Tag Archives: Ricky Ravenhill

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

A win badly needed as City start 2014 at County

31 Dec

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Notts County vs Bradford City preview                                                                                                            

@ Meadow Lane on Wednesday 1 January, 2014

By Mark Danylczuk

2013.  A year that will live long in the memory of Bradford City fans.  Two trips to Wembley, a League Cup final and a promotion back to League One. The ‘We Made History’ DVD is a nice memento, but the memories are priceless. It’s a shame that the year ended on somewhat of a sour note, with the Bantams on a miserable run of form and low on confidence. But it’s only half time of this season. Let’s hope that 2014 and the next 23 games provide a renewed sense of optimism.

The last time City played at Meadow Lane, an extra time Hanson winner created the start of that very special League Cup journey, way back in August last year. The Bantams return to County searching for a first win since MK Dons away a month ago. Yes, it is only one win in the last 14 games; but as other WOAP writers have noted, City have produced some commendable performances during this period, gaining tough points against higher placed sides and having only lost six of the 23 games played. Those 10 draws are making the difference – if only half of them were turned into victories, the Bantams would be sitting nicely in the play offs.

City play a fourth game in 12 days with only Nahki Wells and Ricky Ravenhill as injury doubts. Wells came off just before the half hour mark on Sunday with a tight hamstring, and Ravenhill departed in the later part of the match carrying a knock. Other than that, City can expect to line up with the same team against Swindon. Carl McHugh should be looking to keep his place alongside Rory McArdle at the back as one of the better performers in the last game. The centre back pairing merry-go round continues with McArdle, Matt Taylor, Matthew Bates, McHugh and Luke Oliver vying for the places. Andrew Davies is not expected back perhaps until February, so the rotation continues until the preferred pair is found.

Nathan Doyle could be back in central midfield with Gary Jones, if Ravenhill doesn’t recover. After viewing the likes of attacking creativity in Tomlin at Peterborough and Pritchard against Swindon, a central attacking midfield threat could be an alternative for Parkinson in the January transfer window to boost our attacking options. Mark Yeates was brought in for this role, but it doesn’t seem to be materialising yet. With more game time, this may happen. Width of a Post understands that City are closing in on a double loan swoop from Liverpool.

On the right of midfield, Yeates could challenge Garry Thompson for a starting position after another lacklustre display against the Robins on Sunday. As hard as Thompson works tracking back and covering defensively, he does not seem to provide the attacking outlet we need often enough; and this is surely another area for Parkinson to address, as Rafa De Vita also seems out of favour and not yet able to cut it at this level.

If Wells doesn’t play up front, Parkinson can choose to either deploy Oli McBurnie or Alan Connell, assuming Andy Gray still isn’t fit. McBurnie would arguably suit the substitute role for the moment, gradually building up experience and game time. With Connell looking likely to make a loan or permanent move in January, after not even making the subs bench against Swindon, City look somewhat short of options up top.

In terms of the opposition, City are playing a County side routed to the foot of the table after a December which started well with two wins but ended with a draw and two defeats. County should not be underestimated as the bottom side though, as they respectfully ground out a 1-1 draw at Valley Parade just over a month ago.

Manager Shaun Derry begins only his third month in charge of his first managerial position He ended his 18-year playing career earlier this year, after spells with County, Sheffield United, Leeds and Crystal Palace, and will be keen to continue to prove his credentials in his new role. There should also be a welcome reunion with former City player Greg Abbott, who joined County as assistant manager alongside Derry, from a previous five-year spell as Carlisle manager. Abbott played over 300 games for the Bantams and was part of the 1984-85 Division Three championship winning team. He was sent to the stands in that reverse fixture against City.

With regards to goals, County are looking towards their young loan star from Celtic, Callum McGregor, who has hit 11 goals in league and cup competitions so far this season. Other names to watch are the again on-loan Republic of Ireland U-21 international Jack Grealish, and the ever-present Polish goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski. He looked hugely impressive at Valley Parade in November, and had an outstanding game in ensuring that County endured only had a minimal loss at Crawley in their last game.

After New Year’s Day, City have a 10-day break to grab a breather with the postponement of the Carlisle game on Saturday. Hopefully, we will kick off the New Year in style with a performance and subsequent result, in order to provide encouragement for the year ahead. Another winless match could make for a very long 10 days.

Well-ing up as Bradford City prepare for end of Nahki

29 Dec

swindon

Bradford City 1

McArdle 16

Swindon Town 1

Pritchard 63

Sunday 29 December, 2013

By Mahesh Johal (picture by Simone Pirastu)

In the 88th minute of what was potentially his last game in claret and amber, Bradford City were awarded a free kick just outside the penalty area. Not too dissimilar in terms of position to the recent one against Leyton Orient, Nahki Wells would surely have bended the ball into the top corner and celebrated another match winning goal in front of his adoring Kop. And with goodbye looking inevitable as the transfer window opens on Wednesday, through this moment would leave Valley Parade solidifying his legendary status.

The script was written, but unfortunately this was no fairytale ending for Nahki Wells. Instead, a hamstring injury forced the talisman off in 28th minute and the Bermudian left the pitch not to the adoration of those in the ground, but instead to muted appreciation as we wondered whether this was goodbye. There was a sad feeling in the air that this could prove to be the last time we’ll see him wear our beloved colours.

The severity of the injury and the implications it may have on any possible transfer is yet unknown, however the latest rumours to reach Width of a Post’s ear are that QPR or Reading could be destinations for the Bermudian. If/when he does depart; he will leave a lasting legacy and has been a part of all things positive at the club in the last 18 months. It was no different today, as his deflected effort resulted in the corner that saw City score the game’s opening goal. In a replica of his effort against Preston, Rory McArdle rose highest to thump home Gary Jones’ excellent in swinging corner.

The lead was probably a deserved one, with Ricky Ravenhill epitomising a dogged Bantams performance. Replacing Nathan Doyle, he added impetus and grittiness to the side. Admittedly Ravenhill has his shortfalls; however his constant harrying and in-your-face-approach was much needed against decent opposition.

Quiet against Rotherham, City;s left flank was brilliant in attack at times today; with James Meredith and Kyel Reid winning the battle against their opposite numbers. The pair interlinked very well, but a final and definitive ball was missing from their work. City searched for a second goal, with Wells looking far more comfortable with James Hanson back in the side. Recovered from injury, Hanson battled valiantly against a tall and physical Swindon back four. In the opening minutes it was Hanson’s shot that appeared to hit Darren Ward’s hand in the area. Unfortunately for the frontman, referee Oliver Langford waved away his appeal.

Swindon had chances of their own, with Alex Pritchard looking extremely impressive. He hit several long distant efforts on target; but it was his composure and skill which really caught the eye. Pritchard buzzed around the pitch and was central to all things positive to Swindon. Nicky Ajose was also a handful, and at 0-0 his cross was nearly converted by Nathan Byrne. Thankfully for City, Stephen Darby – who else? – brilliantly intercepted a sure fire goal.

