely proud of how we did it.

The Barcelona/Spain of League Two – why not? Doherty’s arrival doesn’t guarantee glory, but it at least allows us to dream of an exciting – and very watchable – future.

Luke Oliver joins from Wycombe

Peter Taylor has gone back to Wycombe Wanderers to sign the Ormondroyd sized central defender Luke Oliver as the new city boss continues to make changes to the Bantams side.

The 6′ 7″ defender Oliver has fallen down the pecking order at Wanderers since Taylor’s exit and is expected to rival Matthew Clarke for the role of clearing it out defender alongside Steve Williams. One may wonder where this leaves Zesh Rehman’s City career.

Taylor is offering Scott Neilson on loan to clubs in the hope that the winger can get some first team experience. One might suggest that such is on offer at Valley Parade should the manager not decide to fill our team with non-contract and loan players signings.

All heart

It’s at moments such as these – with the clock showing 10 minutes to go, with the chant “City till I die’ emanating from all four sides and with those who run the club having put the books to one side to join 12,689 people in watching City ultimately triumph 1-0 over promotion rivals Wycombe – that you wonder why we’re even bothering to consider leaving Valley Parade at all.

This was an afternoon where I hope I wasn’t the only person to feel the hairs on the back of his/her neck stand up through been part of such a superb atmosphere. City have won a corner and I look fondly over to fans in the Kop climb out of their seats to help suck the ball into the net. Behind the opposite goal, supporters in the Bradford End are keeping up their non-stop chanting efforts which began before kick off. The final whistle was met with huge cheers and triumphant home players hugged each other. An important three points, a potentially pivotal moment of the season, another special afternoon in our home.

Sure I’m being sentimental and romantic, but then it is Valentines Day so why not? Of course the fantastic atmosphere could be replicated – who knows even bettered – in another ground a few miles up the hill. But just like our Claret and Amber colours, fanatical supporters who will even come to the game on their wedding day (hope you didn’t miss that at half time!) and players who aren’t the greatest but who we love in our own way – Valley Parade is a much a part of the Bradford City experience. We need to use our heads when considering the potential move, but yesterday we got to follow our hearts.

Heart that was apparent on the pitch too as both City and Wycombe gave their all to produce an absorbing contest. With Brentford, Bury and Rochdale all expected to and managing to win their games, for City this win was for self-preservation purposes in their interest of a top three finish. They started in the same confident manner which has characterised their previous two victories with Omar Daley and Steve Jones stretching Wycombe down the flanks and Dean Furman and Nicky Law again pulling the strings in the middle. Both look too good for this level with Law’s vision and ability to produce killer passes a huge asset and arguably something City have not had in their armoury since the manager himself was out on the pitch.

Wycombe, who lost central defender Mike Williamson to Watford in the transfer window, defended deeply but struggled to deal with crosses from which City came close to scoring a few times. Matt Clarke should have done better with a header from a corner and Peter Thorne – captain for the day – headed wide, Law’s long range shot was deflected wide and a Wycombe defender almost turned one cross into his own net.

Yet the Chairboys, who until Tuesday had led the table since November, got back into the game and showed what a good side they are. Their movement off the ball when on the attack was impressive with players marking late runs from deep and in the centre Tom Docherty was excelling by playing deep and pinging some probing passes forward. Furman excellently cleared off the line from striker Jon-Paul Pittman’s header, Matt Harrold air-kicked a great chance after which Matt Bloomfield wastefully fired wide and Chris Zebroski’s overhead kick attempt sailed narrowly over.

Arguably against the run of play, City struck the all important goal just before half time. It was yet another example of the devastating football this team can produce. First Jones did well to win possession before being tripped after releasing it to Furman. Referee Carl Boyeson allowed advantage and the ball was with Law to charge over half way. His pass to Daley lacked pace, but the Jamaican beat his man and cut inside before squaring to Luke O’Brien. The full back’s cross was intended for Michael Boulding but squirmed through to Thorne who beautifully laid off the ball to Jones to fire home on the half volley.

