Tag Archives: Will Atkinson

We Made History one year on: those who left Bradford City

19 May

 

By Andrew Baxter

Whilst we have followed the fortunes of those who remained with the club following last season’s heroics, what about those who are no longer at the club?

Matt Duke

Duke was incredible in most of the games during the League Cup run last year, most memorably against Arsenal, and in both legs against Aston Villa. This season, Duke has started every game for Northampton Town, with the Cobblers just retaining their League Two status, finishing 21st. Northampton conceded 57 goals this season (2 less than 9th placed Dagenham and Redbridge), with Duke keeping nine clean sheets.

Curtis Good

The Newcastle loanee, who started the League Cup final, has suffered an injury-plagued season. The Australian has only managed six games this season, with one cup appearance for Newcastle and five games for Dundee United in the Scottish Premiership.

Remarkably, Good has won five out of the six games he has played in this season, but only kept one clean sheet. Good is hoping that he can stay injury-free for the World Cup, and is in the Australia squad for Brazil.

Will Atkinson

The midfielder moved to Southend in the summer, and has missed just one game for them all season, as Southend finished in the play off places in League Two. Atkinson’s side played Burton Albion in the play offs but were defeated over two legs.

Nahki Wells

Much has been said of the Bermudan’s move to Huddersfield Town, but since departing for the John Smith’s stadium, Wells has scored seven goals in 22 appearances. This is a rate well behind his 14 goals in 21 appearances at the start of this season for City, but nonetheless Wells has made a solid, if unspectacular, start to his Championship career, despite Town’s awful form towards the end of the season.

Ricky Ravenhill

The combative midfielder moved to Northampton Town on loan in November, before returning permanently to Sixfields in January. Since then, Ravenhill has made 19 starts, picking up four bookings and one red card.

Blair Turgott

The winger, who was an unused substitute in the League Cup final, has had loan spells at Colchester United, Rotherham United and Dagenham and Redbridge, but has only managed 10 appearances between those three clubs, scoring once. Turgott has also made an appearance for West Ham, but unfortunately it was in a 5-0 defeat in the FA Cup, away at Nottingham Forest.

Alan Connell

Connell, who started just 8 league games for City, yet came off the bench 35 times, moved to Northampton at the end of January, along with Ravenhill. Connell has made 16 appearances for the Cobblers, but didn’t find the net. Connell was not offered a new contract by manager Chris Wilder, and thus is a free agent at the minute.

Zavon Hines

The winger/striker signed for Dagenham and Redbridge last August, and this season has been his most successful to date in terms of appearances and goals, starting 26 times, and scoring six goals.

Michael Nelson

Nelson made just 13 appearances for City, after signing in January for £30,000. He departed just before the start of the season for Hibernian, in the Scottish Premiership, and there Nelson has been a regular in the Hibs side, making 34 appearances for the Edinburgh team.

Luke Oliver

The 2012 Player of the Season winner was very unlucky last year, missing most of last season through injury, and he joined Conference side Forest Green Rovers in February. Since then, he has become a mainstay of the team, making 11 appearances, including 8 consecutive starts in April.

The Midweek Player Focus #56: Kyle Bennett

9 Apr

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By Jason McKeown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Midweek Player Focus #46: Garry Thompson

13 Nov

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By Gareth Walker

Garry Thompson is a player that had been familiar with Bradford City supporters long before he actually played in claret and amber, after impressing whilst turning out for Morecambe against the Bantams back in 2007. Stuart McCall’s public pursuit of the player was quite a headline maker at the time, and it was with some disappointment when he eventually signed for Scunthorpe United that summer.

Fast forward to the summer of 2012 and after being released by The Iron, we were again chasing his signature. This time Phil Parkinson got his man and Thompson finally became a Bantam. Five years late, Thompson was sadly slow in making up for that lost time.

There were understandably high hopes for our new number 11, but early season performances on the right wing were somewhat of a disappointment to many. He looked out of shape and lacking a yard of pace. His failure to get into the game on many occasions was worrying.

Stories began to emerge that Thompson saw himself as a target man-type striker; a role which he had been used in towards the end of his spell at Glanford Park. He was tried in this position on a couple of occasions, but failed to impress. The only thing that he seemed to have going for him was his height, which was proving useful for City to utilise with diagonal balls to his wing as well as being of great assistance to Stephen Darby behind him, whose only weakness has been his susceptibility to the high ball.

