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Looking for a good, Good Friday as Bradford City welcome the Posh

18 Apr
Image by Kieran Wilkinson

Image by Kieran Wilkinson

Bradford City vs Peterborough United preview

@Valley Parade on Friday 18 April, 2014

By Ian Sheard

“I expected them to do better and, for one reason or another, they haven’t.” Peterborough manager Darren Ferguson’s assessment of Bradford City’s season perhaps echoes what a lot of fans have been saying about their own. Particularly after the decent start that was made to the campaign.

The Bantams are looking to get back to winning ways and replicate the home form of last season, against one of the early favourites. Peterborough, who are currently residing in sixth and who look a decent outfit, are a couple of victories away from securing the last play off place alongside Leyton Orient, Preston and that lot down the road. I think everyone expected the top two (Wolves and Brentford) to be there at the start of the season, and they have kept true to form. The play offs will be interesting to watch this year, as I can’t see much difference between the teams. My gut tells me it will be Rotherham – but I hope it isn’t!

So what is it that has prevented City from being part of this end-of-season shootout for promotion? I can say, but not prove, that the only thing I wanted this year was to stay up. It looks as though we will achieve that feat and won’t get sucked into the relegation battle at the wrong of the table over the final few matches. Most City fans would probably agree this season was about achieving stability and taking careful steps forwards. Would we have been in a position to compete in the Championship, had we performed better and got promoted? No, is the honest answer.

That said, it would have been nice to have been up there with Peterborough right now, and Phil Parkinson has a lot of thinking to do going into the summer – as fans expect more next season.

I could be rousing an argument here, but we were told at the start of the season that one thing we weren’t going to do was to dip into the loan market. It was interesting to note, in the last home game against Oldham, that half of the team were borrowed from different clubs. I know we have had a few injuries this season, but is there a lack of faith/confidence in the likes of Garry Thompson, Mark Yeates and Carl McHugh, or are they not good enough?

Whilst I am happy for loan players to come into the squad and show their parent club what they are worth, I don’t think there should be five in your starting line up when there are people on higher wages and with more experience sat on the bench. It’s a tough, tough call for Parkinson, and I’m sure everyone has their own views on this issue. However, the ‘make do’ feel of the team right now does leave him with some big decisions to make over summer, as a lot of players are coming to the end of their contracts.

Another reason for failing to mount a sustained promotion push is the lack of creativity we seem to have within the team. It seems as though we have lost the ability to pass the ball around sharply, particularly in the opponents half, and have suffered as a result. I think James Hanson is a wonderful player but, whilst he does win every ball in the air, we need to find another tactic beyond launching it to him. I don’t know whether it is panic mode or not, but we need to keep hold of possession more – like we did during the first 30 minutes against Gillingham.

Friday’s encounter with Rotherham was a good game. I thought City played well, and that having five in the midfield seemed to help us out a little bit. I am a fan of Jon Stead and think that, if he is available at the end of the season, then he should be signed up. Some may say that playing five in midfield is a bit negative at home; but with Aaron Mclean and Hanson potentially still injured, Parkinson would probably be best playing the same way with Stead up front.

Peterborough will no doubt look to win the match rather than play for time and try to wear us down to a 0-0 draw. Hopefully this will help us, as we always seem to play better when opponents bring the game to us and we catch them on the break. Having read Ferguson Senior’s autobiography, it worked for Man United and I believe Darren has the makings of a good manager too.

I hope it’s a good game tonight, as it seems as though the season is petering out somewhat. I would be more than happy with a draw that would all but nudge us over the line of mathematical safety. But recent home failings are still raw, and so a good start is vital in making sure that this proves to be a very Good Friday for Bradford City.

Nowhere to hide as Bradford City go to Rotherham

11 Apr

Leyton Orient

Rotherham United vs Bradford City preview

@New York Stadium on Friday 11 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

It is impossible not to fear the worst about tonight. It is difficult to envisage any other outcome but a home victory.

Rotherham’s defeat to Sheffield United on Tuesday was their first defeat in 17 matches – they had been unbeaten since New Years Day. During that run they averaged 2.44 goals per game and scored three or more times on six occasions. Despite their midweek blank, the Millers are the top scorers in the Football League, and the third highest of the 92 – behind only Liverpool and Man City.

The recent run has taken Rotherham from play off challengers to being in the hunt for the second automatic promotion place behind Wolves. They currently lie nine points behind second-place Brentford with five games to play, and recently crushed the Bees 3-0 at the New York stadium.

Be afraid tonight. Be very afraid.

Particularly when you throw in City’s wretched recent record against their South Yorkshire neighbours – six straight defeats for the West – and the Indian Sign that Steve Evans holds over Phil Parkinson, going back to the former’s Crawley days.

There is every chance that the Bantams could suffer a real hiding tonight. It is not the game we needed at this stage of the season, when there is still some work to be done to ensure survival. Had Oldham been defeated at Valley Parade last Saturday, tonight could have been considered a free hit for City. But it is not. It is an important match for both clubs.

The time for pragmatism

After enduring one of his worst days in office, Parkinson is undoubtedly under some pressure to produce a big reaction from his players – although he should not have to fear for his job. From where City were two years ago to where we are now, he has engineered a 30-place improvement in the club’s league position. In other words a climb of one-third up the 92.

When such progression stops over a meaningful period of time, we can certainly raise the question of his future. But for now he continues to hold plenty of credit in the bank, and the two remaining years on his contract would cost the club a pretty penny to settle up. And if we were hunting for a replacement, we’d be looking for someone with the qualities that Parkinson possesses to take us forwards. He deserves the opportunity to rebuild the squad during the summer, and nothing I have heard or read over the last few days has convinced me otherwise.

The local media chose to completely ignore the fact that Parkinson was booed twice on Saturday over his substitutions (a shame because, if nothing else, asking the manager about it would have allowed him the opportunity to explain the changes). In many respects Parkinson has done well to last this long without suffering the indignity of such booing before. I struggle to recall a single Bradford City manager over the past two decades who wasn’t booed for their choice of substitution (Peter Jackson perhaps, but he wasn’t around long enough).

Even Paul Jewell, during a City Premier League away match at Sheffield Wednesday in January 2000, was booed for taking off Stuart McCall. If the man who took the Bantams to the top flight for the first time in 77 years – and kept them there – cannot escape such booing, Parkinson should not be concerned.

And the most important thing that Parkinson can do right now is to continue to be his own man and not listen to the crowd. Worrying about such matters has been the undoing of past City managers – think of Nicky Law bowing down to supporters in 2003 by playing Ben Muirhead when he evidently wasn’t the answer. Parkinson is experienced enough to know that there is a big difference between doing the right thing and doing what the crowd believes to be the right thing. And over these last few games in particular, he needs to be pragmatic rather than popular.

With Rotherham prospering at Valley Parade on Boxing Day through a 4-5-1 formation, Parkinson needs to ensure that his side can match that system if Evans is to repeat its use. If that means going 4-5-1 also and leaving, say, Aaron Mclean  (who is struggling for fitness) on the bench, so be it. There’s a section of City fans who hate 4-5-1 and will criticise any manager who tries it. So what?

