Tag Archives: Johnstone’s Paint Trophy

The Football League’s JPT compromise still seems too much of a sacrifice

28 May

SAM_1480

By Jason McKeown

It is entirely possible that, this October, 3,000 or so Bradford City supporters could be sat inside Old Trafford, cheering on the Bantams in a cup tie. Only the home sections of the famous old ground will be sparsely populated, and the players in red unrecognisable to all but hardcore United supporters.

That scenario is said to be on the table at next week’s Football League meeting. As a compromise solution to the FA’s desire for elite clubs’ youth teams to participate in more competitive matches, the Football League is proposing to allow 16 Premier League B teams to enter the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy for the next two seasons. The revised, 64-team competition would feature an new group stage (16 groups of four, with at least one B team in each group) where teams play each other once (the fixtures drawn at random). The winners and runners up of each group would take part in a 32-team knockout tournament similar to the existing competition.

It is an interesting proposal, and the Football League certainly deserves credit for its measured response to the outrageous ideas that the FA put forward, earlier in May, of setting up a League Three for Premier League B teams, who could rise up to League One. A smug Greg Dyke seemed to believe that throwing money at League One and Two clubs would be enough for them to wilfully rip up the fantastic league pyramid that is the envy of other countries, under the misguided notion that it would help the England football team win a World Cup. There are too many non-English players in the Premier League, the FA feels, and up-and-coming talent needs greater challenges than the underwhelming under-23 league.

Funnily enough, the formation of the Premier League in 1992, which has led to all those foreigners playing in the top flight, was supposed to aid the England team. It is laudable that the FA wants to improve the record of the national side, although worth noting that reports of its decline are misleading. Yes, England won the World Cup in 1966, but it was on home soil. They have only once come close to repeating that feat, in Italia 90, and the routine quarter final exits are more a statement of the nation’s strength in world football than any under-performance.

The current issues around the England team are not as bleak as some would have us believe. And in no way do they justify ripping apart the lower leagues.

The JPT idea is certainly a novel one, and the Football League can propose it from a position of authority – making sure that a number of conditions are met by the Premier League and FA. Yet as Football League clubs themselves consider this idea over the next fortnight, there are undoubtedly potential issues that will leave them wondering whether it is worth making any sacrifices to help the elite clubs in the country.

For a start, the three guaranteed JPT group games would increase an already heavily congested fixture list. From a 49-games a season minimum, it would be 51. To get to the JPT final, you would have to play nine matches. For a competition that is unloved to all but those who reach the final stages, that is a lot of extra football to play on top of the demands of a 46-game league season, plus the potential of a more lucrative run in the FA or League Cup.

And rather than make money from a JPT run, clubs could incur losses. When City reached the quarter finals of the competition in the 2011/12, Mark Lawn commented that the club had barely made any money despite a run that had seen them defeat three Yorkshire rivals and appear live on Sky Sports twice. Profits, Lawn said, were only to be had if they reached the two-legged semi final or Wembley final.

With only two teams qualifying from each group, there are bound to be some dead rubber group games that would be a hindrance. Playing for pride, on a cold October or November evening, will not entice crowds. Bradford City vs Hartlepool with both teams unable to qualify? City would be lucky to attract a four-figure crowd.

The added complication to this is that, under current JPT rules, you have to play at least half of your first team in JPT matches or be fined. Again, imagine the frustration of Phil Parkinson, if he has a big league game four days after this supposed Hartlepool fixture? Like Stuart McCall in 2007, he would probably risk having to pay the fine out of his own pocket rather than risk losing an important player to injury.

The commercial benefits of playing a Premier League B team are also minimal. They would be unlikely to bring many of their own supporters, and there will be no star names in their team to entice fans of the Football League club they are playing. You are, effectively, playing a famous name and shirt, rather than team. Perhaps the players on show will one day go onto bigger and better things (or even lift the World Cup, in Dyke’s dreams), but at the time they are nobodies and few people will pay to watch them.

For all its current faults, I do enjoy the JPT and over recent years have travelled around the North watching City in action. Some games have been utter stinkers, others have been thrilling affairs. For an unloved competition, it continues to be relevant partly because its place in the world is not in doubt. Unlike the FA Cup no one bangs tirelessly on about its magic. It does exactly what it says on the Johnstone’s Paint tin.

Ultimately, the Premier League needs to take greater ownership of the issues affecting the national team, and should face greater pressure from the FA to do so. If the Football League want to compromise the future of the JPT by radically changing its format and entry requirements, they had better drive home the best possible deal for the clubs who have to put up with congested fixture lists and unappealing group games. In my view, this deal is above and beyond how the Football League could respond to the original, deeply insulting proposals. Two fingers would have been more appropriate.

The problems at the very top should not be ours to shoulder on our own, and the worry with this compromise is that the JPT could be completely ruined to the point even League One and Two clubs will be begging to enter their own B teams.

Bradford City capsize in Pools catastrophe

4 Sep

Kyel Reid Hartlepool

Hartlepool United 5

James 25, Franks 48, Burgess 56, Compton 59 (pen), Rodney 87

Bradford City 0

Tuesday 3 September, 2013

By Damien Wilkinson

In what is fast becoming an annual JPT cup tie fixture, Bradford City made the trip to Victoria Park, on the back of the continued positive momentum infiltrating the club, buoyed by fears of the departure of Nahki Wells proving unfounded, following the closure of the transfer window.

Hartlepool, on the other hand, are currently displaying the hallmarks of a downward spiral after relegation last year and currently sit second from the bottom of League Two, having failed to score in any of their league fixtures to date, a trend new management team Colin Cooper and Craig Hignett will be looking to redress over the season.

The JPT competition, despite being treated with some scorn, particularly in its early phases, offers a viable route for lower league teams to reach a Wembley final. After the heroics of last season, this may be less of an attraction than previously, and there was an understandable level of apathy perceivable amongst the Bantams faithful.

What tonight’s fixture did usefully offer, though, was the chance to blood new faces into a side which has required little change in the league campaign so far. Phil Parkinson, as widely anticipated, made the maximum number of changes allowed bringing in debutant Connor Ripley, Matt Taylor, odd man out Jason Kennedy and Raffa De Vita. Mark Yeates also returned to the side as Parkinson elected to play a 4-3-3 formation. The changes saw a bench containing Jon McLaughlin, Kyel Reid, Carl McHugh, Nahki Wells and Alan Connell, with only five subs permissible in JPT ties.

Colin Cooper had earlier promised to put a strong Pools team out and this included former City players Jack Compton and Nialle Rodney, the latter starting on the bench. Veteran striker Steve Howard was not risked, following his half time exit due to stitches in a head injury in the previous league match at Torquay, and he joined skipper Anthony Sweeney on the sidelines. Luke James was drafted in to replace Howard and Andy Monkhouse was also recalled to the team.

A crowd of 1,740, with 320 from City, filed into in the compact ground after an unexpected, but much welcome bout of earlier sunshine, turned Hartlepool’s marina into St Tropez, and after kicking off at the earlier time of 7pm, the match soon sprung into life.

City started relatively brightly knocking the ball around well, and early exchanges suggested an extra bit of quality to their play, akin to the respective league standings. Indeed, a rasping drive from Garry Thompson in the second minute seemed to auger well and it was hoped this would propel the Paraders’ forward. Whilst the pattern continued, there was less penetration from the Bantams and Hartlepool began to create decent chances, a drive from number 7, Jonathan Franks, just clearing Ripley’s crossbar. City fought back forcing a couple of corners, in-between a useful free kick whipped in from Yeates, that was almost converted. A further chance went begging after Thompson was brought down outside the area after a good run, and City went close from the resulting free kick.

However, somewhat against the run of play, Hartlepool broke down the right hand side with their winger Franks finding lots of space and time to deliver a ball into Compton on the far post, who intelligently nodded the ball back across goal to Luke James who headed the ball past Ripley into the Bradford net, after 25 minutes. 1-0.

City tried to regroup and respond, but the resurgent home team poured forward forcing Ripley to make a great save from Andy Monkhouse, again after space had been exploited down the right, and this was followed by a couple of close calls, where confusion was the order of the day in the defence, and last ditch clearances or tackles managed to prevent almost certain goals.

Hartlepool continued to look more composed going forward, a slip by Rory McArdle almost punished as the half progressed, and a less than convincing punch from Ripley put the defence under some pressure, but thankfully the ball was eventually cleared. A snapshot from Monkhouse on 42 minutes caused some consternation as it just went the wrong side of the City goalpost and, following the half time whistle, it was generally felt that City were lucky to be only going into the break with a one goal deficit to claw-back. Surely Parkinson would be able to read the riot act and get the Bantams back in the match?

