Tag Archives: Andrew Davies

Carl McHugh will always be loved at Bradford City

16 Jun

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By Jason McKeown

Carl McHugh’s two years at Valley Parade has seen the young defender become hugely popular amongst Bradford City supporters – and it is due to that affection that most of us will conclude that his free transfer move to Plymouth Argyle is ultimately for the best.

McHugh’s impressive development needs to be continued. But at City – and thanks to the colossal presence of Andrew Davies – his career is in danger of stalling. At 21-years-old and with so much potential, McHugh needs to be playing first team football week in week out. Stepping down a division to an ambitious Argyle outfit will offer him that opportunity.

One step back, but one that is necessary to ultimately move many steps forward.

For McHugh has ably demonstrated his vast potential, and should be destined for a long and successful professional career. On his day he would not look out of place in the Championship. That is something for him to ultimately aspire to over the next few years. At Plymouth he can continue to learn his trade. Make mistakes and improve. Most of all, he can build his confidence further.

He leaves Valley Parade having contributed some wonderful memories. Signed from Reading during that fruitful 2012 summer recruitment drive, the then 19-year-old was seen very much as a squad player who would only feature in the cups. My first viewing of him was at Hartlepool in the JPT, in his less comfortable position of left back. Decent, steady, but nothing spectacular.

Then, on the eve of the Wigan game during the League Cup adventure, Phil Parkinson was robbed of his two centre halves to injury and we all expected a weakened back line to be no match for the Premier League team’s might. Yet McHugh – and Rory McArdle – were sensational on that memorable October night at the DW. For such a young performer, it was some coming of age.

He was then a prominent figure in the games against Arsenal and Aston Villa home and away. That first leg semi final against Villa included that stunning third goal past his boyhood hero Shay Given. How we celebrated that moment. Who could also forget this image?

McHugh started the Wembley final against Swansea, but then his progress slowed with Davies’ return to fitness. Whilst McHugh was such a star performer when defending against Premier League teams who kept the ball on the ground, reading the game superbly, he struggled at times with the physical nature of League Two. Still, it was some first season for the youngster.

2013/14 must have proven more frustrating for McHugh. Starting on the sidelines once more, this time when the chance came to replace a once-again-injured-Davies he was overlooked. Matthew Bates blocked his route to the team, and it was only after James Meredith suffered an injury and there was no left back available that opportunities for him came about. McHugh gave his all at left back, but struggled whenever up against a pacy winger. A positional switching of Bates for McHugh helped him, but soon after Davies was back.

That was always the problem for the left-sided centre back – his direct competition happened to be the best defender at the club. Parkinson tried them both together in the home game against Crewe, Davies moved to right-sided centre back. The three goals conceded underlined how badly it worked. It was either Davies or McHugh. Not and.

Yet there was one last great McHugh moment to enjoy. Port Vale home in February, City had won just one in 21 and were under mounting pressure. McHugh, playing at left back and brave as ever, headed home a last minute winner to save this season. Just like Aston Villa home 13 months prior, what celebrations. He deserved that.

With Davies contracted for another year and seemingly content with life at City, the way forward is blocked for McHugh. A hugely promising career will go backwards if he stays around another 12 months, waiting for Davies’ next injury.

It is a huge shame that McHugh must leave, as he could have been a mainstay at City for many years in other circumstances. But it in his best interests to move on right now; and for that we let him go with sadness but thanks. We will watch his career with interest, always rooting for him.

McHugh has not been the most celebrated figures of the last two seasons, but he was certainly one of the most widely loved.

McArdle prepares to give his best years to Bradford City

19 May

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By Jason McKeown

Accepted wisdom at the top end of football is that whilst squad rotation is fine for attacking positions, defensive solidity is built upon routine and familiarity. And so it is that Phil Parkinson has opted to stick with his tried and trusted when it comes to his centre backs for next season, after agreeing a deal to keep Rory McArdle at the heart of Bradford City’s defence alongside Andrew Davies.

Eyebrows have been raised at the length of the new contract offered to and signed by McArdle: the three-year deal will keep him at Valley Parade until 2017. Over that same time period, the Bantams will expect to be playing in the Championship, and therefore the contract says much about Parkinson’s faith in McArdle that he can be a part of that. After a season where the number 23’s performances have not always convinced, there are some doubts about whether the Northern Ireland international is capable of thriving at a higher level – but personally I really like what this contract appears to represent.

For if Bradford City are going to progress up the divisions in a sustainable manner, they need concrete foundations to get them there. Year after year of rip things up and start again has not served Parkinson’s predecessors well, and it is right that when looking for improvements it should be sought within the building rather than solely looking elsewhere for the answers.

Rory McArdle has only recently turned 27. By the time his three-year deal expires, he will have only just become 30-years-old. Again, accepted wisdom with footballers is that the age of 26-30 are the peak years of their ability. For McArdle, this is not just an extended run of employment, this is his career contract. He is willing and ready to give his best years to the Bantams, and given he has probably not yet reached his own peak there is no reason for the player and club to stall in League One mid-table.

More importantly his partnership with Davies gives the club a level of defensive stability not seen since the days of David Weatherall and Mark Bower. We know where we are with the pair. We know what they can do and where they can improve – and, importantly, they know each other’s way of playing inside out. This is a partnership that has developed into something very special. They are extremely dependable together and ended the season in fantastic form – McArdle especially was outstanding, post-Oldham.

Of course, there is a but in all of this – the fitness of Davies. Unquestionably one of the finest centre backs in League One and playing below his true level, one of the main reasons why Davies is here and not in the Championship is because of his unfortunate habit of regularly picking up injuries. And when Davies is on the sidelines, McArdle has struggled. It is not unfair to assume that a period of dealing without Davies will reoccur at some point in future, and fixing the defensive leaks that sprang up without him last season will be the main centre back concern for Parkinson.