Parkinson cannot set up his team for another Rotherham thrashing. A point tonight would be a great achievement and there is nothing wrong with targeting that.

What’s needed

To have any chance of succeeding, Parkinson needs every single player to put in a shift ala-Leyton Orient – there can be no passengers like there were in the Oldham game. Parkinson needs Andrew Davies, Stephen Darby and Gary Jones to demonstrate their leadership skills and set the example for others to follow. Rory McArdle needs to quickly get over last Saturday’s woeful display and demonstrate why he should continue to be at the heart of next season’s back four. Jon McLaughlin has not been playing badly, but also needs a good night.

If City do go 4-5-1, Chris Atkinson or – if either are fit – Mclean or Nathan Doyle will come into midfield. Adam Reach needs to use the platform of being live on TV to impress, and I suspect we will get a better performance than recent feeble efforts. Kyle Bennett needs to forget last week’s no-show and get back to the level he had been building up towards before. That said, Garry Thompson’s promising cameo off the bench on Saturday could be rewarded with a start ahead of the Doncaster loanee.

If James Hanson is fit enough to play, it could change any such thoughts of a 4-5-1. Parkinson needs Hanson, but it would be asking a lot for the big man to start on his own up front if not 100% fit.

What hope?

If there is a chink of light to be offered, it is that Rotherham have been better on the road than they have away; winning nine, drawing eight and losing three at the New York Stadium, with no one in the top half of League One having conceded more goals at home, including the Bantams.

Small crumbs, on a night that seems to be about damage limitation and raised relegation anxiety. The heart fondly remembers recent shock away victories when no one expected anything from City – Leyton Orient, two weeks ago, Southend United, two years ago and, one my all-time favourite away games, Rochdale in February 2010 (Peter Taylor’s second game in charge).

I guess the minimum that we can expect tonight is an improved performance from Saturday, and to hope that the players show sufficient passion to demonstrate they want to still be wearing a claret and amber shirt next season. Whether that will be enough to avoid a seemingly inevitable defeat is highly questionable, but at the very least it would be nice to walk out of the New York Stadium at the end of tonight feeling more confident about the future than we did leaving Valley Parade last Saturday.

City on the brink of surviving The Oldham Division

4 Apr

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Bradford City vs Oldham Athletic preview

@Valley Parade on Saturday 5 April, 2014

Written by Jason McKeown (images by Mike Holdsworth)

It is just short of seven years since Oldham Athletic last visited Valley Parade – an Easter Monday afternoon where both sides were heading in polar opposites.

Bradford City, desperately fighting relegation from League One, took a surprise 65th minute lead when Moses Ashikodi (remember him?) smashed an unstoppable half-volley into the top corner. Perhaps if Joe Colbeck hadn’t got himself stupidly sent off for kicking the ball away, or if rookie caretaker manager hadn’t sacrificed strikers Billy Paynter and Ashikodi to play Spencer Weir-Daley (remember him?!) on his own up front, or if the defence hadn’t played so deep, City would have held out for a vital victory. But with three minutes to go, promotion-chasing Oldham equalised through Luigi Glombard. Their near 3,000 visiting support went wild.

City ended that season in the bottom four, relegated, Oldham finished in the top six, defeated in the play off semi finals. They have remained in League One ever since, but that doesn’t tell half the story of their Groundhog Day existence. Flash back even further – 1997 – and City had an even bigger impact on the Latics’ future. Both clubs – and Grimsby – were locked in a relegation battle in Division One (now the Championship). City survived, Oldham (and Grimsby) went down to the third tier. Athletic have not changed leagues since.

That makes the 2013/14 season Oldham’s 17th consecutive campaign in this division. 17. SEVENTEEN. When they went down in 1997, Tony Blair had just become Prime Minister, Hong Kong was still part of the United Kingdom and Titanic had just hit the cinemas. That 2006/07 season was Oldham’s best finish in the intervening years (sixth) and they have only finished in the top half of the table in five of the other 16 seasons. Similarly, they have only come perilously close to relegation on three occasions.

It must be somewhat unsatisfying to be an Oldham supporter then. A much of nothingness year in, year out. It scarcely seems credible that they were one of the founder members of the Premier League (voting for the breakaway top flight that has had such a dramatic effect on the distribution of wealth in football). 17 years in this division. The bottom tier often gets cruelly named ‘The Rochdale Division’. Surely League One deserves a similar nickname concerning Oldham?

For Bradford City, the job of staying in ‘The Oldham Division’ is almost complete. Tuesday night’s 0-0 with Coventry City took the Bantams up to 49 points, and with most teams having six games to play and the gap to the dotted line nine points and nine teams, the reality is that we are probably safe now. Still, a win tomorrow would take City past the 50-point mark and all but rubber-stamp survival. It would be nice to get the job done on home soil.

You can start to split City’s 2013/14 season into three different phases. The first, covering the opening 10 matches, saw City fly out of the blocks and produce promotion-standard form of one defeat in 10. Phase two – which lasted almost half a season – was that dismal one win in 20 league matches. That horrendous run ended with a 1-0 victory over Port Vale in mid-February, and the last 10 games (phase three) has seen four wins, two draws and four defeats.

Mid-table form, for a side which is surely set for a mid-table finish. Banish that lingering relegation question mark, and it’s all about finishing as high up the division as possible. After Port Vale’s midweek victory over Crawley, 11th is probably the best finish that City can hope for. At which point, we will very quickly start to plan for season two in League One, and the long-term challenge of not becoming the new Oldham.

It seems churlish to be talking about getting out of League One as quickly as possible on the weekend that its permanent residents are in town, but no one wants to stick around here for too long. The only thing we want to have in common with Oldham is that we are also an ex-Premier League side.

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The final six games offer plenty to play for, given there are so many players needing to demonstrate they should remain a part of the Bradford City journey next season. James Hanson, Adam Drury and Nathan Doyle remain fitness doubts, but for the rest this is not a time to stand still.

Jon McLaughlin is certainly under the spotlight. On City’s last Valley Parade appearance, a week and a half ago, the poor opener he conceded to Walsall saw him the subject of plenty of post-match criticism. Yet McLaughlin has responded with back-to-back clean sheets that included some important saves. In front of him will definitely be Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle – both out of contract in six games time – and Andrew Davies, with Carl McHugh (another whose deal is about to run out) likely to continue covering for Drury, should the Leeds loanee not make it.

There is no doubt that McHugh’s season could have gone better, and the irrepressible left-sided defender in the team ahead of him, Davies, looks set to continue blocking his first team path for at least another season. I love Carl, but I suspect that for his own good he needs to look for another club this summer. Tomorrow could be one of his final Valley Parade appearances.

