Tag Archives: Andrew Davies

Another Davies injury casts a shadow over Bradford City’s early season promise

23 Aug

Bradford City 0

Peterborough United 1

Vassell 57

Saturday 23 August, 2014

By Mahesh Johal

As the droves of supporters dispersed out the Kop this evening, there was a collective realisation that not only had Bradford City lost their first game of the season; but it also looks like we have lost defender Andrew Davies for the foreseeable future.

Davies fell heavily after a collision with teammate Jordon Pickford and Peterborough striker Kyle Vassell. Writhing around the penalty box in obvious pain and discomfort, Davies appeared to injure his arm or shoulder. He went straight to Bradford Royal Infirmary. His absence in the heart of the defence was immediately felt as Vassell then scored the game’s winning goal, calmly firing into the roof of the net.

The game started in energetic fashion, with the Posh winning multiple corners in the first minute. City also started confidently, with home debutant Filipe Morais having a couple of half chances, including a flash volley that went just wide. Morais, the former Stevenage man, played at the tip of the diamond and looked comfortable on the ball. Whilst hard to make a judgement based on 68 minutes, he initially reminded me of a more attacking version of Will Atkinson. With plenty of vigour and neat with the ball at feet, it will be interesting see if the Portuguese player will be offered an extension to his short-term contract.

It was the Posh who had the first real chance of the match, with the busy Conor Washington skiing over from inside the penalty area. Even though missing several first teamers due to injury and the obvious hole left by Britt Assombalonga, Peterborough looked a threat and maybe should have scored from a classic counter attack. After City has wasted a free kick deep in their opponent’s half, Peterborough swarmed out with Washington through on goal. Thankfully for the Bantams, Pickford stayed tall and parried the striker’s well-hit effort. The danger was not over for City, as the resulting save opened up an opportunity for Kane Ferdinand. Fortunately, Jason Kennedy was hand to block that attempt.

With the half drawing to close, the game went up a notch as a header from Ricardo Santos crashed off the post. From the resulting live ball, Christian Burgess then had an effort cleared off the line. One thought the Posh had scored as a roar burst out of the four hundred or so in the TL Dallas stand, but it was City faithful who were cheering after the subsequent clearance. Then in injury time City had their own efforts, with Billy Knott having his shot from 20 yards saved by ex-City trialist Ben Alnwick. First to react to the save was Mason Bennett – who was rewarded with the start after his midweek goal – and the on-loan Derby man attempted to send in a cross which was blocked/handled by a Posh defender in the penalty area.

From Bennett and Knott’s reaction they seemed adamant that the ball was handled, but I am unsure. A block was certainly made by the defender but due the speed of the event, I can’t confidently confirm if it his hand or not. Either way, referee Graham Salisbury was unmoved and the Kop were left outraged.

City looked comfortable going into the second half; however the bubble was well and truly popped as Davies got injured. I don’t know about you, but I always feel there is a collective gasp when Davies goes down. Today was different, however, as the gasp became a groan and then a silence. With people’s minds suddenly turning to Wednesday and the thought of Davies not playing, there was a genuine feel of deflation in the air.

Deflation then turned into dejection as Vassell scored. Matt Smith, who was becoming more influential throughout the second half, rode a tackle from Stephen Darby and the crossed to the striker who finished composedly.

Aaron Mclean and Mark Yeates were both brought on in attempt to change proceedings, but they were both ineffective. I’m sure Mclean would have loved to have scored against the team where he made his name, but a tame header on target was the closest he got. Peterborough, on the other hand, had clear chances to double their lead, but Pickford was again on hand to save. After a mis-placed pass from Knott, Joe Newell’s strike was acrobatically saved by the Sunderland loanee.

Valley Parade attempted to rally their troops, but quite frankly today was not going to be our day. To add to the already tough assignment was City’s battle with Salisbury. Maybe I am wearing claret and amber tinted glasses, but quite honestly I thought his management of the game was poor. Peterborough had a plan to put two men on James Hanson today. It worked well to counter our number nine, but at times it felt as if they were man-handling him. At no point did Hanson win a free kick and he was often the one penalised.

