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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