Ajose was then nearly on hand to take advantage of a McArdle mistake. Returning to the side to partner Carl McHugh at centre half, McArdle’s mistimed slide saw Ajose through on goal. Fortunately for the Northern Ireland international, the onrushing Jon McLaughlin was able to smother any opportunity.  It was nice to see the return of the duo’s partnership and, whilst there were a couple of hairy moments, I for one felt safer with McHugh in place of Matthew Bates.

With the half in the balance, City were rocked by the injury to Wells. The striker attempted to run off his hamstring issue, but in the end was replaced by Mark Yeates. The Irishman was full of running, but lacked the little bit of quality to unlock the Swindon defence. If Wells is to go, Yeates may be the one in line for an extended run in the side and the opportunity to really show his worth.

Swindon pushed for the equaliser in the second half, with Pritchard starting to dictate proceedings more. The Spurs loanee was everywhere, with his dribbling skills and range of passing starting to make constant inroads in the City defence. It was only a matter of time before the resistance would break, and it was Pritchard who scored a fantastic solo effort to equalise. Picking the ball near the half way line, Pritchard took on three defenders before mazing his way into the box to score. City may be guilty of backing off too much, but the visitors deserved to be level.

Unfortunately our own number 11 struggled to have the same impact. Garry Thompson was replaced just after the hour by Ollie McBurnie. After a tough introduction to professional football against Rotherham, McBurnie started his cameo very well with a delightful cross that just missed the on rushing Hanson. After seeing McBurine in his other previous appearances, today was his most promising.

It is hard to judge a player with less than a 100 league minutes under his belt; however he looks a neat player who seems technically accomplished. It may be the hair, but his technique reminds me a bit of Alan Connell (who incidentally was not even in the squad today).  Time will tell how good a player he McBurnie is, but today was a positive performance from the youngster.

Both teams looked for the winner, with replacement Nathan Doyle having a 20-yard volley tipped round the post. It was Doyle who then won that late free kick which screamed for Wells. Yeates had the responsibility, but his attempt sailed wide. A subdued Valley Parade tried to rally the troops; however their attention was focused more on the frustrating and inconsistent performance of referee Langford.

In the end, Swindon had near chances to snatch the three points, but McLaughlin was able to repel all attempts. The game finished in a positive draw for the Bantams, and now we prepare for a huge month both on and off the pitch.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, McHugh, Meredith, Thompson (McBurnie 71), Jones, Ravenhill (Doyle 71), Reid, Wells (Yeates 28), Hanson

Not used: Ripley, Kennedy, Bates, Clarkson

The bigger picture as Swindon come to Valley Parade

29 Dec

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Bradford City vs Swindon Town preview

@Valley Parade on Sunday 29 December, 2013

By Jason McKeown

“Aw, you can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forty percent of all people know that.” Homer Simpson

That bloody stat. It doesn’t go away, it just keeps getting bigger. One win in 10 games, make that 11, now 12, 13. One win in 13 games. Not good enough. Relegation form. Dire. When does it get better? When does it end? “One win in 13 games” can win most arguments right now. Something must be done.

We football fans love our statistics, and one win in 13 is a hand-picked sample that makes everything seem bleak. You could, of course, widen the net to build up a much fairer and more accurate picture. For example, the fact City have lost only six of their 22 league matches this season (the joint-sixth lowest number in the division). Or that – since last February’s League Cup Final defeat – City’s 37 league matches have yielded a mere eight defeats. Or that, for the calendar year of 2013, the Bantams have been beaten just 12 times in 44 league games.

Yet that bigger picture doesn’t suit the negativity of the here and now, so the efforts of Phil Parkinson and his players’ are condensed to a summary of one win in 13 games. The great start to the season is increasingly a distant memory, as the gap between the Bantams and the play offs stretches to a sizeable eight points. We cannot ignore what’s below us either, with a glance over the shoulder showing City 11 points above the drop zone.

It is understandable that one win in 13 is mentioned so much, but to me it seems foolish to judge everything on the form table and to panic. The simple fact is City made a roaring start to the season, but have levelled off somewhat to fall behind the pace setters. Had, during the close season, someone offered us the position of 11th place at roughly the halfway stage of the campaign, I dare say the majority of City fans would have snapped their hand off. An 11th place finish this season would still represent a good achievement.

The problem, of course, is that expectations were heightened by that terrific start. I’m as guilty as anyone of doing that, after writing a giddy match report of the superb victory at Walsall in early October, which had placed City fourth in the division. “Great result is following great result. Superb performance is following superb performance. And we are running out of reasons to argue that it cannot last.”

And then, Andrew Davies got injured.

Yet still, the issue I have with the line ‘one win in 13’ is its over-simplification. It implies that City have only had one good result and performance in 13 matches, when in actual fact it has been much better than that. The 2-2 draw at Preston was a superb display, the 2-1 loss to Wolves unfortunate, the 3-3 draw with Coventry highly commendable, the 1-1 with Oldham a good point, and the 1-1 with leaders Leyton Orient credible. Of the 13 games, only Tranmere, Crewe, Rotherham (twice) and Notts County stand out as truly below-par. Yes, a few too many poor performances, but the sky is not falling in on City.

There is no doubt that a victory is badly needed, and preferably at home. Swindon this afternoon pose another tough test, with the Robins well-placed to repeat last season’s play off finish. That said, a 3-2 Boxing Day defeat to their play off semi final conquerors, Brentford, has seen Swindon fall five points behind sixth-placed Rotherham; and a very poor away record (W2 D2 L7) offers hope for the Bantams.

Where Phil Parkinson goes in terms of team selection will depend greatly on James Hanson, who is battling for fitness having missed the last two matches, which were both lost. In Parkinson’s two-and-a-quarter years as manager, Hanson has rarely been injured and started virtually every match. Perhaps, then, it is understandable that an ingrained way of the team playing to the big man’s strengths was difficult to change, despite his absence.

If Hanson doesn’t make it, Parkinson will be desperate for Andy Gray to have shaken off the dead leg in order to take a starting opportunity that his goal against Peterborough last weekend has suddenly thrown up for the out-of-favour veteran. Oli McBurnie let no one down on his full debut, but as a strike partnership there was no chemistry with Nahki Wells. I don’t see them as two players who can play together, although last season Alan Connell was not an effective Wells partner either.

The 6 foot 2 inch Caleb Folan might have seemed a more obvious replacement for the 6 foot 4 inch Hanson, but in the aftermath of the Rotherham United defeat announced via his own website that he was leaving the club. Unsurprisingly, the striker’s criticism of Parkinson for not having any contact with him for over a month has proved a talking point. It is not the first time that Parkinson has ignored a player – see numerous Guy Branston interviews – but there are always two sides to a story, and so far we have not heard the manager’s.

As someone who saw all but one of Folan’s six appearances for City, I must admit that I was unable to form a conclusive judgement over whether he would be a useful player for us. But I have no qualms with blindly backing Parkinson’s judgement on this one. He will have observed him closely in training and during reserve team friendlies, and the fact Folan hasn’t featured in almost two months means his departure should surprise no one.

