Tag Archives: James Hanson

Speaking to Michael Flynn

3 Jul
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Picture courtesy of Bradford City Football Club

By Jason McKeown

Some numbers become iconic to certain clubs, and at Valley Parade the number four means a great deal.

After Bradford City’s greatest-ever number four departed for a second time in 2002, the gap he left behind proved colossal. Many people subsequently tried to fill Stuart McCall’s number four jersey, often with very little success. Meanwhile the club continued to tumble down the leagues; at times seemingly sleepwalking its way towards oblivion.

It was left to the club’s greatest number four – by now the manager – to solve that conundrum. And in 2009, Stuart McCall unearthed a real gem in recruiting Michael Flynn. The experienced midfielder was exactly what was needed to lead a young team through some difficult times. Flynn played a key role in putting the brakes on the club’s decade-long slide. He gave everything to the cause and was warmly loved by supporters for it.

At last, a number four you could rely upon.

Across three seasons, Michael Flynn played over 100 games and netted 14 goals for the Bantams; it would have been more but for a bad injury picked up at the beginning of his second year. If you include caretakers, he played for six different managers over that period. Turbulent times for sure, and it is a shame for the player that he was not around to experience the club’s long overdue success.

Now playing for his hometown club Newport County in League Two and recently awarded the additional responsibility of managing the club’s youth academy, Flynn took time out of pre-season to talk to Width of a Post about his three years at Valley Parade.

WOAP: You joined Bradford City in the summer of 2009 after a season at Huddersfield. How did the move come about?

MF: Well basically once Stan Ternent had left Huddersfield that season, we had a new manager come in (Lee Clark) and he wanted his own team – even though at the point he came in I was the top scorer. They sent me on loan to Darlington at one point, but I returned and managed to stay at Huddersfield until the end of the season.

That summer, I heard that Stuart McCall was interested but, to be honest, I left it a few weeks. Eventually I came to an agreement with Huddersfield; and as soon as I spoke to Stuart, Bradford was the only place I was going. I had a couple of offers to stay in League One, but I decided to sign with Stuart. He was unbelievable; such a gentleman, and he seemed really honest. That and the chance to play for Bradford, who were a huge club even though they were in League Two, was too good to turn down.

WOAP: At the time it was a squad that had just been rebuilt due to budget cuts. What were your first impressions of the club and the players in the dressing room?

MF: It was hard times to be fair. During my time I think the club were close to administration a few times. It was a bit frustrating to be honest because I would have loved it to have been my time when Bradford got promoted. But it wasn’t to be.

We had a really good team spirit that first season, a good bunch of lads. It’s just unfortunately the quality wasn’t there. We were missing probably three or four players.

WOAP: What did you make of Stuart McCall as a manager?

MF: He was unbelievable. He was absolutely superb was Stuart. So honest, so determined. He loves the club inside out. Wayne Jacobs was great as well. Stuart had the same thoughts as I did when he went to Bradford – letting his heart rule his head. He wanted to get them promoted, as did I. Unfortunately we didn’t get our dream, but I guarantee that we were both as happy as each other when Bradford did actually go up.

WOAP: Peter Taylor came in and made it clear you were a key figure for the club. What was he like to play under?

MF: Peter Taylor was brilliant. He was a lot firmer than Stuart, but one thing I loved with Peter was you knew where you were with him. There was no airs or graces: if he didn’t want you he was honest about it.

Peter was very tactical and I’ve taken a lot of things that I learned from him into coaching. In terms of tactics and preparations, he was spot on.

In the summer that he was made permanent manager I had a chance to go back to League One with Leyton Orient, for more money. But I decided to stay and signed a new two-year deal. I wanted to carry on playing under Peter, and we both genuinely thought we could do something that season. But it was just one of those things, it didn’t happen.

WOAP: Why do you think that was?

MF: I think we were short up front, to be totally honest. We only really had James Hanson, and he had been playing in non-league only 18 months before. He has done really well and come on leaps and bounds, but with just him I don’t think we were good enough up front then.

WOAP: Taylor went and then in came Peter Jackson. What was your relationship like with him?

MF: It was fine, I got on really well with Peter. If I’m totally honest, I think Peter was there to be shot at. He wasn’t the choice of manager that everybody wanted, but he did his best like the man he is.

He’d never do anything half-hearted. But being brutally honest I think he was the cheaper choice of manager. Still, I’ve got a lot of time for Peter and I still keep in contact with him. He’s a top guy.

WOAP: The 2011/12 pre-season began with a Development Squad friendly at Silsden where you, Luke Oliver and Robbie Threlfall were involved – apparently all on your way out of the club. What was happening during this period? Were you being pushed out?

MF: Yeah, I was being pushed out. They wanted me off the wage bill. I had a bad injury the season before, which was supposed to be a three to four-month absence. There was a lot of messing about with injections here and injections there, when I should have just had the operation straight away. I was actually out for nine to ten months.

So it took me a while to come back. I wasn’t as good as I was in the first season, I’m happy to admit that. But I’m not one to give up and didn’t that pre-season. I obviously won Peter Jackson around and I won the chairmen around, and I went on to score another six goals that season. That includes the goal against Leeds, which was one of my highlights of my time at Bradford.

