It feels so special to have Our Stuart back

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Match review: Bradford City 4 (B. Clarke, Dieng, Hanson, Marshall) Rochdale 0

By Jason McKeown

At the heart of footballing supporting are the players we fall in love with. Their brilliance inspires and makes a deep, lasting impression. Their endeavours become timeless, as their triumphs are retold again and again. The emotions they stirred in you are never forgotten. They are the reason you love football.

At the top of British football you find Gascoigne, Best, Dalglish, Cantona, Bergkamp, Henry, Gerrard and Giggs – icons to millions. My own personal favourite has always been someone revered in this part of the world more than anyone else. Stuart McCall was my footballing hero, and the feats and achievements he engineered make him my best of the best. His astonishing work-rate, his courageous leadership, his wonderful passing ability and the fact he was so clearly a good guy. He was, and still is, Mr Bradford City.

And so to have McCall back at Valley Parade, managing the club again, means the world to me. Watching him stood proudly in the dug out today, engineering a terrific victory over a decent Rochdale side, fills me with pride. Everything feels so right around Valley Parade right now.

I admit I was selfish in wanting him to return. He was the only name in the frame to take over from Phil Parkinson who excited me. Many fans were against it and I completely understood their reasoning, but the unity he offered was so much more appealing than the divisive threat of a Steve Evans era. He had unfinished business.

It was around this time a year ago that I met Stuart McCall in a Baildon hotel, to interview him about his three spells at Bradford City for my book. It was genuinely emotional to hear my all-time hero recalls moments in history that were such key moments in my own time supporting the club. But I also went away feeling a little sad for him. McCall had met me ahead of going on the BBC to do the FA Cup first round draw. He was still Scotland’s number two, but the Tartan Army had recently failed to qualify for Euro 2016, and were left playing friendlies for a year until the World Cup qualifiers started.

McCall’s workload seemed too low. He surely still had so much more to offer football than this.

There was a danger that, by coming back to Valley Parade, we’d go through all the horrible emotions of the first time McCall was manager – and it may still end badly again. But these fears were outweighed by the appeal of wiping away the bitter after-taste of his painful exit in 2010. A more grown-up, he’s-not-the-messiah-just-a-bloody-good-bloke approach, this time around.

A chance, again, for McCall to achieve afternoons as good as this.

Because whilst it would be an exaggeration to claim this resounding victory was the best performance of McCall’s fourth coming, it was undoubtedly the high point of the season so far. Rochdale were, as McCall himself was the first to admit, understrength. But they are no mugs, shading the first 20 minutes and demonstrating their quality. Make no mistake, this wasn’t an easy victory for City. They had to work hard to achieve such an impressive result.

It was a win that oozed quality. For lengthy spells in the game the home side played wonderful football that Rochdale couldn’t live with. The short-fire passing that represents the biggest change from Parkinson to McCall was on full show, and it was an enthralling watch. No longer can this be talked about as a good start, City are nearly halfway through the season and continue to demonstrate they are side packed with talent.

The players brought in by McCall and Greg Abbott have clearly made a big difference – more so than perhaps was expected. In the summer, a club insider told me that Nathaniel Knight-Percival and Timothee Dieng would be no more than squad players. Their pedigree of playing for teams at the bottom of League One meant their summer arrivals had hardly set pulses racing amongst us supporters.

Yet both Knight-Percival and Dieng are proving to be exceptional signings. The prominent, influential roles they are playing is something McCall and Abbott deserve great credit for.

Romain Vincelot was a more obvious signing and a real coup – what were Coventry and Tony Mowbary thinking letting him go? – and the Frenchman’s performances at the back are remarkable. Nicky Law, whose return to Valley Parade was greeted underwhelmingly, has been a revelation.

All four were outstanding here, with Knight-Percival and Vincelot standing firm in the early stages, and terrific all day bringing the ball out from the back. Dieng netted City’s second goal just before half time with a bullet header, and Law picked up the sponsor’s man of the match.

The former Rangers man and Josh Cullen in particular ran the show. Cullen’s performances had slightly dipped of late, but this was arguably his best display of the season. A loanee he might be, but his commitment to the cause was exemplified by the fact he arranged with the Republic of Ireland FA to miss one of his country’s Under 21 games, so he could be here today. Cullen has such a big future, one that will take him to greater heights than League One.

With Mark Marshall recalled to the starting line up after sitting out the last two league games – McCall reverted to 4-4-2 here, after recently favouring the diamond – the work-rate of the midfield could rival McCall in his pomp as player. There is so much determination in this City team. The grit and spirit Parkinson installed around the place remains intact.