In midfield the partnership of Gary Jones and Matty Dolan impresses – Width of a Post has more to say on it next week – and on the flanks, Adam Reach’s strong start to life at City continues to slowly fade and Kyle Bennett’s slow start continues to be strongly improved upon. Bennett looks very similar to Will Atkinson and is likely to be recruited during the summer to fill that wide-player-who-tucks-inside role. Behind him on the bench, Garry Thompson’s farewell lap will shortly begin.

Up front is likely to be Jon Stead – making a home debut against a side he was playing on loan for earlier this year – and the improving Aaron Mclean. It would be nice to see some of the youngsters given a chance over the final weeks when the right moment arises, and the sight of Oli McBurnie, Jack Stockdill and James Pollard on the bench recently would suggest they may get their opportunity before the final ball is kicked at Prenton Park in a month’s time.

By then, City will surely be playing only for pride while today’s visitors will have hoped to put their lingering relegation fears to bed. A loss to the Bantams tomorrow would certainly cause them unease, although after 17 years of this division you wonder if, on some level, the opportunity to visit some different grounds next season would cushion the blow of relegation to League Two.

More likely, next season’s The Oldham Division is going to include a repeat of tomorrow’s fixture.

Lessons in history as Bradford City go to Coventry

1 Apr
Picture by Claire Epton

Picture by Claire Epton

Coventry City vs Bradford City preview

@Sixfields (Northampton) on Tuesday 1 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

In the 20 years that the Sixfields stadium, Northampton, has stood, it has never been so overused and yet so sparsely populated as it has this season. Former Premier League outfit Coventry City moved in last summer, 70 miles away from their home city, with average crowds of 2,222 indirectly bolstered by protesting Coventry supporters on that large hill outside. Not since Wimbledon saw out their final days at Selhurst Park in front of one man and his dog, before relocating to Milton Keynes, have Bradford City embarked on such an unusual away fixture as tonight’s.

Yet it is the permanent proprietors of Sixfields who offer the more fitting perspective to the Bantams current struggles. Northampton Town lie second bottom of League Two, fighting for their lives to avoid relegation. The Cobblers were, of course, City’s play off final opponents 10-and-a-half months ago, crushed 3-0 at Wembley. After another 3-0 loss – to Bury at home, on Saturday - they are in deep trouble.

Only one of the previous 17 fourth tier beaten play off finalists have gone on to be promoted the following season – yet Northampton’s bouncebackability has been especially poor. They have gone from being disappointed not to leave League Two, to now desperate simply to remain in it. Sixfields is in serious danger of becoming a non-league stadium.

There but for the grace of God, and all that.

In the 30 years that the City Gent fanzine has existed, they can scarcely have published a more bizarre reader letter than one which appears in the latest edition, comparing Phil Parkinson to Hitler. Oddly bemoaning that Parkinson is too good-looking and that “if he had a face like a bag of turds and dressed like a tramp waiting for chips, would we have given him this much leeway?”, the letter-writing supporter goes onto state, “He is eloquent I will give you that, but so too was Hitler, and we all know how that turned out.” If I were Mark Lawn, I’d be carefully searching Phil’s desk to check that those opposition scout reports aren’t really secret plans to invade Poland.

Such stupidity represents the far extreme of negative views aired about Parkinson by an increasing number of City supporters, in the wake of some of the worst performances of the season against Shrewsbury and Walsall. There is undoubtedly a growing thought that the manager has taken the club as far as he can, with calls for a change growing in volume, if quietened by Saturday.

Writing as someone still very much in the pro-Parkinson camp (although please don’t mistake my personal views as WOAP editorial policy, we welcome contrary views and articles), the tone of the criticism directed his way continues to sadden me. Read the Bradford City Facebook page, Twitter and the Telegraph & Argus boards – and, in so many cases, what you see is abuse and hatred. It should be easy to put together a constructive argument for why the manager should, at the very least, currently be having his future questioned; but those people who are attempting to do just that are largely being drowned out by outright abuse from others.

It is completely unfair that any manager of Bradford City be the subject of such nasty and vile anger. You think of everything Parkinson has given to the club, of the loyalty he has shown, and you wonder how there could such little respect afforded to him by some people. There is a big difference between no longer believing in a manager and hating him, or at least there should be.

In the 111 years that Bradford City Football Club has toiled, rarely has there been a season as memorable as 2012/13. The 64 game marathon featured a rollercoaster of emotions. The drama, the excitement, the joy, the pride. What a happy ending: a first promotion in 14 years. It meant so much.

As City celebrated reaching Wembley for a second time in three months with victory in the play off semi final at Burton, the 1,600 visiting supporters that packed out the Perelli Stadium serenaded the players with the words “We’re proud of you” and responded to Parkinson’s clenched fist celebrations with a round of “Parkinson’s Bradford Army”. The pride indeed. The glow of which only increased further after the Northampton play off final victory.

As form has fallen off a cliff over the winter months of this season, not unreasonably, several people declared that last season is now irrelevant, and how we all needed to stop talking about it. As Parkinson came under his first genuine spell of pressure in February, the early advocates for change went further, arguing that his 2012/13 achievements should not count in any debates about his future. But of course, that is impossible to do. When evaluating the ability of someone to lead the club forwards, his past record has to come into consideration.

And so, the new, recent theme from some has been to talk down the past. ‘We made history’ has now become ‘Let’s re-write history’. Suddenly, promotion last season is being dubbed a fluke by many people. One that was only achieved because of Exeter’s late collapse in their form; one that was only achieved due to the Bantams scraping a seventh-place finish. A decent manager would not have luckily taken City up last season, they say, but won the league.

Words fail me at such a miserable outlook. That all those warm memories of last season’s run-in are retrospectively downgraded by some as ‘lucky’ and, by association, the success achieved viewed as unmerited. Did people really feel that way at the time? Did they not enjoy those late season victories? That afternoon at Burton? That second trip to Wembley?

Only seventh? Not since 1999 have City finished higher in the division they are in. Only through the play offs? In the five previous League Two seasons, only once did we come close to achieving that basic expectation (and in that year, 2008/09, we did an Exeter and fell away at the end). And we haven’t even mentioned that first trip to Wembley. You could talk down Parkinson’s achievements if they were happening all the time to the club, but years and years of struggle and underperformance should serve to highlight just how incredible last season’s success was.

Yet equally – and let’s be honest – 2012/13′s late run-in featured more than our fair share of luck. Exeter did indeed collapse when they (or other challengers ahead of us in mid-March) should have sealed that last play off spot. But still, that doesn’t change City’s achievement of only losing three of their final 15 games post-Swansea; of picking up 15 points from a possible 24 to steal into seventh, when others dithered. They made the most of the luck that came their way, capitalising in clinical fashion.

Parkinson’s influence on that never-say-die run-in does not deserve to be downgraded 12 months on, simply to suit the debate of today. There is nothing wrong with arguing he deserves to go in spite of last season if that is what you believe, but please don’t attempt to say he deserves to go because of last season. After all, if you’re not happy about last season…well why bother supporting this club?

Not since 1996 have City enjoyed such a spectacular late run of form. Year after year we have either been nowhere near or choked. Last season should always be remembered with fondness – not twisted and distorted.

