Rebooting Bradford City


Bradford City 1

Novak 80

Grimsby Town 1

Hendrie 90+2

By Jason McKeown

What it must have felt like to be Stuart McCall at 2.58pm on Saturday. Those close to him said he didn’t want a fuss. That he was only focused on the task at hand. But as he made the familiar walk down the touchline to an incredibly warm welcome from a bustling Valley Parade, the emotions within must have been overwhelming.

This is the third time McCall has debuted as Bradford City manager, and the reception he received was just as enthusiastic as the other two. There is no one alive who can generate such a fervent reaction in this part of the world. It was like a rock star playing a homecoming gig. Claret and Amber scarves were held up proudly. The familiar ‘Stuart’ chant echoed around the stadium. There were smiles everywhere you looked.

There’s been a tidal wave of positivity since McCall’s return was announced earlier in the week, and it has clearly rubbed off on the team. They weren’t quite able to hold on to achieve a first victory in eight games, conceding a stoppage time equaliser to Luke Hendrie of all people. But this battling draw was a huge, huge leap forward from the pitiful display at Oldham last weekend. A major raising of the bar.

What McCall brings as manager is an ability to breed confidence into his players. They were full of energy and endeavour. Showing for the ball, playing with urgency, and battling hard to win back possession. In contrast to Gary Bowyer’s reserved style, players were encouraged to get forward and support attacks. There were more shots on goal than in recent weeks – albeit a familiar lack of efforts on target – and the corner count was high.

Players were told to express themselves. To try and make things happen, and not let set backs dent their belief. When midway through the first half, Jake Reeves blazed over from a good position, there were groans from crowd. But McCall turned to the main stand and encouraged applause for the intent.

It’s easy to dismiss the decision to reappoint McCall as heart ruling head. That it is merely a simplistic way of getting people back on side. But for all the unavoidable sentimentality, there is plenty of logic in bringing him back. CEO Julian Rhodes spoke well during the week about the scale of McCall’s achievements last time, particularly given he produced it on a budget significantly lower than City’s promotion rivals.

Indeed, what has been notable about McCall’s tone going into this game was a determination to show his serious side. That as much as he is emotionally anchored to the club, he is not a circus act. Here, only, to raise morale. His steely determination was demonstrated in his post match comments, where he rejected the easy route of waxing lyrical about the effort. Instead, he made several critical comments about the lack of quality his charges had shown. Making it clear it hadn’t been good enough.

He was honest enough to admit, also, that City didn’t merit more than a point. The contest had proved an absorbing, if not enthralling watch. The spectacle unsurprisingly failed to match the occasion, especially as it took a while to get going.

McCall lined City up in a Phil Parkinson style 4-4-2, with one out and out winger – Dylan Connolly – and the other – Harry Pritchard – tucked inside, whilst left back Connor Wood was encouraged to get forwards. Despite poor performances at Oldham, Reeves and Callum Cooke kept their places in the centre of midfield. And it was some display from Reeves, who drove the team forwards whilst also proving useful in tracking back and putting effective tackles in.

Reeves, Cooke and Pritchard shared the duties of compensating for the lack of ball winner and there was undoubtedly a better balance to the midfield, which the back four benefited from.

City were fast in getting the ball forwards, and proved particularly adept at counter attacking. Connolly saw plenty of the ball, but his end product was disappointing. It didn’t help that he was up against Grimsby left back Anthony Driscoll-Glennon, who had an outstanding game. But it was frustrating to see Connolly fail to make more of several promising opportunities to get a good ball into the box.

Connolly would have benefited from more dynamic running from the strikers ahead of him. But whilst Clayton Donaldson and Lee Novak led the line well, they lacked the agility and movement to get more involved in the build up play. It remains to be seen if they can prove an effective partnership. Although if City can start to deliver better crosses into the box, they should both find plenty of joy.

The first half was largely forgettable, but the contest grew into life as the afternoon daylight began to fade. Grimsby played well in patches, with former Bantams James Hanson and Billy Clarke offering Ben Richards-Everton and Anthony O’Connor plenty to think about. But for all the action in both boxes, Richard O’Donnell and his opposite number, James McKeown, will have much busier days.

The atmosphere was hugely impressive. The crowd of 17,668 – aided by a superb Grimsby turnout – was the highest in League Two all season. And, across the full Football League today, this attendance was bettered by just five other fixtures. A 17,000+ plus crowd in the fourth tier is a strong statement about the health of lower league football. What a pity no one had invited Louise Taylor.

