Tag Archives: Scott Brown

Speaking to Scott Brown

21 Jul

SAM_0335

By Jason McKeown

Further to the news we reported on Monday that Scott Brown was on the verge of leaving Bradford City for St. Johnstone, Width of a Post was able to catch up with the 18-year-old about why he has chosen to leave Valley Parade.

WOAP: So I understand you are signing for St. Johnstone. How has this move come about?

SB: I came back down to Bradford for pre-season training following the summer break. I hadn’t yet signed the contract that we’d agreed in May because I just wanted to see how things went. During the first week (Jason) Kennedy and (Nathan) Doyle signed, and then at the end of the week the manager took me into his office and said ‘Look I’m going to be straight with you, you are going to be fifth choice midfielder’.

He said that I had been doing really well, but that he didn’t think it was fair on me to stay at Bradford and hardly play. And at my age I need to be playing games.

WOAP: So was it your decision to leave?

SB: The contract was still there for me to sign, and he said to me ‘you can sign it if you want, or you can go on trial elsewhere’. So I spoke to my agent about it, had a think over the weekend and then came back on Monday and said to the gaffer ‘I’m going to train this week just to keep myself ticking over, but I am going to look elsewhere’. It was good of Bradford to let me still train.

I had a trial with St. Johnstone on the Thursday, played a game on the Friday and I have been training with them since.

WOAP: Did you have offers from other clubs?

SB: I had an offer from Partick Thistle to go on trial there as well, but I sort of leapt at the first opportunity and St. Johnstone is a good opportunity for me. It’s nearer my home, and it’s in the SPL. They also showed a bit more keenness to take me on. I think I am due to sign the contract on Monday. St. Johnstone have just been waiting for the paperwork from Bradford.

WOAP: How do you feel about leaving Bradford City?

SB: Not the happiest, but these things happen in football, don’t they? It’s just best to get your head down and move on. I have learned a massive amount at Bradford since I signed two years ago. I played three first team games last season. I was training with the first team every day, which got me a lot sharper.

Obviously it is sad leaving the club because they gave me a chance. I will always be grateful to Bradford City for everything they did for me.

WOAP: It seems a lot longer than two years since you signed for City in July 2011, so much has happened. How big a move was it for you?

SB: It was massive. Moving away from home was a big deal. I remember on the Friday night that I left home crying my eyes out because I just didn’t know what to expect from living on my own. I’ve learned so much over the last two years.

WOAP: Peter Jackson said you were the best 16-year-old he’d seen for years. How do you feel his departure affected your first team hopes?

SB: It did have an effect because I got on really well with Peter Jackson. But obviously Phil Parkinson came in and had different views. He saw us near the bottom of the table and the priority being to stay up. So I can’t really blame him for not giving me a chance at first. If you asked yourself the question: would you throw a 16-year-old into a relegation battle? The answer is clearly no.

WOAP: How important was Archie Christie to you and, when he left, what was the impact on you and the Development Squad?

SB: That had more to do with out of football. Archie used to come round and see us an awful lot and he was someone who was always there for me when I needed someone. The Development Squad did go as well, but luckily I was still young enough to play in the youth team, so I was still getting games.

WOAP: Going into the 2012/13 season, you were involved as unused sub on a few occasions and then finally made your debut at Northampton in the FA Cup, how did that feel?

SB: It was really good. A proud day. All the hard work I had put in had been worth it. I felt like I played pretty well that day. It was a massive learning curve for me. In the cup replay against Northampton (Scott’s second appearance) I felt like I didn’t play as well and I took it to heart to be honest. I can’t thank the other lads who played that night enough, because they helped me through it.

I learned more from the second game, having a more difficult experience, than I did the first game where it went well. I really wanted to do well and show I was capable of playing in the first team.

Fortunately I was able to bounce back in the (FA Cup second round replay) Brentford game. I played pretty well and I think I got man of the match in the paper. That sort of stuff helps you along the way. I feel that my appearances in the first team have made me a tougher person.

WOAP: It must have been difficult sitting out of all the achievements the first team went through during the second half of the season…

SB: To be honest that has probably being my biggest downfall – the success of the team. Obviously I wanted to see the lads doing well, but I also knew that as much as I tried I wasn’t going to get into a winning team.

The lads did really well last season to get themselves up, but from a personal point of view I sometimes ask myself, had Bradford stayed in League Two, would this year have been a lot different? Would players like Doyle have stayed? These are high quality players, and if a League One or a Championship club had have come in for them would they really have stayed in League Two? Whereas with moving up a league, you can keep quality players like Doyle. And that’s been the downfall of me.

Obviously when I was watching on at Wembley you wanted to be out there playing. That’s only natural and it’s probably the same as a fan. With the games we had, I would have loved to have been out there, but it’s just one of those things.

Sometimes I just had to take a step back and say to myself ‘look you’re only 17, 18’. I wasn’t expecting to play, in fact I wasn’t even expecting to play three times last season.

WOAP: Do you feel you have been given a fair opportunity by the club?

SB: Yes and no, but definitely more yes to be honest with you. I can’t thank the gaffer enough for giving me the opportunity to play three games. But obviously it is frustrating when a lot of the time I was the 19th man travelling (to away games) – it’s the most frustrating bit in football – and you get to the game and put your stuff on and then you realise that you’re not on the bench.

But overall I would say that I was given a fair crack of the whip by Bradford. Being an 18-year-old you don’t really expect to play many league games. The only game I was disappointed not to be involved in was the final one at Cheltenham, when we had nothing to play for. The gaffer still played a pretty strong side. During the week I had been expecting to play. Me, Louis Swain and Jack Stockdill travelled with the team, but none of us even made the bench.

WOAP: What’s your relationship with Phil Parkinson being like?

SB: Really, really good actually. I’m very thankful, and I believe that he was very fair to me at the start of this pre-season by making it clear I was fifth choice midfielder and could leave if I wanted, rather than allowing me to waste another year not developing. It was hard enough last season because I was missing playing games on a Saturday for the youth team, as I travelling with the first team as the 19th man. But that was down to the team’s success. It wasn’t him being horrible or anything. He saw me as part of the squad and I was thankful for that.

He’s allowed me to go and hopefully I can get some games and progress as a footballer, rather than staying around as fifth choice. I’d have just been waiting around for one or two injuries to get my chance. I’d rather be an automatic choice as opposed to fifth choice.

The gaffer has been really good to me. Obviously last season he gave me a chance and I’m thankful for that.

WOAP: You’re moving to a club who had a great result in Europe on Thursday and could be playing in the Europa League. What are your targets for St. Johnstone?

SB: The manager thinks I can make 15 appearances this season, so I’m hoping to achieve that. Hopefully by the end of the season I am pushing for the first team and will be more regularly involved the season after. I will take each game as it comes really. I will try my best to take the opportunities I get.

We have an under 20s team up here as well, which means I will have a game every Wednesday if I am not playing for the first team on the Saturday. So at least I’ve got a guaranteed game every week to maintain my fitness and develop.

Back at Bradford the reserve team has now gone so I wouldn’t have had that opportunity to play as often if I had stayed. Even if I went out on loan, I still think Parkinson would have seen me as fifth choice. Which I can’t really blame him for, because he has four experienced players in front of me. Gary Jones had been there and done it, Doyle has obviously played a higher level, Jason Kennedy did really well last season and Ricky Ravenhill has plenty of experience and is a good player.

There’s no doubting that I should have been fifth choice. I’d probably agree with it if I am being completely truthful with myself. Hopefully I play some games this season for St. Johnstone and we will see how it goes.

Scott was keen to wish the Bradford City players good luck for the coming season. Width of a Post would like to thank Scott for his time and wishes him all the best at St. Johnstone.

Scott Brown set to leave Bradford City for St. Johnstone

15 Jul

SAM_0350

By Jason McKeown

Width of a Post understands that Scott Brown is on the verge of signing for Scottish Premier League outfit St. Johnstone after being informed he could find a new club, due to the extremely high likelihood of there been few first team opportunities available for him this season.

The 18-year-old Scot, who received offers from England but prefers to head back North of the Border, completed a trial match at St. Johnstone last week where he was said to have impressed greatly. He will join their first team squad.

Brown was signed by Bradford City as 16-year-old in July 2011 with a ringing endorsement by manager Peter Jackson prompting everyone to sit up and take notice.

“We feel that we’ve got a real find on our hands here. For such a young kid to come down from Scotland to a big club like ours and train the way he has done is exceptional. He’s going into the developmental squad to start with but I do believe we could have a real success story on our hands here as he’s one of the best 16-year-olds I’ve seen in a long time. My record shows that I am not scared of giving young players their debuts and hopefully I’ll by giving Scott his this season.”

