Tag Archives: Kyel Reid

2014/15 previewed: A busy summer for David Baldwin

28 Jul
Picture courtesy of Bradford City FC

Picture courtesy of Bradford City FC

By Jason McKeown

David Baldwin used to be long retired, living a relaxing life in Spain. Yet whilst the West Yorkshire weather on the afternoon of Bradford City’s pre-season friendly with Blackburn Rovers would rival temperatures in Madrid or Marbella, for David there are no Sangrias by the beach to enjoy, and instead a meeting with Stephen Hawthorn-Emmott, the club’s Head of Marketing, inside one of the Valley Parade boxes, followed by a pile of paperwork to get through and a further meeting with a scout in half an hour’s time.

It is 2pm, and in the Valley Parade main stand outside, City fans are beginning to take their seats, but David is working up to the last minute, before he can take in the entertaining 0-0 draw – today’s task list including an interview for Width of a Post. The close season is a frantic and unrelenting period for the Bradford City Chief Executive – persuaded out of retirement by Mark Lawn in 2007 – who amongst the many plates to keep spinning has the small matter of helping Phil Parkinson to rebuild the squad.

During a summer of vast change in the playing staff, it is no small challenge. Two weeks before the big kick off, many of the holes have been filled but there still gaps to address. Those lazy retirement days must seem a lifetime ago.

The retained list

One of David’s initial summer duties included the negotiating of new deals for the out-of-contract players who Parkinson wanted to keep: namely Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, James Meredith and, initially at least, Jon McLaughlin. David explained how the process of offering new deals works.

“When you do an offer of re-engagement with a player, the player has one month from receiving the offer to make a decision,” stated David. “There are two conditions of the offer; firstly that it must be an improved offer or at least matching what they were earning. Secondly, we have to give them a month to decide on it. That is then their protection and, if they want, they can go and test the market to measure if it is a good deal for them.

“Rory McArdle was the first one back from holiday and we sat down with his agent to sort his deal quite quickly. Some amendments were made to the original offer, and he signed on those terms. Stephen Darby received his offer then went on holiday a couple of days later. So it was longer before he came back, but then he very quickly came into the building wanting to sign, which was good news.”

Yet whilst these two players re-signed relatively promptly, it proved to be less straightforward with James Meredith and Jon McLaughlin, who failed to sign the deals on offer before the 30-day deadline, meaning the club had the right to withdraw them. The bottom line being that the club have ultimately brought in replacements for these positions, with Meredith re-signing to take up what initially looks set to be a back-up role, and McLaughlin departing altogether.

Image by Mike Holdsworth

Image by Mike Holdsworth

“Jon McLaughlin’s offer had elapsed, because I don’t think he was happy with the offer we had made,” revealed David. “And that’s when the positioning with him changed. With James Meredith it was the same scenario; he didn’t come back to us in time, although later decided that he wanted to be here.”

On McLaughlin, Baldwin admitted that the decision not to make a further contract offer was due to finances and the manager’s choice to bring in Jordan Pickford as his new number one. “You are balancing the economics of a playing budget with the positions that you need to fill,” he stated. “And the dilemma for the manager was, who is he going to hang his hat on to be his first choice goalkeeper? He’s looking at all the permutations.

“What you have to consider is that, if you can’t afford two first team goalkeepers, it becomes an expensive thing to have one of them sitting on the bench. Now if the manager was in a position where he was making Jon McLaughlin his first choice, then the offer to him would be a first choice offer.

“From Jon’s perspective, his expectation will be that he would receive an offer as a first choice. And understandably so, he was an ever present last year. But the manager picks the team. From a Board perspective it is simple economics of saying to the manager ‘you can’t afford both’. So he had to make a choice. We don’t tell him which choice to make, it was a decision he had to make balanced against making sure there is money set aside for other parts of the team.

“We can’t afford to have a keeper on a first choice budget sitting on the bench.”

And what of James Meredith? “We made James an offer; obviously he was weighing up his options, like anybody would. It probably didn’t help that James was over in Australia, but once the offer period had elapsed, we then targeted Alan Sheehan, who we had been discussing as well.

“Alan obviously comes with a good pedigree and was being chased by a number of clubs, including clubs who are favourites to go up this year. We kept it very much under the radar and brought him in, which was very much a disappointment to James. He felt that whatever options he was considering elsewhere, they hadn’t come to fruition as he had wanted them to, so we sat down and re-negotiated a different deal with him. I think we now have good competition for that position.”