I could go on for several paragraphs, but it is unfair to divulge about him and take way from what was a very entertaining affair. Hanson’s stinging drive forced a good save from Alnwick, but all in all City did not have the firepower to break their resolute guest. Nine minutes added time was not enough to find an equaliser, with Yeates stabbing the best chance over the bar in the last minute.

Attentions will now turn to the arrival of our friends from LS11 on Wednesday. The loss of Davies will be big, but problems are brewing at Elland Road after today’s 4-1 defeat to Watford and what now looks to be the impending departure of manager David Hockaday. The atmosphere inside Valley Parade will be white hot. I just hope we have a referee who is strong enough for the event!

City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Davies (Meredith 55), Sheehan, Liddle, Kennedy, Morais (Yeates 68), Knott, Bennett (Mclean 68), Hanson

Not used: Williams, Dolan, Routis, McBurnie

2014/15 previewed: The players (part one)

3 Aug

celebration

Written by Alex Scott (images by Kieran Wilkinson)

A summer of revolution at the club has seen a number of City’s established icons over the last couple of seasons depart for pastures new, as Phil Parkinson looks to revamp his approach under new financial constraints.

City’s playing budget has been slashed by over £600,000 on last season, which in footballing terms is around £11,000 a week in salary. With a number of expensive carryovers into the new season (Aaron McLean, Mark Yeates and Andrew Davies), and a couple of deserved expensive new contracts dished out (Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle), sacrifices have had to be made elsewhere.

This is the backdrop to this new season where expectations are mighty difficult to set until the games begin, and the season does not exactly start easily.

We will be taking a look at the team’s prospects over the week, ahead of the opener against Coventry; but over the next couple of days we’re going to look at the ins and outs, and what the player’s expectations will be going into the new season. First, the strength of the team coming into the new season: the backline.

Goalkeepers

In: Jordan Pickford (Sunderland – season long youth loan); Out: Jon McLaughlin; Arron Jameson (End of loan)

Jordan Pickford

Last season (Burton Albion, Carlisle United): 30 games, 41 goals conceded.

Contract expiry date: June 2015

The arrival of the 20-year old Sunderland stopper signalled the end of Jon McLaughlin’s six-year tenure at the club, emphasising yet again that nothing ever stands still, and in the end, money talks. McLaughlin had been described as “desperate to stay” and given his improvement over the last 18 months, his renewal seemed something of a slam-dunk.

Alas, given the budgetary constraints evident going into this season, there just wasn’t the money available to offer McLaughlin a competitive deal, with the club instead opting to save money and gamble on Pickford.

Pickford’s one season as a professional didn’t go all to plan, as he ended the season relegated from League One with Carlisle. That probably does him a disservice (they had long standing defensive issues before he arrived), and he did manage to keep seven clean sheets in his 18 starts for the Cumbrian team. They only managed five other shutouts in the 34 games he didn’t appear.

That said he left Burton Albion mid-table, with a below average goal concession record (20 in 16 games), and they ended up almost succeeding in the play offs, with the fourth best defence in the division, only conceding 22 goals in the 30 games he missed. So, swings and roundabouts.

Pickford comes with a good pedigree; he is highly rated and is an England under-19 international. He will be looking for a full season in League One, playing behind a solid defence. This season is all about experience for him. From the club’s point of view, Pickford will be a significant gamble until proven otherwise, but it has been dictated that the cloth must be cut, and if that means placing an inexperienced young keeper behind the expensively retained defensive line instead of a proven, experienced, homegrown talent entering his prime in McLaughlin, then needs must.

