Life through a different lens

I always find these rare times Bradford City appear live on TV to be nerve-wracking occasions.

As great as it is for the great football god Sky to acknowledge our existence, the numerous dull City games they have managed to capture live over the years leave me fearing another occasion where a national TV audience is left underwhelmed. And when you know that audience will include friends, family and work colleagues who are only tuning in because they know you, there’s seemingly a lot more at stake than three points.

But more personal to all of that is the different perspective of watching the Bantams that sitting on a couch and watching them on TV provides. So much that is fantastic about supporting City is the live sights, sounds and even smells of cheering them on at games, and when so much of that is stripped away and your team appears two dimensional on a TV set, like any regular football match, too much is missing to truly enjoy it. Tonight could have been a brilliant game (it wasn’t), but watching it this way leaves you realising its impossible for Sky to accurately showcase to the people who matter in your life why City is so important to you and, ultimately, what all the fuss is about.

Tonight I’m watching the game on Sky at a friend’s house – he loves City as much as me and always goes to games – and with his brother, who only watches football from the comfort of his sofa and is annoyed at this lower league intrusion to his routine. “I can’t believe they’re screening this game” are his first words to me, and straight away I feel I’m having to apologise for my team interrupting his halcyon world of Premier League and La Liga football.

The live broadcast starts with Sky’s typically over-dramatic format showing us quick fire images of the “exciting League Two promotional battle” that Port Vale are part of. City are introduced as underachievers fighting relegation. The music is creepy and suddenly I’m really fearful for our Football League status, until Peter Beagrie pops up as studio pundit to reassure the nation that Bradford have simply had a lot of injuries and can still target promotion this season.

It seems to be a theme of the evening. “Bradford have used 35 players this season”, we are repeatedly told and each time it is quickly followed by “which just how difficult it has been for Peter Taylor.” True to a certain extent, but no one opts to mention – or perhaps would be aware – that this high turnover includes Taylor choosing to bring in young loanees ahead of supposed first teamers such as Zesh Rehman, Robbie Threlfall and Jake Speight, among others. Everyone employed by Sky tonight seems to share the view that City’s poor season is simply down to injuries, and that everything will be okay for us once the treatment room is cleared.

So nothing to do with Taylor’s tactics then, which tonight once more sees him start with the 4-3-3 formation that has proved so ineffective in recent weeks – and does so again. City’s three forwards are hopelessly isolated as everyone else stays deep behind the ball. Port Vale – whose manager, Jim Gannon, has spent a lot of time recently defending the 4-5-1 formation he favours, which proved effective at Stockport three years ago – easily win the midfield battle and you sit there in disbelief that Taylor can keep getting it so wrong.

A midfield three of Michael Flynn, Tom Adeyemi and Leon Osborne against a five is absolutely ridiculous, and for such an experienced manager to continue deploying his team in such an ineffective manner is bewildering. It is no coincidence that City’s best two performances of recent weeks – Chesterfield away and the second half against Wycombe last week – came when City lined up 4-5-1 and could get hold of the ball. In the first half tonight, Vale followed Crewe, Lincoln and Wycombe (first half) in dominating possession and carrying all the attacking threat.

Tom Pope headed a good chance over, Gary Roberts curled a shot wide and Lenny Pidgley made two decent saves. City’s only sight of goal came after Scott Dobie’s comically mistimed overhead kick attempt saw the ball run free and Kevin Ellison fire a rasping shot narrowly wide. It took 20 minutes to receive the first text message from a friend declaring this was the worst football they’d ever seen in their life.

Port Vale continued to press in the second half and took the lead four minutes in after Pope shrugged off a contact lense falling out and got free of his marker to send a looping header over Pidgley and Flynn. Pidgley, who seconds earlier had made a terrific save from a low shot, got into a heated argument with his stand-in captain Flynn. Surely now Taylor had to change things.

Only he didn’t, and rather than show intent to start chasing the game City continued to play as though they were holding out for a 0-0 draw. Vale pressed forwards with greater intent and Pope netted a second with a close range finish, despite replays showing he was narrowly offside. Pidgley was convinced the goal should have been ruled out and raced over to the linesman to complain. Not a single team-mate bothered to join him in arguing City’s case, instead walking off head down. Such lack of spirit and fight is deeply troubling.

City finally achieved a shot on target after 65 minutes when Gareth Evans’ free kick was blocked. Four minutes later Taylor finally let the shackles off his team by replacing Speight with the ineffective Leon Osborne, and suddenly it all changed. Now playing 4-4-2, City were finally keeping hold of the ball in Vale’s half and Speight displayed his early season form to cause the under-worked Vale defence problems. After Dobie headed the ball down, Speight brilliantly laid the ball into Adeyemi’s path to fire home and reduce the deficit with seven minutes to play.

The pressure grew on Vale in the closing stages, though at the times the delivery into the box was poor from City. Still, deep in injury time Lewis Hunt had a great chance to equalise after Flynn picked him out in the area, but after taking a touch he probably didn’t have time to make John McCombe was able to block his shot. Pidgley raced up for the resultant corner and a couple of goalmouth scrambles went unrewarded.

