Lessons learnt without punishment as City get past Marine in FA Youth Cup

Ten seconds into his first game at Valley Parade central midfielder Scott Brown has played a killer ball forward, ten seconds later Thomas Marshall had been fed with a flick and cut the ball in from the left, eyes sighted on goal. As far as statements of intent go – and as an illustration of the pattern of the game – it was unequivocal from the Bantams but Marshall’s shot edged wide and so was the evening set.

That the final whistle blew two hours later with City taking the best of five goals and with Marine having a man sent off understates a display of attacking football from the Young Bantams which took the breath away.

Youth football is a different beast to the senior game. It seems that attacking flair develops before defensive certitude and so games have a tenancy to favour forward players. Even with that in mind the home side came attacked with an expansive abandon that set one on the edge of one’s seat. Adam Baker – a player on the bring of the first team squad – dropped off to link the forward line with the midfield flicking the ball into the path of on running wingers Marshall and Forrayah Bass and on to centre forward Connor Bower.

The Bantams could easily have been four up after twenty minutes. Bass cut down one wing and crossed with Baker unlucky not to scoop the follow up in – Marine keeper Luke Piken making the first of a dozen great blocks – and minutes Marshall is playing into Baker who flicks to Bower who sees Piken save his shot. Bass makes the early breakthrough picking up the ball in the box and cutting back onto his left foot to put the ball in. At that state it all looked easy.

Brown – the biggest player on the field amidst some big lads from Marine – went into a tackle on the flank but makes his way to the middle picking off a pass and playing forward to Baker who turned to play the ball into the path of James Nanje-Ngoe who ran clear and beat Piken but hit he post.

City could have been out of sight with keeper Callum Tongue a spectator but were watching Brown taken off with an injury replaced by Alex Metcalfe and Marine flashed a first cross. City maintained a dominance of the middle of the midfield but the visitors threatened on the flanks. The Bantams wobbled and a half cleared corner fell to Matthew Monagahan lashed the ball in from the edge of the box. Bit by bit the Bantams free ranging attacks became rarer as the visitors powered into City.

Marine’s side averaged much bigger and more physical than the Bantams who for the last fifteen minutes of the first half and the same time at the start of the second half struggled in the battle. Their were forays forward with Bower accelerating past defenders but seeing his shot saved (again) and Bass and Baker combining with an understanding that showed confidence in each other but still Piken stood firm.

At the back Andrew Boote blocked manfully while his central defensive partner and captain Declan McGiven and right back Cole Harrop struggled for understanding with pressure from the visitors coming early and causing problems. McGiven cleans up after Boote and frees Marshall who piles down on goal and requires Piken to save again. Nanje-Ngoe went close again, then plays in Baker. If City had had six at half time it would not have been a surprise, but Marine deserved to be level.

A contradiction then. The Bantams would do nothing different having piled on the pressure but Marine were happy to have managed to soak up what they could and nick a goal on the break. In the second half every Marine long ball caused problems every time they came forward but bit by bit the Bantams started to play the ball through the midfield of Nanje-Ngoe and Metcalfe and when they did so looked able to create chances at will.

Baker, Marshall, Bass and Bower provided options whenever the ball came forward and twice more City hit the post while Piken saved a half dozen chances many of which had seen the interplay between forwards conclude with a striker behind the back line and running in with only the keeper to beat. Baker took the ball around Piken but saw his shot hooked off the line. Steve Thornber’s switched Bass to the forward line and pressed a 433 but the patten of City attacking, but being frustrated with the constant worry of a sucker punch hanging in the air.

Sure enough in the last minute Matthew Devine found room in the box and hooked the ball over Tongue, McGiven scooping off the line. Even after that Baker had a chance to get behind the defence again and split the ball wide. Marine deserved extra time for their hard work but had the game ended in seven or eight goals then they could have had few complaints.

There was an attacking flair to City’s play for sure – Adam Baker was superb – but it came with a steel that James Nanje-Ngoe and Alex Metcalfe brought having won the midfield battle in the second half. Metcalfe’s dropping into the back four when needed provided a solidity and Nanje-Ngoe’s link up play with Baker was opening up the visitors. An early chance falls to sub Connor Erangey who smartly tries to stay on his feet and commit Piken but the keeper is not for selling himself too soon and saves. It seems that he will frustrate the Bantams all night.