Something needed to happen quickly in order to halt Thompson’s slide towards Valley Parade oblivion, as the boo boys started to single him out as their latest target. Step forward Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side on Tuesday 11 December, on a night the Bantams’ faithful will never forget.

We all know what happened at Valley Parade that evening, and we all rejoice in the monumental turnaround that the club has experienced since. But out of the players on the pitch that night, the one whose fortunes changed the most was Thompson.

The goal that he scored seemed to revitalise his City career and it was a totally different Thompson who we saw for the remainder of that magical season. Suddenly we were seeing the player that we all hoped we would when he signed. Now looking equally at home on the right hand side or upfront, when played there in Nahki Wells’ absence, Thompson became a real terroriser of League Two defences.

Pace, power and work ethic retuned to his game, Thompson became one of the first names on Parkinson’s teamsheet as he provided the perfect compliment to Kyel Reid’s unpredictability on the left. He even got his own song – a true sign of acceptance, if ever there was one. His performances against York City and Bristol Rovers stand out in my mind, as does his cameo after coming off the bench in that unforgettable night at Villa Park in January.

As the season ended with a trip to Wembley for a second time in three months, Thompson produced a magnificent display to help seal promotion to League One, as he provided the assists for the first and third goals in a 3-0 thumping of Northampton that was the crowning moment of our season. He departed along with the rest of the squad for a well earned summer break, safe in the knowledge that he would soon be a League One player once again.

During the summer, Parkinson’s mantra was “evolution rather than revolution” as he expressed confidence that last year’s history making team could make their mark at a higher level. Minimal changes were made to the squad, although Will Atkinson and Zavon Hines were moved on.

As such, Thompson started this campaign where he finished the last one – as a regular fixture on the right hand side of the City midfield. The only difference being that instead of having Atkinson and Hines pushing them for their places, he and Reid were now faced with the different challenges posed by Rafa De Vita and Mark Yeates.

In fact, it was Reid who lost his place first, with Yeates replacing him in the starting line up for our first game of the season away at Bristol City in what was Parkinson’s only change to the play off final team.

The start to this new season was a hugely impressive one for us, as we lost only one of our first 10 league games to find ourselves firmly ensconced in the play off places at the beginning of October. Everything was looking good and Thompson himself – although not hitting the heights of the second half of last season – had chipped in with an impressive headed goal in the 4-0 victory over Brentford.

Since then, City have had a little bit of what you might call a wobble. Nothing at all to be alarmed about if you ask me; but all the same, a dip in results if not performances compared to those that were being achieved back in August and September.

“Two points from a possible 15”, “No wins in five games” were the mutterings that we could hear as we departed Crewe’s Gresty Road Ground a week last Saturday. Unfortunately some of the moaners are starting to surface again. You will not find me joining them just yet. I have always followed the old adage that you shouldn’t look at the league tables seriously until Christmas. This is the time of the season when things just start to level out and settle down and, at the end of the day, I have always thought that a mid table finish this year would be a decent achievement.

Nonetheless, a dip in form has somewhat inevitably resulted in changes being made to the team and some questions being asked about certain players. Supporters wouldn’t be supporters if they didn’t voice their opinions and partake in such debates. Thompson has again found himself at the centre of these discussions and, sure enough, for the first time this season, he found himself dropped from the starting line up at Crewe.

It wasn’t a surprise to me if I’m honest. I have raised my concerns since the first few weeks of the season that I didn’t think that we were getting enough from our wide players, but the blistering start to the season that Wells and James Hanson had made was rendering it somewhat unnoticeable.

It is my belief that only Reid, out of all of our wingers – once he regained his place in the side from Yeates – has shown any kind of consistently good form this season. And as well as Reid was playing mid-October,  I am concerned as to what would happen if our number seven went off the boil. He was fantastic against Preston, but we can’t expect that level of performance every week – otherwise he wouldn’t be plying his trade in the third and fourth tiers of the English game. Parkinson knows this, and I suspect that it his vastly varying form is partly what led him to being left out of the team in the first place.