That hasn’t worked out, and now the bar to first team football that Scott needed to reach has been raised even further by the club’s promotion to League One. The club is in a very different position to when he joined – not least in the fact they are affluent enough to afford four senior central midfielders that means the opportunity for Brown to enjoy a run in the side looks slim.

The fact Brown was sourced and signed by Archie Christie will automatically prompt another round of slating of the former Chief Scout and Head of Football Development and his supposed lack of judgement. But I really hope we can be spared this tiresome debate, at least until Jackson’s long-awaited autobiography is published with whatever revelations he has in store for us.

Because it isn’t the story here, the story is about a promising youth player leaving the club and what that might signify (let us not forget, Brown signed a new contract at the end of last season so clearly was in Parkinson’s longer-term plans). It’s about a kind-hearted and friendly teenager (I have met and interviewed him) having a go at moving to another country at a relatively young age and finding his development stunted. It’s about the world of difference between a hugely promising 16-year-old and the importance of those next few years getting to the level of senior football (Freddy Adu anyone?).

For there is no doubt in Brown’s potential and that it remains – he is, after all, joining a top flight Scottish side. Those who saw Brown’s City’s debut in the Bradford City XI’s 7-1 friendly over Silsden two years ago will have surely been struck by the wonderful first impression he gave us. Playing alongside Michael Flynn, Brown impressed greatly with his long-range passing and vision. He saw things others did not and had the ability to match foresight with execution. The wonderful throughball to trialist Nahki Wells still sticks in the mind. Here was a guy who could play the quarter back position Tommy Doherty had failed at and which Nathan Doyle did so well performing this season.

Another Development Squad match at Steeton one month later, another impressive Brown display. And even though the goalposts very quickly changed with the departure of Jackson and arrival of Phil Parkinson, Brown’s path to the first team still did not seem particularly long. When injuries piled up prior to a home game against AFC Wimbledon in September 2011, Brown was about to make his full debut whilst still 16. In the end Michael Flynn passed a late fitness test and so Brown was denied his big opportunity. During that interview I did with him, a few days after the Wimbledon defeat, I asked him how he had felt about the prospect of almost playing in front of 10,000 at Valley Parade and he seemed remarkably unfazed.

Alas progress then slowed. Christie’s abrupt departure causing the disbandment of the Development Squad that Brown was a member of. Scott trained with the youth team for the remainder of the 2011/12 season, with Mark Lawn admitting that he wasn’t developing at the rate the club had hoped. A relegation battle for the first team meant it was not the time to blood him and he wasn’t ready anyway. But having only turned 17, it was hardly a big concern. How many 16 or 17-year-olds have figured for City over the years?

The 2012/13 season saw Brown become more involved. Often he was an unused substitute and then at Northampton in the FA Cup in November he was awarded a first team debut. Apparently he did well and earned rave reviews from the 1-1 draw. Brown also started the replay, which I saw, and did okay if slightly struggling with the frantic pace of the 3-3 draw. His third and final appearance came at Brentford in the second round – a 4-2 replay defeat when Parkinson largely fielded reserves.

That was it for Brown and the first team, though it was a common sight to see him warming up on the pitch for away games – he would travel as member 19 or 20 of the 20-man squad – suggesting he wasn’t too far away. For differing reasons to a year before, the stakes were too high for Brown to get a run in the side. In other seasons, when the final few games see us having nothing to play for and the senior central midfielders had disappointed, Brown would surely have had the opportunity to shine.

But the progress of the club has made makes it harder for Brown to get into the team even this season. Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle, Jason Kennedy and Ricky Ravenhill – that’s a lot of injuries and suspensions to occur at one time in order for Brown to get a chance. And even if this unlikely sequence did arise, there’s every chance City would dip into the loan market anyway. That’s not a criticism of City or Parkinson, it all makes sense in the short-term. But Brown cannot wait forever and, if Jackson was correct to talk of his intention to give Brown his debut in 2011/12, he is surely at the point now where he needs first team football.

Nevertheless, Brown’s departure does offer a wider question mark over City’s faith in youth development. The last junior to make it through the ranks in a meaningful way was Luke O’Brien in 2008 – that’s nearly five years ago. The promise shown by the likes of Luke Sharry, Darren Stephenson, Forrayah Bass and Adam Baker did not transform into anything more significant. It is not the case that City’s first team is stuffed with ageing pros and that inexperienced players are distrusted; but still, the first team’s only local boy owes his development to clubs like Guiesley and Eccleshill rather than the Bantams.

The Development Squad idea was supposed to bridge the gap between impressing in the youth and reserves and getting into the first team. This season, the club has decided not to field a reserve team and although there are probably excellent reasons for it (Width of a Post was told that it was prompted by some rather embarrassing heavy defeats to sides who, unlike City, use their reserve teams to play senior reserves, which is not good for the development of our youth players) you wonder where that left the likes of Brown and whether it has hastened this decision to let him go.

As Brown failed to figure at Guiseley on Saturday, other youngsters did and life goes on in that regard. City never got to the point where they could give Brown the opportunities he needed and so his departure is not one we will keenly miss. But if at St. Johnstone he fulfils his vast potential and starts making a name for himself, back in West Yorkshire there will be an air of sadness and a few what-might-have-beens.

The tie which did not matter

19 Dec

Brentford 4

Trotta 45 (pen) + 102, Donaldson 103, Forrester 106

Bradford City 2

Reid 34, Connell 94 (pen)

(After extra time)

Tuesday 18 December, 2012

By Alex Scott

From the outset it was clear that Phil Parkinson less worried on outcome as he was the process. The Second Round FA Cup tie became a quasi-friendly, with the primary focus being on players and play, rather than the winning or losing of the game. 

Not that this was a surprise with the manager’s words in the build up. The game was used as a vehicle for Kyel Reid and Zavon Hines to begin their comebacks, for exhausted starters to take a breather, for young players to gain experience, for fringe players to stake a claim. The lack of desire was emphasised by the substitutes bench, filled out by youth apprentices Connor Erangey, Callum Hepworth and Nathan Curtis. These youngsters were joined by counterparts Forrayah Bass and Scott Brown in the starting eleven, and recent graduate Adam Baker alongside them on the bench.

Brentford rested starters as well, but kept their key men in reserve in case of emergency, and crudely, that was the difference in the game. Brentford were the better side, and should have won emphatically were it not for the first half heroics of Jon McLaughlin and the generous finishing of Marcelo Trotta and Paul Hayes. But as their outmanned opponents held out, they were able to bring on Harry Forrester and Clayton Donaldson to tip the scales in extra time, eventually running away 4-2 winners against the aceless Bantams. City’s breathless stagnation pervaded their entire performance, looking like the kid being held at arm’s length, punching at air.

In football, it’s easy to let characters blind us to the plot. But in this case it’s difficult. The game didn’t seem to follow any plot whatsoever. A game of sporadic chances which materialised more often than they were earned. City didn’t care how it finished, Brentford seemed reluctant to exert the energy required to finish it off. It was more of an exercise, a test. It felt like a trial game.

City actually took the lead, with Kyel Reid firing home after good work by Hines and former Brentford man Alan Connell to forge the breakaway, but that was all it was, a breakaway. With Connell and Hines up top, supported by Reid and Blair Turgott on the flanks, City’s long ball antics were as curious as they were ineffective.

Whether the reticence to attempt to keep the ball stemmed from the inexperience at the back, or from something they had seen in preparation is unclear, but it didn’t really make any sense with the personnel on show. Balls were pumped up in the direction of Connell’s neck again and again, and also into the vacant channels where Nahki Wells is normally tearing away. The inability shown by this team (in whichever form) to play without Wells (or James Hanson for that matter) may not be setting off alarms just yet, but start checking if the floor is hot. It’s a worry.

The game plan wasn’t tailored to Connell’s, or anyone’s perceived strengths, which makes it difficult to take conclusions from it. But as the outcome was and is a bit irrelevant here, we may as well roll through the list.

Forrayah Bass played just as you’d expect a player of his age would do in his first start. Visibly nervous, and targeted early and often by the League One opposition, he struggled early. He gradually settled down as the game wore on, and showed nothing to dispute the potential attributed to him. But he’s not ready to play extensively at this stage.

Scott Brown was bypassed in midfield in the Ritchie Jones manner from late last year. He’ll have a sore neck tomorrow after watching all those aimless punts fly over his head. Adam Baker and Curtis made it on the field as the game wore on, the former struggling to get involved on the flanks, whilst the latter, quietly, had a couple of chances at 2-4. The jury is still out on all the youth players, and this game will go no closer to bringing them back in. Potential, but that’s it.

The fringe players struggled for the most part. Ritchie Jones has got a few years on Bass, but I don’t imagine many of those have been spent at full back, and he similarly looked how you’d expect him to. He struggled manfully for the first hour or so, then Forrester entered the fray on the left flank for Brentford, and his struggle became a lot more painful. Ricky Ravenhill harried, hustled, and did Ravenhill things, but little of any consequence.