It continued to be end-to-end stuff in the second half with Wycombe inserting strong pressure in the early stages and Rhys Evans having to make some good saves. The defence in front of him was lacking their usual leader Graeme Lee and Zesh Rehman, switched over from left-back, struggled a little with his ball control though was generally solid. Clarke was outstanding and seemed to revel in the more senior responsibility while Paul Arnison’s performance could be best illustrated by the fact the usual full-back ‘experts’ in the crowd weren’t on his back. The clean sheet they would go onto earn was a seventh in ten games and only Evans and Clarke have figured in all of those; something which Clarke’s army of critics, who seem to be ignoring his recent upturn in form, might want to mull over.

Boyeson’s bizarre style of refereeing took more centre stage in the second half. He let a series of fouls from both sides go and at one stage left the impression he’d forgotten his cards – Arnison should have been booked – while displaying an anal-like determination to ensure all throw ins were taken from exactly the right spot. Frustration of the officials and from losing seemed to get the better of Wycombe players who began to self-destruct with a series of poor challenges. None more so than Docherty, who’s coolness in the first half had given way to recklessness and who should have been booked long before he eventually was.

Boiling point was reached after Zebroski’s ludicrous high challenge on Clarke which saw boot connect with face. The red card was quickly issued and the final 12 minutes were that little bit more comfortable for City. A second goal might have come before that with Boulding volleying over, but in the final stages Law and substitute Joe Colbeck went agonisingly close to ensuring Wycombe would not be able to produce a sucker punch at the other end.

It was close, but City just about edged the game and three wins in a row provide great confidence ahead of another vital encounter on Tuesday. The team is finding form in all areas – Thorne for example was outstanding leading the line and contributed more than he usually seems to – and one only has to look at who can’t get in the team to see how well the players in it are doing. Lee will presumably join Paul McLaren, Lee Bullock, Barry Conlon and Colbeck on the bench Tuesday with the clear message to those on the field that they must keep producing.

Or should Lee go back in and Arnison be dropped? Should Colbeck start on Tuesday and Daley be rested? Yesterday conversations on such matters will have filled the air instead of whether to pack up and do this all someplace else. Maybe we’re on the final chapter of Valley Parade’s history and such occasions will shortly be over, though as we listened to the radio on the journey home we heard of renewed hope that a deal to buy Valley Parade might be reached.

It was good timing, for yesterday at least the head had no chance of winning over the heart.

Back to the field of play – Bradford City vs Wycombe Wanderers League Two Preview

Much has happened since last Bradford City walked the grass of Valley Parade in the 2-0 win over Grimsby Town.

The Darlington game bit the dust – or the snow if you will – and City had to wait a week before recording an impressive 2-0 at Gillingham leaving people talking about promotion prospects again until distraction came in the news that the Bantams seem unable to find a replacement for Bradford and Bingley who will not be sponsoring the club next season and are able to find a replacement for VP in the shape of an Odsal Sporting Village after revealing that it cost £1.2m to play at home a year. The game with former league leaders Wycombe Wanderers seems small beer in context.

The move from Valley Parade will be debated elsewhere and is surely one of the most serious in the club’s history dwarfing the problems with sponsorship which have effected many clubs in football and seen Mark Lawn effectively begging the businesses of Bradford for the £60,000 asked for by Friday afternoon that would assure the shirts that went to the manufactures could feature something emblazoned upon them.

City have handled the sponsorship situation poorly. Bradford and Bingley’s problems were there for all to see and the assumption could have been made that they would not renew a long time ago. In that situation City could go looking for a backer on the quiet and – if one were not found – do as Aston Villa and Barcelona do and hand the ten square inch of real estate on the front of the shirt over to charity. Either that or decide that it was to be left blank claiming this was a deliberate decision as Leicester City have done.

The scrambling for cash from anyone who will give it and the naming of a base price the Bantams will accept serves to cheapen the product when interest in sponsorship picks up. £60,000 of sponsorship equates to two Sky TV games – an interesting piece of information that casts a different light on City’s attempts to get the Darlington game on – and illustrates the rather random nature of football finances at this level.

