Tag Archives: York City

The Midweek Player Focus #39: James Meredith

10 Sep

SAM_0489

By Alex Scott

Narrative loves conflict, and frustratingly for someone attempting to rattle on about this James Meredith for ten minutes or so, there isn’t really any. (Google the James Meredith for a tad more conflict.) Our James Meredith is really good. He’s a guaranteed starter, and there isn’t really any debate. You couldn’t present an argument that the team is better without him on the field at left back.

Stephen Darby across from him is also good, but you could see a scenario at some point this year when some fans begin calling for Rory McArdle to slide across allowing Luke Oliver or Matt Taylor to slot into the line-up. I wouldn’t agree with it, and I doubt it would be consensus, but you can sort of see it. Save Nahki Wells and Andrew Davies, Meredith is the first name on the team sheet. But unlike those two, no one mentions James Meredith as a player who is “too good” for us. Doyle falls into that category, but even he isn’t a guaranteed starter.

No one in their right mind would suggest, even for a second, replacing Meredith in the starting eleven. This may be a reflection on his replacements as much as Meredith himself, but it’s true. I cannot envision any possible scenario in which the team would be improved by removing him. He’s a fantastic player at this level.

But he isn’t fawned over in the same way as the others, or really in any way whatsoever. People just think he’s good, then move on. He’s not magic. He’s name doesn’t require ALL CAPS and multi-million pound price tags. He’s just good. Really good. And is always really good.

He doesn’t have a song. Why does he not have a song? How can someone as consistently good as Meredith not have a song? It’s not like his name is hard, Me-re-dith is a happy three-syllable second name. He’s really good guys, we know this. Everyone else has a song. Get it together!

Whilst attempting to write this I scribbled (well, electro-scribbled…what’s the informal ‘scribble-esque’ version of ‘type’? Tapped? I’m going with tap.), I tapped some words on the tube home that came to mind about James Meredith, and the first one was “prototype”. He’s got basically everything you would want in a modern full back, and a full back in this team, in this league. He’s tall enough and strong enough to handle himself in the air. He’s fast enough to get up with, and beyond the left winger. He’s a good enough at football to get involved with the midfield. He’s energetic, reliable, durable. He’s the prototype.

If you were creating a player on FIFA to play full back for you, he would look just like James Meredith.

————

Sometimes things just fall your way. I didn’t attend the game last weekend, but knew I had a Meredith write-up coming this week, and had already decided that I would highlight his attacking play. Then Saturday happens. That ball in for Thompson was a wonder to behold (on Sky Sports News. I imagine the effect was similar in real life.) His run for the first was excellent and typified his impact on the team offensively.

It is easy to think of Meredith as a defender, playing in defence and all, but it’s clear that his real value comes in attack. He is the polar opposite of his predecessor, Rob Kozluk (*shudders*). This isn’t a slight on the Australian’s defending; he’s very good. But he is an excellent attacking option from full back, and this has barely been diminished at all with a step up to League One. If anything, he looks better than he did last year.

The real question we should be asking, which I don’t know the answer to, is how high is his ceiling?

His value in attack is clear to the eye; the team look a lot more coherent and fluid with him at full back. Nathan Doyle spinning the ball out in front of Meredith from the base of the midfield is a staple of how the team functions. His relationship with Kyel Reid, something we will come back to, is up there with the most important aspects of the team.

But is this backed up by the numbers? As with most things, we don’t know what we have until we don’t have it any more. One of the more useful aspects when discussing Meredith is that we have a clear, defined data set with him missing, after his spell on the sidelines last season with glandular fever.

James Meredith 1

As my wonderfully crafted graph above shows, the impact of Meredith’s removal on the defence is negligible. It is slightly worse without him, but barely noticeable. He isn’t really above replacement level. As you can see, the real impact is in the attacking phase. And for a “defender”, that is a staggering impact.

Now, my initial reaction to this would be that this outcome is a result of sample size. But those red columns represent 29% of the total minutes played. Since Meredith’s arrival, City average a goal per game more with him than without (1.72 vs 0.75 goals per game).

City have played over 22 hours of league football without James Meredith since his arrival, and have scored 12 goals. Twelve. With him on the field, they are averaging a goal every 51 minutes.

They got that freak 3-0 win at Wycombe, and a 2-0 win at Meredith’s former team York, and failed to win any of the other ten games he didn’t feature. City are over twice as prolific with an attacking left back when compared to a defensive one, and no worse in goal concession.

(From my quick analysis…not conclusive… only Andrew Davies has a comparable impact on points per game (2.00 vs 1.09), and unlike Meredith, he holds a real effect on goal concession (0.79 vs 1.26). Of course, not many other important players have had the spell out of the team like these guys to build up the sample, but still.)

So yeah, Meredith is important. More important than Nahki Wells? Probably not. But up there. More “up there” than he gets credit for. If you extrapolate his appearances last season so that he played every minute, that’s an 82-point team. If you extrapolate the time spent with the backups playing, you see a 37-point team.

A left back isn’t going the difference between the best side in the division and the worst; I’m carefully ignoring the impact of outside factors to aid my own argument. The games Meredith missed coincided with the run after Christmas, when the conditions were at their poorest, the team were at their most fatigued, when Andrew Davies was also hobbled, and also entering the back end of the cup run when nothing else mattered.

But did the absence of Meredith contribute? Absolutely. His replacements may be able to replicate his output defensively, but cannot even approach his offensive impact.

Now, the problem with this analysis, the fundamental flaw should be glaring. When I talk about “the team without Meredith”, what I really am saying is “the team with one of the back-up full backs starting.” Be it Carl McHugh, Ryan Dickson or Curtis Good, what we are really saying in this analysis is that James Meredith is substantially better than a replacement-level League Two left back. Does that really tell us anything?

McHugh and Good are both moderately-to-highly rated central defenders, forced outside as a function of necessity. Dickson is a solid player who is currently starting in League One. So these guys weren’t scrubs, or Kozluks. They are just of a different style. The question worth asking is why, if the team are so much better with an attacking full back, why isn’t there a like-for-like replacement in the squad?