Garry Thompson was peripheral when introduced in the Hanson role. The success rate of the long balls did rise from 0.8% to something closer to 5%, but he’s not a target man, and if this was a trial to see if he was a central striker full stop, the jury are knocking on the door, and they don’t look pleased. Connell was poor, but again, how much of that is his fault is debatable. He ran around the pitch in an anonymous fury. Visibly riled by the jeering home fans, he tried his level best, but nothing materialised beyond his convincing penalty early in extra time.

Reid and Hines were fine, rusty, but fine. They both logged substantial time coming back from injury, and unless there were any breakdowns (there didn’t appear to be), they will both be the better for it. Turgott had an off day, but wingers have off days, and there’s a lot of mitigation in his defence. And it was his surge which drew the (soft) extra time penalty.

Carl McHugh made an ill-advised dive in the box on Trotta to gift the home side a chance at an equaliser late in the first half, a reminder of his tender age that he has done his best to get us to forget over recent weeks. Parkinson vocally and visibly chastised the referee leaving the pitch at half time, although the level of which he was being genuine is at question. It looked like a penalty. Even if there was no contact, it was a dumb challenge anyway. Whether he touched him or not isn’t really the point. The process let him down.

The other goal concessions came from sloppy defending from a team which looked mentally exhausted, if not physically. Whilst the fatigue argument will be thrown out, it never appeared that way in the moment, more a retrofitted revisionist history from some to explain what happened. They just didn’t look very good. It wasn’t a good performance. And in the end, their…complacency (?) at the back cost them. Two quickfire set pieces from which the lines weren’t cleared reversed their extra time advantage, the second seeing Jon McLaughlin beaten at his near post as he fatally dove out for the expected cross. A moment which will likely see him return to the bench for the foreseeable future. (He could do nothing about the other goals.)

The game was approached as a minor inconvenience, and it resulted in one. A 1-1 draw away at a version of the second best team in the division above is a worthy (if highly fortunate) result. It isn’t the end of the world, and is a testament to how far the club have come that they can essentially throw away an eminently winnable FA Cup tie. As everyone picks up and moves on to the League push for a few weeks, we can debate whether the club are better off losing until we are blue in the face. But the outcome doesn’t matter. All that matters is that benefits gleaned from the trials (rest, game time, experience) are used properly. Otherwise it was all a bit of waste.

The outcomes of all these little tests seemed to be the focus for Parkinson rather than the win. They didn’t play well. I don’t even know if they were supposed to. The FA Cup dream dies for another year, and Parkinson can move on happier with a sparser plate.

The quadruple is dead, long live the treble. 

City: McLaughlin, Ritchie Jones, McArdle, McHugh, Bass (Curtis 106), Reid (Thompson 56), Ravenhill, Brown, Turgott (Baker 67), Connell

Not used: Duke, Darby, Erangey, Hepworth

City’s cup continues to runneth over

14 Nov

Bradford City 3

Atkinson 35, Wells 90 (pen), McHugh 120

Northampton Town 3

Demontagnac 43 (pen), Platt 90, Langmead 109

Bradford City win 4-2 on penalties

Tuesday 13 November, 2012

By Jason McKeown

The shield of cup invincibility remains in tact. Some day soon Bradford City are going to lose a cup match again, but on nights like this so much heart and belief can be taken which should stand us in great stead for the weeks and months ahead. Unbeaten in all cups, and memories to be treasured in how to maintain belief and keep going when the chips are down.

It looked as though City had thrown this one away. Having gone 2-1 up in the final minute of the 90, we just had three minutes of stoppage time to see out and the players could clock off on time and victorious. But then James Meredith slipped over and Clive Platt was free to smash home an equaliser and take it into extra time.

City struggled to get going again, and fell behind to Kelvin Langmead’s low finish during the second 15. Carl McHugh became the hero, as he headed home the Bantams’ own injury time equaliser. Back off the canvas. Never knowing when they’re beaten. Invincible.

And we all know what happens when it goes to penalties.

That this tussle stretched so far into the night had much to do with a poor refereeing decision from Mick Russell that should have enabled City to wrap things up before half time. A goal to the good after Will Atkinson netted a second in four games, substitute Adam Baker – brought on early after an unfortunate injury to Zavon Hines – was played through on goal only for his shirt to be repeatedly yanked back by Joe Widdowson.

Baker continued to attempt to run on, before one too many kicks from Widdowson saw him fall over inside the box. A penalty, a red card – Russell awarded neither. And when minutes later Northampton were correctly awarded a penalty converted by Ishmel Demontagnac, the sense of injustice was palpable. Had the referee applied the same rules to both sides, City would have had around 50 minutes to play with a man advantage.

As is so often the case, the equaliser changed a game that City were besting and then some. Alan Connell was chosen to partner James Hanson and delivered – for me – by some distance his best 45 minutes in a City shirt. His first touch, vision and awareness were mightily impressive, as too was his work rate. Atkinson and Hanson were also in fine form, and Scott Brown enjoyed a promising home debut where he used the ball intelligently and tackled effectively. Northampton were largely pinned in their own half.

“Get us playing again, Gary” was the instruction to Jones from Phil Parkinson as he was brought on midway through the second half. I tried sitting behind the dugouts tonight as I often have for cup games/friendlies over the years, and Parkinson’s measured patrolling of the touchline, saying little and trusting his players, is a vast change from the posing and non stop yelling of Peter Jackson (Stuart and Peter Taylor somewhere in-between).

Jones’ introduction was deemed necessary after an opening to the second half where City lost their way and Northampton got on top. There was plenty to admire about the visitors, who looked better than several recent sides at Valley Parade, but their physical approach and attempts to slow down the game did irk after a while. Jones did, indeed, get City playing again. And with Nahki Wells replacing the fading Connell (there’s that downside, again) the pressure grew.

Finally a handball was spotted and City were awarded a penalty. Wells showed great calmness to slot the ball home and that should have been that. Cue the late equaliser and the eventful extra time.

Wells’ spot kick will only add to his burgeoning reputation. Width of a Post has learned from a well-placed source that the Bermudian is apparently attracting serious interest from at least three Championship clubs and one League One outfit. The names were revealed to me but I’m withholding them for now, but it’s safe to say the three Championship clubs are in contention for promotion to the Premiership. City are said to have turned one concrete bid down, but it appears we face a serious battle to keep Nahki beyond January.

Wells missed City’s opening penalty shootout effort tonight. But after personally been fortunate to have witnessed all seven of our previous spot kick successes, I remained very confident. Sure enough Jon McLaughlin saved Northampton’s second, and then Ben Tozer kicked the third into the empty Bradford End. Jones, Atkinson, Stephen Darby and Ricky Ravenhill scored for City, and that was that.

So another night with some cost – Hines’ injury, Meredith going off with a knock during extra time, and yet another additiona 30 minutes for tired legs – but £18,000 prize money and a second round home tie with Brentford a worthwhile reward. Now back to the league and three winnable games. The shield of cup invincibility must be put back into the cupboard, but the confidence gained from tonight’s heroics can last long after these cup adventures finally come to an end.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, McHugh, Meredith, Hines (Baker 29), Brown (Gary Jones 63), Ravenhill, Connell (Wells 73), Hanson

Not used: Duke, Doyle, Bass, Swain

The plate spinning continues as City welcome Northampton

13 Nov

Bradford City vs Northampton Town FA Cup preview

@Valley Parade on Tuesday 13 November, 2012

By Jason McKeown

The path to the third round of the FA Cup can be completed without leaving the house. Bradford City welcome Northampton Town tonight for a first round replay, with a home tie against League One’s Brentford the reward for the winner. And with the Bantams having already this season knocked out four teams from higher divisions, across the other two cup competitions, you wouldn’t bet against the Bees being conquered at Valley Parade should the opportunity arise. Tonight is therefore important.

Important in the sense of £18,000 prize money at stake, important in that reaching the third round of the FA Cup would throw up another possibility of a glamour tie/big pay day. Although for manager Phil Parkinson, you get the sense this is a game his small squad could do without and that finding the right balance is going to prove tricky. City are in a fantastic position in the league – four points behind Cheltenham, who are in the last automatic promotion spot – with back-to-back home games to come on Saturday and the following Tuesday. As important as tonight is, getting six points against Exeter and Plymouth is surely the priority.

So what team to play tonight? Does Parkinson rest key players in preparation for the weekend, or field a strong side that risks injury or tiredness to those key players? Is it better to bow out tonight with a weakened team, or go all guns blazing and get through but possibly lose a player or two? And with four cup matches this season having gone to extra time, we should also be considering whether players can get through 120 minutes tonight and still be fresh for the weekend. In addition, there are reports that Monday’s training was cancelled due to players carrying a bug.

