The Midweek Player Focus #57: Jason Kennedy / Matty Dolan

16 Apr

shrewsbury away march 2014

By Jason McKeown

One of the key lessons taken from the 2013/14 season is that a football club’s continued progression is not simply dependent upon keeping hold of the best players, but on adequately replacing them when their time comes.

Bradford City’s future fortunes look set to be intrinsically linked with how well this is taken on board, especially when it comes to planning next season’s central midfield. It is the area of the team that carries by far the biggest question marks, and undoubtedly there are some difficult calls to make.

Chiefly there is the longevity of the man who has made the whole team tick for much of the past two seasons. The joy of watching Gary Jones still delivering influential performances is tempered by his increasingly limited shelf life. If only we had signed him when he was 25, not 35. His considerable impact in claret and amber has raised standards in the centre of the park; standards that have fallen and fallen ever since Stuart McCall was released far too early from Valley Parade, 10 years before Jones’ summer 2012 arrival.

Jones will be 37 in June, by which time we will know whether he has at least one more season in West Yorkshire or will be looking for another club. If I was Phil Parkinson, I’d be signing him up for another 12 months as a squad player. But the dilemma is muddied somewhat by the likelihood that Jones will be one of the club’s highest earners, and we cannot build next season’s team on the assumption he can play another 40+ games.

Despite some indifferent performances at times, Jones has continued to prove very reliable this season. It’s a good job too, because I doubt that the plan was for Jones to get to mid-March as a League One ever-present, with few credible options to take his place.

Perhaps, by this point, Parkinson would have envisaged Jason Kennedy would be driving the central midfield. The former Darlington man spent three years playing next to Jones in one of the most successful teams in Rochdale’s history. Kennedy’s ability was demonstrated to an impressed Valley Parade faithful 15 months ago, when Rochdale battered City’s 2012/13 vintage – Jones and all – in a shock 4-2 victory. A month later Parkinson had agreed a deal to bring Kennedy to City, only for the player to have a last-minute change of heart as he drove along the M62 to sign a transfer deadline day deal. Nevertheless he rocked up last summer on a two-year contract, either to play with Jones or to be his heir.

There has no question that it has proven to be a wretched, career-stalling move for Kennedy. He looked very poor on his debut at Huddersfield in the cup, continually going for an easy inside pass rather than taking responsibility in driving the team forward, Jones-style, or offering any genuine creativity like Nathan Doyle. Such an approach may have found Kennedy favour in a slow tempo passing side such as Rochdale, but did not suit the direct style of football that City play under Parkinson, centred around getting the ball up to James Hanson and Nahki Wells as quickly as possible.

And it never got any better from there. Kennedy had to wait until early October to appear in the league for the Bantams, at Walsall, and his full debut – a week later against Tranmere – saw him similarly ineffective. Start number two in November did at least see him score the winner at the MK Dons, but when in the next game, against Notts County, he was hauled off at half time, it already seemed that the writing was on the wall for him. Parkinson would talk him up off the field, but had very little faith using him on it. It just didn’t seem the right fit, for all concerned.

His loan move back to Rochdale, in January, was no surprise – his last game for City, at Sheffield United, had been a particularly dismal affair for the midfielder. But even back ‘home’ at Spotland, Kennedy has not got going again. Four starts (the last two of which saw him replaced after less than 70 minutes), but since then a permanent place on the bench that has only occasionally seen him introduced (and even then, very late on in games). 66 minutes into Rochdale’s game at Mansfield on Saturday, Kennedy was summoned from the bench with the score 0-0. They were ultimately beaten 3-0. Unlikely to be Kennedy’s fault, but he will hardly have made a great impact.

With Rochdale on the brink of promotion, there appears to be no chance of him being offered a permanent deal at Spotland during the summer. There is still one year left on his Valley Parade deal; meaning Kennedy will either give it another crack at City or probably have his contract cancelled.

At 27-years-old, Kennedy is at the age we wish Jones could be. And, perhaps, a 27-year-old Jones endured his own career dips. Kennedy has played almost 400 senior games (including four Premier League and three UEFA Cup appearances at Middlesbrough) and clearly hasn’t become a bad player overnight, but he looks a long, long way off being a regular for a club harbouring medium-term ambitions to be playing in the Championship.

~~~~~~~~

As Kennedy exited stage left, in came another Middlesbrough midfield youth graduate in Matty Dolan. At 21-years-old and having failed to make a single first team appearance for the Teesiders, Dolan’s future already appears to lie in West Yorkshire. If Middlesbrough hadn’t dragged their heels in over a sell-on clause, Dolan’s January move to City would have been a permanent one. Instead, with no agreement sealed in time for the deadline, Dolan ultimately arrived on loan. We can reasonably speculate that something more concrete is already in place for the summer.

Dolan’s arrival coincided with a shift in City’s overall approach. Wells’ January departure saw him replaced with Aaron Mclean, and it very quickly became clear that he is a different type of striker. Mclean does not play on the shoulder of the last man; and some of his better work takes place outside of the box, linking up the play with others. As such, he needs more support.

With Hanson/Wells, the deeper positioning of Nathan Doyle and Jones worked terrifically well. They could set up attacks with their superb range of short, medium and long passing skills, and position themselves to win back possession from the opposition. But Mclean needs an attacking midfielder to provide him with an option as attacking moves develop. Hanson has become the most forward-positioned striker, but his flick ons to Mclean are too predictable if he is the only team-mate available to pass to.

So Dolan’s debut, against Crewe in February, saw him eventually take up a holding midfield position, with Jones given greater licence to get forward. The result was two goals from Jones – both set up by Mclean’s lay offs – that leave the veteran as City’s second top-scorer. From having two central midfielders who defend and attack together, greater distinctions are now needed between the two who patrol the centre of the park.

