What becomes of yesterday’s bright young things

21 Jul
Part of the scene: Morecambe away, April 2009

Part of the scene: Morecambe away, April 2009

By Jason McKeown

In consecutive years, each was voted player of the season by Bradford City supporters. A demonstration of their popularity, offering credibility to the argument of persisting with a youth set up even during times of austerity. Yet rather than fulfilling hopes and expectations of remaining on the Valley Parade scene for many years to come, this season the pair find themselves playing in the City of Bradford but not for Bradford City.

Joe Colbeck has this summer signed for Bradford (Park Avenue), whilst Luke O’Brien has joined Thackley. Joe is still only 27-years-old. Luke is two years younger. They should still have another 7-10 years playing professional football, even if it’s not for the club with whom they climbed up the youth ranks to make it as a professional. “I’m really looking forward to it,” Colbeck told the Grimsby Evening Telegraph, as he faced up to his release by the Mariners and the signing of a part-time contract to play at the Horsfall Stadium. As yet O’Brien has made no public comment about his move to Thackley. He was released in May, after a fruitless individual season playing for Conference Premier side Gateshead.

How did it come to this? How have such bright hopes faded so abruptly?

It would be wrong to romanticise the Bradford City careers of Joe Colbeck and Luke O’Brien. Their respective player of the season awards were terrific standout moments that reflected just how well they had performed in claret and amber, but you don’t need to speak to many Bradford City supporters to find someone who will dismiss at least one of the pair as “sh*t”.

The truth is that Joe, and to a lesser extent Luke, had an extremely difficult time trying to win over the Valley Parade crowd. They had their supporters for sure (I was certainly one of them, in Luke’s case); but when either made mistakes or the team was under-performing, the pair would come under a harsher spotlight than others. It is a familiar pattern that has affected previous City youth products, and it will no doubt happen in future with The Next Big Thing.

But sh*t or not, the longevity of both players at Valley Parade proved they had more substance than people give them credit for. Joe Colbeck played 116 times for City, making his debut in 2004 and leaving the club in 2009. He was awarded a debut by Colin Todd and – after initially bursting onto the scene in 2005/06, and in September 2006 impressing a watching Derby County scout enough for the Rams to make an enquiry – endured an up-and-down time under David Wetherall and initially Stuart McCall.

In 2007, McCall sent Colbeck to Darlington on loan and received back a completely different player. He was sensational during the second half of the 2007/08 campaign – on the road at least. So many match-winning performances that cemented his player of the year award. Tellingly, Colbeck was still less of a force at Valley Parade. If you only saw home games that season, you will still be wondering what the fuss was about.

Colbeck’s decline began at the home of his final professional club: Grimsby away in October 2008, and a bad injury to the winger in the closing stages rules him out for three months. He wasn’t the same player on his return, struggling to get into a team that had found a way to win games without him and then, by March, a team that had lost its way. Colbeck was asked to be saviour to City’s faltering play off bid, but couldn’t handle such responsibility. The crowd destroyed him. I still shudder thinking of the Easter Monday home draw with Lincoln, where Colbeck’s brittle confidence was ripped to shreds. McCall had no choice but to take him off.

By this time Luke O’Brien was the new darling of the crowd. He would ultimately make 149 appearances for the Bantams, becoming a regular in 2008/09 after Paul Heckingbottom picked up a bad injury. O’Brien was a revelation at left back, most memorably scoring the goal of the season in a 2-0 Don Valley victory over Rotherham. Steven Schumacher would later recall how much Luke stood out in the youth team even to the watching senior players. At the end of 2008/09, the rising star was crowned with the player of the season trophy that Colbeck had lifted 12 months earlier.

And he continued to be relevant even after McCall had fallen on his sword. Peter Taylor’s first signing as manager had been a left back to take O’Brien’s place, but he eventually won it back from Robbie Threlfall. Peter Jackson preferred Luke too, and going into the 2011/12 season declared that Threlfall could leave the club. It is rumoured that personal problems in O’Brien’s life caused a rethink on Threlfall’s future, and Phil Parkinson never looked like a fan of O’Brien. In January 2012 Luke was moved on; Parkinson preferring to use centre back Marcel Seip as his left back.

Yet the destinations of both Colbeck and O’Brien were not downwards initially: from Valley Parade, they moved up divisions. In the summer of 2009 Colbeck turned down a new contract under McCall, preferring to attempt to impress enough in pre-season to convince City to offer him better terms. In the end he was reunited with his Darlington saviour Dave Penny with League One Oldham (who described Colbeck as being in the “Stanley Matthews mould”). To put the £60k move into perspective, that summer Oldham was also the destination of City’s star loanee who we could never hope to keep: Dean Furman.

O’Brien also moved up a league, to St. James Park and Exeter. That neither player excelled in League One was no huge disgrace – we knew they had their limitations – but surely they could sustain careers in the basement league at least? Colbeck left Oldham soon after Penny was sacked, signing a two-year contract at Hereford United. He was, infamously, the subject of horrendous barracking on his first return to Valley Parade that 2010/11 season, but a year later came off the bench in the same fixture to some applause. At Edgar Street in 2011/12, Colbeck played more games in a season than he’d ever achieved before.