For when they are both on the field, there are no issues. The pair played together 26 times last season, during which City lost only six times and kept 12 clean sheets. Without Davies, City won just one match and kept only one clean sheet. That said, in 2012/13 the Bantams coped much better when Davies missed four months of the campaign, demonstrating it is possible to cope without him.

Davies is clearly a vital player to City, but McArdle is his perfect partner. Whilst Davies’ strengths lie in attacking balls into the area and being the first line of defence, McArdle is perfect playing behind him and stopping anything that gets through. Where McArdle has struggled is when asked to take the leader role in Davies’ absence, and if Parkinson can recruit another centre back or persuade Carl McHugh to settle for a third straight year of being Davies’ understudy, there would be no real problems. Matthew Bates was not as poor as some made out, but was no back four leader either. Matt Taylor remains a mystery up to this point.

Nevertheless, the summer maintenance needed at the back is low if Parkinson can persuade those out of contract, who he wants to keep, to follow McArdle’s lead. People might question whether individuals are good enough, but the seventh-best defensive record in the division – whilst missing Davies and James Meredith for large chunks of the campaign – is impressive.

This is a defence where the sum is proving greater than the individual parts. Parkinson would be foolish to dismantle it when the relative failings of the second half of last season clearly lay at the other end. McArdle and co are good enough to provide the platform for a promotion push, and Rory at least is going to be a key man in the club’s efforts to make that happen over the next three years.

The 2013/14 Width of a Post Player of the Season

5 May

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By Jason McKeown

The Width of a Post writing team were asked to vote for their top five Bradford City players of the 2013/14 campaign. Here is the collective result.

In 5th place…Andrew Davies

Were it not for all those injuries (or, in his first season, numerous suspensions) Andrew Davies would surely have come very close to winning the club’s player of the season by now. When fit, Davies is a rock at the heart of the back four. Leading by example and also inspiring greater performances out of those around him (especially his regular central defensive partner, Rory McArdle).SAM_0512

The 28 appearances Davies made in the league is a season-best since he signed on loan from Stoke in September 2011. It was no coincidence that the 29-year-old was ever present during the club’s outstanding start to the season, and that form fell away after he unfortunately hobbled off injured at Walsall in October.

He didn’t figure again until January – in-between, City won just one game – and his return to fitness eventually helped to turn around the club’s drifting campaign.

Davies wasn’t flawless during the final third of the season, but he was vital in keeping the relegation wolves at bay. The suspicion that he is a Championship standard defender, playing below his natural level, remains. Davies is one of the club’s most important players and is someone who can ultimately take us to the Championship. Just please, somehow, stay fit next campaign, Davo.

In 4th place…Nahki Wells

He flew out of the starting blocks, and occasionally it appeared as though he was carrying the team on his own shoulders. Nahki Wells continued where he left off at the end of 2012/13 to score a glut of early season goals, and he remained impressive despite injury disrupting his campaign. There were numerous memorable moments along the way, and his superb hat trick against Coventry in November was arguably his high water mark.

Alas, City were only to see Wells for half a season. The January transfer window crept into view, Wells’ performances dipped and he was soon completing his desired move to a higher level with Huddersfield. The bitterness many supporters felt over the way he departed remains raw, and for some he will never be viewed in quite the same light again. Yet the fact that his 15 goals before leaving were enough for him to remain the club’s top scorer demonstrated just how vital his efforts before Christmas proved.

Wells was a joy to watch during the first half of the season; and his goals went a long way towards ensuring the Bantams are playing League One football next year.

Picture by Claire Epton

Picture by Claire Epton

In 3rd place…Gary Jones

Last season’s Width of a Post player of the season may not have hit the same heights, but his influence on the team has remained throughout the campaign, and he can take a lot of satisfaction for his performances. In particular, his displays since mid-January caught the eye. No one in the City team could have lifted everyone around him in the way the skipper managed at Sheffield United, when 2-0 down, in January. And what about that Crewe game, with his two important goals? Such moments helped to reverse a worrying slump in form, and Jones deserves as much credit as anyone for turning the season around.

In total, the 36-year-old played 46 times for City in 2013/14. There are many in the crowd desperate to pension him off and who continue clichéd criticisms that his “legs have gone”, but Jones has remained the heartbeat of the team, and has kept his place in it on merit. Some people just don’t see how his influence stretches beyond his own performances, and what a difference he truly makes.

It remains to be seen if this is the end for Jones; but whatever the future holds he can look back with huge pride on two seasons of great personal success at Valley Parade. Magical, in fact.

Image by Alex Dodd

Image by Alex Dodd

In 2nd place…James Hanson

It doesn’t seem that long ago that City were struggling near the foot of League Two and elements of the crowd were deriding James Hanson for supposedly not being good enough for professional football. Where are these people now? These days, Valley Parade has largely accepted just what an excellent player Hanson is, and the qualities he brings to the team.SAM_2321reduced

Hanson has taken the step up a division in his stride. At no stage has he looked out of place, and his performances have been consistently excellent. The partnership with Wells continued to pay dividends during the first half of the campaign, but to Hanson’s great credit he has not suffered from the mid-season loss of his sidekick. In fact, he has seemingly relished the extra responsibility and fitted in well with the tweak in playing style.

Without a striker like Wells playing on the shoulder of the last man, Hanson has become the side’s most forward-positioned player. I really hope that, next season, Parkinson builds a team with a midfield more capable of maximising from his knock downs and hold up play.

Without late season back problems, Hanson would probably have bettered Wells’ exploits. But 12 goals from 37 appearances (1 in 3) is still an excellent return for a first season in a higher division. This guy is capable of playing in the Championship, and hopefully the signing of a contract extension last October means that he will one day be doing so for Bradford City.

And the winner is…Stephen Darby

In many ways, the less-celebrated, low-key achievements of Stephen Darby sum up the club’s progress this season. It hasn’t been a year to shout from the rooftops, but quietly and unassumingly there has been credible success. Darby was consistently outstanding all season long. He has never let anyone down or given any cause for concern. Week in week out, the 25-year-old has been solid, reliable and enjoyable to watch.