Until another move that cuts through Marine with Erangey swinging the ball into the path of Baker who cuts back to Marshall, the left winger finishing from just outside the six yard box. It is a goal cheered by the small crowd as warmly as a good number of first team goals.

Then City are in control. Nanje-Ngoe is a powerhouse on the edge of box boxes taking the ball it and firing wide. Baker takes a knock but carries on into the second period where Metcalfe frees him again following a great tackle on Devine. Baker slides the ball wide. It is superb football and has almost everything.

And then a brawl breaks out, and it has everything. Kevin Farrell is sent of for reacting badly after a decision is given against him following a tackle on Erangey. Farrell seems to be the wrong man, but in his absence Bass picks up the ball from a cleared corner an rides three tackles taking the ball into the box before giving City a conclusive goal. Boote drops a clanger in the last minute and Marine grab a goal, but the Bantams see the game out.

Which is two hours of football that promises far more than it could deliver. In the cold night air one can dream of that performance in League Two but the reality of league football is not forgiving. The likes of Adam Baker might be playing for City before the season is out – a tempting prospect – and players like Nanje-Ngoe, Metcalfe, Bower, Erangey, Marshall, Bass and Robert Hiza certainly impressed, but there is a lot of hard work between now and then.

Tonight City learnt a lesson about missing chances – a scan at the notes references sixteen clear cut chances for the Bantams – but the lesson was not needed today. Most impressive though is the team ethic which the players showed to come back from the mid-game battering and keep playing for each other. Any or all of the players might turn out to be great talents, but the highest tribute one could pay to them tonight as they go onto the next round and a trip to Boston United is that they were great team mates for each other.

The next generation take their first steps as City juniors take to Valley Parade

When Bradford City’s juniors run out at Valley Parade against Marine in the FA Youth Cup first round most of the players will be playing their first competitive game at City’s stadium but unlike most of their peers in the past they will do so with a mapped out career path to being a professional footballer.

Changes at the club over the summer to create a additional tier of development between the juniors and the first team aims to take the players from the ranks of the young and work with them before they join the first team squad. The youngsters pulling on claret and amber in the past have been trying to prove that they are good enough to join a squad of League Two footballers immediately, the players tonight have to show that they have the potential to, and that is a significant distinction.

Steve Thornber’s team of under 18s – the qualification is that a player has to be 15, 16, 17 or 18 in August 2011 – face a Marine side who beat Leeds in the last round with the winner facing either Burton Albion or Boston United in the second round and many of the players on show (at 19:30, Valley Parade, Admission £4/Concessions available) have been in the Development Squad already this season.

Most notably is the much anticipated Scott Brown who joined City in the summer aged sixteen and turns seventeen today. He has played alongside Michael Flynn, Robbie Threlfall and Luke Oliver in the famous game at Silsden aquitting himself well. He regularly trains with the first team and does not look out of place when doing so.

Brown’s partner in midfield could be James Nanje Ngoe. A combative midfielder Nanje is no light weight youth having battered into Kyel Reid in a tackle in training during our trip to training to talk to Archie Christie. Christie calls Nanje his Inesesta having taken the first year apprentice to play in reserve games against senior professionals and seen the midfield win the day.

Goalkeeper Callum Tongue has been on the bench for the first team this season and is expected to be the sticksman tonight. Development Squad striker Adam Baker is in line for a pace up front. Other names to look out for include Thomas Marshall who scored twice in the Development Squad’s 5-2 win over Marine and Connor Bower who will look very familiar to most City fans. While Mark was a solid central defender Connor is a speedy forward.

Picking out players in Youth football is a random science. The young Kevin Gallen broke all records but never had the career of Robbie Fowler who he put in the shade. David Beckham was the ineffectual one at Manchester United before he went out on loan to Preston. At this stage of a player’s development there is much to do before the child becomes the man and it is games like tonight which maketh the man.

Legend of Valley Parade has it that City’s juniors beat the Beckham Manchester United side back in 1994 but the dates do not add up. Nevertheless a City team that included Des Hamilton and Graeme Tomlinson progressed to the last four of this competition losing out narrowly to Arsenal in the semi-final after Tomlinson and Hamilton were drafted into the first team.