Yet the decline continued. O’Brien, released by Exeter after just three appearances, joined Oxford on a sh0rt-term basis in 2012 and played against the Bantams to warm appreciation from his former supporters. He played just 15 times for the Us, however, and spent last season at Gateshead. Meanwhile a relegated Hereford released Colbeck and he rocked up at non-league Grimsby. In two seasons at Blundell Park, Colbeck had a mixed time with some excellent performances (such as a hat trick of assists in a derby victory over Lincoln) offset by further injuries and an FA fine for improper comments on Twitter.

Which brings them back to the City of Bradford this summer and playing part time. There are former City youth team mates of the pair who barely got a chance at Valley Parade, yet who now feature higher up the league ladder. Their fall is staggering, and seems too much. Perhaps, just like another youth graduate Mark Bower, who moved to Guiseley in order to combine playing with setting up an estate agent business, it is their choice to sink so low. That there were better offers on the table, possibly to stay full time, that didn’t appeal. That the money on offer would be too low to live on, and that combining a part-time wage at BPA/Thackley with another job will prove more rewarding. Especially as they can continue to live in an area they grew up in. (O’Brien is still seen in and around the Valley Parade, and still attends the player of the season awards.)

But still, it is sad. No one was blind to either player’s faults, and the level City have now reached was clearly beyond their abilities, but four or five years of regularly playing at Valley Parade should have been cue to a long-term playing career in the Football League. Should have, but hasn’t been. An important lesson for every young player hoping to make it as a professional – it is unbelievably difficult to make a career of it.

Jordan Pickford signs for Bradford City on season loan

21 Jul

By Jason McKeown

Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has joined Bradford City on a season-long loan. The 20-year-old shot stopper spent the back end of last season on loan at Carlisle United and has previously completed temporary spells at Darlington, Alfreton, and Burton Albion. To date he has made 59 senior appearances for these clubs. Pickford is yet to play for Sunderland but is said to be highly rated within the club.

The arrival of Pickford means Phil Parkinson finally has a confirmed goalkeeper to play in the upcoming 2014/15 season. Jon McLaughlin’s future remains in the balance, although the Scot is expected to agree a deal at some stage this week.

Pickford will make his City debut at Farsley tomorrow.

The privileged

20 Jul

 

the warm up

Shelbourne 0 

Bradford City 4

Sheehan 21 (pen), Clarke 29 + 55, De Vita 78

Saturday 19 July, 2014

Images and words by David Lawrence

What a great privilege it is to be a Bradford City fan, particularly on trips like this. To be part of a band formed of all types of humanity sharing in a joint passion on foreign soil. What a treat.

Of course it didn’t seem that way as my friend and I wandered past some young kids having football instruction by an over zealous coach on some spare land outside a very old looking Tolka park. But it was early, and we were on our way to meet some Irish bantams for pre match drinks and the craic.

Inside Fagans, near the ground, we were greeted by the always reassuringly pleasant sight of smattering of City fans in various Bantams regalia. Outside on the patio there was an increasingly large crowd that included the Bingley Bantams and the Irish-based lads. The chat was of games gone by and how City might fair in the coming season. Views ranged from ‘nervously optimistic’ to ‘hope he knows what he’s doing’. Maybe folks were reading too much into the UCD game earlier in the week.bingle bantams

Today’s game would be a different affair, with City fielding a stronger team from the off and the opposition putting out a team of youngsters and trialists, due to having a game the day after.

Both these teams were out warming up as we arrived and we, like most of the following, headed for the ground’s tiny bar. Perhaps the team news had filtered through, or the beer had started to have an effect, as the there was a happy throng inside viewing the memorabilia on the walls (Real Madrid once played here; and the Shels also played a 3rd round qualifier for the Champions League here, narrowly missing out on going through), greeting fellow City fans and queuing to get a pint. The first chant of “City til I die”. It was a great atmosphere. Great to be a City fan.

Outside in the near sunlight it was quite a contrast. The game was about to begin and people were just about noticing.

City initially set up in a 4-4-2, with Billy Knott on the left and Mark Yeates on the right wings, and James Hanson and Billy Clarke in the middle. It very quickly became apparent, however, that this was not how they would play, as Clarke played a slightly wider right role and Yeates moved into the hole behind Hanson. The other two midfielders of a solid looking Matty Dolan and a rangy Gary Liddle stayed deeper, broke play up and set up football type play from the back trough the middle to the forwards. Yes that’s right ‘football’. The defence, with the excellent Alan Sheehan, were hardly troubled apart from an early effort from distance that Jon McLaughlin didn’t have to bother with. City didn’t really need a new,  reserve or indeed any keeper today.

handshakes

The opening period of the game had a very pre-season feel to it, with the tempo fairly steady, but it did feature a noticeable amount of clever passing play, particularly by Liddle, Knott and Dolan. The most noticeable moment being when an over excited Shels player went through on Knott causing one dry Bantam to state “he went down like a sack of sh*t” which brought some humour to the affair.

