BRADFORD (Park Avenue) manager Mark Bower has lavished praise on Nicky Clee, as the returning midfielder dominated proceedings during his side's fine 2-0 win over Altrincham on Saturday in the Vanarama National League North.

He has rejoined the club after playing a big part in their promotion push last season, and Bower said the influence of him and fellow returnee Ryan Toulson on the pitch often goes unnoticed.

Frustratingly for Bower, Clee and new striker Tom Clare will be among those missing for tomorrow's FA Trophy First Round clash at Horsfall against Halesowen Town, as they are cup-tied.

Speaking about Clee's impact on his second Avenue debut, Bower said: "Nicky pulled the strings against Altrincham.

"Remember he was playing regularly in the team last season when we were top for a large spell and ultimately ended up in the play-offs.

"There's very few players as good as him in that category that fit our wage structure, so getting him back was a no-brainer.

"His quality stood out against Altrincham and he set both of our goals up.

"He's a vocal presence too and you could hear him and Tully (Toulson) pulling the younger players around during the game and letting them know where to go.

"That work from the older players often goes unseen from the stands."

Clee wasn't the only one who starred at Altrincham, with Bower saying: "Anyone with an ounce of football knowledge can see we're strengthening and making improvements every week.

"Reece Staunton has been a great addition (on loan from Bradford City), Oli Johnson is getting fitter and fitter and Tom is a great focal point up top for us.

"We're adding players but we've been patient. That was maybe detrimental in the short term but it's what we wanted in the long run. You saw we had a good team ethic against Altrincham and every player put in a seven or eight out of 10 performance.

"We didn't give them anything in front of goal."

Sadly, the team won't be as strong tomorrow. Several players will be missing and there is little Bower can do.

He said: ""We're back to the situation we had at Gloucester (in the last round) where we have a few that are ineligible. Nicky and Tom are both cup-tied and Jonathan (Royle) can't play either (as Telford are still in).

"Liam Hughes is injured and we've got a couple of others that are 50/50. But Lewis Rathbone is back and Mitchell Lund should be fine too."

Bower has backed Rathbone, Lund and the rest to step up, while warning how dangerous Halesowen can be, saying: "The lads were fantastic at Gloucester and showed they were capable.

"But we're almost the underdogs given the players we have missing and where we are in our league. Halesowen play two leagues below, but they're winning 5-0 or 6-0 every week.

"I think in November they scored 23 goals (actually 18, plus six in their first game in December) and conceded one, so we'll be taking them very seriously."