If ever there were a game that needed to be won, and won well, it is tonight’s fixture with Macclesfield Town.
Stuart McCall’s reign as Bradford City manager kicked off on a fine August afternoon last summer with the visit of the Silkmen to Valley Parade. That game ended in a draw and at that point he would have been under absolutely no illusions of the expectations of the crowd.
Only 18 months later and there’s a different kind of expectation and pressure around Valley Parade. Stuart’s credentials as the soon-to-be-legendary manager that would destroy all in the Bantams’ irresistible resurgence are now a little more realistic. Gone are those who think that Stuart = Instant Success. Or, if not gone, then those optimists are brow beaten by the vocal pessimists who see City’s failure to challenge last year as a sign of unfortunate deficiency in the Bantams backroom.
But this year, if not last, this was to be the year that suddenly it all clicked. That Stuart brought together a side of his creation rather than of circumstance. Judge McCall on his second season of stability, not on his debut.
By and large the prospects have been good. City went into the turn of the year well positioned. The midway point of the season saw the Bantams occupying the third automatic promotion place, in form and with some of their nearest challengers to play and some of the poorer League Two teams to walk over.
Unfortunately things haven’t gone well. Stuart made a duff signing or two (yes, Jonah and Zesh I mean you), Omar has got injured, Peter Thorne has stopped scoring and the confidence has wobbled. It’s wobbled off the pitch and it’s wobbled on it, so that, just 9 short games later the Bantams find themselves outside the playoff places.
f ever there was a time to win, it’s tonight. City have a tricky couple of weeks but they get to play two games at home in the space of 5 days. With a strong performance tonight and on Saturday they could not only undo some of the damage done in the last two weeks on their league standing but they could also restore that rare commodity in football, belief.
Years of hurt have meant the Bantams have fragile confidence. We do not do well when we do not do well. Defeats hit all sports fans hard but for the Claret & Amber faithful it seems to have a disproportionate effect off the pitch. Cries of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’ after a game in which the hosts were clinical in their finishing whilst the Bantams were not are extreme reactions. In the grand scheme of things the Bantams are doing well, not threatened by the onrushing Bournemouth or the threat of financial doom.
So how do the players respond? Hopefully they respond with heart, and passion and with fight. If the players embody Stuart McCall on the pitch then the fans will be fans. They will shout and cheer. They will harangue the opposition and inspire their boys. If the Bantams show the heart Stuart promised 18 months ago then why would anyone boo? We are, first and foremost, supporters, cheerleaders, those who adulate their heroes.
We can leave the journalism to the journalists, the punditry to the former players and the managing to McCall. Tonight, we need to be supporters and supporters alone because tonight is the most important game of the season so far.
Bradford City Team News:
Stuart looks to shuffle the pack as the games begin to come thick and fast. Although he must also be thinking of the need to challenge the performances of some.
Will Paul Arnison face a recall? Should Luke O’Brien continue at right back? Matt Clarke & Graeme Lee appear immovable in the heart of the defence.
Joe Colbeck made a big difference when he came on and must now be back to full match fitness? Will Furman and Bullock continue in the centre as McLaren continues to be sidelined by injury. Will Steve Jones switch wings, again or will Nicky Law play down the left?
Peter Thorne will start, but maybe Boulding will be replaced by Barry Conlon?
Of course Stuart may just pick the same 11 but that’s not what he’s been saying…
Player to watch: The Team
Everyone will be expecting them to make amends. Either they’ll flourish under such pressure, or be totally overwhelmed.
Macclesfield Town Team News:
Izak Reid has an eye complaint and Francis Green a sore knee meaning they are doubtful to start but both can make impact from the bench. James Jennings will definitely miss out with a knee injury.
Player to watch: Emile Sinclair
Macc had a great win at the weekend over Shrewsbury and former Bantam Emile Sinclair had a lot to do with that.
Aldershot at VP on Saturday