Tag Archives: Garry Thompson

That’s character

8 May


By Jason McKeown

Not too many players released by Bradford City over the past decade got to leave with their head held high; but as Garry Thompson begins the search for a new club, he deserves to reflect on his two years at Valley Parade with great pride.

It’s not just about those headline-grabbing moments – the Arsenal goal and all that – Thompson played a key role in changing the culture of the club. He in many ways is the embodiment of what Phil Parkinson has attempted to do over the past few years in terms of the players he has brought in. A manager who lists the number one player requirement as being ‘character’ recruited one of the biggest in Thompson.

Consider his career prior to joining the Bantams in the summer of 2012, and there was little to us regular supporters that suggested Thompson would be any different to a number of other players brought in, over the years, who subsequently failed. He was, like many of these others, older than seemed ideal, and had endured a difficult couple of years that were blighted by injury. Scunthorpe United fans weren’t exactly complementary towards him either.

Superficial damaging, which left you fearing it would result in the same old story.

Perhaps, even now, Parkinson doesn’t get enough credit for his 2012 recruitment drive. There is no question that every single player he signed that summer played their part in the 64-game marathon; but behind the fact that many were clearly considered good ‘characters’, the majority brought with them a very specific type of experience that would ultimately stand the club in good stead.

Stephen Darby had been part of a play off semi final on loan at Swindon and even scored in a semi final shootout against Parkinson’s Charlton. James Meredith had been to Wembley twice in a season, promoted with York City in the second of those visits. Gary Jones and Rory McArdle had also played at the national stadium for Rochdale (beaten 3-2 by Stockport in 2008 play off final), and Jones remained at Spotland to lead them to automatic promotion two years later. Nathan Doyle had scored in a play off semi final for Hull as they climbed into the Premier League. Alan Connell had been Swindon’s top scorer in their 2011/12 League Two title victory.

That is a heck of a lot of experience of the big occasions; of players who had first-hand knowledge of just what it took to be successful. And that counted in bucket loads throughout the 64-marathon. The character came to the fore during that late and successful play off charge, and in turning around the Burton semi final tie that City appeared to have blown. Most of the 2012 summer signings had played in big promotion games before and delivered. For City, they would do so again in stunning fashion.

Thompson himself could draw on experience of past achievements. At Morecambe, he played and scored in the play off final victory that took the Shrimpers into the Football League. After first catching the eye of the Bantams, when he almost single-handedly destroyed Stuart McCall’s side in October 2007, Thompson rejected the chance to move to West Yorkshire in favour of playing higher up the league ladder with Scunthorpe. He again played a significant part in a promotion, featuring in the League One play off final victory at Wembley that took the Iron to the Championship. As Parkinson brought him to Valley Parade in 2012, all that was missing from his CV was the challenge of coping with playing for a large, demanding crowd.

Yet it was here, rather than any of his more celebrated Bantams contributions, where Thompson truly proved his mettle. He began life at City very slowly, and for the first few months was unloved by his new supporters. “Parkinson’s summer signings were good, apart from Thompson” was a familiar criticism around that time. He had muttered something about preferring to play as a striker rather than winger, but was hardly going to get such an opportunity ahead of James Hanson and Nahki Wells. His initial games on the right flank suggested a lack of commitment, or interest. Burton away, in late October, a low point, after his lazy clearance cost 10-men City a share of the points. You wondered how much patience Parkinson would afford him.

The turning point was Bristol Rovers in November. A rain-soaked afternoon saw City 2-1 down at half time, and Thompson in particular was woeful. As we dodged the rain drops on the uncovered Memorial Stadium terrace during the interval, we speculated that it might prove the beginning of the end to Thompson’s City career – he must surely be subbed. Instead of getting the hook, Thompson remained on the pitch for the second half, but had clearly had a rollicking from his manager. Thompson looked a different player, full of energy, determination and creativity. He set up one of the three City equalising goals and generally ran his heart out. From that afternoon onwards, Thompson progressed considerably.

To turn around such an unpromising start to the season – ending it with many arguing he was the club’s best player, post-Christmas – deserves a huge amount of credit. Over the years, we have seen so many players start badly and never recover. The Valley Parade crowd is notoriously quick to make up its mind and stubborn in changing it back. Thompson dug in, as the grumbles from the stands rained down on him, demonstrating true character to find his form and win people over.

Especially when, one cold December evening, he earned his place in Bradford City folklore.

Close your eyes and I bet you can still picture it. Jones’ free kick, Will Atkinson’s flick on and there at the backpost was Garry Thompson: a difficult shooting opportunity was taken with aplomb. After the ball hit the back of the net, Valley Parade went crazy. Thompson’s goal against Arsenal will be forever remembered, and firmly provided the player with the lift off to grow in stature and become one of the side’s key men.

It was the second of nine goals that Thompson netted in 2012/13. Five of the others came after the first trip to Wembley, amongst that successful late bid for promotion. They were important goal contributions too – the second clinching goal at York a week after the Swansea final; an early headed winner against Wycombe that began the late season rally of victories; and another header at Torquay, on Easter Monday, where City won and every other result went their way.

Thompson was truly flying during this period. He didn’t offer the direct pace of Kyel Reid on the opposite flank, but his skill on the ball and link up play with those around him led to numerous goalscoring opportunities. He and Stephen Darby combined with increasing effectiveness, whilst Hanson benefited from Thompson’s physical presence that meant opposition defenders couldn’t solely focus on stopping the supply to the former Guiseley man.

Most vital of all was Thompson’s play off semi final strike against Burton Albion, which turned around a tie that had fallen out of City’s grasp. 3-1 down at home in the first leg, Thompson cut inside, ran past a defender and struck a powerful shot that deflected off Jones and into the top corner. That goal – and Wells’ first at the Pirelli in the second leg – were arguably more vital than the three City scored at Wembley in the final. Had City trooped off Valley Parade defeated 3-1, it would have been almost impossible to come back in the second leg. That goal changed the mood in both camps, prompting fear in Burton and belief in City. It was undoubtedly one of the most important of the 64-marathon.

Thompson is not the only 2012/13 promotion winner who failed to hit the same heights this season, but probably stood out more than others as being on borrowed time. His performances during the first half of the season were generally average, and as the team’s form dipped there was a growing sense that he needed competition on the right flank.

It was too simplistic to put his disappointing form down to age; for me it seemed as though he had experienced a dip in confidence. But even if he was producing 6 out of 10 performances, his commitment never waived. He might have looked a little scared of the ball, but he never hid away from receiving it. And every now and then, he would produce an exceptional cross or pass that would remind you of his quality.

That character, again. You could criticise Thompson’s performances – many people did – but no one could accuse him of ducking responsibility. And even when he faded into the background after January and became a regular substitute, he still contributed positively in the games he was introduced into. How nice it was that he got the happy ending of a winning goal on his final Valley Parade outing.

