Tag Archives: Kyel Reid

The Midweek Player Focus #56: Kyle Bennett

9 Apr

SAM_2776

By Jason McKeown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Withdrawal symptoms

14 Feb

SAM_2615

Coventry City vs Bradford City preview

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

By Alex Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kieran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five issues facing Phil Parkinson

13 Feb

SAM_0499

By Jason McKeown

1) The defence is conceding too many goals

Having kept four clean sheets in the first 10 League One matches of this season, the last 21 games have seen just two shutouts. Bradford City have only conceded more than two goals on three occasions during this poor run, but too often the team’s overall efforts have been undermined by conceding at crucial times.

The long-term lay off of Andrew Davies was widely blamed for the defence’s sudden struggles, even though a similar period of City being without the influential centre back, last season, saw those memorable victories over Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa. Davies’ recent return from injury has not yet resulted in the expected improvement.

There is no doubting how vital Davies is to City’s cause, but the problem runs deeper. His long-time partner-in-crime, Rory McArdle, has struggled compared to last season. The left back slot – even before James Meredith’s untimely injury – has been a concern. In-between the sticks, Jon McLaughlin has enjoyed a mixed season at best.

Over a short-term period, McLaughlin is capable of outstanding form. But his six years at the club have so far seen him struggle to sustain performances over a lengthy period. Just like in 2009/10 when McLaughlin played second fiddle to on-loan Huddersfield keeper Simon Eastwood, the club has devoted a relatively small part of the overall budget to goalkeepers – and this has meant a lack of competition for the Scot.

Regardless of whether McLaughlin is retained or moved on during the summer, the goalkeeping budget needs to be reviewed.

2) There’s a lack of balance in midfield

Ever since his first game in charge as manager back in September 2011, Phil Parkinson has favoured a 4-4-2 formation that he has rarely deviated away from. This includes two deep-lying central midfielders and a wideman who can tuck in, with much of the attacking emphasis on one out-and-out winger to provide the attacking spark.

Last season this balance worked well, with Parkinson either favouring the directness of Kyel Reid on the left and solidity of Garry Thompson on the right, or Will Atkinson (doing the Thompson role) on the left and Zavon Hines (Reid) on the right. Whilst Mark Yeates is an almost like-for-like alterative to Atkinson, Hines was not adequately replaced (Parkinson should have kept Zav, in my view). The result has been a lack of wide options to suit Parkinson’s style of play.

Now robbed of Reid, Parkinson needs to get the best out of the number seven’s loanee replacement, Kyle Bennett. Early impressions are that he is not the same type of player and looks reluctant to run at people from outwide, preferring to cut inside. This is causing City to become too narrow. Adam Reach impresses, but lacks the pace to be the side’s out-and-out winger. It’s the same story with Mark Yeates and Rafa De Vita.

Parkinson either needs Bennett to become Reid, find a different loanee replacement, or change the midfield set-up.

3) Goalscoring opportunities are drying up

It’s easy to look back on early season performances as some sort of false dawn, but the way in which City played back then was hugely effective rather than lucky – and Parkinson needs to get his players back to that. One of the major worries in recent weeks has been the lack of decent goalscoring opportunities created, which has heightened the importance of every wasted sitter or close miss.

Take the Carlisle home game in August. A 4-0 victory, but it should have been 10-0. The way in which City played back then saw opposition teams overwhelmed by the level of pressure they faced and the variety to the attacking play. Direct balls to Hanson for sure, but also a genuine threat from the flanks and creativity from Nathan Doyle. The opposition might stop one City route to goal, but still have others to worry about.

It’s a sign of low confidence that the ball is hoofed from the back rather than anyone taking greater responsibility to begin attacking moves. Hanson is at times being made to look poor by the predictability of where the ball is going to end up and, even when he wins it, failure of others to get up the pitch and provide him options. And the more the ball is cheaply given away, the more the pressure is placed onto City’s backline.

Clean sheets are not happening first and foremost because of the ineffectiveness of how we attack.

Image by Alex Dodd

4) Aaron Mclean is not (yet) Nahki Wells

On the surface, Aaron Mclean looked set to be a like-for-like replacement for Nahki Wells – arguably one of the main reasons why Parkinson signed him. Yet it has become increasingly clear that Aaron prefers to be more involved in the build-up play compared to the Bermudian, with his greater work coming outside the box.

It’s not that this is a bad thing, but it means that City no longer have a striker playing on the shoulder of the last man, sniffing out chances. Suddenly, Hanson has become the forward-most player and is having to play with his back to goal. Previously the big man would be flicking the ball on into the path of his strike partner; now he is having to direct it sideways or backwards towards Mclean. The result is that City are spending less time in the opposition penalty area.