The Darlington game takes place on Tuesday night and promises to be equally as tough as the visit of Peter Taylor’s Wycombe Wanderers. The Chairboys were top – taking over from City in November – until the middle of this week but the two games in hand they have over Brentford, who went level on points with them, suggest they may return to summit. Nevertheless when they do get to play Taylor’s side are not in the greatest of form with recent draws with Macclesfield, Exeter City and Luton Town being coupled with defeats to Grimsby Town and at AFC Bournemouth and arguabily the Bantams are playing them at the right time.

Stuart McCall goes into the game with a grumbling keeper Rhys Evans wanting a new deal – he has earned one but timing is everything and Evans’s comments in public are ship rocking – but in good form. City concede few and are building another run of clean sheets with Evans not picking the ball out of the net for the last 180 minutes. Much of this is down to adding a third commanding aerial figure in recent weeks in the form of Zesh Rehman who will most likely switch to the central defensive role to cover Graeme Lee who is suspended. Matthew Clarke will partner and Luke O’Brien will hope to have recovered to play left back with Paul Arnison on the right.

The midfield of Nicky Law Jnr and Dean Furman seems set in stone although Paul McLaren’s set plays are missed greatly when he is not included and the Bantam number four would be in my starting eleven as would Joe Colbeck who builds up match fitness to the point where he seems as if he will explode. Steve Jones on the right hand side will make way for him this game or next. Omar Daley continues on the left and McCall tells us that we should not be so negative about him, which is strange because we are not and perhaps someone should tell City’s players and management to spend less time fixating on criticism or at least balance it up against the praise.

I illustrate this with the fact that BfB got a ratio of 3:1 in comments in support of Daley during the week so ending that week with a spirited defence of the player is – perhaps – giving undue credence to one side of the debate.

Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding continue up front.

More of the same from less – Wycombe Wanderers vs Bradford City preview

Dean Furman is still injured and Paul McLaren is still carrying a knock. Joe Colbeck and Lee Bullock still cannot run about and Chris Brandon is not coming back until next year. The Bantams are still as threadbare as they were going into the game with MK Dons last weekend but after that win the City have hope.

Hope that is that Stuart McCall’s side which he this week declared he was happy with the progress of is more than just the eleven players on the field and that there is strength in the squad.

Barry Conlon showed that strength coming off the bench and scoring goals and being part of last week’s winning side but the Irishman is expected to step down for a biting at the bit Peter Thorne. Michael Boulding’s intelligent play and pace away from home rather than Conlon’s battering ram approach will be favoured alongside.

At the back Matthew Clarke’s return to the team and to form seems set to leave his Huddersfield name sake Tom cooling his heels with Graeme Lee partnering him at the back. TJ Moncur and Luke O’Brien are expected to continue at full back with Rhys Evans behind them.

The midfield continues to be a black hole of injury. Omar Daley has continued good form on his return on the right hand side and Leon Osbourn did enough on the left to suggest his continued presence in the side. Certainly Stuart McCall seems more impressed with the youngster’s attitude than he is with Willy Topp’s. Topp – an option in midfield – seems to be a long way from the side.

Wycombe go into the game having led League Two but now on a dip in much the same way City were. They have drawn four of their last five fixtures and have needed 90th and 98th minute goals to maintain the stream of points. They are – for sure – a good side but City’s one defeat in seven suggests that we are too and that this is a game between teams who will be battling for the chance of automatic promotion and the championship rather than play-off places.

Thorne leads where we should follow

Bradford City’s top scorer Peter Thorne is looking forward to facing promotion rivals Wycombe this Saturday. It’s not just that the striker, rested for the FA Cup win at MK Dons on Saturday, is hoping his team can win the ‘six-pointer’ against a team yet to lose in the league, but the challenge and battle he will face from the Football League’s meanest defence.

Thorne said, “I look at it as a big challenge. I’m not the sort of person who thinks ‘oh no, this will be a hard battle’. It would be great to score against them…If I do play, I’ll expect a bit more special attention as well, being the top goal-scorer at the moment. The defenders will know they have to raise their game but that’s football and is why I love it.”

