Tag Archives: Andy Gray

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.

From bad to worse

26 Mar

Bradford City 0

Walsall 2

Westcarr 68+78

Tuesday 25 March, 2014

By Gareth Walker

From a Bradford City perspective, the game against Walsall was an opportunity to show that the ‘performance’ against Shrewsbury Town on Saturday was a one off. Unfortunately, they didn’t take it, and instead continued where they left off in Shropshire.

Listless, abject, uninspiring, insipid and abysmal are all terms that I have seen used to describe the fare served up last night and, in truth, it is difficult to argue with the use of any of them.

The problems filtered right down from the management team, who got the ball rolling with a strange decision to play Matthew Bates in central midfield alongside the returning Gary Jones. Did the changes send out the wrong message to the team? Who knows, but many of the players seemed to play like their minds were already on the beach for their summer holidays.

The fact that Nathan Doyle injured his groin at the weekend and Matty Dolan had a shocker of a game at New Meadow meant that Magic Man was certain to start this game, but the decision to play Bates alongside him, whilst leaving a specialist central midfielder Chris Atkinson on the bench, was somewhat of a puzzler.

Bates has been much maligned by City fans whilst playing at centre back since he joined the club, and unfortunately the former Middlesbrough captain didn’t do much to change that opinion whilst plying his trade in a new position. Bates appears to me to be someone who doesn’t do much himself, yet is quite good at shouting and laying blame at teammates’ door.

The other change from the weekend was the restoration of Andy Gray to the starting line up in place of the injured James Hanson, who was only fit enough for a place on the bench. Phil Parkinson revealed afterwards that Hanson was only 60% fit and, oh, how we missed him!

Since Nahki Wells left the club in January, Hanson has really stepped up to the mark as City’s main goalscoring threat; with Aaron Mclean struggling to hit the ground running. But last night showed more clearly than ever how reliant we were on the departed Bermudan’s pace, in particular.

It is difficult to knock Mclean because the lad is clearly a trier – and his failure to make an impact so far is definitely not through lack of effort. However, the former Peterborough and Hull player just looks completely lost. He runs around like a headless chicken because he simply doesn’t seem to fit in with our style of play. However, strikers will always be judged on goals and his and Gray’s failure to test the Walsall keeper even once last night was a damning indictment of their time at City so far.

It wasn’t all the front two’s fault however, as the midfield and, in particular, Adam Reach completely failed to create anything for them. Parkinson was right in his post match assessment when he said that we created nothing in the final third. It was strange, therefore, when the manager took off the only two players who were looking remotely interested in trying to create something. Kyle Bennett was having a much better game than Reach, and Jones was giving 100% as ever, but it was these two players that Parkinson sacrificed in the second half in order to introduce Garry Thompson and Dolan to the action.

I am told that Jones in particular didn’t appear to be happy at being withdrawn from proceedings, as he completely failed to acknowledge Dolan when he came off and he threw a water bottle out of the dug out. He also apparently didn’t do his usual lap to applaud the crowd at the end. As City supporters, we can only hope that this was out of frustration rather than being a sign of deeper-rooted issues at the club.

Reach and Bennett’s careers at City have contrasted each other to date. Reach started like train when he first came to the club and many supporters were asking how he wasn’t getting a regular game at Middlesbrough. His more recent performances, however, have seen his contribution to the team diminish considerably and it makes one wonder if it is this inconsistency that has prevented him from establishing himself at a higher level, so far in his fledgling career.

Bennett on the other hand had a slow start to life at Valley Parade having hardly played any recent football for parent club Doncaster Rovers, and he then got sent off on debut. His performances in recent weeks have improved considerably, however, and it was him who provided any slight glimmer of a threat to Walsall last night. The fact that he is out of contract at Doncaster this summer means that he has a point to prove, and he is showing the desire that you would expect from someone in his position.

Walsall for their part are known to be a very decent footballing team and they will consider themselves to have put in an almost textbook away performance. They dominated possession from start to finish, as they implemented their neat passing game. Although in reality they didn’t really have too many goalscoring chances.

I texted a friend during the first half to say what a dull game it was and how, in the stands, most people were already discussing how it felt like a 0-0, simply because there really hadn’t been that many shots on goal. The nearest that the first half came to breaking the deadlock was an awful mix up between Jon McLaughlin and Rory McArdle that almost gifted The Saddlers the lead.

Unfortunately, it was the away team’s greater cohesion in possession when contrasted with our long ball tactics that made them look a class above us. When we did get the ball off them, we were too quick to squander it either through sloppy play, through not holding it up well enough or through the midfield simply not getting involved enough.

Romiane Sawyers, Craig Westcarr and Fabien Brandy had looked to be a threat to us throughout, and it was these three players who combined to open the scoring in the 68th minute. From a City point of view, it was an incredibly soft goal to concede as what looked like a totally innocuous low ball to the near post was turned home by Westcarr who somehow got in front of McArdle and McLaughlin, neither of whom covered themselves in glory.