City were looking good, passing the ball crisply. The now wiry looking Yeates was at the centre of much of this, linking the play up effectively between midfield and attack. When he plays too far up the pitch or to deep in the middle, where he doesn’t get the time to play his game, he can often lose the ball,  much to his and the fans’ chagrin. However,  when he’s playing ‘in the hole’ and given the space and time he’s a very good footballer. Possibly the best in our division at this role.

It was through his clever link up play that City went close around the quarter of an hour mark.  Yeates played a lovely one-two with the lively Knott, then put in a great low cross that Clarke only just missed out on stretching for.

City were getting closer and the goal came soon after. Andrew Davies, showing he’s going to be okay with the new football style, played a fantastic long through ball to the on rushing Sheehan, who’s cross was handled by McDonagh. Sheehan stepped up to place a neat penalty to the left of the keeper. Polite applause and handshaking.the change over

Having broken their duck, City appeared to sense that there was only going to be one way traffic from here on and increasingly threatened the Shels goal.  Yeates again at the centre of things; first playing a neat one-two with Sheehan for him to put a long ball over for Clarke to try to head – he doesn’t look the strongest in the air – then putting in Stephen Darby, who had a good shot from the edge of the box that went wide left. Another goal came soon after, when Yeates played a good pass to Clarke who scored with a great drive low to the left of the keeper. 2-0 it was becoming so easy. Que chorus of “take me home Midland road”.

Lenny the City Gent took the opportunity of the slight pause in play to nip out; which was noticed by his fellow Bantams, who gave him a chant of “you’ve been replaced by a chicken, replaced by a chicken”. It was all good fun.

City’s centre backs and goalie were practically on deckchairs by this point. Strangely though, Hanson was not really in the game and only had one shot from long range.  It will be interesting to see how he adapts his game to suit the new style and what type of season he has.

Davies, clearly bored of having nothing to do, had a long sorte into the opposition’s half and down the wing but then fell over which brought a cheer and a chorus of “she fell over”.

The half drifted to a finish, with Sheehan and Liddle both going close, whilst the tempo dropped a bit. The whistle went and the teams traipsed off. McLean, who had been lounging with a couple of the younger players in the empty stand opposite, put another track on his ipod and was undisturbed. He could have been on a beach in Florida.

lenny

The break offered time to wrestle in the small bar for a pint or chat and reflect on the game this far. On this viewing, the team would get torn apart by an organised outfit and it may be a tough August if we come up against such teams. However,  they look like they have the ability to develop into a effective unit who will be great to watch, and would likely beat our recent ‘invincibles’. The future is bright, but it’s more on the horizon than shining down on us right now. Parkinsonism.

Soon enough the second half started with the same players going at the same, if not slower, pace. The game was clearly having the required effect of working on the lads fitness. Nothing of note really transpired, apart from the sound of Parkinson encouraging the players after joining the dugout rather than sitting high in the odd half stand as he did in the first half. Oh and we scored again. Clarke latched onto another good pass from Yeates and wholloped a lovely shot in giving the keeper no chance. He’s got a good shot and the ability to do something different.

By the time everyone had just about got settled back from their half time excesses the mass substitution occurred. This crew looked as young as their opposition, barring the older heads of Jason Kennedy, Matt Taylor and Rafa De Vita.  Joining Rye (Vita) up front was a trialist that had just arrived on the scene to be told he was playing, called Ben Smith. He played quite well, but would likely come in the category of ‘one for the future’ and with Clarkson going so well it would be hard to see him having a role.

De Vita was trying his best to shoot at every opportunity, going close several times and at one point forcing a good save from the keeper. He kept trying and was rewarded with a goal from a good strike from the edge of the area. 4-0.

The assist was by the tidy looking Nick Arnold, who was playing down the right. Earlier, he’d put a good searching ball to the far post that Angelo Balanta had headed home, only to be correctly ruled offside. As for the South American, his name appears more exotic than his game.  He, like some others, may not be around for much longer – particularly if the supposed loans come to fruition.dolan

Having picked up considerably with the substitutions, once again the pace fell off. I think I heard the full time whistle go, but by then the crowd were contentedly chatting amongst themselves and even the players that had come off. Rory McArdle and Knott were particularly friendly and engaging, allowing people to take selfies with them.

What a great bunch of lads. What great fans. What a great trip. Thanks to all involved. We are privileged.

City: McLaughlin (Barker 63), Darby (Arnold 63), McArdle (Taylor 63), Davies (King 63), Sheehan (Heaton 63), Liddle (Kennedy 63), Dolan (Meredith 63), Yeates (Balanta 63), Knott (Wright 63), Hanson (Smith or Brown 63), Clarke (De Vita 63).  