Thompson is a shining example, one that those who follow him in playing for Bradford City would do well to follow. It not as an easy club to play for, where expectations so often exceed reality; and there is no hiding place. Yet Thompson won the doubters over, following a difficult start, through his own determination.

If future Bradford City signings struggle to adapt to life at Valley Parade, Parkinson could do a lot worse than sitting them down and playing the video of Thompson’s goal against Arsenal, before telling them the story of how the veteran overcame his own early struggles by calling upon his strength of character.

The day the sun shined for departing City players

26 Apr


Bradford City 2

Mclean 49, Thompson 86

Crawley Town 1

Proctor 65

Saturday 26 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

This was a leaving party with a strange feel – for it was unclear who, exactly, we were bidding farewell to. For the last Valley Parade match of the season, 11 of the 14 Bradford City players who featured are not contracted to play beyond next weekend’s final match at Tranmere. Change is coming; but who is to be shown the door remains unclear, perhaps even to Phil Parkinson himself.

On an afternoon where many players were surely aiming to press home their case for a new deal, the atmosphere in the stands was laced with sentimentality. Eight of those 11 were part of the 2012/13 vintage, and have built up a deep affection with supporters that will prompt great sadness if this is to prove the last time their Bradford public sees them. The end-of-season lap around the pitch was well-attended, and the Kop led the chanting of appreciation.

Some of the most celebrated players in Bradford City’s history might have just taken their final steps on the Valley Parade turf.

It was fitting, therefore, that the winning goal was scored by a member of the ‘We Made History’ team – especially as his future seems the most clear-cut. Garry Thompson has barely started a match since January and is surely going to be shown the door. With four minutes left on the clock, Thompson glanced home Gary Jones’ corner to ensure an unexpectedly joyful swansong to his memorable two-year spell at the club. Thompson also netted the final home goal of last season, and it is worth contemplating just where the Bantams might be without that vital, play off semi final contribution.

This time around, Thompson’s goal has ensured that City cannot finish any lower than 15th in League One – which constitutes a commendable rise for a club that only narrowly avoided relegation to non-league two years ago. But Parkinson can only toast that success for a fleeting moment, in order to ensure stagnation is kept at bay. He needs to raise the quality of the squad to deal with next season’s inevitable raise of expectations. He needs to get his retained list right.

Which meant that, today, the players had to rise above the drop of intensity that an end-of-season game between two mid-table sides naturally triggers, and offer a convincing case that they are still relevant to the club’s higher ambitions. For the most part that determination was evident, as City played some purposeful football that was pleasing on the eye. It was hardly edge-of-your-seat stuff and a world away from the high intensity of the early weeks of this season, but with the 4-3-1-2 formation once again deployed, it appears as though Parkinson plans to change more than just personnel for next season.

Compared to its success against an open Peterborough, the shape of the City team proved less effective against a reasonable Crawley side who largely defended deep and broke forward in cautious fashion. John Gregory employed a 4-5-1 set up that has caused City so many problems this season, but today it was cancelled out by Parkinson’s own narrow midfield three of Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle and Rafa De Vita. Over the final few weeks of the season, it has become evident that the City manager has increasingly focused on stopping the opposition from playing, and the significant overall improvement to the goals against column would suggest it is bearing fruit.

Yet the 4-3-1-2 relies so much on the man playing in the hole to dictate attacks, and Mark Yeates – who played in a similar role for City earlier in the season – struggled to make the same impact as the now-departed Adam Reach last Friday. Yeates had less space to operate, but was too often guilty of slowing down his team’s forward momentum by holding onto possession for too long and picking the wrong pass. Yeates was one of the three starters with the security of a City contract for next season, and yet his days at Valley Parade appear numbered. There were good moments in this, his first start since December, but he was still a long way short of demonstrating that he is man to build next season’s team around.

Something that Parkinson simply has to be considering with regards to another in-contract player, Aaron Mclean – who has so far struggled to fit City’s style of play. Back in the side after injury, Mclean was clearly lacking fitness and at times cut a sorry figure as nothing would come off for him, but then just after half time he raced onto Doyle’s throughball and smashed a low shot past Paul Jones – a welcome reminder of his striking prowess.

The former Hull striker wasn’t exactly handed a glut of one-on-one opportunities during his previous 18 games in claret and amber, but has previously wasted similar chances to this one. His third goal for City was less instinctive than the previous two, but somehow more impressive.

Mclean opens the scoring.

Mclean opens the scoring.

Mclean was only fit enough to lead the line for an hour, at which point he made way for Thompson and, four minutes later, Crawley were level in a move that summed up Yeates’ failings. City had been on the counter attack after a corner was cleared to Yeates. With few options in support, he misjudged a cross-field ball attempt from which Crawley were able to muster their own counter attack. Home players had been charging up the pitch to support Yeates and were now caught out, with a breakdown in communication between substitute Carl McHugh and keeper Jon McLaughlin allowing Jamie Proctor to lob home an equaliser.

At that point, Crawley looked the more likely winners and pressed, but City stood firm and eventually regained the attacking initiative. Jon Stead was the home side’s best player – he ran tirelessly, won so much and caused numerous problems – and represents an interesting consideration when strengthening the forward line this summer. The other loan players on show today – Adam Drury and Kyle Bennett – also caught the eye. It is easy to envisage them both being at Valley Parade next summer.

A late shot from Thompson was pushed away by Jones for a corner that led to the same City player’s winner. It sparked warm celebrations around Valley Parade, and the closing stages were played out in front of a wall of noise from three sides of the stadium. After things had looked bleak in mid-February, with that run of one win in 21 suggesting a slow slide towards relegation, six victories from the last 15 represents a steady improvement at a vital time. The players and management fully deserved the rapturous appreciation they received on their lap around the pitch.

Whether some of the players behind the late improvement will be rewarded with a new contract is now the main focus of attention. The likes of Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones have really stepped up when their club needed them, and it would be hard on them if they were told to leave. But equally, sentiment can only be allowed to exist amongst us supporters. Parkinson will know that he is going to come under pressure if his close season activity doesn’t pay dividends, particularly in view of his recent under-performance in the transfer market. He needs to be ruthless over the next fortnight.

And if that ruthlessness leads to bad news for any of the 11 out-of-contact players who played today, at least they will be able to take away one final happy memory of playing at Valley Parade. A day when the sun will always shine.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle (McHugh 58), Davies, Drury, Jones, Doyle, De Vita (Bennett 69), Yeates, Mclean (Thompson 61), Stead

Not used: Jameson, Bates, Dolan, McBurnie


Who should stay and who should go?

14 Apr


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:


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.


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:


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


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.