It’s the last part of Thorne’s comments which really stand out. He love’s football? Might seem like an obvious thing to say for someone paid to do just that, but in age where footballers are widely viewed as money-grabbing, mercenary folk with little grasp of reality, his views seem somehow refreshing.

This is a man who admitted he’d fallen out of love with The Game a couple of years ago and took a pay cut to remain a Bantam during the summer after rediscovering it during a superb season – and it’s the sort of attitude you’d want from your players on the eve of a tough match. Wycombe’s defence has only been breached four times at Adams Park, but they’ve yet to face a clearly-excited top scorer of League Two…

Such views also stand out given how little it seems to be reflected among City supporters. Of course we all love football, why else would we bother spending so much money and travel so many miles in support of City? Yet the negative mood which has hung around Valley Parade for the last few disappointing years has been curiously hard to shift this season.

At the end of City’s last home game, against Barnet, they were booed off the pitch by some – despite the draw leaving the Bantams only a point from top of the league. Of course it had been a disappointing second half performance and its not the first time the team had struggled this campaign; but City are third in the league and it’s a long time since we’ve been able to say that in November, shouldn’t we be enjoying this a bit more?

There seems to be such an extreme range of emotions and comments expressed about City from many supporters this season, often during the same game. The opening goal against Barnet was described as some as one of the finest goals we’ve seen at Valley Parade for years, but then howls of derision are heaped on those same players when goals go in the other end. Is TJ Moncur a good player? He set up two goals and was widely praised, but then makes a mistake at the other end and is ridiculed. It may not be like watching Brazil, but we’re not watching East Timor either.

Sunday’s news that City would face Leyton Orient in the next round of the FA Cup has brought back some sore memories, following the 2-0 defeat to them 19 months ago which proved critical in the failed attempt to beat the drop. City could just have easily been drawn to face Chesterfield, Accrington, Luton, Scunthorpe, Stockport or Bournemouth – opposition which can also prompt flashbacks of previous disappointments. There’s been so little to celebrate in recent years, which would only accentuate how happy we’d be if promotion is achieved this season.

But there’s a long way to go yet, so can’t we try to enjoy things a bit more? Apart from those in the Bradford End, the atmosphere at Valley Parade this season has been disappointing. I’m tired of people around me sitting in silence when things are going well, only coming alive when the team is struggling to moan and criticise. I’m tired of fans making pointless digs at Stuart’s management while failing to provide reasoning; no one should be immune and he’s made mistakes, but half of the complaints are embarrassingly stupid and unnecessary. I’m tired of hearing what’s wrong with the team when I see them sitting high up in the league and wonder if people really do believe we should win every game. I’m tired of hearing booing, so very tired.

There are no guarantees this season and there’s every chance we could be discussing where it went wrong come May, but what we should know is we have a bunch of honest and hardworking players giving their all, managed by someone who wouldn’t tolerate anything less. They will make mistakes because they’re League Two players competing in a league where those near the bottom are capable of beating those near the top. They will lose games, give away bad goals and miss easy chances. Yet the evidence shows they will win more games, score many great goals and maintain their promotion challenge throughout the season. When was the last time we played a match in May which meant something?

And that’s what we should love about football, right? Up there near the top of the league, competing with other teams and going through all those ups and downs. The nervousness before the big games, the hours studying the league table and remaining fixtures and, hopefully, one night sinking many pints in celebration as it all comes together.

Nothing is settled in November, but we can still enjoy the ride now.

The rest of League Two – Preseason 2008/2009 [II]

The numerous season preview supplements produced at this time of year act as a reminder, if it were needed, that the hopes and expectations we City supporters have for the coming season are not dissimilar to the majority of League Two fans.

Much has been made locally about how last season’s promotion of the MK Dons and Peterborough has left a more levelled playing field, but we aren’t the only ones thinking such sentiments. Some clubs will look to Hereford’s unexpected promotion last season and be confident they can emulate it, others may be hoping it’s emerging young talent can push them forward in the manner of Stockport and Rochdale, while others are upping the wage budget in a bid to go for it. League Two may look weaker without the presence of the Dons and the Posh, but it’s likely to be just as competitive.