McLaughlin did make amends for his error less than five minutes later, however, when he made a fantastic full length save to deny Brandy adding a quickfire second. But it was the compete lack of a reaction from the rest of City side that was the most worrying aspect to see from the stands, and many supporters started to vent their frustration.

When the second goal did eventually arrive, it had a certain air of inevitability about it. It came just ten minutes after the first and from the best move of the match which Westcarr finished with a fine curling effort from the edge of the area. The City players looked like strangers, whilst the crowd booed and started to head for the exits in their droves.

Many supporters who I normally consider to be positive about the team were worried by the complete lack of effort, desire and fighting spirit on show last night. These are issues that we don’t normally identify with a Parkinson team; we thought that we had left them behind in the dark days of Peter Taylor’s tenure. However, the number of players who simply appeared to be going through the motions has led many to again question this manager’s tactics and his record in the transfer market. Even on his best days, Parkinson has appeared overly reliant on Plan A and the same old faces in the team.

The boos that echoed around Valley Parade at half time and at full time were noticeable because it has been so rare to hear them during Parkinson’s tenure. Most of the dissent probably came from people who were shocked at how bad we were. The only people who weren’t shocked will have been those who, along with me, were unfortunate enough to travel to Shrewsbury at the weekend.

After the game, Parkinson didn’t come out of the dressing room in time to speak to the radio before Pulse Sport went off air, and Sticks speculated that there would be a few players getting a dressing down. When he did eventually emerge, the manager was extremely subdued and said that he didn’t blame the crowd one bit for voicing their discontent.

It’s sad to say, but the complete lack of a goal threat makes this game as bad as any I have seen under this manager. It is true that this group of players and management have dug us out of holes in the past, but they need to show the fight that made them famous in order to do it again.

The gap to the relegation places is currently six points, but it will be down to five if Stevenage win their game in hand. City’s next two games are both tough looking away fixtures to Leyton Orient and Coventry, and we will have to perform a damn sight better than we have in the last two games if we want to pick up any points from them.

Somebody needs to get us going again, because a return of zero points would leave even the most ardent optimist amongst us having to admit that we are in a relegation battle.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, Bennett (Thompson 56), Bates, Jones (Dolan 81), Reach, Mclean, Gray (Hanson 60)

Not used: Bentley, McHugh, Atkinson, Yeates

Must win for both sides as Bradford City go to Carlisle

11 Feb

Image by Alex Dodd

Carlisle United vs Bradford City preview

@Brunton Park on Tuesday 11 February, 2014

By Jason McKeown

The relative isolation and remoteness of Carlisle – in football terms at least – has in recent times made for an unhappy outpost for Bradford City teams on a winless run, and in particular for the manager of the time.

In January 2007 – the Bantams last league visit to Brunton Park – a 1-0 Carlisle victory occurred with strong rumours that Colin Todd was about to be sacked. Three days earlier the manager had endured “Todd out” chants during a 2-2 Valley Parade draw with Cheltenham that even continued after the game, with a section of supporters staying back to rally against Todd as he was interviewed for local radio. Todd limped on from the Carlisle set back for another month at least, but the pressure barely lifted.

Then in December 2009 came a 3-0 City defeat to the League One Cumbrians in the quarter finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Playing in the division below and reduced to 10-men after 41 minutes, with the game 0-0, one might have expected these mitigating circumstances to have been taken into account when judging manager Stuart McCall. A certain director saw it differently, however, launching an astonishing attack about the performance in the next matchday programme. McCall hit the roof, prompting this public outburst and, it is said, an extremely heated exchange of words behind the scenes. It is four years to the day since McCall handed in his resignation as manager of Bradford City.

Phil Parkinson does not go into tonight’s game under anything like the level of pressure that Todd and McCall experienced, but the mutterings of discontent from a minority were hardly quelled by the 3-3 draw against Crewe. We all thought it was a must-win game for City, though the recovery from 2-0 and 3-2 down offered reasons to feel positive and encouraged. Nevertheless, a must-win game went by without three points. Now we go into another one.

Must-win is an over-used term in football that ultimately has a vague meaning. Saddled in their isolation of mid-table, nothing about City’s season will be decided by tonight’s result. But in terms of the morale around Valley Parade and the growing jitters surrounding the “one win in…” line, victory would be massive. We are not in a relegation battle at this moment, but we must win sooner rather than later to ensure that remains the case.

The 17 games left this season are curious in that we are already starting to wish it away. No one talks about the play offs anymore (13 points away, assuming you’ve not checked recently) but no one wants to contemplate a relegation battle either. In the circumstances, a meaningless end to the season holds appeal. After all, the run ins for the past three seasons have all featured either promotion or relegation issues to fret about. Let’s get to 50+ points, start planning for next season and, above all else, feel reasonably relaxed as a set of supporters.

Not quite what we had in mind last summer, or even early October; but it’s better than being in the shoes of your Sheffield Uniteds, Bristol Citys and Shrewsburys right now.

And Carlisle’s.

