Tag Archives: Zavon Hines

The Midweek Player Focus #46: Garry Thompson

13 Nov

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By Gareth Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transfer talk

6 Jul

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By Andrew Baxter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sad goodbye to Will Atkinson

3 Jul

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By Jason McKeown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zavon Hines departs Bradford City having helped to take it forwards

2 Jul

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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

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By Jason McKeown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28 May

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Team Claret and Amber finish the job

20 May

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Written by Mahesh Johal

(Images by Mike Holdsworth)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well done, Team Claret and Amber.

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On-off play-offs well and truly back on

20 Apr

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Bradford City 1

Hanson 44

Burton Albion 0

Saturday 20 April, 2013

By Damien Wilkinson

In the final home match of the 2012/13 campaign, Bradford City managed to secure a play off place – a feat which has eluded them until now, in this,the sixth season of residence in League Two. Indeed, the only previous play-off activity goes back to 1988 and 1996, thus representing somewhat uncharted territory for many.

Yes, do not adjust your sets. Following today’s 1-0 win, City will take part in the first round of the League Two play offs, scheduled for Thursday 2 and Sunday 5 May.

When offering to write this match report, back at the end of March, WOAP editor Jason McKeown remarked that he hoped I wouldn’t be “writing about a Burton promotion party”. How things have changed! Whilst many euphoric fans celebrate tonight, there will no doubt be a few slices of humble pie accompanying some celebrations. Write this Bradford City side off at your peril. Burton themselves have wobbled greatly over the last few weeks, including a 7-1 mauling at Port Vale, and previous genuine hopes of an automatic promotion spot are now seemingly extinguished.

The Bantams two previous matches against Burton this season have had something of a pivotal or significant feel to them.

The League cup match last September, now almost mirrors City’s season – bright start, failure to capitalise on pressure, facing an upward struggle following conceding two goals against the run of play, but eventually turning things around to 3-2 after extra-time, and the subsequent march to Wembley.

The 1-0 reverse in the league fixture at Burton in October saw serious injuries to Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver, which threatened to derail the campaign, compounded by the harsh sending off of Ricky Ravenhill in the first half for violent conduct after a clash with Lee Bell, who had fallen to the ground. Bell’s subsequent Twitter comments, where he admitted he had somewhat milked the moment, didn’t endear him to may City fans, and were to come back to haunt him in a spectacular manner.

Pre-match activities, on what was a remarkably glorious sunny day, saw an excellent Bantamspast trip around historically significant spots in the city centre led by Glyn Watkins and David Pendleton, which included retracing the journey taken by the 1911 FA side from the station to the Midland hotel and culminated in Mark Lawn pulling a pint in the Sparrow Bier Café to launch the inaugural Bantams’ History Week.

At the ground the traditional anniversary minute’s silence for the fire victims was observed in the usual fitting manner by all fans and players alike within the crowd of 13,235.

City made one change from the previous match against Rotherham, with Michael Nelson drafted in to replace Andrew Davies, who is still nursing a calf/back injury. More welcome news was the return to the side of James Meredith, who had recovered from the hip injury that saw him substituted during the Rotherham match, adding much-needed balance to the left side.

Burton made a couple of changes to their line-up, restoring Calvin Zola to the side, following injury, and brought in Matt Paterson to partner him. Ex-Bantam Michael Symes and Billy Kee consequentially dropped to the bench.

City began the match positively, enjoying a good amount of the play without carving out any real opportunities. Disappointingly, Kyel Reid saw his afternoon cut short on 18 minutes, an injury, perhaps a recurrence of his recent problems, causing him to be replaced by Zavon Hines. Despite Burton not offering the muscle or directness seen in City’s recent match against Rotherham, the pattern continued and the Bantams failed to make any serious in-roads.

However, with half time approaching a ball knocked forward was latched onto by Nahki Wells, and whilst the initial effort was thwarted in a haphazard manner by goalkeeper Lyness and defender Holness, James Hanson was on hand to hook the ball into the net for his 13th goal of the season. An element of fortune to the goal perhaps, but it resulted in no small part to the persistence of both Hanson and Wells, and more importantly was a crucial first half goal.

Matters rapidly got worse for Burton. A challenge on Hines by the aforementioned Lee Bell saw the Burton captain dismissed with a straight red card for an apparent elbow on the City winger. The irony of the dismissal was not lost on many, but more critically represented a hammer blow to Burton’s hopes of a revival.