Alas, whatever was said at half time didn’t have any time to work. Despite the introduction of Carl McHugh and Connell, replacing McArdle and James Meredith, Hartlepool managed to double their lead on 48 minutes, with Franks lashing home in style after an initial effort had been thwarted.

The goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of City and the Pools again started to dominate the match and create more pressure on the faltering visiting defence. Going forward City also struggled to exert themselves, and seemed to continually select the wrong options/ final ball when attacking.

Hartlepool continued to press and were rewarded when a free kick was emphatically nodded in by Christian Burgess on 56 minutes to effectively finish the match as a contest. Indeed it was to quickly get worse, a rash challenge on Luke James by Matt Taylor saw the home side awarded a penalty, and Compton stepped up to despatch it confidently into the top corner past Ripley on 59 minutes.

At 4-0 some murmurs of discontent began to creep in from the City fans, and by this stage the final whistle couldn’t come quickly enough – the closing 20 minutes or so were played out with a distinct lack of purpose on City’s part, with any real chances of note few and far between. Nialle Rodney entered the fray on 67 minutes and Compton departed to applause on 75 minutes, shortly after Kyel Reid had replaced Garry Thompson. Reid managed to create some sort of spark and caused some panic in the Hartlepool defence, but it was ultimately too little, too late. It never really looked as though the Bantams would score.

To compound the misery, Nialle Rodney scored a textbook overhead kick on 87 minutes to make the scoreline 5-0 and put the “tin lid on the evening”/“icing on the cake” (Bradford/ Hartlepool – delete as applicable). In all fairness as good a goal as you will see, but why could this not have saved for League Two and the replenishment of Hartlepool’s goal drought!

Much has been made quite rightly of City’s resilience to adversity and capacity for a fightback, but this was much lacking tonight. Walking to the ground it was noted that the foot of the back of Hartlepool shirt has the words “never say die” on it – the City players tonight would have been well advised to take heed of this.

So what should we make of tonight and what lessons have been learned?

Parkinson had spoken earlier of his desire for the players coming into the side to show pride and make a statement that they should be in the side every week. From what we saw tonight, the standards we have witnessed on countless occasions over the last season were by no means attained, and no player really staked a claim for a start in the league on the basis of their performance, so this has got to be very disappointing.

Furthermore, the defeat will again raise the question of the importance James Hanson and Nahki Wells have to the City team, and the lack of goals in their absence. This remains a difficult one to grapple with, and is possibly the biggest headache Phil Parkinson faces. Connell certainly flattered to deceive and whilst Thompson gave his usual committed performance it was again not capped with a goal. Tricky to say the least….

Having said that, now is not the time for knee-jerk reactions on the back of one performance and players do not become bad players overnight – let’s not talk ourselves into a lack of squad-depth crisis. This was one match – with a number of changes to the team in one go, so it is important to retain some form of perspective, and if ever a squad deserved the benefit of the doubt this is it.

Furthermore, the changed sides in previous cup matches have generally given a good account of themselves so perhaps there is still an element of ‘blip’ to the performance tonight. Perhaps slight tinkerings may be more in order with loan signings over the coming weeks, but it may be more appropriate to gauge this after a few more games.

Thankfully, no real damage is done and City have a home double header to go into, with the visits of Brentford and Colchester, so there is a great incentive to get things back on track and put this result both into perspective and behind us.

City: Ripley, Darby, McArdle, (Connell 52) Taylor, Meredith (McHugh 46), De Vita, Ravenhill, Kennedy, Doyle, Yeates, Thompson (Reid 75)

Not used: McLaughlin, Wells

Two years of stunning progress leaves few regrets

3 Sep
Picture by Mike Holdsworth

Picture by Mike Holdsworth

Hartlepool United vs Bradford City preview

@Victoria Park on Tuesday 2 September, 2013

By Jason McKeown

Two years to the day since first taking charge of a Bradford City match – a 1-1 draw at Morecambe with Ross Hannah’s late equaliser – Phil Parkinson revisits a competition that did much to help him during those difficult first few months.

Parkinson’s first ever look at his Bantams charges had involved sitting in the stand for a JPT 1st round penalty shootout victory over Sheffield Wednesday, after which he guided the club past Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United to reach the last eight of the competition. A deserved 2-0 defeat at Oldham on a bitterly cold night (what else would the temperature be at Boundary Park?) saw City eventually bow out, but the confidence taken from that cup run helped the players deliver improved league form thereafter, to ultimately keep the club in the Football League. The rest, as they say, is history.

Reflecting back on the state of things two years ago has proven a popular past time this past week, after extracts of an autobiography by Parkinson’s predecessor, Peter Jackson, were published in the T&A. Undoubtedly, it is welcome that the former City captain has finally broken his silence to share his side of a story over the mysterious departure. The picture he paints of life under Mark Lawn and Archie Christie is not a pretty one for sure, and we supporters can feel a sense of sympathy in the way that Jackson’s self-confessed ‘dream job’ seemingly turned into a nightmare.

That said, Jackson’s side of the story is simply that – his side – and over the past two years there has been no public comment from Lawn, Christie or anyone else employed by the club with their version of events. Privately, the club is said to be unimpressed with Jackson’s comments, but have decided not to enter into a slanging match. The Bradford City Supporters Board’s July meeting notes reveal that the book publisher had approached the club about hosting a book launch, which David Baldwin declared they were willing to do “dependent upon the detail relating to his departure from the Club the previous year and how it was reported.” It looks unlikely such an event will happen now, and it is indeed a shame if such an iconic figure in City’s history was to no longer have a positive relationship with the people who run it.

To Jackson’s credit, he has probably delayed talking in public about his departure until such a time as his revelations wouldn’t destabilise the club. But the result of waiting so long is that empathy towards him is generally in short supply. The way that City have progressed during the past two years under Parkinson means that no one would consider it a bad thing that Jackson offered his resignation as manager in August 2011. Meanwhile Lawn’s resurgence in popularity means he has been left un-bruised by Jackson’s revelations. However he and Christie might have behaved towards him – and we haven’t heard their version of events – it has led to a rather spectacular outcome.

When I met Julian Rhodes two weeks ago he was reluctant to criticise Jackson’s performance as manager, but left it very clear what he thought of his summer recruitment, “Unfortunately, I think perhaps he had spent a bit too much time away from the game and he wasn’t as up-to-date on player situations as he could have been. So that summer was a difficult one.” Infamously, Jackson was reluctant to sign trialist Nahki Wells, and the Bermudian was only taken on as part of Christie’s Development Squad. Jackson preferred a potential opponent tonight, Nialle Rodney.

There was also that nonsense with three first team players – Robbie Threlfall, Michael Flynn and Luke Oliver – lining up in a Development Squad friendly at Silsden and being made available for transfer. Goodness knows where the club would be now if it had let Oliver walk out the door that summer.

Whispers – and they are just that, whispers – suggest Jackson was not in the right frame of mind to manage the club after spending some 18 months out of the game, very laudably working in a care home. The challenges of dealing with Lawn might be a difficult one that few of us would relish, but fortunately Parkinson seems to have no problem doing it.

In-between Jackson and Parkinson – and in the dugout that night against Sheffield Wednesday – was caretaker manager Colin Cooper. An impressive 4-2 victory over Barnet and toppling of the Owls meant Cooper’s two-game reign was a highly commendable one and there was some disappointment, at the time, that he wasn’t offered the job permanently. Cooper, assistant to Jackson, didn’t stick around long after being overlooked and took up a youth coaching role at his beloved Middlesbrough. During this summer he became manager at Hartlepool, and it will be interesting to observe how he gets on in his first such role.

Like with Parkinson two years ago at City, it has proven a slow start for Cooper. Hartlepool – relegated from League One last season – have begun life in the bottom tier by scoring only one goal in six matches and picking up just two points. Rodney has regularly appeared from the bench but has yet to start. Jack Compton – another player Parkinson inherited but choose not to keep on, to some debate at the time – has appeared more regularly. Both may have a point to prove tonight, if selected. More importantly, they need to step up for a club that badly needs a shot in the arm.

While operating within the strict rules of the competition, Parkinson will make changes tonight. He must either start at least six players who started on Saturday, or at least six players out of 11 who have made the most starting appearances in league and cup matches this season. So expect Nathan Doyle, Stephen Darby, Garry Thompson and Kyel Reid to play, with Jon McLaughlin, Gary Jones, Nahki Wells and James Hanson almost certain to be rested.