The FA Cup, unlike the other two cup competitions (the JPT featuring stringent rules on the number of first team players selected) offers Parkinson the opportunity to experiment and try out people in reserve. Hence Scott Brown’s very welcome debut for the club in the original first round tie with Northampton, Nathan Doyle playing central defence, a rare start for Ritchie Jones, Alan Connell and Garry Thompson up front and a diamond formation that surprised the Cobblers. Despite failing to win, reports of the game indicated that these experiments worked reasonably well.

It will be interesting to see whether Parkinson is in experimental mode again tonight, with the lack of substitutions during Saturday’s routine defeat of Aldershot suggesting changes will be made. For all the talk of having a small squad stretched to the limit, a number of good players have struggled for opportunities of late.

Connell and Thompson will be first in line to expect a start. Although the latter has featured more regularly of late, the return to fitness of James Hanson saw the former Morecambe winger relegated back to the bench at the Recreation Ground, having failed to convince up front. There is a debate about whether Thompson is suited to being a striker that is championed by the player himself, but which has few other backers. He just doesn’t win enough flick ons or hold the ball up sufficiently well compared to Hanson, with the result City keep losing possession.

Meanwhile Connell joined City in the summer complaining about how much he was in and out the Swindon team last season, only to find Parkinson is managing him in exactly the same manner as Paulo Di Canio. At times Connell has caught the eye and he looks to possess good vision and awareness of team mates, but on too many other occasions Connell has been largely anonymous.

It might be strikingly obvious to compare Thompson and Connell unfavourably to Hanson and Nahki Wells, but it’s worth reflecting on one of the reasons for why the latter pair are proving to be so much more effective: work rate. I don’t mean to suggest Thompson and Connell do not try, but they seem to expect team mates to do much of the hard work for them and wait up the pitch to receive the ball in areas where they can make a difference. Hanson and Wells pop up all over the park – sometimes to the detriment of themselves – and do the ugly stuff very effectively. And while Hanson and Wells have – since last December – forged an almost telepathic understanding of where the other person will be, Connell and Thompson have both so far failed to click with any of the available strike partners.

By all accounts Connell and Thompson played well at Northampton, and Parkinson might be tempted to give his secondary strikers another run out together tonight to build on that promise. But perhaps it was because neither are as effective at coming deep to receive possession that prompted the diamond midfield formation. What I’m getting at, is that Parkinson might have had to change the rest of the team to suit his forward line. As the season goes on and the likes of Kyel Reid return, it seems unlikely he will be so accommodating.

So for now the manager has four strikers, with two so far ahead of the other two that his first choice pick is a no-brainer. That gap has to be closed (in the right direction) and tonight one or both will have the opportunity to do just that.

In midfield I’m hoping to see Brown making his Valley Parade debut. It seems a lifetime ago now that Scott first made such a strong first impression on those of us who attended City’s pre-season friendly win over Silsden in July 2011. Last September, in Parkinson’s second home game in charge, against AFC Wimbledon, a number of injuries in midfield meant a then-16-year-old Brown was 45 minutes away from a full debut. Progress has undoubtedly slowed since then, but a number of non-playing sub roles and 90 minutes against Northampton would suggest Parkinson views him as having some role to play over the battles ahead. Tonight is the perfect opportunity for Brown to take the next, not-insignificant step in his promising career.

Other central midfield options are Ricky Ravenhill – back from suspension on Saturday but unused – and Ritchie Jones, who is not going on loan…yet. You would expect Gary Jones to be putting his feet up tonight, and perhaps Doyle – who has played a lot of football of late – will also sit this one out. Zavon Hines impressed from the bench on Saturday and will be hoping for another go out wide, and with Craig Forsyth not eligible you would expect Will Atkinson to start. Although other promising youngsters Adam Baker and Forrayah Bass might have a role tonight.

It’s only two-and-a-half-weeks since Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver limped off at Burton, with dreadful news about how long each would be absent for understandably prompting fear about how the defence would cope. So kudos to everyone involved for subsequently achieving three clean sheets from four games, with just one goal conceded, at Northampton, over that time. Rory McArdle has been excellent in his more natural position and is going to be a vital player over the next few weeks. With John Egan also not able to play, Carl McHugh gets another welcome opportunity. The full backs of Stephen Darby and James Meredith make up the rest of the back four, with Matt Duke probably in goal.

For Northampton, a 4-2 win at Accrington on Saturday means they travel back up the M1 tonight in good spirits. Adebayo Akinfenwa bagged a hat trick and Jake Robinson – so often a goalscorer against the Bantams over the years – netted his first goal in 40 matches at the Crown Ground. With the physical Clive Platt another option, the Cobblers have plenty of firepower to cause City problems.

Northampton looked a rather dispirited bunch when City beat them 1-0 in the league three weeks ago, but have since gone unbeaten in four to climb to mid-table and within touching distance of the play offs. It would be foolish to take them lightly.

Nevertheless, as I part with my £15 this evening I can’t say that it will be the end of the world if it is to witness a home defeat. We are now in such a strong position in the league, but the next three league matches all look so winnable that this becomes a crucial period which could easily determine whether we can challenge for automatic promotion or if the play offs is to be our best hope. The last thing we want to see is a home defeat to Exeter on Saturday that is partly attributable to tired legs.

The FA Cup is the third priority out of the four competitions we are still in. Parkinson is doing a fantastic job of spinning the plates so far – but if one is to come crashing down on the floor, I’d rather it be this one than the league or League Cup.

Taking the FA cup seriously

4 Nov

Northampton Town 1

Moult 61

Bradford City 1

Atkinson 32

Saturday 3 November, 2012

By David Lawrence

Those that went to ‘that match’ on Tuesday night will be familiar with the type of location where Northampton Town have relocated themselves. Yes it’s another ‘football stadium solution’ built on spare land next to a retail-entertainment estate. What these planning ‘masterstrokes’ offer the football fan is no decent pubs to congregate beforehand, no parking except for the exorbitant £4 club car parking and a ‘tidy’ seven-and a-half thousand seater ground with absolutely no atmosphere. Especially when only two-and-a-half thousand fans thought the game as interesting enough to turn up.

To give them some credit, the Cobblers’ supporters club have tried to address the sterility of the place by refurbishing the stadium bar and renaming it Carr’s. No not Alan –that’s his ‘famous’ son. This renaming is in homage to Graham Carr, who is just as famous around these parts having played for the Cobblers in the mid-sixties and managed them to the old fourth division title in the 1986/87 season. Interestingly, he also played for Bradford Park Avenue in their last season in the football league. The bar was friendly enough and it beat the option of sitting bored in the car before kick off like so many of the non-plussed City faithful appeared to be doing.

Soon enough it was time to get into the ground where conversations about ‘that match’ on Tuesday night were being had by some, whilst others discussed the team selection. The City team had an ‘unusual’ if not ‘experimental’ feel to it with many regulars being ‘rested’ and Young Scot Brown getting a start. This seemed to fly in the face of the quotes in the press by Steve Parkin and then Julian Rhodes about taking the FA cup seriously. Perhaps they were attempting to test the logic of Mark Lawn who had earlier in the week encouraged the use of the squad’s depth to cover for injuries. Perhaps.

Matt Duke was one of those that kept his place, along with the fullbacks Stephen Darby and James Meredith. The rising star Carl McHugh also remained in the team but was surprisingly joined in central defence by Nathan Doyle; such is the value of Roy McArdle who was outstanding in ‘that match’ he was rested to the bench. The midfield set-up in a diamond formation with Will Atkinson on the left and the returning Ritchie Jones on the right. Gary Jones played as far forward as he’s ever played this season whilst Brown did the converse and played as far back as any midfielder has ever played this season. Alongside Alan Connell up front, Garry Thompson got the start in the striking position he apparently yearns for.

For their part the Cobblers also had to change things around having lost two Nicholls. Higgs came in to keep goal as Lee Nicholls’ loan from Wigan had expired and ex-City player Louis Moult got a start up front for the unlucky Alex Nicholls. Losing their striker to a broken leg being a big blow to the Cobblers as he was seen by their manager as their 20 goal a season man. All this underlined that City weren’t the only team to lose key players and it would be the team that managed the difficulties well that would likely come out on top.

After an impeccably kept minute’s silence in remembrance of the fallen, the game started in a somewhat ‘bitty’ fashion with both teams struggling for any fluency. City had an early chance to score but the powder-puff effort by Connell was easily saved by Higgs. At the other end the mammoth Adebayo Akinfenwa brought Duke into action doing his best with a header whilst under pressure from McHugh.