I don’t know the answer to that. Perhaps one would be too expensive, a luxury. With a salary cap in play, it’s all about opportunity cost, and to add one, you have to take one away. As we are currently finding out. The numbers above show that although it may be a luxury, one injury to Meredith could be more important than a number of others elsewhere.

————

James Meredith came across to England nine years ago, as a sixteen-year-old when he signed youth contract terms Derby County, and since that moment, little has gone to plan. He had a couple of loans, and a short spell in Ireland before bombing out with Shrewsbury. He only played a handful of times for the Shrews before falling into the non-leagues with AFC Telford. This was just over four years ago.

Looking at him now through our present eyes, that is baffling. That a player this composed, this talented was plying away in the Conference North at 21 years old. After impressing in a FA Trophy semi-final defeat against York, the Minstermen decided to pick him up the next summer as they began a charge toward the Football League. (Sidebar: Is there a better nickname in the Football League? That was really fun to type. “Minstermen”. I’m a fan of “Spireites”, and “The Daggers”, obviously, but York City are really bringing it with “Minstermen”. Hat tip.)

In three seasons for York, Meredith missed five league games, notching up 131 appearances in the Conference and an appearance in the Team of the Season in his final year which was highlighted by two Wembley appearances. A call-forward of sorts, before he joined Bradford City that summer.

Meredith is sort of unique in his background in the squad, not arriving as a youngster, or with an impressive league pedigree. Perhaps this is why his praise is a little quieter than others.

Another factor may be his lack of a development arc. One of the best things about players like James Hanson and Nahki Wells is that we’ve seen a clear, defined arc in their performance. We’ve grown with them. James Meredith arrived with a lot of experience, albeit at a lower level, and already knew who, and what he was. He arrived and he was great. He remains great. One of the few downsides of being consistently outstanding is that in the end, you only stand out in under-performance.

Weirdly, throughout our demise, the left back position has been sort of okay. Probably the most consistent position throughout. You look back at the most appearances at left back in the past and they are for the most part, pretty good. Going backwards, you have Rob Kozluk… forget that one. Marcel Seip filled it adequately as a centre back slotted in at full back, but there was no real future there. Before them we have Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall. They were okay. Between them they had basically everything Meredith does. Alas the three-legged football innovation I once spearheaded never caught on. Then you have Paul Heckingbottom, mark two. He was alright then. Ben Parker, meh. There were bigger problems than him in that team. Andrew Taylor was great. Lewis Emanuel… swiftly moving on. Heckingbottom the first time, when he was great. Emanuel again. =s. And then we’re at Jakes.

That is a decent run. Two players of the year in that list, and Taylor absolutely would have been another if he had stuck around. But would you take any of them over Meredith right now? Maybe Wayne Jacobs circa 1998. But beyond that? It would be a conversation at least.

Look down the list of our tortured list of recent right backs and search for one who may be better than Stephen Darby, and you get to Gunnar Halle all-too-quickly. But the left backs have been pretty good. And James Meredith could be the best of the lot.

———–

One of the other massive plus points of James Meredith is his relationship with winger Kyel Reid, our best attacking midfield outlet. These two do “bring the best out of each other” and as we have all seen, along with the rise and rise of Nahki Wells, this is as important a development in the past year as anything.

I’m a longstanding proponent of Kyel Reid, and remain convinced that he has been and remains the X-Factor which can lift the side from good to great. With him firing on the left, City become very, very difficult to stop.

Obviously, being a winger, and a League One winger at that, inconsistency will abound. But creating circumstances for him to succeed should be, and appears to have been, a clear focus. Be it by accident or design, they have unearthed a marvel with James Meredith.

He and Reid have a clear understanding and have routinely linked up again and again on the left flank. With the ability to go around his winger and be productive, Meredith makes it very hard to double up on Reid. And if a defence slants that way, you have Garry Thompson isolated on a full back at the far post. Northampton and Brentford can attest to the danger that presents.

The graph below represents the Goals per Minute from last season, with the proportion of the season noted in percentages.

Meredith Graph 2

The top bar in yellow represents how long it took City to score a goal without Reid or Meredith on the field last season, coming in at one goal every 194 minutes. Over two full games per goal. Now, this only represents 13% of the season, so it is a small sample size, albeit not negligible. Interestingly or otherwise, City were also at their leakiest defensively without Reid and Meredith.

Now there is little in the form of proven causality here, there is too much noise in an eleven a side game against varied opponents in different arenas to do prove much, but the correlation is notable, and backs up what see with our eyes: Last season, Bradford City were far more threatening with both Meredith and Reid in the line-up, averaging over two goals a game with both on the field.

That has carried forward through to this season, despite the recruitment of Mark Yeates. City just look a stronger team with Reid and Meredith together on the left hand side. Yeates offers a different effect, with his ability to cut inside to play off Meredith’s overlaps, but up to this point it has not been as effective as the alternative.

Kyel Reid and James Meredith are one of the things, perhaps the thing, which can lead this side up yet another level. Wells and Hanson rightly get the plaudits, Jones and Doyle receive the adoration, but the relationship on the left hand side could end up being the most important.

———–

James Meredith is just about my favourite player. Watching him expertly turn a 70/30 challenge in his favour into a 50/50… just so he can win it, is an act of majesty, and if I knew how to make a GIF, or pronounce it without looking stupid so I could ask someone else to, it would be all I ever watched.

He’ll never be the most important James Meredith, and probably will never be the subject of the best sports documentary this side of Hoop Dreams, but after a slow start to his career, the Australian left back is making up for lost time, and could be on the path to something very special indeed.

Just think of how good he will be when he gets his own song.

The need to retain Phil Parkinson

5 Mar

2013-03-02 14.54.47

Port Vale vs Bradford City preview

@Vale Park on Tuesday 5 March, 2013

By Jason McKeown

As York City manager Gary Mills was ordered to pack up his desk less than an hour after seeing his side lose 2-0 to Bradford City on Saturday, the lack of sentimentality in football was once again brutally exposed.

