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

SAM_2776

By Jason McKeown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Midweek Player Focus #46: Garry Thompson

13 Nov

IMG_9121

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.

______________________________

If you like what Width of a Postlogo1 do, please vote for us in the Football Blogging Awards.

We have been shortlisted for ‘Best Football Club Blog’ and ‘Best Established Blog’.

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.

If you like what Width of a Post do, please vote for us in the Football Blogging Awards.

Transfer talk

6 Jul

SAM_1113

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

SAM_0123

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.

Zavon Hines departs Bradford City having helped to take it forwards

2 Jul

SAM_0204

By Jason McKeown

As if yet another indication were needed of the feel-good factor that abounds around Valley Parade, it can be found in the news that Zavon Hines has left Bradford City after Phil Parkinson opted against offering him a new contract.

It’s not unusual for players to be released from the club during the close season, but typically they do so under varying levels of supporter criticism for their performances in claret and amber. There may be a debate to be had on Hines’ short-comings – he would not be leaving, of course, had he been considered good enough for the heightened challenges of next season – but you’d need to have a heart of stone to wish him anything but the best for the future and he departs under a flood of good luck sentiments from supporters.

One of our own through being part of one of the club’s greatest-ever seasons, for his contribution Hines will be fondly remembered.

It was at Park Avenue’s Horsfall Stadium that City supporters got their first glimpse of former West Ham winger Hines. Part of a Bradford City XI in the club’s final pre-season friendly, last August, the keenness to keep his potential signing under wraps necessitated his name appearing on the team sheet as ‘A Trialist’. WOAP’s own Joe Cockburn reported of Hines that, “The class of playing at a higher level was evident, and he stood out amongst many average performances. He played with the pace and flair of Omar Daley, but with an end product and very little waste. He would be a coup if we managed to sign him.”

Hines was the final piece in a wideman jigsaw that Phil Parkinson had built to evolve from the previous season’s over-reliance on Kyel Reid. For the first time since the days of an on-song Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck causing havoc under Stuart McCall, we had two genuine out-and-out wingers. In the first few games Hines and Reid occupied each side of the pitch and some brave attacking football resulted in some impressive early season victories. Parkinson’s reputation for being Peter Taylor Mk II was being erased.

A 4-0 thrashing at Rotherham – City far too open in still deploying Reid and Hines in a tough away fixture – offered the first doubts over whether it could work. But it was only a part of that wideman jigsaw anyway, and it led to the increased involvement of Garry Thompson and Will Atkinson. It was soon clear that in these four players Parkinson basically had two sets of pairings. Thompson and Atkinson lacked the pace and directness of Reid and Hines, but offered greater defensive ability that meant City could effectively play with three in the middle when not in possession.

The right-sided Thompson and left-sided Reid, or the right-sided Hines and left-sided Atkinson (though Atkinson could also play on the right just as effectively), these were the partnerships. Although Reid and Hines could play on each side of each other and the same was true of Thompson and Atkinson, the balance was never quite the same. So it was Thompson with Reid or Atkinson with Hines. By and large, the game-time of one wideman was dependent not just on their own form, but their partner’s.

When Reid got a bad injury in early October at Rochdale, Hines had the chance to press home his advantage. He came on as sub for Reid that night and struggled badly, but he was playing on his less comfortable side, the left wing. Parkinson moved Atkinson to the left from then on and Hines enjoyed a run of games on the right. Quickly, he began to produce his best form.

In fact Hines at times looked a better player than Reid. He spent less time dribbling down blind alleys or shooting wildly wide – that is Reid on a bad day – and more time tracking back and helping team mates. One of his most memorable traits was his slide tackling, which often succeeded in not just winning back possession but leaving the tackled opponent on the floor dumbfounded. They clearly weren’t expecting such work-rate and desire.

Reid returned in mid-December but was not able to stamp down a place in the side. He seemed slow rediscovering his mojo, and though Thompson – the autumn victim of Reid’s injury in the sense Atkinson was given much more game time – was improving, Hines returned at Christmas, after a month out injured, to enjoy another strong run in the side. This period included the two semi final legs against Aston Villa. In both games, Hines absolutely terrorised his full back. The first City goal in both ties coming from set pieces that his brilliant work had earned.