In the first two years that Phil Parkinson managed Bradford City, he impressed not only those inside Valley Parade but the outside world. Blackpool looked to him as the answer to their struggles, and other clubs would be linked with his services. Parkinson was one of the hottest properties in management, and City did very well to keep him.

“Three years? What were they thinking!” has been a recent grumble, in light of the contract that Parkinson was offered by the club – and signed – last May. It makes debates about his future seem somewhat worthless, given it will likely cost a six-figure sum of money to dispense with his services. We are stuck with him.

Which suits me just fine. I have long believed in long-term thinking. By plotting a future in terms of years and not months, the club has a much greater chance of being rebuilt on firmer foundations. The three-year contract is a three-year plan, one that needs to conclude with City knocking on the door of the Championship, for it to be extended further.

Year one’s objective of staying in League One is a fair and realistic goal. It has not yet been achieved, and crossing that 50-point mark is proving to be an unnecessarily laboured task, but it is progress. We can question the route to get here – the edge of survival – but not the destination. It is vital that City remain a League One club, and that target is within touching distance after Saturday’s impressive away win at Leyton Orient.

As for the three-year debate; whilst there is no doubt that some did question the wisdom when the contract was agreed last year, they were very much in the minority. Very few people were against it, in fact the majority were for it.

That’s why I find those who are now questioning the logic of the contract difficult to take seriously. If we, as supporters, believe we deserve a say in how this club is run, you have to share in responsibility for the decisions you previously backed. If you wanted Parkinson to remain as manager 12 months ago, only for the club to go and make sure that was the case, it is unfair to now pretend you didn’t agree with that decision. And let’s be clear, had Parkinson walked away from Valley Parade last summer, the chairmen would have copped it big style.

In the 11 years that Phil Parkinson has been a football manager, he has made mistakes but also enjoyed notable success. He is a smarter, wiser and cleverer manager for going through those bad times. And what he will have learned over the past 12 months will undoubtedly make him an even better manager. We should be confident that he can apply this greater experience next season.

When looking back on Parkinson’s achievements at Valley Parade, his success in steering the club away from relegation to non-league, during his first season in charge, seems especially relevant at the moment. Today is two years and five days since that horrendous evening against Crawley, where you really feared for the future. Parkinson was able to lift the club from such dark times, and the rest is history.

His first season seems especially relevant at the moment, given the task facing the manager this summer – rebuilding the squad. In September 2011 he took charge of a Bantams squad that was woefully lacking in quality and, in 18 months, had turned them into League Cup finalists. I have no fears that he can deliver the improvements that are needed for next season.

Yet the problem of the here and now is that the sweeping changes needed cannot be implemented until this season is over. Parkinson has made major mistakes in the transfer market which he is in no position to rectify in the short-term. He must continue to make do with a squad that has over recent months let him down on several occasions, and who over the final seven games will continue to deliver inconsistent performances. And poor results will continue to make Parkinson look bad, adding to the pressure now placed on his shoulders.

The short-term outlook is not great. Parkinson must get us over that 50+ point line, even if it’s an undignified stumble – and then he must prove that he can take the club forwards in line with our long-term ambitions.

I have confidence he can do just that, although there are no guarantees he will succeed. The bottom line, however, is that he has earned the right to get that opportunity. After everything he has done for this football club and all the wonderful memories he has provided, Parkinson deserves our support and backing during these more difficult times.

In the 39 matches that Bradford City have played this season, they sit right in the middle of the table. Currently eight points clear of the drop zone but 10 away from the play offs, this looks set to be a season where both promotion and relegation was never seriously on the table.

And all things considered – not least our recent history - that will do just fine.

 

The bubble

28 Mar

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Leyton Orient vs Bradford City preview

@Brisbane Road on Saturday 29 March, 2014

By Mahesh Johal

With eight games to go it’s strange to think that I have watched my last game of the 2013/14 season. No, the sight of a toothless defeat to Walsall has not scared me off. Instead I am embarking on a month’s travelling around the States. I will be in San Francisco on the day of the Rotherham match. I have yet to research any British or Irish sports bars that might have Sky Sports, but one highly doubts that local Californians will see the importance of League One football in the same manner that I do.

It’s a shame that I finished this season on bum note, because I have genuinely enjoyed every aspect of it. The pre-season high and optimism, a bouncing Valley Parade, new away days, transfer window drama and of course all of those wonderful comebacks. I still believe we have enough for a strong finale and hope we can a secure mid table finish. However, with a tough away trip to high flying Leyton Orient, things may get worse before they get better.

City currently sit just outside what American sports pundits like to call ‘the bubble’. To give an example of ‘the bubble’, we can use this season’s Premier League. The current top three are all in the bubble to qualify for the Champions League. Arsenal – who are fourth – are also in it. Fifth and sixth placed, Everton and Spurs are on the bubble; whilst Manchester United could be described as outside it. Make sense? Looking at League One, I think it’s fair to say City are just outside the ‘relegation bubble’. We’re not in the thick of a dogfight; but only six points away, we are getting increasingly near it. One hopes Tuesday’s performance was a one off, because any more abject displays like that and we could be embroiled in a battle we didn’t want or expect.

I have seen enough bad Bradford City displays not to take it to heart, but it was the manner in which we performed on Tuesday that really hurt. For the first time in a long time, City’s performance lacked the Bradford DNA which is synonymous with this team. That being a side that is honest and hardworking. A team that runs for each other and grinds opposition sides down with their pure commitment and positivity. City lack the skills that some teams have in this league, but we have gained many a point from purely outworking opponents.

On Tuesday, I and twelve thousand or so didn’t see that. In all honesty, I think this is what caused so many to either leave early or boo at full time.As I was reminded on the way back to Manchester, only five of last season’s play off final XI started on Tuesday. Maybe that kinship and character has been broken up? Maybe it was a bad night? Either way, Phil Parkinson has to do something to get this side united and over the line.

Eyes will be on Jon McLaughlin; whose recent form has steadily been on the decline. I’m happy to admit I’m a Jon Mc fan. I like the way we’ve nurtured him and it’s nice to see someone we’ve developed succeed in our team. At times, he has shown flashes of brilliance and I would find it hard for people to argue against his shot stopping ability. However, he is prone to error, and this trait has come to the fore lately.

I look back to Tuesday at some of McLaughlin’s near calamity episodes. Whether it his miscommunication with Rory McArdle in the first half or his failed attempt to usher the ball out of play in the second that nearly cost us a goal. The much clichéd argument of a lack of a proper back up goalkeeper to threaten his position does hold weight, when comparing this Jon McLaughlin to the one we saw this time last season. An easy target throughout his tenure at City, I truly hope he succeeds and becomes our long-term number one. However his dip in confidence is worrying.
The target on Aaron McLean’s back is growing and the social media backlash seen after the Shrewsbury game demonstrated that some are already losing patience with him. Many expected Mclean to replace Nahki Wells’ goals instantly; but it’s clear that he is not a like for like replacement. With this in mind, I personally am happy to give him time and let the team work around his strengths, as we did Wells. However, with James Hanson unlikely to play on Saturday, more pressure will be on him to find the net. Mclean would expect to start but its unknown if he will be partnered by new signing Jon Stead, or if he’ll lead the line on his own in similar set up used away at Brentford.