In midfield everyone is probably available to start, but Parkinson faces a big dilemma over improving this area of the team. Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle have proven to be a terrific partnership over the past 18 months, but on Thursday both were overrun and well below their best. At the very least, one or both need a rest.

The return of Ricky Ravenhill early from his loan spell at Northampton is a curious one – who made this decision, Parkinson, or new Northampton caretaker manager Andy King? Ravenhill has earned positive reviews from his time at Sixfields and could resurrect a Bantams career that was seemingly over. Jason Kennedy will also be desperate for some game time today or on New Year’s Day. It’s time for one or both to provide greater competition for Jones and Doyle.

On the wings, Kyel Reid and Garry Thompson will probably continue, although Mark Yeates continues to push hard for a first start Valley Parade start since October. As Zavon Hines and Will Atkinson prosper at their new clubs, there remains a nagging feeling that City have weaker options on the flanks compared to last year. Rafa De Vita has been injured, but has done little to convince when given the opportunity.

At the back, Rory McArdle will return from his one-match suspension and, for all the criticism he unjustly receives, was badly missed on Boxing Day. It was fantastic to see Carl McHugh be given a first start of the season, and I know that Parkinson does rate him (he told me); but you get the feeling he will make way for McArdle, with Matthew Bates switched back to left-sided defender. Stephen Darby and James Meredith take the full back slots, with Jon McLaughlin – who for me is having a very good season – in goal.

The challenge today is to wipe away that “one win in 13” statement, rather than allowing it to grow to “one win in 14”. And although there is no doubt that a second successive home defeat would crank up the pressure considerably, it is heartening to see that – so far – the grumbles of frustration have not stretched to any serious questioning of the manager’s future.

Nor should it. Parkinson’s two-and-a-quarter years at Valley Parade have featured so many instances of him turning around difficult situations of this ilk. It took him seven league matches to actually win one, when he took over. There were those early struggles, where he finally produced some winning football that lifted City away from relegation danger. There was the way he turned around the Crawley brawl situation that threatened to sink the club. And last season, there was the late surge of form that earned the Bantams an unlikely play off spot and promotion.

The point is that we can find numerous examples of poor runs of form under Parkinson as manager, and each and every time he has turned it around. Sometimes it has seemingly taken too long to get going again, but he has eventually found the answers. Knowing that Parkinson is in charge – with his vast experience, composure and character – gives me huge confidence that the current slide will be reversed.

One win in 13. Maybe 14, 15 or 16 eventually. But having come so far and achieved so much over the past 18 months, we need to look upon recent form as a wrong turn that will be undone, rather than the beginning of Armageddon.

The Midweek Player Focus #43: Alan Connell

16 Oct

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By Alex Scott

It’s tough not to be pessimistic about Alan Connell’s future at the club. The cracks in the foundations of the seldom seen squad player are only exacerbated by the news that nominal Club Captain Ricky Ravenhill – who’s been in the same boat this campaign – has put in a transfer request due to a lack of first team football.

If it even needed any clarification at this point, Sunday’s game crystallised the depth chart at centre forward, and along with Mark Yeates, now Caleb Folan has definitively jumped Alan Connell. And with the former Colorado Rapids forward looking far sharper than his previous cameo at the Bescot, where he was well off the pace, the Alan Connell era may be drawing to an underwhelming conclusion. (It must be said, this shouldn’t really be a shock; Folan has international caps and Premier League goals on his resume. Yeates was a former £500,000 player.)

This gives me no joy to note. I really like Alan Connell; I thought his introduction may have been more useful than Folan’s at the hour mark against The Monstars on Sunday. Especially after Folan’s slow start last week where although imposing, he was well off the pace. (It also must be noted he replaced James Hanson after arguably Hanson’s best ever performance.) Alas, my opinion is of little influence or insight, and Folan did well in his half hour, coming as close as anyone to breaking the deadlock.

This isn’t a eulogy; Connell could still come back and play a role this season, but it’s looking mighty unlikely right now, and we can be forgiven when surveying the landscape for pouring one out for the blond forward.

He’s just miscast. He always has been in this team. Connell hasn’t the pace of a Wells, nor the physique or burst of a Hanson. The rest of the team (understandably) haven’t learnt to play without one, let alone both of their starting forwards. Connell’s playing from a different hymn sheet to both of the starters, and the rest of the team stood harmonising behind them.

That underlying point is the most frustrating thing about the situation. I don’t think Connell is Nahki Wells, but he’s not a bad player; he shouldn’t be typecast as ‘Division Four’, a moniker that seems his destiny. He could play at this level, in the right situation.

But that’s the thing. James Hanson and Nahki Wells are both clearly good, and young, enough to build a system around. They were worth persevering with. They are worth creating that situation for. Is Alan Connell? He turns 31 this year, is out of contract in the summer, and realistically, in League One, where are you if Connell is your main man?

The problem with a system-specific player like him at this level is, to be valued, you better be bloody good. You’ve got to offer a competitive advantage. Hanson is winning about 85% of all balls in the air this season, and Wells is the prodigal son. So that makes sense. That’s a real, and true competitive advantage.

Alan Connell is very good at what he does, but cannot do what he doesn’t do. Without a spot in that hole behind the frontline, he struggles to impact the game.

In a team as dependent on straight lines as this, it’s a tough situation if you can’t work with square pegs.

I was thinking about what he would need to excel, and without having the pace to slot out wide, or the defensive nous to play as a “Number 8” it is tough to find him a home. Someone like Sheffield United makes a bit of sense. There they have a team definitely capable of keeping the ball on the deck moving forwards, and could do with more firepower and someone to dictate from the ten spot, though I wonder if someone with his track record would entice them. Perhaps someone like Rochdale or Wimbledon in the division below?

For Connell to succeed regularly, he needs to be in a ball playing team that is dependent on their ’10′ dropping off and linking play, with on-running pace from deep. A predominantly counter-attacking, meat and two veg 4-4-2 team, City never use that position. The only exceptions when chasing the game, and even then they are more prone to nail it up to Hanson or Thompson, leaving the Number 10 to fight it out for the second ball.

I always thought, and still think there would be a future in Wells and Connell if the rest of the team could learn to play balls consistently into the feet of the forwards, and the midfielders pressed on, but James Hanson is playing out of his mind at the minute, and has been for about six months. What’s more the team know how to fire long balls into the channel, and with the mobility of Hanson, it’s a gold mine.

A query I have, and have had, is why isn’t there a proper understudy for Wells? Phil Parkinson has spent the past 12 months trying to ensure he had a replacement for Hanson in his recruits of Gray and Folan, and to an extent, Thompson before them. Yet despite the fact the risk of him losing Wells through injury or transfer was and is far higher than Hanson, why isn’t there another speedy forward on the books?

Given all the huffing and puffing I’ve just put in explaining how we really only play one way well, why isn’t there a back up for the main man? I don’t know the answer; it’s odd. They are probably too expensive, but even a kid? Zavon Hines filled in a few times last year looking half decent at times. It’s intriguing that there wasn’t a replacement bombing winger recruited who could slot in if required.

One glaring takeaway from that second half on Sunday was that without Kyel Reid, there is just no pace, no dynamism anywhere in that team without Wells. I love KYEL REID HERO-BALL as much as anyone, but it’s a curious situation that is what we had to resort to that quickly.