The Midweek Player Focus #56: Kyle Bennett

9 Apr


By Jason McKeown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The here and now

7 Mar

Image by Alex Dodd

Brentford vs Bradford City preview

@Griffin Park on Saturday 8 March, 2014

By Damien Wilkinson

“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” Henry David Thoreau, August 1853

In the aftermath of the defeat at the hands of bottom placed Stevenage last weekend the disappointment in the 3-2 result, and particularly City’s failure to capitalise after twice being ahead, was perhaps overshadowed by a feeling of inevitability.  The historic tendency of the Bantams to somehow conjur defeat, against the backdrop of a seemingly nailed on three points, had again reared its head, and it felt like a return to the bad old days.

However, as the goodwill from last season also continues to fade, and is justifiably no longer a convenient excuse for any failings of this season, it also feels like now is the time to wipe other parts of the slate clean and avoid wallowing in previous negativities from the last few years.  The box marked ‘persecution complex’ can be left unopened for the foreseeable future.

Whilst it is increasingly likely (and hopeful) that the tail end of this season will probably see a mixed bag of results as City hopefully stumble across the line to mid-table safety/obscurity, it is also worth emphasising, and more importantly enjoying, the fact that we are in League One.  We are facing some decent sides week-in-week-out, who play a great quality of football, and on the majority of occasions, the Bantams have not been massively outclassed.  Looking back we have had some cracking matches served up this season, and the atmosphere created at Valley Parade has been terrific and something to be proud of.

As Jason said earlier in the week, it is important to remember where we have come from and enjoy the moment that is now.  Sure, we have had some frustrating results; but this is certainly a much better place to be and hopefully part of a longer upward journey.  In addition to removing any unnecessary retrospection it is also worth avoiding ‘wishing this season away’, as we clearly need to align on the present.  With the potential of a relegation trapdoor beckoning if distracted, City need a complete focus on the forthcoming games, one at a time, and perhaps foster something of a cup tie mentality from hereon in.

Which brings us nicely on to what looks like an extremely challenging fixture away at Brentford.

The Bees have followed an ultimately unsuccessful play off campaign last season with a very solid season thus far.  The departure of manager Uwe Rosler to Wigan back in December has not really disrupted the season at all, and indeed Brentford have hovered around the top of the table throughout the season.  In stark contrast to City, they have only lost once in the league since mid-October 2013.  Their home record, with 12 wins out of 16 on home turf, is bettered only by Wolves presently.

A very tough test for the Bantams, who will have to be on their best to get anything from a match that Brentford will see as a must win to propel a push for an automatic promotion berth.

The fitness of Andrew Davies may well have an impact not just on Saturday’s match, but how the next few matches unfold for the Bantams.  Davies’ return to the side has certainly solidified the defence, as evidenced by the two clean sheets prior to the Stevenage game, and also has helped breed much needed confidence, with players such as Rory McArdle, showing improved performances.  Mid-week noises from the player himself seemed to indicate that Davies has a fighting chance of being fit for Saturday, but the backroom staff will be keen to avoid causing any long-term issues from rushing the lionhearted defender back.

In the absence of Davies, it would be expected that Matthew Bates will again deputise in his favoured position.  Following recent City victories, albeit without him, Bates now appears to have been passed the poisoned chalice of the doom-mongers go-to statistic, having so far experienced a solitary win in 18 appearances in a City shirt, and he will be keen to ensure this record is not prolonged.  It will also be hoped that McArdle’s mid-week Northern Ireland international trip to Cyprus does not impact him in the manner similar to his jet setting prior to October’s Coventry fixture seemingly did.

Phil Parkinson will possibly make no other changes.  It would make sense to give Garry Thompson another start at the expense of Kyle Bennett, in a game like this; with the latter better suited to come on in the closing stages.  Mounting pressure on Aaron Mclean to break his City goal duck was further fuelled by comments from Parkinson after the Stevenage match, and it is hoped that Mclean’s second half miss during the Stevenage game does not overly dent his confidence.

Mark Yeates, who came on in the Stevenage match and also played in the behind closed doors friendly against Sunderland during the week, will again probably be on the bench and he is still trying to reignite a City career that continues to falter – his late miss in the Stevenage match somehow summed this up.

The protracted hunt for a left back seems to have gathered some new momentum this week and it is expected that a new loan signing may well be available for Saturday.  Should this not happen, Carl McHugh will no doubt again occupy the slot and will face a tough examination from an attack-minded Bees side who like to employ a high pressing game.

Brentford manager Mark Warburton, the man whose 40’s mid-life crisis saw him give up a job as a trader in the City of London to pursue football coaching, will name a side likely to include top scorer Clayton Donaldson.  Donaldson, he of Bradford origin, usually seems to go out of his way to avoid endearing himself to the City faithful, and it will be no surprise to see him similarly pumped up.  Other notable players include striker Marcello Trotta, who has netted 11 goals so far and goalkeeper David Button, sent off in the corresponding fixture at Valley Parade in September.  Winger Sam Saunders, out since January with a knee injury, remains on the sidelines after recently undergoing surgery.

Whilst not a make-or-break match by any stretch, defeat will leave City again looking nervously over their shoulders, and, should other results go adversely, the current six point safety cushion from the relegation spots could be severely ravished.

This may be particularly damaging to confidence levels given a subsequent tough run of fixtures after the match including trips to Colchester, Shrewsbury and Leyton Orient, and a strong performance on Saturday is the basic requirement, hopefully supplemented by a positive result.

Two steps forward, one step back

1 Mar

Bradford City 2

Reach 11, Hanson 42

Stevenage 3

Zoko 23, Freeman 65+87

Saturday 1 March, 2013

By Katie Whyatt

That hurt. To see City so hesitant and frenetic, so soon after clawing out two consecutive wins, was painful. To see them sank by two worldly goals was like deja vu. To see them go from leading – twice – to trailing was disheartening.

As former Arsenal prospect Luke Freeman – who, undeniably, looks a class, class act and rivals Swindon’s Alex Pritchard as the best opposition player I’ve seen at Valley Parade this season – curled his superb free-kick over City’s scrambling wall, my heart sank. It was, unfortunately, inevitable – the bottom clubs have always presented a curious stumbling block for Bradford, and today proved to be no different as the Hertfordshire side dominated proceedings with a dogged display that instantly belied their standing as one of the division’s basement teams.

But there had been some naïve hope in me, somewhere, that the Bantams would hold out for three points or a draw. There have been games amidst the burdensome run where City have unjustly left empty-handed; and I thought today, for all the performance might not have merited a haul of all three points, Lady Luck would finally place herself on the Bantams’ side.

It hurt that they couldn’t make it a hat trick of home wins.

You can blame who you like for the two second half goals that sank the Bantams – the consensus on the concourse seemed to point towards shoddy refereeing and a haphazard defensive display – and, while no one could have done anything to stop Freeman’s superb free-kick, it was exactly what the visitors had deserved. Though it was easy to ask questions about their ruthlessness and rule-bending in the first-half, Stevenage were quick, smart and clinical right until the death. City were tentative and backed off after Andrew Davies departed – it was unsettling to see.