Mills’ achievements in taking York back into the Football League after nearly a decade of non-league wilderness – with two Wembley appearances last season – might provide the jolt needed to end a run of 11 winless games, but what then? York had a formula for progression that had worked. And though it might have run its course with Mills, the abruptness of the sacking suggests a lack of a long-term plan.

All of which has some relevance to the Bantams, as Phil Parkinson’s contract runs towards its conclusion with a new one yet to be agreed. Width of a Post understands that Parkinson is keen to sign another contract, but the noises from the club suggest their desire to retain the current manager is limited by how much he is willing to be paid.

And though no one should be suggesting Parkinson receive a lucrative contract the club cannot afford, the fact he is reputedly one of the lowest paid managers in the Football League would suggest there should be some room for negotiation (Width of a Post has been told his contract, but it would be wrong to talk about it publically; suffice to say it is nowhere near what John Still is said to have agreed to manage Luton). Parkinson joined in August 2011 with the Bantams at something of a low ebb, and the salary on offer reflected that. But having transformed the financial fortunes of the club over the last few months, Parkinson is surely entitled to feel justified in asking for greater reward.

I feel strongly that City should be doing as much as they can to retain Parkinson. I’ve read and listened to criticisms about league results dropping off and the argument that the remarkable cup run has covered his deficiencies. I have been accused by a few people of being too easily pleased and accepting of mediocrity. Fine, no one is suggesting we should be happy to sit 12th in the league. But the bigger picture should be there for all to see, and I don’t believe we should underestimate how vital Parkinson has become to the club over the last 18 months.

Recent history emphatically demonstrates why. Since Paul Jewell took the Bantams from mid-table in the second tier to a member of the elite, the list of managers is long. Chris Hutchings, Jim Jefferies, Nicky Law, Bryan Robson, Colin Todd, David Weatherall, Stuart McCall, Peter Taylor and Peter Jackson.

All of these managers either departed with the club in a worse state than when they had joined, or failed to achieve anything greater than keep it where it was. And though there were mitigating circumstances, in some of these cases, for failing to progress the club, the fact remains City have hired and fired whilst continuing to decline.

Parkinson is the first manager since Jewell to genuinely improve the club. That is not something that should be dismissed lightly. You can argue that Parkinson has been well backed financially and therefore improvement was inevitable, but then how do you explain Peter Taylor? You can claim that the improvement has not been considerable enough, judged against the league table, but it is improvement nonetheless. No one has progressed the club in over a decade. Dare we risk throwing that away?

Because if Parkinson is allowed to leave the club, by the Board and by a section of supporters, well they’d better hope that the replacement bucks the recent trend and delivers improvement too. Should Parkinson leave and we take another backwards step, there would have to be serious, serious questions asked of the judgement of those who make the decisions.

We are, in all likelihood, not going to achieve our target of promotion this season. But the benefits of the cup run – the cup run that provided the obvious distraction from this objective – should far outweigh this disappointment. Just remember the financial state of play in the summer. The club set a playing budget of around £1.7 million despite only being able to afford £1.1 million. The £600k overspend was a gamble, and that money had to be somehow retrieved over the season.

Speaking to Width of a Post in November, David Baldwin talked of four variants the club could use to claw back the deficit. The first option – and the one that ultimately more than covered the deficit – was a good cup run. Had City lost on penalties to Wigan in October, or lost on penalties to Arsenal in December, the other variants would have had to be acted upon.

These included selling the club office block to become a school (finally sorted after a wobble); selling first team players; and approaching the clubs that former youth players had been sold to, in order to see if they would be willing to buy out the contracts now, rather than wait to pay the Bantams the full add ons we would be entitled to if these players progressed. The latter two would have had worrying connotations over the short and long-term respectively. And in all likelihood we would have faced a summer of cut backs and reduced budgets, had we failed to go up.

The great thing about the cup run Parkinson and his players produced was it not only covered the deficit, but means the club can repeat the same approach next season with that deficit already sorted. Meanwhile the contracts of Tom Cleverley, Andre Wisdom and George Green can run their course, with City set up to receive the full benefits along the way. And Nahki Wells wasn’t sold in January. And the club should be in its best financial position – relatively speaking – since the Premier League years.

None of this would be possible without the job Parkinson has done. And though it might have eroded the Plan A of promotion somewhat, for what he has done financially (and, for us supporters, emotionally) there is no question in my mind that Parkinson deserves to stay on as manager. Yes, don’t break the bank; but make sure he is encouraged and feels wanted to continue the excellent strides forward that have been taken. The gripes about team selections and tactics will only be transferred to the next appointment. No manager is ever going to be perfect to us supporters.

The club has lacked stability for a number of years now, and it hasn’t helped our fortunes. We now have the opportunity to build the club upon more solid foundations, to reflect what’s been happening off the field with greater success on it. The squad built by Parkinson this season might have weaknesses and gaps, but they can be addressed over the summer. Some players out of contract may choose to leave, but the club now has the opportunity to become stronger than its best individuals and to survive losing them. Not least, because it can continue to afford replacements of equal ability.

I am very excited by what Bradford City have achieved this season. After the previous two years of dismalness, you began to wonder whether a fall into non-league was inevitable – the continuation of that slide – and the short-term punt last summer looked like one desperate final act by two chairmen who increasingly gave the appearance of not knowing how to take us forwards. Now we are moving forwards. At long, long last. That is thanks to many people, but no one more so than Parkinson. It’s time to settle the uncertainty and for the club to nail its colours firmly to the mast.

In Parky we have firmly trusted. I see no reason to change that.

Parkinson gets it right in a big, big way

2 Mar

2013-03-02 16.52.30

York City 0

Bradford City 2

Hanson 77, Thompson 86

Saturday 2 March, 2013

By Jason McKeown

I have a special fondness for this type of Bradford City away win, and I only wish that it would occur more regularly.

Where the game is tight, and could easily go either way. Where the football isn’t exactly free flowing, but the defensive qualities of your players are displayed to a level you rarely have to see during home games. Where a late goal or two settles the outcome, goals which are celebrated Über-enthusiastically. This type of grind-out away win somehow provides a greater sense of achievement than a routine victory, speaking volumes for the team’s character.