For Parkinson the dilemma is to either change this aspect of Mclean’s game, or ensure there are other players running forward to present a further option for the strikers to link up with. I believe the manager is looking at the latter option, hence Matty Dolan sitting against Crewe and Gary Jones having the licence to get forward. Both of Jones’ goals that day were the result of Mclean flick-ons, but Hanson had also been involved in the build-up.

The team is able to get more out of Mclean in general play but looks set to lose out on the number of goals that his predecessor Wells provided. It’s about adapting the game plan to ensure the team makes up for Nahki’s goal tally, even if that means spreading around the goalscorers.

5) There’s not enough competition for places

In November and December, Mark Yeates was desperately unlucky to continue to be overlooked. Almost every time he came off the bench during a game, he made an impact. Yet the week after he would still be amongst the substitutes, rather than being rewarded with a start.

Flash forward to now and Parkinson is struggling for impact players who can come off the bench and affect the game. That translates into a lack of competition, meaning those in the team can deliver below-par performances and yet retain their places. It’s not as simple as to say that people in the first XI are relaxing and not trying hard enough; but dented confidence has been allowed to drain further by the player remaining in the side and struggling even more.

There is not much that can be done recruitment-wise to rectify this until the summer, but until then Parkinson badly needs those players in reserve to press their claims for a starting position.

Although the club has stated for a year now (privately and publically) the benefits of not fielding a reserve team this year, and relying on behind-closed-door friendlies, I remain unconvinced this approach has helped. There should be greater competition for places than appears to be the case of late.

Change is coming as Preston North End come to town

28 Jan

SAM_1109

Bradford City vs Preston North End preview

@Valley Parade on Tuesday 28 January, 2014

By Mahesh Johal

In the reverse fixture against Preston North End, last October, many of the 3,000 away contingent left Deepdale feeling extremely buoyed by the Bantams performance. A Nahki-less Bradford City outshone the play off contending opponents, with Kyel Reid producing the finest individual performance of the season.

On that night, nine of the starting eleven had played at Wembley in May, and Reid was the flag bearer; the individual that demonstrated that the ‘History Makers’ weren’t just too good for League Two, but were more than capable of competing in League One. Unlucky not to gain three points, we had dreams of Wembley again. Wells would score the winning goal, Reid would wear that hat again and no doubt Connell would be snapped drinking from the trophy.

***

Written at the start of January and in his fantastically articulated post, WOAP writer Gareth Walker asked the question: where are we as a club and what have we learned so far? In the last game of a busy month both on and off the pitch, many of the points and questions he raised can be expanded.

The performance against Preston in October showed that, with our best side, we could compete in this league. However, results following that night have demonstrated a lack of strength and depth amongst the squad. More recently the departure of Wells and injuries to key players means the Bradford City side that we loved so affectionately over the last year is now starting to change.

Tonight’s game could be the beginning of the end of the ‘History Makers’ and the current squad as we know it.

The most notable absence is of course Nahki Wells. Gareth rightly discussed the need for an adequate replacement and – whilst the conversation regarding his departure has been truly exhausted – only time will tell if we have brought in the right man in Aaron McLean. The thirty year old buzzed endlessly against Sheffield United and contributed to both goals. He showed willingness and determination; all attributes that epitomise Phil Parkinson’s side. However, time is needed to see if he can replicate his form of old.

One would expect McLean to make his home debut tonight by partnering James Hanson. Although Hanson’s immediate form in the Wells aftermath has been great, more will be needed from him during this transitional period. There were glimmers of promise in the new forward partnership last weekend, but patience will be needed to truly judge the pair.

With the much publicised and discussed overspend, the loan market has been the most logical means of bringing players into the club. Also with the crippling injury list, Phil Parkinson has been forced to add bodies quickly to the squad (such as the so-far unused Jordan Graham). The loss of Reid against the Blades in my opinion is catastrophic. Without going over old ground about Reid’s pro and cons, there is no doubt he has been one of our stand-out performers this season. His pace and directedness destroyed Preston last time round, and they will breathe a huge sigh of relief knowing that he won’t be playing.

With Mark Yeates struggling for form and fitness, Adam Reach could be in line for his debut. On a month’s loan from Middlesbrough, Reach is a tall and quick winger who was a constant thorn against City in September, whilst playing for Shrewsbury. Even with a man sent off, he carried the Shrews’ attack with his direct and energetic runs. Whilst there are thoughts he could play at left back, the media rhetoric suggest he will start on the left wing.