Yet, the opening stages of the game had looked promising. Boro were undoubtedly in the game, but so were City, and the hosts retaliated to Zoko’s early effort. Aaron McLean’s surging run forward was ultimately blocked at the eleventh hour by Jon Ashton, but the move boded well for the Bradford.

City opened the scoring just minutes later. Carl McHugh’s cross was knocked into the path of a lively Adam Reach by James Hanson, and the influential winger fired home with a textbook volley from the edge of the area. While McHugh can understandably struggle defensively at full back, his partnership with Reach continues to look brighter and brighter, and the pair’s early work marked another huge step forward from last week.

Both had a mixed second half, but McHugh’s link-up play and distribution is definitely improving, and there’s no longer the hesitancy going forward he showed earlier on in the season. In any case, it was a top-drawer finish, and Reach’s composure in the final third is proving a naturally desirable outlet going forward.

But the visitors were soon level through the hugely influential Francois Zoko. Davies (Mr. March on the club calendar, by the way – the curse continues) slipped to allow Freeman to run on through, and, although Stephen Darby excellently blocked the midfielder’s effort, the striker was on hand to fire a low equaliser.

City seemed to struggle following the visitor’s resurgence, which crucially coincided with Davies’ departure, and there seemed a renewed hesitancy about the Bantams’ play. However, Hanson, who was again inspiring despite being swarmed by several defenders whenever he was on the ball, put City back in front just before half time, again with another wonder strike the Kop would have been delighted to witness. The forward’s smartly struck effort sailed under the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Chris Day, and, as the whistle blew for half-time, there was hope Bradford would carry through to a top second-half display.

Much like City, though, Stevenage never know when they’re beaten, and Boro entered the second half with a fluidity, tenacity and vigour that City’s disjointed erraticness – sedated only by Darby and Nathan Doyle – struggled to match. Within minutes, Stevenage were level, Freeman having smashed in from 25 yards after neither Rory McArdle nor substitute Matthew Bates closed down.

The Bantams uncharacteristically imploded and struggled to remain composed. Even a reversion to finely honed directness saw them jitter and stumble, and the side seemed to lack the confidence to be ambitious in possession. Mark Yeates was introduced for Garry Thompson (who, for the most part, performed well) and Andy Gray replaced McLean in a double substitution, but Gray’s anticipated hold-ups only marginally turned the tides.

By the time Freeman’s jaw-dropping second had flown in, there was a sense City had been playing for a point for a while. Perhaps it was justice served, but perhaps it wasn’t – not that deservedness ever has any impact in football. Either way, as the Stevenage entourage burst into impassioned cheer on the sidelines, it was sickening to leave with nothing. For a time, we’d sought to take all three, and now they were going empty-handed. It wasn’t the most uplifting game.

Nonetheless, it will be intriguing to see how the Hanson and McLean partnership progresses. McLean – though today evidently struggling to hit the heights of his previous outings – has almost looked too creative to be placed in the same mould as his predecessor (whose name escapes me – I think it began with an ‘N’), and be tasked with winning knockdowns to function solely as a finisher.

For me, McLean’s style would warrant a slightly different approach. Though very little came off for him and he struggled to retain composure in the final third, it was plain to see that he was seeking to create something – unlike Nahki, and for all his goalscoring record seems to suggest otherwise, he looks to be the origin, rather than the end result. While I wouldn’t at all advocate a mid-season shake-up for fear of the disruption it would cause, it shall be interesting, in the long-term, to see what kind of dynamic the two will yield.

In a narrower context, against the backdrop of the infamous ‘one win in 21’ statistic, six points from a possible nine would have been gobbled up without question, regardless of the opposition’s league standing, and performances like today’s have remained in isolation throughout the course of the season. No one should go home pounding the panic button, as, for all the table is tightly-poised, City remain in a healthy and comfortable 11th place.

The task now is to move on from today’s blip, and go to Brentford determined to maintain the momentum two wins in three inevitably brings.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies (Bates 36), McHugh, Thompson (Yeates 80), Jones, Doyle, Reach, Hanson, McLean (Gray 80)

Not used: Jameson, Bennett, Atkinson, Dolan

Making new history as Port Vale visit Valley Parade

17 Feb


Bradford City vs Port Vale preview

@Valley Parade on Tuesday 18 February, 2014

By Katie Whyatt

“How do I define history? It’s just one f*****g thing after another.” Alan Bennett, The History Boys

Don’t mention last season. Whatever you do, don’t mention last season. Don’t mention Wembley, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Wigan, etc. It’s done. Forget about it. Defeating Villa over two legs isn’t serving us well now. You can’t live off shadows all the time.

Football is judged largely on the immediate. With City hovering perilously close to the drop, the onus is on Phil Parkinson to turn form around now. Worm yourself out the clouds, haul your head out the sand, wake up and smell the coffee. It’s time for the gaffer to prove that he’s the right man for the job.

And moving on is fine. Even I’m growing weary of hearing the words “Wembley” and “twice”. I don’t advocate living in the past at all. If you’ve only just pulled yourself from dreamland, the current run must be a bit of a rude awakening.

But to ignore last season does a massive disservice to Parkinson and his men. Job security is never dictated by the achievements of yesteryear and results all about the here and now, but stability so often is subject to the past – you have to keep that bigger picture in mind, the events of the past two, three, four, five, ten years, to move forward and progress in a manner sustainable for the future.

By discounting everything this team has achieved so far, and everything Parkinson has accomplished at this club – including, significantly, the relegation battle of 2011/12, when, lest we forget, Davies, McLaughlin and Oliver were all suspended – we lose track of Parkinson’s ability not just a football tactician, but as a man manager and person who can get the best out of a squad of players when the chips are down.

Why ignore this history when its contemporary relevance is there for all to see?

Equally, to constantly reference last season is an injustice – the bright start to life in League One, though since dulled by draws and peril and draws and misery and draws and hoofball and draws, shows this squad can, when fully fit, confident and on good terms with Lady Luck, ply their trade at this level. 4-0 victories against Carlisle and Brentford, a 2-0 win over Sheffield United, narrow games with Preston and Wolves, and a comfortable humbling of Walsall, brought with them surging form and fluid play, City as in control and dominant any side in League One had ever appeared. Every display was convincing, every pass pinpointed, the positivity palpable as it seemed the Bantams had hit the ground running and made the most seamless transition palpable. Mid-table? Easy. Let’s aim for the top six.

We weren’t to know the Brentford game would prove City’s apex.