And I’m especially pleased for Phil Parkinson. His post-Wembley week involved getting slated on national radio for his tactical acumen and having his future questioned by a vocal minority of City supporters. He deserves better than that, for what he has done for this football club. I respect the fact some don’t share the same opinion as me that it is essential we keep Parkinson, but when today a very well-known City supporter – sat right behind me – rose to his feet and called him a w*nker for being so negative (this minutes after he brought on Zavon Hines, which looked a positive change to me) then you wonder whether some Bradford City fans really deserve to share in the accolades bestowed upon us all this week. One week after leading us out at a major cup final and the manager is called a w*nker by someone who should know better. That really, really upsets me.

And it is a typical example of many supporters who attend the match but do not seem to watch what is going on. Introducing Hines provided City with the extra momentum to win a game that York might feel they merited taking something from. But it was a gamble by Parkinson to go more open, and we’ve seen City punished for doing so earlier in the season (think of Rotherham). Had we lost, the criticism would have been intense. So Parkinson merits every plaudit going for his bold move paying off.

As he does for his back-to-basics approach that saw Ricky Ravenhill restored to the line up – eyebrows were raised and, again, many people watching today were guilty of not recognising how well Ravenhill performed (he was receiving some awful stick). I’m really happy that Parkinson made this change. The Gary Jones/Nathan Doyle central midfield partnership has performed heroics this season, but has proved less effective for several weeks now. The pair are almost too similar and struggle to cover as much of the pitch as you’d like. And as much as I rate Doyle, his form of late has not been good enough. He needed this rest.

So Ravenhill – a player whose ability and quality seems to have been forgotten over the last few months – sat in front of the back four and produced a man of the match display, which provided Jones with a greater licence to roam forward. The balance was much better, as Jones delivered his best game for some time (not that he has been playing badly). It looks to be a template to stick too, for the time being at least.

The game was even, for the most part. York’s 10-game winless run was evident by the nervousness of their attacking play; but at the back they looked solid and neutered the threat from the restored James Hanson and Nahki Wells. Kyel Reid and Will Atkinson had mixed success getting in behind, but were adept in supporting Ravenhill and Jones. Just before half time, York enjoyed a strong spell of pressure that served only to show off the virtues of Andrew Davies and his backline colleagues. In Jones and Davies, City now have two clear leaders on the pitch. Davies was sensational with his last ditch blocks, ably supported by the on-form Stephen Darby, Michael Nelson and Carl McHugh. Tough on Rory McArdle to be left out, but – a theme developing here – it provided greater balance.

With Jon McLaughlin also on top form – justifying  Parkinson’s decision to leave the returning Matt Duke on the bench – the foundations for an away win were in place. McLaughlin made a handful of superb saves, especially the one from Matt Blair’s drive midway through the second half. All we needed was a goal of our own.

Which you began to question the likelihood of. City got into good positions, but moves broke down due to an over-eager pass or the wrong option taken in which way to dribble. And with the game rightly billed as must-win, it felt like the season was on a knife edge and that it could be as good as decided here and now. Wells’ unfortunate early withdrawal through injury was a blow that threatened to reduce hopes further, but Parkinson made another smart decision by selecting Garry Thompson as his replacement. Zavon’s introduction 10 minutes after firmly tipped the scales in City’s favour.

The opening goal came from the head of Hanson, though York keeper Michael Ingham should have made a better fist of keeping his powerful attempt out. Darby set the goal up with a brilliant cross. Yet the true inspiration behind the breakthrough was Hines. He had picked up the ball in space, wriggled free from his nearest challenger and was able to get to the byeline. His marker was now back and able to block any attempted cross for a corner; but rather than look to win a set piece, Zavon turned around and played the ball back to Darby, in space, to cross. Great awareness from the in-form winger.

And from the moment Hanson’s header crept over the line, every player began to look 10 foot taller in terms of stature and belief. Confidence, which has been eroded over the last few weeks, was rediscovered. A second goal should have arrived when Thompson was blatantly fouled in the box, but appeals were ignored. No matter, City were digging in deep and defending brilliantly. A 1-0 lead never looks comfortable, but a rising shot from Alex Rodman aside, the Bantams were not for opening up.

The game was sealed by a horrendous York defence mix up, when two defenders allowed a long ball to bounce without getting to grips with clearing it. Thompson stole in to nip the ball, and then ran clean through with just Ingham to beat. He finished emphatically, and that was that. The Garry Thompson of recent months is a different player to the under-achiever pre-Bristol Rovers last November. Another example of Parkinson’s coaching and man-management skills, which should also offer hope regarding the so-far underwhelming performances from Andy Gray.

The league table doesn’t look much better for this win, truth be told. City are still 12th, and the gap to the last play spot has only been reduced to nine points. It still looks a tall order to gain promotion, and the players are going to have to produce something extraordinary just to extend the season. But don’t give up on them just yet.

Because the commitment on show today…well, to be frank, it hasn’t always been evident since we defeated Arsenal in the League Cup quarter finals last December, setting up those semi finals and a Wembley final. That the eye was taken off the ball prompts lots of emotions and frustrations from supporters, which are completely understandable. But I personally never thought we weren’t good enough. And were it not for the epic cup run (and, really, who would trade that?) we would be right up there now.

The doom and gloom that has been allowed to surface is typical of this football club over recent years; it is that losing mentality that Parkinson spoke of within a month of being installed as manager. The team and manager deserve greater support from fans (and the Board), but have it in their own hands to shape the outlook by, at the very least, maintaining a high level of commitment until the bitter end.

Today was a promising step in the right direction, now it’s on to Port Vale for more of the same.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, Davies, Nelson, McHugh, Atkinson (Hines 67), Ravenhill, Jones, Reid, Hanson, Wells (Thompson 55)

Not used: Duke, McArdle, Connell, Doyle, Gray

After the match York City confirmed they had sacked manager Gary Mills. Meanwhile Phil Parkinson revealed that Curtis Good and Blair Turgott’s loans have been ended and they have returned to their respective clubs.