Like Reach, Kyle Bennett has been given the freedom to express himself. A long term loanee, Bennett offers City a pacey option that can play on either flank. Whether he starts on Tuesday is more of an unknown, although he will provide stiff competition for Garry Thompson.

I continue to be an advocate of Thompson, but he is one that has struggled to make a significant impact this season. Again, he is a Parkinson man: full of running, endeavour and possess that bit of quality. Unfortunately it hasn’t been seen enough and it’s no surprise to see the manager bring in an alternative option.

These two signings do indicate that Parkinson will look to continue his current formation and style of football, instead of radically changing his approach: that being the use of holding midfielders and attacking wingers. Parkinson will hope the new and ‘energetic’ signings will provide the spark to restart City’s campaign and the solution to get out of the current rut.

The rut could have been a hell of lot worse if not for Gary Jones’ second half performance against Sheffield United. Admittedly he was non-existent in the 45 (as was everyone else), but his sheer passion and drive dragged City back into the game. Deflected goal maybe, but he single handily pulled City through. As Alex Scott so poignantly summed up, the personality of Bradford City is as much Gary Jones as it is Phil Parkinson. Personnel may be changing but it will fit round the spirit and foundations which have been instilled by the captain and manager

Injury doubts Nathan Doyle or Ricky Ravenhill will both be late selection decisions, however the releasing of Jason Kennedy and Doyle’s involvement against the Blades suggesting he may be nearly ready to go. If not, Huddersfield’s Chris Atkinson will be in line to make his bow. Another on a half season-long loan, Chris may well provide the energy and mobility which sometimes we have lacked.

The goals conceded against the Blades were very reminiscent of those conceded against Preston. Soft and poorly defended. Whilst
there is hope Andrew Davies may be back to eradicate this, tonight may come too early for him to start.

With no imminent left back signing, one of Matthew Bates and Carl McHugh will play out of position again. Whilst I commend their endeavour, I will be extremely nervous to see Lee Holmes or Chris Humphreys attack them. Quite frankly, both defenders are far more comfortable playing centrally but, until someone is signed, one will have to fill in, with the other partnering Rory McArdle. Stephen Darby and Jon McLaughlin make up the rest of the back five.

This side is changing and, whilst it saddens me to say goodbye to those who made our dreams come true, it is now time for City to evolve. To maintain League One status and eventually challenge to get out of this league, change is necessary. As Winston Churchill once said, ‘to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often’.

Last season was perfect. To reach those heights again, change must and will continue to happen.

Duty of care

26 Jan

Kyel Reid Hartlepool

By Jason McKeown

On Saturday morning, as Kyel Reid continued to comes to terms with his long road to recovery from a serious knee injury picked up at Bramall Lane last weekend, he was greeted by what might have begun as a well-intentioned article from the Telegraph & Argus’ Simon Parker, but which ultimately held very worrying implications for the Bradford City wideman.

Whilst rightfully paying tribute to Reid’s efforts in claret and amber and highlighting the very real possibility that the winger will never play for City again, Parker’s piece twice hinted that the 26-year-old might be cut adrift by the club in the summer – which would likely be some time before he has completed his rehabilitation.

I would hope that Parker’s blunt article is purely his own view not shared by the club’s management. But with the journalist understandably enjoying a very close relationship with the club, doubts have to be expressed about how speculative he was being. Simon has written many, many excellent pieces over the years and I’m sure I’m not the only writer to improve their own skills from reading his work, but the tone of this article surprised me.

“His medical bills and recuperation will be funded by the club for the remaining five months he is on the Valley Parade payroll. But then comes the dilemma.” noted Parker, before boldly stating Reid will not be offered a new contract during the summer, when his present deal expires. “No football club will put a deal in front of a player facing up to such a long spell in casualty. It sounds harsh but that is simply throwing good money after bad.”

Firstly, Simon, that does not sound harsh: it sounds downright cruel. The idea that Reid – who in two-and-a-half-years at the club has provided great service and helped his employer to progress greatly – be described as “bad money” is a horrible and unnecessary way of putting it.

Kyel Reid is not some millionaire footballer – this is his livelihood at stake. I can still picture Kyel celebrating promotion on the Wembley pitch with his baby, last May, after a man-of-the-match display. He deserves better than to be dubbed “bad money”.