With seven defeats in their last nine League One outings, United are a greater model of freefall and stand one place and one point above the dotted line of the relegation zone. 43 different players have been used by Carlisle this season, with manager Graham Kavanagh admitting, after Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Gillingham, that he still wants new faces. “The budget will dictate what I can bring in,” he told the News & Star. “That’s not a criticism of anybody, it’s just where we’re at at the moment. I would like to get experience in. If I’m able to I will.”

How Kavanagh would surely love someone of Gary Jones’ mould. The veteran midfielder has understandably received numerous plaudits following Saturday’s 3-3 draw against Crewe, and as City go a different direction to Carlisle in their team evolution – younger players replacing old heads – the importance of the skipper has grown in leading the revamped side.

The key question for tonight’s team selection is who will partner the 36-year-old in the centre of midfield. Nathan Doyle returns from suspension after his daft sending off against Wolves the weekend before, but Matty Dolan’s promising debut against Crewe would make it difficult for Parkinson to leave out the birthday boy (21 today). The balance between Dolan and Jones in the second half took you back to Doyle and Jones in their pomp, but that hasn’t happened for sometime and Doyle’s form has become a major issue.

I don’t really know where we go with Nathan. Undoubtedly, he is a hugely talented footballer for this level and – at 27-years-old – he could give the best years of his career to Bradford City by staying on past the expiration of his contract this summer. But for two years in a row now Doyle has failed to maintain his high level of performances over the course of a season, and the key to his future is unlocking the mystery behind this. Have we used him too much too often? Is he the sort of player who needs more regular rests to maintain his freshness?

It’s too early to make judgements on Dolan, but you could see him spending the rest of the season in the team, learning how to be Gary Jones. But does Doyle willingly wait on the sidelines for this to happen, partnering up with the young midfielder – expected to join permanently in the summer, if all goes well – next season? On current form, you certainly wouldn’t leave Jones out and attempt a Doyle-Dolan partnership.

The other midfield concern will be Kyle Bennett, who has hardly made the greatest of first impressions since joining on loan from Doncaster. It was interesting to see Parkinson tweak the gameplan to include two out-and-out wingers in the last two home games, but on the road he will probably continue to prefer the greater solidity of Garry Thompson on the right. Thompson has been criticised heavily for most of the season and is in all likelihood going to depart Valley Parade during the summer, but until that moment he will probably remain in Parkinson’s plans.

The rest of midfield – Jones and the promising Adam Reach – pick themselves at the moment, as do James Hanson and Aaron McLean up top. Via the #bcafc Twitter handle, a fierce debate occurred last week over whether Parkinson should play Hanson or Andy Gray. My jaw was on the floor at some of the responses supporting Gray and blaming all manner of ills on Hanson’s broad shoulders. Five seasons on, it seems many supporters still fail to appreciate what a talented footballer James Hanson actually is.

Those who defend him merely for “trying hard” do him no favours. Hanson certainly never lacks effort, but such basics should be demanded of all footballers. James wins everything in the air, has improved vastly with the ball at his feet and is instrumental in how the team play. He should have netted more than one goal on Saturday, but deserves credit for the approach work and positioning that saw him get on the end of such chances. The alternative theory – that City will turn into Barcelona if Gray was up front – is utterly laughable. I’m not writing Gray off, but his limitations are obvious.

In defence: concern. Rory McArdle has been a scapegoat for months, but taken out of the back four against Crewe he was sorely missed. As I wrote on Saturday, Andrew Davies must be played on his favoured side of defence. It’s incredibly harsh to leave out Carl McHugh who has played well prior to Saturday, but on City’s current run it’s about getting a result. Should McArdle not be ready to play, the forgotten Matt Taylor could be considered instead. That or Doyle, of course.

The full back slots will be retained by Stephen Darby and Matthew Bates. Whilst Darby continues to excel with a minimum of fuss, Bates divides opinion (must avoid using a ‘Bates mass debate’ pun). Very often amongst supporters a theory is put forward that people cling onto despite contrary evidence later occurring – such as Gary Jones’ legs are gone. There is a belief that Bates is rubbish that ignores how well he has played at left back. He is not perfect by any means (it’s not his best position) but has let no one down. Bates will do just fine until James Meredith returns.

Which just leaves the goalkeeper to discuss: Jon McLaughlin. Without doing a lot wrong, he’s also not done much right of late and there is a growing bandwagon for replacing the goalkeeper during the summer. I’m personally undecided on this issue at the moment, and would hope that Parkinson is with me in waiting until May before forming a conclusive judgement. Having joined the club in 2008 there has been a near six-year club investment in getting Jon to where he is today. Shot stopping-wise he is generally excellent, and in claiming crosses there is little to fault. Yet McLaughlin doesn’t command his area with an authority of, say, Rhys Evans (his first mentor) and lacks all-round confidence at the moment.

We could do better than McLaughlin but we could also do worse. He is a decent keeper at this level, but perhaps not of the standard that promotion pushes are made of. Out of contract in the summer, these next 17 games are his opportunity to truly prove himself worthy of the number one jersey. I’d love him to succeed and he certainly has my support, but it’s in his hands to remove those question marks regarding his all-round game.

