Finding out what you are good at

Rather unexpectedly, Bradford City become involved in a cup run.

The 2-2 draw with Port Vale saw the Bantams win on penalties and ended up as one of eight in a competition since 1989’s League Cup all of which seemed unlikely after a first half in which the Bantams seemed to have forgotten any or all of the elements which have made the club enjoyable to watch this season.

After an initial ten minutes against a Vale side who predictably defended deep in which the Bantams showed some fluidity but soon the attempted midfield of Zesh Rehman sitting behind Michael Flynn and Luke Sharry. If the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is for anything it is for blooding young players and it is admirable that Sharry was given a chance but the midfielder did not take the chance with two hands and and with Rehman sitting naturally atop Steve Williams and the recalled Matthew Clarke the midfield triangle became more of a string.

As a result the ball was punted long – punted as opposed to passed – with the ball often going to an out muscled Michael Boulding or Scott Neilson rather than the powerful James Hanson. It was from this that John McCombe gave the visitors the lead with a corner being cleared to Boulding who’s attempt to hold the ball up was lacklustre and so as the Bantams came out the ball pinged back in to the flank and then the centre with McCombe converting.

Micky Adams has Port Vale playing at what they are good at. They sit deep and attack with pace and as City had failed at their endeavours in the first half and Vale had not they deserved the lead. Moreover though Stuart McCall took his team into the dressing room knowing that there was a problem which he set about addressing.

Sharry may not get another 45 minutes to press his case for a contract so it is a shame that he did not grasp this game but his replacement – James O’Brien – floated a corner into the middle which good running by Rehman and a ducked header by Flynn which levelled the game.

Flynn had moved to the forward line to replace Michael Boulding – brought off for Chris Brandon – to give the attack more sticking power against a Vale side who looked to up their muscle with West Yorkshireman Anthony Griffith coming on.

Griffith seems to be a player born without any footballing talent. He can – however – tackle and battle which he does to various degrees giving away a free kick for a foul on James Hanson. Luke O’Brien middled the free kick for Hanson who rose to head in.

Football is sometimes very complex but most other times it is utterly simple. Good delivery to players who are good at heading it. Two goals and that seemed to be that until Robert Taylor his a choice shot across Simon Eastwood and into the the far post to set up another round of penalties after ninety minutes.

Penalties – taken at the Kop end to the eternal credit of someone – started with Marc Richards and Michael Flynn scoring Simon Eastwood saved Louis Dodds, Vale keeper Chris Martin saved from James O’Brien. Eastwood’s on line bouncing gave him the edge over Kris Taylor but Chris Brandon became the only player of sixteen to miss the target.

Lewis Haldane, James Hanson, Tommy Fraser, Luke O’Brien, Robert Taylor and Zesh Rehman scored. Eastwood saved from Adam Yates and Steve Williams won the game.

The credit, the songs, the mobbing of his team mates went to Simon Eastwood who had saved three of eight stop kicks and once again had put the Bantams a step closer to Wembley. Eastwood is the new Barry Conlon. Some get on his back but on nights like tonight – just as Barry would get match winners – he was the difference.

At least we have found something he is good at: saving penalties.

The twin towers beckoning now as the Bantams play Port Vale

The attraction of the Johnstone’s Paint Cup only comes in the last game of the competition. The day out at Wembley is a moment to savour for fans and probably the only time that a game in this competition will pull in more supporters than an average league game for most clubs.

For the Bantams there is a second attraction – the idea of a two legged Northern Final with Leeds United would be a welcome addition to the coffers and the local interest might ensure full houses for both matches – but even that possibility is two matches away and the Bantams are left with the prospect of a last eight match that offers little immediate reward.

The City side look forward to a game with AFC Bournemouth at the weekend at Valley Parade looking to ensure that the league form which is recovering from a stumble can be maintained while trying to avoid being knocked out of a second cup competition in five days following the 2-1 defeat at Notts County on Friday.

The Bantams dragged out a 0-0 draw with Vale at Valley Parade
which saw the visitors show little in the way of commitment to win the game. Since then manager Micky Adams transfer listed the entire squad and the club have settled into the same mid-table City have taken residence in.

Lee Bullock’s late booking sees him suspended again – curious – and Gareth Evans has a heel injury which coupled with other injuries to Simon Ramsden and Peter Thorne leaves Stuart McCall with a team that almost picks itself.