Clearly Jones can play the attacking midfield role. In 2010/11, then in League One with Rochdale, he netted 18 goals (including penalties). But we come back to that age problem, and increasingly you feel that City needed someone more youthful and sprightly to take on the attacking midfielder role that the evolution of the team seemingly requires. There’s a lad at Scunthorpe, goes by the name of Syers or something, who I’d re-sign in a heartbeat.

Dolan looks even less suited to the role. His strengths lie in winning back the ball and setting up attacks. He is full of energy and gets around the park well, but has particularly excelled when asked to play in front of the back four. Given his age, Jones would suit the defensive role well also, and two years of watching Doyle play in the centre of the park suggest that – when on form – he would be an even better option than Jones or Dolan, playing as a tough-tackling quarter back. A latter-years David Beckham.

But three into one role doesn’t go (or four into one, if you count Kennedy). If City are to evolve in the way that truly gets the best out of Mclean and Hanson as a pairing, Parkinson needs to find room for an attacking central midfielder in his plans, knowing he will be well-stocked in the defensive holding role. It is hard to imagine that all three of Jones, Doyle and Dolan will be here next season, and so here is where the dilemma grows: who to keep?

For Dolan in particular, he is competing against two of the club’s best central midfielders in a decade, as he tries to prove he deserves a role ahead of them next season. There is undoubtedly much promise about his performances, such as his first half showing against Gillingham before injury; but nagging doubts have been raised from other displays. He was truly wretched against Shrewsbury, for example. His poor display against Oldham a week last Saturday did feature a superb assist for Adam Reach. Inconsistent is the word. Is he ready to be a week-in, week-out starter next term? Not for me.

If Dolan is penned in to remain beyond his loan spell (and we don’t know for sure that something is lined up), then a big call will need to be made on Doyle or Jones’ futures. The mistake in stock-piling central defenders this season underlines the need to be ruthless on this one.

Just like McCall’s exit in 2002, the club faces a hugely challenging task in ultimately replacing an inspirational but ageing figure in Jones. Matty Dolan has a look of Tom Kearney – the man charged with replacing McCall 12 years ago, before unfortunately suffering a really bad injury after which he never looked the same player – and the young midfielder has between now and the end of this season to prove that he would be ready for greater responsibility.

More realistically, Dolan can expect to go into 2014/15 at City, with either Jones or Doyle as his mentor, and being gradually eased into the team. Bring Dolan on slowly, allowing him to make mistakes and giving him the guidance to improve, and we might just have ourselves a real gem who can dominate the City midfield for years and years to come.

A gem who is a long, long way from being 37-years-old.

Who should stay and who should go?

14 Apr

SAM_2615

Written by Gareth Walker (all images: Mike Holdsworth)

It’s that time of year again where thoughts are turning to which names will be on the retained list and, conversely, which players Bradford City fans will be waving goodbye to during the summer. Whilst City aren’t yet mathematically safe in League One, Phil Parkinson will privately be considering the make up of his squad for next year, depending on which division we are in.

Here I get to play manager: discussing each current member of Parkinson’s squad and what decision I would make over their future if I was the in the hot seat.

The players who will be out of contract:

SAM_2754

Jon McLaughlin: KEEP

He probably splits opinion more than any other player currently on City’s books. My own opinion is that he is a very good shot stopper, but the other areas of his game – in particular his distribution and the communication with his defence – are below average.

This means that on the occasions when the standard of his shot stopping drops, such as the games against Huddersfield (away), Wolves (home) and Walsall (home) this season, he looks to be a poor goalkeeper. Personally, I think he is a decent League Two keeper, but that if we have aspirations of getting promoted to the Championship then we need a better number one.

I’d offer him a contract as our back up. Whether he would accept that role is another question.

Stephen Darby: KEEP

He should comfortably win the player of the year award this season, and I doubt that any City fan would want him to leave the club. When considering all the players whose contracts are up, Darby is the only one who I would be really desperate to keep. Let’s hope that he feels the same way about staying at City.

James Meredith: KEEP

For the second year in a row, Meredith has been missing through injury for a large part of the season. Prior to this his form was average to say the least, when compared to his performances last season.

Personally I feel that he has suffered from not having any out and out competition for his place at left back. This has been highlighted by how much we’ve struggled to fill the role in his absence. When he is fit, he knows that he is a guaranteed starter and this cannot be good for any player. I think that it’s imperative that we sign some competition next season, to push him all the way.

Rory McArdle: KEEP

This is a really tough call for me. I think that last year’s ‘Marathon Man’ has struggled with the step up to League One. I’d keep him, but he would no longer be my first choice partner for Andrew Davies. I’d bring in a new right-sided centre back to succeed where Matt Taylor failed, and at the very least by competing with McArdle for a starting role. However, if the under-contract-Taylor can’t be moved on, the out-of-contract-McArdle might have to make way for an upgrade.

Carl McHugh: KEEP

‘Carlo’ is arguably my favourite player at City at the moment. Parkinson has gone on record as saying that the Donegal-born centre back would run through brick walls for the manager and the team. He is a vastly talented defender, who never lets us down.

He suffers because his main position is as a left hand sided centre back, and as such he is in direct competition with Davies for a place in the team. He is not a left back, although has often had to fill in there due to the lack of options to cover Meredith’s absence.

Considering Davies’ injury record and up and down form since returning to the side, I’d keep McHugh; possibly even fazing him into the side as Davies’ long-term replacement. The problem we may have is that if McHugh knows that he is only being kept as an understudy, he might think it better for his own career that he moves on.