Gradually, City came to terms with their new formation and changed personnel and their quality began to show. The dazzling Doyle in particular was looking solid and assured at the back. At one point he unleashed a 40 yard pass out to the wing the like of which has not been seen since Marco Sas sprayed balls out wide for an unsure Jamie Lawrence to attempt to deal with. Today’s winger was the on-form ‘Attila’ Atkinson, who had no such problems as he time and again slaughtered his opposing player. He and Ritchie Jones were cutting infield and linking with the smart play from the front two, carving openings for Gary Jones then Connell to come close.

City looked classy, but nearly fell to a couple of sucker punches. The impressive Danny East, who gave Meredith a tough game, crossed for Moult to run into the gap left by Akinfenwa’s movement and head the ball goalwards. It was going in all the way, but for the fine reactions of Duke who dived down to his right to make a magnificent save. Minutes later ‘cool hand’ Duke was at it again saving well after a mix-up in defensive cover let Chris Hackett have a free shot at goal. Despite him showing a frustratingly continued reluctance to come off his line for crosses, even when he doesn’t have the security of the beanpole Luke Oliver, he’s a brilliant shot-stopper. In fact, he was the difference between City still being in the cup at the end of the day.

Thankfully, City survived these scares and went on to get the goal that they deserved. Connell who had been working hard to break the defensive line received the ball from the energetic Gary Jones and played a neat pass across the box to Atkinson. He cleverly cut back inside and shot low into the far corner. It was a peach of a goal that was just reward for the team’s effort to pass the ball around and Atkinson’s outstanding play. The unusually quiet City Faithful woke up to sing his praises “he plays on the left, he plays on the right. That lad Atkinson makes Messi look Sh**e”.

It was “ole” time as City put pass after pass together. It was at times lovely to watch. As illustration McHugh at one point dealt with a speculative high ball from a stretched Cobbler’s defence by calmly killing the ball with his knee and then passing the ball back to the midfield to start another attack. The team that ended the half were not the experimental one that began it.

Half-time and the more than usual family mix of City Faithful were more than usually happy. The feel good factor is back at City.

Unfortunately, nobody had told Aidy Boothroyd who had clearly got into his side at the interval. The Cobblers responded by playing with more purpose by trying to utilise Akinfenwa’s strength more and target City’s back line weakness –their lack of height. The journey-man centre forward gave McHugh a rough ride and whilst Brown did okay on his debut he failed in his duty to get in front of the balls played into the big striker or offer him worthwhile covering support. At least twice in the first ten minutes of the half Akinfenwa caused enough problems to enable Moult to have a chance on goal and had a shot of his own curl over the bar. City were bravely still trying to pass the ball about but were increasingly looking vulnerable to the rejuvenated Cobblers.

So it was no real surprise when the scores were levelled. Another cross from East and Moult got the better of McHugh in the air to head in at the near post. It was what they deserved, but not what City needed. Hopefully, John Egan’s arrival from Sunderland will be of assistance with this ‘shortage’ in the future.

The goal livened up the City team. With the front two in particular trying their hardest to make amends. Connell was making some intelligent passes and almost scored when his drive was deflected by Longmead, leaving the keeper stranded, but unfortunately the ball bounced the wrong side of the post. Thompson was having the best game he has had for City so far, linking well with Connell and keeping up with the Jones’s. It still looked like either team could win it.

And then the substitutions came. First, the Cobblers made a change then City brought on Nahki Wells and James Hanson for Connell and Thompson, who both received standing ovations from the ‘Faithful’ for their efforts.  The game as a footballing feast, if it ever was, was over. City resorted to the long ball game looking for the head of Hanson. It was predictable. It was boring. It nearly brought a penalty. Wells ran onto one of Hanson’s ‘lottery’ headers and was sandwiched in between two defenders just inside the box. However, the excellently anonymous referee Geoff Eltrigham rightly judged one of the defenders had got the ball first.

One more half chance to Wells and the game was over. Or was that game up? City had survived a tricky follow-up game to ‘that game’ on Tuesday night, managed to rest several key players, shown strength in depth and taken the cup seriously. Perhaps.

City: Duke, Darby, McHugh, Doyle, Meredith, Brown, Ritchie Jones, Atkinson, Gary Jones (McArdle), Thompson (Hanson 76), Connell (Wells 76)

Not used: McLaughlin, Bass, Baker, Hines

A Trialist impresses amongst A N Other and F Orgettable

7 Aug

Bradford (Park Avenue) 3

O’Brien 17, James 36, Deacey 76

Bradford City 1

Thompson 23 (pen)

Tuesday 7 August, 2012

By Joe Cockburn

A man with no name always brings with him interest and excitement, and he was the shining light in an otherwise very forgettable game to go with the forgettable squad. The team was filled with trialists and youngsters ahead of the season’s curtain-raiser against Notts County on Saturday. Many of those names will never be seen around Valley Parade again, but the man marked on the official website as “A Trialist” was the stand out performer at Horsfall Stadium.

The game began eventfully, with the first chance falling to one of four apprentices on show, Tom Bott. Good work on the right from trialist Gavin Hoolahan and a cracking cross from Marc Gallego fell to Bott, whose weak shot was well saved by impressive Avenue ‘keeper Tim Deasey. Gallego was caught napping in a forward position and the full back was almost punished, but the ball across the six yard box evaded everyone and good work from Forrayah “Faz” Bass got the ball away. However, the German was made to pay for being too adventurous when he couldn’t catch Avenue winger Alex Davidson who squared for captain Rob O’Brien to finish via the hand of Duke.

The still unknown trialist on the left wing was causing Avenue’s defence problems with his pace and skill, and he was played into space by Alan Connell before being clattered to the ground inside the area, and the referee could do no more than award City a penalty, and in a full game, the home side may have found themselves a man light. Garry Thompson avoided Deasey’s attempted mind games, sending him the wrong way with a composed penalty. Not long after, Connell’s hard work payed off as he won the ball from an Avenue defender before squaring the ball. A bit of a scramble and a save and a deflection resulted in a corner, but the ball should really have been replaced on the centre circle and City 2-1 up.

City were punished 10 minutes later as Gallego was once again caught too far up the pitch, and Davidson once again pulled back this time for impressive striker Matty James to smartly volley home. City faded towards half time, and little attempt had been made to play football at any stage in the first half. Well, by the visitors at least.

The second half started where the first left off, until 53 minutes in when Connell once again dropped off the front line and played the mystery man into the left channel. Some good pace and skill saw him go racing clear and he saw his near-perfect clip over the keeper cleared off the line by defender James Knowles. That was the last chance of note from City until very late in the game.

Before that, however, City were largely non-existent. Players were tiring, substitutions were made and any sense of organisation was completely lost; due to the lack of an organiser in the midfield – a role usually played by Ricky Ravenhill or Gary Jones, and a role that goes largely unnoticed despite its serious importance.

Avenue were in total control, and on 76 minutes, Jordan Deacey scored the goal that the hosts thoroughly deserved. Perhaps the shot could have been saved by Duke, but it may have got a deflection meaning the big ‘keeper didn’t get his full hand on it. Chances came and went, with noticeable interventions from trialist Jack Mills and Bass.

Substitute Adam Baker did create a sight at goal with some good skill and great pace to go clean through, but he was unable to finish past the on-rushing Deasey, who smothered the youngster’s shot with relative ease.

In terms of the player-watch, I was impressed by the trialists on show.

First of all, the unknown winger was revealed after the game to be former West Ham and Burnley man Zavon Hines. The class of playing at a higher level was evident, and he stood out amongst many average performances. He played with the pace and flair of Omar Daley, but with an end product and very little waste. He would be a coup if we managed to sign him.

Gavin Hoolahan is a midfielder released by Hull City in the summer. He looked very composed on the ball and was very capable going forward and in defence, and wasn’t afraid of a tackle. He would be a fantastic back-up signing, in my opinion.

Former England under-19 international Jack Mills showed good promise again following on from his appearances in the previous two friendlies. As a 20-year-old who can cover a number of positions, he would make a good signing, and could be an outside bet for a first team breakthrough.

Finally, we come to the exotic Marc Gallego. One thing to notice is he has a great cross on him. However, despite his largely uninformative Wikipedia page, I would say he is a winger, not a full-back. He has no chance against the numerous pacy left wingers in the division, and is unbelievably better going forward than in defence. He struggled to find consistency in today’s game, with some good touches and crosses; but was beaten for pace on many occasions, including the first two goals, and I am unsure as to whether Phil Parkinson will take him on full time. But he loves his versatility, so who knows.

In terms of youngsters, Faz Bass impressed me at left back. He looked composed on the ball and made a number of vital last ditch challenges. Two previously unheard: centre-half Kyle Harrison and midfielder Tom Bott, looked shaky, and often panicked in possession. But confidence comes with experience, so only time will tell.