WOAP: Indeed that goal against Leeds is warmly remembered, as it was part of such a brilliant night for us supporters. What are your memories of that night?

MF: It was an unbelievable night. The Bradford fans were amazing, as they always were. Let’s be honest, Bradford fans had been through a lot. The fire, the administrations – but these things seem to bring the club and supporters closer together.

If only we could have held on against Leeds that little bit longer at the start of the second half, I still think we would have caused an upset. The last thing we said before we came out after half time (City were leading 1-0) was ‘do not concede early’, but then we go and concede after 30 seconds. It was just a bit of naivety in the squad: we had players from non-league, and it was a young team. But we were unlucky to lose.

As I said it was a great atmosphere, and the Bradford fans made that.

WOAP: And then barely two weeks later, there was yet another management change. From your point of view you had only been at the club a couple of years but were already playing under a fourth different manager – what was that instability like?

MF: Well we actually had six! We also had Wayne Jacobs and Colin Cooper as caretaker managers. All of the change was a nightmare to be honest. It was really hard. A lot of the players didn’t know if they were coming and going. The new manager wants to bring in his own players. It’s hard and unsettling.

But at least now, with Phil Parkinson there, it has all settled down. I know there has been some changes this summer, but Phil has got the players in that he wants and I’m sure they will do well again this season.

WOAP: What did you make of Phil Parkinson?

MF: Phil and I got on really well. There was talk of me extending my contract, but then I got ill and was out for a while (December until mid-February). It was a tough time for me. Even though I came back and did quite well, we had already signed Ricky Ravenhill. And then in the summer there was myself, Ritchie Jones and Ricky who were probably among the higher earners, and one of us had to go. Unfortunately I was out of contract, and so it was me who went.

But I do have a lot of time for Phil, Steve Parkin and Nick Allamby. I still keep in touch a lot with Nick. There were no sour grapes about leaving.

WOAP: It must have been bittersweet to then see the club go on to enjoy such an amazing season in 2012/13. Did you follow their fortunes?

MF: To be fair it was a win-win situation, because I wanted Bradford to do really well. I knew a lot of players. I have always wanted my old clubs to do well. The summer I left they seemed to clear their debts with the stadium lease and things, and they were able to get better players in. And they got their reward with the great cup run and promotion.

WOAP: And meanwhile you have been having a great couple of years at Newport County…

MF: That summer I made the decision to drop out of the league. I could have stayed in League Two, but I wanted to go home as my daughter had started high school. I had been away for 12 years, so I thought the time was the right time to go back.

Thankfully joining Newport has paid off because getting promoted (to the Football League in 2012/13) via the play off final at Wembley was unbelievable. I have had other promotions, but that was something special. I didn’t enjoy the day though, only when the final whistle went!

WOAP: You have recently being appointed manager of Newport’s youth academy, what does the future hold for you?

MF: I will play as long as I can to be honest. I imagine it will be a lot less this season than last, where I played over 40 games. I have just done my A licence (coaching badge) which is something I have always been keen on. I am looking ahead to the next chapter of my life, but if I can play for another two or three years I would be delighted. If not, I will put in everything I’ve got into coaching.

WOAP: Finally you have played for eight different clubs over your career, how did Bradford City compare?

MF: Being totally honest, my time at Wigan was the best of my career – even though I wasn’t playing regularly. The team spirit was the best I have been involved in. We got promoted twice and reached the Premier League. I played with some brilliant players such as Jimmy Bullard, Leighton Baines, Lee McCulloch, John Filan, Jason Roberts and Nathan Ellington.

Then I went to Gillingham which was great. I would say that Gillingham and Bradford were equal in terms of how much I enjoyed them. I felt wanted and appreciated, so I’ve got a lot of time for both clubs.

I loved my time at Bradford even though it wasn’t the most successful for the club. It’s great to be able to say that I played for a club like Bradford. I am very proud of that.

Click here to follow Michael Flynn on Twitter.

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

5 May

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By Jason McKeown

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

In 5th place…Andrew Davies

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

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

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

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

In 4th place…Nahki Wells

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

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

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

Picture by Claire Epton

Picture by Claire Epton

In 3rd place…Gary Jones

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

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

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

Image by Alex Dodd

Image by Alex Dodd

In 2nd place…James Hanson

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

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

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

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

And the winner is…Stephen Darby

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

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

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

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

Congratulations Stephen Darby, baby.

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

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

The 2012/13 Width of Post Player of the Season

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

 

David Baldwin on the 2013/14 season: part one

28 Apr

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By Jason McKeown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Midweek Player Focus #58: Aaron Mclean

23 Apr

Image by Alex Dodd

By Alex Scott

There are good reasons why we have waited until the penultimate Midweek Player Focus article of the season to talk about Aaron Mclean, and moving into this important summer, the forward from East London may be the most pivotal.

Mclean arrived in early January, the chosen one to replace the departing Nahki Wells, attempting to fill his shirt number and his boots. Before an extended spell on the sidelines in the East Riding, Mclean had been a relatively prolific lower league forward over much of his career but was unable to make the leap to the Championship with the Tigers.