Matthew Bates: RELEASE

Brought in as a utility player who can be used in a variety of positions, Bates has suffered by mainly being employed as the stand-in for Davies during the latter’s prolonged injury absence. As a former Middlesbrough captain and England U21 international, Bates certainly has the pedigree. Unfortunately, he hasn’t really impressed anyone.

Bates’ tendency to back off from attackers and bark orders at others, whilst seeming to do very little himself, has seen him targeted by supporters. I think it’d best for everyone if he moved on, and that his wages are freed up to use elsewhere.

Gary Jones: KEEP

‘Magic Man’ has bounced back from an indifferent start to the season – when many people were questioning his performances and writing him off – to re-establish himself as one of our most important players. Jason Kennedy’s failure to hit the ground running has meant Jones has played far more games than he or Parkinson would have expected. Being another year older, we really cannot afford to put off finding a suitable heir to his throne. However, he would still be a fantastic player to have in the squad and play half of the games, or to come off the bench to see matches out when needed.

Will the budget allow us to keep him in a diminished role? Maybe a player-coach type position would facilitate this move.

SAM_2626

Nathan Doyle: KEEP (just)

I really can’t make my mind up about Doyle. He is still one of my favourite players. He should be our best player. He is arguably the most talented player at the club. So why doesn’t he show it on a consistent basis?

Doyle came back from the summer rest in great shape and put in some of his best performances since he rejoined the club. However, similar to last year, his form dipped considerably and his influence on games diminished. I don’t know whether this was down to fatigue or the injury that he was said to be carrying. Whatever the case, he needs to be more consistent.

We certainly miss Doyle when he isn’t in the side, but he splits opinion amongst fans, with some seeing him as a favourite and others thinking that he doesn’t contribute enough. Parkinson is known to like his versatility, but he is rumoured to be one of the highest paid players at the club and, as such, it will be interesting to see if he is considered a luxury that we can no longer afford.

Kyel Reid: KEEP

I like Reid. Although he infuriates supporters sometimes with his erratic-ness and sometimes poor decision making, it is undeniable that he is a major threat to opposing teams, who are often so fearful of him that they double or triple mark him.

I feel Reid is an upgrade on our previous enigmatic wingers. When he is out of the team injured – as he has been for a long time this season – we carry much less of an attacking threat. He is still our main outlet, and I would like to keep him in our squad; albeit with players brought into provide him with better competition for his place.

The problem we may have is that Reid has a young family down in the London area and he may decide to move on for personal reasons.

Garry Thompson: RELEASE

Thompson’s City career has seen more highs and lows than most. His form has varied vastly, but who could ever forget his goal against Arsenal? His commitment to the cause has been questioned in the past, but this season we have seen him show commendable fight when he has come on as a substitute – desire that has put newer signings and younger players to shame.

He is a favourite of Parkinson’s because he facilitates the high diagonal ball to his wing. It will be a shame to lose him and it is a big call, because we need characters such as him with experience if we were to avoid another season of struggle. However, I feel that if we want to move forwards and progress as a club, we just need slightly younger legs and that little bit of extra quality.

Thanks for the memories Thommo!

Rafa De Vita: RELEASE

Barring a brilliant assist for James Hanson’s finish against Preston in October, and a goal at home to Wolves a few days later, De Vita has been totally anonymous in the few games that he has played. He has spent large parts of the season on the treatment table, but his limited contributions when he has been in the side have meant that we haven’t missed him.

De Vita has been a disappointment, because I was impressed with him in pre-season and Swindon supporters speak relatively highly of him.

Andy Gray: RELEASE

It’s difficult to argue that Parkinson has made a successful signing in the last three transfer windows, but Gray really does take the biscuit as the worst of the lot. A high wage earner, who simply hasn’t provided the competition to Hanson that he was supposed to – and the veteran has spent most of his time injured.

Gray’s second coming at Valley Parade has been a major failure.

Louis Swain: RELEASE

Has anyone seen Swain since last summer, when he was given his one year contract? Being farmed out on loan to non-league wasn’t really a surprise, but the lack of updates on his progress makes it look like he is surplus to requirements. 

The players who will still be under contract:

SAM_2322

Andrew Davies: KEEP

Signed a two year deal last summer and, despite his injury problems and up and down form since his return, Davies is still our best centre back by some distance. If he wasn’t under contract there may be a discussion to be had as to whether we are getting value for money – and whether someone who is, say, 75% as good as Davies but always fit would be a better signing. For next season, we have to hope that Davies’ injury problems are behind him, so we can build a team with him in it.

Matt Taylor: MOVE ON

We know so little about this player, partly because he has been injured for such a long time. However, when Taylor has been fit, Parkinson clearly hasn’t liked what he has seen.

A fleeting appearance in one league game, along with starts in cup competitions at Huddersfield and Hartlepool, are his own appearances, which made the decision to recall him early from a loan spell at Colchester – where he was getting game time – a strange one.

His signing was initially well received, because of his reputation and promotion history when he was captain at Charlton; but these all now point to the fact that his wages are likely to be high and unaffordable for someone who rarely plays. With one year left on his contract, hopefully we can find a club willing to take him off our hands.

Jason Kennedy: MOVE ON

A dazzling performance at Valley Parade whilst playing against for Rochdale last season convinced Parkinson that Kennedy was the long-term successor to Gary Jones. Unfortunately, it simply hasn’t worked out and Kennedy finds himself warming the bench back on loan at his old club.