It appeared as though the contest had tipped into City’s favour. McCall’s decision to replace Connolly with Dylan Motley-Henry gave a fresh impetus, as the young winger proved more effective at taking people on and finding space. From one such Mottley-Henry attack, the ball was cleared into the path of Cooke, who stuck a powerful shot from distance that was deflected home by Novak. Grimsby players appealed in vain for offside. Whilst Valley Parade erupted.

And though Grimsby never gave up, in truth City seemed quite comfortable going into stoppage time. They had seemingly found a good balance between not sitting back too much and not taking silly risks. Nevertheless, a familiar failing of recent weeks – poor ball retention – came to bite. A mistake by Adam Henley, some good wing play by Charles Vernham, and from out of nothing Hendrie struck a dramatic equaliser. The scenes of celebration in the away end were impressive, if painful, to watch.

Grimsby almost stole an unlikely winner with a final free kick chance. But they’ll gladly settle for this point. And so, with some frustration, will McCall. It was not quite the lift off moment hoped. But there was plenty to build on and take into Tuesday’s tussle at home to bottom club Stevenage.

So the winless run continues. And after a week of wild optimism, this was a sizeable dose of reality. Still, this was a day to remember. A huge leap forward from the drab grayness that has been a regular feature of City matches this season. A statement of intent, about what the rest of the campaign will be like.

It is days like this that bring vibrancy and feeling back into Bradford City. A reminder – and one that was frankly needed – about how special this club can be. How there is nothing better than a Saturday afternoon out at Valley Parade, when the crowd is in full voice. That football can – and should – be exciting.

And the restoring of McCall at the heart of City can provide that momentum so desperately lacking since his unjust sacking, two years ago. Saturday felt like a football club that is trying to recapture its soul. Whether it leads to success is still to be seen, but at least it feels as though Bradford City are going about things in the right way again.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

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11 replies

  1. I love Stuart. The worlds a happier place when he’s involved at VP. So don’t take this the wrong way, but, it’s amazing is the power of propaganda. We had one shot on target, 44% possession and we subbed Pritchard for Akpan. All the afore would have received immense criticism a week ago.

    For me the first half was poor (alluded to in the article), the second half was two teams lacking in quality but not fight, slugging it out and it made for a great spectacle. Yet, BRE, Henley, Pritchard, Connolly and The Don had poor games.

    I’m sure, the ever honest and massive football brain of Stuart will be left with more questions than answers tonight. Particularly questioning whether we can play 442 with the personnel we have and how to be more potent in front of goal.

    He may need the summer to achieve promotion from this league.

    • Got to agree with you Ben; the power of positive spin, as if Bowyer’s team had turned in that type of performance, they would’ve been accused of only having one shot in target, and not creating enough clear cut opportunities.

      On balance it was a bit better, but I certainly didn’t expect a massive improvement, as Stuart has only had a couple of days with the players, and it is going to take him time to implement his ideas.

      I just think with Stuart that we unconsciously embellish things, as we are all so desperate for him to succeed, and the irony was that the most honest appraisal of the game came from the great man himself.

      • I agree with you both. The other interesting and truthful comments on the day came from Ian Holloway. He remarked that he’d watched the previous 2-3 City games, and pointedly suggested the players needed to ask themselves why they didn’t play with the same effort for the previous manager.

        I’m hopeful as per the article above and comments that Stuart will bring the right approach to lift this squad to play to its potential. But the reality of football is that when the kick off whistle blows, other than 3 substitutions, its all down to the 11 players on the field. It’s a mystery to me, as per 2 years ago, and last season, and the last month, how evidently talented players, paid as they are, can just stop fighting.

  2. A different energy level. The atmosphere was terrific. It felt great listening to the post match interview with Stuart. It’s far from certain if we can climb back into the play offs & clamber from there back into League 1. But we are all strapped in with Stuart for the ride. The Twelfth Man is back with the team. Onwards, upwards, downwards & sideways.

  3. I was happy with today, there wa sno way there was going to be this complete break from the first half of a season. One week of training and familiarisation with players is not the same as a full pre-season, and I am quietly confident we can develop further over the coming weeksbased on what we saw today.

    Grimsby are play some good football with quick one touch passing and credit to Hollaway they have only lost 2 in the last 10 games now. They certainly looked to be one of the better footballing teams to have come to VP this season and I can understand why 2400+ of their fans wanted to come and see them play this afternoon.

    I thought the first positive from today was the attacking intent and whilst the final ball was not good enough (Reeves corners and Connolley crosses etc) you could see the intent and a sense of purpose, some sort of attacking cohesion starting to build. There were some neat triangles of play around the Grimsby defenders and some nice flicks and tricks suggesting that with a bit more time they could become even better.