Mclean has struggled for consistent time on the field over recent years, with only loan spells at Birmingham City breaking his time in Hull reserves. In spite of this relative inactivity, a career record of almost a goal every other game in League One (27 in 58) was good enough to convince Phil Parkinson that he was the man to replace Wells and drive City to the next level.

At this point, things cannot have been said to have gone to plan. Two goals in 16 appearances for City’s new man; a revamped team no improvement over its predecessor. Mclean himself appears to have slipped down the pecking order behind loan recruit Jon Stead.

Mclean isn’t helped by how prolific his predecessor was, nor how completely the team was built around the strengths of Wells – strengths that he does not possess. However, his level of performance over the past few weeks will not be how he will be judged. Aaron Mclean will be crucial for next season and will play a pivotal role in how high the ceiling of this team can be. Whether he can live up to that responsibility will define his tenure here.

~~~~~~~~~

Nahki Wells was the tip of the spear. I’m pretty sure that is doing him a disservice, but for the sake of the metaphor, he was the tip of the spear. For a spell of almost eighteen months, City were an impressively well-oiled machine, efficient and at times devastating. Wells was a key component that made the whole thing work. Even at this higher level. More so, if anything.

The replacement of Wells with Mclean quickly hastened the shelving of the spear altogether. City, after initially attempting to prod opposing teams with a blunted stick, have had to evolve into a form of combat with a bit more guile. A change that may have been on the cards at the end of the season anyway, but that would have been the optimal time to make it. A time that wouldn’t leave the squad bloated with now-redundant javelin throwers, not suited to the new reality.

Tottenham are suffering comparable woes at the moment, trading away a pound coin for four twenty pence pieces and some shrapnel. They may be worth the same on the surface, but you win leagues with pounds, not pennies. City gave away their pound coin to pay for the host of silver coins they hoarded over the summer, and only replacing him with Mclean. A man who has the potential to be a valuable contributor, but in truth has never been a pound.

It isn’t really fair to judge Mclean against Wells. Wells went for over a million pounds four months ago, a number which probably understated his market value given the club’s unwillingness to actually open up the sale to the market. The club didn’t disclose the fee they paid for Mclean, but we can be sure it wasn’t in the same tax bracket as the sale of Wells.

It also probably isn’t fair to judge Mclean until next season. But not being able to judge on his recent past – he hasn’t had a consistent run of league games in three years, not a successful one in four since leaving Peterborough – we haven’t really got anything else to go on.

My experience watching him has been primarily at away games, where the fans have been encouraging, if not effusive. I can’t speak of the entirety of the home fans, but during the couple of home games I’ve seen him, the feeling is mutual. Fans are giving him time. The jury is remaining out only because they want to be. The true test of Mclean will come next season, but anything in the stratosphere of his predecessor will be a surprise at this point.

~~~~~~~~~~

To be fair to Mclean, coming into a new team mid-season often proves tough, especially coming into a team that had earned 11 points in their previous 15 games, only scoring 15 goals in the process.

Due to the injuries and disillusionment of James Hanson and Nahki Wells respectively in the build up to Christmas, the rot had absolutely set in before Mclean’s arrival. Kyel Reid was by far City’s most dangerous attacking player at the turn of the year, and he has been missed just as much as Wells. He and Mclean only crossed paths for 32 minutes at Bramall Lane.

Without Reid’s pace to stretch the field, City have struggled painfully. If the winger had been injured the week before Mclean’s capture, rather than the week after, it begs to question whether Phil Parkinson may have just held fire and placed a higher priority on replacing the raw pace of Reid and Wells that his side have so sorely missed?

Adam Reach and Kyle Bennett have been brought in on the flanks and, whilst the latter does have a quick burst, neither has the intimidating pace of Reid, and City have duly struggled to gain a footing in games as a result.

If Kyel Reid had been stationed on the left flank for this second half of the season, preventing opposition defences pressing up on Mclean and Hanson, it does stand to reason Mclean would have had more room to operate, and rather than a cause of the side’s ills, his lack of form may rather be a symptom.

City’s run in the games following Mclean’s arrival has been essentially the same as the fifteen games which led up to his signing. The team has gone through a lot of reform since January, but none if it has moved the needle. With Reach, Matty Dolan, Bennett et al arriving, the overall quality may have risen, some 10ps turned into 20s, but none have come close to bridging the gap to the loss of Wells and Reid.

The only reason City are staying up this year is the run at the outset which had them in the play off spots in October. In the games started by Hanson and Wells this season, City earned six wins and nine draws, suffering only one defeat. Without the striking combination on the field together, that record falls to won six drawn eight, lost thirteen. The value of a pound.