Which is not to suggest that the club should be obliged to award Reid a new contract when his fitness is in serious doubt – but the idea that we might cut him adrift in the summer is hugely troubling. By reporting that Reid’s medical bills and recuperation will be funded by the club for the remaining five months is to hint strongly that, at the point his deal runs out, such medical support will be withdrawn. You’re on your own, Kyel.

Is this really acceptable? That, Reid, who may then be close to recovery but still with a way to go, be left to fend for himself?

Bradford City Football Club does not owe Kyel a living, but given the player has been injured in action for us (and, as an aside, was one of only a few players giving his all for the club’s cause during that dismal first half against Sheffield United), he deserves to be fully supported in his recovery.

Consider the case of Lewis Emanuel, who was recently sentenced to prison for his part in an armed robbery. Emanuel – a former City youth trainee – had moved on to Luton but suffered a bad injury just as his contract expired. Those close to Lewis say that the cash-strapped Hatters refused to pay for his rehabilitation and the player was unable to fully recover, with a career cut short. That in no way excuses the path he has since taken, but would at least explain how it began.

It is a completely different situation with Reid and City, but for everything he has done for the club he deserves our support getting his career back on track. Not at City as such – I have no problem with the idea of not renewing his contract, and ultimately his family commitments could mean he would rather move on anyway – but to get back to fitness and being able to find himself another club.

In the same piece Parker chooses to highlight Omar Daley’s similarly lengthy injury in 2009 and suggests that the Jamaican’s “top speed had dipped” upon his return. For some reason Parker failed to mention this about Daley at the time, but even if that was really the case with Daley (and I’m not sure it was) he still made valuable contributions to City after his injury and has continued to enjoy a decent career, befitting his ability. I don’t know why Parker needs to suggest that Reid might not make a full recovery – but regardless, a full recovery will only happen if he gets the right help.

With five months on his deal to run, there is absolutely no reason for any decisions to be made regarding Reid’s future. The club should be closely monitoring how he has progressed over that time and then make an informed decision in May. If they decide it’s not worth the risk of a new contract – or want to look elsewhere anyway – then fine. But does that mean he loses his medical support from the club also? I appreciate that it is an expense that no one wants, with those at Valley Parade correctly watching the pennies. But Kyel didn’t want to be injured either. It’s human decency.

I’d personally hope that Reid is given a week-to-week contract or at least allowed to remain around Valley Parade, unpaid, until he is fit enough to play football, benefitting from our medical support to get there. He can then either be trialled by Parkinson to see if he is worth re-signing, or sent on his way with every chance to continue his career. I’d hope that the powers that be at Valley Parade see it that way too.

Parker concludes, “Calls to offer Reid another deal regardless are well intentioned. In an ideal world, that would be the next step to provide a timely boost at his lowest ebb. But in the cold business world of football, that won’t happen.” Supporters still upset about Nahki Wells’ defection to Huddersfield might argue this is accurate, but if loyalty is of any value, it must work both ways. City have a chance to demonstrate just that, by helping him to rescue his career.

Kyel Reid’s football future might lie elsewhere, but first of all Bradford City have a duty to ensure Kyel Reid has a football future.

Adam Reach joins City hinting at change of loan strategy

23 Jan

SAM_0850

By Jason McKeown

Phil Parkinson has moved quickly to replace long-term injury absentee Kyel Reid – signing Middlesbrough left winger Adam Reach on a month’s loan.

20-year-old Reach is another product of Boro’s highly-regarded youth academy, and spent the first half of this season on loan at League One rivals Shrewsbury Town, where he was a regular. Reach also played 20 times for Middlesbrough last season, scoring on his home debut in August 2012.

It will be very interesting to see just how Reach’s time at Valley Parade pans out – and whether he represents a change in Parkinson’s long-term loan strategy. With the exception of Andrew Davies and Ricky Ravenhill during his first season in charge, the manager has rarely used the loan market for anything more than strengthening the depth of his squad.

Last season, City brought in Craig Forsyth, Tom Naylor, Curtis Good, Blair Turgott and Ryan Dickson in on loan, but only the latter – who suffered a bad injury early in his time – was seemingly ear-marked to feature regularly (and even then, only because James Meredith was injured). It has been the same story this time around, with Reach’s team-mate Connor Ripley used as back-up to Jon McLaughlin, and recent loan recruits Aaron Jameson and Jordan Graham yet to feature.

Parkinson’s loan approach has won him favour with supporters – plus Julian Rhodes, who over the past decade has sanctioned more than his fair share of temporary signings who subsequently underwhelmed – and has rightly or wrongly being held up as one reason for team spirit being so high. Yet with Parkinson robbed of his influential left flank, as both Meredith and Reid sit on the sidelines, the need for a quick fix has been heightened.