One who everyone is interested in is “the best 16 year old Peter Jackson has ever seen”. Scott Brown, captain for the night, looked like one of the first-team regulars in a composed and combative display. I for one would love to see him lined up alongside Gary Jones come Notts County on Saturday.

Connell and Thompson looked worryingly off the pace. Thompson has obviously had his injury problems but Connell for me should be match fit by now. Thompson looked very good in the air for a man of his size, and Connell the exact opposite. He seems to try and win a free kick every time, which is okay if referees like you, but not for us. When he drops off and picks up the ball in space he looks good, but that didn’t happen too often. But again, with both those players, only time will tell.

In an interesting turn of events, Phil Parkinson chose to play in a 4-3-3 formation. It worked well in some areas, and with a few changes, for example Jones for Bott in the midfield and the majority of the back four, I think it is a formation that could work for us. I think Hines is very much a winger not a right/left midfielder. Some will say there is no difference, but there definitely is here. However, upon saying that, he did get back and help out defensively a lot more than Thompson did on the opposite flank, which could perhaps be attribute to few problems on the left and many on the right, and perhaps could cover for Gallego’s mishaps.

Brown sat well and did his job to perfection, shielded the back four and used possession well when he had it. I thought Hoolahan also suited the formation, with the ability to do both roles, however, saying that, I think both could easily play in a two-man midfield as well.

All in all it was a game which has taught me a lot, most of which will be very useless. I expect to see Mills and Hines at the club this season; but apart from that, I don’t think we will see any of the other trialists again, and none of the new-to-the-scene youngsters were quite ready for action, so won’t be used at any stage this term.

City: Duke, Gallego, Bass, Brown, Mills, Harrison, Bott (Boote 74), Hoolahan, Thompson (Swain 65), Connell (Hiza 80), Hines (Baker 65)

Not used: Morrison

In addition to Joe hopefully writing regularly for Width of a Post this season, he also runs his own excellent site, The League 2 View, which is well worth a look.

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Filling an RR-shaped hole

4 Aug

Bradford City 0

Bury 3

McLaughlin OG 5, John-Lewis 19, Elford-Alliyu 61

Saturday 4 August, 2012

By Jason McKeown

Unless you’re one of those trolls who pollutes the T&A message boards panicking about the slowness of signings, chances are you are like me and have been able to switch off from Bradford City matters over the summer. It’s always nice, not to feel stressed and miserable – but sooner or later the new season roars into view, and we have to get back on the wagon of leaving ourselves open to anxiety, depression and melancholy.

The last 24 hours have seen me reluctantly climb on board again for another season. A relaxing evening in Guiseley wetted the appetite, but news of Ricky Ravenhill’s bad injury and then watching City overrun by Bury has left me fretting and stewing in a way I had almost forgotten I normally spend so much of my time. It has taken hold of me once more, and it’s going to be 10 months before I can push it away. Sigh.

Ravenhill is one of those players – like Lee Bullock – where much of his good work goes unnoticed. Gary Jones stole the headlines midweek, but Ravenhill was just as effective alongside him. And this afternoon we were treated to a glimpse of a midfield of Gary Jones without his partner in crime, and it was a midfield which came up short. The blow of Ravenhill’s lay off might be slightly eased by Nathan Doyle’s arrival, but we could spend the coming weeks rueing that over-zealous Guiesley tackle.

Bury, one division above, were able to bulldoze a Ravenhill-less City with a worrying ease that underlines just how key a quiet treatment table could prove in determining how good of a season we enjoy. This was not as strong of a line up as midweek, and it showed with City second best in so many areas.

James Meredith was moved from left back to play central midfield alongside Gary Jones, with Ritchie Jones either not risked or also injured. The Australian was not terrible, but wasn’t particularly effective either – and it left Gary Jones with too much to do in attempting to stem the Bury tide. I would have serious reservations about deploying Meredith in the centre of the park when the season kicks off. He is tidy on the ball and capable of picking out a pass, but lacks the physical strength compared to the two Joneses and Ravenhill.

Not helping the central pair was an ineffective performance on the left flank by Will Atkinson. You can’t help but feel sorry for the 23-year-old, who has been judged on the back of a less than distinguished loan spell last season and who will face an uphill battle winning over the crowd this season. Yet this was not exactly the greatest of starts, as he failed to get close to his midfield colleagues and continually lost possession by trying to take people on, when a pass would be a more favourable option. As Bury came forward in numbers, Meredith and Jones badly needed support but it was lacking from Atkinson especially.

A bad afternoon got off to the worst possible start when Jon McLaughlin made a pig’s ear of a risky backpass, slicing the ball hopelessly into his own net for Bury’s opener, and City never recovered. It was not exactly a confident statement from the Bantams’ number one – who did make several fine saves over the 90 minutes – but if you’re going to make a huge mistake, this is undoubtedly the occasion to do it.

It was 2-0 on 20 minutes after Lenell John-Lewis was allowed the time and space to run at the back four and unleash a powerful shot into the corner of the net. The attack had occurred after Atkinson lost the ball in a bad area of the pitch, but it was troubling to see Rory McArdle stand off John-Lewis.

Bury bossed the first half, and McLaughlin made three good saves to keep the scoreline down. For City, there was a willingness to pass the around ball and not to simply lump it up to James Hanson, but a failure of anyone other than Jones – outside the back four – to keep hold of possession saw moves quickly break down.

Which brings us onto Ross Hannah, and here we sigh again. I like Ross, and I’m pleased that he’s had a good pre-season by all accounts. I’d love for him to succeed at Valley Parade…but the evidence of my own eyes suggests this probably isn’t going to happen. Hannah started today because Parkinson felt he’d earned the opportunity in previous games, but comparing him to pre-season last year I can’t help but feel disappointed with his lack of progress.

There’s no doubt Hannah is a superb finisher – probably the best at the club. But when you look at what else he offers the team, the conclusions are not great. Today he struggled to hold up the ball, time his runs or make the right pass to a team mate when he was involved in the build up. And as much as City’s lightweight midfield contributed to Bury’s dominance, the failure of Hannah to either keep possession or run the channels meant the ball kept coming back. It pains me to say it, but I’m not sure Hannah can have much of a role at Valley Parade beyond super sub. I hope I’m wrong.

The direct comparison – as it was there to be made last season – comes through Nahki Wells. At half time today Hannah was replaced by the Bermudian, and Nahki spent his 45 minutes doing all the right things for the team that Ross was unable to contribute. Wells is a good finisher, but he is also a better all round player. Alan Connell – who also came on as sub midway through the second half – also provided more. He looks set to start the season third choice striker, with Ross fourth.

Well’s introduction heralded a much improved second half display, with Meredith moved to left back – Forrayah Bass impressing in this role first half – and former Hull midfielder Gavin Hoolahan appearing as a trialist. But it was the forgotten man of Valley Parade who really caught the eye: Scott Brown replacing Gary Jones on the hour and producing a very promising display. Ravenhill’s injury pushes the 17-year-old up the pecking order, and he showed a strong tackling ability and excellent vision to trigger an increased number of home attacks.

By that stage City were 3-0 down, with Lateef Elford-Alliyu finishing superbly after some eye-catching Bury build up play. Heads did not drop and plenty of corners were won. German winger Marc Gallego also appeared as a trialist, but it would be a surprise if he or Hoolahan earned a contract from Parkinson. In contrast Jack Mills made a second promising trialist appearance – this time in the centre of defence – and looks a good bet to earn a back up place in the squad. Garry Thompson finally made an appearance in claret and amber, but by then the game had petered out.

A big week on the training ground then, as things kick off for real on Saturday at Notts County. New signing Nathan Doyle looked unfit as he warmed up on the pitch before kick off, leaving a midfield of the two Joneses the more likely starting pair at Meadow Lane. City’s first team squad still only has 20 players (including youngsters Bass and Adam Baker), and Parkinson needs to fill in some of the back up positions to ensure his squad is strong enough for the 10 months ahead.

That is what we now have to fret about, because the initial signs are that the loss of one key player (Ravenhill) is going to prove difficult to make up for. We have a very strong first eleven, but this afternoon suggested that those on the fringes may struggle to match the same levels if and when they are called upon.

City: McLaughin, Darby, Oliver (Mills76), McArdle, Bass (Hoolahan 46), Reid (Thompson 76), Gary Jones (Brown 62), Meredith, Atkinson (Gallego (62), Hanson (Connell 68), Hannah (Wells 46)

Not used: Duke, Baker

2011/12 review: what the club got wrong

14 May
The second of Width of a Post’s end of season ‘essays’ sees Jason McKeown share his personal views on where things might have gone wrong for City.