The need to get back in the hunt quickly – City go to York

1 Mar

DSCF6808

York City vs Bradford City preview

@Bootham Crescent on Saturday 2 March, 2013

By Jason McKeown

Back in the days when I went clubbing, the after party was considered an important part of the evening – providing an opportunity to continue the festivities after the main event had ended.

Wednesday night, at Valley Parade, felt just like an after party. The great time at Wembley on Sunday was over, and yet the chance to continue the buzz that was created from it was very welcome. The team were roared onto the field, the chanting louder than it has been for some time, the flags continued to be waved in the Bradford night.

But like an after party, the vibe eventually began to die down. Tiredness and weariness crept in, and by the end you wondered whether it would have been better to call it a night sooner; woken up the next morning feeling fresher, rather than going to bed so late the sun had already come out.

It was a great feeling to be inside Valley Parade on Wednesday, enjoying the post-Wembley feel good factor. But sadly it seemed to fizzle away in the increasingly cold Bradford night – and somewhere between half time and trooping out of the ground with an underwhelming 1-1 draw, the moaning and the muttering was back. The warmth of Wembley starting to become a distant memory.

Yes, City are prompting grumbles once again. Our league form has suffered badly from the cup exploits; but with that all out of the way now, the need to get right back on it was evident. As it was a late equaliser could provide the team with the kick-start and the momentum that it needs to start racking up lots of league points, but a 1-1 draw with Dagenham is never going to be considered good enough.

Cue the grumbles about Phil Parkinson (not unjustified, the decision to ‘rest’ James Hanson and Nahki Wells sent out the wrong message in my eyes), re-start the anguish about individual players (Kyel Reid and Andy Gray) and allow the pessimism to flourish (“the season’s over”). It’s sad to see the Wembley glow start to dim so quickly, but it’s all rather serious. Promotion will not be won over the next three or four games, but hopes could be lost for this season if indifferent form continues.

So City badly need a win at York tomorrow. Not a draw, and certainly not a defeat. The pressure builds, and Parkinson’s challenge is to ensure that the players are mentally prepared to handle that pressure and to play to their capabilities. Because with Port Vale to travel to on Tuesday, a second league win of 2013 has to be achieved within days not weeks. It truly is now or never.

Expect to see changes, as Parkinson has to start moving away from the rotation approach adopted in the build up to and after the cup final, in favour of getting his best team fit and firing. So that will be Wells and Hanson back up front, with Will Atkinson recalled on the opposite side to the excellent Zavon Hines. Reid has lost his way over recent weeks and is falling down the pecking order. He had the opportunity to change that on Wednesday, but despite being targeted by Dagenham there were no excuses for him not taking it. Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle patrol the centre.

In defence the moving of Stephen Darby to left back worked well, and he may continue as former York defender James Meredith draws closer to a return. Or Carl McHugh might offer better balance instead, though Darby’s form of late does not deserve for him to be pushed out. Rory McArdle, Michael Nelson and Andrew Davies battle for centre back places, with Rory possibly continuing at right back. Expect Matt Duke to return in goal, with Jon McLaughlin neither blemishing or enhancing his prospects to be City’s number’s one in midweek.

The Midweek Player Focus #23: James Meredith

16 Oct

By Luke Lockwood

After another summer involving a high turnover of playing personnel, the opening weeks of the season have been rife with debate about how well the new recruits have settled in their claret and amber shirts. That is with the notable exception of one player in particular, new City left back James Meredith.

That should not be considered a criticism of the new arrival but just the opposite. Meredith has looked so comfortable in the City back four so far this season, it’s as if he’s always been there. He does of course have a lot of experience playing as a full back – a quick look at the ever reliable Wikipedia tells us he has played over 50 times in each of the past 3 seasons and 46 in the year before that. However, this is his first season playing regularly in the Football League and he has taken to the challenge like a duck to water.

The new recruits have dominated a lot of the early season discussions, whether it be about the brilliance of Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle, the frustrating inconsistency of the obviously talented Zavon Hines, the vastly improved Will Atkinson or whether Garry Thompson should be getting more of an opportunity. Even on the opposite side to Meredith, there has been a lot of discussion about who should get the nod between Rory McArdle and Stephen Darby. Although McArdle has performed consistently well at right back, there are still those who question whether Darby would be the better option.

This shows how well Meredith is fitting in to life at Valley Parade as no such questions are being raised about his own position. Bradford City fans have it in their nature to complain – over a decade of decline does that to fan – but Parkinson’s decision not to bring in any experienced competition for Meredith has yet to be questioned and his faith in the full back has been rewarded by a string of fine performances. The young Carl McHugh has been brought in as cover, but judging by Meredith’s fine start he may have a long wait for any prolonged game time. You feel that should he maintain such a level throughout the season he will surely be on a shortlist of candidates for the player of the season gong – although based on early season form there may be a number in contention.

With the relatively low amount of attention being given to City’s new left back a fantastic opportunity presented itself for us Skipton Bantams to put the spotlight firmly on James Meredith at out recent meeting on October 10. Skipton Bantams are Meredith’s sponsors for the 2012/13 season and the supporters’ club chairman introduces Meredith and – again quoting Wikipedia – gives a brief background on the player including the interesting fact that his father was ranked world number 3 in squash.

Initial experiences of life at Bradford City:

Suitably he is first asked about life at Valley Parade and the differences between his new club and old club. Speaking very articulately, with an Aussie twang, Meredith explains how he experienced a harsh early lesson to life with City in the Football League. He recalls his first pre season session, with a smile on his face, as he explains that while he was at York he would always be at the front in the pre season runs and sprint but he was ‘dead last’ on his first day at City and even the staff beat him. All those who remained from the season previously had been given fitness programmes over the off season, therefore he was initially behind the rest of the squad. However, when he was probed about how he fared now he was quick to point out he was comfortably up with the front of the pack.

His stamina has certainly showed in the highly congested early season fixture list as the left back has only been left on the bench for one game during the spell of Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday games while most of his team mates have been afforded more of a rest.