This is one disappointing signing where the blame cannot be solely laid at Parkinson’s door. Some fans at Spotland regarded Kennedy to be a better player than Jones, and most of the Valley Parade faithful were delighted when he decided to finally make the journey down the M62 to West Yorkshire.

However, in claret and amber, Kennedy looks half the player that he did in black and blue. Hesitant on the ball and avoiding responsibility are just two of the criticisms levelled at him. Again, with one year left on his contract, I hope that we can find someone who wants to take him.

Mark Yeates: MOVE ON

The biggest disappointment of all of last summer’s signings. 12 months ago, Yeates was a regular player for Watford as they marched towards the Championship play off final. He started this season well, scoring a great goal at home to Carlisle, but that was as good as it got. Yeates soon lost his place to Reid, and found himself reduced to being a bit-part player.

Along with Doyle, he should be our best player. However, many supporters have questioned his attitude and commitment – and as one of our highest earners, with another season to run on his deal, I expect him to be moved on. That is unless he can show us some real form over the last few weeks of the season.

James Hanson: KEEP 

The fulcrum of our side, and arguably our most important player due to Parkinson’s Plan A. Hanson is getting better and better, and I am delighted that he has committed his long term future to the club. We do, however, need to find a way or a style of playing without Hanson, for the times when he is injured or ineffective.

Oli McBurnie: KEEP

The cream of the crop of our talented youth team, McBurnie is being handled with care and I expect to see him being continually drip fed into senior action next year. He has shown enough potential so far for me to think that he should have a bright future, and I’d like to see him as our fourth striking option next year.

Lewis Clarkson: KEEP

Another player who has suffered with injury since signing, we have so far seen very little of Clarkson. Brought in as one for the future by the current coaching staff, I see him as striker number five next year; possibly being loaned out for experience if the right opportunity arrives.

Aaron Mclean: KEEP

Having arrived to much fanfare as Nahki Wells’ replacement, Mclean has so far failed to live up to expectations. However, with another two years to run on his contract I refuse to write him off after just six months. The effort is clearly there in his play, I just feel that he looks a poor signing because he doesn’t fit in with Parkinson’s tactics. Mclean is the player who I feel would benefit the most if we manage to develop a Plan B.

The players who are on loan

SAM_2760

Arron Jameson: SEND BACK

A token signing if ever there was one. With hardly any senior games to his name, Jameson was not the player that supporters wanted to see brought in to challenge Jon McLaughlin for the number one jersey. We might as well have put the youth team goalkeeper on the bench, and that is in fact what Parkinson has done when faced with the task of balancing the allocated number of loanees in his match day squads.

Adam Drury: SEND BACK

We were crying out for a proper left back after James Meredith’s injury, and it was puzzling that it took so long to bring one in. Drury has been steady if not spectacular in the role, and there is a chance he could be offered a deal for next year. Personally, however, I would question whether he has done enough to earn it.

Adam Reach: SEND BACK

When Reach signed for us in January, I spoke to a Shrewsbury-supporting friend of mine who revealed that Reach had been brilliant for his first month on loan at New Meadow, earlier this season, but that his form then dropped off spectacularly.

Unfortunately that seems to have been the case during his stay in Yorkshire, too. Reach was so good at the start that we were worried about Middlesbrough recalling him. However, his inconsistency probably explains why they haven’t done. Another player who clearly has talent, but doesn’t show it enough and recently has appeared to be playing for himself rather than the team. I don’t think that we can afford another squad member of that ilk.

Kyle Bennett: KEEP

In contrast Reach, Bennett’s City career started slowly but has improved considerably. He had a poor performance against Oldham recently, but I think that was more to do with the bizarre tactical shifts from Parkinson during the game. Bennett put a good performance in at Rotherham on Friday.

At times he frustrates by playing very narrow, but I feel that is partly on the manager’s instruction. If he can continue to improve, I would like to see Bennett as one of four wide players in next season’s squad.

Matty Dolan: KEEP

One week, Dolan looks like the best player on the pitch. The next he has an absolute stinker. Contrast his performances against Gillingham (home) and Leyton Orient (away) with those against Shrewsbury (away) and Oldham (home). However, even in the Oldham game, Dolan managed to produce the only bit of quality in a Bradford shirt, when he set up Adam Reach’s goal.

As a relatively young player I think that Dolan will continue to improve and become more consistent. I believe it’s pretty much agreed that he will join us permanently in the summer, and I am quite comfortable with that.

Chris Atkinson: KEEP

This is one where Parkinson and I would no doubt disagree. Along with Jameson, Atkinson has been one of the unlucky ones who have missed out when we have been limited to just five loanees in a match day squad. It’s a shame because I feel that he could provide the attacking impetus that we sometimes lack from central midfield.

Atkinson did well in brief cameo appearances against Wolves (away) and MK Dons (home), and would likely be a relatively cheap signing as a fourth central midfield option. I hope that Parkinson leaving him out doesn’t indicate that he isn’t intending on keeping him.

Jon Stead: SEND BACK.

I was impressed with Stead at Leyton Orient (away) and even more so at Rotherham (away); but he definitely isn’t the man to be Hanson’s understudy, because he doesn’t win enough in the air. I’d rather see Parkinson sign a different type of striker, especially considering the wages that Stead is likely to be earning at Huddersfield.

However, much will depend on whether Parkinson intends to try new tactics next year. Stead is ideally suited to playing the lone striker role, as he proved at Rotherham, because he has experience of doing this in the Premier League with Sunderland and Blackburn. I wouldn’t totally rule out him signing permanently.

The players in the youth team

I’d expect youth team captain and dynamic midfielder Jack Stockdill to be offered a contract. Deals may also be awarded to central defender Niall Heaton, wide forward Nathan Curtis and winger Callum Chippendale.