When considering who might be in the promotion shake up it’s typical to start with the clubs who have spent money, those who lost out in last year’s plays offs and those relegated into the division last season. The club record £170,000 that Shrewsbury Town has spent on Nottingham Forest striker Grant Holt stands out like a sore thumb compared to everyone else’s summer recruitment. Last season was one of underachievement for the 2007 Play Off Finalists but manager Paul Simpson will begin his first full season with expectations not much lower than at Valley Parade.

Holt made his name at last season’s play off finalists Rochdale, who are likelier to be up there come May. Keith Hill has worked wonders at Spotland and their counter attacking approach impressed last season. Arguably lacking a decent striker, the Dale will hope Halifax’s Jon Shaw can make the step up; especially as midfield playmaker David Perkins, twice the thorn in the side of City last season, has left.

Wycombe Wanderers parted company with manager Paul Lambert at the end of last season and welcome Peter Taylor – with more than a point to prove following a difficult couple of years. They will probably do better than the other semi-finalists of last season, Darlington, who have lost star players David Stockdale and, while not confirmed yet, Tommy Wright. Dave Penney spent big last summer but doesn’t appear to have significant funds this time around.

Elsewhere big things are expected of Lincoln City, who prospered last year under Peter Jackson before his time off through illness. New keeper Rob Burch was sought after by others, including City, while Frank Sinclair could prove a clever buy if he still has the legs. Chesterfield fans seem to dislike their manager Lee Richardson but have one of the best strikers in the division in Jack Lester, Alan Knill will be looking to continue his rejuvenation of Bury and they could be dark horses, while Grimsby has strengthened defensively and will hope young striker Danny North can fulfill his potential.

It’s a sad state of the continuing financial problems many clubs in the lower reaches of the Football League are suffering from that this year’s League Two relegation battle could be determined by point deductions. Three seasons ago Luton finished 10th in the Championship, but the odds are heavily stacked in favour of a third successive relegation and drop into non-league following the 30 points taken off them. Play off form will be needed just to stay up and, with the club still in a mess, that seems unrealistic.

Bournemouth and Rotherham’s hopes of merely beginning this season are still in the balance and respective 15 and 17 point deductions look like a best scenario. That may allow other clubs to breath easier but Chester City, another club with money problems, won’t be counting their chickens as they remember how last season’s dramatic collapse in form almost cost them their league status. Some of the division’s smaller clubs, such as Macclesfield, Accrington and Dagenham, will also be targeting the 50 point mark rather than any loftier ambitions.

Gillingham’s recent financial difficulties make it difficult to imagine they can achieve much beyond midtable but Port Vale, under former City defender Lee Sinnott, will be a better bet for an instant return to League One. The league’s new boys, Aldershot and Exeter, arrive with romantic stories of rebirth and should both be good enough for midtable, where they will surely be joined by Notts County, Barnet, Brentford and Morecambe.

The quality of League Two is derided by some, while others trumpet it as featuring real football and real fans. Last season many clubs enjoyed better form on the road but the ones who did make it to the division above were strong at home, too. This season’s League Two promises to be unpredictable, ugly and beautiful; and those successful in realising their pre-season expectations next Spring will probably be all three.

New season, new excitement – Pre-season 2008/2009 [III]

So the wait is nearly over and the 2008/2009 season is nearly ready to begin. Thousands of football supporters up and down the country are looking forward to the start of a new season. August 9th for a football supporter is like January 1st to a non-football supporter with many hopes waiting to be either realised or dashed. Forget the Premiership and the latest WAG getting photographed and appearing in a newspaper or magazine, the real football stories are going to come from Division 4 (not League 2) this season.

We, the Bradford City faithful, are expecting big things this season with many seeing a top 7 finish as a minimum. I for one would love to see us get promoted for one man and one man alone and that is David Wetherall. The loyalty that David showed to our club is a rare commodity experienced in football today. Stuart has made alot of signings this summer bringing in the likes of Rhys Evans, Michael Boulding, Chris Brandon and Graeme Lee. It will certainly be a different looking starting 11 this Saturday when compared with the team that started against Macclesfield on the opening day last season. Gone are the likes of Ricketts, Williams, Evans, Johnson and Ndumbu-Nsungu.