The second half largely saw much of the same, and for a period it looked like City’s inability to capitalise on their numerical advantage might come back to haunt them. Again, despite much possession City couldn’t create many gilt edged chances, and Phil Parkinson shuffled things, bringing on Alan Connell for Nahki Wells on 68 minutes, followed by the replacement of Garry Thompson by Will Atkinson 10 minutes later. But this didn’t result in any notable differences.

The best chance of the half, late on, saw Hines played in, but his disappointing shot went well wide and capped off a frustrating afternoon for him in which he never really seemed to ‘click’. Which also underlined the importance of a fully fit Kyel Reid.

Ultimately, the game itself was an curious one, nobody really had a particularly bad game and indeed many players had good games including Gary Jones, Michael Nelson, Stephen Darby, James Hanson and Jonny McLaughlin. But there was perhaps a nervousness across the whole side given the importance of the fixture, and certainly the fluency seen in the recent home game against Bristol Rovers didn’t emerge, nor did the extra man really seem to count.

Furthermore, as the half wore on, fears of a late Burton equaliser persisted. With the recent memories of the injury time Chesterfield equaliser fresh, the five minutes of injury time was not overly welcomed. City managed to see things out, however, and with news of Exeter’s defeat by Cheltenham, the traditional last home match of the season lap of honour finally had some significance. The players were jubilantly cheered off the field and a pitch invasion was, thankfully, absent.

It is worth highlighting that the atmosphere within the ground was again excellent, and in particular the chants in the last 10 minutes or so certainly seemed to help pull the City team over the line. It demonstrates the benefits that can be generated from a ‘positive’ 13k+ crowd.

So on to the final match of the season, in which the Bantams visit Cheltenham. Whilst the match certainly has more importance to the home side, who still harbour hopes of an automatic promotion place, the outcome will certainly have a bearing on City’s play off opponents, and there are various permutations from any of Rotherham, Burton, Northampton and Cheltenham themselves.

At the moment though, who cares? It is just fantastic to finally be involved in the end of the season play offs, in what now can finally be declared a truly amazing season. The fact that the play off place is now guaranteed will allow Parkinson some options regarding the side he puts out against Cheltenham, and perhaps buy some much needed time regarding nursing Andrew Davies and Kyel Reid back to full fitness.

In a season that continues to keep giving, and one in which pride in being a City supporter has been well and truly restored, let’s look forward to a final chapter in the hope it will deliver the holy grail of promotion.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Nelson, Meredith, Thompson (Atkinson 78), Ravenhill, Jones, Reid (Hines 19), Hanson, Wells (Connell 68)

Not used: Duke, McHugh, Doyle, Gray

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In the players Parky trusts

30 Mar

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By Jason McKeown

Half time inside one of the Kop’s Gents toilets, and the mood was foul as supporters took turns to complain about different aspects of Bradford City’s first half performance.

“He needs to get shut of both goalkeepers”, “Reid is a waste of space”, “Get Hines off”, “What does Hanson bring to the table?” As anger and despondency reigned, you could only stay quiet and occasionally agree. There was little to feel enamoured about, following a first half as poor as anything that City have served all season.

One hour and one stirring fight back later, and the invitation to feel happier about your team rescuing an unlikely draw was there to be accepted. Sure, a point doesn’t help our slim play off hopes. And if, unlike myself personally, you still thought a top seven finish could be secured, the reality of that tall order becoming even taller wouldn’t have felt enjoyable. Yet I left Valley Parade with spirits lifted by what I had seen in the second half, and my faith in Phil Parkinson enhanced even more.

For years now, TV coverage of football has been littered with ex-players performing as pundits, having gone straight into the studio from retirement. They are, somehow, considered to be experts on what managers should do – when they have no experience of the demands of the role themselves. Predictably and dismally, this means usually means urging a losing manager to start making substitutions five minutes after the interval, and then criticising them when this does not happen.

Such lazy and subjective punditry has spread to football fans up and down the land, including Valley Parade. Without fail, every single Bradford City manager I have seen has been accused of always making their subs too late. Or of not knowing how to change a game.