Regardless of the formation, confusion remains regarding the selection for City’s midfield. The only definite is Nathan Doyle will not play. Gary Jones and Adam Reach are likely to be selected regardless of their off night on Tuesday, and Kyle Bennett will again battle it out with Garry Thompson for the right wing. After Matthew Bates’ inclusion in the holding role and his completion of the full ninety minutes against Walsall, will Parkinson continue to play him there again?

One must feel for Chris Atkinson, who has not had a look in since his move from Huddersfield. With the arrival of his former team mate, Stead, Atkinson will likely be left out of the match day squad due to a rule of a maximum five loanees in a squad rule. Matty Dolan looked sprightly in his cameo and could force his way back in the side. The back four completes itself, with Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies, McArdle and Adam Drury.

I leave the UK with City a League One side. I fully expect to return to see City a League One side. However the bubble is close. Which characters are going to get us over the line and secure our position in the third tier?

Thin margins becomes story of the season as City welcome Walsall

24 Mar

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Bradford City vs Walsall preview

@Tuesday 25 March, 2014

By Andrew Baxter

The mark of a good side is one that can grind out results in tight games, and turn draws into wins.

Of Bradford City’s 37 league games this season, just eight have been decided by two goals or more. So whilst they aren’t demolishing teams regularly, at the same time we are rarely outclassed.

Plenty of positives can be taken from the statistic that nearly 80% of City’s games this season have been decided by one goal or less. This fact proves that City have matched most teams in the league over 90 minutes, and that the transition from League Two to League One has not been overwhelming. Only Brentford, Wolves, and Notts County have won against the Bantams by two goals or more in the league. In contrast, City have won by two goals or more on five occasions this season, including the reverse fixture against Walsall, back in October.

With City 13th in the table, and nine games to play until the end of the season, it would take a minor miracle to see the Bantams go back down to League Two. With seven teams buffering City from the relegation zone, only a substantial streak of defeats, or an incredible run of form from at least three or four of the teams below us, will see City relegated.

Surely Phil Parkinson can have one eye on building towards next season, therefore, starting with securing those who are out of contract and worth keeping. The most obvious player who falls into this category is Stephen Darby. The 25-year-old has been in fine form all season, and his consistently high level of performances have surely warranted a contract extension. Darby has been one of the first names on the team sheet this season, starting every single game City have played – the only player to do so.

Only injury has seen the starting line-up change over the last few weeks, and it is likely that Parkinson will continue this pattern, naming a similar side to the one that lost 2-1 at Shrewsbury on Saturday, despite the lacklustre performance.

Jon McLaughlin will continue in net, with a back four of the ever-reliable Darby, Andrew Davies, Rory McArdle and Adam Drury in front of him. In midfield, Kyle Bennett, who has shown glimpses of his potential so far, will start on the right flank, with Matty Dolan and Gary Jones in central midfield, Jones coming in for the doubtful Nathan Doyle. Adam Reach, who has just signed a loan extension until 21 April, will start on the left flank. The partnership of James Hanson and Aaron Mclean, which looked so promising in the first half against Gillingham, will continue up front, despite Mclean suffering a knock on Saturday.

As for City’s opponents, their current league form does not reflect their recent poor form. Despite sitting in 9th, Walsall have not won since the end of January, when they thumped Notts County 5-1. Since that convincing victory, the Saddlers have not won in their last 10 games, and have slipped to eight points off the play-offs. If the league table was based on the last six games, Walsall would be 23rd, with only Notts County having a fewer tally of points over the last half a dozen games.

This statistic may be slightly unfortunate on Walsall, however. For example, during last Saturday’s draw at home to high-flying Leyton Orient, they led for nearly sixty minutes, and were only denied all three points through a Paul Downing own goal. With three consecutive draws, City’s opposition have been unable to find the winner, and as a result are drawing games that they should really be winning. Their run of form is very similar to City’s run during November and December, with good performances not being matched by good results.

There is certainly no lack of quality in the Walsall squad. Febian Brandy, for example, is on loan from Sheffield United, and looked very impressive when the Blades visited Valley Parade, before a hamstring injury cut short his game. Craig Westcarr certainly has plenty of experience in League One, with spells at Notts County and Chesterfield, and has a solid, if unspectacular, scoring record.

Dean Smith will go for either a 4-4-1-1 formation, or a 4-2-3-1 formation, having alternated between these formations in the last few games. Both are similar in shape, and depend mainly on the position of wingers Febian Brandy and Milan Lalkovic.

After the lacklustre performance on Saturday, Phil Parkinson’s men must prove the doubters wrong, and provide a strong finish to the season. Winning this game would be a step in the right direction, for team confidence and morale, and in winning back those who doubt the team.

Closing in on survival as Bradford City go to Shrewsbury

21 Mar

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Shrewsbury Town vs Bradford City preview

@New Meadow on Saturday 22 March, 2014

By Gareth Walker

Bradford City travel to Shropshire this Saturday in search of the first of the two victories that are likely to be required to guarantee their League One status. Opponents Shrewsbury Town are a further 11 points behind us, and will surely have identified this game as one where they need to pick up maximum points if they themselves have aspirations of staying in this division next season.

A win for City would pretty much ensure that the Shrews would be unlikely to catch us in the table; and if that were to be coupled with anything but a win for Notts County on the same day, it would all but ensure that City would be unlikely to finish lower than 22nd in the league table. We would then only need to better two more teams in order to avoid relegation.

On the face of it, the task facing Phil Parkinson and his side shouldn’t be one which they fear. Shrewsbury only have one win in ten games since Michael Jackson replaced Graham Turner as manager at the end of January. However, nobody knows more than the Bantams faithful how games such as these can prove to be huge banana skins.

Our history is littered with tales of us coming unstuck against struggling sides or allowing them to end their dreadful runs of form against us. Just looking at this season alone, we can see that there have been four occasions when City have played against the side who was bottom of the division at the time, yet the games against Tranmere (home), Crewe (away), Notts County (away) and Stevenage (home) yielded just one point between them.

Throw into the mix the away form under Parkinson (only 14 away league wins during his entire tenure, as pointed out by Jason McKeown this week), plus our dreadful record at New Meadow (only one win in our five games at their newish home), and any nerves amongst City supporters are entirely understandable, especially seeing as we will be up against a team who will be fighting for their lives.

Things aren’t all doom and gloom for City, however, as we head off to Shropshire. On the plus side, current form isn’t bad, and we have three wins in our last six games since we ended our dreadful run of form by beating Port Vale on February 18. Aaron Mclean also finally broke his scoring duck by netting against Gillingham last weekend. This should ensure that Parkinson’s men go into the game with anything but trepidation in mind.