He has come a long way from those early doubts about his height and stature, when he first joined the club in 2012. From having to settle for a place on the bench, behind a centre back shunted to right back. Last season, Darby was voted the players’ player of the year and he will sweep up on all the honours going this time around. He is hugely popular with supporters, and the only frustration has stemmed from the lack of recognition that his no-nonsense efforts have merited.

There are already rumours circling that Darby is attracting Championship interest, and that we have seen the last of him. Like Wells, he is ready to play at a higher level than this and there can be no hard feelings if he decides to further his career away from Valley Parade. Although let’s hope he is willing to stay at a club that he seems to love. He could be next season’s captain.

In a season of ups and downs, Darby has consistently kept the bar high. And for that, he was the runaway winner of the Width of a Post vote.

Congratulations Stephen Darby, baby.

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Special mention to Kyel Reid who also received numerous votes and only narrowly missed out on a top five finish. In total, 11 players received a top five vote.  

The 2013/14 Width of a Post Player of the Season was voted for by Gareth Walker, David Lawrence, Mike Holdsworth, Katie Whyatt, Omar Eliwi, Mark Danylczuk, Luke Lockwood, Jason McKeown, Andrew Baxter, Mark Scully, Ian Hemmens, Phil Abbott, Nick Beanland, Tim Roche, Mahesh Johal, Damien Wilkinson, Alex Scott and Matt Birch.  

The 2012/13 Width of Post Player of the Season

The 2011/12 Width of a Post Player of the Season

 

David Baldwin on the 2013/14 season: part one

28 Apr

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By Jason McKeown

David Baldwin has a rather wonderful office during the week. He lives in Box number five of Valley Parade, adorned by photos of former claret and amber heroes and with a glorious view of the pitch out of the window. The Bradford City Chief Executive kindly found time in his busy schedule to speak with Width of a Post for an hour, to reflect on a challenging season for the club during which the stated objective of League One survival has been achieved.

This is the seventh season that David has been working at Valley Parade, a period which has coincided with some very dark times for the club. He is keen that people have perspective about the steps forward taken since, when judging Bradford City’s 2013/14 season performance. “Let’s focus on those positives that have been achieved, but rest assured the people in the football club won’t rest on their laurels and we continue to look at what we can do to drive the club forward,” he recently wrote in the matchday programme.

With that in mind, Width of a Post quizzed David on the previous 12 months and what the future holds for the club.

WOAP: What have you made of Bradford City’s first season back in League One?

The season was all about consolidation and maintaining our League One status. The most important thing is that we have achieved that and are continuing to take forward steps.

Things change and you have to adapt. And the adapting for us in the league this season was that people worked out what we are about. It is also a much better division. It is extremely easy to fall out of, and it’s also extremely hard to get out of the other end. So being somewhere in the middle, and being in a comfortable position, is a nice thing.

Avoiding relegation has been in our hands. We were always in a position where we could ensure our own safety, and that has to be a positive. People judge the season negatively against the great start we made in the first 10 games. But then you have to reflect on what has happened since that October highpoint. We lost Andrew Davies through a long-term injury. We lost James Meredith through a long-term injury. We lost Nahki Wells through an injury and then, upon returning, we went into the transfer element of the season. We then lost Kyel Reid to a long-term injury. We have also had to do without James Hanson for a period.

I would say to any fan out there: if you lose five of those players from your team, how much of an impact is that going to have on your ability to perform? These are all high-impact players. And at any one time, there have been at least three of them out of the team.

New players come in and they need time to gel. So there was then this morphing period in January and February. There was also the exact same morphing period two years ago, when we were struggling near the bottom of League Two – and look what happened the following season!

WOAP: Going back to last summer, can you talk us through the player recruitment and retention strategy? There’s a feeling from many fans that the recruitment side proved unsuccessful…

The strategy last summer was two-fold. First and foremost, we put faith in the players who got us into League One. And I don’t think that anyone could argue that point. Retrospectively, you might question if we did the wrong thing showing loyalty to these players. But no one could stand up and say that, last summer, they thought the 2012/13 team didn’t deserve that right to demonstrate they were capable of playing at a higher level. It’s very easy to be wise after the event, nine months later.

As the season progressed there was an effect to that establishment of players by virtue of the injuries you had with James Meredith, Andrew Davies and the like, plus Nahki being sold. These events will have an impact on your season.

In terms of new players, if you look at the situation on paper, what we signed last summer were four players. One player had been part of a promotion-winning team from League Two to League One with Swindon. One player had been part a promotion-winning team from League Two to League One with Exeter, and then part of a promotion-winning team from League One to the Championship with Charlton. One player had been promoted from League Two to League One with Rochdale. And the fourth player had played 32 games in the Championship and being part of a play off final match just five weeks before we signed him. So in terms of their pedigree of the new signings and what you anticipate they can bring to the table in terms of ‘have they achieved it at this level?’ The answer on paper was yes.

But these are human beings we are talking about. And there are all sorts of permutations for why things do and don’t work. Could we have seen a better return on the incoming signings? Probably. Are there mitigating circumstances in that? Probably. Were they questionable signings at the very beginning in terms of their historic pedigree? Not to any fan that I spoke to.

What you had to do was bring in players who you felt would complement the squad. But at the same time they had to break into the team. And I think that was the thing that happened during the early days. It took a long time for them to break into the team. But more importantly, probably by the time there were opportunities there was an element of being disaffected.

Finally to say on these players, three of the four have contracts for next season. Two of them have carried injury issues throughout this season. And who knows what a full pre-season will bring to the table with those players? With that in mind, we will see how they do. I think everyone should be given a fresh opportunity next season. When you turn that page over at the end of the season, they are all starting with a blank canvas.