“We develop players. We don’t have them growing in greenhouses out the back because we don’t have time for greenhouses. We’re more of a microwave sort of club.” Aidy Boothroyd, January 2007

The current Northampton Town manager, Aidy Boothroyd, has so far had nothing to do with the professional football club from his place of birth. But the above quote – made when he was managing Watford in the Premier League five years ago – suggests he would one day fit in very well at Bradford City.

Especially after the season just gone. It started with one set of plans, ended with another, and each one of them was given 100% long term backing at the time. It seems that in the space of twelve months Bradford City were able to illustrate the problems that have bedevilled the club for the last ten years. A season where any greenhouses installed at Valley Parade were hastily covered up in favour of a microwavable ready meal…

“The finances are still tight however, so we are taking a different approach this season rather than trying to ‘buy success’ as we have over the last four seasons in League Two. The playing budget has been reduced but we have increased our investment in developing young players for the future.” Julian Rhodes’ programme notes, Aldershot (home) Saturday 6 August 2011

This above quote, from the Bradford City joint chairman, was typical of the understated approach adopted by the club during last summer, on the back of a dreadfully disappointing 2010/11 campaign which had involved recruiting a top quality manager on a hefty wage and giving him a large playing budget. That manager – Peter Taylor – failed to come close to the target of promotion, and eventually quit. Peter Jackson guided City to safety, but only just. The club ended the season claiming it could no longer afford to keep playing at Valley Parade and even paid the players’ wages late at one point. Something had to change.

Dagenham & Redbridge’s John Still was interviewed for the job of long-term replacement to Taylor. At the meeting with the two Chairmen, he brought along his chief scout and a man who had worked for him for almost 20 years, dating back to Still’s Barnet days. Archie Christie had helped Still deliver success as manager by finding him find untapped talent which were eventually sold on for a large profit – Craig Mackail-Smith and Paul Benson, for example – and would also come to Valley Parade with Still.

However, the financial problems at City – eventually partly solved by the chairmen agreeing a deal to buy the Valley Parade office blocks which the club was previously renting at a considerable cost – saw Still rule himself out of the running. Jackson got the City job he probably deserved, but Rhodes and Mark Lawn asked Christie to write a plan of how the Bantams could reverse their continuous decline.

The results of that report were striking if not exactly earth shattering: the continuous approach of throwing all the club’s resources on ageing footballers – which for four years in a row had not worked for City – was not going to deliver sustainable success. It was time to stop ignoring those off-the-field problems and build a more solidly structured football club. So impressed were Rhodes and Lawn with the plan, they offered Archie the job of Chief Scout and Head of Football Development.

Christie turned down the salary that was offered to him, requesting this money instead be used to fund a Development Squad – a new tier to the youth set up, to give players aged 18-21 the extra support that football clubs often fail to provide. Christie dusted off Tom Cleverley’s contract from when City sold him to Manchester United, and found the then-Premier League Champions technically owed the club a lot of money. Having secured this cash from United for the club, the costs of operating a Development Squad for the season – which worked out slightly lower than the 12-month contract City had been forced to honour for Lewis Hunt last April – were covered.

Meanwhile Lawn and Rhodes partially addressed the training ground issues, and Christie set up a new scouting structure. The club spent pre-season talking of a building campaign centred upon ensuring we could challenge for promotion in 2012-13. As David Pendleton summed it up last week on this very site: “Here is the crux: if a football club cannot offer genuine hope, it must offer a vision and one that can be bought into.”

“We knew there were problems after the first game when we lost to Aldershot. Mark Lawn and I were talking afterwards and we said, ‘Hell, what are we going to do?’ We really were worried. We were honest with Peter and said, ‘We have to strengthen’. Peter decided he wanted to resign. That was his prerogative. It was our intention to help him but maybe after a few more games we would have had to act anyway.” Julian Rhodes, speaking to the Yorkshire Post in January 2012

So on the very same day that Rhodes’ matchday programme notes were published, he and Lawn began to panic and doubt the approach which they had chosen. Jackson would manage for only three more league matches (the last of which, Dagenham, saw home fans give the players a standing ovation for the performance), before resigning for reasons he has yet to make public. Width of a Post has heard very credible stories on why he left, from different sources, which all match up and suggest that – while Jackson had his own personal problems – the pressure from the Boardroom was greater than he considered to be fair or reasonable. I was also able to ask Christie straight if he had helped move Jackson out, and he made it clear that he had not always agreed with Jackson but had always supported him.

The Board acted quickly, with Rhodes, Lawn and Christie appointing Phil Parkinson barely three days after Jackson had walked out of Valley Parade. His brief was to keep City in the Football League – six weeks later, Lawn would go on record describing the squad Jackson had built over the summer as the worst in the division. Another wind of change was in the air.

It is remarkable to note that the only previous examples of genuine success at City over the last 20 years – promotion from Division Two via Wembley in 1996, avoiding relegation the year after, promotion to the Premier League in 1999 and top flight survival in 2000 – all featured slow starts to the first quarter of the season, where panic ensued in some quarters. Only this weekend, Rhodes has criticised a number of summer signings on the basis of their performances in just four games (the Leeds, Barnet and Sheffield Wednesday games, featuring these same players, conveniently ignored). All I can say is that it’s a good job Geoffrey Richmond had a calm head and strong leadership skills when sticking by Paul Jewell in September 1998, as the club languished second bottom.

“The point is that football clubs, prompted by media and fans, are always making financially irrational decisions in an instant. They would like to think long term, but because they are in the news every day they end up fixating on the short term.” Why England Lose, by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski

It is a surprisingly tropical Bradford morning in September, and I am sharing a breakfast table with Christie, Peter Horne, Andrew Burns, Scott Brown and Terry Dixon. In the privileged position to be interviewing the three young City players for an article, listening to their confidence about forging a successful career at the club is uplifting. I’d seen and been very impressed by Burns and Brown in pre-season, and all three were expected to be in the first team this season.

Indeed Brown was 45 minutes away from making his debut for City against AFC Wimbledon a week before (Michael Flynn passed a late fitness test in the end) – he would end the season frozen out of things, playing a practice match at Leeds United, where the Elland Road coaching staff would apparently state their surprise that he is not in the City first team and that “he could do a job for Leeds”.

Burns was supposed to be breaking into the first team in January as cover for Simon Ramsden, when Liam Moore’s loan spell from Leicester expired. Yet Parkinson opted for the short-term fix of signing Rob Kozluk for the rest of the campaign – having released Hunt in October at a sizable cost to the club. Burns has ended the season on loan at Harrogate Town, then told he can find a new club (Kozluk has been released).

City seemed to believe themselves to be embroiled in a relegation battle long before they ever really looked to be. Those of us who witnessed the outstanding, attacking football displayed in Parkinson’s first home game against Bristol Rovers in mid-September would have concluded that – with the help of a couple more signings – it was simply a matter of the team getting going results-wise. Three days later City lost 3-2 to Vale in heart-breaking style, with home manager Micky Adams saying he believed we would challenge for promotion that season (“I’d like to bet they will be there or thereabouts”). There seemed to be no need to panic, but we were doing so anyway.

Rhodes stated at the weekend that the whole season was hindered by Jackson’s summer signings – an attack presumably levelled at Martin Hansen, Moore, Guy Branston, Chris Mitchell, Jack Compton, Mark Stewart, Ross Hannah and Nialle Rodney. Under Parkinson, “The worst squad in the league” was been quickly replaced by new signings. The reduced budget Jackson had to work under significantly increased. Who can really blame Parkinson for spending money rather than trusting in what he had in-house, and the potential of the Development Squad? Hand me your money and a budget to buy a new sofa for my house, and I will happily spend it all to get the nicest one.

There is no disputing that Rhodes and Lawn were right when they spoke to Jackson just before he quit – the squad that started the season did need strengthening. However, there is a difference between fixing a few problem positions and overhauling everything. The long-term benefits appear to be slim – just three of 16 signings Parkinson has made since joining as manager are still contracted to the club.

“If the manager has not got the commitment to do it, it means nothing. A scout can scout them, bring them to the club. The youth coach can develop them and put them in the reserve team, and the reserve coach can help him on his way and recommend them to the first team. But if the manager won’t play them in the first team, it’s a waste of blinking time!” Sir Alex Ferguson on Manchester United’s youth system

Christie left City abruptly in November – the day before he officially became the new Chief Executive – for reasons yet to be shared in public. And with it the Development Squad idea was allowed to diminish quietly without anyone left in the building taking responsibility for the idea of bringing it in. This apparently included the Chairmen, yet the same September day that I chatted to Burns, Brown and Dixon was also the last time I spoke to Lawn; and he made it very clear how much he supported the Development Squad concept and how highly he valued Christie (two weeks before his “worst squad” comment). Rhodes was also known to be a big fan of the idea.