New signings

If the above decisions were to come to fruition, there would be spaces in the squad to fill and a need for several new signings. As a priority, I’d be looking to sign a first choice goalkeeper, some competition for Meredith at left back, a right-sided centre back to replace Bates and Taylor, and a third senior striker to compete with Hanson and Mclean

There would also be a need to sign a couple of wingers or wide midfielders, to compete with Reid and Bennett.

Regaining self-respect as Bradford City hit 50

11 Apr

IMG-20140411-00077

Rotherham United 0

Bradford City 0

Friday 11 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

Redemption begins in Rotherham. All of that negativity from the Oldham shambles was firmly blasted away here with a highly commendable Bradford City performance. The precious point gained leaving them on the brink of survival.

They have now reached the magic 50 point mark, and could arguably lose all four of their remaining matches and still avoid the drop. That losing run won’t happen, not playing like this. This was not the performance of a team destined to finish amongst the four worst in the division. After a third straight clean sheet on the road, mid-table beckons for City.

That League One status was all but sealed at the home of Yorkshire rivals, who have lorded it over us of late, makes it all the more sweet. That the bad guy, who was seemingly about to deliver a fatal blow, got a comeuppance of sorts was gleefully celebrated at the final whistle. Steve Evans stormed down the tunnel without shaking Phil Parkinson’s hand. In the build-up to the match the Rotherham manager had declared that his side’s automatic promotion hopes were over, and that is now certainly the case. The play offs are a nice consolation though, and they deserve great credit for the more comfortable way in which they have negotiated the step-up to League One this season.

It could even have been better for City. In the second half, they carved out several chances to steal a shock win. Adam Reach volleyed wide of the post, Kyle Bennett saw a shot from the edge of the area deflect over the bar. Reach, who was more influential in the second half, later won possession out wide and charged into the box, before forcing a decent low save from home keeper Adam Collin.

The Bantams carried a genuine goal threat, after Parkinson used the half time interval to address failings in their first half attacking play. As expected, City lined up 4-5-1, but the more congested midfield initially failed to adequately support lone striker Jon Stead.

This was rectified in the second half, with Bennett and Reach delivering impressive performances, as they linked up effectively with the outstanding Stead. Nathan Doyle sat in front of the back four, enabling Gary Jones and Matty Dolan to push forward. How Doyle is suited to that defensive role, and he was excellent tonight after a rusty start. On this evidence, recent criticism directed towards his attitude looks wide of the mark.

City’s matching of Rotherham’s 4-5-1 nullified the home side’s attacking threat. They had plenty of possession, but could not find gaps in the claret and amber wall. The City back four recovered from last week’s collapse – Rory McArdle had his best game for a long time, and Andrew Davies returned to his previous high standards. The pair were like magnets to any ball flung into the City area, and Jon McLaughlin behind them looked much more assured. It was not a night for full backs charging forwards, but Stephen Darby and Adam Drury were nonetheless solid.

Rotherham enjoyed spells of strong pressure when they upped the tempo. Ben Pringle dropped deep in an attempt to dictate the play, forcing a good first half save from McLaughlin. He deserves to play in a higher level than League One. Kieran Agard’s dribbling skills also caused problems, and both he and Pringle provided good support to targetman Alex Revell. Rotherham created the majority of first half chances – City’s only effort of note during this period a Stead volley over the bar from a Davies knock-down – but never overwhelmed their opponents.

Once the Bantams emerged for the second half with the gameplan fine-tuned, they gave as good as they got and posed plenty of questions. City never attacked in numbers, but through Jones and Doyle in particular they began to play the ball on the deck. Stead held up the ball superbly. All that was lacking was the creation of that one big chance. Reach’s effort was the only save Collin was forced into all evening.

Rotherham pressed to the end, if lacking invention. Michael O’Connor hit the post a minute into the second half with a free kick that deceived everyone. Haris Vuckic spurned a great opening when presented with a one-on-one shooting opportunity, lifting the ball over McLaughlin but also over the bar. In the final minute of the 90, Karin Arnasan had a free header from a corner, but couldn’t hit the target.

A Rotherham winner then would have been incredibly harsh on City. The players worked so hard for this point, and were entitled to walk off the pitch at full time with smiles on their faces. It had been a long six days for them. Their commitment and ability has been questioned loudly, and this was the perfect response. Parkinson too deserves to feel proud. Time and time again, over the past three seasons, he has ensured his team recover strongly from what appear to be huge set backs.

Whilst no one deserved to emerge from the Oldham defeat with any credit, tonight they all merited a share of the acclaim. There remains a feeling that this has become a patched-up team whose shelf life is extremely limited and in need of an overhaul, but for now it is a team that is more than good enough to put to bed any lingering relegation anxieties.

As Parkinson argued midweek, inconsistency has blighted City’s results over the last few weeks. If they could play like this all the time, they would be grappling with Rotherham in the play offs. They are not good enough for that, but at the very least must eradicate feeble showings like last week. There can be no more repeats, and there certainly wasn’t here.

Instead, at the New York stadium, this group of players showed their worth. Now they must go out and do it again another four times, so that the newly-promoted Bantams can end the season on the high note that a mid-table finish surely merits.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, Bennett (Thompson 90), Doyle, Dolan (De Vita 77), Jones, Reach, Stead

Not used: Barker, McHugh, Bates, Yeates, McBurnie

Nowhere to hide as Bradford City go to Rotherham

11 Apr

Leyton Orient

Rotherham United vs Bradford City preview

@New York Stadium on Friday 11 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

It is impossible not to fear the worst about tonight. It is difficult to envisage any other outcome but a home victory.