Parkinson will give on-loan Boro stopper Connor Ripley – someone Cooper will know well – a debut after extending his loan spell until January. Carl McHugh, Matt Taylor and, hopefully, Luke Oliver will be looking for game time, and Ricky Ravenhill may get a run out in midfield. The overlooking of Jason Kennedy, so far, even for bench duty is a talking point. Speculation will inevitably surface if he is left out again tonight. Parkinson has stressed there is nothing in his non-inclusions, but one assumes the summer signing must be hugely frustrated.

As must Alan Connell, who will start up front presumably alongside Thompson. I must admit I expected Connell to depart during the summer as it seemed illogical he can improve his status as third choice striker following the step up to League One. Connell’s performance in his only start, against Huddersfield, attracted plenty of debate. Personally I was disappointed with him that night. While I understand we as a team did not play to his strengths, that’s probably never going to change and it would have been nice to have seen him go looking for the ball rather than performing so anonymously. The excellent form of youth striker Oli McBurnie may be rewarded  with a place on the bench. Jack Stockdill – impressive pre-season – could join him.

City’s recent record in the JPT is good – three quarter final appearances in the past four years – suggesting a liking for this competition. With no League Cup run this year, and a more spaced out fixture list which features just two midweek fixtures before Christmas, it surely makes sense to have another go at this competition, whilst not risking too many first choice players ahead of back-to-back home games.

Tonight is a winnable-fixture, and many of those in the starting line up have much to prove to their anniversary-celebrating manager.

City again look for cup relief, this time at Crewe

15 Jan

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Crewe Alexandra vs Bradford City JPT preview

@Gresty Road on Tuesday 15 January, 2013

By Joe Cockburn

It is clear for all to see that Bradford City’s success in the League Cup of late has had an adverse impact on their league form, meaning the Bantams now find themselves outside of the League Two play off positions. But on Tuesday night City visit Crewe, with a chance to forget that league form and possibly turn it around, not to mention another potential trip to Wembley.

The main thing about the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy area semi-final tie is that it gives Phil Parkinson a chance to rest some of the City players who haven’t stopped since, well, before Christmas, and they definitely need it after that mammoth effort last Tuesday. It was evident in the defeat to Oxford that the players weren’t fully charged.

The likes of Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle, Nahki Wells, Zavon Hines and Will Atkinson could all do with rests, while Rory McArdle or Stephen Darby may also be given a break, unless Parkinson wants to give Jon McLaughlin a game in goal. It’s all down to who the manager wants to pick.

I think Kyel Reid and Alan Connell will definitely come in for Hines and Wells. Atkinson may possibly start to protect the defence and midfield, if he doesn’t, Blair Turgott will start in his place, but Parkinson may deem that as being too attacking and open, for an away game against a team from a higher division. Ritchie Jones and Ricky Ravenhill will surely come in for Jones and Doyle – I think those are nailed on changes. And there are a few options in defence, but I think Carl McHugh and Ryan Dickson will both start, as they haven’t played as much as others in recent weeks.

I see the game itself as a very welcome distraction. The team need to get away from this poor league form and this gives them a chance to do so. If a second string can win, it could not only pressure the first team – whose recent failings could be attributed to the players feeling unpressured because they beat Arsenal and Aston Villa, so why should they be dropped? But it could also put the squad in good spirits. Some of these players, the likes of Reid, Tom Naylor and Jon McLaughlin haven’t played much football, and Reid especially may feel slightly hard done by on that front.

To me, the game is a win-win. Either you are victorious and you are into the area final against one of the largest teams in League One – games in which our players thrive – or you lose, and it is one less thing to concentrate on and one or two free Tuesdays in the next month. But as I said, the squad need to be kept happy, and if they lose, it’s a losing feeling throughout the whole squad, and that could be bad news going into two big games at Port Vale and Aston Villa.

Speaking of Vale, that was where we gained our place in this round of the competition, a convincing performance against Micky Adams’ high flyers saw City win by two goals to nil. That, coupled with the trip to Hartlepool in the second round (City were awarded a bye in the first round) means City have yet again this season not had the luck of the draw, but they have come through it very well.

But Crewe is a different game. Crewe are a team who are a bit sneakily very good. The danger is our players could go into this tie treating it as a bread and butter League Two game – just another a poor, small League One side. But Crewe are better than that and, if we don’t respect them, we could find ourselves on the wrong end of an absolute hiding.

As a young team though, Crewe could possibly be quite easy to keep out of the game. If we defend tightly and don’t let them in easily, and keep the ball – using Alan Connell and Andy Gray’s strengths and playing it into their feet or chest, with pace from the wings and Ritchie Jones to get up and support them, we could win this game. However, playing too many long balls up to the front two which they will never win is a pointless exercise and we will end up getting beat yet again.

This is one of a number of lessons to be learnt from the Oxford game on Saturday, along with the support from midfield when attacking, which will come with fresh legs. We also need to use our wide men, get them involved. I have been convinced by numerous Southampton fans that Dickson is excellent at bombing up that left touchline, as well as getting crosses into the box. This is something we need to use, as crosses lead to chances, and Connell and Gray are goalscorers who thrive on those chances.

I think we go into the game with nothing to lose, making it different to the league games we have struggled with recently. This also means we have more of a chance of getting something out of the game. We aren’t too confident, but it is clearly a winnable game – we’ve shown who we can beat anyway!

The Tuesday Night Club

5 Dec

Port Vale 0

Bradford City 2

Ritchie Jones 46, Forsyth 55

Tuesday 4 December, 2012

By Jason McKeown

The end is nigh for myself and evenings like this.

It was the middle of 2007 – just as Bradford City fell into League Two – that our financial situation and lifestyle allowed me to become a regular away game attender for the first time since I was a teenager. The last five and a half years have seen me miss no more than a handful of games per season. The M1, the M6, where to park in Dagenham, where to drink at Macclesfield – I feel like I know it all like the back of my hand. An era of my life very well spent, even if on the field glory has been in short supply.

But without wanting to steal Will and Kate’s thunder, I have some news. You see myself and the wife are also expecting our first child (and like Will, I wish the Daily Mail would leave us alone!) It’s due at the end of May (worryingly close, and this will cause me panic for months, to the scheduled date of the League Two Play Off Final. Please do it via the automatic places, City!) And as thrilled as we are about our news and for the new chapters in life having a child is set to open, it will close a few too.

In short, there will be no Tuesday night trips to Stoke this time next year. Saturday treks to Bristol will also be out of the question. Home games and a few local away matches, that is the life for me.

Not forever of course. Within the blinking of an eye, no doubt, Junior and their siblings will have grown up and moved out. As I scanned the number of elderly City fans at Vale Park this evening, I felt some comfort from knowing that this somewhat foolhardy Tuesday Night Club of extreme supporting will always leave its doors open to me. But in many respects this feels like the start of a final lap in this level of devotion to Bradford City. Time to leave others carrying the baton, for a few years at least.

And it is nights like this where extreme fanaticism/borderline stupidity of following the Bantams is so evident. When we arrived into the ground 45 minutes before kick off, there were just four other City fans present. By the time we were underway there were still only around 100 of us. A bitterly cold night, three weeks before Christmas, and a third-rate cup competition – it’s no wonder the away turnout was so low. Come mid-January when there’s not much else to look forward to, we will be back at Vale Park in much bigger numbers for what will no doubt be an important league match. By then, this night will be long forgotten.

The action itself fitted the low key feeling. For all the talk of operating with a small squad, tonight Phil Parkinson managed to pick 10 outfield players that – when everyone is fit – few, if any, City fans would include in their first choice XI. The give-the-borderline-players-a-chance-to-impress approach always looks good on paper, but very often doesn’t work out. Tonight at times City looked less a team and more a bunch of individuals trying to push their case for more regular selection. And with a lack of edge to the tie fuelled by the stark truth that really, deep down, none of us cared that much whether we progressed or bowed out (those of us present were desperate for a win of course, but there would have been no tears shed had we lost), for the most part it was the type of evening you won’t particularly miss when other life priorities take over.

But then barely a minute into the second half, City scored and you go mental celebrating. A good goal it was too, with Garry Thompson breaking clear and laying the ball off to Ritchie Jones, who finished impressively with a low shot from the edge of the box. Only Ritchie’s second goal in a Bantams shirt, with the other also coming at Vale Park, last season. He must like it here, though hopefully not enough for rumours of him joining the Valiants in January to come to fruition.

