Sometimes a player looks better simply through not playing. Their absence from the first team highlighting just how effective they had been previously, because of how much they are suddenly missed. Kyel Reid was absent for five games after injuring his hamstring against Crewe on Boxing Day, and the urgency of his rehabilitation and warm welcome back to the fold at Bristol Rovers on Saturday underlined how much he is considered to be a key part of the squad.
“Reid, Reid will tear you apart, again” was the chant on the Memorial Stadium away terrace as the 24-year-old warmed up in front of us early in the second half. At 2-0 down, Reid was called into action a fortnight earlier than the six weeks he was originally expected to be unavailable for. The former West Ham trainee showed few signs of rustiness to terrorise the Rovers’ defence, and he played an inspirational role in the team almost coming back from 2-0 down with only 10 men.
The roars of approval and debut of the Reid chant was a long way removed from the way he was viewed by many City fans just a month ago. Go back to the Plymouth home game on December 10, and Reid was the subject of significant groans of frustration and anger about his performance. Struggling to make his mark on the match, it seemed every decision he made was the wrong one and there was little encouragement from the stands. The fact he set up James Hanson’s crucial equaliser was largely ignored.
It wasn’t the first afternoon that Reid had been on the receiving end of such criticism – and it’s the nature of wingers that they attract this kind of abuse. While we football supporters expect our full backs to always stop opposition wingers from running past them and getting a cross in, we equally demand that our wide players dribble past their marker and whip the ball onto the centre forward’s forehead. Yet it is always a case that sometimes the winger will win that battle, and sometimes they will lose it. Sometimes they will win their team the match, on other times they may cost them it.
As a fully paid up member of the Omar Daley fan club, it pains me slightly to say that Reid is a better winger than the Jamaican. Reid’s all round game has the edge in that he can deliver better crosses and has a few more tricks to beat players, while he is more effective at tracking back. Yet just like Daley, when Reid is bad he is very bad. And the criticisms previously thrown at Daley are replicated almost word-for-word towards City’s number 32.
Daley was unfortunate to leave the club this summer, with then-manager Peter Jackson apparently going back on a promise to award him with a new contract if he came back from his loan spell at Rotherham and helped the Bantams stay up. Daley did what was asked, yet found himself looking for alternative employment after May. At a Skipton and Craven Bantams Supporters Club meeting last November, Head of Operations David Baldwin revealed that he and joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes had even gone as far as to ask Jackson to reconsider releasing Daley. Whatever has been said about how much control Jackson felt he had during the close season, he was not going back on this particular decision.
On Daley’s part, he apparently told people close to him that at City he felt it didn’t matter what he achieved, some people would always seek to belittle his contribution or fail to recognise his qualities. He felt pigeon-holed as a “lazy player”, no matter how hard he tried.
Reid is similar to Daley in how direct he is and where his strengths and weaknesses lie, and in time will probably find himself holding a similar reputation among supporters. For as much as we have missed Reid over the last few weeks, it is those occasions where he is flying past his full back or whipping across dangerous balls to Hanson that we conjure up in our minds, not the times when he loses the ball or doesn’t chase a lost cause.
The famous quote by the American composer and comedian Oscar Levant reflects our recent memories of Reid fairly well: “Happiness is not something you experience, it is something you remember.” The happiness that we remember Reid providing will doubtlessly translate into an expectation that he will perform to this impossibly high level week in week out, when his time at the club has shown this simply will not happen. Reid certainly will tear the opposition apart, again; but he will also have us tearing our hair out on other days too.
What ultimately matters are the thoughts of his manager Phil Parkinson, and there is little doubt that Reid is held in high regard. Within acceptable parameters, it would appear Reid has been rushed back to fitness. He travelled with the team to Watford in early January to join in with the team’s warm-up on the pitch. Reid was also on the pitch pre-match for the recent back-to-back home games against Morecambe and Burton. The big question now, as Reid prepares to start against Crawley Town on Saturday, is just how big a role Parkinson expects Reid to play going forwards.
In recent weeks Craig Fagan has started on the right – which has benefited the team’s overall balance, but placed greater emphasis on the left winger to run at people and get the ball into the box. Three players have been brought on loan since Reid got injured – Charlie Taylor, Andy Haworth and Will Atkinson – and none have been able to fill Reid’s shoes and accept this heavy responsibility. If Parkinson plans to continue playing this way, Reid will encounter similar problems to the three loanees even if he makes a better fist of it. The temptation to go with two out-and-out wingers must be rising.
Indeed why would Parkinson have signed Atkinson on loan until the rest of the season during the same week Reid was back in first team contention, if there is to remain only one opening for an out-and-out winger in the starting line up? Atkinson can play wide right and is probably better suited to that side of the pitch. There is a growing clamour for Parkinson to play two direct wingers instead of keeping Fagan wide right.
He may feel that City’s circumstances aren’t appropriate to go so gung ho – especially on Saturday against the League Two title favourites. But with Nakhi Wells lagging recently and Deane Smalley failing to impress so far, Parkinson might elect to go with two out-and-out wingers and move Fagan up front to partner James Hanson. If that does happen, the pressure and expectation on Reid’s shoulders will lessen slightly, which might be for the best given he is hardly going to be up to full speed just yet – despite how well he played for 30 minutes against Bristol Rovers.
Whatever the line up, Reid will receive a warm welcome from us City supporters in recognition for how much he has been missed. Like so many Bantams’ wingers before him, Reid’s personal objective for the rest of the season will be to make sure he is widely appreciated when he is playing week in week out, rather than only when his unavailablty leaves a void that his replacements cannot fill.