The defensive solidity – which Stephen Darby and James Meredith played a big part in – coupled with the midfield drive were the foundations of this victory. City started slow but became dominant, and when Law crossed for James Hanson to flick on, Billy Clarke slammed the ball home for 1-0. Minutes later Clarke crossed for Dieng to head in the second, and in-between the goals the striker had tested Dale keeper Josh Lillis with a powerful drive.

Clarke was on top form, linking up well with James Hanson despite the popular belief – one aired on WOAP as much as anywhere – that the two can’t play together. Well, they couldn’t up until recently, but there’s now a much greater understanding. Evidence of the coaching-led approach of McCall on the training ground. We saw during his first spell as manager that he can improve players. 

Shortly after half time Dale’s John Canavan was given a second yellow card for tripping up the rampaging Cullen – a sending off that enraged the defender’s manager, Keith Hill – and the visitors’ gamble of trying to get back into the game by staying attack-minded cost them two more goals.

Firstly the excellent Hanson stabbed home a rebound after his header from a free kick was palmed out. Marshall smashed home the fourth goal with a free kick that fooled Lillis. A beaming McCall would later explain how all four goals were the result of what he and his coaching staff had got the players to focus on during the week. It was that type of day, where everything seemed to come off.

Hill did at least shut up shop at that point to prevent further damage being done; but the near-empty away end at full time told its own story, as most Dale fans headed home long before the final whistle. They are a good side who had a very bad day at the office. Their injury and suspension issues should temper the scale of this City achievement, but it’s no bad thing that we don’t get carried away by the result.

There’s no doubt though that Bradford City are in fine fettle. Nine changes made from the midweek cup defeat, the first choice XI are vastly exceeding our expectations. It’s still just one defeat in the league all season, and you have to go back to March for the last home league defeat. City are now eight points clear of seventh, and can continue to dream big.

McCall, a legend around Valley Parade to so many of us for everything he did as a player, is building a team of modern day heroes for the next generation of City supporters to cherish. And if things continue in this vein, this could go down as a very special season.

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Categories: Match Reviews

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18 replies

  1. What a great result and performance in the end. I thought that Rochdale were the better team in the opening 25 minutes. However, we slowly got a foothold in the game and after Meredith and Law linked up well during our build up play for the first goal, we never looked back. Clarke and Meredith played well along with Law whilst Cullen came more into the game during the second half.

    Earlier on this evening, there was a post on Facebook about the best goal of the game. Naturally, a lot of people were selecting Marshall’s free kick. However, for me, it was James Hanson’s effort from about six yards out. After seeing his initial effort blocked, Hanson was in the right place to score from the rebound. After being written off again about a month ago by some people, Hanson now has three goals for this league campaign. Not prolific, however, he’s starting to receive the service that he requires. He was also involved in some good defensive play which often goes unnoticed.

    As for our Stuart, he sounded very level headed on BBC Radio Leeds after the game as he knows that there is still a long, long way to go in this league season. With Scunthorpe United winning again today (another Josh Morris goal) and Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United both playing tomorrow, we need to continue our impressive league form if we have any chance of gaining automatic promotion. At the moment, I believe that we will end the season in a playoff position. However, prior to the season beginning, I thought that a top 10 finish would be acceptable after all of our summer changes. Boxing Day is already shaping up to be a top of the table fixture!

  2. A wonderful performace from city and 7 and 8 marks minimum from every player. The midfield were awesome today and Clarke edged my man of the match given he scored 1 made another and linked play superbly.

    Apart from Doyle not been in the team this is citys best starting 11 with the exception of maybe Mcmahon at right back.

    Clarke played very deep and it felt like a 5 man midfield at times. Meredith and Law linked up well on the left and Marshall was dangerous down the right. It amazes me that a higher ranking club have not signed Meredith as he has been Mr consistancy for 4 seasons now.

    Hanson has looked sharpe and at last he is playing in and around the penality spot with some service from wide areas and he is not running the flanks or tussling for high balls against giant centre halves pumped high and long from the back.

    I genuinely believe with 2 or 3 experienced signings in the new year who can handle the pressure of a promotion run in and playing in front of an expectant Valley Parade crowd will see us push for automatic promotion spot.

    A winger and forward are needed and I feel Vukic, Hiwula and Mcnulity returning to their respective parent clubs will free up money to do so.

    ThIs really is a Stuart Mccall team and the most pleasing thing about todays starting 11 was that there was only 1 loanee Cullen on the field. This can be only good for continuity and building further on the sucess for a real tilt at promotion when the teanfer window opens in January.

  3. One small nugget was that after Mark Marshall had come off and was iced up on the bench, McCall called him up and they must have stood there arm in arm for a couple of minutes whilst McCall was chatting to him. (We were just a few rows up behind the dugouts). Just thought it was a nice touch, showed the closeness of McCall and his players and his man management skills.