Nine minutes later it was 2-0. Thompson again broke clear on the flank as City counter attacked, and his low cross into the box left an unmarked Craig Forsyth with a ridiculous amount of time and space. He took his time slotting the ball home too. Nice to see him off the mark in a City shirt, but other elements of Forsyth’s game tonight were very disappointing.

And that was that. A first for City’s cup exploits this season – the match seemingly settled before the final kick. Plenty of huff and puff from Port Vale and Jon McLaughlin made a string of outstanding saves throughout the evening, but a third City goal always looked just as likely with numerous chances created and spurned.

Thompson’s key role in both goals was a fitting reward for a vastly improved performance. He was back up front, despite Parkinson’s recent comments that for Garry it was winger or nothing; and found greater success from the fact his team mates did not send long balls to his head, but balls over the top for him to run on to. Alan Connell had a decent night also, but on this evidence Thompson might just have pushed himself up the pecking order to third choice striker.

Ritchie Jones impressed with his unfaltering energy levels – you wouldn’t know, from tonight, that he’s been out injured for most of the campaign. Blair Turgott built on his promising debut against Brentford to cause Port Vale numerous problems. Tom Naylor enjoyed a far more impressive second game for City, this time in the centre, following a jittery first game, at right back, against Exeter two weeks ago. Parkinson will have got everything he wanted from the night – a place in the quarter finals, and some genuine selection headaches for Saturday’s important league match with Torquay.

As for us supporters, it had been worth all the effort travelling down and worth putting on all those layers in a futile attempt to stay warm. There is always something much more enjoyable about watching a game you are winning compared to the laboured, half-paced opening 45 minutes of goalless action. Seeing Nathan Doyle come on to play right back almost had a retro feel. Gary Jones and James Hanson looked sprightly on their mini run-outs.

Such nights are quickly forgotten. A mere footnote on a season where the headlines, good or bad, are inevitably generated elsewhere. Yet the experience of being part of the few, the hardy, soldiers – of whom you recognise so many by sight from countless afternoons and evenings similar to this – feels special in its own way. At different stages of our City-supporting lives, we probably all experience periods of going to as many games as possible and then others where it’s not so much. Tonight offers a snapshot of the supporters who are in their die-hard period of support (young and very old it seemed, middle-aged people few and far between). And though I feel sad I will soon not be among them nearly as often as I have these past six seasons, I feel proud to know I’ve done my stint.

And when my child is old enough, I will look forward to regaling Stuart Benito Carbone Gary Walsh Beagrie Edinho McKeown with tales of nights such as this.

City: McLaughlin, Darby (Doyle 61), Naylor, Good, McHugh, Turgott (Gary Jones 62), Ritchie Jones, Ravenhill, Forsyth, Thompson (Hanson 72), Connell

Not used: Duke, Wells

The marathon continues as City travel to Port Vale in JPT

4 Dec
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Defeating Hartlepool in the last round

Port Vale vs Bradford City JPT preview

@Vale Park on Tuesday 4 December, 2012

By Jason McKeown

So game 29 of the season, and we’ve only completed four months of the nine-month campaign. It is quite extraordinary and – speaking personally as someone who has attended 22 of the 28 matches – it’s a good job it’s not been boring.

What a season this is turning out to be. You can already look back on the first four months of action and find numerous highlights. Wigan of course, thrashing Wimbledon was fun, then there’s Connell’s lob at Accrington, the rousing Morecambe victory, Oxford, Cheltenham, Northampton (league and the cup replay), Hartlepool, Bristol Rovers. My personal highlight so far was Nahki Wells’ last minute equaliser in the cup against Burton. How crucial a goal that now looks, given the subsequent rewards.

It goes without saying that tonight’s JPT tie against Port Vale is comfortably at the bottom of the list of priorities. And that in itself offers a yardstick of progress, given how big an occasion last December’s quarter final tie at Oldham in this same competition became. It is almost a year to the day of that 2-0 defeat at Boundary Park. The away end at Vale Park this evening will house a far, far lower City following.

Nevertheless I’m looking forward to this one. The JPT rules about having to play at least six first team regulars, or at least six of your starting line up from the last match, may be an unwelcome hindrance to the managers, but it does guarantee a competitive match of sorts. And with Port Vale looking a very ordinary side on Valley Parade evidence, but sitting pretty in second, seven points ahead of the Bantams, it will be interesting to see how we measure up.

For me – and I suspect it’s a view that Parkinson shares – this stage of the season has become one about staying in touch with the League Two pace setters. We are not going to be at our best in the league with such a fixture overload and sizeable list of injuries. But when City finally bow out of all these cup competitions – and it must happen eventually, as hard as it seems to believe at times – we want to be in a position where we can really kick on in the league. The automatic places – like the spot Port Vale occupy – has to be the target. Play offs are a very welcome consolation prize, should we fail.

So City go toe-to-toe with Vale tonight looking for revenge for that unfortunate home defeat in September and to offer further evidence they are capable of being their equal. That, in the short-term, could mean more than showing we are equals to League One Brentford.

And what of the fact reserves from both sides will surely feature? Well, a good performance from them would be very, very welcome too. I really enjoyed Friday’s performance against Brentford, but what troubled me slightly is that – once again – City had to rely on their first choice players to salvage a draw. The sight of Alan Connell, Garry Thompson and Ricky Ravenhill being taken off on the hour was welcoming at the time, but it meant the evening had become yet another one where Connell and Thompson in particular wasted an opportunity to push their first team claims.

We know that the three substitutes – Gary Jones, Will Atkinson and Nahki Wells – are key players for whom our fortunes this season are dependent upon. But we want to see evidence that others are capable of stepping up in their absence and proving themselves match winners too. That didn’t happen, and there’s a growing gap between City’s best XI and those in reserve which, if more injuries occur to the former group, will present a real problem.

You would expect Connell, Thompson and Ravenhill to figure once more tonight. But will they be asked to start a week today, when a certain London side are in town? From what they showed on Friday – and on many other occasions in recent weeks – they will be on bench duty at best. Perhaps tonight is their last chance to stake a claim.

Who else plays will be interesting. In goal the battle between Jon McLaughlin and Matt Duke has been an ongoing sub plot since pre-season. Duke had a poor game at Bristol Rovers and – going by the way Parkinson has swapped over the pair following a mistake by one – you would expect him to be relegated to back up/cup goalkeeper. And with the next match after Rovers a cup one, sure enough, Duke was in goal. Yet the veteran stopper had a brilliant evening and played very well, making three crucial saves. So is he still first choice, or cup keeper? Time will tell, but if he plays tonight and plays well again, expect him to preserve his place at the front of the queue.

In defence it’s hoped Rory McArdle can take a well-earned breather tonight, though a backline of Curtis Good and Carl McHugh would lack experience. Stephen Darby and James Meredith will occupy the full back slots, though Tom Naylor might be an option on the right. It is interesting to note how impressive Meredith has been going forwards of late, after talking to him in the bar prior to a Skipton Bantams meeting in October, where he stated he had been told to stay back when Kyel Reid is in the team.

Ravenhill will hopefully be joined in midfield by Ritchie Jones. He has enjoyed two excellent cameos from the bench in the last two league outings, and I for one hope that he still figures in Parkinson’s plans. Blair Turgott has received a lot of plaudits for his debut, but I hope there is more to come from him as, for me, he drifted in and out of the game and his decision making could be better. Atkinson or Thompson will patrol the other flank.

Parkinson may opt for Connell and James Hanson once again up front. I thought Hanson was outstanding in the second half against Brentford, showing what a pivotal player he is for us. As a partnership Hanson and Connell have not clicked in the same way as Hanson and Wells, but I’d like to see them be given a go when Thompson is not in the team. There is an obvious team strategy to target long balls to Thompson on the flank, when he is playing. But although Thompson is okay in this area, it’s not a hugely effective weapon and somewhat negates the impact of Hanson. It might seem predictable to just aim it to Hanson, but he wins so many of these balls that I don’t see it an issue. And when he is truly the focal point of the side, let’s have a look at if he and Connell can link up better.

Port Vale come into this game fresh from being knocked out the FA Cup by Sheffield United in heartbreaking circumstances, and perhaps the importance of this tie has grown for them given it is the only cup competition they are left in. Three years ago City knocked out Vale at this stage of the competition, via penalties – the second City shootout success of a run that now stretches to eight. You wouldn’t bet against tonight going to penalties once again, and – given how memorable this season is proving – the script surely doesn’t call for a damp squid City exit via our favourite route to getting through to the next round.