But as noted earlier, the squad at the beginning of the year was unsustainably expensive. There are too many silver coins around the club, and without a cup run to rely on for funding, it was Wells who had to be sacrificed.

~~~~~~~~

I have found Aaron Mclean as a player is frustratingly difficult to pin down. I don’t really know what to make of him. I’ve seen him border on the excellent away at Orient, show a real poacher’s instinct at home to Gillingham, and work hard and graft throughout. He can hold the ball up well at times; and even on his off-days looks like a hassling presence to opposition defenders. But those off-days are alarmingly frequent.

Only recently has the side been able to move away from the framework designed for Nahki Wells, with which Mclean has improved. Before that point, Mclean often looked lost. He may be effective in a team built around him, but let us be clear, this is not that team.

And let us also be clear about something else, Nahki Wells earned the right to have a team built around his strengths. Toward the end of the 2011/12 season, as an inexperienced 21-year old, Wells played a huge part in keeping City in the Football League, scoring fourteen goals including a crucial hat trick away at Northampton late in the year. He showed a promise that gave Parkinson a reason to build a side around him. Mclean has so far shown little in City colours.

Mclean will get his opportunity to have a side tailored to his strengths – but not because of his talents or his play on the field, but because of his contract.

Now in late April that safety has been assured and City’s ever more disgruntled fan base can draw breath for a moment, thoughts can move toward next season. Looking at players of consequence in the squad, only Andrew Davies, Hanson and Mclean are sure-fire certainties for next year’s assault on League One. Mark Yeates appears likely to be “managed out” unless the new dawn suits his more passive style of play.

The City board have already admitted that the budget for next season will not be at the level of this campaign’s, and the last six months of this season have seen the club as almost the worst side in the division. Parkinson’s task will be aided by the fact 75% of his squad are out of contract, affording him the freedom to rebuild in the manner he wants.

However, this is counteracted by the fact such a large chunk of the budget is to be eaten by his two forwards. Two forwards which as a pairing have shown precious little ability to move this team to where he and the club wants them to go.

Given the form of Mclean, and the scarcity of goals of the team as a whole, Phil Parkinson cannot in good conscience go into next year with only Hanson and the former Peterborough man as his options up front. There will have to be a legitimate third option in case Mclean isn’t who he thought he was, or who we hope he might be.

It is to be expected that Mclean’s early misfires will lead to a major overhauling of the side’s midfield. They will need to contribute more goals. The ‘deep-lying, get the ball out wide’ approach so well suited to this team’s personnel and last year’s front line will no longer get it done. They cannot go into another season prodding teams with a blunt stick.

Parkinson will need to spend money bringing back the defence, with it to be expected that at least Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle are due relatively substantial pay rises. The entire midfield is out of contract, and it’s probably a stretch to expect any managing out of unwanted holdovers to happen for free. Without an extension of the mooted budget, it is hard to envision a scenario where Parkinson will be able to devote much salary to a third striker.

Maybe Oli McBurnie can grow into a reserve option over the coming months, although that evolution may be one more year away. Maybe some other youth players can be brought through into squad roles, but I’m clutching at straws. With all the areas of the squad needing work, it would be hard to justify more money going to the front line. But taking no action has to be seen as a gamble.

How successfully Parkinson squares this circle will likely define how long his stay at the club will be extended. Last year’s promotion, if anything, seems to have shortened the patience of large sections of the Valley Parade crowd, and if the side are still struggling for goals at Christmas, it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise to see the club move on. This club harbour ambitions of returning to the Championship, but that seemed a lot more attainable with that pound coin in their back pocket.

If City are to make a step forward toward the top half or maybe even a play off push next season, it will have to be on the back on Mclean and Hanson.

The table below shows the extrapolated 46-game profile of this City team, and the average 6th place League One team since 2003.

Team

Goals for Goals Against Goal Difference Points

Bradford City 2013/14 (projected)

57

56

1

56

 Average 6th Place (2003-2014)  74 54 20

74

As you can see, City’s defence is just about there. Given Andrew Davies and James Meredith have each been out for half the season, this defence is absolutely good enough for the play offs. Criticism of Jon McLaughlin may just justifiable on anecdotal evidence, but his aggregate output has been exceptional this year, especially given the chopping and changing in front of him. To argue otherwise is denial.

The numbers would argue that if Parkinson can bring back the starting back five and keep them fit next season, the City team as a whole could probably get away with being a bit more adventurous in their approach given the concession rates of standard 6th place defences.

What’s more, they may have to. City are a way away from scoring enough goals to challenge for the play off spots. Only five teams in my 66-team sample have scored fewer than 60 goals and finished in the top six, and only one team in the past seven years: Sheffield United, who came fifth in last year’s especially mediocre division.

Furthermore, if we ignore the Wells and Hanson sample, City have really only scored a goal a game since October 4. As a team, they are probably going to have to be 30 goals better over a season than they are at the moment, without giving much up on the back end. And that is a hell of a lot of goals.

League One is different to the other divisions. “Good” teams often get relegated from the tier above, and often mediocre sides make their way out of the division below. The dividing line in English football between ‘bad’ good teams, and ’good’ bad teams occurs somewhere in the middle of this tier, and at the moment, Bradford City are definitively on the latter side of that line.

Relative to other divisions, teams that get promoted out of this division tend to accrue a lot of points. This year is no exception. With only six teams making the play offs, you need to be good, consistently, to keep pace. Whilst City have had their moments, less frequently of late, good teams have a consistency about them City have not matched.

They need to score more goals. They need to score many more goals if they are to compete for promotion honours, and in truth, looking at where they are now, it’s probably a two-year job.

Either way, Aaron Mclean is going to be a huge part of that. If Parkinson and his men are genuinely going to be aiming at the top six next season, they need a revolutionary summer beyond the one they had in 2012. They are going to have to build a framework in which both Mclean and Hanson can flourish, and for that fundamental reform is needed, with some really tough decisions to be made.

Phil Parkinson’s gamble on Aaron Mclean is yet to pay dividends. The manager has a lot riding on the bustling striker, and if his team are to reach the heights required by the end of his time here, he needs his investment in Mclean to work. Aaron Mclean must become a twenty goal a season player. James Hanson, for all the will in the world, will not be that guy.

There isn’t going to be the budget for it to be anyone else. It must be Mclean.

Looking for a good, Good Friday as Bradford City welcome the Posh

18 Apr
Image by Kieran Wilkinson

Image by Kieran Wilkinson

Bradford City vs Peterborough United preview

@Valley Parade on Friday 18 April, 2014

By Ian Sheard

“I expected them to do better and, for one reason or another, they haven’t.” Peterborough manager Darren Ferguson’s assessment of Bradford City’s season perhaps echoes what a lot of fans have been saying about their own. Particularly after the decent start that was made to the campaign.