Mclean’s goal brought relief not just to him, but to the City supporter base too. Fears were beginning to grow that the former Peterborough player would become another Ashley Ward or Danny Cadamateri type striker – someone who arrived to huge fanfare, but struggle to score the goals that his reputation promised, or would take half a season to get off the mark.

Considering the wages that Mclean is rumoured to be earning, it must have also come as a huge relief in the boardroom and to Parkinson and his management team. City can ill afford another highly paid passenger in their ranks, considering the lack of impact that Mark Yeates has made this season and the injury problems that continue to beset Andrew Davies.

Parkinson’s transfer record had been coming under increasing scrutiny this season, and many argued that he was in desperate need of a good January market after the disappointments of last summer’s acquisitions. Fortunately Mclean and his fellow new signings have all shown at least glimpses of what they are capable of in their fledgling City careers to date.

Kyle Bennett seems to be getting better game by game and was particularly impressive in the victory away at Colchester last week. Adam Drury, although he has only started two games so far, also appears to have had added much needed balance to our left side. He could prove to be the competition for the left back spot that the currently injured James Meredith appeared to be severely lacking at the start of the season.

Then there is Matty Dolan who has impressed me greatly so far. Dolan seems to be a midfielder who has a little bit of everything in that he can pass as well as tackle; but his mobility is what has stood out for me the most. He has the ability to get back and cover the gaps that he leaves when he breaks forward. This is something that is occasionally missing from Gary Jones’ game, as his ageing legs can make it difficult for him to get back and cover space that he has previously vacated.

Dolan’s qualities were particularly evident in the first half against Gillingham when we played some of the best football that I have seen us play this season. He seemed to completely compliment the less-mobile Nathan Doyle. Considering Parkinson originally wanted to sign the Middlesbrough youngster on a permanent deal, I can’t help but wonder if a Dolan-Doyle partnership could be our first choice central midfield pairing next season.

Unfortunately, City couldn’t carry their first half dominance against Gillingham forward into the second 45 minutes. A sloppiness crept into our game and we allowed The Gills to equalise with their only real chance of the whole match. The Bantams’ seeming inability to maintain performance levels for a full 90 minutes has reared its head on a regular basis throughout this campaign, and it is something that Parkinson will have to work on going into next season, whichever division we are in.

The one recent signing who I am yet to mention is the one who has been the most impressive of the lot. Adam Reach is someone that Shrewsbury know all about after he spent the first half of this season on loan at New Meadow. He has been a revelation on the left wing since he joined us on loan from Middlesbrough in January, and his form has already seen his initial one month loan extended once.

The second month of Reach’s loan spell ends after the game on Saturday and City are bound to want to extend his stay even further. It will be interesting to see if Middlesbrough are willing to comply with this request.

I for one would feel much more comfortable if City had Reach on the wing as they strived to collect the remaining points still needed to guarantee safety, than I would if we had the disinterested Yeates or another summer 2013 recruit, Rafa De Vita, out there in his place.

When we played against Shrewsbury in the home fixture back at the end of September, a last-minute James Hanson winner ensured that we came away with all three points. We only won once more in the following eight games, however, and whatever, the result on Saturday, we have to ensure that we avoid a repeat of such dreadful form.

The aim has to be for us to accumulate the points needed for survival as soon as possible. Thoughts can then turn towards planning for next season, and what needs to be done this summer so that we can continue our progression.

The return of Peter Taylor as Bantams welcome Gillingham

14 Mar

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Bradford City vs Gillingham preview

@Valley Parade on Saturday 15 March, 2014

By Jason McKeown

Peter Taylor is back in town this weekend, as he brings his current team, Gillingham, to Valley Parade. It is probably no big deal to a man in his 12th club job – the 61-year-old has experienced plenty of returns to former haunts over his long managerial career – but for Bradford City fans, it is highly unusual to be welcoming back an old manager into the away dugout.

The last return of a former boss came in December 2006, as Roy McFarland’s League One Chesterfield suffered a 1-0 defeat. It had been 24 years since the former England international was in the Valley Parade hotseat, meaning his status of ex-manager meant very little to a large percentage of the crowd.

More memorably – and almost exactly a decade ago to the day – was Paul Jewell’s 2004 homecoming, when his Wigan charges came to Valley Parade for a 0-0 second tier draw. The Latics were on their way up the divisions, we were on our way down. With each year that passed after Jewell’s shock 2000 Valley Parade departure, the job he had performed had looked more and more incredible. Needless to say, on that March afternoon he was welcomed back as a hero.

A few months before that, Lennie Lawrence (Cardiff manager) also made a return to Valley Parade, securing a 1-0 victory. Two years earlier, Terry Yorath achieved a 2-0 success on his old stomping patch for Sheffield Wednesday. And prior to then, you’d have to go back to the mid-90s and Terry Dolan’s Hull City (a 1-1 draw). Small wonder then, that a former manager in Valley Parade’s opposition dug out is a rare occurrence.

Which – considering 22 managers or caretakers have followed McFarland into the City hot seat since his 1982 departure – is a curious state of affairs. Of the 22, only Peter Jackson and caretakers David Wetherall (2007) and Steve Smith (December 2001) have not secured another shot at British league management elsewhere. Some former managers went onto better things (Bryan Robson to Premier League West Brom still bewilders me) while others had to start again from the bottom (although Nicky Law’s Alfreton Town currently lie in the Conference play offs).

It means we supporters are not particularly practiced in welcoming former managers. Do we applaud Peter Taylor at 2.55pm as he walks down the touchline? Or, more likely, do we boo him for his underwhelming performance as City manager? It’s hard to imagine that Taylor will be ignored, given how relatively recently it was that most of us were slating his tactics, as the Bantams failed to mount an expected League Two promotion push under him.

Will we know what to expect from Gillingham this weekend because of Taylor? Can we predict a 4-3-3 with no flair players and 11 men back to defend corners? Will he celebrate Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over Coventry by unexpectedly signing two kids from Manchester United and ripping up his back four to accommodate them? If they score early on will he play all out defence to hold out? And we haven’t even got round to talking about the return of another ex-Bantam, who may figure in Taylor’s starting XI. Mention the words ‘Craig’ and ‘Fagan’ to some City fans, and watch them shudder in horror.

For the current Bradford City building on Tuesday’s impressive victory over Colchester is the task in hand, as the magical 50-52 point mark creeps into touching distance. A victory this weekend would be a fourth in six, which is a big incentive to aim for. From being the division’s most out-of-form sorts team, we would suddenly appear near the top end of the form table.

Expect the team to remain unchanged in view of how impressively it performed in Essex. There might be a temptation to bring back Gary Jones in place of Matty Dolan to play next to Nathan Doyle, if the veteran is back to fitness. However, Dolan played well midweek in an audition to replace the club captain in the heart of midfield next season, and it would be harsh to reward such efforts with a quick return to the bench. Either side will be the loanees of Kyle Bennett – off the mark midweek – and Adam Reach, while up front is the in-form James Hanson and goal-shy Aaron Mclean.