Rotherham’s defeat to Sheffield United on Tuesday was their first defeat in 17 matches – they had been unbeaten since New Years Day. During that run they averaged 2.44 goals per game and scored three or more times on six occasions. Despite their midweek blank, the Millers are the top scorers in the Football League, and the third highest of the 92 – behind only Liverpool and Man City.

The recent run has taken Rotherham from play off challengers to being in the hunt for the second automatic promotion place behind Wolves. They currently lie nine points behind second-place Brentford with five games to play, and recently crushed the Bees 3-0 at the New York stadium.

Be afraid tonight. Be very afraid.

Particularly when you throw in City’s wretched recent record against their South Yorkshire neighbours – six straight defeats for the West – and the Indian Sign that Steve Evans holds over Phil Parkinson, going back to the former’s Crawley days.

There is every chance that the Bantams could suffer a real hiding tonight. It is not the game we needed at this stage of the season, when there is still some work to be done to ensure survival. Had Oldham been defeated at Valley Parade last Saturday, tonight could have been considered a free hit for City. But it is not. It is an important match for both clubs.

The time for pragmatism

After enduring one of his worst days in office, Parkinson is undoubtedly under some pressure to produce a big reaction from his players – although he should not have to fear for his job. From where City were two years ago to where we are now, he has engineered a 30-place improvement in the club’s league position. In other words a climb of one-third up the 92.

When such progression stops over a meaningful period of time, we can certainly raise the question of his future. But for now he continues to hold plenty of credit in the bank, and the two remaining years on his contract would cost the club a pretty penny to settle up. And if we were hunting for a replacement, we’d be looking for someone with the qualities that Parkinson possesses to take us forwards. He deserves the opportunity to rebuild the squad during the summer, and nothing I have heard or read over the last few days has convinced me otherwise.

The local media chose to completely ignore the fact that Parkinson was booed twice on Saturday over his substitutions (a shame because, if nothing else, asking the manager about it would have allowed him the opportunity to explain the changes). In many respects Parkinson has done well to last this long without suffering the indignity of such booing before. I struggle to recall a single Bradford City manager over the past two decades who wasn’t booed for their choice of substitution (Peter Jackson perhaps, but he wasn’t around long enough).

Even Paul Jewell, during a City Premier League away match at Sheffield Wednesday in January 2000, was booed for taking off Stuart McCall. If the man who took the Bantams to the top flight for the first time in 77 years – and kept them there – cannot escape such booing, Parkinson should not be concerned.

And the most important thing that Parkinson can do right now is to continue to be his own man and not listen to the crowd. Worrying about such matters has been the undoing of past City managers – think of Nicky Law bowing down to supporters in 2003 by playing Ben Muirhead when he evidently wasn’t the answer. Parkinson is experienced enough to know that there is a big difference between doing the right thing and doing what the crowd believes to be the right thing. And over these last few games in particular, he needs to be pragmatic rather than popular.

With Rotherham prospering at Valley Parade on Boxing Day through a 4-5-1 formation, Parkinson needs to ensure that his side can match that system if Evans is to repeat its use. If that means going 4-5-1 also and leaving, say, Aaron Mclean  (who is struggling for fitness) on the bench, so be it. There’s a section of City fans who hate 4-5-1 and will criticise any manager who tries it. So what?

Parkinson cannot set up his team for another Rotherham thrashing. A point tonight would be a great achievement and there is nothing wrong with targeting that.

What’s needed

To have any chance of succeeding, Parkinson needs every single player to put in a shift ala-Leyton Orient – there can be no passengers like there were in the Oldham game. Parkinson needs Andrew Davies, Stephen Darby and Gary Jones to demonstrate their leadership skills and set the example for others to follow. Rory McArdle needs to quickly get over last Saturday’s woeful display and demonstrate why he should continue to be at the heart of next season’s back four. Jon McLaughlin has not been playing badly, but also needs a good night.

If City do go 4-5-1, Chris Atkinson or – if either are fit – Mclean or Nathan Doyle will come into midfield. Adam Reach needs to use the platform of being live on TV to impress, and I suspect we will get a better performance than recent feeble efforts. Kyle Bennett needs to forget last week’s no-show and get back to the level he had been building up towards before. That said, Garry Thompson’s promising cameo off the bench on Saturday could be rewarded with a start ahead of the Doncaster loanee.

If James Hanson is fit enough to play, it could change any such thoughts of a 4-5-1. Parkinson needs Hanson, but it would be asking a lot for the big man to start on his own up front if not 100% fit.

What hope?

If there is a chink of light to be offered, it is that Rotherham have been better on the road than they have away; winning nine, drawing eight and losing three at the New York Stadium, with no one in the top half of League One having conceded more goals at home, including the Bantams.

Small crumbs, on a night that seems to be about damage limitation and raised relegation anxiety. The heart fondly remembers recent shock away victories when no one expected anything from City – Leyton Orient, two weeks ago, Southend United, two years ago and, one my all-time favourite away games, Rochdale in February 2010 (Peter Taylor’s second game in charge).

I guess the minimum that we can expect tonight is an improved performance from Saturday, and to hope that the players show sufficient passion to demonstrate they want to still be wearing a claret and amber shirt next season. Whether that will be enough to avoid a seemingly inevitable defeat is highly questionable, but at the very least it would be nice to walk out of the New York Stadium at the end of tonight feeling more confident about the future than we did leaving Valley Parade last Saturday.

A History of Bradford City AFC in Objects

10 Apr

21

By BANTAMSPAST

A 320+ page, all colour book; planned publication – end September / early October, 2014.

