By Joe Cockburn
Alan Connell signed for Bradford City this summer as table-toppers Swindon’s top scorer. He only played half the games. Swindon paid “an undisclosed six figure sum” for his services, believed to be around £115,000, just 12 months prior. Something must be good about this guy.
So far, so good. Connell looks just the player City have craved for so long. A player fantastic at holding the ball up, and creating something that most other players can not. And just this week, Phil Parkinson seems to have found a formation perfect for undoubtedly one of his most technically gifted players.
The 4-3-1-2 is ably suited to the striker, allowing him to drop off and be on the ball as much as he likes. When Gary Jones is back fit and with Ritchie Jones racing up ahead of him, it could be the perfect formula. It just fits.
Connell’s greatest ability is holding the ball up, there is no doubt about that. It is questionable, though, whether he is sensible enough to play that role. For me, he seems to try and be too fancy, too cute, and that doesn’t work. Often a simple couple of touches and lay off to the full-back is all that is required. But, again, that is also a strength, which brings something new to the team.
Connell’s first thought is always to go forward. This is almost a new revelation for our team. Will Atkinson is one whose first thought is always backwards, along with Ricky Ravenhill and even Nahki Wells is so often wasting a promising attack with a backwards pass. It is great to see someone who has the bravery and endeavour to attempt a clever little pass forwards.
Then comes the next negative – if it is considered a negative. Alan Connell is often too clever for the other players in the team. He will see something that some team mates aren’t clever enough to spot. He will play a little ball over the top which catches James Hanson on his heels, or knock one through someone’s legs to a player who hasn’t made the run he should yet. Which brings me to my next point:
Alan Connell should play with Nahki Wells.
If we have a clever player like Connell up top, why do we need a big man like James Hanson? Connell isn’t afraid to put his head where it hurts either. And if you need a target, stick Garry Thompson on one of the wings. We hardly have any wingers at the moment. It could be his route to the team.
Also, with the midfield quality of Jones and Nathan Doyle, as well as full-backs who are more than comfortable on the ball, we do not need someone who is simply on the pitch to win headers from goal kicks and long throws. With Connell, we can become a clever team.
A team who doesn’t need to worry about winning all the aerial battles, because we have League One quality across the whole pitch. And some are even better than that.
That is the baseline fact. Alan Connell can be the turning factor in this team becoming what it can. A good, solid, footballing team. A team who doesn’t have to rely on the striker winning a flick on for a quick striker to finish it off. Yes Hanson works hard, but so does Connell. He chases absolutely everything down, never letting the defenders have any time on the ball whatsoever.
This begs the question as to whether the manager has the guts to drop Hanson. Can we last a game without a big man up front? Wells and Connell would be a formidable partnership in League One, never mind League Two.
Of course, we have the 4-3-1-2, which Parkinson trialled against Hartlepool. I didn’t go to the game but reports suggest it went well. However the lack of width means there is no out ball. No-one to exploit the space that there is out wide, and the game could very easily become bogged down in midfield. And without Gary Jones, it immediately becomes much harder. Ravenhill and Doyle aren’t going to race forward at every opportunity. With the burden all falling to Ritchie Jones as a result, the player will undoubtedly tire and leaves the side short in numbers in attack.
Central to this working, is that man. Alan Connell. There aren’t many players around like him, with his ability and footballing brain, and we could have a real player on our hands. Someone we cannot afford to waste on the bench every weekend.
He has his flaws, as does every player playing at this level. His finishing seems to be lacking, having managed to not score two one on ones. Then his cracker against Accrington puts this to bed. But there are other players who can score. There is no-one else who can play with his know-how and ability.
As I said, something must be good about this guy.