The price of success as Plan B impresses

10 Oct

Hartlepool United 0

Bradford City 0

(City win 3-2 on penalties)

Tuesday 9 October, 2012

By Jason McKeown

Perhaps it was the result of confusion about whether the final penalty of the shootout had in fact crossed the line. But the delayed celebrations for Bradford City’s spot kick success over Hartlepool seemed to carry a certain level of reserve that saw the good feeling quickly fade away into a shrug of the shoulders – even before you’d left the stadium.

Are we spoiled? Not in terms of success over recent years, of course; but when it comes to Johnstone’s Paint Trophy shootout excitement we’ve had our fair share in two of the last three seasons. And the reward for triumphing at Victoria Park is that an already busy fixture list – aided by City being the only League Two side left in the League Cup – gets that little more congested. Another Tuesday night in action, when league rivals will be sat at home resting up.

Not that City travelled back from the North East with just an unwanted raffle prize. Three winless League Two games – one of which seeing the Bantams concede three or more goals on the road for the third time in six league away matches – demanded a positive reaction last night. And although it took a long, long time to get going as a contest, City shaded this second round tie against higher league opposition, with a confidence-lifting performance.

After Phil Parkinson used his half time team talk to iron out one or two issues, the 4-3-1-2 formation began to impress in the second half and offer strong signs the City manager has found a more effective way of playing away from home. Key to ‘Plan B’s’ success is the link up play of Alan Connell – the closest the Bantams have come to having a traditional number 10 in a long time – who was as prominent and effective in the second half as he was quiet in the first.

In front of him, Garry Thompson was afforded another chance of playing the striker role he apparently prefers – but once again failed to make that position his own. James Hanson started alongside him and – although missing two very good chances in a matter of minutes that was quickly followed by his early withdrawal – proved a more effective frontman than Thompson. The first of those sitters came when Hanson charged to the backpost but could only head Thompson’s cross wide of the post from a yard out. But it should not be overlooked that Thompson’s cross itself had been wayward in direction, after he was in a position on the edge of the box to deliver something much better.

At that stage City were on top. Ritchie Jones had forced an excellent save from Scott Flinders after a superb flick on from Connell placed the ball into the returning midfielder’s path. Connell and Thomspon linked up to present Jones with another opportunity two minutes later, but this time he shot over the bar. Later on substitute Nahki Wells fizzed an effort across the box that Flinders did well to keep out, and Ricky Ravenhill hit the bar with a slightly misdirected header following some superb City build up play. Hartlepool had several chances too, but a visiting defence marshalled in Andrew Davies’ typically authoritative style performed well. I like the look of Carl McHugh at left back, but I do wish Rory McArdle would improve his distribution.

The performance was the night’s true positive. The three man midfield worked well, with Ravenhill sitting in front of the back four and Jones and Will Atkinson – again very impressive last night – able to get forward. It seems strange to see such a narrowly-shaped City side without wingers, and it might prove a hard sell in home games where the inevitable hollows of “where’s your width City?” will swirl in the air. But to see City defend resolutely and attack with a conservative purpose appears suitable for away matches, at least until Kyel Reid is back.

Despite a flurry of late Hartlepool corners, the game went to penalties and there was great confidence that City’s strong record in shootouts would be continued. Thompson blasted the first penalty into the home stand – in some ways summing up his night – but Pools’ Jonathan Franks smashed his side’s second spot kick onto the bar and Ryan Noble hit the post with their next effort. Substitutes Nathan Doyle and Wells, and then Connell, successfully converted for City.

It was set up for Davies to be the hero and clinch it with the Bantams’ fifth penalty, only for Flinders to make an excellent save. However, when Jon McLaughlin got a hand to Evan Horwood’s attempt, so it rattled onto the bar and bounced down on the line, City were through. It was unclear if the ball had crossed the line and only Connell dared to start the celebrations, but eventually the referee ruled that McLaughlin had kept out Horwood’s effort and his team mates rushed to join Connell in congratulating City’s keeper.

With Bury, Crewe, Coventry, Doncaster, Port Vale, Preston and Sheffield United/Notts County in the Northern hat alongside City, the potential of a half-decent draw is reasonably high. So perhaps we should feel more jubilant about reaching the next round, and be proud of the fact that we’re in October and still competing in every competition we have entered.

It’s just the good start to the league campaign has seen eyes fix onto a bigger prize, with realistic hopes grow of achieving something very special this season. And, as important as last night was in terms of the team recovering from Saturday and rediscovering its composure and rhythm, the target of celebrating a promotion next May might be aided by having as few distractions as possible.

Or to look at it another way, only a City fan could return from watching their team beat higher league opposition in the cup and still find something to moan about.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Oliver, McHugh (Meredith 71), Ravenhill, Ritchie Jones (Doyle 69), Atkinson, Connell, Thompson, Hanson (Wells 69)

Not used: Duke, Hines

Parkinson takes City to Hartlepool looking to avoid the shadows of Taylor

9 Oct

Hartlepool United vs Bradford City JPT preview

@Victoria Park on Tuesday 9 October, 2012

By Jason McKeown

Even before a ball was kicked this season, it was obvious that a quiet treatment room would be a telling factor in how successful City’s quality not quantity recruitment approach would prove. The dual loss to injury of Gary Jones and Kyel Reid has coincided with the team starting to lose its way in the league, and a return of one just point from three games throws up some question marks over the Bantams’ prospects.

Now to find the right answers. Or, to look at it another way, at least avoid making the wrong moves.

In the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s 4-3 defeat at Dagenham, Phil Parkinson revealed that he is talking to the two chairmen about bringing in a loan signing. I find this quite surprising if I’m honest, and I do worry about the pitfalls of Parkinson looking externally for short-term answers – especially if that means overlooking and coaching what he already has in the building.

Although it’s unclear if a loan signing will be made before City’s trip to Hartlepool in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tonight, or whether a new face will be arrive in time for Saturday’s visit of York City, you wonder what sort of message fringe players would take if they don’t get an opportunity during City’s hour of need. Do we need to borrow a player to replace Reid when there are three senior widemen available, in addition to the promising youngsters Adam Baker and Forrayah Bass, plus the fact James Meredith has played as a left winger for York?

I don’t mean to write an article criticising Parkinson: the club’s promising start to the season means he more than deserves our support. So let’s first look at the reasons why he might feel a loan signing is a better option than what he has available.

Of the three senior widemen Parkinson has to fill in for Reid, only Zavon Hines offers the direct running and quick pace that makes Reid such a key player. Atkinson has made an impressive start to the season, but his abilities lie more in coming inside and linking up with midfield colleagues and his full back. Similarly Thompson lacks pace and is not a player who is going to rampage down the left flank at a speed that opponents cannot keep up with. Start with Will Atkinson and Garry Thompson as wingers, and City have a problem.

As they would if those two were picked alongside Ricky Ravenhill and Nathan Doyle as a midfield four. When Ravenhill got a bad injury against Guiseley in pre-season, the very next friendly against Bury saw a weakened City midfield badly outgunned. At the time I wrote about a RR-shaped hole where a defensive-minded midfielder was needed in order to provide Gary Jones with the licence to get forward. Doyle signed for City that day and has more than filled that hole, but it is proving to be a case that, when everyone is fit, Parkinson should be looking for one from Ravenhill and Doyle alongside Jones – rather than the two forming an effective partnership.

As Luke pointed out in the Dagenham preview, the balance is lacking by playing two defensive-minded central midfielders. It reminds me of so many away games last season (Crewe springs to mind, where Ravenhill and Lee Bullock partnered up) and it means City become even more reliant upon having a pacy, direct left winger to provide the team’s attacking spark – a role that Hines is struggling to fulfil. That said, I’m not convinced by the argument some are making that Zavon can’t play on the left: his best performance for City so far was on the left against Burton.

So yes, there are reasons to believe that City are lacking a certain player with Reid and Gary Jones on the sidelines, but I still remain troubled by the prospect of going into the loan market at this relatively early stage of the season. For a start, can we afford it? It seems that the potential consequences of the One in a Million school postponement/collapse have been quietly allowed to drift out of consciousness. I wish I could say that I’m surprised those in a position to put a microphone in front of Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes aren’t asking some tough questions, but personal experience suggests it is not they who set the agenda.

Nevertheless the facts in the public domain, presented by Rhodes and Lawn during the summer, is that the club pushed the boat out on close season signings partly because of the imminent club shop sale to One in a Million. That deal has not been completed, leaving a huge question mark over whether we can actually afford our current team. The Bradford City Supporters Trust has written two local MPs David Ward and Philip Davies to outline their concerns about the school failing to open, and Davies’ reply included the comment: “I am well aware of the implications for the football club and have already made the Minister and civil servants aware of that.”

