Stallard hangs up his boots

The rise of Mark Stallard – who retired from football aged 35 today – at Bradford City came with almost no decline.

Stallard notched up 450 appearances in his career but it is a May day in 1996 in which he swept in Ian Ormondroyd’s flick down in the six yard box at Wembley for which he enters Bradford City’s history. Stallard’s goal – City’s second in a 2-0 win over Notts County – completed the Bantams turn around from mid-table side to promotion under Chris Kamara.

Stallard joined City January 1996 from Derby County for £110,000 and scored 10 in 42 games falling between the cracks of Kamara’s 42 players in one season which saw the likes of Rob Steiner and Erik Regtop arrive at the club. A little portly and very English in his play Stallard must have seemed somewhat old hat. Certainly there was no long decline. He left City to join Preston on loan and then left for Wycombe Wanderers and a career doing good work in the lower leagues.

McCall making the gamble

There was a time when Stuart McCall was talking about leaving Bradford City – but eventually decided to stay – that he was summed by a comment “Always has been a poor man’s Kevin Keegan.”

The comment – a thing by a supporter of another club on someone’s Facebook page – referenced the former Newcastle, Fulham, Manchester City and England manager’s tendency to threaten to exit when things did not go his way although one might look at McCall’s World Cup record and note that if Keegan was as able to poke the ball in in the penalty area in 1982 as Stuart did in 1990 then England would not have been going home from Spain. Stuart McCall is no poor version of anyone.

However if his threat to leave likens him to Keegan somewhat then the connection is fully made by the attitude that his side has shown this season in attacking. Both managers have had the phrase “tactically naive” thrown at them but also the adjectives “exciting” and “thrilling” as four months into the year Stuart McCall’s side seems to set itself the task of out scoring the opposition.

“We have to stop conceding two because we have to score three to win.” said the City manager which recalls Keegan’s adage “I’d rather win 4-3 than 1-0” and both managers – consider Keegan circa ’98 at Newcastle – field teams that defend a man down.

McCall’s side employ a back four with three midfielders working hard in front and two wide strikers staying – on the whole – in forward positions giving a side that defend with seven (Newcastle had a 442 but David Ginola never got back). The merits of this are plentiful – City look very dangerous on the break – but the downside is that when full backs add to wingers and central midfielders in a 442 attacking City unless the likes of Gareth Evans and Scott Neilson are alive enough to follow players back the Bantams are out manned.

It is exciting but it is always going to concede goals and the aim – as Keegan verbalised – is to win 4-3 not 1-0 not that the Magpies tended to do that week in week out but rather – as City did against Chesterfield in the 3-0 win earlier this season – use this attacking slant to get noses ahead early and dispirit the opposition.

McCall’s Bantams circa 2009 have problems with this. Chances and goals can be laboured and teams are left in games despite the Bantams battering. Hereford were beaten 1-0 despite City’s 11 shots on target and the visitors always had a chance of sneaking a draw.

It makes for exciting games but time and time again McCall must hope for a couple of first half goals that take the guts out of the opposition and a dull second half.

The chances of that seem increased by the idea of a return to fitness for Omar Daley – the reserve game at Grimsby on Wednesday may give the Jamaican a first game back although we have tried and failed to pre-empt the winger’s return in the past – and the idea that the player is exactly the sort of player who will turn exciting football in to exciting wins.

The veracity of that claim has yet to be seen but with the Bantams a third of the way into the season and placed just outside the play off zone it seems that in the absence of an entirely unexpected January recruitment spree Daley’s return the gradual improvement that being a team brings to the squad is the only way that the the 12th place Bantams will be higher placed.

The return of Daley seems to be the gamble of the season for Stuart McCall.