As for Carlisle, their shambolic display at Valley Parade in round two of this season’s League One remains fresh in the memory. Greg Abbott clung onto his job for a while but eventually made way for Kavanagh, with a short-term burst of improvement that has now faded. If sitting just above the bottom four wasn’t bad enough, noting that the two teams below you are Sheffield United and Bristol City (who must surely get their acts together eventually) must prompt genuine panic.

The News & Star labels Bradford City “out-of-sorts” and, from Carlisle’s point of view, a home game against a bottom half team that have only won once in 20 games will be viewed upon as ‘must-win’. Let us hope that the Bantams return home from this footballing outpost with their hosts feeling increasingly remote, rather than moving uncomfortably close enough to be breathing down our necks.

Moving swiftly on as careful City bettered but not bested

1 Feb

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Wolves 2

McDonald 45, Dicko 57

Bradford City 0

Saturday 1 February, 2014

Written by Jason McKeown (images by Mike Holdsworth)

This game was supposed to be one of the season’s highlights; but in keeping with the darkening mood about the way the campaign is unfolding, it became a mission in getting to the end whilst limiting the damage.

Perhaps, though he would surely deny it, Phil Parkinson had already chalked it off as a defeat. He was without top scorer James Hanson up front, and had rested Andrew Davies following his long-awaited return midweek. The City manager must have hoped that his understrength side could give the pre-season title favourites a tough game; but then Nathan Doyle let him down badly with a stupid second booking, not even 30 minutes in – leaving 10 men to valiantly fight old gold but be bettered with some ease.

Just like at Valley Parade earlier in the season, Wolves were only limited by their ambition. Goals just before the interval and early in the second half put the home side in cruise control and allowed them to take their foot off the gas. It became as routine a victory as any promotion-hunting side could hope to achieve. Two sides continued to compete in the closing stages, but had one eye on running down the clock. Result sorted, we all quickly move on from a game neither side will look back on as significant when the season post-mortems are held in May.

Davies’ absence came as a huge shock and sent out the wrong message. Parkinson would state after the match that the influential centre back was never going to play two games in a week, inadvertently revealing his hand that the Preston home game on Tuesday was deemed a more winnable fixture and, thus, prioritised. It is a logic that is easy to understand, and didn’t necessarily mean Parkinson had written off his team’s chances at Molineux. But a frustration that not all resources were put into this game was difficult to shake off.

Our chances of winning this one had been reduced before kick off by the manager’s pragmatic approach to a tough week.

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As Parkinson also went without the suspended Kyle Bennett, the last thing he needed was another red card. Doyle had earlier been deservedly booked for pulling back the much-hyped Nouha Dicko, and then just eight minutes later launched into a lunging tackle on Kevin McDonald, on the half way line, which was badly mistimed. Referee Scott Duncan was left with no choice but to issue a second yellow card. It was stupid, it was completely unnecessary and there can be no complaints whatsoever. Doyle left his team high and dry when his big character was needed.

The reshuffle enforced upon Parkinson saw him take off Aaron McLean, to the striker’s understandable disappointment, with City going 4-4-1. There has been post-match complaints about this switch which I can’t agree with. McLean did not deserve to be taken off, but circumstances forced the change. Leaving on his new strike partner, Andy Gray, was the right thing to do given his additional height and hold up play. And there was no way in which the manager could repeat the 4-3-2 of midweek during such a tough away match.

What had already seemed like an afternoon of playing for a point became even more a matter of desperately holding on. By now the Davies debate had been softened by a magnificent display from his replacement, Carl McHugh. The young Irish centre half enjoyed easily his best game of a season that hasn’t yet got going for the player, lining up on the left side of defence next to a very impressive Matthew Bates filling in at left back. (Let me repeat that for the benefit of his growing band of critics: a very impressive Matthew Bates.)

Stephen Darby was his usual outstanding self on the right, with Rory McArdle recovering from some early wobbles to help form a rear-guard action that for a spell frustrated the home side. City might even have taken an undeserved lead, after a brilliant surge from Bates and interchange of passes with Gray allowed Adam Reach to dribble past a defender in the box and smash a shot past Aaron McCarey that bounced back off the crossbar.

Just get to half time was the general feeling, as Wolves attack after Wolves attack was repelled by a committed and hard-working back four, and with Gary Jones terrific in front of them. Wolves won plenty of corners and Bakary Sako forced a smart save from Jon McLaughlin. Just get to half time, as the board went up for three minutes of injury time. Despite Gray’s efforts – and this was the best I have seen him play since his return to Valley Parade a year ago – the ball was not sticking up top and possession was squandered too easily.

Just get to half time, surely it’s time now ref.

Goal for Wolves.

Cr*p.

It seemed as though the danger was over as another heroic block repelled a Wolves attack, but then the ball fell to McDonald who picked his spot with a low effort that flashed past McLaughlin’s outstretched hand and into the bottom corner. Roars of relief from the home fans, despair from the travelling support. Duncan blew for half time instantly, and it already seemed like game over.