WOAP: The season got off to a flyer but then October saw the beginnings of a bad run. What was the reaction, internally, to these difficulties?

It was frustrating for everybody. But the most important thing is you don’t hit the panic button. And if I was to read some of the fans’ websites, some people hit those panic buttons very early.

What you need in situations and scenarios when things aren’t going how you want them to is calm heads – who can think methodically about things, and put a corrective action plan into place.

The reality is that the actions that were taken in January to freshen up the squad is a typical, stand-back-and-don’t-panic approach. And if you take the results as they have been from mid-February through to the end of the season, barring a little bit of inconsistency, the return of points has been much better than the middle block.

So that is a perfect scenario of not hitting the panic button. It’s actually saying ‘we are not happy about this, we need to do something about it’. It was about looking at the reasons behind results and then determining what we can do to correct it. We put an action plan in place to correct those shortfalls.

WOAP: The Nahki Wells situation increasingly dominated the conversation around the club approaching the turn of the year. Was there a moment where, as a club, you realised there was no choice but to sell him?

We offered Nahki the opportunity to name his price to stay; and his agent told us quite categorically that it didn’t matter what we were going to offer, he was not going to sign an extended contract.

We knew the ramifications of letting his contract run from January to July – which was quite substantial – so what was then important was to consider what action to take and when to take it. The first thing was to get the saga settled, early on, so we had the whole of the transfer window to then reconcile what our alternative plan would be. We were working on a number of permutations of that.

There were other players where fees had been accepted, but ultimately that player choose not to come to us. For example, our offer for Dicko at Wigan was accepted. At one point, Nahki was potentially moving to Wolves. So as a result of that, they probably wouldn’t have gone for Dicko. It was all a bit of a domino effect, as Nahki going to Huddersfield meant Wolves were still in the market for a player. And just as Nahki made the choice to go to Huddersfield, Dicko made the choice to go to Wolves. So we had to act accordingly.

We were covering a few bases. And that’s a constant thing when you are moving players in and out. You have to have more than one plan in place. The reality is you don’t want to wait until the end of the month and have the transfer window close on you.

WOAP: January was a busy month with loanees coming in and late difficulties with Matty Dolan…

Matty was to be signed as a permanent player on an 18-month contract. As it was, the transfer deadline passed without the deal confirmed. The deadline came and went, and the activation of that paperwork required Middlesbrough to add their signature, and they were dealing with a number of other transactions at the same time.

The two clubs have instead entered into an agreement that we will take him on loan and then we will sign him at the end of the season.

In effect, as a player Matty is one of our own. It has hindered us because of the impact it has had on the number of loan signings you can include in the matchday squad. Unfortunately, there was no round it.

I was up until 1am the evening on transfer deadline day, trying to get the deal over the line. I was actually at Darren Moore’s house, having a Chinese with Darren and Wayne Jacobs! It was Wayne’s birthday weekend and he was coming as my guest to the Wolves game (the day after).

Thankfully they are two football legends who completely understood, because I didn’t spend any social time with them. I used Darren Moore’s office and I used Darren Moore’s fax machine. I even had him running across to his neighbour’s fax machine because we couldn’t get a document through in time! It would have made for a fantastic sitcom! We did everything our end, but couldn’t get the ball across the line in time.

I think it is safe to say that the bodies we brought in during January freshened up the environment. Yes, we would like to see more goals from Aaron Mclean, but I am confident that he will get them once he has a good pre-season under his belt.

WOAP: Other than Mclean and accepting the Dolan situation, Phil Parkinson has brought loanees in during the second half of the season. This is a policy that both chairmen and the manager have criticised in the past. What prompted the change of heart?

It is more a case of circumstance. Let’s put it into context. We didn’t at the start of the season find a back-up keeper, and the one we had on loan we couldn’t extend to the end of the season. There’s one tied in.

The second, Matty Dolan, was never intended to be a loan. With Adam Reach, he was brought in because we have a long-term injury to Kyel Reid. Kyel could be available to sign a new contract with us at the end of the season and we will have a discussion with him in due course. But at that moment in time, we needed someone to fill in for him for the rest of the season. If we had signed a replacement on an 18-month contract in January, that could have hampered discussions that we might want to have with Kyel Reid during the summer. Adam Reach coming in has fitted the necessity of providing cover for Reid.

Then with Adam Drury, we have proved that finding left backs is not an easy thing to do. And he was brought in, like Adam Reach, to cover for a long-term injury.

Chris Atkinson was to offer the team another dimension. Sometimes you do a little try before you buy. You will remember we brought in Will Atkinson on loan from Hull a couple of seasons ago and subsequently signed him for another year. Chris could fall into that mould. He is out of contract at the end of the season.

Kyle Bennett has been brought in as an alternative on the right-hand side because of Rafa De Vita’s long-term injury. He has another year left on his Doncaster contract, but he might be a potential year-long loan next season. Jon Stead is the same scenario of covering an injury.

It was all about freshening up the squad but also taking the chance to look at players. We have been able to bring in players that cover injuries, but who don’t expose you to contracts beyond a period after which you might not want to keep them. Therefore, we have not made any unnecessary spend.

It’s not a policy change, although I do think that a number of League One clubs, who have brought in loanees from the Premier League and Championship, have demonstrated the benefits of the system. You look at Alex Pritchard at Swindon and Patrick Bamford at MK Dons (now Derby) as good examples.

If the ingredient is right, having a loan player is not a bad thing to have.

WOAP: Phil Parkinson has come under pressure from a section of supporters. What would you say about the job he has performed this season?

I think that Phil is extremely methodical. He thinks about everything carefully, and boy does it hurt him when we don’t get a positive result. He really cares. I have got nothing but praise for him as an individual – that’s my personal view. I enjoy working with him. Under Phil, that panic button wasn’t getting hit.