Nevertheless, will Reach come straight into the side against Preston North End next Tuesday? And if he does, what does that tell us about Parkinson’s views on the club’s other left-sided player, Mark Yeates? The summer signing has flattered to deceive and was roundly criticised for his feeble display against Sheffield United on Saturday. Yet there is a widely-held assumption that Yeates is earning good money – certainly higher than should ideally be allocated to the squad player status that he has held.

Reach is said to possess greater pace than Yeates – something City will desperately need in the absence of Reid. But one is left pondering about whether Parkinson is about to alter his long-term loan stance in view of the circumstances, and what such a change – of favouring a loanee, potentially for the remainder of the season – would say about the future of the man he would be selected in front of.

Major injury blow for Kyel Reid

20 Jan

By Jason McKeown

Kyel Reid has in all probability played his last game for Bradford City, after the pacy winger was today ruled out with a cruciate ligament injury for between six and eight months. He was stretchered off at Bramall Lane on Saturday after a nasty challenge which required a lengthy delay of the game, as medical staff treated him. Out of contract in the summer, Reid faces the heart-breaking possibility of being thrust into unemployment and potentially fighting a huge battle to revive his career.

For player and club, this is an almighty blow. Without Reid, Phil Parkinson lacks a wideman with the threat to charge past defenders and put them on the back foot. Mark Yeates may be seen as the solution to fill the left wing spot for the rest of the season. Jordan Graham – on loan from Aston Villa and yet to be given any game-time – is another option, yet asking him to replace Reid could be a mightily big burden on some young shoulders. It remains to be seen if Parkinson looks to bring someone in; but with a salary cap to think about and other areas of the team needing strengthening, it won’t be a straightforward call.

Reid – who joined City the day that Parkinson became manager – has been part of the Valley Parade fabric for two-and-a-half years. He has experienced lengthy lay offs through injury in the past, and the team has often struggled badly without him. With the club’s dip in form seeing a worryingly reduction in the number of goalscoring opportunities created during matches, it is going be a huge task to replace Reid.

For sure, Reid’s form hasn’t been scintillating of late – he is in good company in that regard – but the threat he always offers has made him a constant fixture in the team this season since winning back his place in the team early doors.

Width of a Post wishes him a speedy recovery and hopes that he can at least progress in his recuperation between now and the expiration of his contract in May. Parkinson cannot afford to let sentiment decide any decision over what to do about his future in the summer – but for everything that Reid has done for the club, it would be horrible to see him exit in this way. Let us hope that Reid heals quickly, so he can be viewed as part of the club’s plans next season.

One thing is for sure, life at Valley Parade will be a lot duller without Reid’s presence on the pitch.

When there is nothing else to give

18 Jan
20140118_165618

Photo by Mark Danylczuk

Sheffield United 2

Murphy 7, Maguire 40

Bradford City 2

Jones 56, Hanson 63

Saturday 18 January, 2018

By Jason McKeown

Stripped bare of confidence, enthusiasm and even dignity – there was at least one admirable quality that a forlorn-looking Bradford City side refused to surrender at half time: their spirit.

That spirit, one which led the Bantams to Wembley, twice, remained under the bonnet when it seemed there was nothing else left. That spirit, one which has taken the club from peering over the trapdoor of non-league football to League One, continues to perform miracles. That spirit, one which we feared had been lost of late, enabled the players to recover from a truly pathetic first half performance – clawing back a 2-0 deficit to take a useful point from Bramall Lane.

At the interval it felt like we should be calling time on a number of players’ City careers. To plead with Phil Parkinson to remove some of the struggling 2012/13 promotion winners from the firing line, before they destroy their hero legacies. But this comeback – whilst lacking in quality and failing to fully answer a growing list of questions – was a statement of defiance. A clear message from the players that they are not yet giving up on themselves; and neither should we give up on them.

Fittingly, Gary Jones was at the forefront of the redemption. City’s skipper has been heavily criticised in recent weeks and, like so many others, under-performed badly in the first half. But the bite was back in his play. He refused to let City surrender – screaming and urging on everyone around him. You could clearly see how hurt he was by his team’s feeble first half showing.

Jones improved significantly after the break and so did his team mates – the 36-year-old rewarded for his courage by a deflected low drive rolling into the bottom corner to put City back into the game. It could ultimately be looked back upon as one of the most important moments of the season.

