Bradford City v Morecambe
@Valley Parade on Saturday 14 January, 2012
Almost 11 months to the day since making his debut on loan for Bradford City, Kevin Ellison makes a first return to Valley Parade since a less than memorable spell was cut short because of injury and a dispute with then-manager Peter Jackson. Morecambe’s top scorer has told the Telegraph & Argus that he expects to booed during tomorrow’s League Two fixture, and while he is probably correct about that it’s still worth questioning why.
The booing of any player – be they for your team, having previously played for your team or having previously wronged your team – is always a curious phenomenon. In particular there is an increasing tendency for a former player to either be cheered or booed on their return, with little room for the middle ground of silent indifference.
Witness Gareth Evans’ return to Valley Parade for Rotherham in November – two years of mixed form for City probably warranted polite applause from us, but there was a bizarre moment when he was about to take a corner in front of the Kop when some home fans booed him and others cheered.
What did he do, or not do, at City to warrant the boos? While it is fair to say that the final few weeks of Evans’ Bantams career saw the performances of a player resigned to a summer looking for another club, there was no doubting how hard he consistently worked towards the cause after signing from Macclesfield in 2009. He was not a bad person, or a bad player. We moved on, he moved on – but that doesn’t mean he thus deserves to be considered a villain.
Ellison’s time at City was much less notable. His debut against Wycombe was a great occasion in which he made an immediate impact, scoring the winner and earning the man of the match award. But as part of a struggling team, his next few appearances saw him look fairly average. Once Jackson replaced Peter Taylor, Ellison’s chances of earning a permanent deal in the summer were effectively ended. A move to Morecambe instead has worked well, with 11 goals from 17 starts (plus six appearances as sub). His experience and quality at this level could have proven beneficial to City this season.
Yet he will be booed by some tomorrow for reasons not immediately clear. But then given the treatment dished out to Joe Colbeck last season and the fact one of the club’s greatest modern day players – Andrew O’Brien – was also booed by a small minority during the Carling Cup game against Leeds back in August, perhaps it should not be a surprise. The reaction towards O’Brien had more to do with the club he is now playing for, but still the role he played in helping City earn promotion to the Premier League and surviving the following season should command nothing but warm appreciation.
I have no strong feelings towards Ellison in the same way I do about Colbeck, O’Brien and to a lesser extent Evans, so I can’t say it will bother me if he is booed tomorrow. But what would bother Ellison more is if he was not booed, and perhaps any reaction from us will only motivate him. Ellison is of the Robbie Savage/Dean Windass mould of relishing the attention and giving it back. At the Globe Arena earlier in the season the boos he received from some City fans prompted a huge grin across his face. Ignore him tomorrow, and we could truly hurt and demoralise him.
Ellison returns as part of a Morecambe side who have drifted away from an outstanding start to the season to slump in the depths of mid-table; but their away record – six wins, four draws and only two defeats – commands respect. Only 4th placed Swindon and 5th placed Shrewsbury have taken three points when Morecambe came to town. Both have enviable home records which mean neither defeat was a disgrace to the Shrimpers.
Nevertheless, the fast-changing City squad go into this game on the back of two storming home wins over Christmas which have helped to put some daylight between the club and bottom two. With Burton Albion due to visit next Saturday and a trip to struggling Bristol Rovers after, manager Phil Parkinson will be looking to build on recent winning momentum – albeit slowed by defeats at Rotherham in the league and Watford in the FA Cup – to move further away from trouble. These three remaining games in January will determine much about whether the rest of the season is spent fighting relegation or climbing up the table; in the latter scenario while building towards a promotion challenge in 2012/13.
Jon McLaughlin continues in goal having recovered from his Rotherham nightmares to perform more solidly at Vicarage Road. Centre backs Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver are certain starters in front of the City keeper, but both full back positions could see changes. Rob Kozluk’s midweek arrival may see him come in for an immediate debut in the right back slot with Marcel Seip pushed over to the opposite side, or Robbie Threlfall could retain the left back place despite showing signs of rustiness since his return from injury.
In midfield Ricky Ravenhill, who signed a two-and-a-half year contract this week, will partner Ritchie Jones. The pair linked up very well in the Boxing Day win over Crewe, with the all action Jones complimenting the defensive-minded Ravenhill. Craig Fagan will be on the right, with either Charlie Taylor or new loan signing Andy Haworth on the left. James Hanson and Nakhi Wells – both scorers in three of the last four games – are looking superb together up front.
In only 9 of City’s 22 league games this season, the team which scored first didn’t go onto win the match. Perhaps that is why Parkinson has set his team up to make such fast starts in the past two home games, and why it is so important that the two straight defeats are quickly got out of the players’ system so previous improvement can be continued.
Start well, get a goal in front – and the only booing aired will be towards the man who seemingly wants to receive them.