For Hines, alas, this high watermark was the beginning of the decline. As City struggled for league form before and after the Wembley match with Swansea, Hines’ performances were equally up and down. The penny finally dropped with Reid after a woeful performance at Plymouth, and he came roaring back to earn his place as the team’s out-and-out winger – a decision made easier for Parkinson by the outstanding performances of Thompson on the other side. Hines and Atkinson got used to the bench.

There was at least one more big contribution from Hines. A dismal first half team performance against Southend on Good Friday saw much of the anger fall upon Hines. Parkinson later admitted he merited being substituted, but Hines to his credit kept going and scored a goal that put the Bantams back into the match. James Hanson netting a late equaliser. Amazingly Hines only started one more game for City – Cheltenham on the final day of the regular season. Yet that 2-2 draw against Southend was the spark that saw City hit top form and reach the play offs. Without Hines’ goal that day, promotion might never have happened.

But Reid and Thompson were two of the best performers of the run-in, and Hines was left waiting for chances from the bench. He was there for the celebrations in the play offs at Burton and then at Wembley when promotion was sealed, but his role had been marginalised to that of a supporting cast member rather than one of the stars. The club was already leaving him behind.

I really enjoyed watching Hines in a City shirt. There was always such a stark honesty to his performances, and whatever his failings they were not a lack of effort. When on form he tormented opponents and had us on the edge of our seat. His departure is sad, but there should be no feeling of him letting anyone down.

Ultimately, Hines helped to take the club forwards and for that he will always be appreciated. It’s just unfortunate, for him, that the club moving forwards means that we have to leave him behind.

The wonderfully dull close season

14 Jun

SAM_0207

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.

2012/13 season review: The best trip, I’ve ever been on

28 May

SAM_1086

By Jason McKeown

It was the year of walking onto the field to the supporter-created song ‘claret and amber’. Of hooped home shirts. Of Flexi-cards. A year where Valley Parade was filled to capacity for the first time in over a decade. Where we were looking up the league rather than down. Of over-achieving in the cups. Of selling out numerous away games. Of Gary Jones.

Right from the start, you suspected this could be a special one. League One Notts County away in the League Cup kicked off the season. We travelled to Nottingham on a baking hot day merely in the hope of a good performance, accomplishing not only that but a credible 1-0 win. The BBC called it a “giant killing”. This was just the warm up.

The league began with a bang too. After an opening day loss, back-to-back home wins over Fleetwood and Wimbledon set the tone for a sustainable promotion push. The Dons were swept aside in stunning first-half fashion – 5-1 at the interval – and it was hard to avoid feeling wildly optimistic. “Champions by Christmas” one of group of friends quipped. “No”, responded someone else. “Champions by August Bank Holiday”.

Pre-match optimism

Rotherham was a reality check. The first of many City away sell outs, we rocked up to the wonderful New York Stadium in expectation, but went 1-0 down within 75 seconds and would go on to lose 4-0. Accrington a week after not much better, despite a 1-1 draw. Perhaps it won’t be so easy: Champions by Easter?

But we soon got into our stride. Barnet were woeful, Morecambe swept aside in thrilling fashion – Jones’ first City goal met with a pump-fist celebration in front of the Kop. He and Nathan Doyle were forming a great partnership, James Hanson and Nahki Wells could not stop scoring. The summer warmth lingered long enough for a t-shirt day at Oxford in late September, with a 2-0 win taking us joint second.

IMG00197-20120925-2214

A fourth win on the trot was achieved in the cup against Burton. What a night that was. Even at 2-0 down at half time, confidence was high that we could win it. Kyel Reid came off the bench and destroyed the Brewers, and fellow sub Wells netted two late goals. The celebrations for his last minute equaliser up there with any moment we’ve experienced this season. Stephen Darby’s extra time winner was academic.

Bumps on the road to promotion followed. Port Vale ending City’s 100% home record – undeservedly so – 10-men Rochdale could not be beaten on their own patch, and then at Dagenham the Bantams managed to go 4-1 down with a late two-goal fightback in vein. A trip up the A1 to Hartlepool in the JPT was memorable only for another City penalty shootout victory and a nightmare drive home due to roadworks.

We needed a big win, and defeating a fellow promotion rival – Cheltenham – provided that. 3-1 having fallen behind. Mark Yates correctly moaning about being denied a penalty when his side was 1-0 up. Wells was the hero. Not a great performance, but a great win. Wells netted again three days later at Northampton. Now we’re cooking.