But although certain flavour-of-the-month managers are cited for making substitutions early, I’ve often thought that it covers their failings – such as did they pick the wrong starting XI in the first place? And when football is primarily a sport where two teams battle it out and the better one wins, I think too much emphasis can be placed on the influence that substitutions have.

Which is not to suggest that Parkinson’s three changes on Friday were anything but vital in City coming from 2-0 down to earn a draw, but I don’t agree with the criticisms that he should have made them sooner. Parkinson had picked a side that we know was capable of much better than what they had showed in the first half. And, to a man, those players deserved the opportunity to prove that. Which they did after the break, with a much stronger performance. And because they wrestled back control of the game if not the scoreline, the substitutions could be used for what good managers should use them for.

That is to tactically change the shape of the team and the course of the game, rather that punish badly performing players. For me, Hines performed better than Reid; but replacing the former with Will Atkinson enabled City to have the extra body in midfield that the middle two of Gary Jones and Ricky Ravenhill increasingly required. Ravenhill was also taken off at this point, with Alan Connell playing just in front of Jones and Atkinson. A central triangle of intelligent footballers in place, who linked up impressively.

It was a good tactical change. Southend’s impressive (but temperamental) Bilel Mohsni had spent the afternoon sitting in front of his back four and was as close as anyone to setting the game’s tempo. Pushing Jones or Ravenhill directly onto the Frenchman would have resulted in one of the two Southend attacking midfielders having a free reign to run at City’s back four. It meant City had to attack down the flanks, which although stretching the game was something Southend increasingly got to grips with. So Connell came on to force Moshni onto the backfoot, and Jones and Atkinson got on the ball to start pulling the strings. Southend were pushed further and further back.

Then with 10 minutes to go, a last gamble of City going three at the back and Nahki Wells, introduced for Stephen Darby, an extra man up front. City effectively went 3-3-1-3, with Wells and Garry Thompson wide forwards and Hanson in the middle. A risky strategy that could have been punished by an effective visiting counter attack, but there wasn’t going to be much difference between losing 2-1 or 3-1. As it was Wells – who looked back on form – set up Hanson to equalise within two minutes of his introduction.

To me this was good management by Parkinson. He made three very effective substitutions that contributed to the rescuing of a point, but what was more impressive was demonstrating the trust he holds in his players. The half time mood in the stands dictated that a double or even triple substitution at that point would have been widely cheered, but he retained his belief in players who had unfortunately allowed themselves to fall below acceptable standards for 45 minutes, and gave them the opportunity to put things right.

It might not have changed the world yesterday, and it wasn’t enough to earn the three points needed to make unrealistic play off hopes realistic, but it was a useful exercise in good management by Parkinson. And it was further confirmation of the character and qualities he has natured in this group of players – a team that needs tweaks rather than an overhaul, in order to fulfil top seven ambitions next season.

The catch up game continues

29 Mar

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Bradford City 2

Hines 53, Hanson 83

Southend United 2

Tomlin 10, Assombalonga 11

Friday 29 March, 2013

By Mark Danylczuk

Eight points off the play offs, with seven games to go. Mathematically possible – yes. In reality – probably not, barring an incredible run of results. Another one of those days for Bradford City, with dropped points proving costly in catching up to the play off pack and one less game as a margin for error. In a freakish reversal of the 2-2 draw at Southend in December, where City let a two goal lead slip to draw, the tables were turned today. The Bantams coming back from a two goal deficit to earn a deserved draw in an entertaining game at Valley Parade.

Parkinson kept the same line up from the team which beat Wycombe 12 days ago, with an attacking impetus of Kyel Reid and Zavon Hines on the wings to provide delivery to the pair of James Hanson and Garry Thompson up front. The game saw Phil Brown’s debut as Southend manager, as the hosts were looking to build on their promotion push with neither team wanting to drop any points at this crucial time in the season.

Both teams started the game fairly brightly but then, before City had time to make any sort of impact, the killer blow was dealt with two goals conceded in a matter of minutes, which meant the remainder of the match was a game of catch-up. The first goal in the 10th minute was very poor defensively with a long ball floated in, Jon McLaughlin flapped and missed the ball, Mohsni hit the post from the resulting shot and Tomlin was there to convert the rebound for the visitors.