Once again we should average the highest home attendances in our division but big crowds doesn’t automatically equate to success on the pitch. For example, take Accrington Stanley who averaged less than 1,700 for their home games last season and came to Valley Parade in early October last season supported by 149 people in a crowd of 13,346 and thrashed us 3-0. We are one of the favourites to gain promotion this season but after nearly a decade without experiencing a promotion I’m taking nothing for granted. Call me a pessimist or a realist.

Make no mistake there are plenty of other teams in the same division as us this season who believe that they’ve a good chance of promotion. Aldershot and Exeter City, both promoted from non-league, will be looking to maintain their upwardly momentum. Wycombe with Peter Taylor, Lincoln City with our former captain Peter Jackson and Shrewsbury with Paul Simpson all have managers with a proven track record in the lower divisions. Rochdale and Darlington will both be looking to repeat their play off form from last season too.

One thing is for sure this coming season, there will be highs and there will be lows and it will be interesting to see if Michael Boulding can replicate his goal scoring record from last season with a team that got relegated too. Matt Hamshaw was probably the provider of many a cross for Boulding to latch on to last season so let’s hope that the likes of Colbeck, Nix and Daley can supply plenty of quality crosses this season (although let’s remember that Colbeck is suspended for the first 2 games). What about Evans, our new goalkeeper. He played 4 games on loan last season with us and although we didn’t win any of those games, he certainly played steadily against Darlington at home, Morecambe away and Grimsby away before being forced to retire at Blundell Park.

The Consistency

Preview: Bradford City vs Wycombe Wanderers

When asked what the problem with his light blub was Thomas Edison remarked that after some use the Damn thing stopped working but he was sure that American ingenuity would fix that some day. In the years since the everlasting light bulb has yet to be invented.

Likewise ask any football fan what the problem with their team is and the majority would say the word “Consistency”.

Consistency is craved by football fans – consist winning that is – and with City losing 4-2 at Hereford last week and failing to get three wins on the trot Stuart McCall’s Bantams stand accused of lacking it. Indeed no manager ever got a sideways glance for suggesting consistency was required.

Considering the average number of points for a club that finishes top of a league is two a game pointing to a win one, draw one pattern through the season. Dipping down any league shows that most of the time clubs take about one and a half points a game. Inconsistency – I would suggest – is the nature of the beast and the beast is rarely tamed. Ask any man (or his dog) the problem with Liverpool over the last few years and the will say the C word but the 1.65 points a game suggest that they win more than they lose. Even Manchester United’s title romp last season was done with over 25% of games not being wins.

Like Edison one is sure that at some point the perfectly consistent football team will be made but until them we all just pick up the points where we can.

City have two home games in four days with Wycombe wandering into Valley Parade on Saturday and Accrington Stanley coming on Tuesday night. Stuart McCall has already showed his hand backing his defence despite last week’s blundering and one hopes that confidence boost from that may help fix any holes although Darren Williams’s not featuring in the reserves 2-1 defeat to Huddersfield in the week suggests that he may replace Tom Harban at right back alongside David Wetherall, Mark Bower and Paul Heckingbottom in front of Donovan Ricketts. Paul Evans sits in front alongside Eddie Johnson who continues to impress in midfield. One of Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck faces the chop to allow Alex Rhodes back into the side and Kyle Nix is unlucky to not be featuring. Daley gave away goals last week but offers more going forward than Colbeck who frustrates but less that Daley who can beat a man better than Colbeck who can cross a ball and sometimes passes unlike Daley and so on…

Peter Thorne and Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu start up front with Barry Conlon on the bench – Conlon seems to attract a lot of attention for a guy who is not what one would call a first teamer. BfB understands that there is a chance that Willy Topp will be offered a contract and recruited at some point this weekend and should he then he will no doubt feature on the bench.

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