Yeates, after scoring a fantastic goal on his home debut against Carlisle United, has flattered to deceive. Since Reid won his place back, Yeates has been utilised in a more advanced role playing off Hanson in Wells’ absence. This for me has shown some reflection as to how unspectacular his performances have been in the wide areas. Cleary Yeates has the greatest pedigree out of any of our attacking threats, yet I personally feel that his attitude in games hasn’t been quite right just yet. His berating of Thompson for not passing to him at Walsall being an example of this.

When he is in the side and on his game, Yeates offers something quite different to our other wingers – with his emphasis being trickery over pace leading some to speculate that he is more suited to that central role. Whatever the case, I imagine that if Parkinson can get the best out of the Northern Irishman – similar to the form that he produced in his Colchester days – he would be the first attacking midfield name on the teamsheet.

De Vita has shown two pieces of quality of note so far, one being the cross for Hanson’s opening goal against Preston and the other being the goal that he scored himself against Wolves. The Italian has a decent work ethic, but prior to the Wolves game appeared to be a little lightweight and timid of a tackle. He was far from impressive in his two starts against Huddersfield and Hartlepool, although I have personally felt that he has contributed more since been given greater game time of late.

It seems at the moment therefore that De Vita is in the one keeping Thompson out of the starting side, although he still has someway to go in order to be considered a first team regular.

Given the fickle nature of the football fan, it was hardly surprising to hear some sections of the crowd at Gresty Road shouting for the introduction of Thompson as the game wore on. Were these the same voices that were calling for him to be dropped scarcely a week earlier? Somewhat predictably, Parkinson responded and did introduce Thompson in place of De Vita midway though the second half, which just went to show that he still considered to be a big part of this squad.

The message has to be “don’t write him off yet”. After all, remember what happened last year? It wouldn’t surprise me to see “Garry Thompson running down the wing for me” many more times this season at least.

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Looking to solve the away dilemma as City travel to Kent

20 Sep
Picture by Mike Holdsworth

Picture by Mike Holdsworth

Gillingham vs Bradford City preview

@The Priestfield Stadium on Saturday 21 September, 2013

By James Storrie

Despite running away with the League Two title last year, Gillingham are yet to create much of an impression on their new surroundings. For a team that was so strong at home last year and would regularly blow away teams due to the firepower they possessed upfront and in the wide areas – particularly in the form of the excellent Myles Weston – it comes as a surprise to note that the Gills have scored just eight league goals so far.

To put it into perspective, that is equal to Nahki Wells’ league tally. It’s hard to imagine that a manager such as ‘Mad dog’ Martin Allen will not get a response from his players sooner rather than later. Allen’s recent comments after his sides’ loss to in-form Coventry do not suggest a man overly worried about his stuttering side.

“We were much more focused and concentrated. If they keep playing like that they will be fine,” he told BBC Radio Kent. “These performances will turn into wins. There is no doubt about that”

Belief and confidence plays a huge part in winning football matches. Look no further than the Bantams recent trip to Hartlepool where, after scoring their first home goal of the season, Hartlepool were rejuvenated and played in a manner that paid no credit to their form prior to the game. Likewise, an early goal from Bradford City on Saturday could have much the opposing effect and make Gillingham edgy and their fans restless.  An early goal for the home side could make the afternoon a long and fruitless one for the Bantams.

Whilst maybe short of confidence the Gills are not short of options. They have genuine quality in the likes of Cody McDonald and Weston, whilst Danny Kedwell will give Andrew Davies a physical battle that he will relish. If that is not enough then Allen can always deploy his ‘Plan B’ in the wrecking ball that is ‘Bayo’ Akinfenwa.

Which leads me onto one of my main concerns about the City team and that is just how we will fare away from home this season. We were never outstanding away from home in the bottom tier and not much looks like changing this season.

There is a growing dilemma for Phil Parkinson in how to set up the team so it is solid and resolute but effective on the counter attack at the same time. The main strength that the team possess is the front two of James Hanson and Nahki Wells, who are a match made in heaven in every regard. They are a perfect blend of power, pace, aerial strength and determination.

What is becoming more evident in a higher division is that the opposing teams have the quality to sit in holes and expose City’s midfield two of Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle. This was highlighted in the Colchester game but also the Brentford and Sheffield United matches where all three sides played an extra man in the middle who could turn and run at the back four.