So without an obvious home in the squad for Connell, then what happens? You become typecast as a role player, Need a Goal Man, not a starter, and that is exactly what has happened to Connell these last few years.

Swindon used him as an impact sub, where he excelled, leading their scoring charts as they were promoted. He left The County Ground in the summer after promotion for Valley Parade with the expectation to be a starter in a side on the up.

And he was, initially. He started the first two games of the year, but the side just looked, and were, more dangerous with Wells in the team. An acknowledgement in itself that shouldn’t be a death knell for a player, really.

The Bermudian took Connell’s starting position and never let out of his grasp as he and James Hanson led the side to promotion, with Connell reprising his role as the eager hype man coming off the sidelines.

Something he did with relative aplomb. I mean he was no footballing Flavor Flav or anything, but he had a handful of key moments en route to Game 64 and never let the enthusiasm drop. Something not hard to do in such an enjoyable season, when you are likely to finish most games when the pressure rises, when there are a record amount to game minutes to go around. (About 5,800 minutes total, so 11,600 ish strikers minutes to be handed out)

Something which is key. The small, tight-knit group worked wonders last year; the team spirit was through the roof. A fact which at least contributed that was how many games there were to go around. Everyone played a role at some point. They had to this season, not so much. We’ve been knocked out of most things already.

By October 14 last year, City had played 1,500 minutes on the field in 16 games, Connell contributing 655 of those minutes. This season those numbers are 1,170 minutes in 13 games and Connell only featuring in 149 of those minutes, and they are both set to proportionally drop as the season progresses. Last year’s content Ricky Ravehill quickly became disillusioned this year, it’s a valid question how long this great team spirit will last amongst this squad without squad rotation to keep them appeased.

Some players have a defined role. When everyone is fit, Mark Yeates is the first man off the bench. Rafaelle De Vita is the ball-keeping rest man for Reid. Carl McHugh, Luke Oliver, Jason Kennedy and now Matthew Bates are injury cover. Caleb Folan has now nabbed the ‘need a goal man’ slot. Andy Gray is… umm…. [SCENE MISSING]

Last year’s club captain, this year’s odd man out, Ricky Ravenhill even has a role as shut-up-shop merchant. Or he did have one anyway until recently. Set to go out on loan, his future at the club seems exactly as bright as you’d think a shut-up-shop merchant’s would.

If Sunday’s game had any predictive power, and there is a future for a Hanson-Folan partnership, Alan Connell is struggling for game time.

Yeates has jumped him for The Hole, and the only reason Connell took the field on Sunday was Wells being absent. But even an injury and an ominous home defeat only buys him quarter of an hour.

He doesn’t have any other strings to his bow. And his main (maybe only) position is one we normally don’t play. But on the rare occasion we do, someone else [Yeates] is ahead of him for that too.

In attempting to look on the bright side for Connell, I bigged up the role of impact forward in my player season previews, as they are normally on the field when the team needs goals, and will be in a position to benefit statistically, and eventually financially, because of it. Connell did exactly that at Swindon, and to an extent, for City last year. But now with Folan on the books, Connell appears to have lost that spot. So… now what? He’s teetering on Andy Gray Purgatory.

It’s a tough spot. Save a quick run of goals, there isn’t a clear route to the field. He needs us to be at home, and trailing, and someone to be injured, to even get a substitute appearance.

He has never shown any frustration with his role, which is admirable, and if he’s happy with what is essentially fifth fiddle, then beautiful. If you are going to overpay for depth, you do it in attack. If he’s OK with it, then he’s as good as a 4th/5th centre forward you’ll get at this level.

But he’s better than that. He could go start for a talented League Two side today. I’d have faith in him going to somewhere in our division and excelling in the right circumstances, but is that option likely? He’s never proven it at this level. Although granted his defence that he hasn’t really had a chance at City or Swindon is solid.

I sometimes wonder how much Alan Connell knew of Nahki Wells before he arrived. I wonder if he knew what he knew now, whether he’d sign. City were a low scoring bottom dweller not 18 months ago, saved by a seldom-used 21 year old in Wells and an underwhelming goal-shy target man in Hanson. Connell could rightly have assumed to have been a guaranteed starter. Then Nahki Wells happened and Connell ended up in the same position as he was at Swindon, but a division below.

Perhaps ‘League Two goalscorer’ is his ceiling, in the same way Ross Hannah was a fifth tier forward, and Will Atkinson and Ricky Ravenhill may be a fourth tier midfielders.

But hell, is there really any fundamental difference between Alan Connell and Chris Dagnall? Dagnall has been in the Championship for years, without starring. Is he a ‘Championship forward?’ The idea of levels is awfully dependent upon circumstance.

And those circumstances seemed destined to place a ceiling above the head of Alan Connell. Turning 31 this season, this may be his final chance at this level. He may have a future as a latter-day Jamie Cureton, bouncing around League Two, remaining productive well past his expected shelf life. It’s not outlandish given Connell’s skill set (which shouldn’t diminish over time), and the wear and tear he’s avoided over the last few years.

He is out of contract at the end of the season, and despite his age, one would assume he’d be able to latch on somewhere in League Two with an ability to rectify a few of the wrongs from this season. Although this may be dependent on a loan move to get in the shop window.

For the moment, he’s a useful, if seldom used, squad member for City who hasn’t shown a second of dissatisfaction. How long as that last point lasts will likely define how long Connell stays at Valley Parade. It may be that Ricky Ravenhill is the canary, and the outsiders in this talented, if shallow, squad begin to look elsewhere for their future in the post-rotation era.

Places up for grabs as Bradford City go to Walsall

4 Oct

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Walsall vs Bradford City preview

@The Bescott Stadium on Saturday 5 October, 2013

By Jason McKeown

Last week probably won’t go down as one of the greatest in Alan Connell’s professional life. First there was the news that Celeb Folan had signed a short-term deal aimed at easing the burden on James Hanson, then the other member of City’s deadly strike duo, Nahki Wells, went off injured against Shrewsbury and Connell was over-looked as his replacement. The realisation that wideman Mark Yeates was being given the nod would have left both Connell and Andy Gray shuffling uncomfortably on the bench. For Connell especially though, it appears he has been demoted from third/fourth choice striker to fifth/sixth in a matter of days.

Although Rory McArdle talks about a united dressing room, this can’t have been an easy period for those players stuck on the sidelines expecting to make an impression. So as City travel to the Bescot Stadium tomorrow hoping to maintain their excellent form, the potential for as many as five starting jerseys being up for grabs will have offered a huge incentive this week, both during training and the latest reserve team friendly.

Connell converted a penalty during that 1-1 draw, against Sheffield United. The door may have been slammed shut on him on Saturday beyond a 90th minute introduction, as City pressed for their late winner, but other injuries could mean Mark Yeates is deployed elsewhere rather than replacing Wells again. The Irishman can play on both flanks and, with Garry Thompson a doubt, might be preferred to Rafael De Vita on the right hand side. Though with Folan a week fitter and Gray chomping at the bit for his first sight of first team action, the doubts from last season about whether James Hanson and Connell make a good partnership could see the former Swindon striker benched once more regardless.