The Bantams are looking to get back to winning ways and replicate the home form of last season, against one of the early favourites. Peterborough, who are currently residing in sixth and who look a decent outfit, are a couple of victories away from securing the last play off place alongside Leyton Orient, Preston and that lot down the road. I think everyone expected the top two (Wolves and Brentford) to be there at the start of the season, and they have kept true to form. The play offs will be interesting to watch this year, as I can’t see much difference between the teams. My gut tells me it will be Rotherham – but I hope it isn’t!

So what is it that has prevented City from being part of this end-of-season shootout for promotion? I can say, but not prove, that the only thing I wanted this year was to stay up. It looks as though we will achieve that feat and won’t get sucked into the relegation battle at the wrong of the table over the final few matches. Most City fans would probably agree this season was about achieving stability and taking careful steps forwards. Would we have been in a position to compete in the Championship, had we performed better and got promoted? No, is the honest answer.

That said, it would have been nice to have been up there with Peterborough right now, and Phil Parkinson has a lot of thinking to do going into the summer – as fans expect more next season.

I could be rousing an argument here, but we were told at the start of the season that one thing we weren’t going to do was to dip into the loan market. It was interesting to note, in the last home game against Oldham, that half of the team were borrowed from different clubs. I know we have had a few injuries this season, but is there a lack of faith/confidence in the likes of Garry Thompson, Mark Yeates and Carl McHugh, or are they not good enough?

Whilst I am happy for loan players to come into the squad and show their parent club what they are worth, I don’t think there should be five in your starting line up when there are people on higher wages and with more experience sat on the bench. It’s a tough, tough call for Parkinson, and I’m sure everyone has their own views on this issue. However, the ‘make do’ feel of the team right now does leave him with some big decisions to make over summer, as a lot of players are coming to the end of their contracts.

Another reason for failing to mount a sustained promotion push is the lack of creativity we seem to have within the team. It seems as though we have lost the ability to pass the ball around sharply, particularly in the opponents half, and have suffered as a result. I think James Hanson is a wonderful player but, whilst he does win every ball in the air, we need to find another tactic beyond launching it to him. I don’t know whether it is panic mode or not, but we need to keep hold of possession more – like we did during the first 30 minutes against Gillingham.

Friday’s encounter with Rotherham was a good game. I thought City played well, and that having five in the midfield seemed to help us out a little bit. I am a fan of Jon Stead and think that, if he is available at the end of the season, then he should be signed up. Some may say that playing five in midfield is a bit negative at home; but with Aaron Mclean and Hanson potentially still injured, Parkinson would probably be best playing the same way with Stead up front.

Peterborough will no doubt look to win the match rather than play for time and try to wear us down to a 0-0 draw. Hopefully this will help us, as we always seem to play better when opponents bring the game to us and we catch them on the break. Having read Ferguson Senior’s autobiography, it worked for Man United and I believe Darren has the makings of a good manager too.

I hope it’s a good game tonight, as it seems as though the season is petering out somewhat. I would be more than happy with a draw that would all but nudge us over the line of mathematical safety. But recent home failings are still raw, and so a good start is vital in making sure that this proves to be a very Good Friday for Bradford City.

The Midweek Player Focus #57: Jason Kennedy / Matty Dolan

16 Apr

shrewsbury away march 2014

By Jason McKeown

One of the key lessons taken from the 2013/14 season is that a football club’s continued progression is not simply dependent upon keeping hold of the best players, but on adequately replacing them when their time comes.

Bradford City’s future fortunes look set to be intrinsically linked with how well this is taken on board, especially when it comes to planning next season’s central midfield. It is the area of the team that carries by far the biggest question marks, and undoubtedly there are some difficult calls to make.

Chiefly there is the longevity of the man who has made the whole team tick for much of the past two seasons. The joy of watching Gary Jones still delivering influential performances is tempered by his increasingly limited shelf life. If only we had signed him when he was 25, not 35. His considerable impact in claret and amber has raised standards in the centre of the park; standards that have fallen and fallen ever since Stuart McCall was released far too early from Valley Parade, 10 years before Jones’ summer 2012 arrival.

Jones will be 37 in June, by which time we will know whether he has at least one more season in West Yorkshire or will be looking for another club. If I was Phil Parkinson, I’d be signing him up for another 12 months as a squad player. But the dilemma is muddied somewhat by the likelihood that Jones will be one of the club’s highest earners, and we cannot build next season’s team on the assumption he can play another 40+ games.

Despite some indifferent performances at times, Jones has continued to prove very reliable this season. It’s a good job too, because I doubt that the plan was for Jones to get to mid-March as a League One ever-present, with few credible options to take his place.

Perhaps, by this point, Parkinson would have envisaged Jason Kennedy would be driving the central midfield. The former Darlington man spent three years playing next to Jones in one of the most successful teams in Rochdale’s history. Kennedy’s ability was demonstrated to an impressed Valley Parade faithful 15 months ago, when Rochdale battered City’s 2012/13 vintage – Jones and all – in a shock 4-2 victory. A month later Parkinson had agreed a deal to bring Kennedy to City, only for the player to have a last-minute change of heart as he drove along the M62 to sign a transfer deadline day deal. Nevertheless he rocked up last summer on a two-year contract, either to play with Jones or to be his heir.

There has no question that it has proven to be a wretched, career-stalling move for Kennedy. He looked very poor on his debut at Huddersfield in the cup, continually going for an easy inside pass rather than taking responsibility in driving the team forward, Jones-style, or offering any genuine creativity like Nathan Doyle. Such an approach may have found Kennedy favour in a slow tempo passing side such as Rochdale, but did not suit the direct style of football that City play under Parkinson, centred around getting the ball up to James Hanson and Nahki Wells as quickly as possible.

And it never got any better from there. Kennedy had to wait until early October to appear in the league for the Bantams, at Walsall, and his full debut – a week later against Tranmere – saw him similarly ineffective. Start number two in November did at least see him score the winner at the MK Dons, but when in the next game, against Notts County, he was hauled off at half time, it already seemed that the writing was on the wall for him. Parkinson would talk him up off the field, but had very little faith using him on it. It just didn’t seem the right fit, for all concerned.

His loan move back to Rochdale, in January, was no surprise – his last game for City, at Sheffield United, had been a particularly dismal affair for the midfielder. But even back ‘home’ at Spotland, Kennedy has not got going again. Four starts (the last two of which saw him replaced after less than 70 minutes), but since then a permanent place on the bench that has only occasionally seen him introduced (and even then, very late on in games). 66 minutes into Rochdale’s game at Mansfield on Saturday, Kennedy was summoned from the bench with the score 0-0. They were ultimately beaten 3-0. Unlikely to be Kennedy’s fault, but he will hardly have made a great impact.

With Rochdale on the brink of promotion, there appears to be no chance of him being offered a permanent deal at Spotland during the summer. There is still one year left on his Valley Parade deal; meaning Kennedy will either give it another crack at City or probably have his contract cancelled.

At 27-years-old, Kennedy is at the age we wish Jones could be. And, perhaps, a 27-year-old Jones endured his own career dips. Kennedy has played almost 400 senior games (including four Premier League and three UEFA Cup appearances at Middlesbrough) and clearly hasn’t become a bad player overnight, but he looks a long, long way off being a regular for a club harbouring medium-term ambitions to be playing in the Championship.

