By Jason McKeown
The Width of a Post writing team were asked to vote for their top five Bradford City players of the 2013/14 campaign. Here is the collective result.
In 5th place…Andrew Davies
Were it not for all those injuries (or, in his first season, numerous suspensions) Andrew Davies would surely have come very close to winning the club’s player of the season by now. When fit, Davies is a rock at the heart of the back four. Leading by example and also inspiring greater performances out of those around him (especially his regular central defensive partner, Rory McArdle).
The 28 appearances Davies made in the league is a season-best since he signed on loan from Stoke in September 2011. It was no coincidence that the 29-year-old was ever present during the club’s outstanding start to the season, and that form fell away after he unfortunately hobbled off injured at Walsall in October.
He didn’t figure again until January – in-between, City won just one game – and his return to fitness eventually helped to turn around the club’s drifting campaign.
Davies wasn’t flawless during the final third of the season, but he was vital in keeping the relegation wolves at bay. The suspicion that he is a Championship standard defender, playing below his natural level, remains. Davies is one of the club’s most important players and is someone who can ultimately take us to the Championship. Just please, somehow, stay fit next campaign, Davo.
In 4th place…Nahki Wells
He flew out of the starting blocks, and occasionally it appeared as though he was carrying the team on his own shoulders. Nahki Wells continued where he left off at the end of 2012/13 to score a glut of early season goals, and he remained impressive despite injury disrupting his campaign. There were numerous memorable moments along the way, and his superb hat trick against Coventry in November was arguably his high water mark.
Alas, City were only to see Wells for half a season. The January transfer window crept into view, Wells’ performances dipped and he was soon completing his desired move to a higher level with Huddersfield. The bitterness many supporters felt over the way he departed remains raw, and for some he will never be viewed in quite the same light again. Yet the fact that his 15 goals before leaving were enough for him to remain the club’s top scorer demonstrated just how vital his efforts before Christmas proved.
Wells was a joy to watch during the first half of the season; and his goals went a long way towards ensuring the Bantams are playing League One football next year.
In 3rd place…Gary Jones
Last season’s Width of a Post player of the season may not have hit the same heights, but his influence on the team has remained throughout the campaign, and he can take a lot of satisfaction for his performances. In particular, his displays since mid-January caught the eye. No one in the City team could have lifted everyone around him in the way the skipper managed at Sheffield United, when 2-0 down, in January. And what about that Crewe game, with his two important goals? Such moments helped to reverse a worrying slump in form, and Jones deserves as much credit as anyone for turning the season around.
In total, the 36-year-old played 46 times for City in 2013/14. There are many in the crowd desperate to pension him off and who continue clichéd criticisms that his “legs have gone”, but Jones has remained the heartbeat of the team, and has kept his place in it on merit. Some people just don’t see how his influence stretches beyond his own performances, and what a difference he truly makes.
It remains to be seen if this is the end for Jones; but whatever the future holds he can look back with huge pride on two seasons of great personal success at Valley Parade. Magical, in fact.
In 2nd place…James Hanson
It doesn’t seem that long ago that City were struggling near the foot of League Two and elements of the crowd were deriding James Hanson for supposedly not being good enough for professional football. Where are these people now? These days, Valley Parade has largely accepted just what an excellent player Hanson is, and the qualities he brings to the team.
Hanson has taken the step up a division in his stride. At no stage has he looked out of place, and his performances have been consistently excellent. The partnership with Wells continued to pay dividends during the first half of the campaign, but to Hanson’s great credit he has not suffered from the mid-season loss of his sidekick. In fact, he has seemingly relished the extra responsibility and fitted in well with the tweak in playing style.
Without a striker like Wells playing on the shoulder of the last man, Hanson has become the side’s most forward-positioned player. I really hope that, next season, Parkinson builds a team with a midfield more capable of maximising from his knock downs and hold up play.
Without late season back problems, Hanson would probably have bettered Wells’ exploits. But 12 goals from 37 appearances (1 in 3) is still an excellent return for a first season in a higher division. This guy is capable of playing in the Championship, and hopefully the signing of a contract extension last October means that he will one day be doing so for Bradford City.
And the winner is…Stephen Darby
In many ways, the less-celebrated, low-key achievements of Stephen Darby sum up the club’s progress this season. It hasn’t been a year to shout from the rooftops, but quietly and unassumingly there has been credible success. Darby was consistently outstanding all season long. He has never let anyone down or given any cause for concern. Week in week out, the 25-year-old has been solid, reliable and enjoyable to watch.
He has come a long way from those early doubts about his height and stature, when he first joined the club in 2012. From having to settle for a place on the bench, behind a centre back shunted to right back. Last season, Darby was voted the players’ player of the year and he will sweep up on all the honours going this time around. He is hugely popular with supporters, and the only frustration has stemmed from the lack of recognition that his no-nonsense efforts have merited.
There are already rumours circling that Darby is attracting Championship interest, and that we have seen the last of him. Like Wells, he is ready to play at a higher level than this and there can be no hard feelings if he decides to further his career away from Valley Parade. Although let’s hope he is willing to stay at a club that he seems to love. He could be next season’s captain.
In a season of ups and downs, Darby has consistently kept the bar high. And for that, he was the runaway winner of the Width of a Post vote.
Congratulations Stephen Darby, baby.
Special mention to Kyel Reid who also received numerous votes and only narrowly missed out on a top five finish. In total, 11 players received a top five vote.
The 2013/14 Width of a Post Player of the Season was voted for by Gareth Walker, David Lawrence, Mike Holdsworth, Katie Whyatt, Omar Eliwi, Mark Danylczuk, Luke Lockwood, Jason McKeown, Andrew Baxter, Mark Scully, Ian Hemmens, Phil Abbott, Nick Beanland, Tim Roche, Mahesh Johal, Damien Wilkinson, Alex Scott and Matt Birch.