Two Dolans talking

Welcome to Leeds-Bradford Airport. Picture by Bee Calam

Welcome to Leeds-Bradford Airport. Picture by Bee Calam

the teamsheet

Lessons to learn from the students

16 Jul

10547696_10203208485111715_7058626650819950999_n

UCD AFC 3

Creevy 21, Cannon 44, Mustapha 78

Bradford City 2

Clarkson 41+54

Tuesday 15 July, 2014

Words and images by Damien Wilkinson

Hot on the heels of the opening pre-season friendly 3-0 at Guiseley, Phil Parkinson’s men travelled out to Ireland for what is becoming an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” training camp and fixtures.

In keeping with previous visits, Bradford City are playing teams from each of the top two tiers of the League of Ireland and the Tuesday night match saw the Bantams face SSE Airtricity Premiership outfit, UCD, or the University College of Dublin.

UCD have played 19 of a 33-game league campaign which commenced in March, and currently sit third from bottom in the league of 12. Despite having only won four games so far, a much needed 1-0 victory in their last game against Sligo Rovers last Sunday, had lifted spirits in the students’ camp.

The glamorous sounding UCD Bowl in Belfield on the outskirts of Dublin, was the setting as was a compact ground with one main stand. The late Dermot Morgan, better known as Father Ted, was a sometime UCD fan, explaining his allegiance along the lines of hating crowds! Former players over the years included Kevin Moran, Pat Jennings Junior and a brief stint by Leeds legend Peter Lorimer.

In line with expectations, Phil Parkinson made a number of changes to the starting line up.

Aaron McLean and Oli McBurnie, despite having travelled with the squad, were again deemed not worthy of risking a start, and James Meredith was also rested having picked up a knock during the Guiseley friendly.

Additionally, Parkinson left a number of first teamers from the starting line up, including the likes of James Hanson, Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies, Billy Knott, Gary Liddle and Billy Clarke. As a result Rory McArdle captained the side, and was joined by Alan Sheehan, Jason Kennedy, Niall Heaton, Sam Wright, Nick Arnold, Raffa De Vita and Mark Yeates. Lewis Clarkson and Angelo Balanta retained their places in the first eleven and, with trial keeper Ben Alnwick not travelling with the squad, Jon McLauglin made a start between the sticks, despite the contractual uncertainties surrounding his future.

With a good number of City fans travelling out on the early morning Tuesday flight, having sampled the delights of Dublin during the day, they made up a significant proportion of the crowd that welcomed the teams out on what was a pleasant and sunny evening in the capital.

Formation-wise, City started the half looking to further develop and embed the diamond formation employed against Guiseley. Clarkson initially looked to be playing a lone striker role and in the early exchanges the Bantams moved the ball around relatively well without creating any clear cut chances. The first chance did arrive after 10 minutes with Clarkson failing to convert a De Vita cross.

However, UCD were not prepared to let City dominate and responded well. In the first half their match fitness and sharpness shone through; they worked the ball around well, and certainly had a greater rhythm to their play. Ed Sheeran-lookalike Conor Cannon gave the City defence a good test with his work rate and movement, and midfielder Hugh Douglas was a powerful presence for the students.

After a period of even play with neither team able to create any clear chances, the deadlock was finally broken after around twenty minutes. A cross in from the left was looped into the goal by the lively Robbie Creevy to give UCD a 1-0 lead.

In response, City upped their efforts and a through ball from Balanta was narrowly hooked over and a Wright shot was pulled wide. The Bantams sought to adapt their positioning and for a time Heaton was pushed into a more advanced left wing position with Sheehan covering at left back.

As the first half clock ran down, and Matt Taylor seemingly answered a call of nature on a grassy knoll above the team dugouts, City finally got back in the game – a Mark Yeates ball into the box was stabbed home by Lewis Clarkson, to continue the youngster’s recent scoring run.

UCD responded quickly forcing a smart save from McLaughlin, and the half looked set to end even until a bad mix up in the City defence allowed Conor Cannon the opportunity to restore UCD’s lead and send them into half time 2-1 to the good.

983750_10203208489071814_125683756283689446_nThe start of the second half saw a welcome return to action for Matt Taylor, whose Bantams career has not managed to get off the ground following injuries last season, and it is to be hoped he can play a key part in the squad this time around.

UCD started where they had left off in the first half and continued to cause the City backline some concerns. However, after 10 minutes some smart play by De Vita, culminating in a delightful chipped pass into the path of Clarkson, saw the young striker do well to run on and smash the ball under the UCD keeper, to again restore parity.

The match remained fairly even and with a significant number of substitutions made around the hour mark. Parkinson finally brought his big guns on and it looked for a time that City would go on and secure a win. Indeed a sharpness and higher energy seemed to punctuate their play and it appeared only a matter of time before this resulted in a goal. However, the hosts had other ideas and kept plugging away.

Their resilience was rewarded with around 10 minutes to go, following a further mix up within the City ranks and Toyeed Mustapha was presented with the opportunity to run onto the ball and dispatch it past the reaches of youth keeper, Elliot Barker, giving him no chance.

