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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 21/12/02, 3.00pm
Watford
versus
Bradford City
 
Cycles
By Matt Rowson

You have to wonder how Political Editors, soap opera scriptwriters and teachers keep going. Dealing as they are with subject matter of, to varying degrees, a cyclical nature...how do you retain interest, freshness, motivation? (Actually if you're composing an Eastenders episode you can always seek distraction by getting Phil Mitchell to wander into a scene, growl at someone to "get aht of it" and then stomp off again. For a laugh. But I digress.)

This particular quandary is brought into focus as I sit here looking for a new way to talk about yet another club floundering in a financial mess. The sheer volume of clubs in administration and/or nervously eyeing their wage bills and debts as the prospect of relegation looms tends to desensitise you to the desperation of individual cases, and finding something new or original to say on the subject is difficult.

Indeed it's harder to sympathise with Bradford than with a number of clubs in similar strife for two main reasons. Firstly, they are to a greater extent than many responsible for their own undoing... having battled to Premiership survival in 2000, they overcommitted themselves spectacularly the following summer by recruiting players who, by and large, were woefully inappropriate and ineffective. Benito Carbone's 40,000/week alone is still astonishing now... only our own idiocy in waiting to be relegated before throwing money at our squad matches this in recent history.

Things got so bad at Valley Parade that over a summer during which many expected clubs to start going under, Bradford seemed the leading high(ish) profile candidates, with administrators sacking the members of the senior playing staff that were not out of contract in order to save on their salaries over the summer months. The vultures continued to circle until creditors accepted a voluntary settlement in August - a good thing from a wider perspective as one club going under may well start a domino effect once banks have crossed the line and closed someone down. (Don't worry about Wimbledon too much though... they are, as they've always argued, an exceptional case.)

The other reason that the Bantams are harder than most to sympathise with is marginally less rational, I suppose, but you really have to question any club with Ashley Ward on its books. It's not as if the lumbering waste of space hides any mystery... City are his eighth club, not counting loan spells. Comfortably the least impressive player to visit the Vic last season, Ward is reputed to be taking his considerable pay packet to Portsmouth, somewhat mystifyingly, in the January frenzy.

And if you think that I'm tempting fate in deriding a very occasionally prolific striker the week before his visit, fret not... Ward is out with an ankle injury. Indeed, Wayne Brown's return to Vicarage Road could hardly appear less challenging, as City do not have a fit senior striker available for the weekend... Danny Cadamarteri is out with a knee injury until January at the earliest, and Andy Tod is only just back in the reserves after a hernia op and won't be available. Nicky Law has been playing midfielder Andy Gray as a makeshift target man alongside Delroy Facey, but Facey was this week recalled from his loan spell by Bolton and will not be available.

This leaves the out-of-position Gray without an obvious partner... youngsters Mark Danks and Danny Forrest seem to be likeliest candidates along with flaky, out-of-favour Spanish winger Juanjo, but a City side that has scored only twice in five outings (and had lost seven on the hop prior to Saturday's win over Forest) appears to be further limited.

City's midfield has been disparagingly summed up as "paper" this season, but appears to have been stiffened somewhat by the returns from injury of Peter Atherton and Jamie Lawrence. More conventionally a defender and a wide man respectively, the two formed a solid heart to City's midfield at the weekend. Michael Standing, a talented ball player but described as having "no defensive ability" has played on the right, whilst former Bournemouth man Claus Jorgensen played on the left on Saturday. He's filled a variety of roles, however, and may be moved again to accommodate Wayne Jacobs' return from suspension at left back, pushing Lewis Emanuel up into the midfield.

Other midfield options include former Brentford captain Paul Evans, whose form has tailed off after a good start to the season, and Australian winger Paul Reid but Harpal Singh returned to Leeds this week after an unsuccessful loan, and Stephen Warnock has returned to Liverpool. The Anfield club refused to extend his loan as Bradford wanted to play him in midfield rather than left-back... perhaps the one position where the Bantams are not short of options. Former Everton midfielder Tom Kearney is also out long term with a cruciate ligament injury.

At the back, former Chelsea left-back Andy Myers has formed a central partnership with the colossal Robert "the Terminator" Molenaar who shook off a string of error-strewn performances to put in a fine showing at the weekend. The one current threat to this pairing is Mark Bower, a bit-part player for several years now. David Wetherall is out until January with a hamstring problem. With Gus Uhlenbeek still suspended following a dismissal in the five-nil thrashing by Sheffield United, Simon Francis should continue here; the seventeen-year-old has had the less than ideal introduction of filling in a number of positions during his five starts for City so far.

Aidan Davison provides a less than inspiring presence between the sticks; his competition comes from Boaz Myhill, a loan signing from Aston Villa, with Gary Walsh perpetually troubled with a knee injury.

Recent defeats have seen us slip from the tails of the play-off pack to the top of the mid-table block. With a number of difficult looking games coming up over Christmas and New Year, and with the added and welcome impetus of our newest recruit, this is one we can't afford to stuff up.

Have a good one...