Away from home last season, I felt our more controlled performances came with the solidarity of Will Atkinson in the side, who would happily fill gaps in the midfield and even the numbers up if City were outnumbered in the middle. Atkinson’s departure leaves City with only Mark Yeates who could fulfil this more disciplined role. Although he is yet to truly sparkle in claret and amber, other solutions could include the league debut of Jason Kennedy to add solidity to the middle of the park alongside Doyle and Jones. That said, the inclusion of another midfielder would lead to the benching of one of our strikers and, at the current time, that just seems completely preposterous.

At home the flat 4-4-2 formation City employ is strong and effective. It enables us to get the front foot and play off Hanson with runners around him. Away from home there is a far greater chance of us being picked off, and this must be a worry for Parkinson. However, whilst it is early on in the season, I see no problem with City carrying on like they are with the attitude of “we’ve conceded two but we can score three”. With a striker like Wells who genuinely believes that he will score 30+ goals this season, this more cavalier attitude is admirable.

Speaking of Nahki, he gave a great interview on Sky’s FL72 preview show before the Colchester game and spoke with great maturity about his and the teams goals for the season. I found it interesting how he writes down his targets for this and upcoming seasons and how, if he reaches them, he will hopefully have achieved his dream of playing in the top flight.

Parkinson also has a decision to make in defence after Rory McArdle’s less than convincing return to the side last week, where he was culpable for the second goal and also guilty of being wasteful in possession. Whilst I don’t advocate centre backs impersonating Chelsea’s David Luiz, it would be nice to see Rory take a little bit more care in possession at times. The diagonal to Hanson, whilst on the whole effective, can prove far too predictable at times and as we are starting to find out. In the higher divisions if you continue to give the ball away then it can be quite a while before you see it again.

With Luke Oliver not fully match fit, Matt Taylor quickly going down the Jason Kennedy route and Carl McHugh seemingly out of favour, it is likely McArdle will get the chance to rectify last week’s performance. The rest of the side picks itself – one would expect the Bantams to line up with the same side that battled from behind to earn a well-deserved point at Valley Parade last week.

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Transfer talk

6 Jul

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By Andrew Baxter

It is that time of the season again, where the rumour mill goes into overdrive over potential new signings. But this summer, could the picture be more settled for City?

For the first team in six or seven seasons, the squad does not require a major overhaul. Last season saw 15 departures, and 11 new signings. The season before saw 15 permanent signings, and six loan signings, between July and September! Such need for change only disrupted the squad, possibly contributing to their lack of success. This current crop of players, however, appears to have a special bond.

“Quality, not quantity” is Phil Parkinson’s transfer ideology, as opposed to Peter Taylor’s “He looks good, I’ll buy him” philosophy. A tight-knit squad endured a marathon season, with only limited players coming in on loan (six altogether, although this includes Tom Naylor who hardly played, and John Egan who unfortunately broke his leg just a few games into his loan spell).

With Mark Lawn saying that only “2 or 3 signings” needing to be made to improve the squad, this squad unity will continue. Parkinson has the opportunity to buy two or three quality players, rather than 10 or 12 average players.

In my opinion, a goalkeeper is needed to challenge Jon McLaughlin, and give him some competition. With Matt Duke leaving for Northampton, we only have one recognised first-team keeper at the minute.

In defence, with the return of Luke Oliver, and with Stephen Darby and James Meredith still improving, there is a settled outlook. If I was Phil Parkinson, I would loan out Carl McHugh to a League Two, or upper Conference, side, as first-team football is crucial for his development. With four quality, proven, centre backs in Michael Nelson, Oliver, Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies, I think McHugh may struggle to break into the first team this season.

In midfield, there will be tough competition for the central midfielder positions, with Nathan Doyle, Gary Jones, Ricky Ravenhill and new recruit Jason Kennedy battling it out for a place in the starting line-up. Kyel Reid looks to have secured the left-wing position, and on the opposite flank, Garry Thompson will have stiff competition from Mark Yeates. Yeates’ capture shows intent by Parkinson, as he is a proven Championship winger and could be a key figure in the City side this season.

Up front, there were calls midway through the season to find a replacement for James Hanson, who looked out of form. However, an impressive end to the season (and a Wembley goal) for the 25-year-old has put to bed those claims. Should the club accept a “silly money” offer for Nahki Wells, then a replacement would be needed, but with the money that a potential Wells sale could bring, City would have the financial muscle to attract many proven strikers.