The run did much to build the confidence of those Hamilton and Tomlinson who joined the first team and quickly settled in to be positive contributors but even without them the rest of the juniors team near matched the Gunners side managed by a sweary Pat Rice who went on to win the competition. Looking over the programme for that day the only name which one might know is Matthew Rose who played five times for Arsenal but retired in 2008. The City right back on that day fitted the electrics for my boiler four years ago.

The reality is that a good few of the players who feature tonight will end up in that sort of position but for a few – the few who show the massive desire which is needed – this is the a significant step on the path to being a professional footballer.

Boo boys, boards and Bradford City

Having been a Bradford City fan for the last 20 years it is safe to say that I hold a ‘football supporters’ CV that possesses, more ups and downs than the average football fan.

I have spent many a Saturday afternoon stood on the Kop watching claret and amber clad footballers run up and down the hallowed turf. Or, during away games, sat at home, with the radio pressed to my ear, attempting to pick up the coverage from hosts such as Chris Cooper, Tim and Stix and the legend that is Mr Derm Tanner; as they attempt to paint a picture of the events of the game into the listeners’ ear (some better than others in my personal opinion).

I have witnessed chairmen come and go, managers change in the blink of an eye only for the new one themselves to fall victim to the rotating door that is Valley Parade. The stadium itself has changed over the time I’ve held my season ticket.  Stands have grown, changed, lost their roofs, gained a corner, been opened by the Queen and graced by fans throughout the football league ladder.

So why now have I have decided to type (or attempt to type) an article/rant/opinion or even a question…

I have become, like many other City fans, upset, disillusioned and almost embarrassed at times in the last few years with life down at Valley Parade. But being a fan for 20 years, I don’t see this as something that is out of the ordinary for the everyday City fan. However, it does seem that for an alarming  number of ‘City fans’ this discontentment must be voiced at every opportunity wherever and whenever possible.

I don’t know whether this negativity is something that has always murmured and occasionally rumbled throughout the terraces, and that I have been naive enough to think that it didn’t; or whether it is indeed it is something like Town – unfortunately on the rise. Don’t get me wrong, I have had my moments as an adolescent and as twenty plus year old man screaming at players and managers alike. I have spent many a Saturday, after a horrendous display, complaining to mates over a pint or on the bus home about certain players’ performance and worth in the team. I have even been known to, on rare occasions I can honestly say, call for a manager or chairman to resign or be sacked.

However I do not understand those ‘fans’ who seem to want to pick fault with everything that is Bradford City Association Football Club, in particular, and ironically do so via the club’s official message board.

Rant part over – the question I would like to raise to these people is simply, “What is the point?” Yes, we know that City are not having the best time of it at the moment; yes, we know that sometimes the manager’s tactics may not always match those of our own expectations; and yes we know that those higher up have made decisions that have sat like a bad curry.

But what do these people expect? I am not for one minute suggesting that voicing an opinion is wrong or unhealthy, but what I am saying is that those who voice opinions that do not seem based on fact or reasonable argument can only further disrupt or upset those involved with the club at whatever level. I am not trying to point the finger, as I truly believe that those City fans that have been with the club through thick and thin will share my feelings and know who I am talking about.

A case example can easily be found during, I hasten to add, City’s game against Swindon. As mentioned, I am a huge fan of Derm Tanner and believe he paints as honest a picture of the game as he can, for which I have no doubt he is respected by a vast majority of City fans.  It therefore baffled me that no sooner had Andrew Davies been dismissed for reasons unknown to Derm and Mike Harrison, that messages began to appear calling for not only Davies’ head but also that of Parkinson’s. What further baffled me was that it seemed as though those who had found this information out had simply been watching the very brilliant ‘panto’ that is Soccer Saturday, and had not actually been listening to or been present at the game!

Unfortunately these incidents are not a rare occurrence and other forms of social networking seem to be a good place for these people to berate players both past and present as well as fellow supporters, even on a personal level.

I’m sure and hope I have opened a can of worms surrounding this subject and hopefully spoken on behalf of a number of City fans. I could go on further but I shall leave that to someone else. Hopefully I’ve started the ball rolling that will begin to squash theses ‘so-called’ fans and help give the club I love a push in the right direction.