You look at where we were two years ago. You make improvements because you learn from some of the things that work and the things which don’t work. And the one thing about football is it’s not about doing things wrong – because there isn’t a right and a wrong way – it’s about when you try something and it hasn’t come off as you hoped it would have done, you re-evaluate and then you decide whether that is something you want to consider pursuing.

We have to keep analysing what we are doing well and what we could be doing better. Everyone is doing that, and that is the nature of sport.

What I would say is there are lots of progressive improvements being made to this football club, and this place is a better place than it was two years ago. And Phil has to be given credit for that.

The path of progress is not a straight line. It sometimes goes up and then goes down. And at that dip, you rise again if you learn the lessons. If you don’t learn those lessons, you continue to go down. As a club under Phil, we started at a low point, have gone on up but have not then turned and gone all the way back down again.

In part two, David talks about the playing budget for next season, the latest with out-of-contract players and the long-term ambitions of the club.

Easter’s growing pains

22 Apr

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Bradford City 0

Monday 21 April, 2014

Written by David Lawrence (images by Mike Holdsworth)

Gliding into the sunny Swindon station, the smell of the picturesque Wiltshire countryside wafted into the ex-holidaymaker packed train, reminding of spring, growth and hope. It was, after all, the end of Easter. Chocolate eggs and Spring Lambs had been consumed, and snooker was back on the BBC. For many less fortunates, including Bradford City, the Football League was just about ready to be put to bed for another year.

Outside the station two City fans, one in a pink away shirt and one in this year’s ‘out-of-stock’ and ‘now reduced’ home jersey, were catching their lift. Shame, as it was a lovely day for a walk. Particularly as over the road from the station was The Queen’s Taps, inside which the more fortunate Leyton Orient and Wolves were battling it out in the early kick off TV game.

The skilful but yet predictable TV coverage couldn’t hide the lack of quality in the third division, and the close ups of Nouha Dicko and Chris Dagnall only served to remind what might have been for the Bantams. Richard Steadman scored a scrambled goal from a knock-down that could have for all the world been from a James Hanson assist and would have had Stephen Pressley-types Twittering ‘Dark age football’. Bombadier finished it was time to roll.

Distance to the ground from the station is as minimal as the architecture. Think the hotchpotch that is Birmingham, but on a smaller scale – with a muddle of office buildings, hotels and ton after ton of concrete. Design-by-greed inhumanity. In no time the ground nears and now it’s a wander through terraced houses that appear to be largely occupied by immigrants. The wealthier locals have long since moved out of this town. It’s a place that boast more jobs than city-based residents – a ‘fact’ that Robins’ supporters blame on their low average attendances. Similar circumstances don’t stop ‘the Faithful’ travelling down the Aire Valley.

Cricket comes to the rescue and provides harbour for those drawn to more aesthetic views. Head to the pavilion from the back of the County Ground, and enjoy good cheep beer in pleasant surroundings with friendly local football fans. There, the Reds were rather hushed about their play off prospects, but at least they had something to play for. They seemed quite pleased and quietly confident as they read their team line up via their smartphones.

City also appeared to be keen to finish well with the strong team that they were putting out. They’d be no room for experimenting with youth today, as Phil Parkinson had only made one change from Friday’s welcome victory over Peterborough – Kyle Bennett replacing the ‘resting and recuperating’ James Hanson.

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Over the cricket pitch outfield and into the throng of the crowds outside the ground the mood was similarly subdued. Some City fans cheered the place up with happy away-day smiles and good-to-see-you-again handshakes. It’s always good to see fellow supporters and feel part of a community. This time a communion of one short of three hundred would be held in the Arkells main stand. This is a seventies type stand that looks like it has been constructed by builders more familiar with the construction of local farm buildings, for which they had used similar materials. However, they’ve installed chairs and not hay bales and whilst they were quite tight there was no pillars obstructing a good view.

Quite a few Swindon fans choose the newer stand opposite that looks similar in size to the Midland Road stand. Both ends behind the goals are poor and would suit a tank, or even a local tractor, driven over them.

Mentioning tanks. What’s happened to Nathan Doyle? Has Nick Allamby been released? Oh Nathan. Stand out player for the wrong reason during the warm-up. Some timber fella. It seems City will have a young man trying to play as an old man and an old man trying to play like a younger man, as Doyle sits in front of the back four and Gary Jones tries to invigorate a strange looking midfield four. This consists of Bennett and Adam Reach playing out wide left and right respectively and the anomaly of Raffaele De ‘Rye’ Vita in the middle with our captain. This left Stead playing up front in a 4-1-4-1 formation.

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‘Pleasing’ is how the opening exchanges between the teams can be described. Swindon like to pass and look to slide the ball along the floor to onrushing attackers –the benched Aaron ‘goal machine’ Mclean must have looked on wistfully at some of their attacks. However, City were showing why they’d collected several clean sheets recently by defending magnificently and creating the odd chance on the break. The back four were all playing well in front of a confident looking Jon McLaughlin in goal. Stephen Darby was having a game of it with Pritchard, and the earlier-maligned Doyle was tremendous on his holding/quarterback role.

Legless or ageless (delete as your want, forum fans) Jones so nearly put City in front from a free kick on 14 minutes after Bennett was fouled, nearly catching keeper Foderingham out with a near post thunderbolt. Then on 23 minutes Stead – now looking sturdy rather than stealthy in his latter years – nearly gave City the lead with a curling effort that said much about why he hasn’t a high career strike rate. He was leading the line well though, and holds the ball up impressive in contrast to Hanson’s nod-on style, which was more beneficial as it gave City’s mainly deep seated midfield time to join the attacks.

Evening things up, Swindon were very much in the game too; but their passing game wasn’t quite making the openings that it promised. Perhaps this was nerves, perhaps they’d heard their play off rivals Peterborough had scored early on, but more likely it was how City were set up. Well done Mr P.