Despite a few more chances, mainly for City to grab a third equaliser, it was not to be and the match finally ended with a 3-2 victory for the students.

Overall Parkinson will no doubt be pleased with the work out that UCD have his team, but will certainly be less happy with the mix ups that self inflicted at least two of the goals conceded, and occurred in both of the line ups fielded, rather than the actual result itself.

Hopefully however, this can be addressed, and it will also be useful to have tested out a different starting formation. The goal scoring of Clarkson will be a good boost to his confidence heading into the season, Wright also gave a decent account of himself in midfield and Taylor got some game time.

The next fixture sees a return to Dublin to face Shelbourne of the SSE Airtricity League First Division; and whilst on paper this should represent an easier task against lower league opposition, it should allow a further shuffle of the pack and further assessments of both trial and fringe players – as the start of the season beckons.

City: McLaughlin (Barker 63), Arnold (Darby 63), McArdle (Taylor 45), Heaton (King 76), Sheehan (Davies 63), De Vita (Liddle 63), Wright, Kennedy (Dolan 63), Balanta (Knott 63), Yeates (Clarke 63), Clarkson (Hanson 63)

10561727_10203208483071664_1654757647377558451_n

Pre-season gets more serious in Ireland

14 Jul
Picture by Kieran Wilkinson

Picture by Kieran Wilkinson

UCD AFC vs Bradford City preview

@UCD Bowl on Tuesday 15 July, 2014 

By Jason McKeown

Bradford City’s annual trip to Ireland occurs with the squad for the 2014/15 season largely formed, and with only a few obvious gaps left to fill.

As Saturday’s 3-0 friendly romp over Guiseley evidenced, Phil Parkinson has plenty of strength in most areas of the team. There are several options and combinations for the centre of the park, up front and across the back four that will ensure keen competition for places. Although the appearance of defender and striker trialists at Nethermoor suggests Parkinson is considering adding to these areas, his main focus will surely be on the positions where he is severely lacking.

Principally that is someone to play in-between the sticks for the Bantams. As it stands, there is no contracted goalkeeper at the club. With less than a month before the big kick off, that reality prompts some apprehension – given it is such a key element of the team.

The folly of placing goalkeeper recruitment at the bottom of the priority list can be observed in Stuart McCall’s final season in charge, where he had infamously budgeted just £600 a week in wages to tempt a competent keeper. Cue problems. (And though the player eventually brought in that summer, Simon Eastwood, promoted huge derision over his performances at City, it’s worth noting that he might be back at Valley Parade next week as Blackburn Rovers’ keeper.)

Parkinson will evidently be weighing more importance on filling the position than as to leave barely any of his reduced budget left over to sign the two goalkeepers needed, but he’s probably not going to splash out the cash on the number two keeper at least. Last season, with the larger budget, Parkinson relied upon loan keepers to sit on the bench for half a season as insurance for a Jon McLaughlin injury. There may have been some financial commitment involved in borrowing Connor Ripley and Aaron Jameson, but it would barely have troubled the salary cap. With austerity the order of the summer, it’s hard to imagine Parkinson dramatically altering that stance.

Which makes the situation with McLaughlin all the more curious. City’s longest serving player was offered a contract to remain at the club, but for one reason or another it wasn’t signed. Clearly the club wanted him to stay when originally offering him that deal, but something stopped the Scot from agreeing to it. Without any public comment from the player, speculation reigns as to why he didn’t take the offer. Was he holding out for more money? Would he have preferred a longer deal? Had he been told that he might not be number one next season and was therefore unhappy? Was he aware of other clubs showing an interest in his services?

For the time being, McLaughlin trains with the club, presumably unpaid. If he was attracting interest from other clubs, what has stopped them from signing him, or why isn’t he at least appearing on trial for them? For these reasons, you can only speculate that offers from elsewhere have not being forthcoming, or at least any previous interest shown towards him has faded, should the keeper have been holding out for this. McLaughlin may have appeared on other clubs’ list of targets, but if other names were ahead of him on those lists, and if the club in question succeeded in signing them, there would be no need to follow up any initial interest shown towards Jon.

Such a scenario would appear to have occurred with James Meredith. In May the Aussie was quoted in Four-Four-Two as saying that although City would offer him a new contract, there was interest elsewhere that he would also look at. “I’m obviously assessing my options…Before I got injured there was a lot of interest from Championship clubs, that interest has died down a bit but there’s still a bit there.” It would appear that, as Meredith stalled over signing the deal on the table, City opted to sign Alan Sheehan instead (and on the day Sheehan signed, Sky Sports revealed Meredith had rejected his original contract offer). However, Meredith ultimately came back and agreed a revised one-year deal.

If there was interest in Meredith, it never materialised or wasn’t sufficiently tempting enough to better playing for Bradford City. Yet had Meredith originally signed the deal offered to him, would Parkinson have signed Alan Sheehan? The net result is that City now have two excellent left backs for League One level, and Sheehan – who was probably given certain assurances when he signed – is set to be first choice. By seemingly stalling, Meredith is now left with a lot of work to do earning a place in the team and winning over a doubting public. He must now have regrets.