Another ‘We Made History’ player to leave, despite the club keeping the door open, was Kyel Reid, who has signed a two-year deal with League One rivals Preston North End. David confirmed that City were not in a position to offer Kyel a new contract as they were still evaluating his recovery from long-term injury.

“With Kyel Reid we hadn’t made an offer at that stage, because we were assessing what his fitness situation would be. But in the meantime, his agent got him a good deal elsewhere. We wish him well. But Omar Daley didn’t come back quite the player he was, and we can’t afford to be in a position of paying wages if a player isn’t going to play.

“Other clubs might see it differently and will take that risk, but it wasn’t a decision that we could make at that particular time.”

sheehan

Image by Kieran Wilkinson

The incomings

Beyond the futures of last season’s playing squad, David has also worked with Phil Parkinson in bringing in new faces, and he highlighted midfield as the key area of change. “The ethos was that the midfield needed more running power and a bit more craft, to play a different way when needed,” David said.

“The positive is that, of the players we have brought in, they have got good pedigree. You look at Gary Liddle. I spoke to the Hartlepool Chief Executive about him, and they could not speak more highly of him. We spoke to Notts County about him, and they obviously desperately wanted to keep him, but I think he was ready for a new challenge. He’s a player’s player and a fan’s favourite.

“Then there is Matty Dolan. He was only on loan with us because we missed the January transfer deadline by three minutes, because Middlesbrough were trying to sort out the international transfer of a goalkeeper at the same time. Matty came in last season and found his feet at the club. It takes time to adjust, as he is only a young lad and has only just turned 21. What he has done is listened very intently to the instruction of the close season fitness programme set by Nick Allamby. We’ve spoken with him at length about the benefits of the sport science side of things that we offer, and he has taken it on board and come back in fantastic shape.

“You look at the midfield now as having three fresh new players in: Gary Liddle, Billy Knott and Matty Dolan, who are all good footballers. There’s a decent amount of athleticism in there, and there’s a good amount of craft too.

“Depending on formations, we also now have the typeset of a typical number 10 in Billy Clarke. He can play up front, and he can play on the wings. He’s played at a higher level. I think he is a good addition to the squad. But midfield is certainly the biggest fundamental change.”

In contrast, the defence from last season has been largely retained, with the addition of Sheehan at left back and the replacing of McLaughlin with Pickford. “The seventh-best defence in the league, and we have retained the entire back four,” smiled David. “And we’ve added another quality player to it. And we’ve added a real up-and-coming young talented goalkeeper.”

On Pickford, David was keen to highlight the young shot-stopper’s glowing reputation within the game. “The people that we talked to – people with decent reputations as goalkeeping coaches and managers – have said that we have got a real starlet there.

“The bottom line with Jordan Pickford is that he is highly rated as the next young talent coming through. Sunderland have given him a long-term contract, and Sunderland want to see him playing. This is a good stage for him to demonstrate to them how good he can be.

“Is he motivated to deliver? Of course he is. People say he is a loan keeper, so how committed will he be? Well – with the four-year contract he has signed at Sunderland – he is committed to making sure that, a year down the line, he is knocking on the door for their first team. I think that is the reality of it, and it means we get a good player along the way.”

Despite the six arrivals, there are still other new signings needed and time is running out. So how is recruitment progressing? David explained, “The end of the transfer window is probably a more important measure than the start of the season, because you can rush people in, not quite getting the people you wanted, and they end up sitting on the bench. And then a week later the person who you really wanted becomes available, and there is nothing you can do.

“As we stand at the minute, I would expect three or four (new signings). Three at the absolute minimum, possibly four, maybe even five depending on the deals.

“No one is rushing into a panic and we are monitoring the situation carefully, these players and their availability. And some things are just worth waiting for.”

One of the key considerations behind the new arrivals is the planned change of playing style this season, which was first mentioned by Julian Rhodes in May. I have been intrigued all summer about how this new direction was agreed and whether this decision has been placed upon Parkinson, similarly to how the West Ham board have laid out certain demands of Sam Allardyce. David confirmed that the new approach was in fact a joint decision between the Board and manager.SAM_2083

“It’s a collaborative decision. We discuss it as a collective group. You digest what went well last season, what didn’t go so well, what things we need to improve and how we can go about it. Now I would highlight the Peterborough home game. We saw a change of system, and it was effective. Although ironically, in the Peterborough away game, the system change that day wasn’t as effective!

