Bradford City vs Gillingham preview
@Valley Parade on Saturday 15 March, 2014
By Jason McKeown
Peter Taylor is back in town this weekend, as he brings his current team, Gillingham, to Valley Parade. It is probably no big deal to a man in his 12th club job – the 61-year-old has experienced plenty of returns to former haunts over his long managerial career – but for Bradford City fans, it is highly unusual to be welcoming back an old manager into the away dugout.
The last return of a former boss came in December 2006, as Roy McFarland’s League One Chesterfield suffered a 1-0 defeat. It had been 24 years since the former England international was in the Valley Parade hotseat, meaning his status of ex-manager meant very little to a large percentage of the crowd.
More memorably – and almost exactly a decade ago to the day – was Paul Jewell’s 2004 homecoming, when his Wigan charges came to Valley Parade for a 0-0 second tier draw. The Latics were on their way up the divisions, we were on our way down. With each year that passed after Jewell’s shock 2000 Valley Parade departure, the job he had performed had looked more and more incredible. Needless to say, on that March afternoon he was welcomed back as a hero.
A few months before that, Lennie Lawrence (Cardiff manager) also made a return to Valley Parade, securing a 1-0 victory. Two years earlier, Terry Yorath achieved a 2-0 success on his old stomping patch for Sheffield Wednesday. And prior to then, you’d have to go back to the mid-90s and Terry Dolan’s Hull City (a 1-1 draw). Small wonder then, that a former manager in Valley Parade’s opposition dug out is a rare occurrence.
Which – considering 22 managers or caretakers have followed McFarland into the City hot seat since his 1982 departure – is a curious state of affairs. Of the 22, only Peter Jackson and caretakers David Wetherall (2007) and Steve Smith (December 2001) have not secured another shot at British league management elsewhere. Some former managers went onto better things (Bryan Robson to Premier League West Brom still bewilders me) while others had to start again from the bottom (although Nicky Law’s Alfreton Town currently lie in the Conference play offs).
It means we supporters are not particularly practiced in welcoming former managers. Do we applaud Peter Taylor at 2.55pm as he walks down the touchline? Or, more likely, do we boo him for his underwhelming performance as City manager? It’s hard to imagine that Taylor will be ignored, given how relatively recently it was that most of us were slating his tactics, as the Bantams failed to mount an expected League Two promotion push under him.
Will we know what to expect from Gillingham this weekend because of Taylor? Can we predict a 4-3-3 with no flair players and 11 men back to defend corners? Will he celebrate Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over Coventry by unexpectedly signing two kids from Manchester United and ripping up his back four to accommodate them? If they score early on will he play all out defence to hold out? And we haven’t even got round to talking about the return of another ex-Bantam, who may figure in Taylor’s starting XI. Mention the words ‘Craig’ and ‘Fagan’ to some City fans, and watch them shudder in horror.
For the current Bradford City building on Tuesday’s impressive victory over Colchester is the task in hand, as the magical 50-52 point mark creeps into touching distance. A victory this weekend would be a fourth in six, which is a big incentive to aim for. From being the division’s most out-of-form sorts team, we would suddenly appear near the top end of the form table.
Expect the team to remain unchanged in view of how impressively it performed in Essex. There might be a temptation to bring back Gary Jones in place of Matty Dolan to play next to Nathan Doyle, if the veteran is back to fitness. However, Dolan played well midweek in an audition to replace the club captain in the heart of midfield next season, and it would be harsh to reward such efforts with a quick return to the bench. Either side will be the loanees of Kyle Bennett – off the mark midweek – and Adam Reach, while up front is the in-form James Hanson and goal-shy Aaron Mclean.
Ahh Aaron. What can we say about this goal drought? Well, fellow Width of a Post writer Alex Scott has uncovered this troubling stat. You have to go back to 1 February, 2013 to find his last league goal for anyone (while on loan for Ipswich against Middlesbrough). After once again failing to find the net midweek, it’s exactly 1,200 minutes since he last scored. That’s 20 hours of football. Poor Aaron. It has to happen for him soon, surely?
The defence once again improved with Andrew Davies back to fitness. It’s still only two defeats all season when the former Middlesbrough man has been on the pitch holding it all together, and only one goal conceded in the five games he and McArdle have played as a pair since the turn of the year. The fantastic Stephen Darby – selected as captain on Tuesday ahead of arguably more obvious candidates such as Davies – is at right back whilst Adam Drury prepares to make a home debut on the opposite side. Jon McLaughlin keeps goal, with recent criticism of his performances fading to muted acceptance.
McLaughlin and Hanson are the only two survivors of Taylor’s reign in charge (and he inherited them both from Stuart McCall). We have been through so much – good and bad – since his dramatic exit in February 2011 that followed a 3-2 victory over Stockport. Time is a great healer, and though I have little affection for Taylor in view of his dismal results in charge, and misgivings about the way he handled certain players, the progress of the club since those dark days has defused any ill feeling I once felt towards him.
Nice to see you again Peter, although I’m glad you’re only making a flying visit.