I’m sure that Rhodes and Lawn have a plan B financially, but you still have to question whether we can really afford to spend money on a loan signing (because there is always some cost) if the pennies now need to be watched that little bit closer. And if I was one of the duo, I’d also be wondering why Parkinson feels he needs to sign another player when he has spent a considerable sum of money during the summer – some of it on players who so far have barely figured. A few weeks ago we were all commenting that the City substitutes bench looked its strongest in years, now should be the time to prove that.

But beyond that are the team morale questions that a loan signing might influence, which is where a trip to Hartlepool seems so timely. Almost exactly two years ago, Peter Taylor took his Bradford City to the North East for a JPT tie with rumours surfacing that he was very close to the sack. A few days before City had lost 1-0 at home to Morecambe – still one of the worst performances I have ever seen – where the introduction of two loan players had backfired badly on the manager.

Struggling City had just secured an excellent 0-0 at Rotherham, with the back four looking solid against high-flying opposition. Yet a day later, Reece Brown and Oliver Gill rocked up from Manchester United under contractual loan terms that dictated Taylor must play the pair in the first available match. So that solid back four of our own players was broken up to allow two Manchester United teenagers to come in – Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien the unfortunate victims – and the spirit of the team was damaged. Sometime later I spoke to people within the club about these events, and they confirmed that Taylor’s foray into the loan market at this point had set team spirit back badly, especially as the arrivals were no better than what we had (and that is being polite about it). “Manchester United don’t send their best youngsters on loan to a League Two club”, was one comment I heard.

That’s not to say Parkinson would be as foolish as Taylor in signing duds, but you have to wonder what sort of message a loan signing would send to the rest of the squad. To date we’ve seen a very settled first XI that has meant opportunities for others have been hard to come by. That is understandable, as the team has been playing so well. But I’m sure Parkinson has had to have a few conversations with fringe players about being patient for their opportunity. Now should be the time for others to shine.

All of which leads to this evening’s JPT game, where – competition rules allowing – squad players should get their chance to prove themselves. Expect to see Matt Duke back in goal with neither goalkeeper quite mastering the number one shirt just yet, and Stephen Darby and Carl McHugh getting rare outings as full backs. Given Luke Oliver sat out the Burton cup game two weeks ago, we can probably expect that he will figure tonight with one from Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle rested.

I really hope that ex-Pools midfielder Ritchie Jones finally gets some game time tonight. He missed the start of the season through injury, but has apparently been available since the Oxford game even though he wasn’t making the bench. I believe he has a lot to offer this football club, especially with Gary out for a few weeks, and you’d like to think he will get the opportunity to demonstrate that. Doyle may get to put his feet up with Ravenhill given another game to build match sharpness. Out wide I’d predict Hines and Thompson – Atkinson’s status at the club growing to the point where he can be ‘rested’ for Saturday.

That said, the 4-3-1-2 formation which earned praise at Dagenham might be attempted again (worth noting that Manchester United played this way at Newcastle on Sunday and were outstanding), leaving Hines kicking his heels on the bench and a front three of Alan Connell behind James Hanson and Nahki Wells. But somehow you expect Parkinson to want to rest one if not two of his three front players, potentially leaving the door open for Baker or Thompson to play down the middle. There is a growing clamour to drop Hanson for reasons I struggle to fathom, but the big man might benefit from a midweek breather so he can be fresh for the York game.

Simon Parker’s excellent match report for the Dagenham defeat talked up the need to find a starting role for Connell. Again going back to the loan situation, some argue Parkinson has to bring in a left winger so City can continue to play exactly the same way. I think that success this season will come from using more than one playing style, and that’s why I’d rather Parkinson find the right answers from what he has for the greater long-term. After all, when Reid and Jones are fit again, the chances of them getting injured later in the season are hardly remote.

The JPT is a strange competition. Bow out tonight, and no one will be too upset. Yet in two of the last three seasons, a promising run in this competition has offered plenty of highlights and we’ve seen the Wembley arch appear to be within touching distance. Who can forget the fun we had last year at Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield and Sheffield United’s expense?

Perhaps something was lost post-Burton in the League Cup a fortnight again. And so, following some indifferent league results, it would be nice if a rewarding night at Victoria Park could leave the team facing in the correct upwardly direction once again.

2011/12 review: the joy of cups

20 May
For the penultimate article of the Width of Post’s 2011/12 review ‘essay’ series, Jason McKeown looks back at the Bantams cup adventures.

There are three minutes of stoppage time left at Vicarage Road last January and – at the opposite end of the ground to us – Ross Hannah has headed the ball into the net to seemingly make it Watford 4 Bradford City 3. A linesman’s flag cuts short our celebrations and sudden hopes of an improbable comeback. And now it really is game over – all good things come must come to an end.

An end to the Bantams’ outstanding cup exploits, which during the first half of the season provided a very welcome distraction to the difficulties on everyday life in League Two. City acquitted themselves superbly in all three cup competitions, while we supporters seemed to relish shedding our uncomfortably held identity of ‘big fish in small pond’ to instead adopt the status of underdogs.

Here’s where probably three quarters of the club’s best moments of this season came about.

Living the moment

Elland Road in August personally provided two of my greatest moments supporting City for several years – the celebrations triggered by Jack Compton and Michael Flynn’s goals against Leeds United. By admitting this to non-City football fans at the time I was ridiculed, but I really didn’t care – to be in amongst the packed away following which was going absolutely mental each time we scored is something that will stay with me for a long time.

They were both out-of-body experiences, where for a few seconds the ecstasy is so great that you have no idea what you’re doing or who you are hugging. After Flynn’s magnificent strike that put City 2-1 up, I eventually ‘came to’ at the bottom of the stand – around 15 rows from my seat. This was truly special.

Leeds won the game in the end – they always do on these occasions – but it almost didn’t matter. Two divisions below our neighbours, we had turned up expecting little – only to witness an outstanding attacking display from the Bantams. We were so proud of our team, and so proud to be part of this special atmosphere.

Defeating those who could not be bothered

Half time in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy game with Sheffield Wednesday, and I am in the concourse of the Valley Parade Main Stand watching the Sky coverage of our match on a nearby monitor. The main talking point from the first 45 minutes was the bizarre decisions of the Sheffield Wednesday manager, Gary Megson, substituting his goalkeeper after just 30 seconds and making his other two allowed changes on the quarter of an hour mark. As Sky pundit Peter Beagrie talks about it at half time, we see pictures of Megson’s smug grin and substituted players laughing on the bench.

Megson had got around the JPT rules of having to field six first team players, or be fined, by picking a sufficiently strong starting XI and then making these early substitutions. He had no respect for the Bantams, or the competition, and it set the tone for an evening where his team could not be bothered and allowed City to boss them.

Under caretaker manager Colin Cooper for the final time, the Bantams dominated the second half and were very unlucky not to win the match. Penalties ensued, and Oscar Jansson – incredibly in what turned out to be his last game for the club – was the shootout hero, saving two spot kicks. Jansson raced to the touchline in celebration, with his team mates piling on top. Meanwhile the Wednesday players walked off disinterested.

I guess it all worked out for Wednesday in the end, although not for Megson.

Beating the dog botherers – at last

If the Leeds game did not provide us with the right result, getting drawn to play Huddersfield in the next round of the JPT ultimately made up for it. Like Wednesday, Town probably didn’t take the game as seriously as they might have – though Phil Parkinson’s decision to play a number of fringe City players showed we had other priorities too. After a first half where we were second best, shortly after half time City took the lead through an own goal. We were pegged back, then Luke Oliver scored, then we were pegged back again.

The celebrations for the two City goals – Oliver’s especially – were not far off the experience at Leeds. As is usual when we play Town, the atmosphere inside the stadium had a nasty edge with home fans attempting to charge into the away section when we went 1-0 ahead. In the end we were hanging on for penalties, hoping for another memorable spot kick success.

We weren’t disappointed. This time Matt Duke was the hero, while Nialle Rodney netted the decisive penalty that put us through. Cue bedlam in the packed away end, with the obligatory hugging of strangers. We always seem to have such a poor record against Town, so this evening meant a lot.

The never-ending shoot out

Bramall Lane – like Elland Road and the Galpharm – holds miserable memories for City fans. But once again it was worth the Tuesday night trip, and once again the Sky cameras captured a thrilling City performance.

Sheffield United took the lead, but Flynn equalised on the stroke of half time with a long distance strike. We were giving as good as we got, and could easily have snatched the win. At the other end Jon McLaughlin – brought in for his first game of the season as Duke’s form got worse – made a crucial late save, to trigger penalties for the third round in a row.