Overall, then, it is clear that this summer might be a bit quieter than previous seasons, but then again, surely this is a good thing? With Zavon Hines and Will Atkinson the only first-team players to be released, there is no need for the mass influx of players that we have seen in previous seasons at Valley Parade, as the quality required is already there.

A sad goodbye to Will Atkinson

3 Jul

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By Jason McKeown

“It is really heartening to see the change in Atkinson, who has had unrivalled support from Phil Parkinson, which adds affirmation to the manager’s ability to sign, develop and mould players into the current City squad.” Width of a Post writer Phil Abbott after Bradford City defeated Arsenal.

If there is a clear logic to the decisions not to renew the contracts of Zavon Hines and Adam Baker – and a sound reasoning to why Matt Duke has turned down reduced terms to stay – it is more difficult to accept the parting of ways between Will Atkinson and Bradford City.

The 24-year-old leaves the club after playing a prominent role in one of its greatest-ever seasons. Atkinson was never going to grab the attention and adulation of others, but his unfussy and industrious performances proved to be a vital component throughout. There were only seven games of City’s marathon 64-match slog in which Atkinson did not make an appearance. He was everything that had been billed in Chris Mitchell, minus the set pieces, and such utility players are worth their weight in gold.

That he departs with our affection represents a commendable transformation too. Signed on loan from Hull City in January 2011, Atkinson got off to a dreadful start and quickly became deeply unpopular with a demanding Valley Parade crowd. I remember his debut at Bristol Rovers. A cold afternoon, a frosty pitch, Atkinson looked disinterested and uncommitted. Reluctant to get involved with the play, even the few positive glimpses he displayed seemed more for the good of himself than that of the team. It was a bad first impression.

And it didn’t get much better from there. Billed as an out-and-out winger, Atkinson’s tentativeness on the field was looked upon as a lack of passion. His better displays came away from home in front of small City followings – Barnet, where he scored his first City goal a typical example. But as the club stumbled their way to survival and Parkinson was in a position to truly ring the changes, we assumed Atkinson’s name would be added to a long list of forgettable loanees. His name only floated during conversations about the worst wingers we’d endured, or the subject of strange mocking articles.

Yet it wasn’t the end of the story, more the prologue. Throughout the close season, Atkinson was strongly rumoured to be signing on a permanent contract – and when he did indeed eventually rock up, there was a widespread sense of feeling underwhelmed. It was perhaps because of this that Mark Lawn angrily defended the club’s summer transfer activity in the T&A on the eve of the season. Blunt words, but Lawn was to be proven wholly accurate.

And for Atkinson, the opinion changing was beginning in earnest. After looking just as shaky in pre-season friendlies, for the first game of the season – the League Cup tie at Notts County – Atkinson was on the starting XI team sheet in central midfield, alongside Gary Jones. Parkinson apparently took him to one side before the match and advised him that this was to be the moment he started winning people around by demonstrating his workrate and application. Advice that Atkinson carried out and more. As the players entered the field at Meadow Lane there was a temptation to fear the worst about a makeshift central midfield and hide behind your hands. But Atkinson impressed greatly that day – the player and team firmly setting the tone for the season.

And from there the pendulum swung in positive fashion. Although not a regular starter at first – particularly with everyone fit – Atkinson’s cameos showed promise and he soon took advantage of injuries to secure a regular place in the side. Oxford away stands out as an afternoon where Atkinson had really come of age. He was superb and tormented the United defence. A memorable solo run from the halfway line almost resulting in a magnificent goal.

If there was a night that firmly won me over, it was at Hartlepool in the JPT a few weeks later. Just like his club debut at Bristol Rovers 10 months earlier, it was cold and there was a suspect pitch. The low key occasion against higher opposition offered excuses to go easy or through the motions – Garry Thompson was guilty of doing so that night. Not a bit of it from Atkinson, who worked and worked his socks off. It was games like this that cemented his value to the team. It was games like this that developed his confidence and enabled him to enjoy starring performances against the might of Arsenal and Aston Villa.