IMG00185-20120922-1653

The League Cup run was getting really exciting. We went to Premier League Wigan in Round Four – initially a disappointing prospect, but following news of a 5,000 City away end sell-out, excitement for a good night. Losing at Burton three days earlier – with the added nightmare of injuries robbing us of Luke Oliver for the rest of the season and Andrew Davies until February – meant we went to the DW Stadium with little hope. A stunning performance ensued, capped off by a penalty shootout win. Duuukkkkkeeeee!

That set up a quarter final home tie with Arsenal. How to concentrate for the six weeks in-between? Progress in the FA Cup occurred with a memorable 3-3 replay – and yes, another shootout success – over Northampton. City’s lowest home crowd of the season, but one of the best games.  In the league, form was mixed, but a trip to Bristol Rovers stands out as one of the season’s highlights. It was wet – very wet – and the away terrace offered no protection. But we skidded in the rain in celebration of City coming from behind three times to earn a point. Fantastic character.

But it was all about waiting for Arsenal. Tick the games off. Port Vale in the JPT, good fun. Brentford on a Friday night in the FA Cup, notable for how drunk one of our group was (“It is pay day drinks!”) and City temporarily getting kicked out the competition for fielding loanee Curtis Good. Three days before the Gunners came to town, an important 1-0 home win over Torquay was sealed by a superb Alan Connell strike. He was fast cementing his status as super sub. Will Atkinson, James Meredith and Rory McArdle were also in excellent form.

2012-12-11 22.27.29

So now we can enjoy the Arsenal game. It was bitterly cold, and Manningham Lane an hour before kick off was packed out in a way I’ve not seen for years. Long queues to get inside the Kop; and just as we made our way to our seats, the Arsenal team was announced. Blimey, they are taking it seriously.

Garry Thompson’s opening goal is one that we will treasure for years to come. We’re beating Arsenal! Just 70 minutes to go! Incredibly, we almost held out. A late Gunners equaliser would surely cost us, but we held on through extra time with the noise levels from a packed out Valley Parade never relenting. Penalties. Say no more.

The next night, a group of us got together to watch the semi final draw. Please be Villa, at home first, was my wish. That is what we got. Another scramble for tickets, but both legs sorted out with only a couple of sleepness nights. Now back to the League…oh dear. After scrambling to victory over Accrington on Boxing Day (Connell again!), form fell off a cliff. Rochdale embarrassed us; at Morecambe we rued that miss by Hanson; Barnet thumped us 2-0 three days before Villa. At least the likes of Stephen Darby and Zavon Hines were impressing.

IMG_0332

Oh what a night we had, in the home leg against Villa. I’ll always remember a friend in the pub beforehand predicting “3-1…and I begrudge Villa that 1!” and thinking he was mad. But he could not have been more right. Rory McArdle’s header that made it 2-0 saw Valley Parade rock like it hasn’t since Gordon Watson netted a brace in front of the same Kop end in September 1998. I lost the plot celebrating. The wonderfully promising Carl McHugh’s goal for 3-1 was special too. If you could dismiss the Wigan and Arsenal wins as being on penalties, there was no talking down of this one. League Two Bradford City had beaten Premier League Aston Villa over 90 minutes.

Other games happened in-between the two legs, but attention was only on Villa Park. A 4-1 thumping to Crewe in the JPT was painless in the circumstances, save for how ridiculously cold it was. No one minded that Saturday’s trip to Vale was called off, let’s just hope this heavy snow doesn’t make it impossible to travel to Birmingham.

DSCF6347

I took a car-load to this game. As a group some of us barely knew each other, but by the time we met up on the street outside Villa Park at full time, we were on hugging terms. The first half was horrible as Villa came flying out the blocks; but then Gary Jones swung a corner onto Hanson’s head, 10 minutes into the second half, and we were gleefully celebrating an improbable equaliser. I will always remember my good friend and fellow Width of a Post writer Gareth Walker needing a sit down next to me, as he was so overcome with emotion. A late Villa winner added anxiety, but we did it. What a night. Perhaps the best moment of my time supporting Bradford City.

We were in the League Cup Final at Wembley. Even writing this article months after, I can’t help but smile at the absurdity of that statement. I never thought it would happen in my lifetime.