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The thin margins continued to go against City in the second half, when a rare foray forward saw Darby link up with the hard-working Garry Thompson before firing a powerful long rage effort that hit the post. Four minutes later, Wolves made it 2-0 after Sako’s low cross caused panic and McHugh and Darby could not prevent Dicko’s effort trickling over the line. Still 57 minutes to play, but with a man disadvantage Parkinson was understandably reluctant to chase the game. His conservatism was leading to a defeat but not a bad one.

Nevertheless, questions need to be asked of the manager in his decision to bring on Oli McBurnie for Gray with a quarter of the game still to play. Asking a 17-year-old to lead the line on his own in such difficult circumstances badly risks damaging his confidence. Sure enough, some clueless fans around me were bemoaning the young striker’s efforts, as Wolves easily knocked him off the ball. Perhaps Parkinson quickly realised his error of judgement, as he introduced Jordan Graham to provide some further attacking support, but it is worrying to see young players thrown into a situation like this.

Wolves might have made it 3-0 when Leon Clarke rounded McLaughlin but saw his shot somehow stopped on the line by Darby and booted clear by Bates. Yet Wolves were clearly satisfied with their afternoon’s work, which was enough for them to leap-frog above a defeated Leyton Orient and into the automatic promotion places. Anything can happen in football, but smart money should be placed on Wolves instantly returning to the Championship this May.

But what of the Bantams? One win in 19, and only eight goals in their last 11 games. Marooned in mid-table with a seven-point cushion above the drop zone, there is still work to be done to ensure survival. The urgency to get three points on the board is growing. Defeats like today won’t define our season, but the next two games against 19th-placed Crewe and 18th-placed Carlisle could very well do so.

For these two matches, Parkinson cannot afford to hold back anyone.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, McHugh, Bates, Thompson (Graham 76), Doyle, Jones, Reach, Gray (McBurnie 67), McLean (Atkinson 32)

Not used: Jameson, Taylor, Stockdill, Pollard

Aaron McLean shines in promising debut

21 Jan

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By Mark Danylczuk

Number 21 – what do you think of? The number of spots on a standard dice? A well known card game? The legal drinking age in the US? That’s a few for starters, but for Bradford City fans it is best known as the shirt number of the now-departed Nakhi Wells (two goals in two games for Huddersfield Town, by the way).

Whoever inherited his shirt certainly had some big boots to fill in trying to replicate what the Bermudian forward did for our club, particularly after last year’s magical season.

The honour of number 21 goes to Aaron McLean; the former Hull City and Peterborough striker, who put pen to paper on a two and a half year deal only just under a week ago. City fans are still muttering the questions: How much is he on? How much was the ‘undisclosed fee?’ These will soon become irrelevant if the London-born man can get his scoring boots on and help City pick up some much-needed points to boost our position in the league.

McLean comes in with some decent figures – over 120 career league goals, and a season best of 29 goals in 45 appearances for Peterborough back in the 2007/08 season, earning him the League Two Golden Boot. 18 goals in 39 games in League One the season after – not bad either. An impressive average of a goal almost every two games for Peterborough, over his four year spell – although his recent goal record has dried up somewhat. One in 14 games prior to arriving at Valley Parade – including loan spells away from Hull at both Ipswich Town and Birmingham in the last year – doesn’t exactly raise the temperatures.

After all the questions and debate, McLean ‘21’ made his debut in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Sheffield United. He was certainly noticeable with a striking Mohican haircut – you couldn’t miss the fact that James Hanson had a new strike partner. McLean picked a lively game for his debut: a feisty Yorkshire derby full of guts and determination, which resulted in a two-goal comeback for the Bantams and a very decent point.

And what can we say about his debut? Well, not bad at all son. A rousing display where he was deservedly given a standing ovation after being substituted in the final minute for the forgotten man, Andy Gray. McLean looked fresh, sharp and full of running. Most importantly, he played a part in both goals – laying the ball off to Jones for the first and winning the free kick that lead to the second.

It seems as though McLean has been brought in to play a similar role to Wells, in terms of running off Hanson’s headers and flick ons. McLean also appears to have strength amongst his list of attributes; able to hold the ball up and lay it off to others. Pace-wise, he looked nippy and – to the 3,000+ fans’ delight – showed commendable application. He was full of hunger and fight, chasing balls down and demonstrating impressive overall commitment levels. If only Mark Yeates, in particular, could take note – as the former Watford man caused general dismay in the away end, especially after refusing to go in for a 50/50 challenge.

The question is whether McLean can fill the role of Wells, and what about competition from the the other strikers? With Alan Connell seemingly likely to go off on loan, having not even made the bench on Saturday, and the time needed for the inexperienced Oliver McBurnie to adapt to League One football, McLean should be seen as the front runner in partnering Hanson. One can assume Gray will be out of the picture, too.

The Bantams have a 10-day break before the tough tests of high-fliers Preston and Wolves in a week. Phil Parkinson has done the right thing in bringing a striker in, and the manager will be hoping that McLean quickly justifies his judgement, but there is further work to be done. The team simply must improve in its creativity and in supplying chances for this new-look partnership.