It was a Matt Duke-style revitalisation, but then the impressive Atkinson of the 2012/13 season did not seem to be playing the same role as the timid Atkinson of 2011/12. It’s not clear what sort of player he was before joining us and how much credit Parkinson should take for the transformation, but the work rate, tackling ability and measured flair on show from Atkinson last season was a joy to behold. In Parkinson’s new-look wideman strategy, Atkinson matched Thompson as a good wide outlet with the ability to tuck in and play as an additional central midfielder when City didn’t have the ball. Were it not for the strong options in the centre of the park, you suspect Atkinson might have proven useful as an attacking central midfielder.

Ultimately, as the end of the season approached and everyone was fit again, Atkinson was back to the bench. Like Zavon Hines, the victim of the return to form of Kyel Reid and significant second half season improvement of Garry Thompson. Atkinson played in the play off semi final first leg against Burton due to Reid not being fit to start; but for both the second leg and the Wembley final he was on the bench, coming on as sub each time.

Therein lies the conundrum for both player and club. A step up to a higher level and arrival of a Mark Yeates – a winger who it is said can play in the centre of midfield if required – would suggest fewer opportunities for Atkinson. After a stuttering start to his career, one that appeared to finally get going in 2012/13, could Atkinson afford the backwards step of a season on the bench or in the reserves? He is certainly good enough to play week in week out for a top half League Two team.

Yet for the club, you suspect he will be missed. Not in an obvious manner where we supporters will pine for him, but in the sense that, when injuries and suspensions occur, Parkinson could have slotted Atkinson in and being confident of him doing an excellent job – and he can play a variety of positions. For purely selfish reasons, keeping Atkinson made a lot of sense, but evidently Parkinson – who has shown such faith in him – is more compassionate to the wellbeing of Atkinson than to do that.

So Atkinson leaves and, like Duke and Hines, leaves with both supporters and player treasuring fond memories and a mutual respect. Hopefully last season will prove the springboard to Atkinson enjoying a successful career. If he keeps displaying the work rate and will to win evidenced routinely at Valley Parade over the past 12 months, that success will be assured.

City make their first new signing of the summer as Jason Kennedy becomes a Bantam

2 Jul

By Gareth Walker

Bradford City today made their first foray into the transfer market this summer by announcing that they had completed the free transfer signing of Rochdale midfielder Jason Kennedy on a two year deal.

Durham-born Kennedy was long assumed to be on Phil Parkinson’s wanted list this pre season after a deadline day move for the player fell through at the 11th hour at the end of January.

The reasons for the collapse of the move have never been confirmed but it has been speculated that Kennedy had a last minute change of heart at the time, going as far as to even come off the motorway and head back to Rochdale when he had been on his way to Valley Parade to finalise a contract.

Parkinson seemed to answer any concerns about the players commitment to play for us when he commented that “He had a lot of desire to join us”, and why wouldn’t he given that we are now a League One club? Along with the rest of the lower league players in this country, he will surely have watched our exploits last season with an element of envy.

The other concern that supporters raised at this potential signing was that Kennedy seems to be proven at League Two level after strong performances at Rochdale and Darlington previously, but not so much in a higher division. In fact, he was the central midfield partner to Gary Jones in the ‘Dale team who were relegated from League One just a couple of seasons ago.

In answer to this, it is worth noting the view of the Spotland Faithful who describe Jones and Kennedy as two of their better players during that season and their engine room partnership as being one of the few highlights of a miserable campaign. Kennedy, was also arguably the stand out performer last December when his former side team triumphed 4-2 at Valley Parade.

City’s new signing made over 150 league appearances for Rochdale during a four year spell, scoring 12 league goals. Although he may not be the attacking central midfield option that some supporters are craving, he will be well known to Steve Parkin and Gary Jones in particular, so City will be fully aware of what they are getting.

The role that Kennedy plays in the Bantams squad will be interesting to see. Back in January, he was clearly seen as the replacement for the now departed Ritchie Jones. With Ritchie’s place in the squad never having been filled, will that still be the case or is he now seen as a replacement for Nathan Doyle, who Width of a Post hears along with Will Atkinson was not present at training today or yesterday?

Much may depend on whether Doyle commits himself to the new contract that we are told is on offer to stay, or if he seeks pastures new and a fresh challenge elsewhere. Rumours are also rife this week that Kennedy might not be the only new signing over the coming days, so there could yet be another new face and further competition for a place in the middle of the park come kick off on August 3.

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