With the final whistle came an added sense of frustration – why couldn’t City have played like they had for the final 20 minutes during the first 70, when the game was ultimately lost? Why did Taylor have to approach this fixture so negatively, yet again? This was the 10th away defeat and, while it can be argued such a poor record and league position justifies a defensive strategy, how different might this season have proved if he’d been prepared to play positive attacking football more often?

The text messages of abuse from friends kept pouring in. In the past when we’ve disappointed on Sky I’d always been able to argue that what they’d just witnessed wasn’t an accurate reflection of supporting Bradford City. Tonight I have no defence – this really is how depressing life has become under Peter Taylor.

Looking at the sky, being in the dark

The one goal win over Wycombe Wanderers last week gave Peter Taylor – or rather confidence in Peter Taylor – a much needed fillip and as the manager celebrates – if celebrate is the right word – the anniversary of his arrival at Valley Parade.

Taylor has been at City for 12 months this week and by his own admission things have not gone as he – or we – would have hoped. The win over his former club started speculation over if Taylor might stay beyond the end of the season. Taylor has made the right noises but knows that he has not achieved the expectation which would have won him a new deal.

Mark Lawn made it abundantly clear that without promotion the club could not afford to give Taylor the same terms next season putting the onus on the manager to think about how much he should want to match his words with a financial commitment to take a lower deal were one offered.

Which begs the question as to if the club would offer Taylor a new contract. Mark Lawn said that there was still a belief in stability at Valley Parade but that that had had to come second to financial constraints. Lawn did not enthuse with the style of football being played and he is not alone in that but having given Taylor the remit to remould the squad over the course of this season there is – once again – a question as to how much the club believe stability helps.

No greater example of this can be found than Taylor’s recruitment of goal man Kevin Ellison. Ellison is very much a Taylor type of player and no doubt the manager would have had him in a year ago if he could but Ellison’s availability only changed last week and Daley – who apparently prayed for a move away from the manager – exited.

Daley was very much not Taylor’s type of player and despite efforts from both sides to make it work Ellison replacing Daley in the squad makes sense – or at least makes sense when Peter Taylor is manager.

Which leads one back to the pressing question as to if Taylor should be in charge at Bradford City. His performance this season is hardly likely to have anyone else trying to give him the big chair and his rejection of a good job at St James’ Park, Newcastle suggests that he is not about to be someone’s number two.

There are people who spend a great deal of money and effort – people I’ve got all the time in the world for – who are counting the games off until Taylor’s exit. BfB’s own Jason Mckeown has spoken with eloquence about how he will not be upset when Taylor exits while other long time City fans have talked about the ramifications of his time in charge.

Personally though – and as he shapes the squad to more effectively suit his desires on the field – I still consider Taylor to be the outstanding choice for the manager’s job. If I were drawing up a shortlist of names to be City’s boss in 2011/2012 from the out of work gaffers then Taylor’s name would once again be top.

Someone who has had success and repeated it he provides a light in the dark which is groping around looking for a new manager. He might have drifted from the road to success this year but I believe he has the roadmap to it and I’m not convinced that any of the names who are banded about as a successor do.

For sure City could go back to appointing a manager who was going to play a more attractive brand of football – anyone who tries to excuse the often tedious play of this season as a defence of the manager is doing Taylor no favours – but anyone who thinks that Johnny Goodfootball would be being having his name sung from the Kop for his silky passing play were City in 18th at this stage next season is deluding themselves.

In the end the popular manager is the winning manager – at least for the main – and Taylor’s five promotions suggest that he knows how to build a winning team more than most and as the club have made it clear that chasing promotion rather than aesthetics are important then perhaps this time next season Taylor will be celebrating a second year at City.

We know not if that will happen at this stage though and so we focus on the match in hand – or on Sky TV which the match is – which is Bradford City vs Port Vale.

(A note on Port Vale, dear reader, says that you would do well to get thee sen over to the excellent A classic football website.)

The Friday evening encounter sees seemingly nailed on promotion side Vale struggling for form having slipped to seventh following a pair of draws. Micky Adams’ exit rocked the boat but the commendable Jim Gannon looks to get things back on track.

City go into the game with some vigour. Lenny Pidgeley keeps goal with Simon Ramsden at right back and Luke O’Brien on the left. Steve Williams may hope for a recall alongside Luke Oliver although Lewis Hunt will count himself unlucky to be dropped after his display last week.

Jon Worthington may have to play his first ninety minutes for City in the absence of injured David Syers with Tom Ademeyi and Michael Flynn alongside. James Hanson is also out with Scott Dobie filling his role and Gareth Evans and Kevin Ellison taking wider berths dropping back to bolster the midfield.

Which makes the kind of hybrid of a 451 and a 433 which Taylor favours. It might bring a second win over a promotion chaser in a week, or it may not. In the end Taylor knows more about getting promotion than most and that is his path to it.

And that, to some, is preferable to being in the dark.