Ahh Aaron. What can we say about this goal drought? Well, fellow Width of a Post writer Alex Scott has uncovered this troubling stat. You have to go back to 1 February, 2013 to find his last league goal for anyone (while on loan for Ipswich against Middlesbrough). After once again failing to find the net midweek, it’s exactly 1,200 minutes since he last scored. That’s 20 hours of football. Poor Aaron. It has to happen for him soon, surely?

The defence once again improved with Andrew Davies back to fitness. It’s still only two defeats all season when the former Middlesbrough man has been on the pitch holding it all together, and only one goal conceded in the five games he and McArdle have played as a pair since the turn of the year. The fantastic Stephen Darby - selected as captain on Tuesday ahead of arguably more obvious candidates such as Davies – is at right back whilst Adam Drury prepares to make a home debut on the opposite side. Jon McLaughlin keeps goal, with recent criticism of his performances fading to muted acceptance.

McLaughlin and Hanson are the only two survivors of Taylor’s reign in charge (and he inherited them both from Stuart McCall). We have been through so much – good and bad – since his dramatic exit in February 2011 that followed a 3-2 victory over Stockport. Time is a great healer, and though I have little affection for Taylor in view of his dismal results in charge, and misgivings about the way he handled certain players, the progress of the club since those dark days has defused any ill feeling I once felt towards him.

Nice to see you again Peter, although I’m glad you’re only making a flying visit.

The Colchester learning curve as Bradford City go to Essex

11 Mar

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Colchester United vs Bradford City preview

@Weston Homes Community Stadium on Tuesday 11 March, 2014

Written by Jason McKeown (images by Mike Holdsworth)

The subplot to this week is one of former managers returning their old stomping grounds. On Saturday Peter Taylor makes a first visit to Valley Parade since his departure three years ago; but first of all tonight, Phil Parkinson goes back to the club where he first made his name as a manager.

It is just over 11 years ago since Parkinson took charge of Colchester United. Two seasons later, the U’s were promoted to the second tier of English football for the first time in their history. Parkinson’s squad – which included notable players such as former City keeper Aidan Davison, Greg Halford, Neil Danns, Chris Iwelumo and on-loan Mark Yeates – would finish League One runners up, prospering on the lowest gates in the division.

Some achievement, yet rather than proving to be the Launchpad of a glittering managerial career, it became a false start for Parkinson. Don’t expect him to receive a warm welcome from his former supporters this evening, due to the the bitterness surrounding his shock resignation that quickly followed securing promotion.

Parkinson was persuaded to jump ship to the relative bright lights of Hull City, a development revealed a few days after he handed in his notice. He still had a year to run on his Colchester deal, and his former employees sought a high court injunction to prevent the-then 38-year-old taking charge at Hull, after rejecting their “modest” compensation offer. The Tigers admitted to making an approach for Parkinson whilst he was still employed at Layer Road. A Colchester statement at the time revealed they still hoped to keep Parkinson, “The decision to seek an injunction to prevent him tearing up his contract is in part a vain hope that he will change his mind.”

Eventually a £400,000 compensation package was agreed for Parkinson to move to the KC Stadium (Colchester wanted half a million). But less than six months later, a wretched start to life at Hull came to an end for Parkinson, who was sacked. His penultimate game in charge must have proven particularly painful – a 5-1 thrashing at Colchester.

People close to Parkinson have told me that he looks back his decision to leave Colchester as a major mistake, and the only time in his career where money had played a significant part in his decision-making. It was an episode that ran through his mind again in January 2013, when Bradford City chairman Mark Lawn informed him that Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston had made an official approach for his services. He declined even to talk to the Seasiders about the possibility of leaving Valley Parade. During all the protracted new contract talks this time a year ago, it was said that, rather than wage demands, progress were so slow because Parkinson wanted to ensure that his coaching staff were looked after at the same time.

So a lesson learned that has proven beneficial from Bradford City’s point of view. Yet you do wonder if the Bantams have still felt some of the negative effects of his Colchester defection, over the course of this season, given the challenge he missed out on trying to solve: acclimatising a club in a higher division.

The 2012/13 ‘We Made History’ success was the second promotion of Parkinson’s managerial career, and it means that this season has been the first where he has being in charge of a newly promoted club. 11 years as manager, but this was a step into the unknown. Perhaps the lack of experience of this situation is something that Parkinson will have keenly felt over recent months; and perhaps there are things that he would look to do differently if he could begin this season all over again.

Chiefly, was the dilemma he faced on whether to stay loyal to a group of high-achieving players, or begin the process of replacing them. It has been a common talking point – well documented on this website – that up until January at least Parkinson kept faith in what he had. For a time it looked a brilliant decision, as City began the season in flying form, but poor form since October has carried more than whiff of squad stagnation. The urgency to update and refresh his charges must have come around quicker than the manager originally anticipated, yet mid-season offered limited opportunities to evolve the squad.

Parkinson will also undoubtedly reflect on the new arrivals of last summer: were they designed to complement what he had, or enhance it? Perhaps he will look at how Manchester City – another club traditionally starved of success – failed to progress from their 2011/12 Premier League title victory to weakly hand the title back to their neighbours a year after. A familiar story of a manager sticking with what he had: making filler signings instead of Stella.

Parkinson has built two excellent football teams – Colchester 2006 and Bradford City 2013 – but this is the first time he’s been tasked with improving on his achievements. This season hasn’t been a roaring success – at least when judging form since October – but the glass-half-full viewpoint is to hope and believe that Parkinson will be a better manager from making these mistakes and learning the lessons. And there is no doubt that he has previously shown that he knows how to rebuild a broken team.

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Before he can apply that experience to this squad, however, there is still work to be done. 12 games of the season to play, and realistically City need to pick up another 10-12 points to guarantee their League One status. There is an obvious urgency to reach this tally as soon as possible, and on the immediate horizon are four winnable-looking games: Colchester and Gillingham this week, followed by a trip to struggles Shrewsbury and visit of Walsall.

With a busy month of March ending with another visit to the Capital – this time facing top two contenders Leyton Orient – a reasonable aim must be to pick up at least two victories from these four games.

Tonight would certainly be a good start. Prior to Colchester’s Saturday 2-1 victory over another free-falling League One side, Coventry, they stood just one place above the bottom four. That a home victory tonight would place them above the Bantams is an illustration of how tight the situation remains at the bottom – and would no doubt prompt more angst and panic in this corner of West Yorkshire. Parkinson badly needs a happy return to his first managerial outpost.

And his chances of doing so would be helped considerably if Andrew Davies and James Hanson were to prove their fitness, after the pair sat out the 2-0 defeat to Brentford. With Aaron Mclean’s ongoing struggles (something Width of a Post plans to cover in more detail later this week), greater responsibility weighs upon Hanson’s shoulders, but he has relished it rather than wilted.