The correct man-management of the current squad, along with some interim faces in the January transfer window, should be the next steps towards ensuring this year’s Holy Grail of retaining our League One status.

Looking for more in reserve as Bantams welcome Rotherham

26 Dec

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Bradford City vs Rotherham United preview

@Valley Parade on Thursday 26 December, 2013

By Ian Sheard

For those who don’t know, ‘Football Manager’ offers fans the opportunity to manage and run their own football club – everything from training to transfers, corners to contracts and player interactions to international requests. I think it was Jay from the ‘Inbetweeners’ who commented how he had got Woking from the Conference up to the Champions League in six seasons, and had put this on his CV!

One mistake that I’m sure many people make is that when a familiar name comes available on a free transfer, the temptation to bring them to your club is hard to ignore. Players with a profound goal scoring record signed up, talked up and then given a run of games to prove their worth. Unfortunately this never materialises into success, and you often end up cutting your losses and releasing them on a free.

One could argue that Andy Gray fits this profile entirely and that his worth in the team is questionable. Another argument could be that he has not really been given much of opportunity, having been clearly unfit last year and desperately unlucky this season with his pre-season injury and the form of Nahki Wells and James Hanson. Phil Parkinson said himself that he would look to rotate the squad over the busy festive period and look of ‘bench players’ in order to keep the squad fresh for the difficult run in of games. Saturday’s defeat to Peterborough, however, was contrary to this and Parkinson’s hand was forced with the injury to Hanson earlier in the week.

I must admit that, whilst Christmas shopping, I checked the commentary and was in disbelief that Gray was actually playing let alone scoring, albeit from the bench. Today, it may be that with Garry Thompson struggling for a bit of form, Parkinson selects Gray to start alongside Wells. Personally I think this is a good option, as Gray has the presence to play against a very physical Rotherham team. I also think his experience could help calm the team in what will sure be a volatile match on and off the pitch.

As for the rest of the team selection, it could go a number of ways. I sincerely doubt that Parkinson will play five at the back at home with the two wingbacks. As much as I agree with analysis from the Pulse that wingers would be ineffective without the presence of Hanson, I would have still been tempted to start with Reid and Yeates at London Road, and I think that Reid may get the nod today.

I’m hoping Yeates starts on the right, as I think that Thompson is lacking the consistency he showed last season at the moment. To me, Yeates is a wonderfully influential and creative player, who reminds me a lot of Lee Hendrie when he played for a while a few seasons ago. His higher level experience is clear, and I believe he can hold the key to that bit of creativity out wide, as well as through the middle when Hanson is not available.

I assume that Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle will get the nod in midfield and I actually fancy Doyle for a goal. With the absence of Rory McArdle, it may be that Cark McHugh gets the nod in defence alongside Matthew Bates, with the ever consistent James Meredith at left back and – for me, the first name on the sheet – Stephen Darby on the right! Of the substitutes I can see Alan Connell coming on for a few minutes as he is technically a very good player, but admittedly lacks the flair and creativity of Wells. I also think Rafa De Vita will get a run out on the wing coming off the bench. I’m sure all City fans would like to see Oliver McBurnie given a go as well even for 10 minutes, but I doubt that will happen.

And so onto Rotherham! For me, they are vastly becoming the Huddersfield of the modern era: the annoying local rivals that are always there or there abouts with a deplorable manager and a knack of getting a good result against us. So how do City go about beating them? I think the key to it is silencing Steve Evans. Parkinson has won a few mind games of late, and I think this could be the key to beating Evans and inevitably Rotherham. Not getting drawn in to his pathetic cries for attention, aggressive brand of football and the inevitable time wasting that have become synonymous with away teams at Valley Parade of late, will be vital.

In terms of time-wasting; it has frustrated me greatly that teams have done this recently and I have often found myself getting angrier and angrier by these underhand tactics. It appears to me that it is no longer the referees who are ruining the game, but the players through time-wasting. It was my forever level headed father-in-law, though, that made a very good point. If teams such as Leyton Orient want to come to West Yorkshire and time waste as early as the first half, then this is a measure of how much they fear Valley Parade and City.

I compare this to a miserable Tuesday night against Accrington Stanley in 2007, where even though the atmosphere was phenomenal, the players were not. Stanley were free to run with the ball, create chance after chance and brimmed with confidence.  I have not seen as much of this ‘no fear’ football from teams visiting Valley Parade, apart from Wolves, and it will be interesting to see how Rotherham go about their duty.

The Millers, like City, may have surprised a few people this season with how high up they are in the league; but for all his flaws Evans, must be doing something right. I was excited by playing Rotherham on Boxing Day as I think the atmosphere will be electric and once again we, as fans, hold the key to success. Personally I would advise the team to attack from the off, tackle hard and ignore all temptation to be drawn in by the unavoidable ‘tactics’ of the opposition. Easier said than done I know, and I can envisage a lot of abuse from my own voice, thrown in the direction of many a person!