    • From what I saw of the highlights it was also notable that the first thing MM did after his goal was leg it all the way across the pitch to the bench so he could celebrate with the management team…

      • Yes, it was really noticeable. The picture used to illustrate the article shows the moment he reached the bench. I think know it speaks volumes about the relationship between players and management. It couldn’t be better.

  4. First rate reporting. I’m a lifelong city supporter living away since 05 (bantams player is fantastic though Sticks is missed this year) this feels like an honest opinion on where we are as a club. Your thoughts on Stuart are spot on, he was a tremendous player, and it’s great that he can come back now and get the best out of this group of talented players. We should back him every step of the way. Thanks for the great reports. CTID.

  5. I found this very exciting. After about half an hour I said to my wife that this was going to be hard. Rochdale looked good. But City about then seemed to come good, pass Rochdale silly, and take control. The rest was lovely to watch, quick passing, fast running, tough tackling, and , apart from a few misses, good finishing. I was impressed by Law, Percival and Vincelot, and noted the heavy treatment they dished out to Marshall, who is obviously feared. Great to see Hanson settle my fears about him. We even had a proper sending-off for a genuinely bad foul.
    It was a wonderful day, a great display, as good as anything since the Premier League days.
    I am thrilled.

  6. Agree with your article Jason. It is an embarrassment of riches in terms of squad quality, unfair to single out any one individual as above the rest. Having said that, the one player for me who is really exemplifing the current approach is Nicky Law. He seems to play everywhere, defends and attacks vigerously, leads so many charges upfield, is great in possession and holds the ball really well. His one goal so far belies a much greater contribution to the team as a whole.
    Keen to see Tony McMahon back soon. He was a key part our blazing August start. Like many others, he will struggle to challenge for a place, but is the Assist King.

    • Not trying to be negative but the squad quality you mention hasn’t stood out for me yet. Losing at Accrington and Morecambe with our squad players isn’t good but once our 1st team players are back we are a different proposition.

      We need to strengthen in Jan to keep up this amazing run we are on and keep been genuine promotion contenders

  7. There was definitely honey on our bread and butter at yesterday’s game. For me the most pleasing thing was that the short passing game did make goals, rather than turning into tippy-tappy frustration. I still think we will finish 3rd or 4th, but the team is developing, and may yet mature into a top two team, even without possible signings in the next transfer window.

    I want to add to the praise of James Hanson already expressed on here. He is a vital defender for us against set pieces, he covers the length and breadth of the field, and some of his hold up play and lay-off’s are as good as you’ll see in this division. He’s at the end of his contract soon and a lot of teams would love to have him.

    Two unrelated things that surprised me about yesterday:

    I was surprised that McNulty was on the bench and Vuckic wasn’t. There must be something that McNulty is showing on the training pitch that I am not seeing when he plays.

    I was surprised that so many City fans left before the end. In terms of percentage I would say as many City had gone by the final whistle as Rochdale!?

    • Vuckic was injured apparently. He did take a heck of a whack at Morecambe.

      • Thanks for the info. I’m a bit surprised that he finished the game against Morecambe if the injury was that bad.

        On a different matter: are you previewing Tuesday’s F.A. Youth Cup game against Boston United? I assume the 5 players who played against Morecambe will be in the team, but Devine won’t?

      • From Simon Parker’s minute-by-minute match report:

        “No Haris Vuckic in the squad after his two goals at Morecambe.

        Out with a foot injury suffered from a bad tackle in the second half.

        Vuckic actually scored that cracking free-kick at Morecambe AFTER being injured. He needed stitches in his foot later.”

        Also worth noting that on Pulse2 the commentators were saying Vuckic was looking fired up to return to the pitch after the injury when Kenny Black was considering substituting him..

  8. After this weekend’s results we are still shaping up for an automatic promotion place..most probably second behind the Blades. Scunthorpe will have a sticky patch hopefully including Boxing Day and Bolton have also yet to play ourselves and the Blades away. Great season..onto Southend !

  9. Automatic promotion will be decided in the January window which club has the resources to strengthen and push on I believe us and sheffield will spent and push on .

  10. Great article. Have supporters noticed the amount of penalties and red cards(for the opposition) we are getting in our favour. Surely a sign of how good the team are playing and how teams get so desperate to stop us. Does anyone have these stats for penalties/red cards etc.

  11. Yes, some interesting figures here. in all games 4 red cards by opponents and none by City. Yellow cards 43 opponents and 23 from City. In only 3 out of 22 games have City had a worse disciplinary record – Oxford when we lost, Southend when we drew and did not play well and only Peterboro when we won and played well.

    We have also had seven penalties (six goals) vs two conceded (one goal)

    So all in all these stats seem to show that opponents are getting rattled by our performances in terms of indiscipline! and in turn this contributes to our success (eg extra goals)

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