Davies is equally influential, and the rest of the back four seem to find an extra 5-10% in themselves when he is marshalling them. Matthew Bates came in for Davies at Brentford, but his stock amongst supporters continues to decline. If recent loan signing Adam Drury (apparently heavily criticised by some City fans for his Leeds connections. Really? Are we that petty?) is fit enough and Davies doesn’t make it, there is the option to move Carl McHugh to centre half. Either way, thank goodness for the ongoing reliability of Stephen Darby and, to a lesser extent, Rory McArdle – both write their own names on the team sheet right now.

In midfield, Parkinson’s decision to line up with five at Griffin Park failed to yield the point he must have been hoping for as a minimum; but if Hanson is back we can probably expect a return to 4-4-2. For the first time in the league this season, Gary Jones could miss out (virus). Chris Atkinson, Nathan Doyle and Matty Dolan – who was not on the bench on Saturday – fight for the central midfield positions. Dolan’s lack of game time to date is a surprise given the original plan had been to sign him on a permanent basis in January. Perhaps he was held back for tonight.

On the flanks will be Adam Reach and one of Kyle Bennett and Garry Thompson. Bennett has hardly set the world alight since rocking up from Doncaster, but has shown glimpses of promise. Thompson has of late looked a better impact sub than starter.

For Colchester, their 2-1 Coventry success was their first victory in seven matches, and they find themselves in a similar situation to the Bantams of being too far from the play offs to take any keen interest, and so instead focused upon avoiding going into the final few games with serious relegation concerns. Parkinson has spoken of this season’s League One being the toughest he has seen and I would agree with that judgement, but there a number of teams in the middle who are a much of muchness, striving for a nice boring end to the campaign.

The victors tonight can certainly feel more confident of planning for another season in this division, but for the losers there is a worry about the queue of clubs behind who are slowly but surely catching up. Therefore tonight is something of a pressure game, in order to avoid facing real pressure come May.

The here and now

7 Mar

Image by Alex Dodd

Brentford vs Bradford City preview

@Griffin Park on Saturday 8 March, 2014

By Damien Wilkinson

“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” Henry David Thoreau, August 1853

In the aftermath of the defeat at the hands of bottom placed Stevenage last weekend the disappointment in the 3-2 result, and particularly City’s failure to capitalise after twice being ahead, was perhaps overshadowed by a feeling of inevitability.  The historic tendency of the Bantams to somehow conjur defeat, against the backdrop of a seemingly nailed on three points, had again reared its head, and it felt like a return to the bad old days.

However, as the goodwill from last season also continues to fade, and is justifiably no longer a convenient excuse for any failings of this season, it also feels like now is the time to wipe other parts of the slate clean and avoid wallowing in previous negativities from the last few years.  The box marked ‘persecution complex’ can be left unopened for the foreseeable future.

Whilst it is increasingly likely (and hopeful) that the tail end of this season will probably see a mixed bag of results as City hopefully stumble across the line to mid-table safety/obscurity, it is also worth emphasising, and more importantly enjoying, the fact that we are in League One.  We are facing some decent sides week-in-week-out, who play a great quality of football, and on the majority of occasions, the Bantams have not been massively outclassed.  Looking back we have had some cracking matches served up this season, and the atmosphere created at Valley Parade has been terrific and something to be proud of.

As Jason said earlier in the week, it is important to remember where we have come from and enjoy the moment that is now.  Sure, we have had some frustrating results; but this is certainly a much better place to be and hopefully part of a longer upward journey.  In addition to removing any unnecessary retrospection it is also worth avoiding ‘wishing this season away’, as we clearly need to align on the present.  With the potential of a relegation trapdoor beckoning if distracted, City need a complete focus on the forthcoming games, one at a time, and perhaps foster something of a cup tie mentality from hereon in.

Which brings us nicely on to what looks like an extremely challenging fixture away at Brentford.

The Bees have followed an ultimately unsuccessful play off campaign last season with a very solid season thus far.  The departure of manager Uwe Rosler to Wigan back in December has not really disrupted the season at all, and indeed Brentford have hovered around the top of the table throughout the season.  In stark contrast to City, they have only lost once in the league since mid-October 2013.  Their home record, with 12 wins out of 16 on home turf, is bettered only by Wolves presently.

A very tough test for the Bantams, who will have to be on their best to get anything from a match that Brentford will see as a must win to propel a push for an automatic promotion berth.

The fitness of Andrew Davies may well have an impact not just on Saturday’s match, but how the next few matches unfold for the Bantams.  Davies’ return to the side has certainly solidified the defence, as evidenced by the two clean sheets prior to the Stevenage game, and also has helped breed much needed confidence, with players such as Rory McArdle, showing improved performances.  Mid-week noises from the player himself seemed to indicate that Davies has a fighting chance of being fit for Saturday, but the backroom staff will be keen to avoid causing any long-term issues from rushing the lionhearted defender back.

In the absence of Davies, it would be expected that Matthew Bates will again deputise in his favoured position.  Following recent City victories, albeit without him, Bates now appears to have been passed the poisoned chalice of the doom-mongers go-to statistic, having so far experienced a solitary win in 18 appearances in a City shirt, and he will be keen to ensure this record is not prolonged.  It will also be hoped that McArdle’s mid-week Northern Ireland international trip to Cyprus does not impact him in the manner similar to his jet setting prior to October’s Coventry fixture seemingly did.

Phil Parkinson will possibly make no other changes.  It would make sense to give Garry Thompson another start at the expense of Kyle Bennett, in a game like this; with the latter better suited to come on in the closing stages.  Mounting pressure on Aaron Mclean to break his City goal duck was further fuelled by comments from Parkinson after the Stevenage match, and it is hoped that Mclean’s second half miss during the Stevenage game does not overly dent his confidence.

Mark Yeates, who came on in the Stevenage match and also played in the behind closed doors friendly against Sunderland during the week, will again probably be on the bench and he is still trying to reignite a City career that continues to falter – his late miss in the Stevenage match somehow summed this up.

The protracted hunt for a left back seems to have gathered some new momentum this week and it is expected that a new loan signing may well be available for Saturday.  Should this not happen, Carl McHugh will no doubt again occupy the slot and will face a tough examination from an attack-minded Bees side who like to employ a high pressing game.

Brentford manager Mark Warburton, the man whose 40’s mid-life crisis saw him give up a job as a trader in the City of London to pursue football coaching, will name a side likely to include top scorer Clayton Donaldson.  Donaldson, he of Bradford origin, usually seems to go out of his way to avoid endearing himself to the City faithful, and it will be no surprise to see him similarly pumped up.  Other notable players include striker Marcello Trotta, who has netted 11 goals so far and goalkeeper David Button, sent off in the corresponding fixture at Valley Parade in September.  Winger Sam Saunders, out since January with a knee injury, remains on the sidelines after recently undergoing surgery.

Whilst not a make-or-break match by any stretch, defeat will leave City again looking nervously over their shoulders, and, should other results go adversely, the current six point safety cushion from the relegation spots could be severely ravished.

This may be particularly damaging to confidence levels given a subsequent tough run of fixtures after the match including trips to Colchester, Shrewsbury and Leyton Orient, and a strong performance on Saturday is the basic requirement, hopefully supplemented by a positive result.

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