The book records the changing match day experience at Valley Parade and the acceleration of change in the last thirty years, coincidentally since the fire disaster. The content of the book promises to be unique in comparison to histories previously written about football clubs in Britain, let alone Bradford City AFC. This is not a statistical record about players or games, it is literally an illustrated history of the club in objects but not limited to the popular ’100 objects only’ formula.

A History of Bradford City AFC In Objects has been written and compiled by John Dewhirst who has one of the largest and most comprehensive private collections of BCAFC memorabilia. The book will include items from his collection supplemented with that provided by other collectors and supporters as well as material previously featured in the BANTAMSPAST museum.

Most of the content has never previously been displayed or included in earlier publications.

John was co-founder of The City Gent in 1984. He previously compiled City Memories in 1997 and has assisted with a number of books about the club including Of Boars and Bantams in 1988, Along The Midland Road in 1996, Glorious 1911 in 2010 and Paraders: The 125 Year History of Valley Parade in 2011. John has also been involved with a number of projects celebrating the history of the club and in April, 2011 he organised the sell-out dinner at the Midland Hotel to commemorate the centenary of the FA Cup triumph.

Profits from the sale of the book will go to Bradford City AFC. In 2013 BANTAMSPAST contributed towards the new 2013 Suite at Valley Parade and we are currently planning a new gallery of framed shirts from 1976 to date. Proceeds of our badge and book sales will fund historic displays in Valley Parade to keep the club’s history alive and accessible.

Subscriber copies can be ordered until 31 August, 2014. Subscriber copies will have a different cover to those which go on general sale in the autumn. This is the fourth book published by BANTAMSPAST since 2010 and our previous publications have all sold out. This book commemorates 100 peacetime seasons at Valley Parade and is likely to be a future collector’s item.

Ordered copies can be collected from Valley Parade either at a launch event (tba) in the 1911 Club or from reception. Copies can be posted to those unable to collect in person.

Email glorious1911@paraders.co.uk for an order form.

The Midweek Player Focus #56: Kyle Bennett

9 Apr

SAM_2776

By Jason McKeown

After a dismal performance in which all 11 starters were culpable, it was curious to see Kyle Bennett singled out by many for the 3-2 loss to Oldham. The on-loan Doncaster winger was certainly culpable for the Latics’ winning goal, buckling out of a 50-50 challenge that allowed the visitors to score on the counter attack. But on a day in which no one could have been rated any higher than 5 out of 10, Bennett was hardly the root cause of a defeat in which the blame deserved to be evenly dished out.

Six minutes after his mistake, the board went up to signal his hook and cheering could be heard from the stands. Bennett’s recent performances had showed steady signs of improvement, and there was growing talk from some supporters that he would be worth offering a contract to during the summer – but he didn’t have enough goodwill in the bank to escape the derision. Perhaps we could do better than Kyle when it comes to rebuilding this squad, but I personally still see something there that, for now, means the jury is still out.

He couldn’t really have made a worse start to life at Valley Parade, getting sent off less than 30 minutes into his debut, against Preston. And the impression he made prior to raising his hands at Neil Kilkenny was a disappointing one. At the time there had been much talk of Phil Parkinson refreshing his approach by recruiting two out-and-out wingers, instead of the tried and tested formula of one direct wideman (Kyel Reid, who had just been ruled out for the season) and one inside-right midfielder (Garry Thompson) who was relied upon to tuck inside and support the central midfielders.

Yet while Adam Reach – who also made his debut against Preston that night – was a like-for-like replacement for Reid, albeit lacking pace, it quickly became evident that Bennett was no direct winger himself, and would take on the Thompson role from a player who for several months had struggled for confidence. Bennett picked up possession out wide: but rather than trail past defenders and charge to the byeline, he would cut inside and into the more congested centre of the park. Oh…right…we didn’t expect that.

(And as an aside, I guess at least our expecations weren’t as misplaced as former Doncaster chairman John Ryan, who on signing Kyle in 2012 offered him his Bentley if he scored 20 goals that season, he managed three!)

It was not hard to remain underwhelmed, as Bennett returned from his one-match ban and carried on in the same vein. You’d see people screaming at him to take defenders on and hog the touchline, but that was either not his game or not what his manager was instructing him to do. Our expectations had to change, because here was a player much more Will Atkinson than Kyel Reid.

Yet as City’s season settled down after the ‘one win in…’ run finally came to an end, Bennett slowly but surely began to impress. He has ability on the ball and can pick out a good pass; he possesses good energy levels that see him get up and down the pitch well; and his link up play with the front two enabled one of City’s central midfielders to get further up the park in support. Industrious, intelligent and, increasingly, influential. A superbly taken goal in a 2-0 victory at Colchester was Bennett’s high watermark.

The downside is that Bennett is rarely going to leave you hanging on the edge of your seat. He is not on out-and-out flair player who is going to win football matches on his own, and he is probably not going to be someone you immediately look to when the chips are down and inspiration is required – more likely, and it is proven, he is the first player to be subbed. Bennett is the support act, not the headliner.

Managers love this sort of player; fans sometimes shrug their shoulders and wonder why he is in the team. It is no surprise that there has been a recent pining for Thompson to come back into the fold, because the 33-year-old has proven in the past that he has more of an end product than Bennett has thus far shown. Yet Thompson himself spent the first half of the season as the scapegoat for the team’s failings, and with many fans urging Parkinson to quickly replace him. Bennett might not be enough of an improvement, but much of the frustration lies in a misunderstanding from some of the role these players are asked to perform. And three years of Parkinson at the helm suggests he will continue to recruit this type of player.