Reality bit back at Fleetwood a week later, with a 2-2 draw on the North-West coast not what we needed to close the gap to the play offs. A 1-0 defeat at home to leaders Gillingham – our only home game in-between Villa and Wembley – was played out with an air of obvious distraction on and off the field. At least we beat Wycombe away in midweek, but a 2-1 loss to bottom of the table Wimbledon eight days before Wembley was not ideal.

DSCF6874

What more can you say about Wembley One? The build up was phenomenal.  The world’s media camped out at Bradford, covering every angle possible. Revel in all the TV and newspaper coverage, enjoy the players being treated like rock stars. “Now live to the Cedar Hotel in Bradford, where the players are about to board the coach to Wembley” Sky Sports News told us. The challenges of producing this website were increased by numerous media requests. I loved it.

As I loved Wembley. It was a special feeling alighting from the train nearby and walking down the streets with hundreds of City fans. The pubs were packed out, the nerves were growing. A walk up and down Wembley Way was more wonderful than I could ever imagine. The first look inside Wembley was an awesome moment. 33,000 Bradford City fans making an almighty racket. I shed a tear before a kick off. An incredible day out.

Shame about the football.

2013-03-02 14.54.47

The hangover from Wembley was not insignificant. With so much ground to make up on the play offs, every game felt win or bust. A good 2-0 victory at York aside, it was a tale of dropped points and anger. “Does Phil Parkinson deserve his new contract?” some asked. A couple of miserable buggers even plummeted to the depths of writing off the cup run as “lucky”.

The nadir moment, for me, was a 0-0 draw at Plymouth on a Tuesday night in March. I travelled down with two friends, booked into a Travelodge, and the tame performance convinced me that faint play off hopes were over. That we couldn’t get on a run of wins. That it was time to start planning for next season. A 4-1 loss at Exeter the following Saturday only added to that conviction.

But how wrong I was. The surge began with a low key 1-0 win over Wycombe. A 2-2 draw with Southend felt like two dropped points, but then three wins in a row over Torquay, Northampton and Bristol Rovers improbably put us in the top seven. Even automatic hopes weren’t over! Thompson was in great form, Davies a rock in the centre of defence and Reid had rediscovered his swagger. The decision to pick Ricky Ravenhill over a fading Doyle had also helped. RR’s sitting in front of the back four bringing the best out of Gary Jones.

image[1]

The stall came with a 2-2 draw at Chesterfield in what was a superb atmosphere, followed by a 2-0 loss to Rotherham in front of a packed out Valley Parade. Still, seventh spot was sealed with a 1-0 win over Burton. A trip to Cheltenham on the last day meaningless, but we had a good time nonetheless.

Bring on the play offs! Burton had the best home record in the Football League, so taking a lead to the Perelli Stadium for the second leg seemed vital. Alas, we endured a dreadful first 45 at Valley Parade to go in at half time 3-1 down – and they might have had more. We’ve frozen, blown it, folded. Burton could have finished us, but a save from Jon McLaughlin, at 2-0 Burton, was vital. Thompson’s stunner gave us hope for the second leg. Burton had let us off the hook.

At Burton, the players more than made amends. Determined, bullish, confident. Wells made it 1-0 to level the tie, and we never looked back. Hanson’s stunner early in the second half sparked delirium. Wells made it 3-1 and we were in dreamland. Blow your whistle ref…six minutes injury time, eh?…blow your whistle ref!

The final whistle brought relief and ecstatic celebrations on and off the pitch. What a wonderful sight to see the players going crazy in front of us. What an uplifting moment to see Parkinson punching the air.

Back to Wembley!

SAM_1033

More serious this time, the consequences of losing would be. We’re not massive underdogs on this occasion, the expectation level was much higher. Less time spent taking photos down Wembley Way, leave that to the Northampton fans. We’ve got work to do.

What a time to produce your best performance of the season! We never gave the Cobblers a sniff. Three goals in 13 minutes. All pile on top of each other. Disbelief at how easy it was. No relaxing until the closing stages. See out the job. The atmosphere was so special.

When Gary Jones and Ricky Ravenhill lifted the trophy, the outpouring of joy topped anything we’d seen all season. And there had been plenty of other outpourings of joy. Promotion a fitting reward for an incredible campaign. 64 games. I personally saw 52 of them. I don’t want to think about how much that cost me, but it was worth every single penny.

The 2012/13 season – one of the greatest in the club’s history. And undoubtedly the most fun I’ve ever had.

SAM_0142

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,626 other followers