The Development Squad was criticised publically in October by none other than Michael Flynn; and in November its coach Wayne Allison departed for a new job – with Parkinson opting to spend the money this freed up on strengthening the first team, rather than recruiting a replacement to coach these players. Everything about the club became here and now, ‘building’ was suddenly an ugly word. The same month that Christie left ended with City lining up a six-figure transfer deal to sign Benson. It fell through on medical grounds, but a statement of intent was made. One wonders what Jackson made of the switching of the goal posts.

As Sir Alex Ferguson’s quote says, the Development Squad was only going to work if it was backed by the manager. Not by him throwing loads of these players into the first team – no one should have been expecting a 100% success ratio from these kids, the departure of Dixon was an inevitable side effect and others would/will follow – but through trusting and handing those who were progressing with opportunities when they came up because of injuries and suspensions. And in time this approach could really pay off: back in March, I watched City lose 1-0 to a Crewe side where 9 of its 11 had come through its ranks. They made the play offs.

Instead Parkinson has apparently spent a huge sum of money – multiple times the cost of the Development Squad – stock piling loan players. What was the benefit in signing Charlie Taylor, Andy Haworth and Will Atkinson, rather than giving Dominic Rowe – a home-grown winger who featured in all but one of the club’s pre-season friendlies, awarded a two-year contract last October and part of the Development Squad – an opportunity? Beyond the Development Squad, in March Hannah was shunted out to Halifax so City could sign Chris Dagnall on loan to the end of the season. Good player Dangall is, but the benefits were purely short-term. Then you consider that the likes of Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall – players City have spent years developing – have also been let go.

And that’s the problem when you look back at this season. We stayed up, and so you could argue that Rhodes and Lawn’s decision to ditch long-term planning because our position looked desperate was the right one; but all we have done is repeated the strategy of the past four seasons in throwing a lot of money at players, again with only marginal success. This year’s League Two is unique in that the clubs with the highest budgets – Swindon, Shrewsbury and Crawley– have gone up. Rhodes says City’s budget ended up around the 5th highest: is 18th place therefore a fitting return for the level of money parted on short-term signings like Craig Fagan, Kozluk and Atkinson, with little gained for the future because it has been ignored? Again we come back to this stat – just three of Parkinson’s 16 signings as City manager are still at the club.

Because from my viewpoint – which has included the performances from quickly discarded players against Leeds, Huddersfield and Sheffield United – I’m not convinced we were doing much wrong at the start of the season. It was obvious we needed to give it time, not judge things on a couple of games – just as City’s promotion winning squad of 1998/99 was not judged on its poor start. As well as Parkinson has done (and he has), significant improvement on the pitch is not obvious. For Rhodes to attempt to blame all of this season’s problems solely on Jackson is extremely unfair.

In Why England Lose, Kuper and Szymanski wrote: “At most clubs the manager is treated as a sort of divinely inspired monarch who gets to decide everything until he is sacked. Then the next manager clears out his predecessor’s signings at a discount.” It is such an accurate reflection of the last few seasons at Valley Parade that it is painful. Can Parkinson break this cycle?

“Archie’s ideas and plans were excellent but they were what should have happened years ago and I remember me and Dave Wetherall highlighting this in a presentation to Julian and Peter Taylor a few years earlier. Development squads 18-21 are massive to any club and so many good footballers get neglected at these ages because their club (s) can’t afford to employ the necessary staff but if you do invest in one it must provide results. Between the ages 18-21 is a massive time for any player to develop in more ways than one and I firmly believe that we’ve let a lot of good players go that would have been good enough for us. Let’s just use Jake Wright who is captain of Oxford as a sample example although I could probably name 10.” Peter Horne’s programme notes, Swindon (home) Saturday 5 May 2012

With relegation successfully avoided in the end, over the last couple of weeks we have seen a return of the long-term thinking rhetoric. Nahki Wells – the first and so far only successful graduate of the Development Squad – has proven the value of the RIASA link up, after a series of outstanding performances and stunning goals. As a result, Mark Ellis has been appointed new youth coach for the 18-21 age group. The Development Squad is, apparently, back up and running.

Meanwhile the club has announced plans to further improve the training facilities at the request of Parkinson – an eerie familiar situation to what Taylor demanded but did not get two years ago – and a couple of City youngsters made the bench for the final game of the season.

This all sounds great, and one would like to believe that the club is finally getting to grips with issues that appear to have held it back for the past few years. But the actions witnessed over the course of season give little confidence that this will actually happen. A bad start to next season, and Parkinson will go – with him another ripping up of the strategy. Failure for the RAISA tie up to reap Nahki-level benefits next year and it will probably be dropped (remember the Belgium link-up?). When the chips are down and strong leadership is required to think not just of the here and now, but of long-term building plans, we revert to type and sign an ageing right back.

That, speaking personally, is the biggest damage of this season – I no longer have confidence that the two Chairmen know how to take this club forwards. Promotion to League One has never looked so far away than it seems right now. That Parkinson is still manager and obviously has a plan of action is the only comfort I can take from this season, but Jackson will happily be able to tell his predecessor how quickly Parkinson might lose the support he needs from Rhodes and Lawn.

“For a club’s whose only priority should be climbing out of the basement division, it looked a case of trying to run before they could walk. That’s how Parkinson saw it when he came in, and he wasn’t the only one. Michael Flynn, the skipper, soon publicly questioned the wisdom of putting money into something that might never bear fruit when it could have been diverted towards strengthening where it matters.” Simon Parker writing about the Development Squad, February 2012

The questions remain: was the club wrong to appoint Jackson in the first place? Was it wrong to ask Christie to write a blueprint for the future? Is the Development Squad a bad idea? If not, was it wrong to abandon it mid-season? Whatever your view, Rhodes and Lawn were behind these decisions and have to either accept they have made mistakes or back up past words with actions.

Just like previous years, the local media is now helping to fuel this constant message from the club that things are better than they were and we are moving forwards. Yet as supporters, no one has ever bothered to tell us why Jackson left the club. No one has either admitted the Development Squad was a mistake, or come out to back it, post-Christie. We deserve better than to be kept in the dark.

What we need is not a new vision – the Parkinson path is the one we are on now, and we need to continue it – but belief that any vision adopted will be backed by the club. That a month ago Lawn backed Parkinson in public is commendable only if he truly means it, but over the past three years the club has repeatedly lost sight of what it wants and – when it has changed direction – has often destroyed much of the good work that had gone on before it.

Parkinson’s plan of action has seen short-term pain for this club, and if that’s justified by rewards in long run then it’s well worth going through the season we have just had. But if we go into next season ready to chuck all of his good work away at the first sign of trouble, then we will probably repeat the same mistakes all over again.

And even less people will be willing to believe in the next vision the Board places in front of us.

Dons game off, Fry signs up, Brown rumours false

10 Feb

Bradford City’s trip to AFC Wimbledon was called off at lunchtime today following a pitch inspection. The playing surface was frozen in places, while more cold weather is expected overnight which wouldn’t have helped the situation.

A second successive postponement is unwelcome given the pile up of midweek fixtures which is building as a result – an issue added to by City’s trip to Barnet at the start of January being rearranged for the end of this month because of the Bantams’ FA Cup commitments. With the Wimbledon fixture still to fit in; starting on Tuesday, the Bantams face 14 games over the next eight weeks.

Temperatures are forecast to begin rising after Saturday, which means City’s Tuesday night home game with Port Vale should go ahead as planned.

Earlier in the day, the Bantams confirmed the signing of defender Matt Fry until the end of the season. The 21-year-old was released by West Ham in January after failing to make a single appearance for the Hammers. Fry has however had two loan spells at Charlton working with Phil Parkinson, in addition to playing nine times for Gillingham. Fry has been training with City for the last few weeks, and has been awarded Luke O’Brien’s number 3 shirt. He can play left back or central defence.

Speaking to the club’s website, Parkinson said of Fry:

“I’ve said in the press many times before that it looks like we are going to have backlog of fixtures coming up…and I want to make sure we are covered in all positions for those games.”

Elsewhere, rumours have circulated today that young midfielder Scott Brown has been told by Parkinson to find another club. Although Brown himself has quickly denied this – stating on Twitter: “These rumours ive heard are absolute rubbish not true at all. Wonder who makes these up … ” – it hasn’t stopped another round of criticism for the Development Squad initiative, which increasingly looks to have been completely abandoned.

As someone who saw Brown in action in a pre-season friendly at Silsden and in a Development Squad match at Steeton – both last August – I can only re-iterate my excitement about his potential. Brown has received a lot of hype, but has great ability on the ball and can pick a pass out. Watch him and you wouldn’t know he was so young.

Brown was 45 minutes away from making his a debut, against Wimbledon, earlier this season. Parkinson now has a lot of central midfield options to choose from, but I strongly believe that Brown is worth sticking with and will hopefully push for a first team place next season.

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