The Mark Douglas Column

Tuesday 26 August, 2003

Windass is not working

Even in the mundane surrender of three points to an unspectacular Gillingham side, as abjectly predictable as it was frustrating for the Claret and Amber bystander, there was some form of drama. It took the form of the man whose return, in the grand sporting scheme of things, is beginning to look more Michael Jordan's latest than McCall, Dean Windass.

He spoke in the programme about the birth of his son, about how the game no longer meant so much to him. And his hunched shoulders, his forlorn, almost resigned look on being substituted deep in the second half, spoke volumes. After only four games of the new season, Dean Windass is not working.

Certainly, there were flashes of the old alchemy on Saturday. A turn conjured from nowhere in the first half, an impudent shimmy here and thundering shot cannoning off the bar there but they merely masked the fact that he was playing off instinct. Even the humour, his last resort in the face of stout Norwich defending on the opening day, was gone, was gone; replaced by a sort of meek surrender. Unless he adapts to Nicky Law's largely conservative Bradford City, Windass may become the earliest casualty of the season.

Law, of course, is part of the problem: Windass' ageing limbs aren't wholly responsible for his decline. Once again on Saturday, Law's surgically clinical gameplan, which wasn't far removed from his successful away-day counter-attacking strategy, dulled City's attacking edge. The home crowd responded in kind, and the emotive, passionate Valley Parade which accompanies attacking football gave way to the all-too-familiar empty shell of a stadium. Where, Windass must have wondered, was the emotion and passion that carried him to his finest footballing achievement, outshining Liverpool on the final day of the 2000/2001 season?

We should, perhaps, consider the bare statistics, which are that in thirty four home league matches under Law, City have won only ten and lost fifteen. Stripped of mitigating circumstances, chiefly injuries, these figures are damning, and speak volumes about the kind of manager Law is. Broadly defensive minded, hardly surprising considering the siege mentality he has had to adopt to cope with off-the-field conditions at both Chesterfield and City, his strategy is far removed from Paul Jewell's confident offence, the game in which Windass prospered. On Saturday, Law nullified Andy Gray once more by withdrawing him to midfield, removed from the position where he was so often the match winner last season. A return to that status depends on a return to the forward-line. Similarly, Ben Muirhead, City's tyro on the opening day, was sacrificed for a left-back drained of confidence. As far as statements of intent go, it was as underwhelming a selection as you are likely to encounter. Gillingham needed only to avoid fluffing their lines which, courtesy of a speculative Hope header, they did.

But what of City's hope? With Law seemingly unwilling, or unable, to alter his strategy, City appear to be heading for a crossroads: persevere with a formula that, while possibly preserving our First Division safety, is draining the soul from Valley Parade or try something radical and appoint someone willing, once again, to go on the offensive. If they do decide to follow the latter, Windass might not be the only ex-Sheffield United man at Valley Parade with a point to prove.

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