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Defenders

In: Alan Sheehan (Notts County); Out: Matthew Bates (Hartlepool), Adam Drury, Carl McHugh (Plymouth), Matt Taylor (Cheltenham)

Stephen Darby

Last season: 46 games, 0 goals

Contract expiry date: June 2017

The man who would be King. Darby represents the big winner of the last twelve months, following his sweep of the Player of the Year awards with a new contract and an elevation to club captain. Entering last season, his play was a clear strength of the team, although it was to be seen how well his form would translate in a higher division. If anything, he performed better last season than the season before and was a key cog in one of the division’s better defences.

This season, things are much clearer. Stephen Darby is one of the better right backs at this level, and given his eighty plus appearances in the past two seasons at the club, is the modicum of reliability. Only 25, Darby has his best years ahead of him, and the next three of those will be at Valley Parade, entering his prime.

The only question Darby has to answer surrounds his elevation to club captain. Gary Jones was an instantly iconic figure in City folklore, and being the man to follow in his footsteps cannot be an easy task, even for someone as close to him as Darby. Quieter by personality, it will be interesting to watch how he approaches his new role, especially if things don’t go to plan quickly.

Darby is about to begin a new phase of his journey at the club. His consistent excellence will no longer be the only barometer of his success. With the extrication of a number of the leaders amongst the dressing room over the summer, the burden will fall onto the experienced heads in the back line to set the tone, Darby in particular. How he imposes his personality on the team, and the club as a whole, will likely be of greater importance than his play on the field.

Rory McArdle

Last season: 41 games, 3 goals

Contract expiry date: June 2017

Rory McArdle is in a similar boat to Darby. The recipient of a three-year extension, McArdle and the club are betrothed for the foreseeable future. He has proven over the past few years that he can play a key role in an excellent defence at this level. When playing alongside Andrew Davies last season, the defensive record was play off calibre, only to be undermined by the club’s attacking players, and injuries as the season wore on.

More of the same will do for McArdle, and he shares the same consistency in output as his counterpart outside at right back. Similarly to Darby, his new-found seniority at the club will be as important as his play on the field. There is a lot of change happening in front of the Northern Irishman and his counterparts in defence; they will be relied upon to keep the ship steady in the early season, and help Parkinson exert his will on the new recruits.

davies

Andrew Davies

Last season: 28 games, 1 goal

Contract expiry date: June 2015

Andrew Davies enters this season, his fourth at the club, as clearly the team’s most important player. Since the loss of the attacking luminaries, and the midfield heartbeats of the past few years, the burden now falls predominantly on the defensive line. Whereas Stephen Darby’s importance is driven by a sustained excellence, Davies’ value is defined by the heights he can reach in the short term spells he is on the field.

Since arriving at the club three seasons ago, Davies has made 82 league appearances, almost 40% of his career total. Injuries have plagued his career, and his period at Valley Parade has been much of the same. He’s played almost three full seasons at Valley Parade, and has only made between 26 and 28 league appearances in each campaign.

To now predict a 46 game season would be folly. He has broken the 30-game barrier in a season once in his career, in 2006. In fairness, a number of the subsequent seasons he has spent time on the sidelines through selection as much as injury troubles, however the point remains valid. It may be that this season, as he turns 30, will be the one in which he can break through and play a full season, but there is little evidence to support planning on that basis. In fact, probably the only reason City are able to attract a player of his calibre is because of his inconsistency of fitness.

This is especially pointed this season after the loss of other key players over the last few years. Looking at the squad on paper as currently constructed, and the act of removing Andrew Davies leaves the rest of the squad looking distinctly average. How City replace Davies for the 15-20 games he misses will go a long way to defining how far they go this season.

For Davies, he is entering another contract year, his age thirty season. If he can make it through the season without getting hurt, not only should the club succeed, he will have a much easier job marketing himself on the free agent market come the summer. At his age, the next contract will likely be the last substantial one, and it may be that next summer will be the last crack he has to catch on and prove himself in the Championship. His performance level will not be a worry; he is an elite defender at this level. He just needs to stay on the field.