The manager and why he signed for the club:

Meredith feels the packed fixture list has had an impact on the squad’s preparation between games. He chatted about Phil Parkinson’s passion for the game and how he loves to plan meticulously and relentlessly studies videos of the opposition before preparing the side on the training field accordingly. The frequency of the fixtures does impact the amount of time the side have to prepare in this way.

Parkinson has obviously impressed Meredith even before he joined, and he referenced the manager as one of the factors when quizzed about why he chose to sign for City over the summer – despite York City stating their surprise at his decision when sides from higher up the league had shown interest.

We have all heard the frequent answer from new signings about how they’ve signed for a massive club, a sleeping giant that shouldn’t be playing in League Two and their excitement at playing in front of such a huge crowd. It has almost become a tiresome pre written press release that’s rolled out for all the new signings every summer. Meredith, however goes into great depth about why he chose to sign and is refreshingly honest in his answer.

During the summer Meredith attracted interest from a number of clubs at different levels in the Football League pyramid. Watford and Burnley both wanted to sign him, however he explained both club’s wanted to sign him as a development squad player and gradually tutor him over the prolonged period before he became a regular first team player. Having played the amount of games he has done over the past four seasons, it is obvious Meredith is a player who likes to be involved and on the pitch, so those offers just wouldn’t do.

He then received offers from Stevenage, Brentford and Bradford – as well as an offer from current club York City. These were the sides that he feels his final decision was ultimately between. He was offered better money to sign for Stevenage in League One but had a gut feeling that they had reached a peak and didn’t feel they were prepared to challenge for promotion. Whereas, when he came to Bradford he got a different feeling – like he did when signing for York – that the club were going somewhere and he had more chance of playing in the Championship with City than he did with those sides already in League One.

Following three appearances at Wembley and a promotion with York City, his gut feeling was certainly right in that case. Let’s hope he’s proved correct again.

The squad:

I got the feeling from Meredith that he had a real belief in the squad, without even being pressed on the topic he was quick to tell the audience that he felt Parkinson had assembled a team of winners. In his opinion a play off position wouldn’t be satisfactory as the squad has everything it needs to achieve a place in the top three. Nut if they failed to make it automatically he is also confident of taking on the lottery that is the play offs and anything less would be unacceptable.

Unconcerned by one point from the previous nine (now two from 12) he feels Bradford will quickly bounce back and regain winning ways. He was asked about those that have really impressed him – ‘Davies, Doyle, Nakhi, Reid, Hans…’ he goes on and before you know it he has named pretty much the whole squad. However, he reserves special praise for Gary Jones, as everyone seems to have identified this season he is the key.

It’s no coincidence a drop in form has coincided with his injury and we need our inspirational leader on the pitch as soon as possible.

Afterwards he provides a more light hearted view on the squad, apparently Kyel Reid gets away with murder amongst the rest of the lads, and Davies – along with the physio – is the joker in the pack.

His style of play and thoughts on City fans:

Meredith explains that although he likes to attack this opportunity is more limited when Reid plays in front of him. I don’t think that this is because Parkinson doesn’t want him to get forward, but more because it restricts Reid’s style of play. Kyel is an old fashioned winger who likes to hug the touchline and Reid offering the overlap reduces the space that he can exploit, but this is not a concern to Meredith because it is clear he loves to defend.

With a smile on his face he says ‘he loves crunching tackles’ and when he explains that the players he admired growing up were Roy Keane and Paulo Maldini you begin to understand that it is genuinely his favourite part of the game.

He fondly recalls a defining moment when he realised he’d chosen the right club. During the match against Fleetwood earlier this season he made a fair crunching tackle and followed it up with a second, when the ball broke free Doyle then put in a third big tackle and as each tackle is made the roar from the crowd has been getting louder to the point that by the time Doyle has made the third challenge the City faithful are cheering louder than when we score the goal.

We as fans have made an impression on Meredith already, and it’s not just the big gates at home games that he refers to but the following away from home and the support we offer even in games where we have struggled. When a member of the audience explains to him that there will probably be more City fans at Wigan than home fans Meredith gets genuinely excited by the prospect.

Incidentally, if we beat Wigan, he wants Leeds at home in the next round rather than a Man United or Liverpool.

Career ambitions: 

Meredith moved to England to pursue a career in football at the age of 16 and he has done it the hard way. After being released by Derby he has worked his way through the non leagues and is back in the (relatively) big time.

In Australia football just doesn’t get the same support as Aussie Rules, Rugby League and cricket and so he the majority of Australian footballers do aspire to make it England, although he also confesses he once almost signed for Melbourne Victory.

Despite having impressed in England he admits that he has not yet looked at pursuing an international career and remarks that he believes he would have to be playing consistently in the Championship before being considered.

His current goal is quite clearly promotion this season and then hopefully a quick promotion to the Championship not long after. He is quite realistic in his ambitions and says he would like to prove himself in the Championship and play there for a few seasons before returning to Australia in his early 30s and suggests, if he’s lucky, maybe even get a season to experience the Premier League.

He alludes to the fact he thinks he can achieve this with City without stating it blatantly, which is a refreshing change. He obviously doesn’t feel as though he is here to tell the fans what they want to think but what he believes. It is also obvious that these ambitions are important to him and should they not be attainable with City over the coming seasons he will look elsewhere to achieve them, which is also understandable.

Interestingly, when discussing the leaders in the side, Meredith’s friend who is sat amongst the audience put him on the spot and asks if the armband is something he aspires to. Meredith doesn’t need to say anything as a grin emerges across his face, but he takes the time to explain that it is something he would like to experience one day, however he doesn’t think he is quite ready for it yet. Interestingly – again on Wikipedia – a photo from his York City days shows him sporting the captain’s armband so someone has already identified Meredith to have the leadership qualities necessary.

Thank you James Meredith

On behalf of the Skipton Bantams I would like to thank Meredith for his time last week and for his refreshingly honest attitude on the evening. He provided those in attendance with a thoroughly entertaining evening and he points covered above are just a small selection of the topics he discussed throughout the night.

As for Meredith the footballer, it has been great to use Width of a Post as a platform to give him some of the recognition he has deserved for his fine early season form. Phil Parkinson deserves an immense amount of credit for this capture, without his efforts and enthusiasm Meredith may just have accepted one of those offers to play higher up the leagues.