Seven minutes later, the visitors had taken advantage of Sheffield United’s nervousness to level the game. Jones’ free kick from out-wide, James Hanson’s tap in at the far post. Pandemonium in the away end, as 3,000 of us City fans wildly celebrated the most unlikely of fightbacks. Jones raced to the front of the lower tier and clenched his fist in triumph. The whole team deserve credit for the turnaround – not least debut striker Aaron McLean, who had a hand in both goals – but the veteran was the true inspiration behind it.

He still has so much to offer the club.

When McLean burst through moments after Hanson’s goal, the dream of come-from-behind victory was on. But in reality Sheffield United would regroup, push forwards and dominate the remaining half hour. They will wonder how they didn’t win a game which they bossed for all but those seven costly minutes. But City’s strong team spirit has thwarted bigger and better teams than the Blades in the recent past, and it was enough to get the players through to the final whistle.

Yet as welcome as a point on the road always is, there were serious concerns about this performance that cannot be ignored. The first half showing was bad – very, very bad – and there are a number of problem areas within the team that the growing injury list is not helping.

Sheffield United raced out of the blocks to open the scoring after only seven minutes, when the outstanding Tony McMahon squeezed past Carl McHugh to whip in a clinical low cross that was swept home by Jamie Murphy. City might have responded straight away – a header from James Hanson smacking the crossbar and the rebound attempt from McHugh blocked on the line. The players argued loudly that the blocking came from a Sheffield United arm, but referee Roger East – who had a truly appalling game – sided against the Bantams. A more home-biased referee you will struggle to find.

Trailing in a game – no matter how early on – always prompts supporter anxiety that translates onto the players; and today there was heavy air of frustration as passing moves and attacks easily broke down. Kyel Reid slowly began to get into the game and cause problems. Sheffield United’s McMahon was obviously concerned by Reid’s threat and put in a strong challenge which left the City winger in a heap on the ground and – after a long delay – stretchered off the pitch. Again East took no action against McMahon, and the impact that Reid’s removal had in weakening the City XI was quickly exposed.

Five minutes before half time it was 2-0. Harry Maguire headed a corner – unmarked – goalwards and Jason Kennedy, stood on the line, somehow failed to keep the ball out. One of the feeblest goals that City have conceded all season. As Sheffield United continued to pour forward with menace, you began to fear the worst for a hiding.

The team was malfunctioning. Kennedy and Jones might have done great things together at Rochdale, but they just don’t seem to complement each other as a pairing. Kennedy enjoyed his best game in a Bantams shirt against Bristol City last week, but today he was once again reduced to peripheral contributor. I just don’t see what his strengths are and what he offers that is different or better to Jones, Nathan Doyle and Ricky Ravenhill.

He was not the only summer signing who has disappointed so far. An earlier-than-expected introduction for Mark Yeates – replacing the injured Reid – should have presented the former Blade with a big opportunity to stake a claim for a starting place. Within minutes he ducked out of a 50-50 challenge, and in general failed to offer anything positive in the final third of the pitch.

I still believe that Yeates is the most talented player at the club, but for effort and application he would currently be ranked amongst the lowest. Yeates was not giving 100% and I find that difficult to stomach. There is simply no excuse for some of the things he did – and did not do – today.

The chief victim of Yeates’ lack of defensive support was McHugh. The centre back – covering the injured James Meredith at left back – was taken to the cleaners by Ryan Flynn during the first half. It was heart-breaking to see a young player embarrassed so badly; but McHugh is not playing in his natural position, and has every right to demand the support of others in making a go of it. Yeates failed to offer him that support – not even close. Parkinson switched McHugh and centre back Matthew Bates over at half time; and both fared much better in their new positions. Yeates, to his credit, supported his left back much more effectively after the interval.

The second half saw that Jones-led improvement, and in no time at all City were level. It was then a matter of defending deep and hitting Sheffield United on the break, as the home side knocked loudly on the door. Jose Baxter gave Stephen Darby one of his most difficult afternoons of the season, and it was a relief when the former Everton man hobbled off injured.

With little coming from the centre of City’s midfield or the flanks – at one stage Garry Thompson under-hit a cross, got another chance and then over-hit his second attempt – Hanson and McLean fed on scraps. There was promise to their link-up approach that already looks set to mirror the Hanson-Wells partnership. McLean showed good strength and intelligent running – he should have had a penalty when he was clotheslined in the box. A reasonable debut overall.