Like last season, Bradford have fallen victims to their own success, the nadir exacerbated by the contrast of such a promising initiation to third tier life. The priority now is, as it’s always been, consolidation, not a play off place. Parkinson is the man to steer the ship through this stormy voyage, and I genuinely don’t understand any suggestion to the contrary. The cup run and the sale of Nahki Wells afforded City the chance to stabilise the finances and secure firm foundations for the future. Phil Parkinson is a huge, huge, huge part of that.

How you can even question his position is beyond me. The money aspect of football and the sheer turnarounds at clubs like Manchester City have created a demand for instant tangible success, when, in reality, the only way to attain such development is through steady and consistent progress. Slowly building a team of strong characters, implementing a style and ethos, and working hard on and off the pitch is the way forward. Changing managers at the drop of a hat, as we learnt from life in League Two, is rarely ever the answer.

In football, time is such a rare commodity. That’s why we need to stick with Phil.


It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the wheels fell off.

Some say the writing was on the wall as far back as Tranmere and Shrewsbury, which I personally wouldn’t agree with, but you can see why they picked those games when focusing on the ‘one win in x’ statistic. Some say it was when Andrew Davies got injured, and, while only one win has followed in his absence, the performances didn’t immediately become alarming, and Matthew Bates and Rory McArdle coped well with the tricky Wolves and Preston forward lines.

Like many, I’m inclined to say Coventry. Pressley’s comedic “football from the Dark Ages” rant was laughed off at the time, the bemusing mutterings of an irate and envious manager whose team had, like many Valley Parade foes this season, been two-nil up and, well, messed it up. But, no matter what your personal conviction in a playing style, that kind of comment has got to have some sort of effect on a squad’s mentality, right? The thought of an identity crisis, self-implosion and one win in 21 may seem too stark to have stemmed from such a spur-of-the-moment comment, but it can mainly be traced back to the visit of the Sky Blues – even with Davies missing, the team had been flying up until that day. Couple the subsequent soar of interest in Nahki Wells and the disruption this caused to proceedings, and it’s easy to highlight that fixture.

So much has happened since, and City have been transformed, in an agonising eyeblink, from promotion contenders to relegation rivals. The point haul has dropped like a stone, positive feeling and league standing eventually going with. Holes have emerged to turn a strong defence into a leaky one. December was a month of doom, January the month of Nahki Wells, February currently the month of serious, serious panic as the form just can’t seem to right itself.

Every month since November has brought with it a flush of false starts, false dawns and false scorelines, even though the bright spots have flashed amidst the darkness. Stephen Darby, for example, has continued to rise and rise, and I genuinely don’t know by what miracle we managed to acquire him last season; the reassertion of Gary Jones at the heart of City’s midfield has brought similar satisfaction, but both were elements open to little criticism from the outset. Oli McBurnie continues to excite and Aaron Mclean looks set to keep moving forward alongside James Hanson, but that’s about it.

What’s the solution, then? A win, quite simply, would bolster confidence and strengthen the mood in the camp, but City can’t seem to buy those at the moment. Why? Why aren’t they winning games? Why are they always starting on the back foot? Why are they failing to convert chances in the final third? They’re playing well for long periods, but the first half almost always sees them either revert to directness, lose possession or concede cheaply. It’s the same pattern every week: City impressing early on but lacking clinicality, and goals against the run of play leaving them with it all to do. At home, they’re rarely the second-best team and they’re almost always the one that looks most likely to break the deadlock – so why can’t they ever do it? Why do they always need a Gary Jones-inspired comeback to salvage anything?

The dichotomy is disconcerting. I don’t know how I feel about them. I love them all, but I can’t stand to see them made mortal every week. I admire their unwavering resilience and stoicism, but despair at how they thrive off making it difficult for themselves. If they could just start on the front foot once, convert just one of those chances, sort their defensive positioning out…

“It’s subjunctive history… The mood you use when something might or might not have happened, when it’s imagined.”

Yet, I’m not panicking. I don’t think this side will go down at all. Maybe I’m being naïve – I’ve gone into almost every game since the Coventry clashed utterly convinced their fortunes would change and only now am I starting to worry about where the next win will come from (weather forecast: Tuesday looks good) – but I hope I’m not. I’ve steeled myself against the drop with those timeless, immortal words:

Too good to go down.

Because when I’ve seen teams get relegated over the years, they’ve looked not to care. It’s as though they’ve long accepted their fate. The energy, the fight, the spirit, the hunger, sapped away months before the final day. They’re not playing for survival. They’re not playing at all. They’re just… There.

You can never say that about this team.

But effort alone isn’t going to carry them to safety.

Back in the here and now, the Bantams welcome 9th placed Port Vale with the drop lurking frighteningly close behind. For Vale, also newly promoted, it’s a different story, and a must-win for all the right reasons: they’re six points adrift from the final play off spot, and have a game in hand on their two nearest contenders – it’s a great chance for them to make up some ground.

As for City, the back four, in spite of calls for Carl McHugh to be given a starting berth, is likely to remain untouched from Carlisle, comprising Darby, McArdle, Davies and Bates. The front two also writes itself – at this stage of the season, and with Mclean yet to reach his peak despite proving so critical and creative against Crewe, I can’t see a major shake-up.

The midfield is a tough one to call. With Nathan Doyle and Matty Dolan splitting the service last week, either could find themselves in the starting eleven, though Jones will undoubtedly partner them in the centre. Expect loanee Adam Reach to retain his place on the left flank, but the right side is another tough one: will Parkinson favour the blistering pace of Kyle Bennett, or did Garry Thompson do enough on Tuesday night to warrant another start? I’d personally lean slightly towards Bennett because the promise is there, but could City’s number eleven be a viable option? There’s got to be something lurking up Thompson’s sleeve, else why would he start every week?

History, then: one f*****g thing after another, indeed, but also a blessing, a curse, a sign of the future, potent inspiration and the most compelling reason for getting behind these boys.

But City’s current run needs righting sooner, rather than later. Because those who don’t learn from history are guaranteed to find themselves repeating it.

Withdrawal symptoms

14 Feb


Coventry City vs Bradford City preview

@Sixfields (Northampton Town) on Saturday 15 February, 2014

By Alex Scott

Coventry City manager Steven Pressley went out of his way to point out how different his team were to Phil Parkinson’s “Dark Age” Bradford City team three months ago; his frustration getting the better of him in a highly comical rant of sour grapes. There will be no love lost between the two managers or teams over Valentine’s weekend, and the return fixture in the autumn of last year will feel a long time ago for both the embattled managers.

Both sides have changed since that day, and neither for the better as both are now left resembling shells of their former selves. Both have lost their star forwards, both have faded from the play off race, and now both are looking warily over their shoulders.