However, he is obviously developing a fondness for the club and should we be able to match his ambition he gave the impression that he would more than happily build a successful career at Valley Parade. And who knows, he may well be a future Bradford City captain.

The need to avoid implosion

13 Oct

Bradford City 1

Hines 59

York City 1

Chambers 44

Saturday 13 October, 2012

By Jason McKeown

A manager with the ability to make effective substitutions is a useful man to have around. But as Bradford City trooped off the Valley Parade pitch having failed to win for the fourth consecutive league match, a debate was beginning in earnest over whether Phil Parkinson’s overall tactics had seen his team lose two points or gain an important one.

The case against Parkinson circles on an unproductive team selection that saw the Bantams struggle to seize the initiative against an impressive but defensively vulnerable York City side. The 4-3-1-2 that had proven successful for 45 minutes at Dagenham and for 90 minutes at Hartlepool was partly rendered impotent by the visitors sticking five in midfield. They took a first half lead through a superb volley from Ashley Chambers, before Parkinson’s substitutions had an instant impact in getting City back into the game.

Nevertheless a home draw against a newly promoted side falls someway below the raised bar of expectation, and the City manager has been the subject of plenty of post-match grumbling.

Although I was disappointed with Parkinson’s choice of XI today, I feel the need to jump to the defence of the City boss. I think it’s grossly unfair to retrospectively criticise tactics that no one was complaining about prior to the match – namely the continuation of the 4-3-1-2 formation that meant we had Alan Connell, James Hanson and Nahki Wells on the pitch. By full time Parkinson was being criticised for playing Connell, and for the lack of width.

Fine, we can all look smarter when we apply hindsight. But how many of these supporters were also, if they are being completely honest, slating Zavon Hines a week before? Parkinson has only one available direct out-and-out winger, who people agree is under-performing, so tries a new formation that doesn’t require one. A week later Parkinson is criticised by people who are seemingly ignoring or refusing to acknowledge his original line of thinking.

In my opinion, it went wrong in the first half today because of Parkinson choosing to play Ricky Ravenhill and Nathan Doyle. Let me be straight: I like Ravenhill and I think he is a good player. But I only ever want to see him on the pitch when Doyle is not available. Sorry, but they are too similar to play together, and the rest of the team suffers.

4-3-1-2 basically means a diamond four with Connell the attacking midfielder. So Ravenhill took the defensive role and performed okay, but it meant Doyle was pushed into a more attacking position (wide left) which is clearly not his game. Playing them both, at least in this formation, saw City lose about 50% of what Doyle offers and even 20% of Ravenhill, because he also lacked enough outlets to dictate the play.

The solution was surely to play either Ritchie Jones – who can play a wide role reasonably effectively – or, if Ritchie was not fit enough to start two games in a week, Garry Thompson. Get the personnel right, and maybe the system would have worked okay, despite York’s smothering formation. Instead Ravenhill and Doyle were stood too close together, and Connell had to play too deep in order to offer an option. The knock on effect was that Hanson and Wells were too deep as well.

So yes, let’s criticise the manager for getting it wrong in the first half today. But I find it frustrating that he is done so for maintaining a formation that had been working well – one that we all knew he would deploy before the match, and were not complaining about.

Beyond that, City were collectively poor in the first half and any system wouldn’t have changed that. Both full backs were limited in their success in getting forward – a key requirement to the formation – with former York left back James Meredith seemingly effected by the stunningly angry abuse he was receiving from visiting supporters. Although Meredith clearly left Bootham Crescent to some bitterness during the summer, to see people on their feet screaming obscenities at the Aussie was unpleasant and seemed completely over the top; especially for a player who served them so well.

Connell had a couple of decent efforts for City in the first half, but too often an unwillingness to shoot saw promising home build up play fizzle out. At the other end Scott Kerr had an effort blocked by Andrew Davies and Jamie Reed fired wide from in front of goal after running on to a low cross. Chambers’ stunning effort from the edge of the box that gave York the lead was not in keeping with a subdued first half. City’s players endured their first Valley Parade half time booing of the season. The lack of drive and energy left us in no doubt who is badly missing. Let us hope rumours of Gary Jones falling out with Parkinson are untrue.

The stop-start pattern continued into the second half, until Parkinson shook things up by going to 4-3-3 and replacing Connell and Ravenhill with Hines and Thompson. Barely a minute later, Hines had raced into the box – beating players for fun – and fired a low shot past Michael Ingham for the equaliser. A quality, quality goal.

Hines and Thompson would continue to impress – demonstrating the difficulty Parkinson and managers in general face over the consistency of players. Zavon was poor against Port Vale, Rochdale and Dagenham – a half time removal at Victoria Road entirely justified. Similarly Thompson offered little at Hartlepool on Tuesday to suggest he deserved a first XI place today. Yet they came on and performed to a level that made you wish they’d both started the match. The kicks up the backside had been responded to in the right way.

Thompson almost made Parkinson’s changes look even more inspired with a powerful drive from distance, but his shot crashed back off the post. Later on Wells was played through one-on-one against Ingham, with plenty of time and space to pick his spot. A dinked chip over the keeper bounced agonisingly wide of the post. As Parkinson observed after the game, Wells should be doing better from that position.

Another late effort from Wells – a clever back heel – fell similarly wide of the post, and City had to settle for a draw against opposition who posed an attacking threat themselves right to the end. It was an absorbing contest if not the most exciting – a dreadfully erratic refereeing performance from Mark Heywood continually disrupting the flow of the match.

A draw leaves City as they were: eighth place after 12 matches. That would have seemed very acceptable at this stage before a ball was kicked in August, but considering the Bantams were joint second after eight there is small cause for concern. Indeed, Bob Marley’s words “don’t worry about a thing” blasted out over the PA system as we trooped out the ground, as if we supporters really might be.

The truth is that, today, City looked every bit a side who had played nine games in 28 days. Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday…and now finally a seven day gap. For such a small squad, the gruelling schedule has taken its toll and the opportunity to recharge batteries will be welcomed by all. Hanson needs a rest, Will Atkinson needs a rest, Wells, Luke Oliver and Davies need a rest. We could go on.