Niall Heaton

Last season: N/A

Contract expiry date: June 2015

Niall Heaton, just 18, is following the footsteps of Oli McBurnie into the first team squad, taking up the position vacated by Carl McHugh who has moved down to Plymouth. A former starlet, Heaton left Valley Parade as a 14-year old to join Liverpool, before being released last summer, returning to the club he left three years before.

A young centre half-cum-left back should be able to gain some good experience this season travelling around with the first team squad; however, extensive first team action appears unlikely given the nature of his position in the squad, and two experienced talented left backs occupying his primary route to the field.

For Heaton, his eyes will be fixed on attaining a new contract next summer. His current commitment expires in the summer, and if he is able to be in the first team squad this time next year, the season will have been a success for him. Any time on the field for Heaton will be a bonus.

sheehan

Alan Sheehan

Last season (Notts County): 42 games, 7 goals

Contract expiry date: June 2016

Alan Sheehan arrives at Valley Parade as the only new starter in the back five. The former Notts County full back was signed to replace James Meredith who spurned the club’s initial advances of a new deal. As it turned out, Meredith is back at the club, accepting reduced terms on a one-year deal.

However, taking into account the relative salary invested in each player, people should be under no illusions as to who will be the de facto starter to begin the season at least. A talented, attacking left back, Sheehan is a set piece specialist who should have room to flourish in Parkinson’s new narrow system.

After making his debut as an 18-year old for then-Championship side Leicester, the Irish under-21 international could have been forgiven for having higher hopes than League One at this stage of the career. Some unfortunately-timed injuries and career moves (Road, Elland) have hindered his progress up the football ladder. That said, as he now enters his peak, at the beginning of a two-year contract, Sheehan will have a secure platform to now kick on and reach his potential.

City will be hoping that the competition for his position will bring out the best in Sheehan, and if he could live up to his reputation, the 27-year old Irishman could strengthen City’s already strong backline.

James Meredith

Last season: 24 games (2 sub), 0 goals

Contract expiry date: June 2015

To say things haven’t gone to plan for Meredith since January is probably an understatement. Adapting well to the third tier, the 26-year old was entering a purple patch with pipedreams of the Australian World Cup squad. Things went quickly downhill after the New Year, with a broken bone in his right foot, resulting in him missing almost the entire rest of the season.

Like teammate Jon McLaughlin, Meredith eschewed the opportunity to sign a two year deal in the summer, rolling the dice on obtaining more money elsewhere, a perfectly valid decision for a 26-year old who only began his Football League career in earnest two years ago. However, things didn’t go to plan with his options elsewhere evaporating, and his gig at Valley Parade being awarded to Alan Sheehan.

In the end, Meredith decided to return to the club on reduced terms on a one-year commitment, hoping to have another go at the market next season. However, how he approaches that is a huge question.

Sheehan will undoubtedly start on the left side of defence, at least initially, for Parkinson’s men, and Meredith’s lack of versatility is looking like it may be about to haunt him. Perhaps the only other string to his bow is left midfield, but City look ever more likely to move away from wide men, showcasing their new central midfield. The Australian did appear last year in central midfield with mixed returns; this may be a focus for him in pre-season to increase his chances at playing time.

It may be that the versatility of Sheehan may save the day for Meredith. If Andrew Davies was to miss time in the centre of defence, it may be that Parkinson opts to slide Sheehan across inside, freeing up a slot for Meredith on the left, rather than promoting Niall Heaton.

With an expiring contract, reduced wages, and no clear route to playing time, Meredith is in a bit of a bind. He needs playing time for his own sake next summer to prove to potential suitors he can do it at this level, and he wants that to come at left back to give him the best opportunity to prove what he can do. He needs to ensure that he is ready when his opportunity comes, and he surely has the talent at this level, but the outlook is gloomy for James Meredith.

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

rory mcardle

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.

darby

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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Swindon Town 1

Cox 64

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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