A year ago I was speaking to the late former City Head of Development, Archie Christie, who was working for Harry Redknapp at QPR and quizzed me about Meredith. Unknowingly, I was providing him a reference about Meredith (I’m sure he also asked better qualified people than me) as he was on QPR’s lengthy list of targets for that summer. Again, nothing materialised and – to the best of my knowledge – City never received a transfer bid from Rangers. But it underlines the point that, as clubs draw up their wanted lists every close season, appearing halfway down one is no guarantee it will lead to something.

If there was still a firm contract offer on the table for McLaughlin to be Bradford City’s number one next season, he would surely sign it. He would not be training with the club, risking injury by playing in friendlies unpaid, and travelling over to Ireland, if he wanted to leave and if there was a realistic possibility of him doing so.

He has being accused of messing around the club and that’s probably true (though he has every right to secure the best situation for his career, as are you and I in our careers), but it appears that he is the loser of the situation. Simon Parker has stated the player “is still no nearer to finding out if he will be part of the club’s plans for the new season”, revealing that the balance of power has shifted. McLaughlin must now wait to see if the club still wants him, when at the beginning of June they had offered him a deal that he chose not to take.

The two games in Ireland begin with against the University College Dublin AFC (UCD AFC) Tuesday evening, at the wonderfully named UCD Bowl (can a 1,500 capacity stadium really be called a Bowl?) UCD play in the League of Ireland Premier Division (currently sitting second bottom, midway through their season) and will offer a useful workout.

Having initially being ruled out of the start of the season, central defender Matt Taylor is expected to experience some action over the two-game tour and may be fit enough to appear from the bench in the second half on Tuesday. On paper, Taylor still looks an excellent acquisition and, if he can sort his fitness issues, will add competition at the back.

Aaron Mclean, who picked up a minor knock in pre-season training, is also expected to figure at some stage of the tour and will want to hit the ground running. Last season his partnership with James Hanson saw very mixed success, and these games should be the perfect opportunity for the pair to build up a stronger understanding for when the serious stuff begins. In what is a big season for Oli McBurnie, he can’t afford to miss opportunities to impress in pre-season friendlies and will hope to be fit enough to figure on Tuesday.

Beyond Angelo Balanta and Nick Arnold, who have travelled to Ireland, it is unclear if any of the trialists from Saturday will be offered another opportunity to impress, and indeed there may be new trial players brought in for a go. Beyond that, Parkinson has stated his intention to give half of his squad 60 minutes on Tuesday and the other a full hour on Saturday, as fitness levels are pushed harder.

This is the third year in a row that Parkinson has taken the team to Ireland and it appears to work well in developing team spirit. Those supporters who have been on previous trips – after they stop talking about how brilliant the nightlife is – have always commented on an enjoyable atmosphere of openness around the matches, with players and management mixing freely with supporters.

And though some of the new signings still remain unfamiliar to us, there’s a good opportunity to meet and have your picture taken with people who might in future become City heroes. Two of my friends went to Ireland in 2012/13, and approached Ritchie Jones in the club house, desperate to have their photo taken together with the midfielder. Looking around for someone to take the picture they spotted an unassuming bloke nearby, asked if he would mind doing the honours and handed him their camera. Snap, photo completed. “Thanks very much” they said to the bloke, before walking back to the bar. “Who was that bloke?” one of them asked. “Erm (long pause) – oh he’s called Stephen Darby.”

The diamond lights up Bradford City’s opening friendly victory

12 Jul

celebration

Guiseley 0

Bradford City 3

Clarkson 12+43, Dolan 26

Saturday 12 July, 2014

Written by Jason McKeown (images by Kieran Wilkinson)

This was a very early statement of intent from Phil Parkinson. In the midst of a growing clamour to change the playing style for next season, at Nethermoor the Bradford City manager trialled a diamond 4-4-2 formation that will please the purists. A slow but considered passing style was the result of the new approach; with the tempo deliberately quickened in the final third. This was an evolution to the way the Bantams ended last season – and a huge contrast to the high tempo strategy of a year ago.

Guiseley were game opponents but limited in their resistance, making it difficult to draw any conclusions beyond guarded encouragement about the effectiveness of this new approach. But it has quickly become apparent that Parkinson already possesses the types of players that will make this formation work – in fact, you could argue he has an embarrassment of riches in his available options.

Take the holding midfield role that is so pivotal to the diamond’s success. Matty Dolan and Gary Liddle were awarded 45 minutes each in this position and both excelled. The better days of Dolan’s loan spell at Valley Parade last season came when he was instructed to protect the back four, at Leyton Orient and Rotherham. And during the first half today, the young midfielder was hugely influential in either winning the ball or receiving it from the defence, and then setting up attacks. Liddle is more of a box-to-box midfielder than Dolan and might struggle to maintain the same positional discipline, but he is an excellent tackler and on first impressions looks an inspired signing.