    I thought the closing down was better today and that will help get the crowd on their side in the games where things are not going their way if they can keep up the higher level of defensive work rate from front to back.

    In the end it was a fair result and both teams can take positives from the game and as a fan I came away happy

  4. It will take 3 more games to get the team into a different style of play and hopefully we can pick up some points along the way, as Stuart said He requires quality, I did think we looked comfortable at the back all game and that is a plus for me as previously teams were getting through far too easily.

    1st game over, the famous draw McCall gets on His start.

    There is a buzz about the place now, let’s give it a few more games and keep the atmosphere high, I have a good feeling something good is going to come from this.

    Little steps in the right direction, after 5 more games there will be big steps, the place will be rocking, look at what He did with a smaller budget before when He was last here, over achieved massively.

    One thing in His favour is the massive squad, too big He said but that gives Him power because if anyone wants to sulk, then they can, out of the match day 18.

    He demands quality for this promotion push, looks like clinical delivery is on the way, watch this space.

    There is one thing for sure I am looking forward to the next game now…

  5. I thought the ref was great today. He kept the game moving. City’s performance was several notches up from the drab performances we have had to put up with. We cannot expect a stellar performance following McCall’s appointment. We need to be realistic. Don’t forget the team has been playing formations they were uncomfortable with. With bizarre tactic for several months. It will take time for the past to be rinsed thoroughly from their minds. I expect a gradual improvement and once the old mindset has been eradicated, I see a positive future of hope and new endeavour and purpose. Today was just the start. Long may it continue.

  6. Great article as always as someone who has watched City for Over 40 years seen many many lows with a few highs on the way but today was special after the most unjust sacking in Bradford history! by someone who new nothing about Football and undermine everything about what Bradford City was about so here we go again and hopefully a play off spot and who knows , I hope Stuart is here for the long haul because if he is we will go places again !

  7. Square pegs Square holes …
    Honest interviews
    Honest endeavour
    That will do for starters. fair play to Grimsby who gave us a good game and their fans were excellent compared to the normal following from them, Holloway is showing what value a good coach and leader can bring to a club. It was City of old atmosphere wise which was a delight for me and my 5 year old lad who can rarely attend but nothing was going to stop us coming today. Stuart stirs the emotion for so very many reasons of a 40+ year old City fan especially. I would love to see Greg Abbot involved again in some way as the 3 of them inc Kenny Black have great synergy and experience to offer the club which we badly need. Thank you GB for settling the ship a little bit wasn’t enough long term. MD I’m sure you will find a role somewhere at a club and thank you for efforts made in difficult times. Now we have a chance just a small chance to kick on and salvage something from the wreckage of the last 24 months.
    Looking through the team today it does seem a reasonably settled back 5 midfield with more game time together could work better I like what Pritchard can offer in a flexible Parkinson wide role although wasn’t his best game admittedly today but hasn’t played a lot lately. I do think The Don will improve his partnership understanding and most defences won’t be as physically good as Grimsby’s were today + he’s not played for months. Novak will be important for us and would back him to score more per game than Vaughan did and piss off less referees anyone notice how sensible today’s ref was maybe due to not being conned and winged at all game by our Centre forward and supposed Captain. I do think we have goals to come off the bench and Stuart has always been the type of manager to give someone’s 20|25 mins rather than 5/10 mins like GB and others. All is not lost and as long as we are within 3/4 points of play offs with 3/4 games left I would back a SMc team to get the job done. I love your articles Jason and without a reference point such as WOAP it would be painful following other sites for comment and reflection. Rarely disagree with you but Reeves’ tackling today was poor. He simply hasn’t got 1 in him and when he tries he is a week late. His distribution goals and assists simply has to improve for him to warrant a place in the team as without that he is just a busy looking ineffective player taking up the place of a Danny Devine who at least can tackle and track back. Akpan is the same although he can at least score and assist on a good day. It’s the glaring weekness we have to fix somehow. Cooke was fine today and would be excellent alongside another tackling track back midfielder. Anyway rant over. PS Hope we sign Hendrie in the summer ☺️ Welcome home SMc

  8. Today was definitely a step in the right direction…. entertaining and lots of attacking football. I found Stuart’s post game comments quite honest and refreshing. City definitely have quality issues but today we had width and about 35 crosses. Sad to say, there is room for improvement in the quality of these crosses. I’m quite confident that given time, Stuart will maximize the quality in the squad and thank God that negative football is a thing of the past.

  9. It was almost more about the event than the match. Stuart’s entrance was emotional to me.
    I think if he had known his players better he would not have brought akpan on . Not the man when real hard work was needed.
    But I now have real faith for the future

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