Bradford’s bright start has dulled into a pitch of darkness, with the amount of performances you would class as ‘good’ since the reverse fixture able to be counted on a single hand. Whether this is down to misfortune, injuries, or just being a bit found out at this level is up for debate, but it is likely a combination of the three. Regardless, Bradford only have a smash-and-grab in Milton Keynes to show in terms of wins since that 3-3 draw at Valley Parade.

Despite how different they want to appear, Coventry are suffering from similar ills, with their self-heralded free-flowing cosmopolitan style from earlier in the year having faded badly over the winter months. This weekend, with key injuries taking hold and disaffected star forwards already out the door on both sides, a totally different battle will be in store. James Hanson and Nahki Wells vs Callum Wilson and Leon Clarke this is not.

The impact of the break-ups of the two best strike partnerships in the division is plain to see for all, both teams suffering from painful withdrawal symptoms as the cracks once covered are now laid bare for all. Whilst Phil Parkinson has spent the New Year undertaking a thus-far traumatic transition, Pressley’s methadone has come in the form of the 23 year old once-Villa prospect and England Under-21 international Nathan Delfouneso. Latterly known as the “nine league goals ever Nathan Delfouneso”. Along with Bradford and their new man Aaron Mclean, both sides have struggled to kick the habit of scoring out of nothing, and the world sure looked a prettier place three months ago.

The conditions are expected to be tough, with the over-worked Sixfields pitch predictably in a less-than-impressive state, unable to host a reserve game this week. More rain is forecast in Northampton over the next 36 hours, which obviously puts the fixture in doubt. One would think that a quagmire on the ground would favour a more ‘agricultural’ Bradford team, but right now I’m not sure what to think about where this team’s strength lies. Those travelling should note that this game is stated to kick off at 2pm.

Parkinson was able to recruit an experienced forward to attempt to fill the void left by Wells; an act which Pressley has admittedly struggled to adequately replicate this far. This has left the Sky Blues with a left winger up top, playing in behind an inexperienced loanee striker, and a central midfielder filling in wide left. The 3-0 reverse to Notts County last weekend a worrying harbinger of tough times ahead for Coventry and their manager, who threw in the play off towel earlier this week.

After starting the year bagging goals for fun, things have slowed down for Coventry and their momentum has all but gone. They are more like Bradford City than they would ever want to admit.

The main difference in this City team in particular over the past few months is that scoring goals has become a chore. Losing your two most potent attacking threats will do that to you.

The argument is one of two things. Parkinson’s men are either a decent-to-good side out of form and out of luck, or a poor side that were salvaged by one or two great players early in the year and are now watching helplessly as reality bites. There is evidence either way, and the side you fall on probably reflects more on you than the evidence.

They just give you a headache. City are the fourth-worst first half team, but at the same time the fourth-best second half team. Despite these improvements in games, they’ve only come from behind to win a game once, and that required a 94th minute winner from James Hanson, at home to Shrewsbury.

No team in the division has been behind at half time more often than Bradford City. They’ve only been ahead at the break seven times, but gone on to win six of those.

They have one of the worst records in the league in games decided by one goal or less, somehow only winning three of the 24 such matches they’ve been involved in. Logically, you’d think that isn’t a repeatable trend – goals decided by one goal are highly dependent on chance – surely they must regress back to the mean sooner or later? But maybe there is something there stopping them. Perhaps they just aren’t good in close games with the pressure on?

Does that feel like this team? I thought I had a handle on us at the start of the year, but as the season has worn on, and the necessary changes have taken place, I have less idea about who this team are as a unit.


After another moment of indecisiveness Tuesday night in Cumbria, Jon McLaughlin is again subject to his traditional spell of mid-season derision from the City faithful. Thankfully for the still-young keeper, there is no viable option behind him anyway, leaving any discussion redundant. He’s a replacement-level keeper at this level, not ineffective or expensive enough to replace, with just enough potential to persevere. And with only Aaron Jameson on the books behind him, persevere we shall.

Rory McArdle’s return midweek leaves the back four to pick themselves; although with another ninety minutes passing by without the return of the impressive form from the autumn, the feeling of solidity we expected to feel once he and Andrew Davies were reunited is conspicuously absent. Stephen Darby and Matthew Bates will continue outside the pair. Fairly or unfairly, Bates has the look of a rich man’s Marcel Seip to me – a jack-of-all, whose injury woes may have lowered his ceiling dramatically. I’m not saying he won’t improve in time or that he’s not a really useful squad player, but after a promising beginning to his City career, and heartening pedigree, the suspicion that this may be ‘it’ is taking over.

After Garry Thompson’s reportedly anonymous hour on Tuesday, the most recent hour of a definitively anonymous season, it may be that Kyle Bennett returns on the right side. However, with Coventry’s struggles against the long ball earlier in the year, the re-inclusion of Thompson is likely. Adam Reach will continue on the other flank, impressive if as yet ineffective.

Nathan Doyle’s exclusion from the team to allow the ascension of new loan signing Matty Dolan has passed by with a nod of indifferent acceptance from the fan base, with lots of people noting that Doyle probably wasn’t meriting his place in the side anyway.

Curiously the loanaphobes from the past eighteen months disappeared just as their currency was at its peak. I’ve always thought that argument highly reductive, but even I must admit finding the concept of three loanees under 24 in a four-man midfield a little worrying. But there are no shouts from the rooftops about too many loanees. (We currently have as many temporary players in the squad as we are allowed to field in a squad. One win in 21.) There’s enough anger flying around at the minute! Where is everyone?!?

Anyway, as déjà vu hit all around, Parkinson admitted his error as the dropped Doyle returned at half time at Carlisle and looks set to continue on Saturday alongside Gary Jones.

James Hanson and Aaron Mclean will continue their burgeoning partnership at the top of the pitch, trying to dwarf the silent but ever-growing elephant in the room.

As the squad return to fitness, and the honeymoon periods subside away in front of us, the unnerving question pervades the entire team: is this it? The central defensive has reunited to a slight, if not yet tangible, improvement. The new loan players have come in to a little promise, but a lack of threat. Aaron Mclean has now managed to get his fitness levels up, and despite impressive bursts of link-up play he and his team have looked indifferent since his arrival.

The positive spin on Mclean when he arrived was that the antecedent to the Wells-Hanson partnership was the Mclean-Craig Mackail-Smith duo which fired Peterborough up the leagues last decade. Acquiring Aaron Mclean afforded an opportunity for a straight swap without the loss of any momentum. However, the 2014 vintage of Aaron Mclean is not a straight swap. He is necessitating a fundamental change in how the team functions, effected through the loan market, with little-to-no evidence of it is an improvement.

At the beginning of the year, City were a well-defined, well-drilled unit. They knew who they were, but what’s more, they knew exactly who they weren’t. With all the changes over the past few months, I’m not sure anyone knows who they are anymore. Without Kyel Reid and Nahki Wells they have lost the offensive threat, and save long-range potshots and the rare set piece, it’s hard to see the team’s route to goal. With only Oli McBurnie and Andy Gray to supplement the goalscoring, the answer is equally as elusive.