The first half City team featured Jason Kennedy and youngster Sam Wright as the two widemen of the diamond, and both did well. Kennedy looked as though he had finally found his relevance in a Bradford City shirt and set up two of his side’s three first-half goals. Wright lacks stature but was comfortable on the ball, catching the eye with some probing passes.

Trialist Angelo Balenta – released by QPR during the summer – was asked to play the attacking midfield/deep lying striker role and impressed. Having made his name as a winger, it was surprising to see the Columbian playing in the hole; but much of what was good about City during the first 45 minutes involved him. Balenta was undoubtedly the most notable trialist of the six players who were awarded an opportunity.

baltanta

The first half diamond four helped the Bantams to quickly race into an unassailable lead. First Lewis Clarkson clinically half-volleyed a Kennedy cross home from close range, before Matty Dolan arrowed a free kick around the wall and into the bottom corner. Clarkson made it 3-0 following another Kennedy knock-down. Balenta’s crossfield ball into Kennedy’s path, during the build-up, was arguably the pass of the match.

It was a good afternoon for the young striker Clarkson, who was unable to make any first team impact last season due to a serious injury. Clarkson should have added a couple more goals, however, after spurning two excellent one-on-one opportunities either side of his opener. His movement and off-the-ball running was noteworthy, and he linked up well with the ever-fantastic James Hanson. It will be interesting to see if Clarkson can make an impact over the coming season.

After 11 changes were made at the interval, the revised diamond four was made up of Liddle in front of the back four, Billy Knott in the hole, and Mark Yeates and Rafa De Vita as wide players. It quickly became apparent why the signing of Knott is considered such a coup, as the former Sunderland man made a strong first impression.

Knott’s intelligence and confidence were the most striking, as he attempted all manner of tricks and clever passing that easily out-witted Guiseley. His best moment was a mesmerising dribble from deep and audacious chip attempt that the home keeper scrambled back to tip over the bar. In this formation, Knott should be a huge hit this season. That said, on this evidence there are question marks about how well he would fit in with a more conventional 4-4-2, similar to the questions that Yeates was unable to answer last season.

sheehan

The other two permanent signings making their debuts – Alan Sheehan and Billy Clarke – also performed well. Sheehan is expected to begin the season in the side ahead of James Meredith, and brings a similar attack-minded style of play. Clarke played up front alongside trialist Callum Ball, yet most of his best work came outside the box as he dropped deep or out wide. This is why Parkinson seemingly has an embarrassment of riches to make a diamond formation work – even if Balanta doesn’t sign, Clarke looks ideally suited to compete with Knott to play in the ‘hole’ position.

Although there were no further goals in the second half, there were numerous opportunities to have at least matched City previous two pre-season visits to Guiseley, where they rattled in four goals. Clarke was played clean through on goal by De Vita, but saw his low shot scrambled off the line by a defender. Sheehan cut inside and fired a low effort that flew just past the post. After excellent work out wide, Clarke delivered a superb cross to Ball; but the former Derby striker could only head the ball onto the crossbar when he should have scored.

Ball became a second half talking point, but not in a good way. He has a sizeable frame, but lacks any real presence. There was very little pace on display, and very few effective touches. When late on he chased a 50-50 ball but couldn’t keep up with the defender, Ball could only resort to lamely grabbing their shirt. Sadly for his career, its next chapter will not be written at Valley Parade.

Of the other trialists, goalkeer Ben Alnwick (ex-Sunderland and Tottenham) didn’t have enough to do to form a judgement, whilst defenders Richard Bryan (ex-Aston Villa) and Nick Arnold (ex-Reading) looked reasonable. De Vita was nowhere near matching the impact he made in this fixture a year ago; but the door will surely remain open for him for the moment, and he will be on the plane to Ireland. Certainly De Vita’s best hope is that Parkinson was satisfied enough with the diamond formation to continue its development over pre-season.

Although two wingers are said to still be on the shopping list (loanees from Premier League or Championship clubs), these players are unlikely to arrive until just before the start of the season. In the meantime, Parkinson is building a way of winning matches without a reliance on touchline-hogging wide players. It is certainly different to before, but the greater time that the ball spent on the floor today would suggest it is an approach that can satisfy his public’s expectations.

City – first half: Alnwick, Darby, Bryan, Davies, Meredith, Dolan, Kennedy, Wright, Clarkson, Hanson

City – second half: McLaughlin, Arnold, McArdle, Heaton, Sheehan, Liddle, De Vita, Yeates, Knott, Clarke, Ball

benchdavies

kennedy

Pre-season preview part two: Back to Guiseley

11 Jul

NV2G9609

Guiseley vs Bradford City preview

@Nethermoor on Saturday 12 July, 2014

By Jason McKeown

Pre-season begins and ends against managers with Bradford City connections; as first Mark Bower’s Guiesley welcome the Bantams tomorrow, and Colin Cooper’s Hartlepool travel to Valley Parade a week before the season starts. In total there will be six friendlies played in the space of three weeks, all aimed at ensuring the team hit the ground running.