~~~~~~~~

As Kennedy exited stage left, in came another Middlesbrough midfield youth graduate in Matty Dolan. At 21-years-old and having failed to make a single first team appearance for the Teesiders, Dolan’s future already appears to lie in West Yorkshire. If Middlesbrough hadn’t dragged their heels in over a sell-on clause, Dolan’s January move to City would have been a permanent one. Instead, with no agreement sealed in time for the deadline, Dolan ultimately arrived on loan. We can reasonably speculate that something more concrete is already in place for the summer.

Dolan’s arrival coincided with a shift in City’s overall approach. Wells’ January departure saw him replaced with Aaron Mclean, and it very quickly became clear that he is a different type of striker. Mclean does not play on the shoulder of the last man; and some of his better work takes place outside of the box, linking up the play with others. As such, he needs more support.

With Hanson/Wells, the deeper positioning of Nathan Doyle and Jones worked terrifically well. They could set up attacks with their superb range of short, medium and long passing skills, and position themselves to win back possession from the opposition. But Mclean needs an attacking midfielder to provide him with an option as attacking moves develop. Hanson has become the most forward-positioned striker, but his flick ons to Mclean are too predictable if he is the only team-mate available to pass to.

So Dolan’s debut, against Crewe in February, saw him eventually take up a holding midfield position, with Jones given greater licence to get forward. The result was two goals from Jones – both set up by Mclean’s lay offs – that leave the veteran as City’s second top-scorer. From having two central midfielders who defend and attack together, greater distinctions are now needed between the two who patrol the centre of the park.