Then there is McArdle, Andrew Davies and Gary Jones. Three of last season’s most prominent promotion heroes are struggling for fitness. McArdle didn’t make the Shrewsbury game, enabling Luke Oliver to continue his rehabilitation to full fitness and form following the dreadful injury 11 months ago. Ricky Ravenhill – who, it has been quickly forgotten, played a huge role in last season’s late promotion charge – stands by to come in for Jones. Or what about the true amnesia man: Jason Kennedy?

Tough choices for Parkinson, who despite using so few players so far has plenty of strength in depth to call upon. Any decline in the morale of half the squad – the half who played at Sheffield United midweek – could be accelerated by the team selection tomorrow. As City have raced out of the League One starting blocks with no injuries or suspensions to trouble the first XI, few on the sidelines could realistically begrudge their own lack of game time. Now there are opportunities to be handed out. If injuries rule Jones and Thompson out and the reshuffle still leaves certain players overlooked, it might become harder for back up players to believe they have much of a future at this club.

All of which leaves City facing arguably their toughest test of the season to date, tomorrow. Walsall have long being an unfashionable and overlooked club, but their unassumingly effective football that goes under the radar is an inspiration to sides like ourselves. Currently sitting ninth in the table – three points behind City – and having just missed out on the play offs last season, the Saddlers have only lost three of their last 24 League One matches. Just like the Bantams, only two sides have conceded fewer goals this season.

Three of City’s four away games so far came against teams who currently sit in the division’s bottom seven. Whilst fears of the Bantams struggling on the road this season were partly eased by a strong performance and victory over Gillingham last time around, Walsall will be an altogether different proposition.

So not a good time to potentially be without Wells, Thompson, Jones, Davies and McArdle, then. At least the other six of City’s regular XI continue to pick themselves for the moment. Jon McLaughlin has quietly made a strong start to the season, recovering with minimal fuss from a bad mistake at Huddersfield in game two and doing little wrong since. In defence, Stephen Darby and James Meredith will flank Andrew Davies/Carl McHugh and Oliver/McArdle. Width of a Post spent a good chunk of September praising both full backs, and it is refreshing to see players in these positions proving so popular amongst fans.

In midfield we know only that Nathan Doyle and Kyel Reid will start. The latter’s Player of the Month nomination is a significant achievement – particularly for a player so routinely criticised by a section of our supporters. Reid’s determination and character to bounce back from starting the season on the sidelines is an inspiration for those fringe players who come in tomorrow. Expect an absence of Gary Jones to see Ravenhill earn a chance. Rarely has a back-up player portrayed such a happy demeanour and that is to the club captain’s credit.

Up front, there will be greater onus on the in-form Hanson to deliver without his partner. Whilst no one likes to see anyone injured, if I had to pick one from Hanson or Wells to be out for a fortnight City’s number nine would not get my vote. Wells is vital to our cause, but Hanson is even more pivotal. Whoever he partners (and Yeates would appear to be the favourite) they must show they make the most of Hanson’s strengths rather than reduce the big man’s effectiveness.

The Valley Parade feel-good factor remains in tact after a calendar month unbeaten. With tomorrow soon followed by trips to promotion rivals Crawley and Preston, before a visit from Wolves, this is undoubtedly the moment things get more serious. It’s not ideal timing to therefore potentially be without four big players; but in addition to extending a five-match unbeaten run, the aim tomorrow has to be to head back up the M6 with competition for places looking that bit closer.

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2013/14 season preview: The players’ expectations (2/2)

1 Aug

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By Alex Scott

Part two of Alex’s assessment of what the players will be aiming to achieve this season (part one is here).

Alan Connell is a tricky one. He’s not played at this level in a while, and the last time he was here he bagged two in 34 appearances. He was in basically this same exact spot a year ago with Swindon and got bombed down back to League Two. So I’d imagine he has a lot to prove to himself, to break out of his mould.

But what would he class as a successful year? It’s hard, because if I were him I’d be massively, if silently, bitter and frustrated, and desperate for Wells to do one sooner rather than later. But he’s shown none of that selfishness. We can infer that he’s a better person than me. So maybe being in a successful side, coming off the bench often and bagging 10-12 goals would do him fine? Perhaps just getting a proper run in the side at some point?

Then again, maybe I’m undervaluing the SuperSub label? Connell is invariably on the pitch at full time, in the position to score the important goal to turn a draw into a win (Torquay), or a loss into a draw (Aldershot). Isn’t that the most fun role to play? Always being in the position for glory? In addition, he should be able to preserve his fitness, and future career prospects, more effectively than a comparable every-week starter. But those players get paid more. And Connell is out of contract this summer.

Turning 31 this season, you’d think if he was ever going to get a decent payday as a starting centre forward, it sort of has to be now. For Connell to set himself up (at Valley Parade or elsewhere), he needs a run of games, and more than that he needs to prove he can carry the load as an every week goal-scoring number ten at this level. As much as I like him, and I really do like him, that is still a question. And when you put yourself in the shoes of a League One manager next summer, it’s one I need answering before I target Connell as a free agent.

If he can answer that, whilst also keeping the wear off the tires, he will be in a great spot headed toward next summer.

Carl McHugh only received a one-year deal in the summer, to the surprise of some. With Wells and Hanson (the last two great prospects brought through the club) being locked up on long-term deals relatively quickly, it was notable that McHugh’s commitment was only for a year. Now this could tell us that the club don’t rate him as a “great” prospect, which is perfectly possible. Or maybe he thinks that being a free agent next summer, at only twenty one years old, will be a good thing. If that’s what he thinks, I’d be inclined to agree. I always think the argument that “Oh Player X should stay and continue his development with us (Team Y) and move later” is a crock, masking personal bias with faux-rationality. If Player X can get into a better situation elsewhere, he should go.

But in the case of McHugh, I think that point is sort of valid. The management have shown the ability to mould and grow players under their tutelage, with McHugh himself a decent enough example of that. He’s also one injury away of starting for what should be a-sort-of-decent League One team. At twenty, that’s a pretty good spot to be in. Then he can survey the surroundings next summer. It would have been a bit reckless to sign a three-year pact here in June after the arrival of Michael Nelson, and the re-signing of Davies, leaving him fifth in the ranks for centre half, which I imagine is his ideal position.

It’s definitely a more lucrative position moving forward. If McHugh can stay fit, play 15 or so games to a decent level, he could easily make a switch to a lower-Championship team next summer as a prospect, and still have time on his side to establish himself. Or stay and be a “First-Change” centre half at Valley Parade. The Irishman’s hand is strong, and there is no reason to go all in just yet. A season checking round the table should do him just fine.

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Andy Gray has had a tough start to his Valley Parade return. Coming in mid-season is never easy, especially when you’re expected to sell Nahki Wells and not look terrible in comparison. Then he gets injured in pre-season taking away any and all momentum he would have been looking to build up. So now what? He’s due to arrive back in the squad in August or September, a couple months behind everyone else, and without a clearly defined role in the side.