Part of another huge City away following, I personally felt that we were surely due a shootout defeat after all the successes of this season and two years before; and when Flynn missed early on that seemed likely to be the case. But McLaughlin had made a great save from the first Blades’ spotkick and it eventually went to sudden death. It seemed to go on forever, but the City keeper made two more outstanding saves which set Chris Mitchell up to score the winning penalty. Bedlam again – this doesn’t mean as much as beating Huddersfield, perhaps, but it’s a great feeling nonetheless. Just two rounds from Wembley now.

The Boy from Bermuda

I love going to Rochdale, and I’m personally delighted one of the best away trips of the season is back on for 2012/13. Back in November, when the Valley Parade clock showed there were five minutes to go in this FA Cup 1st round tie and we were drawing 0-0, the prospect of a replay at Spotland held plenty of appeal to me.

Then up stepped Nahki Wells. Introduced from the bench as City recovered from a slow start to dominate the match, the Bermudian picked up the ball just inside his own half and drove forward with energy and poise. 40 yards out, Nahki looked up and decided to shoot early – the ball flew into the top corner at considerable pace.

What a moment. A star was truly born, with a goal that would be repeated on TV many times over the next few weeks. Wells’ goal won national attention, and the regard with which he was held at Valley Parade was on a steep, upwards curve. We did not get a night at Spotland, but a place in the 2nd round draw was a far greater prize.

Fagan’s rubbish penalty

Boundary Park has a reputation for always being cold, and it’s not hard to see why when one of the sides has been knocked down – inviting in the wind and the rain. It is a horrible wet December night for football, but with 2,500 City fans having made the trip over the Pennines for this JPT quarter final, it’s only place in the world you would want to be.

The atmosphere is fantastic, we give the players tremendous backing. Tonight, however, they finally fall short, with a mid-table League One Oldham side, clearly taking the competition more seriously than our previous conquests, deservedly 2-0 up by the midway point of the second half. We have our moments, but are second best. Such a shame.

Then in the final minute we earn a penalty for handball. Too little too late perhaps, but if Fagan scores we are set for an interesting final couple of minutes. He blazes the ball over the bar and into the away end. Time to go home, though it’s been a fun ride in this competition – again.

The (lack of) luck of the draw

I couldn’t make it to City’s FA Cup 2nd round match with Wimbledon; but after what sounded like a comfortable victory, the following day’s televised 3rd round draw holds huge excitement for us City fans. As the balls are drawn out, we are offered the possibility of our name following a huge one. Man City will play… (sigh, not us), Chelsea… (nope), Newcastle… (oh come on!), Liverpool… (will play Oldham! That’s not fair), Sunderland… (even that would do). We end up with Championship Watford. Away.

What a let down. But still, once the game comes around there are 1,200 of us who descend on Vicarage Road hoping for further cup heroics. We quickly go 1-0 down, but a minute later equalise through James Hanson right in front of us. We can do this!

Sadly Watford score right on half time, then get two more goals in the space of a minute early in the second half. With plenty of time to play, the game is already up, but the atmosphere is still incredible and we are having a good time. Wells nets late on for 4-2, then there is that Hannah moment where we think it’s 4-3. The conversations on the supporters coach home all seem to feature the comment “I’m not sure Hannah was offside, you know”. It is our way of keeping alive the cup dream by bigging up the what-might-have-beens. But it’s all over – back to the bread and butter of League Two.

Postscript – Macclesfield Town at home

City are 1-0 up against the division’s bottom club in April, with the three points we are set to claim guaranteeing survival. But there are no wild celebrations at full time, there are no hugging of strangers and there is no buzz which lasts into the following morning.

Instead we have a soundtrack of moaning during the game and after. Hanson is ridiculed non-stop for 90 minutes, Kyel Reid is criticised whenever his runs down the flank don’t end up with a pinpoint cross, and Fagan is screamed at for being lazy.

Back at Watford in January, a bloke two seats from me stood up and started yelling similar abuse at Fagan. He was quickly shouted down by everyone around him. “They’re two divisions above us, support your team” was the cry from more than one person, and the guy shut up. The positive chanting from everyone else recommenced.

That seems to be the difference between the joy of our cup exploits and the normality of League Two life. We don’t like where we are division-wise, and we don’t consider staying in the bottom division – even if the alternative is something far worse – to be something to celebrate. We don’t get behind Fagan when he is playing against mediocre footballers, but do cheer for him when he faces players better than him.

That makes sense of course – Fagan leaves City this summer with both player and club tagged as underachievers, and we want far more than we have seen from City in League Two this season. But there’s a lot of fun in getting behind your players and seeing them exceed your expectations, and this season the cup competitions provided numerous opportunities for both of these occurrences to happen.

2011/12 review: Highlight/lowlight – part one

8 May

The Width of a Post writing team provide their personal highlights and lowlights of this season.

Mark Scully

Highlight – There haven’t been many high points throughout the course of the season but the few memorable moments came in the Johnstones Paint Trophy. I’d have to say the highlight was beating Sheffield United, a great night at Bramall Lane. Jonny Mac proved to be the hero with an excellent stop from Billy Clarke with the last kick of the game, before becoming the penalty saving king again. It looked like the run was coming to an end when Matty Phillips scored a superb first half goal for the Blades. However, just like at Leeds earlier in the season, Michael Flynn scored a stunner from outside the area which sent the away end barmy! In the second half both sides had decent chances before penalties decided it….McLaughlin saved three spot kicks in the shoot out, before Chris Mitchell calmly slotted home to send the Bantams into the next round.

Lowlight – It’s not a game, but more a situation that developed and became a problem – which stemmed from the departure of Jack Compton. I wasn’t personally a big fan of Compton, but he gave us good balance with him on one flank and Reid on the other. Following his departure he was never adequately replaced. Young Charlie Taylor from Leeds wasn’t up to much, neither were the likes of Deane Smalley and Will Atkinson – whilst Fagan was playing out of position. With all that in mind the pressure on Reid to create was too much. Teams got wise to our only threat and would nullify him. Hopefully the penny has dropped with Parkinson that we do need two out and out wingers, something which has been missing for a long time at Valley Parade.

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Luke Lockwood

Highlight – the Huddersfield Town cup win. In all my visits to the Galpharm Stadium I have never seen us win, but all that changed with the dramatic penalty shoot out victory in the Johnstones Paint Trophy this season. After twice experiencing the heartbreak of a Town equaliser, a City side, which had been labelled the worst in League Two by our joint chairman, knocked out one of the finest sides from the division above! Liam Moore, Robbie Threlfall, Luke O’Brien, Chris Mitchell, Jack Compton, Mark Stewart, Nialle Rodney and even Guy Branston, Matt Duke and Ross Hannah wouldn’t feature much more over the course of the season, but they provided one memorable night for the travelling 2,500 Bantams. Thank you Rodney and co.!

Lowlight – the David Syers injury. Another memorable evening – Leeds away – which was 20 minutes away from being my personal high of the year. But then Syers was left in a heap by the touchline just yards away from me and would not play again until Boxing Day. The 2010/11 player of the season had put in his finest performance to date and in front of the Sky Cameras; how would we keep the vultures at bay now? But his night ended prematurely and with it so did City’s fight. I had dragged along a friend of mine who was a Huddersfield Town fan and a number of my other friends were in the opposite end supporting the Dark Forces. For the rest of the evening they would debate among themselves whether it would be Leeds or Huddersfield signing our superstar in January. Ten months on we are now playing hard ball over his contract – how fickle football can be.

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Gareth Walker

Highlight – My highlight of this season takes me back to a fixture that I look forward to every year – Morecambe away. The fact that it was Parkinson’s first match in charge added a little bit extra to a fixture that was already bubbling nicely. When thinking back to the game, I don’t think that I have celebrated a goal like that of Ross Hannah’s for quite some time. I was grasped round the neck by the complete stranger stood next to me, while jumping up and down with my hands in the air. It was one of the mad celebratory moments that we all hope for when we attend a football match.

It is easy to remember why. City had bossed the second half, yet had still fallen behind to a 57th minute Morecambe goal. Jamie Devitt had come on to make his debut alongside Kyel Reid and Matt Duke and looked a real threat. Morecambe had brought everybody back as they desperately tried to keep City at bay and hold onto the three points. However, despite the avalanche of pressure, it just didn’t seem like it was going to be our day. The referee gave a goal kick in the 92nd minute when the whole ground knew it should have been a corner, and it seemed like City’s chance had passed.