Clearly Jones can play the attacking midfield role. In 2010/11, then in League One with Rochdale, he netted 18 goals (including penalties). But we come back to that age problem, and increasingly you feel that City needed someone more youthful and sprightly to take on the attacking midfielder role that the evolution of the team seemingly requires. There’s a lad at Scunthorpe, goes by the name of Syers or something, who I’d re-sign in a heartbeat.

Dolan looks even less suited to the role. His strengths lie in winning back the ball and setting up attacks. He is full of energy and gets around the park well, but has particularly excelled when asked to play in front of the back four. Given his age, Jones would suit the defensive role well also, and two years of watching Doyle play in the centre of the park suggest that – when on form – he would be an even better option than Jones or Dolan, playing as a tough-tackling quarter back. A latter-years David Beckham.

But three into one role doesn’t go (or four into one, if you count Kennedy). If City are to evolve in the way that truly gets the best out of Mclean and Hanson as a pairing, Parkinson needs to find room for an attacking central midfielder in his plans, knowing he will be well-stocked in the defensive holding role. It is hard to imagine that all three of Jones, Doyle and Dolan will be here next season, and so here is where the dilemma grows: who to keep?

For Dolan in particular, he is competing against two of the club’s best central midfielders in a decade, as he tries to prove he deserves a role ahead of them next season. There is undoubtedly much promise about his performances, such as his first half showing against Gillingham before injury; but nagging doubts have been raised from other displays. He was truly wretched against Shrewsbury, for example. His poor display against Oldham a week last Saturday did feature a superb assist for Adam Reach. Inconsistent is the word. Is he ready to be a week-in, week-out starter next term? Not for me.

If Dolan is penned in to remain beyond his loan spell (and we don’t know for sure that something is lined up), then a big call will need to be made on Doyle or Jones’ futures. The mistake in stock-piling central defenders this season underlines the need to be ruthless on this one.

Just like McCall’s exit in 2002, the club faces a hugely challenging task in ultimately replacing an inspirational but ageing figure in Jones. Matty Dolan has a look of Tom Kearney – the man charged with replacing McCall 12 years ago, before unfortunately suffering a really bad injury after which he never looked the same player – and the young midfielder has between now and the end of this season to prove that he would be ready for greater responsibility.

More realistically, Dolan can expect to go into 2014/15 at City, with either Jones or Doyle as his mentor, and being gradually eased into the team. Bring Dolan on slowly, allowing him to make mistakes and giving him the guidance to improve, and we might just have ourselves a real gem who can dominate the City midfield for years and years to come.

A gem who is a long, long way from being 37-years-old.

Who should stay and who should go?

14 Apr

SAM_2615

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:

SAM_2754

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.

SAM_2626

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:

SAM_2322

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

SAM_2760

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.

Unacceptable Bradford City performance underlines need for major change

5 Apr

IMG-20140405-00067

Bradford City 2

Reach 35, Jones 90

Oldham Athletic 3

Wesolowski 22, Clarke-Harris 45+58

Saturday 5 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not used: Barker, McHugh, Bates, Stockdill

Jon Stead signs on loan for Bradford City

27 Mar

By Jason McKeown

Phil Parkinson has reacted to successive toothless Bradford City displays by recruiting Huddersfield striker Jon Stead on loan until the end of the season.

Stead, 30, becomes the seventh loan signing on the books – presenting some difficult team selections for the manager who can only use five in his matchday 16 – and will ease the burden on James Hanson, who has been struggling for fitness.

Having made a flying start to his professional career with his hometown club of Huddersfield over a decade ago, Stead has found the going more tough since a £1 million move to Premier League Blackburn Rovers. He subsequently played for Sunderland and Sheffield United in the top flight, before dropping down a division to Ipswich and then Bristol City. He rejoined Town last summer but has rarely figured for the Terriers.

Although not a prolific scorer by any means, Stead has made a decent impact at most clubs he has played for. Indeed, our friends at the Exiled Robin site wrote of Stead when he left Ashton Gate last summer, “He leaves us three years later as one of the most popular players to have pulled on a red shirt in recent memory. If you want a 25-goal a season striker, then Stead isn’t your man.

“The most telling moment of Stead’s stay came at the end of the 2011/12 season, when he was carried shoulder-high from the pitch having spent much of the previous two months metaphorically doing the same for many of his team-mates, driving us clear of a desperate relegation scrap with an immense effort, dedication and no little skill.”

It will be very interesting to see how much Stead figures over the final few weeks, particularly when Hanson is fully fit. It seems as though Stead is here for a short spell with no obvious prospect of joining permanently during the summer, and he should look to fellow non-scoring forwards Mike Newell and Aaron Wilbraham as examples of the positive difference a short spell at Valley Parade can have on his career.

A state of flux

22 Mar

shrewsbury away march 2014

Shrewsbury Town 2

Taylor 80, Miller 90

Bradford City 1

Davies 79

Saturday 22 March, 2014

Written by Jason McKeown (image by Kieran Wilkinson)

The real sadness about this season is that you already wish it was over. This woeful defeat to second-bottom Shrewsbury Town prolongs the relegation anxiety, but it still appears to be a matter of when, not if, survival is assured. More pressing is how afternoons such as these are clouding the future, deflating goodwill and damaging morale.