He isn’t the SuperSub, the guy you go to when you need a goal. He’s never really been that. He can’t play with Hanson or Connell without the side around him improving their ability to play without an out ball over the top. He hasn’t shown the ability to replicate Hanson alongside Nahki Wells, although that should be within his capabilities. So what is his role? In what way can he succeed? He is out of contract in the summer, and on the slide down the leagues. If he can somehow show enough in fitness and goals to entice another League One or more likely, League Two side to offer him a one-year deal as a starter next year, I’d imagine he’d take that. 

Nominal club-captain Ricky Ravenhill is in a similar spot to Gray. A solid run toward the back-end of last season replacing the exhausted Doyle masked a disappointing season for Ravenhill, and his relative limitations were exposed in the play offs when Nathan Doyle acted as the catalyst to push City to reach their potential. Since then Jason Kennedy has been recruited, and Ravenhill has slid down the pecking order once more.

He has a limited skill set, but he can absolutely play a useful role, but in this team it’s questionable whether that role is wanted. Maybe a couple of injuries, and his appearance in the team either improving or not detracting from the output could prove his worth as he enters the free market would be a decent success measure, but is that likely in League One? It’s clear that the harder the situation the team is in, the more dogged the approach needed, the better for Ravenhill. So maybe he should be rooting for some adversity out of the gate? More likely he will find a new home next summer where he can be in a position to actually succeed, rather than just be. 

Tuesday saw the culmination of the Raffaele De Vita transfer saga, (to the extent as a fait as accompli as that could be classed as a saga), with the Italian penning a one-year deal at Valley Parade, and one would imagine, heading into the squad for Saturday. Only 25, De Vita has made almost 75 appearances in the last two seasons for Swindon; two seasons in which they got promoted and lost in a League One Play Off Semi Final. He rated out quite highly in the excellent Swindon Town website, “The Washbag”‘s Player of the Season Awards, as well as appearing frequently in this goals analysis piece from halfway through last season, and this from around the same time. He started the vast majority of games last year until Paolo Di Canio’s departure (with the side top of League One), before falling out of favour late in the season during Kevin MacDonald’s ill-fated tenure.

As he’s only been offered a one-year deal at the club, we can infer that demand from other League One clubs wasn’t exactly overwhelming, and with another free agent spell looming, the Rome-born De Vita will be looking to play well enough this season to secure his next contract either here or somewhere else in the division. He benefits from spending the majority of the pre-season at the club, and from his reputed versatility across the forward positions. He, like former teammate Alan Connell, has experience making an impact off the bench, and this attribute could be vital to him playing his way into the Parkinson’s forward rotation.

I don’t really know how to mark Luke Oliver’s success measures either. He was at the peak of his powers twelve months ago, now none of us know where he is at all. He has no positional versatility, and is fourth choice centre half. He will rarely make the bench unless Nelson is injured, as McHugh’s versatility will outgun him. He’s also coming off a horrific injury, and is on the back nine of his career.

If Luke can stay fit, and demonstrate as such in whatever opportunities he can get his hands on, he may be able to play his way back up the defensive ranks, he has shown the ability, and was preferred over McArdle last year at centre half. If not, he’ll be looking to show others watching that he has recovered fully from his injury, and able to play again at something close to where he was. I’m rooting for him.

I’ve left Nahki Wells to the end because I don’t really want to write about his aims for the season as they will make me sad. Disclaimer out front: I am the biggest Wells fan, and apologist, around. No one here thinks he has more potential than I do. No one overlooks his weaknesses as blindly. I want him to stay here until next summer, because I like him, and I like watching him, and I don’t really care about obtaining “value” at this point. But if you’re Nahki Wells, and you are at Bradford City this time next year, will this season have been a personal success?

Forgetting meaningless clichés and criticisms for a second, if he hasn’t outgrown us in the next twelve months, something has gone wrong. If I’m the Bermudian (I’m not), I’ve got my eyes firmly placed on the top of the Championship. This season is an act of personal demonstration to show those teams watching that he is worth investing in. He doesn’t owe us a thing. If he starts the season well, proving his merit at this level, he could (and probably should) go in January.

Like so much of the squad, he is playing for the shop window, as he did for most of last year, and we benefit from that. That is not a problem for the fans or the club. No one wants him to stay more than me. But I also want him to achieve his potential, and delusions of grandeur aside for a moment; he can do that far better and far more effectively than at Valley Parade. Nahki Wells could be a star, and is our best player. Now is the time for him to start achieving his potential, wherever that needs to happen.

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The looming instability of next summer will be an interesting prism through which to watch this season. Everyone’s eyes will be fixated on it. With everyone playing for something, the desire should be high, and the club should benefit. And as long as the manager hangs around, it should be fine anyway, he has shown his recruitment skill many times over. But for some of these players that will be of scant consolation. Now is their time.

The wonderfully dull close season

14 Jun

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By Jason McKeown

For us Bradford City supporters, the tradition, at this time of the year, is to fret about the lack of signings and worry about the transfer business already completed by our league rivals. This summer looks set to be different, however, with the quality over quantity mantra of last year’s close season having proved to be a successful strategy that we all understand will be continued.

Indeed it is tempting to boldly predict that this should prove to be one of the most low-key close seasons that Bradford City have experienced for some time. The squad has not been dismantled, and the success of promotion to League One means there is not the usual need to introduce a new philosophy for the next season.

The extent of Phil Parkinson’s recruitment will be found in the resolution of the futures of a handful of out of contract players. Tellingly, only youth striker Adam Baker has been shown the door to date, although on the other side of the coin only Andrew Davies is definitely staying on. Garry Thompson, Jon McLaughlin and Kyel Reid have been offered deals and will all be expected to take them. When it comes to Matt Duke, Will Atkinson, Zavon Hines, Carl McHugh and Nathan Doyle, there is a curious ‘wait-and-see’ declaration that will be determined by the size of the playing budget.

Ignoring McHugh, who will clearly be offered a new contract, the dilemma over these players is one we can educationally guess at. Duke, Atkinson, Hines and Doyle were by no means certain starters during the second half of last season, and as such Parkinson will surely be contemplating whether this will prove to be different a division higher.

Are they good enough to be back up for their respective positions? Could they play a more important role? Or could the budget be better spent elsewhere? Perhaps spent on new signings who can displace current first choice players, so they move into the back up positions of Duke, Atkinson and Hines?

If the bar is to be raised – and a move up a division strongly indicates that it must be – then Parkinson must surely be looking for ins that are an improvement on what he has in the building. Without an unlimited budget, it may prove to be the case that some squad players no longer quite measure up to the raised standards and so are moved on. You suspect much of the wait is due to Parkinson assessing if there are better, affordable options.

Not that such dilemmas will be exclusively applied to out of contract players. The need for improvement – and finding the space and budget for that – could see Parkinson willing to let other players to leave. Alan Connell is perhaps the best example – though by no means the only – of this. Despite pledging his future to the club via the local paper, a scenario similar to Swindon last season – where the newly promoted Wiltshire club were prepared to wavier a transfer fee to unload Connell to the Bantams – could easily occur. Andy Gray is said to have a place in Parkinson’s plans, but you wonder where Davies’ new contract leaves Michael Nelson and even Luke Oliver.