A minute later Southend raced away again on the counter attack with the ball switched to the right-hand side, crossed in by Clohessy and Assombalonga clumsily converted from six yards. The two goals from Tomlin and Assombalonga made it 27 between the prominent Southend front pairing and, for the rest of the first half, City simply could not cope with the duo’s pace and presence.

City were quick to respond and from a free kick in the 12th minute; Reid was unlucky to hit the underside of the bar and Hanson’s resulting header was cleared off the line by the Southend defence. With the crowd spurring the team on, Gary Jones began to get a grip of the midfield and City enjoyed more of the possession with some neat and tidy passing, but no end product in the final third. Southend looked comfortable to soak up the possession, being effective on the counter, and City struggled to muster anything of any significance for the remainder of the first half. In particular, Hines looked poor and lacklustre and Ricky Ravenhill was also anonymous.

The Bantams began the second half strongly with continued pressure. The first chance of the period came in the 52nd minute with a ball in the box from James Meredith, a Hanson knock down and the resultant scramble leaving Hines to bundle the ball home – but the referee Steve Rushton disallowed the goal, apparently for a handball against Hines. Zavon was to have his moment a minute later though, as City got the early goal required to put pressure on the hosts in forcing a comeback. Again, another ball across from Meredith, and Hines struck the ball sweetly with his left foot, first time into the bottom right-hand corner of the goal. Justice done.

The momentum was clearly with City now in getting the equaliser, but Southend were also just as dangerous and had a great chance to re-establish the two goal cushion in the 70th minute. Substitute Matthew Lund broke clear down the middle and, with the City defence stretched, had a great opportunity to slip the ball through to Assombalonga to make it 3-1. But Lund selfishly tried his luck with a shot from 20 yards out which went well wide.

Parkinson could see that reinforcements were needed to freshen things up and Will Atkinson came on for Ravenhill, slotting into central midfield, whilst Alan Connell came on for Hines and went up front with Thompson moving out to the right wing. Again, the hosts went closer to scoring, this time with Mkandawire hitting the post in the 75th minute with a shot from the edge of the box.

Last chance saloon and it called for Nakhi Wells to come on for Darby in the 80th minute and form an attacking front three with Hanson and Connell. The substitution almost immediately paid off as, a couple of minutes later, City grabbed a deserved equaliser. Wells broke free to the left of the box and clipped a ball over to the far post for Hanson to head in.

Cue pandemonium from the City fans and the roar to press on for the winner. It was backs to the walls for the hosts who, although stunned from the two-goal lead lost, seemed keen to preserve a point. It was a game of attack and defence. City’s two best remaining chances came in the final minutes. The first was Wells cutting in from the right just outside the box and forcing a good save from the keeper with a powerful shot. The second was from another Reid run, which resulted in him going down in the box with Rushton refusing the penalty appeals and – to rub salt in the wounds – giving Reid a yellow card for diving.

But it was not to be. After five minutes of extra time, the game was up and City were left to rue another two points dropped. The damage was done after the two early goals conceded so quickly after one another. A few plus points can be raised – the tactical changes by Parkinson with introducing Wells in making an impact to set up Hanson for the equaliser, and Wells himself looking much sharper and more effective than in recent weeks. The warrior, Gary Jones, produced another impeccable and inspirational midfield performance.

Reid, given the sponsor’s man of the match award, also must be credited for putting a shift in and getting balls in the box to create chances. Yes, some of his crosses were poor, but most were decent, with City players not willing to gamble. I cannot understand some City fans who jeered and booed a player who was our most creative outlet, willing runner and focus of our attacking play. Personal opinion indeed, but where would the crosses come from otherwise? Hines on the opposing wing barely produced one all game.

Although City have not been picking up as many points as hoped, it is worth noting that it’s only one defeat in the last eight games. Progress, but the fact only two of these games have seen victories is simply not promotion material. With two matches a week for the next three weeks, it is asking a lot for a team to produce a promotion run of multiple victories with such a schedule. Parkinson will have to chop and change the team in order to work towards this.

Simply put, it has to be two wins against Torquay and Northampton next week – to keep the distant play off dream alive.

City: McLaughlin, Darby (Wells 81), Meredith, Davies, McArdle, Ravenhill (Atkinson 73), Reid, Thompson,  Jones,  Hanson, Hines (Connell 73)

Not used: Duke, McHugh, Nelson,  Doyle

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