What they were before the turn of the year may not have been perfect, but at least it was identifiable. This reformed City team may be more talented, but who exactly they are as a unit is a mystery.

In all likelihood they are a decent enough side out of form, struggling to replicate the easy route to goal provided by Nahki Wells for so long. But (worryingly, given the lack of ambition in that statement) that may just be me being optimistic. The dependency on Wells was a worry throughout the last couple of years, and we are now proving that cold turkey is tough to stomach.

As the days and games left in the season drift away, the pressure rises. Each game takes on more importance, with Coventry away the next in the line. The other elephant in the room, the red one with all the dotted lines and the revolver could do with being shown the door.

Year Zero

11 Jan

Bradford City 1

Hanson 1

Bristol City 1

Wagstaff 11

Saturday 11 January, 2014

By Jason McKeown

For someone who is only 5 foot 7 inches tall, Nahki Wells casts a large shadow. Less than 24 hours after his dramatic departure to Huddersfield Town, the Bermudian’s absence hung heavy over a downcast Valley Parade that is still reeling over his shock choice of new home. Like some jilted lover, the question is how to get over this blow and rebuild. But until a replacement is captured, it feels as though time is standing still.

A draw a fitting outcome then, as City stand at a crossroads between self-imploding through civil war or closing ranks and moving on. It is a draw that does little to appease the pressure that has been built up from the poor run of form – now one win in 16 – but is at least a draw that looks better than a glance at the League One table suggests. Visitors Bristol City remain second bottom, but that is a ludicrous anomaly that will be corrected come May. They are packed full of talent and in Jay Emmanuel-Thomas have the best striker in the division (especially now). The Bantams did well to better them, performance-wise.

Yet still, how the dwindling morale around Valley Parade needs a boost. When just 55 seconds into life after Nahki, City took the lead, there was every reason to believe that a trying week for everyone would have a happy ending. The home side began on the front foot and forced an early corner. As the ball pinged around in the box, James Hanson duly snapped up a half-chance to rifle it into the bottom corner.

A small irony, perhaps, that it was Hanson who got the first post-Nahki goal – he had been rejected by Huddersfield as a teenager. It was a timely goal too, given it was his first in almost three months. A measure of his growth in popularity amongst supporters is that no one has made a big deal of the forward’s drought. Hanson’s importance to the club has heightened further following Wells’ departure, and the extension of his contract last November represents the club’s best piece of business over the past 12 months.

The advantage to claret and amber, an air of much-needed confidence spread around the pitch and the stadium. Ricky Ravenhill was setting the standard in the middle of the park, Carl McHugh – in at left back for the injured James Meredith and mightily impressive today – glanced a header from another corner just wide. In the Kop, a derogatory Nahki chant was aired that raised a smile from most people. Perhaps a corner has been turned.

Alas, Kyel Reid fell asleep as City defended a Bristol City attack, and Scott Wagstaff – who turned down a summer move to Valley Parade – strode through unmarked to finish low past Jon McLaughlin. The City keeper should have kept out what was a fairly tame effort, but got a limp hand on the shot that only succeeded in slowing its speed rather than halting its direction. Here we go again.

Indeed that confidence evaporated from the ground as quickly as it had been restored. The players looked hesitant once more. Ravenhill went off injured – Jason Kennedy his replacement – and the game’s pace slowed. Bristol City – with Emmanuel-Thomas looking a menace – poured forward in search of a second goal. Reid handled the ball in the box for a stonewall penalty, but it was somehow missed by the officials. There were some good defensive blocks from Matthew Bates and Rory McArdle that kept the Robins at bay, but City kept giving the ball back to them.

It was a poor period where you looked at certain players and realised just how drained they have become of self-belief. In possession they would take the easiest option possible, and when team-mates had the ball they would hide away from demanding a pass. Eventually, Gary Jones’ leadership could be seen in lifting these players again. Kennedy – who has underwhelmed greatly since joining the club in the summer – was much improved and had his best game to date. We still expect a lot more from him, though.

The second half was a big, big improvement from City. They survived a scare of Emmanuel-Thomas’ thumping drive from distance smacking McLauglin’s post, and pressed the visitors back. Garry Thompson was much more effective; Reid a mixture of terrific and terrible, but always carrying a threat; Hanson a menace.

Most eyes were drawn to his strike partner, 17-year-old Oli McBurnie. In the first half he’d linked up well in the build up play and come hunting for the ball, but you felt he was playing a little too deep. Phil Parkinson must have had words at half time, as in the second half McBurnie began leading the line. He almost scored an opportunistic first senior goal, after a clever backheel shot was palmed away by Bristol City goalkeeper Elliot Parish. Later on McBurnie received the ball in the box and impressively worked it past a defender, only for another to block his effort at goal. Then, just before he made way for Alan Connell with 13 minutes to go, a thrilling burst past a defender and race into the area saw McBurnie force another save from Parish.

McBurnie is looking like a real prospect for City. Over the years several youth strikers have been given a senior opportunity but failed to have any great impact beyond scoring the odd goal or two. It is too early to say that Oli will succeed where they failed, but already he is affecting matches and making a tangible difference to his team’s play. He looks like he belongs here.

Parkinson revealed after the match that he is closing in on a new striker, and it is absolutely right that McBurnie is not placed under any burden of being Wells’ replacement; but the manager needs to keep gradually involving the young striker over the coming months. Let’s give him the chance to fulfil his undoubted potential.

Substitutes Mark Yeates and Connell – who is surely heading out of the door this January – made little impact on the game, as City pushed for a winner. The best moment beyond McBurnie’s efforts had been a piledriver shot from Jones that bounced back off the inside of the post with Parish beaten. The skipper needed that to go in, as his critics in the stands continue to grow; but today was an improvement from Jones after a poor Christmas. His value to the team – if not as a week in, week out starter for much longer – remains high.

Warm applause at full time, as supporters appreciated the efforts and application of the players. But as we headed out into the West Yorkshire evening, there was some rather cruel news waiting for us. A late, late winner, 11.9 miles away at Huddersfield Town – scored by you-know-who.

The conversation, and the focus, was instantly back on Nahki Wells. His shadow had been disguised by the winter darkness that crept over Valley Parade during the second half, but it had still been present after all.

Time had not, in fact, stood still. The world was going on without us.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Bates, McHugh, Thompson, Ravenhill (Kennedy 22), Jones, Reid (Yeates 72), Hanson, McBurnie (Connell 77)

Not used: Jameson, Oliver, Taylor, Graham

Where’s the glue?