“We can still drop to the core 4-4-2 if needed. But the difference now is we have got players who can play both that and the diamond formation. Ultimately the one thing that came out of these discussions is that more mobility and versatility is needed in League One. And so, with the new players, what we are seeing is that coming to fruition. And it’s something we want to supplement further.

“There will be times when we want to go for pacy wingers, so that’s why we are looking for pacy wingers.”

The budget cuts

An ongoing talking point all summer has been the news that the playing budget has been cut to the tune of £500k – a considerable sum of money, with last season’s wage bill rumoured to be just over £2 million. David stressed that he believes the revised budget is nevertheless competitive, and highlighted a wide-ranging focus on delivering greater efficiency in how the club operates, which includes the playing staff.

“There has been a lot of talk about the budget being hacked back by half a million. The bottom line is that, over the last few years, we have had players in the building that have not come in on cheap wages, and yet their game contribution to the team has been sporadic to say the least.

I recently did an article in the T&A about efficiencies. This budget is not a hack-back, it is still a very strong budget. And as part of doing that, we are checking the efficiencies of each transfer so that we aren’t paying, for want of a better word, dead money.”

But does that mean there are going to be further outgoings? “Never say never. What’s very important is that we still need to add to this squad. If you have a player leave, you’ve either got to bring in a better player or you’ve got to be in a situation of being made an offer that is too good to turn down that can create funds to improve the team further.”

This leads us onto the future of James Hanson, who has been the subject of tabloid speculation about a £300k transfer offer from Millwall. David confirmed that no bid has been made for James or any player. “There have been no offers. As far as I am concerned, everyone who is here is here and staying, but the picture can always change.

“As far as we are concerned, James Hanson is a good asset to this football club. And we would not want to see him go. However, somebody might make an approach that is too good a deal for him and too good a deal for the club to turn down. That could happen tomorrow, or it could happen in two years’ time.

“From our point of view, we are conscious that we only have 17 professionals in the building. There is enough to start and on the bench, but we are conscious that we need more players to strengthen this team.”

SAM_1706

Off the field matters

With ‘efficiency’ the phrase of the moment, I asked David for examples of where else this has occurred within the club. “We’re in a process of outsourcing to a third party the corporate side of the catering. The company has a good reputation out there in the market place. That arrangement starts on Friday. On a match day, what they will be managing are the Hendrie and McCall suites, Boardroom, 2013 Lounge, Bantams Bar and the boxes. They will also be running events on non-match days.

“It’s a better return for us without all the associated costs of managing it ourselves. I think they will drive the business on, and we – like with the shop – will be rewarded through greater turnover. We get a minimum guarantee and a percentage of sales on top of it, which is the way that the shop deal is structured.

“There is also the closing of the 1911 Club during the week. We haven’t closed it down, it just wasn’t running efficiently on a Monday – Friday basis, and however many people we get in there, versus the labour costs, it’s not going to generate enough income. And it can also detract from the service we offer on midweek match days, which is something we don’t want to do. Unfortunately there have been some redundancies as a result.

“The maintenance of the training ground has also been looked at, and the recruitment of the match day stewards. It’s all about counting the pennies, and no one has been immune to it.”

Another off-the-field developed this summer was the news that long-serving head of youth development, Peter Horne, had left the club. David was guarded over the reasons for this parting of ways but did reveal, “The facts are quite straightforward. Peter offered his resignation, and we accepted that resignation. There is nothing more than that. The reasons why people give their resignations I think it is private to them.

“From a transitional point of view, we have had natural progression of internal staff being promoted, with Alan Nevison taking over the academy. And I think that is testament to the quality of the people we have in the building.”

SAM_2147

The season ahead

Over the previous two campaigns, the Board has set a playing budget higher than the club’s true break-even point, with variants that can be considered for making up the shortfall over the course of the season. David confirmed that the reduced playing budget has again been structured in this way, although added that the difference between the budget and break-even point is lower this time, making it easier to claw back.

“We have another speculative budget this year. The break-even point, and the level we set the manager – there is a difference between the two. You make those decisions based on calculated changes that could happen throughout the season, which I call extraordinary income. Extraordinary income includes cup runs, transfer fees of existing or youth players, add on fees in relation to players who have left who are playing – there are certain trigger points, such as when they play and when they score goals. The other aspect is sell on clauses from other players sold who are further down the line.