Xerox this: City looked a great side capable of promotion in the first twenty minutes. But it had to end and unfortunately it was at their own hands. Signs of things to come were evident when Darby got caught with the ball near his dead ball line and played a not-so-clever inside pass to McArdle. This left him rather exposed and soon dispossessed by Pritchard, who blasted a shot that only just flew over the bar. He should have scored. This affected an increase in confidence with the Robins’ young team who thereafter played to their potential.

Andrew Davies sensed this and tried to intimidate them by sliding hard into the back of Pritchard, which earned him a booking on 30 minutes. The City fans also realised the tide was turning and began the first chants of the day from either fans – it was sunny after all. Things picked up briefly and Darby put in some fair but firm tackles that drew chants of “Off to Brazil, he’s off to Brazil, Darby’s off to Brazil”. Brilliant.

That was about it for the first half apart from a few near efforts from Smith and Thompson for Swindon that didn’t really trouble McLaughlin. Also of note was Jones’ hard work that at one point got City a free kick as he raced (yes raced) thirty yard (yes 30) from a quick throw out from our keeper that resulted in him being up-ended by McEveley who was subsequently booked. As the half’s whistle blew both managers, who had stood diligently like rocks on the edge of their technical areas, uncrossed their arms and walked in contented. It had been a good contest thus far.

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Unfortunately, something appeared to happen in the City camp over half time oranges. James Meredith, who was having a kick about with the other subs on the pitch, was hurriedly brought in just before the teams reappeared –minus Doyle. After his performance in the first half, it seems cruel to report what one wit in the crowd said but “had he gone on a late Easter egg hunt?” Mezza initially took up Doyle’s position in front of the back four. However, after a dodgy first touch and a blazed effort from an onrushing Pritchard, Parkinson moved him to the left midfield in a four and pushed Reach behind Stead in a similar formation to Friday night.

This appeared a strange move, given that it gave Pritchard even more room to play his attacking midfield role and left Jones and De Vita in the middle stretched and looking slow and inexperienced respectively.

Still, the City players were trying but the new tactics were very much playing into the home team’s hands. On 50 minutes Pritchard went close with a blast that went for a corner that resulted in two heroic blocks by Darby. Five minute later McLaughlin made possibly his best save of the season from Smith’s downward header. A friendly but nervous voice in the crowd said “their goal’s coming” and so it proved. After a shot by Pritchard was blocked, the by-now-pedestrian-looking De Vita failed to get to the rebound and Lee Cox neatly curled the ball low into the bottom left corner.

Sixty-three minutes had passed but in the time remaining City got worse rather than better. The goal signalled the removal of De Vita, who on this showing looks about as affective in this division as Connell did in the league below. On comes ‘Toothpaste’ McLean from the bench, taking up the behind-the-lone-striker role from Reach who moved to the left – his third different position of the day. It was all looking a bit like the desperate times when Luke Oliver was deployed up front. The changes were doing nothing to stem the flow of the game, as City were left chasing shadows – particularly Prichard’s, as he unleashed a volley around 80 minutes that should have seen the Robins ‘home and hosed’, but for another great save from McLaughlin who pushed it onto the post.

Other than that Swindon were restricted to half-chances while City played the role of no-hopers. Even the late but regular substitution of Garry Thompson for the very ineffective Bennett didn’t lead to much bar a couple of fruitless forays forward. From the loss of Doyle at half time until the final whistle, City had increasingly fallen apart like a cheap suit. Swindon were well worth their win, but had been somewhat handed it on a plate.

Walking from the ground in the early evening sunlight, the disgruntled City fans were soon caught in thoughts of summer recruitment. Solving the midfield problem surely has to be top of Phil Parkinson’s agenda after today’s near-debacle. Rumours already abound regarding signings being lined up, with Walsall’s classy centre-back Andy Butler being mentioned. Perhaps, however, after this showing he needs to deny his megalomania for centre-backs and recruit a more balanced squad, starting with a replacement for our brilliant but fading-like-the-Easter-sun captain. It pains to say it.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, Bennett (Thompson 77), De Vita (Mclean 68), Doyle (Meredith 45), Jones, Reach, Stead

Not used: Jameson, McHugh, Bates, Yeates

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A very Good Friday

20 Apr

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By Philip Jackson

Andrew Davies is harder than I am, much harder.

I’ve had a bit of a sore knee recently, ooh it’s been achy, lots of driving and that heavy clutch pedal has set it off alright, got a bit of a hobble on. I did stretch to chasing the kids (my kids) around the park, but you can’t push these things can you. An hour in and our blonde talismanic defender snuffs out another potential Peterborough attack with a beautifully timed slide to dispossess Brit Assombalonga, who then brings down his size 15’s on his knee right in front of us.

Aaaarrrrgggghh, look at him, I can’t look at him, it’s Davva, its knees, not again, there he is writhing on the floor, face red, arms flailing. This is BAD. I imagined him imagining months of rehab and physio, on comes Matt Barrass, a few leg stretches later and he’s getting him to his feet, don’t do that Matt, his leg is likely to fall off! OK he’s walking off, fine, no probs have a seat Andrew get Carlo on. The only thing that is going on, however, is a knee support onto Davies’ knee.

Ah yes the old knee support, I did that, my knee feels much better. But then I’m not about to go and carry on a professional football match after a large fully grown man has performed an impromptu tattooing on my knee using his football studs, I’ll just be able to get up the stairs more quickly.

No, this man is back and he’s fired up! Now if I’d been clobbered at footy and I got annoyed, I generally just run around faster and feel more inclined to kick people in the ankles, which seems to work for me.

This incident goes a long way to secure our victory. The 10 men of Peterborough have had us under pressure during the opening of the 2nd half, but we’ve been holding them back. Now Davies just goes ‘Not today, we’re having this’ and the rest of the team feed off that. It felt like he just willed us to victory.

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Stephen Darby likes practising judo at throw ins.