Everyone predicted that City would have a tough run of games of Christmas, as results have proven; but they haven’t been disastrous and neither have the performances. Nothing would make my football Christmas more than three points today, and I strongly believe this could be the beginning of a very successful spell for City – one that will leave us in contention for the play offs in the run up to the end of the season.

Andy lights up a Gray day

22 Dec
Peterborough

Picture by Kieran Wilkinson

 

Peterborough United 2

Ntlhe 18, Assombalonga 24

Bradford City 1

Gray 76

Saturday 21 December, 2013

By Joe Cockburn

It was always going to be a tough game for Bradford City. Peterborough score a lot of goals and tend to win on their own patch; they aren’t in the play offs for no reason. And with the news that James Hanson wouldn’t be playing, things suddenly got unthinkably tougher.

Parkinson chose to react to that by doing as I would have, replacing Hanson with Garry Thompson who, despite his poor form of late, always seems to perform when up front and I think we all would have put him in ahead of any other options.

But Parkinson felt Peterborough’s attacking style of play warranted a more defensive approach; so he chose to play a 5-3-2 formation, bringing in Matt Taylor for his first appearance in a City shirt for a long while. Along with the forced Hanson change, the City boss also chose to leave out Kyel Reid. As much as I don’t like the fact that he can’t cross or make a right decision, Reid has been City’s most prominent attacking threat lately, but he couldn’t be deployed in this formation. So Mark Yeates was brought back in. Yeates had impressed some supporters with his recent substitute appearances, and I think Parkinson was attempting to use him as a driving force from midfield.

The game started off slow, but despite the change in formation, City’s style of play did not alter. Many long balls were being pumped up (once again by Rory McArdle) and City’s midfield were not in the game at all. Peterborough were probably edging the game when something very, very special happened.

City took a few swings at clearing the corner (arguably Gary Jones and Yeates could both have cleared more effectively), but when Posh left back Kgosi Nthle took aim from all of 40 yards, there was nothing that could be done. His shot caught the wind and whistled past Jon McLaughlin into the top corner, an absolutely astounding goal which many City fans applauded. No-one could believe their eyes.

But, as we have seen before, City totally froze. Thompson stopped even challenging (not that he had won anything before), none of the three midfielders were leaving the centre circle – in either direction – and somehow no-one could see James Meredith on the left in acres of space when City had the ball. It really was a shambles.

And that is the word I would use to describe Peterborough’s second. McArdle for once didn’t try a useless hoof from the right back position, he chose to lose possession in a more inventive way. The Northern Ireland international gave Stephen Darby a shocker of a hospital ball, which he could only go backwards with, but McArdle offered no option to the backtracking “wing-back”. Darby was inevitably caught in possession, and City’s defence once again frustratingly backed off and backed off, and Matthew Bates (who it must be mentioned I thought performed very well bar this moment) must have had Assombalonga to score any time, as he let him turn without any attempt of challenge on the edge of the box. And, yes, it was a good finish to be fair. But don’t let the Pulse tell you it was “two wonder goals”.

City finally chose to come forward, and as Nahki Wells got in behind, he played a magnificent pass to Jones on the edge of the box, who should have scored. Big time. He had a free shot from 15 yards and put it straight at the keeper. A chance that many other midfielders in the league would gobble up.

But that chance did everything but energise City. The midfield continued to not track back – it’s weird that everyone goes on about how we need an attacking midfielder, but I noticed on Saturday that they don’t do much work when it comes to defending either. I pointed out one moment in the second half where Nathan Doyle lost the ball on the halfway line. He then started strolling back as Lee Tomlin carried the ball forward and played it wide. As City conceded the corner, both of Posh’s midfielders were in the penalty box with their two strikers. Nathan Doyle was 20 yards from the area and Gary Jones was inside the centre circle.

Anyway, back to the end of the first half, as Peterborough had two further chances. Again backing off and the lack of a challenge led to these, as Assombalonga dinked wide and Tomlin struck the post from the edge of the box – Bates with a feeble attempt to get his backside in the way. Something needed to change, and it undoubtedly lied in the formation and the strike force.

Fortunately Parkinson saw these two issues and rectified them. He brought Reid on to replace Taylor (notably in the first half when Luke Oliver was warming up, he got a great ovation and chant from the City fans – I think he may replace McArdle on Boxing Day) and then the forgotten man Andy Gray replaced Thompson. Thompson needed to go off, but those not at the game and on Twitter certainly did not want Gray.

We at the game thought two things. He couldn’t do any worse than Thompson, who added another abysmal to his recent high number of poor performances, and that, we’re playing very poorly and the atmosphere has died since the second goal, let’s have a laugh. So Andy Gray’s name rang out from the travelling support for the following 45 minutes, certainly in a sarcastic manner.

Not only did personnel and formation change at half time, so did the attitude. Long balls were stopped, and for possibly the first time this season, City were playing a bit of football. Now, I am not going to criticise the man, because he has been one of the stars of this season, and earned a longer deal. BUT, would we have kept the ball on the floor as much as we did in the second half were Hanson on the pitch? Certainly not.