A shadow has been cast over Bradford City, who are stumbling through the final stages of the campaign with a confusing lack of purpose. Not close enough to the bottom four places to be causing sleepless nights, but those lingering concerns should have been put to bed by now. We want to start planning for next season, but the expected rebuilding job looks even more considerable after this result. If only we could get on with the big shake-up, rather than enduring this period of uncertainty and tredding water.

Whilst losing to a side who had not previously won at home since November is never going to look clever, it was the nature of this non-performance from the Bantams that prompts the real frustration. Only Carlisle, at Valley Parade in August, have put in a more tentative and feeble showing than the one which Shrewsbury produced. The home side were awful – but City completely failed to take the initiative and play to their capabilities. The home side were awful – yet they would walk off the pitch as victors.

Only Stephen Darby and Gary Jones – the latter was thrust into action from the bench just before half time, due to a Nathan Doyle injury – can emerge from this game with any credit. Kyle Bennett also showed glimpses of what he can do, but from the rest this was a completely unacceptable showing. No urgency, no drive and a troubling lack of commitment. This from a group of players who last season made their supporters so proud because they would never give up.

That seems to have been lost over the last few months, and it is manager Phil Parkinson’s biggest challenge to restore. He has long since preached the value of constructing teams that are full of character, and this ethos was something that captured the imagination of his public. He understands that meeting the high expectations surrounding this football club requires full commitment and effort from every player he selects. No one will be hurting more than Parkinson from feeble performances like this. It is far, far removed from what he preaches.

For the most part of the game, absolutely nothing happened. It was devoid of incident, save for a decent Aaron Mclean first half effort for City and Shrewsbury’s Tom Eaves impressing visiting supporters if not his own (he would later be subbed to cheers from the home stands, which was curious given he looked their best player). Both sides were too direct in their approach play, with possession tossed back and forth like a game of tennis. When the ball was played on the ground, some of the mistakes made by both sides were incredibly woeful.

James Hanson missed a glorious chance just after half time, when he got on the end of an excellent Bennett cross but could only steer his half-volley straight at Shrewsbury keeper Joe Anyon. Asa Hall’s shot from distance was easily saved by Jon McLaughlin, and that was about it really. Shrewsbury looked scared of their own shadow; City looked ready for the beach.

But when the drama finally came it would prove plentiful. First Andrew Davies struck, after City finally managed to put Shrewsbury under sustained pressure. The last of four successive corners had been cleared back to the taker, Matty Dolan, who launched the ball into the box once more and Davies stabbed it past Anyon. An underserved, but welcome, away victory was on the cards.

Yet less than 60 seconds later, Shrewsbury were level. The powerful Jermaine Grandison crossed low and Jon Taylor was to fire home past McLaughlin. With a flicker of renewed hope, the strugglers pressed on in the final stages and, in 94th minute, punished City’s lifelessness. Substitute Shaun Miller – so often a thorn in the Bantams’ side during his Crewe days – struck a low acrobatic volley into the corner of the net to mark his debut in memorable style. The home supporters wildly celebrated whilst Bantams’ shoulders slumped.

Shrewsbury hardly merited their victory, yet City deserved to be defeated. They were disjointed throughout, with Davies and Rory McArdle sloppy in possession at the back, and Adam Reach failing to show his quality in good positions. Hanson and Mclean were starved of service but also unable to hold up the ball when it was played up to them.

Dolan perhaps best exemplified the claret and amber implosion in Shropshire. He failed to build upon his hugely promising performances against Colchester and Gillingham, as he constantly lost possession and struggled to break up Shrewsbury attacks. On this evidence, he is not ready to replace the ageing Jones – whose composure and drive when he came on was highly commendable, even though it left you feeling anxious that our reliance on his waning battery life remains too high.

Despite this set back, the Bantams remain in mid-table and it would take an almighty collapse over the final nine games to be kicking off next season in League Two. Yet at the same time, any sense of achievement at finally exceeding the 50-point mark is likely to feel hollow and subdued. Avoiding relegation was always the number one objective – but after running out of the starting blocks this season, City are crawling over the line. That doesn’t inspire optimism for the future, and it is difficult to conclude what should be done.

Whilst Shrewsbury go into their final eight games with much to fret about, their highly likely relegation offers a timely warning to Bradford City. Last season, the Shrews were in a similar position to where we are now – establishing themselves in League One, following promotion the year after – but staying up didn’t automatically lead to a continued curve of improvement. They went backwards instead.

There is major, major work to be done at Valley Parade this summer to ensure City don’t follow the same path. Staying in League One is one thing, but much, much more is expected in the long-term. The suspicions that the club has regressed over the last few months need to be extinguished. The stagnation of the playing squad must be addressed. The mistakes made this season can be tolerated and forgiven, provided they are not repeated.

Once these nine games are done and dusted, Parkinson will go into his third close season as manager of Bradford City, where his playing squad can be refreshed. His first close season (2012) proved a spectacular success, his second (2013) was anything but. How he performs during number three will go a long way towards determining his longevity in the Valley Parade hotseat.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, Bennett, Dolan, Doyle (Jones 43), Reach, Hanson, Mclean (Thompson 90)

Not used: Jameson, McHugh, Bates, De Vita, Gray

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