“You look at that combination, and our expectation is that we will claw back the overspend from this year to give ourselves, in 12 months’ time, a break-even budget. So we are not carrying debt into next year.”

Earlier in the conversation David had joked about the ongoing speculation over former youth player Tom Cleverley – with any transfer from Manchester United triggering revenue for City through a sell-on clause. “Those things that may exceed the break-even point, we will want to give them to the manager to give him an even more competitive playing budget, without undue risk,” confirmed David.

So with the new faces almost all added, and the new playing style showing promise during pre-season, it just leaves one big, so far unanswered question – what, exactly, are the expectations this season? David declined making any predictions, but concluded the interview his own thoughts.

“My personal view – and the proof will be in the pudding – is that it is a more adaptable and better football team this year compared to last year. I think we have more versatility. We are not reliant on one or two players to score the goals. We are not sitting on laurels as we are not finished yet with building the squad.

“It is a moving beast, but I’m cautiously optimistic that we have a better footballing team in place now. I’m conscious that we have gaps, but it would be nice to think that we could make improvements on last year.”

Kyel Reid played an important role in the rise of Bradford City

24 Jun
Picture by Claire Epton

Picture by Claire Epton

By Jason McKeown

Joining Bradford City on the very same day that Phil Parkinson took over at Valley Parade, it seems hard to believe that Kyel Reid will no longer be a feature of the manager’s squad. The flying winger brings an end to three seasons in West Yorkshire by joining Lancashire divisional rivals Preston on a two-year deal – an offer that would have been impossible to turn down.

The alternative, of returning to the Bantams on a week-to-week contract, trying to prove his fitness, hardly offered the same security. At Deepdale, Reid will receive all the rehabilitation support he needs to recover from that dreadful injury picked up at Bramall Lane last January. He will then be part of a side that was unfortunate not to be promoted last season – 2013/14’s League One was a tough one, and a top five finish was no small achievement – and who go into this season with strong, credible ambitions of returning to the Championship. For a player whose career was in some doubt, this is a great move.

Yet Reid – or at least the Kyel Reid prior to taking the field at Bramall Lane that day – leaves behind a huge hole at Valley Parade. His bad injury occurring just a week after Nahki Wells’ departure to Huddersfield, the lack of pace in the team over the final five months of the season was an obvious problem. Adam Reach was a good replacement for Reid in the circumstances, but direct pace was not amongst his attributes. When City were under pressure defensively and attempting to counter attack, they lacked a player who could run with the ball and leave a trail of defenders behind. Goalscoring opportunities dried up. As Aaron Mclean struggled for goals, there was some regret that he only crossed paths with Reid for half an hour in South Yorkshire.

When on form, Reid was one of the club’s most exciting players. It was no surprise that Reid was Parkinson’s first signing, after the misguided move of his predecessor, Peter Jackson, in letting Omar Daley depart and not bothering to replace him. Perhaps, on his absolute best day, Daley was a better player than Reid – but for consistency and overall game, Kyel was an improvement. He would also be blighted by inconsistency and inevitably be singled out for abuse by supporters, but those occurrences were less frequent. Reid’s final ball wasn’t always the best, but he so often made things happen.

In season one (2011/12), and with a relegation battle to win, Parkinson leaned heavily upon Reid. The defence was set up not to come forwards, and in the centre of the park were two ball winners flanked on the right by the positionally-solid Craig Fagan. The attacking spark either came from direct balls to James Hanson and Wells, or through Reid. He embraced the responsibility to deliver numerous match-winning contributions. When the chips were down, he could be counted upon.

Being truthful, Reid was not amongst the stand-out performers of 2012/13. He endured another bad injury at Rochdale in October, and wasn’t seen again until January. With the League Cup run in full flow, Reid remained on the sidelines, almost making a sub appearance in the Wembley final against Swansea before another Swans goal caused Parkinson to change his mind over his choice of substitution. But he was back in the side and starting at Wembley three months later, enjoying arguably his best ever game for the club in the 3-0 demolition of Northampton that sealed promotion.

2013/14 started with Reid the only promotion winner displaced from the starting XI, which was where his determination really came to the fore. He won back his place from Mark Yeates (who, despite having a disappointing season, did actually start well) and produced some electrifying performances. None more so than at Deepdale in October, where he ran his future employers ragged with a dazzling display. On that evidence, it is no surprise that Simon Grayson is taking a chance on his fitness with the two-year contract.