1 Jan

Notts county away

Notts County 3

Campbell-Ryce 32, McGregor 88, Grealish 90

Bradford City 0

Wednesday 1 January, 2014

By Jason McKeown (picture by Kieran Wilkinson)

Everything is broken, and for Phil Parkinson this is a big, big test of his managerial ability.

It doesn’t really matter who you are and what league you play in, losing to the side bottom of the division never looks good and Bradford City’s dismal 3-0 thumping to basement side Notts County stands head and shoulders above all others as the worst result of the season. A new low in a run of form that has seen the Bantams continually slump to new depths. One that only serves to further blacken the mood at the beginning of such a pivotal month, both on and off the field.

Parkinson can only hope that this is a watershed moment for the right reasons. The 2014 version of the 2013, season-turning 4-1 Exeter slump, perhaps. His tried and trusted formula of lining up the team has delivered spectacular results over the previous 18 months, but it now looks tired, feeble and wholly predictable. Watching from the Meadow Lane stand, there were times today when you could easily have closed your eyes and known exactly what City would end up doing with the ball. It must have been relatively easy for opposing number Shaun Derry to prepare for too. Defend the space around James Hanson, so his flick ons come to nothing. And stop Kyel Reid.

County were hardly world beaters and three goals flattered their efforts; but in victory they have moved off the bottom to give themselves a fighting chance of staying in League One. City stand 11 places above them, but recent results mean we must now share the Magpies’ season objective. The play offs are something to forget about, avoiding relegation is all that matters. The gap between ourselves and the bottom four has narrowed to just seven points.

Everything is broken, and there are no quick fixes. What has happened to the never-say-die spirit that saw this group of players produce astonishing heroics last season? Where is the pace, tempo and thrust that was so hard for others to live with, even earlier this season? How do we get Garry Thompson going again? What has happened to James Meredith? To Gary Jones? And where are the alternative options?

Today brought to the fore all of these and other problems. Robbed of Nahki Wells through injury (the rumour mill is currently in overdrive and it looks increasingly unlikely that he will play for City again), Garry Thompson was cast up front alongside Hanson and, with it, the problems on the right side of midfield were heightened. Mark Yeates was overlooked in favour of sticking Jason Kennedy on the flank. It wasn’t the former Rochdale man’s game at all; but then again, an underwhelming first six months at the club leave me questioning just what, exactly, Kennedy’s game is. He doesn’t look like a Parkinson player, and the raised expectations the manager’s success at Valley Parade has triggered leave me heading to the conclusion that he is not a Bradford City player.

Kennedy failed to offer any kind of balance, leaving Jones and Ricky Ravenhill looking pedestrian in their attempts to control the game. Midway through a half of no incident, City’s midfield lost the ball, Jamal Campbell-Ryce charged down the flank behind a static Kennedy and dribbled the ball past Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle, before firing County into the lead.

You looked for a reaction from the players, but there was none. Many supporters are lining up to take pot shots at Jones – not something I agree with – but what concerns me more than suspicions his powers are fading is his sudden lack of leadership. Last season Jones was the closest we have come since Stuart McCall to having a player who visibly lifted the performances of those around him. An inspiration that caused others to give more. The magic has gone for the moment. It is heart-breaking to watch.

Everything is broken, and the lack of decent City pressure to find an equaliser offered nothing for the quietest City away following I have seen in years to get behind. Some will call this a depressing vision of life after Wells, but that ignores the reality that Parkinson will obviously bring a replacement in should he leave. Wells or whoever up front, no one will score many if City continue to create such few chances.

On the left wing Kyel Reid suffers from Meredith’s low confidence in the sense that no one is offering him overlapping support, but equally he needs to show more bravery in contesting 50-50 balls and not being afraid of receiving a clattering. Still, even below par, the two best City chances involved Reid. A promising burst forward by the winger was halted illegally on the edge of the box, and from the resultant free kick Jones forced a finger-tip save from the excellent Bartosz Bialkowski. Another Reid charge forwards saw him attempt a low shot that was palmed away by Bialkowski. That was as good as it got.

Oliver McBurnie – who came on for Kennedy, with Thompson pushed back to the right wing – almost tapped home the rebound from Reid’s effort. The young striker toiled hard and showed some nice touches, but overall found the going tough. He tried his best to read Hanson’s flick ons, but lacks the same telepathic awareness as Wells. Such understandings are not developed quickly.

Later on Mark Yeates made his standard introduction for Thompson, but offered his standard minimal contribution. Young striker Lewis Clarkson – rather than fellow sub Alan Connell – came on for Matthew Bates, as Parkinson attempted to throw the kitchen sink at an anxious Notts County. As much as Wells dominates transfer talk, the future of Connell, Luke Oliver, Matt Taylor and Andy Gray looks pre-determined. Parkinson is currently favouring young players over these experienced heads. The decks are seemingly about to be cleared.

As City pushed forward, County were able to rob Jones of possession and Jack Grealish laid the ball into Callum McGregor’s path to make it 2-0. Then in stoppage time, Grealish was rewarded with the goal that his outstanding display merited. Many City supporters headed for the exits.

Those who stayed until the end booed at full time – and continued booing when the players came over to applaud us. Most players quickly gave up and turned around, only Hanson continued to walk towards the away section. Parkinson – who always makes a point of thanking fans win, lose or draw – made no attempt to come over.

Everything is broken – and for the 10 days before the next match, against third-bottom Bristol City, the inquest will continue. The imminent departure of Wells is dividing supporters, with many questioning the consequences and even the wisdom of profiting on a player who originally cost the club peanuts.

Parkinson increasingly finds himself under pressure from supporters – and probably elements of the Board, who don’t exactly have a track record of showing patience (one director was apparently overheard criticising the manager during last season’s play offs). To me, any such suggestions about a change of manager are a non-starter. It isn’t a debate. It isn’t a discussion. Parkinson signed a three-year contract last summer after we supporters were desperate for him to stay on. You don’t rip that up six months later, you don’t even suggest it.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is welcome to share a constructive plan that outlines how parting ways with Parkinson will improve the club. But it’s highly unlikely that I will agree with you, because the club’s history of changing managers is a painfully miserable one. We have gone through anyone and everyone trying to find a successful manager – and now we have one. Leave those dice alone.

This is a wretched time for the club, but all of Parkinson’s achievements afford him time to get it right. We’ve enjoyed so many good moments under the manager, but it’s too easy to back him when things were going well. Now is the time to really show our support. Crank up the positivity, not the pressure. Believe in his judgement of managing this football club; of getting us through this transitional period of player turnover in the January window; of turning around this poor run of form.

Everything is broken, but it can be fixed. The challenge is to reboot, move forwards and continue the new era of Bantams progression. Parkinson will do just that.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Bates (Clarkson 86), Meredith, Kennedy (McBurnie 56), Ravenhill, Jones, Reid, Thompson (Yeates 71), Hanson

Not used: Ripley, McHugh, Stockdill, Connell


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