Cooper’s time at Valley Parade was brief. He was brought in by Peter Jackson to assist in 2010/11’s troubling relegation battle, and took caretaker charge of two matches – both won – following Jackson’s shock departure early into the following season. Yet from such a short time period, Cooper left behind quite a legacy which has being widely cited as a key factor behind the club’s success over the past two seasons: Nick Allamby.

Having known fitness coach Allamby during his time at Middlesbrough, Cooper invited him to assist with Jackson’s 2011/12 pre-season and his knowledge and expertise have really taken the club forwards in how it prepares for the season. Upon replacing Jackson and Cooper, Phil Parkinson instantly recognised the value of Allamby’s work and retained his services. When the manager’s contract situation rumbled on during the second half of the 2012/13 season, one of the main reasons for the delay was Parkinson’s insistence that Allamby and assistant manager Steve Parkin had their own futures sorted at exactly the same time. The trio sat down together to sign three-year deals.

 The benefits of Allamby should be obvious to even the biggest sceptic. 2012/13’s 64-game marathon is the stuff of legend and it is to Allamby’s credit that the team looked as fresh as they were the previous August during their play off final demolition of Northampton. Simon Parker recently provided a superb stat about City being League One’s fourth-best second half team of last season, and we saw it with our own eyes. Recall, for example, the recovery from 2-0 down at Sheffield United in January when the team had looked beaten. What could easily have developed into a 5-0 hammering was turned around in the second half as City claimed a useful point. Credit to Gary Jones and co for dogged determination, but equally such comebacks were the result of the scientific fitness approach that Allamby has instilled.

It has helped to give pre-season a more serious edge to the days of old, and the friendlies – particularly the week-long stay in Ireland – are all part of a tried and proven plan. We have come a long way from going to Guiseley under Stuart McCall, with the manager, his assistant Wayne Jacobs and Mark Lawn’s son getting a run out. Allamby is a key figure all year round, none more so during pre-season where City do everything on their terms without a fixture list dictating the schedule. Nick told Width of a Post’s Nick Beanland last summer, “I try to give them ‘football intensity’ so we get them straight into playing football – there’s none of the old fashioned stuff where you’ll just run for two weeks before you get to see the football.” As the previous two seasons have proved, the work taking place now will stand this group of players in good stead for the battles ahead.

Beyond that, pre-season can from the outside appear fairly chaotic. The gaps waiting to be filled by new signings, the early judgements to form on new players, the uncertainty over who will be in the manager’s first choice XI when the season begins, the youngsters given outings, the trialists, the endless substitutions. Games, especially early doors, lack rhythm and tempo. Goals are applauded rather than cheered. Inevitably, someone will get injured and it often sets back their entire season.

Tomorrow will be the opportunity to take a first look at the new arrivals, with Billy Knott, Alan Sheehan, Gary Liddle and Billy Clarke expected to make their first outings in claret and amber. Matty Dolan is another new signing, but a player we are familiar with following his low-key loan spell last season. By 5pm there will probably be much talk about names that, at this moment, we have never heard of – the joy of trialists.

Other players who figure will have a point to prove and will aim to make the most of the fresh start. Jason Kennedy and Mark Yeates have a lot of people to win over and will want to impress – whether it be to figure more in Parkinson’s plans or to attract interest from other clubs. We’re looking for signs of a sharper and more settled Aaron Mclean up front, and that Rafa De Vita – who made a big impact on trial in this fixture last summer – is worth awarding another contract to.

The focus will also be on the man between the sticks. Jon McLaughlin continues to train with the club but has still yet to agree a new contract. Is he hoping to secure a move elsewhere or simply unhappy with the terms offered by Parkinson? His presence – or lack of – at Nethermoor tomorrow will offer some indication. Either way, expect a trialist of some sort to figure for 45 minutes at least.

Beyond that, it will be great to re-acquaint with the familiar faces of those who have done the business for City over the past two years and who remain a part of Parkinson’s plans. Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, James Meredith and James Hanson – all know the Guiseley turf well from previous pre-seasons, and the journey ahead. As the warm up to a campaign full of unknowns begins, it is comforting to know that we have a core group of players who have consistently proven they can be relied upon.

For Guiseley – who over recent years have become a home for discarded Bantams players – there will be a few blasts from the past. Kyle Harrison and Danny Ellis were once in City’s youth ranks. Ben Parker spent the 2006/07 on loan at Valley Parade from Leeds. Danny Forrest made an explosive impact 11 years ago, scoring on his City debut. Andy Holdsworth was on trial at City under McCall in 2009 but was snapped up by Oldham before City could act. It will also be a special day for Bower, as he takes charge of a team against the club that he grew up supporting and represented for over 10 years. Last season, Guiseley were unfortunate to once again lose in the play offs.

At this stage of pre-season, Guiseley offer the ideal first test. Not least due to Nethermoor’s close proximity to Leeds-Bradford airport – last year the team flew straight to Ireland after the match.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,643 other followers