A point was merited for the spirit that was evident, but Parkinson has much to ponder over the 10-day break before high-flying Preston come to Valley Parade. He must address the sudden drying up of chances created for his front two; he must re-boot Nathan Doyle so he gets back to his early season form; he must hope that Andrew Davies’ imminent return – he warmed up on the pitch before the match – shores up a leaky defence.

There is no doubt that major squad restructuring is going to be required to take City forwards next season; but in the short-term, the limitations of this group of players shouldn’t be significant enough to prompt the level of concern that Sheffield United fans continue to feel regarding their League One status.

City clearly need to start winning some games, but they are not losing many either. A January nip and tuck – rather than major surgery – will see us through to the end of this season. And whatever Phil Parkinson’s summer thinking on who goes and stays for next season, he must ensure that this squad’s commendable spirit appears at the very top of his retained list.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Bates, McHugh, Thompson, Jones, Kennedy (Doyle 72), Reid (Yeates 31), McLean (Gray 90), Hanson

Not used: Jameson, Oliver, Taylor, Graham

Year Zero

11 Jan

Bradford City 1

Hanson 1

Bristol City 1

Wagstaff 11

Saturday 11 January, 2014

By Jason McKeown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not used: Jameson, Oliver, Taylor, Graham

The Midweek Player Focus #49: Mark Yeates

7 Jan
Picture by Mike Holdsworth

Picture by Mike Holdsworth

By Jason McKeown

Mark Yeates must have thought he was certain to start at Notts County on New Year’s Day. As Phil Parkinson planned a team without the services of Nahki Wells up front, Yeates, who replaced the injured Bermudian in the previous game, was favourite to get the nod. And even though Garry Thompson was instead preferred to partner James Hanson, the right midfield slot that he vacated would surely be handed to Yeates.

Yet the wide-man/striker Yeates was overlooked here too, left once again on the bench. Two problem areas in the team, and Parkinson preferred to pick a right winger to start up front and a central midfielder – Jason Kennedy – on the right wing. You could argue that Yeates’ best position is on the left anyway, but all roads to a starting place are currently blocked for him. Yeates heads up a cast of summer signings that have seemingly failed to win over the manager who signed them. Now past the half way stage of the season, doubts are growing over whether Yeates is ever going to.

Yeates has started only nine of City’s 27 matches to date – and only once since mid-October. He has become the 12th man of the team, almost always the first substitute introduced into the game (invariably for Thompson somewhere between 60-65 minutes), his contribution during these latter stages seems to have no bearing on whether he is promoted to the first XI for the next game. In November, Yeates made a number of appearances from the bench, where his efforts visibly improved the team and made a big difference – he even netted an important equaliser during a home game against Notts County – but these performances didn’t result in a starting berth for the next game.

Perhaps discouraged by this, Yeates’ more recent cameos from the bench have proved much less effective. Although his stuttering form does put him in good company with the majority of his team-mates, at this moment.

Although Yeates’ potential has only been seen sporadically since signing for the Bantams, there is no doubt it is within him to do much, much better. At his best, Yeates can stake credible claim of being the best footballer at the club. He has a fantastic touch, vision and awareness of others. His spectacular home debut goal against Carlisle United in August was a moment of pure brilliance that, if not replicated every week, should at least be followed up by more regular match-winning performances. In League One terms, Yeates is a quality player; but for a number of reasons his time at City isn’t working out.

Perhaps the blame for this lies mainly with Yeates. It is 10 years since the Tottenham youth graduate made his professional debut on loan at Brighton – Bradford City is his 10th different club. A full first debut for Spurs at the end of the 2003/04 season – he played the full 90 of a 2-0 victory over Wolves – suggested he might have a promising future at the club. But just three subsequent appearances the following year, followed by two seasons on loan elsewhere, brought an end to such hopes.

At least his career got going in the lower leagues, thanks largely to Parkinson. Yeates was captured on a season-long loan by Colchester for the 2005/06 campaign, where Parkinson would memorably steer the Essex club to promotion to the Championship for the first time in their history. Yeates was a key man, playing 52 times and scoring six goals. And as Parkinson hastily jumped ship to Hull City that summer, Yeates’ next loan move from Spurs was to join him at the KC Stadium – they both failed to impress and quickly departed, as Hull became embroiled in a relegation battle.

Finally, Tottenham cut Yeates loose and he re-joined Colchester for an undisclosed fee. He flourished once more, despite United being relegated from the Championship during his first season and muddling in League One mid-table the year after. Middlesbrough’s Gareth Southgate spent half a million taking Yeates to the Riverside in 2009, but he was cast aside when Gordon Strachan took charge midway through the campaign. Two and a half seasons at Sheffield United went well, and a 2011 transfer to Watford began promisingly enough. Sadly for Yeates, the Italian takeover of the club, last season, saw a change of direction and he was left on the fringes. Back to League One, and to Valley Parade.