There is no reason to panic, there is no cause to be despondent, and there is no need to turn on the management and/or players. For a club who only avoided relegation last season with three games to spare, we have come a fairly long way in a short space of time. That upwards momentum may have slowed in pace, but I don’t believe it has yet been reversed.

The season is proving to be an exciting ride, let’s stick with the path rather than reverting to type and imploding.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, Oliver, Davies, Meredith, Ravenhill (Hines 57), Atkinson, Doyle, Connell (Thompson 57), Hanson, Wells

Not used: Duke, McHugh, Brown, Baker, Ritchie Jones

Home comforts as Bradford City welcome York

12 Oct

Bradford City vs York City preview

@Valley Parade on Saturday 13 October, 2012

By Jason McKeown

It was only the second time so far this season – at least according to James Meredith, who spoke very impressively at the Skipton Bantams meeting on Wednesday – that Phil Parkinson lost his rag with the players at half time. And the response from the players at Dagenham has been quietly impressive over the last game-and-a-half.

A much improved second half display in Essex was not quite good enough to overturn the head start City had afforded the Daggers, but a penalty shootout success and all round good performance at Hartlepool in midweek offered positive reasons to top up any half empty glasses. Nevertheless City entertain York City tomorrow with the league season on something of a knife edge.

Win and the Bantams should be back into the play off spots. Lose and suddenly the league record will read W5 D2 L5 – bordering on mid-table form. Over the years there has been a reoccurring momentum around the club, driven by us supporters, that when things start to go wrong the pressure can very quickly build.

Firstly though, we need to remember that our home record remains highly impressive. It somehow seems longer than a fortnight since we trooped out of Valley Parade feeling gutted but far from despondent about a 1-0 loss to Port Vale. Before that City had won four from four at home, scoring 12 and conceding just two. If the perspective of time suggests that our 4-0 walloping to Rotherham (currently 10th) was not, in fact, a case of the future League Two champions proving too hot to handle, Vale’s current 2nd place indicates we were beaten by a side who will ultimately finish in the top three.

Indeed the stat of three winless League Two games can be turned on its head when you consider how well City played against Vale, Rochdale and in the second half at Dagenham. There is talk, perhaps partly justified, that the Bantams have struggled to produce a complete 90 minute performance. But equally only the 90 minutes against Rotherham, and first halves against Barnet and Dagenham can be accurately described as below par.

So City welcome York in finer fettle than the external perception might suggest, with confidence further boosted by Parkinson opting not to make a loan loaning this week after ruling an unnamed trailist in a behind-closed-doors match was no better than what he has in the building. The 4-3-1-2 is set to make its home debut tomorrow, with the prospect of Parkinson deploying a front three of James Hanson, Nahki Wells and Alan Connell one to excite.

Hanson has failed to score in six games. His reaction to a hasty and wayward effort at Victoria Park – minutes after missing a sitter – displayed a dented confidence that will hopefully be rectified by home comforts. Last week at Rochdale, Width of a Post drew attention to the fact Hanson had failed to score a league goal away from home for over a year. Let’s readdress the balance by looking at his Valley Parade record over the same period: 23 appearances, 13 goals. That is impressive.

In midfield it will be interesting to see if Parkinson opts for Ricky Ravenhill or Ritchie Jones, as it would appear to have an impact on the balance of the whole team. Ravenhill and Nathan Doyle are similar in positional style, and the latter is excelling at playing in front of the back four and dictating the play. Do you move Doyle forwards – less his game – to accommodate Ravenhill, or ask Ritchie Jones to be Gary Jones? The lack of match sharpness of Ritchie may be a telling factor in who gets the nod. Ravenhill has a lot to offer the club, but you want to see Parkinson pick the best team rather than who he considers to be the best players. Will Atkinson should continue on the left – along with Connell, a clear winner of the change in tactics.

The calling up of Rory McArdle to Northern Ireland duty makes the back four – if Luke Oliver is fit – very easy to pick. Stephen Darby makes his home league debut – he probably wouldn’t have expected to wait until October to say that – alongside Andrew Davies and James Meredith, with Jon McLaughlin in goal. If Oliver is not fit it leaves Parkinson with a big headache. But Oliver is not the type of player who will sit a game out if he is close to fitness.

Without wanting to discuss in detail what Meredith had to say in Skipton on Wednesday – Width of a Post will have a full report next week – his comments about getting forwards were very interesting. Meredith has been instructed not to overlap Kyel Reid when he is fit and playing, because the winger is less effective at providing defensive cover and City can be caught out on the counter attack. This looks astute management on Parkinson’s part. We have in Reid, and before him Omar Daley, a direct winger who provides the team with the spark, but is not so good at certain things. Rather than worry too much about Reid’s own shortcomings, Parkinson has ensured the system enables him to concentrate on what he does best, partly by recruiting a left back whose biggest strength is his defending.

Suddenly you can see why Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall saw their City careers end so abruptly.

For now, however, without Reid and with a 4-3-1-2 formation, there is a greater onus on the full backs to get forwards and support attacks – very evident on Tuesday. So, if you weren’t at Rochdale, expect to see Meredith provide much more of an attacking threat then you have seen to date. Incidentally James is very excited about playing his former club tomorrow.

As, on the other side, will be Lee Bullock, who makes a first return to Valley Parade since his surprise summer release. Reports suggest that Bullock has not settled brilliantly back into life at one of his previous clubs. He was sent off in a JPT game and has started just one game to date.

Matthew White, a York City fan, told Width of a Post, “I was really pleased when he came back as I thought he’d bring more experience to a young midfield. He’s not quite as quick as he used to be but he can still pass a ball like he used to. When he plays people do look to him. I’d say all in all a decent signing.”

Hopefully he will come off the bench tomorrow to get the reception he deserves. We rarely get to say goodbye to players who serve us so well – Michael Flynn, Peter Thorne, Luke O’Brien for example – so it would be nice to get the chance to show Lee what he meant to us.

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