The man is like a slippery eel, arm holds, throws, blocks, his opponents seem to think, ’he looks a bit lightweight, I’ll push him out of the way’. You’d probably have said that about Bruce Lee if you saw him (I know Bruce Lee didn’t do judo, although I bet he was alright at it), Darbs looks skinny but he knows what he’s doing, reading your mind, that’s what he’s doing, predicting every move then moving in for the kill.

Now I tried judo for a bit, up at Richard Dunn back in the 80’s, but wasn’t very good. My best move was to lose but simultaneously give my opponent chicken pox (true story), I went back to football at Parkside sports centre, while Mr Darby would probably get a black belt if he didn’t spend so much time, clearing balls off the line, galloping up the right wing, shepherding wingers towards corner flags (if he was a dog, would he be a greyhound or a collie?), gliding in from nowhere to steal a ball he has no right in winning and generally being awesome all the time.

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Adam Reach can strike a ball.

I was just saying how I’d love us to do something different at free kicks, decoys, lay it off, slip a diagonal ball in to an unmarked man at an angle, but let’s not just predictably blast it into the stand or into the wall as that’s what always happ…. Ooh he’s pinged it into the top corner!!! Yeeeessss!! Wonderful goal, saw Bobby Petta do something similar (honest, I actually did).

In fact most of the team are having a pop today, most do get it on target or close, but Reach knows he’s got it today so he’s having another crack, no son you’re not meant to hit the Bradford End roof! His mazy dribbling won us the free kick for the goal, although probably not a foul, and got their defender sent off, but he does need to try passing a bit more rather than ending up down a blind alley thinking he can do it all.

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Away fans are good.

Peterborough have supporters, I have to say they did well with the noise level, and it certainly helped the atmosphere, they became their 11th man at the start of the 2nd half, although it did peter out, a bit like their team.

There is something special about two noisy sets of supporters that add a new dimension to a football match; you feel you are more involved, and I believe that intensity translated to the pitch as the action didn’t seem to dip at any point. It was a pretty clean match, good sportsmanship on both sides and the referee let the game flow, so allowing the energy to build and build.

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Young girls may well prefer fairy stories.

The young lass just in front of us was thoroughly engrossed, not in the game, but with the Disney Princess comic she was reading. I read her match report, apparently Snow White worked hard for her team, providing a much needed aerial presence, but then choked. And when Cinderella got the ball, she played a blinder, but had a problem with her boots in extra time.

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Jonny Mac is a socialist.

Whilst being employed full time by Bradford City, Comrade McLaughlin cannot forget his brothers around the Football League and has taken up the role of Shop Steward for The Goalkeepers Union.

This was very much in evidence during the closing stages of the match, when the hot headed firebrand that is Joe Day, the stand-in Peterborough custodian, chose to race up for the last two corners of the game.

On retrieving the ball our Jonny’s mind drifted back 12 months when up for a last minute corner against the tsarist forces of Rotherham he was caught out for their 2nd, and he couldn’t bring himself to inflict a similar misfortune on young Joe.

Run free young man, run and enjoy life, I cannot left a fellow goalie suffer in that way, said he (possibly). Gentleman Jon held on to the ball, safe in the knowledge one goal was enough for us before playing it out. Actions, which no doubt he will be recognised for by the Gordon Banks and Peter Downsboroughs of this world.

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‘Some of us Made History’.

One of the themes of this ‘transition’ season has been the break-up of last season’s team, this game felt as if this spirit has not been distinguished and a new spirit may well be growing. They were defending higher up the pitch, both sides of the pitch covered and closed down well, I was impressed with the work rate of all, especially seeing ‘skill’ players who are sometimes seen as lazy doing this also, glad to see De Vita, Stead and Reach all join in with this ethos.

Peterborough slid the ball left and right but were covered at most points, tackles, blocks and interceptions (many involving sliding) were made and our harrying led to some good openings, two of which got their man a red card.

If that can become the norm, the basic level this team works at, then a little more adventure up front could reap the rewards which would turn those 600 draws this season into a few more wins next.

I’ve already said I thought it was a clean and fair game, although there were plenty of ‘proper’ tackles, going in, Drury, Stead De Vita etc. all joined in with this and I hope that the post 2012/13 players see what we had last year and that that came about for a reason, and I hope are buying into the same ethos.

The end of the game saw the players exultant, truly pumped, loving the atmosphere and the camaraderie, it’s what you want to see in the team and I hope that I can see it blooming. Maybe Parky’s new baby is starting to develop?

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Its games like this that just feed that drug a bit “You’ll never escape me boy, I’ve got what you need, feels good doesn’t it?” Yes it does, the bright sun, followed the bright floodlights and the glorious claret and amber everywhere to be seen.

What a sport, great company, great club, bit of banter and that warm glow of three vital points in your pocket, it puts a new spring in your step, that knee feels as good as new.

Who should stay and who should go?

14 Apr

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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

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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

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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.

Unacceptable Bradford City performance underlines need for major change

5 Apr

IMG-20140405-00067

Bradford City 2

Reach 35, Jones 90

Oldham Athletic 3

Wesolowski 22, Clarke-Harris 45+58

Saturday 5 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

The relegation issue just won’t be put to bed, and the real concern for Bradford City is that they are running out of opportunities. How they could be left to rue this costly home defeat; one that narrows the margin for error considerably with just five games left to play. That the next three are against teams with promotion aspirations means no-one should be sitting comfortably on that six-point cushion.

Survival is within touching distances and yet – after another wretched performance from the players – any sense of achievement looks increasingly likely to carry a hollow feel. No one was planning to order an open top bus to celebrate successfully avoiding relegation, but this feeble crawl over the line lacks dignity and deserves to have serious repercussions. Because as City allowed themselves to be easily beaten by an Oldham side who sit below them, there’s a growing stench that is becoming difficult to avoid.

This team is past its sell-by-date. It needs a radical, radical shake-up.