Yeates has proven himself to be a Championship-standard player, and right now should look as though he is playing below his natural level. Yet it’s not happened so far, and for the player there is a danger of an up-and-down career drifting further in the wrong direction. In his recent autobiography, Sir Alex Ferguson talks about players’ peak years being aged 26-29. This should be one of the best seasons in 28-year-old Yeates’ career, but it is turning into one of his worst. 10 years, 10 clubs. Unless something drastically changes, number 11 probably isn’t far away.

So why is it not happening for Yeates at Valley Parade? Well, looking at his weaknesses offers plenty of clues: chiefly his lack of pace. Yeates cannot charge down the line past a full back and quickly get a ball into the box, and he cannot track back and defend in an effective manner. Too often attacking momentum breaks down when Yeates is in possession, as he doesn’t release the ball quickly enough. He can beat a man for skill, but frustratingly will often look to unnecessarily beat that same man for a second time. Invariably he is then tackled, as the space he created is quickly closed down.

Yeates began the campaign in the first XI on the back of an impressive pre-season. He was the only change to the starting line up from last season, and that must have really hurt the promotion hero he dislodged: Kyel Reid. Yeates began well, that aforementioned goal against Carlisle the highlight. Yet Reid showed great character to come storming back and win his place, earning a start at Stevenage (where he scored) and keeping hold of the left wing slot ever since. Some terrific early season performances from Reid have tailed off, but the threat that he offers is a potentially potent weapon that City cannot risk going without.

An alternative route to the team for Yeates came up when Nahki Wells was injured against Shrewsbury, in September, and he was preferred to play up front over strikers Alan Connell and Andy Gray. There was promise about the fact that the first two games of a James Hanson-Yeates partnership yielded two wins and two goals for Hanson, but it never looked quite as effective. Whereas Wells would stretch the line and run in behind defenders, Yeates preferred to operate in the hole between midfield and Hanson. A couple of defeats later, the partnership was abandoned.

Since then it has been right wing substitute or nothing. His only start, at Peterborough, came as part of a three-man midfield in a 5-3-2 experiment quickly abandoned. When Wells went off injured against Swindon in the last home game, Yeates again got the nod to partner Hanson but failed to make much of an impact. Still, we all expected him to get a start at Meadow Lane. Yeates must have been devastated when the team was read out.

But therein lies his problem at City, and why he and other summer recruits have remained behind the 2012 close season arrivals in Parkinson’s thinking. For the past 18 months, the manager has built his side around the strength of the Hanson-Wells combination. Midfielders who sit deep but can ping a top quality pass forwards, one wideman who can run at defenders to stretch the game and get the ball into the box – with the other wideman offering greater defensive cover – and centre backs who can launch the ball long towards the towering presence of Hanson.

Yeates hasn’t been able to fit into this approach. He can’t fly past people like Reid, and he doesn’t offer the solidity of Thompson. He isn’t a Wells-type who will run onto Hanson flick ons, and he isn’t a holding midfielder who will win back the ball.

City’s high tempo style of attack doesn’t benefit from going through Yeates, because he slows the game down too much. A fantastic footballer for this level, no question; but he will only prosper if Parkinson drastically changes the team’s approach.

The imminent departure of Wells could benefit Yeates more than any other player. Does Parkinson replace the pacey front man with another who will play on the shoulder of the last defender, in order to carry on playing the same way, or will he will go for something different? If City were to become more of a passing side – keeping possession and showing more patience in their build up play – Yeates would suddenly be elevated from fringe player to one of the first names on the team sheet. His lack of urgency less of a concern.

Parkinson knows Yeates better than anyone else at the club. His two previous spells working with the player will mean he understands what he can and can’t do – and there will be very good reasons why he choose to sign him a third time. Yet there is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that Yeates’ Championship background means he is on an above average wage. And City can’t afford to have high-earning players sat on the bench.

It’s a big, big second half of the season for so many City players, such as those out of contract. But even though Yeates has 18 months on his deal to run, this will surely be a defining few months for him too. He looks an attractive option in what is beginning to look like a necessary evolution of City’s playing style, but it’s down to Yeates to demonstrate that he can take the club forwards. And it is down to Yeates to prove that, after 10 different clubs in 10 years, he is ready to settle down and make Valley Parade his long-term home.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,515 other followers