In his year one, Craig Fagan played the wide-midfielder-who-tucks-inside role, after Parkinson quickly ruled that Chris Mitchell wasn’t up it. When Kyel Reid, on the other side, suffered a bad injury in December 2012, a range of loanees were brought in to fill the direct winger void but struggled to impress. Andy Haworth, Charlie Taylor and then – in one of the worst debuts I have ever seen – Will Atkinson, who looked awful in a 2-1 defeat at Bristol Rovers.

Yet while Atkinson was no Reid and did nothing during his four-month loan spell to suggest he could be the player who – a year later – would be walking out for Bradford City at Wembley to face Swansea City in the League Cup Final, Parkinson saw enough in him to believe he could perform the wide-midfielder-who-tucks-inside position (in competition with Thompson). And so Atkinson was offered a permanent deal during the summer, and became a first team regular for the middle half of the season. Atkinson was simply outstanding in the League Cup successes over Arsenal and Aston Villa. I can still picture his box of tricks against Arsenal that had international defenders flummoxed. On that cold December night, where City found success playing two banks of four, Atkinson was a hugely important figure in the shock Bantams’ victory.

The lesson here, of course, is that, Bennett’s less-than-perfect loan spell audition for this role does not mean he isn’t the answer. There is every chance he could be 2014/15’s Will Atkinson. The two players are remarkably similar in style and technique, and there is little doubt that Parkinson is going to be in the market for one or even two of these players during the summer. For Bennett, who has another year’s contract at Doncaster but is out of favour, you would assume he would jump at the chance to be at Valley Parade next season.

But then, we come back to the non-tackle against Oldham. Watch it back (see above, two minutes in),  and you cringe at his feeble attempt to win a challenge that, positionally, he would have been favourite to emerge victorious from. He couldn’t have known that in less than 10 seconds the ball would be in the back of his team’s net, but the angry team mates he faced had every right to let their displeasure known. Bennett let down the team on a day when the whole team let down the club. And as that board went up for his withdrawal and the cheers began, there went his opportunity to make up for his error.

Some people blame his lack of courage on his loanee status. He didn’t care, we aren’t his club, he’s not going to put his body on the line. I don’t agree with that call, and I think that he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Whether he sees his future in West Yorkshire or elsewhere, Bennett is playing for his future. He is, in effect, an out-of-contract player looking for his next deal. There will be hundreds more like him in the queue come the summer, and he knows that.

I think his indecision was more a case that he is not the type of player to get stuck in. He is not the sort to fly into challenges. And what’s more, there are other players at City who are the same. Would Kyel Reid have gone into that tackle, for example? What about Reach? The strengths of Bennett – and Reid and Reach – lie elsewhere. They are ball players, not ball winners. Alas for Bennett, not being that type of player could determine his fate at City.

For while Reid and Reach can get away with that, playing the out-and-out winger role, Bennett is auditioning for that wide-midfielder-who-tucks-inside position that demands defensive ability as well as attacking. Bennett’s positioning has been good and he can disrupt opposition attacks; he also provides his full back with good protection. But this role requires more than just that good positioning. If Bennett cannot tackle and, therefore, cannot be relied upon to stand tall in moments such as the one against Oldham, then he probably isn’t the man for the job.

So over these final five games, Bennett has the opportunity to disprove that. To show that his below-par performance against Oldham was part of a team failing, not a cruel exposure of his personal weaknesses. The next time Bennett faces up to a moment where he needs to put a foot in, he had better not duck out.

I like Bennett, and with his attacking skills I can see him prospering at Valley Parade; but it’s down to him to remove those lingering doubts over the next five games. It’s down to him to show that he can win a contract by winning the ball.

Smells like Team Spirit?

7 Apr

SAM_2736

By Ron Beaumont

It has to be said and as is always the case, Jason has said it so well, but the phrase I picked out straight away was “there is a growing stench that is becoming difficult to avoid”.

It seems a strong statement and, unless you walk to the ground by a particular part of Canal Road as I do, I assume it to be metaphorical but it does sum up the effect of recent home performances.

A lot has been said on this site about glasses that are half-full or half-empty and, as I headed for the game, my glass was definitely half-full.

A win or even a point would surely see us safe, and reports from the last away games suggested we would be able to get something from the game. The half-empty part of my glass was only concerned about the reported inability to convert at least one of our chances against Coventry, but we had created them so there was no real worry.

Glass half-full, glass half-empty. What I was not prepared for was glass broken!

Nothing to be taken from this game. Nothing to be taken from this team!

Yet the glass is broken. Players look broken. No cohesion, no plan to see, no positive intervention from the manager. This was not the City I have supported for so long.

I know we have important parts missing. I know we have parts that don’t fit. I know we have spare parts that are for whatever reason just spare parts! The spirit that has helped us achieve so much has vanished – from Valley Parade at least – and has been replaced by on-field arguments and blaming team mates. Passing the buck, not passing the ball!

And watching on amongst all the rest of us is the man who could do something to change it. A man who seems to have lost confidence in the very thing he got us to believe in.

I have never seen any real argument for getting rid of Phil Parkinson and I do not want this to happen, but I am prepared to criticise his decisions in recent home games because it seems, to me at least, justifiable criticism. Motivation in the dressing room is his domain.

Motivation on the pitch should be a “given” for all players regardless of contract, loan or financial status – and it is the manager’s job to make sure that it is there.

We should be safe from relegation but we are not safe yet and, until we are, it is the players on the pitch and on the bench last Saturday that will have to do it. For too long comments seem to be addressing next season’s plan, but we must focus on what has to be done to reach the end of this season in this division.

We will have to hold our breath. We should not have to hold our noses as well.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,515 other followers