Reid, as expected, was a threat. The home side’s full backs had an easy run of it in the first half, and Reid made sure they earned their wage in the second. Despite a relative equilibrium in pace, Reid was past Mark Little at every opportunity, winning fouls and corners, and was pushing the team forwards. Gray also was doing well. Again, not criticising, but doing the things that Hanson doesn’t; holding it up, effectively laying it off and creating space – things which I actually think he is teaching James to do, as that has been creeping into his game this season.

One person who significantly did not benefit from this change in style was Nahki Wells.

The lack of long balls and Hanson flick ons to feed off meant Wells spent long periods out of the game, and was slipping a lot, and giving the ball away on the odd occasion that he got it. To me, this shows that he is not a fully rounded player yet, at all. Yes he scores goals and that is an invaluable attribute which we would be nowhere without; however playing the football we were, and pushing the Boro defensive line back as we were, meant Wells’ pace was not needed, and whenever Reid put a cross in he seemed to not be in the box.

Yeates, while often negative in his passing, was a massive influence in this style. He knew when to keep the ball in the defence, and where to be to offer Darby the pass, and when to turn and go. He, Gray and Jones linked up well on the right, sometimes to open up play and bring Reid into the game, and sometimes to work a little opening down the right channel, and it worked a charm.

Peterborough’s defence were stretched, and couldn’t deal with City’s play. It was great to watch and refreshing, as I for one have recently gotten fed up of our hoof-it style carried forward from League Two. And it was everyone’s best friend, Andy Gray, who was at the forefront of it.

And with 15 minutes to go, the fans still chanting his name, the somewhat inevitable (to us in the stands anyway) happened. Gray got his first City goal (of this spell). A fortunate break of the ball left Reid with space to run into on the left. He took aim for the bottom left corner. His shot was horribly dragged but fell straight into the path of Gray, who cleverly let the ball run through his legs and flicked it into the corner. A left footed backheel.

Pick any City striker, any City player to do that, it wouldn’t be Andy Gray. And probably, those sarcastic chants helped him through. The fans got behind him (something us travellers are accused of not doing) and reaped the rewards.

City continued to come forward but started to rush and lose the stylish element of the game. Long balls were being played (and won by Gray) but no-one could get onto it and the ball stopped sticking up front again. Reid fell out of the game and City couldn’t figure out why their momentum was amounting to nothing. But we had evidently reverted to first half and rest of the season City. It was frustrating to watch.

Gary Jones had two more chances similar to his one in the first half but both were wasted. Unfortunately for the captain, you would expect a bang average midfielder to score one of those. A lot of midfielders we have seen this season would have taken two if not all three of his chances.

Peterborough started getting chances on the break, and I give this short bit of information its own paragraph, because I need to mention it in every article I write, as I don’t think he gets enough coverage – once again, Jon McLaughlin made a string of fine and valuable saves. Time after time he denied Assombalonga and Tomlin, and kept City in it at 2-1.

Parkinson did the usual, brought on Connell for Bates, but it was never going to really have an impact with only injury time left. City’s style deteriorated as the game went on, and the final whistle finally came to give Peterborough three points that possibly, in the end, they were lucky to earn.

My personal immediate reaction to the game was that we fully deserved the loss. A neutral on the train thought we were the better side and were ‘robbed’. I disagreed with him, but when writing this article I have come to realise he had a point. Robbed, no. But we certainly were by far the better team second half, and possibly warranted a point for the way we turned around and upped our game in the second half.

Pre-match, the match was bigged up to be Assombalonga vs Wells, with scouts in attendance seeing what lower league striker they could add to their artillery in January. There was only one I would sign watching this game. Wells offered nothing, was a 5 or 6 out of 10. Assombalonga put himself about, created and was on the end of chances, and did the running for his team, being effective in the air as well as pacey. And, on that performance, the London Road crowd will have been glad to have got the services of Assombalonga rather than Wells in the summer.

In terms of Rotherham, City need to up their game to take anything. David Baldwin was telling me before the game (we got a taxi with him from the station – long and very odd story) that City hoped for five points from these three Christmas fixtures. On that first half performance, City would be very lucky to take one or rwo. On the second half performance, City could take four or six (Rotherham still know how to beat us unfortunately, and I don’t think they’ll lose at Valley Parade on Boxing Day).

The only change I may make is Nathan Doyle. He has been in very poor form for a long time, and needs a kick up the backside a-la last season. I would bring Jason Kennedy in. People may disagree and not be Kennedy fans, but for me they need to lay off him. Had Kennedy put in the performances Doyle has recently, he would be public enemy number one and certainly wouldn’t have kept his place for so long.

It was a disappointing and frustrating loss, but I suppose quality in finishing just had us beaten. From the second half, that performance and – I keep using it but it needs using – style could be developed to improve City’s chances over the next few games and throughout the remainder of the season.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Bates (Connell 86), Taylor (Reid 46), Meredoth, Doyle, Jones, Yeates, Thompson (Gray 46), Wells

Not used: Ripley, McHugh, Oliver, Kennedy

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