Also potentially in the outgoing section are players who have impressed enough for higher league clubs to issue tempting offers. Nahki Wells has undoubtedly placed himself in the shop window and City’s resolve to keep him will surely be tested. WOAP has also heard of Championship level interest in James Meredith, though this may not come to anything more concrete than the Aussie appearing part way down someone’s shopping list.

As for the areas of improvement, Parkinson will surely be chiefly focused on midfield. Gary Jones’ heroics have seen the veteran deservedly earn a new contract, but at 36-years-old he is fast approaching his best before date and needs help. Ricky Ravenhill’s strong end to the season shows he still has much to offer, but would he be a starter in League One? There are so many rumours about Nathan Doyle that it would be a surprise were he to stay, though one hopes so. A central midfielder is an obvious target with the excellent Marlon Pack linked with a move.

A winger will also be on the shopping list, especially if Hines and/or Atkinson depart. WOAP has been informed that Burton’s Republic of Congo-born wideman Jacques Maghoma is a strong target. The 25-year-old produced a stunning performance against the Bantams in the play off semi final first leg at Valley Parade, and in total managed an impressive 18 goals from 50 appearances last season.

Up front, although a link to Calvin Zola has been denied by T&A journalist Simon Parker, WOAP understands that there may actually be something in it and that Zola was in West Yorkshire earlier this week for talks. Like Maghoma, Zola impressed greatly in the play off first leg but evidently lacks consistency. We might expect Parkinson to set his sights higher than the 28-year-old. Time will tell.

So change afoot, but not on the scale witnessed on an annual basis in so many years. That unsettling feeling, going into pre-season friendlies, of struggling to recognise half of the team should not be the case this time around. By and large, the squad who performed such heroics last season will remain in tact.

We may not know what to expect from the division we join next season, but from our own it should largely prove business as usual.

Team Claret and Amber finish the job

20 May

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Written by Mahesh Johal

(Images by Mike Holdsworth)

“The team ethic stands out; this is an XI greater than the sum of its parts.” Notts County 0, Bradford City 1 – the first game of the 2012/13 season.

I had the responsibility of producing the player ratings after the League Cup Final and I stand by my decision to give every player a 10 out of 10. My maximum rating was given not because of their performance on that day, but instead for their contributions along the journey.

As so poignantly summed up by Alex Scott, our previous visit to Wembley was an event. Just getting to the national stadium to face Swansea was a success, and regardless of the result we were the real winners. To return to Wembley just three months later is another unbelievable feat. Like that cup journey, ever single player has contributed to our success in the play offs.

Yes, some will get more praise and attention than others, but fundamentally, those stand out names would be nowhere without their team-mates. Saturday’s result epitomised the definition of a team performance. Furthermore, I think it was a club performance, in which every person in claret and amber contributed to the victory. Once again tasked with rating these players, again they all receive the maximum mark. Saturday’s result was truly special and the performance of each player to achieve the team goal was remarkable.

SAM_1059The two upfront were simply too good for their opponents and they deserve all the praise they get. Clarke Carlisle tweeted after the game that James Hanson ‘owned him’ and he really did. Hanson won every header and dominated the tall Northampton back four. We constantly hear that Hanson is the under-rated player in this team, but he is certainly not. Opponents fear him and Saturday proved why.

I was there to see Hanson score at the Horsfall Stadium during his trial with club, and so to see a local lad ignite the wild celebrations at Wembley is an image both he and I will never forget. Together with his partner in crime, Nahki Wells, they were simply unstoppable.

Wells’ goal and all round display was there for all to see, but if there is one defining moment of his game, for me, it was him losing the ball in the first half. Silly you may think, but seeing Wells then bust a gut to retrieve it highlighted how hard this team was willing to work for each other.

SAM_1033Both goal scorers will grab the headlines, but they were aided by the team’s wide men. The two wingers had a hand in all three goals, with Kyel Reid producing one of his best performances of this season. After missing out on an appearance in the League Cup Final, Reid appeared to really enjoy his moment. I remember specifically, at one point, hearing the roar of those fans on the half way line. I was initially unsure what generated this sudden noise, only to see Reid geeing up the crowd. It’s these little moments that really stand out in my mind.

Like Reid, Gary Thompson had the better of his marker all game. I’ve always rated his footballing ability, but on Saturday it was his awareness in the penalty area that was most impressive. Both goals he played a part in were situations that could have caused a player to panic, but Thompson was coolness personified to pick out both strikers.

Nathan Doyle also got in on the act as a provider, setting up the second goal. It was deft ball to find Rory McArdle and it highlighted the all-round class which he has. Northampton are a physical team and we needed someone to match them. I felt Doyle was that man. At times he was robust, chomping at opponents feet. On other occasions, he was spreading the ball effortlessly around midfield.

SAM_1100Doyle justified his selection and I thought his work in tandem with Gary Jones overawed the Cobblers. Jones was again simply awesome in all aspects of the game. To see him salute and bow down the crowd really emphasised the strong relationship that has formed between the skipper and the fans. Previous generations of City fans talk about the idol, Stuart McCall. For this generation, we now have Gary Jones.

Talking of leaders, the centre halves were again first class. Firstly, McArdle’s goal is potentially as iconic as his header again Villa. If anything it was nearly an exact replica. I have talked in depth before about my feelings when he scored that goal and it was a surreal experience to have the exact same emotions this time round. Going 2-0 up changed the mood from possibility to a reality.

McArdle again was on hand to battle Clive Platt and, later, Adebayo Akinfenwa with Andrew Davies. The pair were fantastic foils for each other, with Davies his usual classy self. His positioning, reading of the game and ability to win balls that he shouldn’t were all on show on Saturday. Davies’ strengths are well documented and when the team needed him the most he was at his best.

The defensive quartet had so much balance and this largely due to the full backs. Stephen Darby’s cult status among the fans is growing and his performance on Saturday showed why. I felt Northampton’s tricky winger, Ishmel Demontagnac, was a potential match winner; but Darby completely nullified him. First and foremost he is a defender, but Darby offers so much energy in attack. This is such an advantage and, at times, Northampton didn’t know how to handle our forward surges from both right and left flank.

Like Darby, James Meredith, was brilliant. I should probably describe his role in the build up for the first goal, but it’s not the first thing I think of from Meredith’s appearance on Saturday. Midway through the second half, he won the ball in a crunching tackle. Able to quickly get back to his feet, he bombed forward in his menacing style and, in tandem with Reid, was able to win us a corner.

It’s amazing how important Darby and Meredith are in both attack and defence. Full backs don’t grab the attention that, say, a striker does; but these two offer so much to the team and both set the tone.

SAM_1086Wembley is a wonderful venue and the fans have fabulous views from which ever seat they sit in. However, there was one person with the best view of all – goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin. That’s not meant to be disrespectful to Jon, but his team-mates in front of him made it so difficult for Northampton to get near City’s keeper. McLaughlin played a whole game relatively untested. When they did, most notably with the long throw in, he was up to the task, confidently taking through the barrages.