As I slumped over the crash barrier in front of me, aghast at the referee failing to give the aforementioned corner, I just couldn’t help thinking that we were leaving the Globe Arena empty handed. That all changed in the blink of an eye as desperation turned to joy. We were stood right behind the goal and suddenly I looked up to see the ball being crossed in and falling at Hannah’s feet. He swivelled and he scored. Unbelievable! The feeling as we walked away from the ground in the pouring rain just moments later was definitely my season highlight.

Lowlight – Defeat away at AFC Wimbledon in March. When City began to fall foul of the winter weather, as well as having had a run to the 3rd round of the FA Cup, it became apparent that March was looking like a “make or break month” due to the backlog of rearranged fixtures. One of these postponed games was away at AFC Wimbledon. It was a match that many City fans, myself included, had been looking forward to for most of the season due to the links between the two clubs from the year 2000 and of course the romantic tale of Wimbledon’s climb back up the non-league. Having bought our tickets well in advance of the original fixture, my friends and I decided to attend the rearranged game.

We booked to stay over down in London and made a long day of it. When we got to the game, it seemed that we weren’t the only ones who had done the same thing and the turn out for a long Tuesday night trip from the City faithful was quite impressive. Throughout the early exchanges, City were well in the contest and it was only an extremely dubious penalty, given by Referee Mr Darren Deadman, that saw us fall behind. We all know what happened next. Craig Fagan who was captain on the evening kicked the ball into the crowd for a second booking and saw red, not long after we had equalised.

His actions on that night at Wimbledon were inexcusable and they cost us dear. It wasn’t entirely his fault, as we all know that the performance of Deadman was extremely questionable, not least in giving Wimbledon a second controversial penalty. The comments made by Parkinson afterwards showed that it wasn’t just the supporters who questioned the referee’s performance in what was ultimately a 3-1 defeat. Unfortunately, this did little to help lift my spirits that night as we walked back to our Travelodge. City were edging towards a relegation battle and it felt like we had lost not only to AFC Wimbledon, but also to Mr Craig Fagan and Mr Darren Deadman.

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Ian Sheard

Highlight – Toss up between Huddersfield Town away or Southend away and home. In fact the Christmas period was excellent and I would have all those if I could.  However, I will go for Southend at home on Good Friday.

Lowlight – Away to Wimbledon: horrendous ref again, Mr Deadman. And then away to Plymouth, when relegation was a definite fear!

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Tim Roche

Highlight – The back-to-back home wins vs Crewe and Shrewsbury over the Christmas period. Thanks to a shock win away at Southend, City entered the final stretch of 2011 brimming with confidence. The Boxing Day 3-0 drubbing of Crewe Alexandra was swiftly followed up on New Year’s Eve by a comprehensive 3-1 victory over Shrewsbury Town, which was especially memorable for a fine goal from Nahki Wells. Two of the finest Bradford City performances in many years were tinged with frustration that such excellent football hadn’t been displayed earlier in the campaign. ‘Normal’ service was resumed two days later as City crashed to a 3-0 defeat at Rotherham.

Lowlight – Hearing that Andrew Davies, Jon McLaughlin and Luke Oliver had all been red-carded for their part in the ‘Battle of Valley Parade’. To witness those scenes was shocking enough, however confirmation of the inevitable punishment left me seriously believing we were heading for non-league football. The antics of Crawley Town were disgusting that night; however, I was so disappointed and angry that our players had allowed themselves to be dragged down to their level at such a crucial time in the season. I honestly believed that losing our centre back pairing and goalkeeper for at least three games would be the final nail in our coffin. Thankfully the performances of their replacements, particularly Guy Branston, were generally fantastic and played a huge role in ensuring our survival.

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Ron Beaumont

Highlight – The away win at Northampton. It secured our League status and listening to it on the radio made clearing out the garage bearable.

Lowlight – The brawl against Crawley; I always stay to the very end of games, but wish I hadn’t seen this.

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Damien Wilkinson

Highlight – City 1 Torquay 0. For my money this was one of the best matches of the season. It had controversy with a straight red card in the first half for Andrew Davies for an alleged two-footed challenge, Craig Fagan’s first City goal, and a heroic and dogged determination from all of the City players, especially substitute Guy Branston, who showed immense leadership and the form that tempted City to acquire his services pre-season. City were simply not going to surrender the lead, and the atmosphere within the ground was electric. The crowd also fired up by the abject performance of referee Carl Boyeson, who made many questionable decisions throughout. So Parkinson’s first league win for City at the 7th time of asking led to genuine belief, at the time, that we could go on and climb the league.

Lowlight – Rotherham 3 City 0. The season’s lowest point for me is probably the away fixture at the Don Valley stadium. A truly wretched venue, freezing cold conditions and City managed to undo all the momentum from a season-best three match winning run established over the festive fixtures. Somehow it all felt too predictable for the large City following that made the trip, in a season marked by all too familiar disappointments. Jon McLaughlin particularly had an afternoon to forget, but no one came away with any credit, and despite some improvements in performances afterwards, including the subsequent FA Cup tie at Watford, it wasn’t until 18 February when City finally managed to win again, with an unexpected away win at Torquay. Perhaps this Millers defeat was the start of the spell that set the tone for the fruitless second half of the season, and our almost magnetic attraction to 18th place in the table.

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Rob Craven

Highlight – Progress. There has been a general feeling for me this season that we have started to move in the right direction. Sure, if you look at the table we haven’t done marvellously this season and the turnover of players and managers is nowhere near desirable, but it has been a step forward from recent years.

We have looked better all over the park and have had players which have sparked more joy than they have frustration, which is a first for many seasons. That feeling of looking forward to the game and knowing we are a capable team, instead of watching through my fingers, is definitely the highlight of my season, and I can’t wait for the next. The spine of the team is there, they have the best part of a season under their belts and a full summer of stability and regeneration ahead before the next season. Fingers crossed we can continue to progress.

Lowlight – I could have chosen the high turnover of players and the changing of management. But in all honesty this is something we have become used to in recent years at City. I could have chosen our own fans flippancy and ability to jump from the feeling of joy about being “play off contenders” to instantly being doomed for relegation after a few bad results, but again we all know and feel frustrated by this.

The lowest point of my season came away from the pitch and I have to say that, although I am chuffed to bits that Jason has started TWoaP since, and long may it continue, losing Boy from Brazil was a terrible moment. The BfB website kept us fans in touch with the real going on at the club with honesty and integrity. We can all read the BBC and the T&A websites knowing what is going to be said before we have even clicked the link. It is a standardised format. BfB was an amazing website that served City fans worldwide with a real football fans passion and opinion of what was actually happening at our club from 60, 100, 1,000, or 10,000 miles away.

I was gutted the day it went down and would like to personally thank both Michael Wood and Jason McKeown for all of their hard work and dedication over BfB’s 12 year history, for keeping me and the many BfB followers closer to our club than the club itself could.

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David Lawrence

The low point of the season for me came not on the field, but on the internet; though watching City lose again at Hereford came close.

As a City exile, the web is vital for feeding my enthusiasm for my hometown club. This was dealt a real blow when Boy from Brazil had a disagreement with the club and thought it best to close down. All parties lost out. In the void that was left following the closure of the widely read website I was staring at the very real possibility of having to rely on either the party-line website or several injudicious forums. To paraphrase JFK, too often those sites enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. However, there was a resurrection of thoughtful opinion out of the ashes of the Boys from Brazil in the form of the WoTP. This has been my high point. Thank you to all that have contributed, especially Jason for his efforts.

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Jason McKeown

Highlight – A sunny afternoon in September, where myself and former writing partner Michael Wood were fortunate to be invited to spend a day behind the scenes at Bradford City by Archie Christie. Getting to experience first hand what happens on the training ground and in meetings was something I will never forget, as was getting to meet and chat openly to several players, Parkinson, chief scout Nigel Brown, Peter Horne and of course the larger-than-life Archie. As a writer, being able to produce articles on what we experienced – which were very well received by City fans, other football fans and even national newspaper football journalists – was a dream come true. We helped to change people’s minds on what the club was trying to do, and that felt good.

Lowlight – I saw 40 of City’s 54 matches this season, but only one of the four away league wins (Northampton, probably my highlight on the pitch this season). So I endured a lot of fruitless away trips, where occasionally you questioned your sanity in making such an effort. The nadir of this was the midweek defeat at Crewe in March, where an accident on the M6 lead to a very stressful journey down to Gresty Road and missing kick off; only to witness a tame display from City that was hindered by Parkinson picking an unbalanced midfield. A night where patience was in very short supply.

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