Simon Eastwood is in goal. Jonathan Bateson and Luke O’Brien are full backs. Matthew Clarke could be given a chance alongside Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman is McCall feels either needs resting and perhaps the presence or lack of of Clarke will detail how seriously City are taking the game.

Michael Flynn and James O’Brien will be added to by Chris Brandon should be able to return to fitness otherwise Luke Sharry might get a chance to press his impressive credentials in his search for a new contract at Christmas. Leon Osborne’s ability to thrive in the more battling midfield that the three in the middle suggest is questionable but he could also be considered should Brandon not be fit.

Osborne is more suited to one of the wider forward roles although Michael Boulding is expected to come in for Evans with James Hanson leading the line of Scott Neilson providing the link between the midfield and the attack.

Sour grapes or smart management from Sheridan?

Chesterfield boss John Sheridan left his words ringing around Valley Parade following his teams 3-0 defeat by the Bantams on Saturday.

Sheridan – Shez to Leeds fans of a certain age – was fuming with a Referee who blew for a foul on Luke O’Brien when Wade Small was clean through and booked Jack Lester who did nothing to warrant it clash with Lee Bullock. Further his Chesterfield side were the better team at Valley Parade – despite the scoreline – for most of the game.

It is hard to reconcile Sheridan’s views with the ninety minutes we saw on Saturday even with the partisanship that comes from backing one side or the other. Most combinations of logic and football would say that three goals evenly spaced out and none conceded could be nothing other than a deserved win. Sheridan has his own thoughts on how he should react to the defeat just as Micky Adams – who has transfer listed the entire Port Vale squad – has his but perhaps it is worth looking at those contrasting approaches.

Adams – who saw his team lose at Notts County by a much smaller margin than the Bantams did (although both saw frankly ludicrous dives by Luke Rodgers rewarded with penalties) – has decided that a line needs to be drawn between the squad and himself perhaps worried about tarnish to what was once a great reputation in management rather than just a fit of pique motivated by sour grapes.

Let it be known from now on that Adams is not to be responsible for Port Vale’s performances – at least until a dressing room clear out has been completed – and that the team are on their own if they want to defend themselves against any criticism thrown their way.

Of course in practice while the entire Port Vale squad are for sale none of them can be sold until after Christmas – transfer windows being what they are – and one can be sure that a good few of the squad would not be allowed to leave anyway, James Lawrie for example has attracted interest form Arsenal and Fulham and is not being binned by Adams. It is a big statement but an unrealistic one.

Nevertheless in the here and now Adams has made his big statement.

Sheridan takes a contrasting approach pre-emptively defending his players from any criticism with a controlled mix of “we wuz robbed” and “we didn’t deserve to lose”. None of which is to criticise the protective shield he has thrown around his team just to suggest that it need not be seen as a reflection of the result or the pattern of the game any more than Adams’s distancing should be looked on as a realistic plan.

The impression of a team beaten convincingly is diluted by Sheridan’s comments while no one talks about Jack Lester’s fairly violent over the ball on Lee Bullock because it is excused as a Refereeing mistake. It might not be truthful as you, I, a Chesterfield fan at the game, player or manager sees it but it does mitigate criticism amongst supporters controlling which is increasingly important in the manager’s arsenal of abilities.

The Chesterfield boss knows that his words will reach Saltergate and the supporters who did not travel to Bradford before his team bus gets back and those words will start to create a reality around the game on message boards and forums separate and more favourable for the manager.

In Burslam they here that Micky Adams is not happy and it assuages any anger there, in Chesterfield any criticism is tempered by Sheridan’s view of the reality of the afternoon. Far from being sour grapes Sheridan comes out as a manager smart enough to realise that in absence of a win the perception of the game amongst his supporters – especially those who stayed at home – is the next most important thing.

Would Stuart McCall have transfer listed the entire squad after the 4-1 defeat at Barnet last year? Would he have come back from Morecambe when Peter Thorne had a goal chalked off and a linesman raised and lowered his flag insisting we were robbed? (we were, by the way)

Probably not. McCall’s public face is an honest and emotional one and his public relations and – for want of a better phrase – supporter expectation management skills are poor. Adams and Sheridan – I would guess – would thrash the City boss at Poker.

Strange though that so much of football management is about how performances are perceived rather than anything rooted strictly in reality. Adams says performances are at a low that he will not stand, Sheridan that his team deserved better and probably neither are true but also untrue are the extreme opinions that pepper message board and forums at 4:50 on a match day and it is the smart management of these that Sheridan is concerned with.