As City’s form fell away, so too did Reid’s. Like so many other wingers in the past – even Peter Beagrie – Reid had more than his fair share of critics in the stand. We all know he couldn’t do certain things, that he should be better in his delivery, and that his form could be too erratic. But at the end of the day, that is why he was playing for Bradford City and not still at his first club, West Ham. He was a League One winger, and a bloody good one at that.

But with Reid, merely knowing what he was capable of would cause you to perch yourself on the edge of your seat in anticipation, when he ran with the ball. There is nothing like the sight of watching a winger charge past defenders, beating them through skill and raw pace. Reid may have been frustrating to watch at times, but more often he was simply great to watch.

Parkinson simply has to find a replacement of Reid’s style and ilk. We got by without him last season, but our attacking play suffered and we now have a first choice front two who badly need good service. Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish – a player who caused havoc against City when on loan at Notts County last season – has been mentioned as a loan option. As we reported last week, Reach is also said to be interested in a return should he not figure in Middlesbrough’s immediate plans – but he would be more effective if there was a pacy winger on the opposite side to him, as at times we were too reliant on Reach to play like Reid.

Whoever comes in, Reid will be fondly remembered. Parkinson’s first signing for City proved to be one of his best, and the 26-year-old leaves Bradford City as a much stronger club than the one he joined three years ago.

The high stakes of high player turnover

24 Jun

SAM_1791

By Jason McKeown

Kyel Reid has joined Preston North End. James Meredith has removed “plays for Bradford City” from his Twitter profile. There is still no indication over whether Jon McLaughlin will sign the new contract he has been offered.

Should all three end up leaving Valley Parade this summer, the rate of player turnover will become eyebrow-raising.

Consider this. Of the 2012/13 squad that delivered the historic double Wembley season, just 12 months ago, only four players may remain at the club when the season begins in August: Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies and James Hanson. It is often said that there can be no room for sentiment in football and that must certainly ring true of those tasked with making tough decisions, but we supporters are allowed to be different. There have been a lot of sad farewells over the past few weeks, and you wonder if ultimately there will have proven to be too many.

For beyond the 2012/13 heroics, it should not be forgotten that the bulk of the players departing this summer helped the club achieve a top half finish in the higher division of League One in 2013/14. During the best period of the campaign (which admittedly was early doors) the entire XI was the same as the one that had won promotion in the League Two play off final the previous May. We are not talking about people who were out of their depth, or who simply had to be replaced. This turnaround is either ruthless or premature – and only history will be able to tell us which one. The upcoming season is going to be very, very interesting.

Because make no mistake – expectations are increasing. Alan Sheehan’s arrival came under the T&A headline ‘Alan Sheehan signing gives rise to hopes of promotion’. Aaron Mclean was quoted in the T&A today stating the aim next season was to be “pushing for promotion”. This for a club with the playing budget cut by £500k (a-not-inconsiderable sum of money – with the club said to have had a wage budget just over £2 million last season, £500k represents a large chunk of money).

If the new-look side struggles to live up to the hype, you can easily imagine the fall out. If the players who have been let go flourish in their new homes, the wisdom of failing to keep them will be questioned. For as well as City ended last season, it wasn’t a happy ship in March and early April. Similar negativity will quickly return if things don’t go well.

Which is not to talk down City’s chances, but simply to observe how high the stakes are. Keep those heroic players past their ‘best before’ date and Parkinson would have been criticised. Let them go when they could still do a job – and a better job than their replacements end up doing – and Parkinson will be criticised. The potential departures of Meredith and McLaughlin would not be his choosing, but it all adds to a lot of experience being lost.

Parkinson knows what he is doing, and the team he is letting go is one that he originally built two summers ago – demonstrating his capability to build another successful team. But he needs a summer like 2012, not 2013, otherwise the coming campaign could prove to be an uncomfortable one for the manager.

For me, a promotion challenge in 2014/15 would be welcomed but shouldn’t be assumed. If City are not in the top six, it shouldn’t be viewed as a failure. Parkinson has two years left on his contract and is signing players on a similar length of deal – that should be a timeframe for a promotion push. Move forwards next season, absolutely, but it needs to be part of a bigger plan.

The pace of change is rapid, but we need to give it plenty of time to work. I just worry that patience is not going to happen, and fear the consequences of failing to realise potentially unrealistic expectations.

David Baldwin on the 2013/14 season: part one

28 Apr

SAM_1711

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 #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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,643 other followers