That Phil Parkinson will be the man tasked with that considerable close season challenge is entirely right, but he did much to harm his standing with City supporters today. After speaking in the build-up about knowing exactly what to expect from Oldham, there can be no excuse for the disorganised and ill-thought out approach that his team took. Opposing teams that play a three-man midfield has long been the manager’s Achilles Heel and it beggars belief that he still cannot find a solution. Oldham hunted in packs for the ball and then worked in groups to keep hold of it. City were chasing shadows.

Yet equally, Parkinson has every right to feel let down by his players. From front to back they were awful today and it’s time that they came under the firing line rather than aiming all criticism at the manager. Parkinson needed his senior players to step up and perform, and he needed those who want to be at Valley Parade next season to demonstrate their desire to earn a contract. It didn’t happen. Today’s City XI contained just two players – Andrew Davies and Aaron Mclean – who don’t go into the summer facing an uncertain future. After this showing, Parkinson’s released list may have grown in length.

Oldham looked more confident, more determined and more comfortable in their game plan. In James Wesolowski they possessed the best player on the park (it was the same story in the reverse fixture). The Oldham number four was up and down the pitch with boundless energy. When no one picked up his late run onto Jonson Clare-Harris’ knock down, the 26-year-old was able to smash his team into a deserved lead midway through the first half.

Jon Stead, making his home debut up front, had glanced an early header wide of the post, but that had been it for City. The initiative was passed up in a way that has been depressingly familiar of late. Parkinson sought to combat Oldham’s dominance of possession by switching to a 4-5-1 formation that had Mclean on the right wing and Kyle Bennet tucked inside, but the results were decidedly mixed.

For the game was retrieved – but then ultimately lost – during the 10 minute run-up to half time. Firstly, City equalised after some excellent work from an otherwise disappointing Matty Dolan. He won the ball high up the park, before spinning and producing a defence-splitting pass that enabled Adam Reach to race past a defender and slot the ball home. But then just as the board was to go up for injury time, Gary Harkins played an offside-looking Clarke-Harris through on goal. Rory McArdle, Jon McLaughlin hesitated and the ball was in the back of the net. As the cliché goes, you play to the whistle and City did not.

Yet the passage of play at 1-1 was equally crucial on the game. Having been pegged back, Oldham retreated and City began to dominate the ball. Their 4-5-1 meant plenty of players available for a short pass but no one to support Stead. A wall of blue shirts stood firm, and the home crowd grew frustrated. It was in some ways proof that – for all the complaints from some about City’s style of football – deep down most people cannot tolerate a passing game and want to see direct football. Parkinson decided to abandon the approach almost as quickly as he’d switched to it. Such indecision is out of character. He was streets behind Lee Johnson in the tactical battle.

And it meant a second half depressingly familiar. Oldham bossing the middle of the park, as City went 4-4-2 and Dolan and Gary Jones were found wanting. Mclean and Stead were starved of possession yet completely failed to make anything that did reach them stick in the final third. Reach stood out more than most as lacking commitment for the cause – he was a loanee playing for himself, which is unacceptable – whilst Bennett regressed back to old ways, following promising displays of late.

The Doncaster loanee stood ball-watching as a pass was played up to Clarke-Harris, who ran clear of the back four and slotted home impressively despite Davies’ late attempt to block him. A really bad goal from a City perspective. Whatever the huge failings in midfield and up front today, everything was undermined by some incredibly woeful defending. I have never seen Davies have such a poor game for City, and he and McArdle made numerous mistakes.

With 32 minutes left on the clock, you hoped to see a determined fightback from the home side. Worryingly they looked defeated and – substitute Oli McBurnie aside – fearful of receiving the ball. McBurnie’s introduction for an underwhelming Stead saw boos directed at the manager that were repeated when he later brought off Mclean for Yeates. Whilst the frustration was easy to understand, as Parkinson simply didn’t have adequate options on the bench to take off his two senior strikers, performance-wise both players merited their withdrawals.

I’ve tried to retain judgement on Mclean and it is still too early to make a call on him, but to date he has been a long way short of expectations and – if rumours of his wage packet are to believed – we are entitled to demand a lot more from him. James Hanson was hugely missed and City need to get to the root of his fitness problems as a matter of urgency. In the circumstances Stead is a good signing, but City need their Plan A back, fit and firing.

As Valley Parade emptied long before the end, a late flicker of hope was ignited by a second City goal, deep in stoppage time. Yeates raced clear of the back four and struck a shot from an angle that smacked back off the post. The rebound fell to Jones, who picked his spot to beat the defenders rushing back. It was too little, too late. Within seconds, Oldham’s terrific away support were able to celebrate the final whistle and a deserved three points.

For the Bantams, the last four home games have yielded just one point and it is their away form – one loss in four – which is keeping them above water. But while this terrible performance probably doesn’t change the fact that one more victory should be enough to seal survival, this defeat should be viewed as a watershed moment.

Because this team simply isn’t good enough for where we are and where we want to be. It needs wholesale changes, if a more credible promotion push is to be realised – heck, just to make sure that relegation is avoided next season also. Parkinson has to make some tough decisions over the next few weeks over who to keep and who to let go, and he needs to be ruthless about it.

Sentiment clearly clouded too much of the planning for this season, and for that Parkinson has been rightly criticised. We will never forget the contributions of those 2012/13 History Makers and they will always have a place in our hearts, but the time has come to move on.

The bar has been lowered of late. Every single person in that Valley Parade dressing room shares some responsibility for allowing that drop in standards to happen. In the short-term, what matters is to get those final few points needed to confirm a place in the 2014/15 League One. But the inquest into what has gone wrong has already started and, whatever division City are in next season, sweeping changes need to be made.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, Bennett (Thompson 64), Dolan, Jones, Reach, Stead (McBurnie 64), Mclean (Yeates 83)

Not used: Barker, McHugh, Bates, Stockdill

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