If there is an image of Jon on Saturday that I will remember, it is the one of him and Matt Duke side by side, trophy in hands, celebrating promotion together. Being a goalkeeper must be a lonely and sometimes selfish position. Our two keepers have battled against each other all season, but there is obviously a kinship between the pair.

It is here where my main point of this article lies. All these players have driven each other on to bigger and better things. Yes we have our stars, but our achievement on Saturday was down to the squad. Ricky Ravenhill deserved his run out. Whilst he may not have started the showpiece event, he has contributed massively in getting there. The same can be said of Alan Connell, Zavon Hines, Will Atkinson, Carl McHugh and Michael Nelson.

SAM_1125This team ethos runs through to the management as well. Phil Parkinson is our leader and rightly deserves all the praise he received. But can you find an assistant as liked by us fans than Steve Parkin, or a fitness coach like Nick Allamby? The fact that Parkinson wants the contracts of his backroom staff sorted out at the same time as his own sums up the unity both on and off the pitch.

Saturday was unreal and I am so proud of this team. Alex summed it perfectly when he wrote, The thing about this team which makes all of this so perfect is that the entire squad, each one of them, are so likeable. They give everything they have in every moment, they never know when they are beaten, and the morale, the atmosphere is fantastic.”

Well done, Team Claret and Amber.

SAM_1028

Bradford City 2 Burton Albion 3 – how the players rated

3 May

2013-05-02 21.07.44

By Gareth Walker

Jon McLaughlin – 7

Had no chance with any of the three well-taken Burton goals, but McLaughlin did produce one outstanding stop with his feet from a one-on-one situation that might hopefully prove vital. He wasn’t helped last night by the poor performances of the back four, but his communication with his defence still worries me at times and almost led to a shambolic mix up with McArdle in the second half.

Stephen Darby – 5

I recently described Stephen as possibly the unsung hero of the team. He has been Mr Reliable for large parts of the season, but last night was possibly the worst game that I have seen him have for quite a while. He looked petrified every time Jacques Maghoma got the ball and was largely at fault for the first goal by standing off his man allowing Maghoma to cross. He did improve slightly after the break and tried to get forward towards the end.

Michael Nelson – 4

To say that we missed Andrew Davies last night is a massive understatement. Nelson is normally a solid League Two defender who dominates in the air and this makes up for his poor distribution. Sadly last night, he was well and truly dominated by Zola and had a game to forget.

Rory McArdle – 4

City’s Marathon Man has been a little bit shaky since his injury just before Wembley, and last night it started to look like this arduous campaign might have finally caught up with him. At least partly at fault for Burton’s second goal. Along with Nelson, he couldn’t handle Zola and, again, his distribution has never been his strong point.

Whether we point a finger at Davies for getting needlessly sent off at Cheltenham or at Phil Parkinson for running the risk with playing City’s leader at the back when he was already on a yellow card is unclear, but Davies is sure to come back into the side on Sunday. I don’t think that Zola would have enjoyed such a good game if Davies had been playing and, to be honest, neither of last night’s centre backs could really complain if they were dropped to accommodate him coming back into the team.

James Meredith – 5

Similarly to Darby, I don’t think that I’ve seen Meredith have such a poor game before. Completely went to sleep and lost his man for Burton’s third goal, and his link up play wasn’t to its usual standard. Again, Meredith improved slightly after the break and looked more of himself, when his usual partner on the left, Kyel Reid, entered the fray.

Garry Thompson – 7

One of the few City players who did himself any kind of justice. Thompson looked the most likely of any of our players to create something and he never stopped working. He capped his performance off with a stunning goal that keeps us clinging onto the tie by our finger tips. Thompson has become a key player for the team over recent weeks and he was my man of the match last night.

Gary Jones – 6

Jones was well below his usual standards in the first half and his passing was often astray. Another player who improved after the break and tried to drive the team on in his usual style. Garry Thompson’s shot looked to skim off his head for City’s second goal and, again, I am clinging on to the hope that this could prove vital.

Ricky Ravenhill – 5

I can’t remember noticing Ravenhill too much last night and I had almost forgotten that he was on the pitch until he was substituted. City’s form player of recent weeks wasn’t his usual busy self, and maybe this was one of the reasons why Burton seemed to play the better football.

Will Atkinson – 5

Another player who was almost anonymous. Atkinson could easily be described as City’s most improved player this season, but he hasn’t featured in the team much since the Cup Final. It was a big surprise when neither Kyel Reid or Zavon Hines started the game last night, because I can’t remember the last time that neither of these two started a home game. We understand that Reid wasn’t fit enough to start the game, but Phol Parkinson has previously stuck with Hines when Reid has been unavailable despite his obvious deficiencies on the left, and I was shocked at the change in approach last night.

Maybe it was because our management team expected Burton to pack the midfield. Whatever the reason, it didn’t work and City looked drastically short of an outlet or any width, which resulted in too many long balls being played up to James Hanson.

James Hanson – 7

Last night was the ideal opportunity for many supporters to get on Hanson’s back but, in my mind, he didn’t do too much wrong other than miss his only chance near the end, and he was far better than many of his team mates.

Hanson battled admirably against the solid Burton defence and won his fair share in the air which he had to do, as it seemed to be our only tactic at times. James often gets a rough deal out of referees and last night was no different as he was punished for the most minor of indiscretions, whereas Zola seemed to get a free ride at the other end of the pitch in particular with a couple of dubious looking hand balls.

Nahki Wells – 5

Something of an enigma last night. Wells put his penalty away when he was called upon, despite probably wondering, like the rest of us, why a red card hadn’t been shown to the offender. However, Wells appeared to becoming more and more frustrated with the long ball tactics as the game wore on. Spent a lot of time in the second half diving on the floor looking for free kicks and it became almost embarrassing to watch.

The complete airshot as he tried to pirouette and switch feet in the second half when it looked easier to score somewhat summed up Nahki’s performance. He missed a couple of other decent chances too, which you would normally have expected him to score.

Substitutes:

Kyel Reid – 7

Looked a threat when he came on, but Reid’s clear shortage of fitness probably prevented him from turning the game around. He was on the end of a shocking challenge in front of the main stand that somehow only resulted in a booking. His performance against Burton in the cup earlier in the season, coupled with the nervousness of the opposition when he came on last night might give us a glimmer of hope if he is fit enough to start the return leg on Sunday.

Nathan Doyle – 6

Doyle made a difference when he came on because of his physical presence and his ability to pick a pass. I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts the game on Sunday.

Alan Connell – N/A

Was given his standard poultry allowance of just a few minutes to try to change the game. Connell didn’t really have time to get involved, but frustratingly attempted an overhead kick from the edge of the box near the end when he had a simple pass available to Darby who was galloping into acres of space on the wing.

Connell’s comment on BBC Radio Leeds, after the game, that he won’t hold his breath about starting the game on Sunday may indicate that his future lies away from the club. This would be hugely disappointing in my mind as he is clearly a quality player at League Two level.

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