Injuries mount as Parkinson looks externally for answers

Bradford City v Burton Albion match preview

@Valley Parade on Saturday 21 January, 2012

There will be a 6 foot 7 inch hole in Bradford City’s defence when they line up against Burton Albion tomorrow.

Luke Oliver was forced off the field early during last week’s draw with Morecambe, after pulling his hamstring. A huge blow for the runaway player of the season contender – who it’s hoped will at least be back in contention for the trip to Bristol Rovers next Saturday – and a big loss to a squad which is beginning to look somewhat depleted.

After Ricky Ravenhill injured himself during the warm up against Morecambe, the team which started the game contained at least three players who weren’t 100% fit. New signings Rob Kozluk and Andy Haworth were awarded full debuts despite both lacking match sharpness, meaning they had to be substituted during the second half. A week on the training ground should help Haworth at least in this regard, but Oliver and Kozluk will find themselves with plenty of company as they watch from the sidelines.

David Syers still has one game of his three match suspension to go; Simon Ramsden has endured another set back after a reckless challenge on him during the Shrewsbury game; Michael Flynn is recovering from spending Christmas in hospital; Guy Branston returned from a loan spell at Rotherham with an injury; Kyel Reid’s presence on the pitch during the pre-match warm ups against Watford and Morecambe suggests he is on the road to recovery, but not there yet.

January was always going to be an interesting test in continuing the upwards results achieved during December – given the changeover of players that the transfer window was likely to trigger – but injuries and suspensions are adding to the selection dilemmas.

The two that have exited the door – Jack Compton and Steve Williams – could arguably have started tomorrow were they still at the club. Instead new loanees Charlie Taylor and Haworth have been thrown straight into the team, while Marcel Seip will probably be moved from left back to his natural centre back position to partner Andrew Davies. It seems likely that Taylor will start tomorrow as left back with Haworth left winger – which adds to the question marks regarding the future of those players who are available but who still can’t get in the team.

Robbie Threlfall was not even on the bench on Saturday, after looking somewhat rusty during the previous two games that followed his return from a bad injury. Luke O’Brien was expected to make the left back slot his own again after Threlfall limped off against Macclesfield in October, but failed to make a strong enough impression and lost his place to Seip.

Then there’s Chris Mitchell, who joined the club during the summer as a midfielder who could play at right back. Despite some promising early season displays, Mitchell has not started a league game since his goalscoring performance against Rotherham in mid-November. The injury to Ramsden might have opened the door for him to have a run at right back, but Kozluk was signed as cover instead. Mark Stewart has struggled to earn a place in the team – a bad injury not helping. Youngsters like Dominic Rowe, Patrick Lacey and Nialle Rodney – now on trial at Walsall – are so far being overlooked.

It would be wrong to assume that these fringe players have no future at the club – the delicate relegation battle that still must be fought led to Parkinson making it clear he needed to bring in a certain level of experience. Yet if and when such anxieties are eased, these players will hope to have an opportunity to show what they can do. Otherwise a summer spent looking for an alternative club seems inevitable.

Parkinson may not have chosen to inherit such a big squad and has already begun to make noises about reducing its size next season. But if he’s going to keep looking outside the club rather than fall back on what’s inside, you can’t help but wonder if the future for some has already been determined. There are a lot of players – in the match squad tomorrow, watching from the sidelines or stuck in the treatment room – for whom the next few months are hugely important.

Jon McLaughlin keeps goal tomorrow in front of a weakened back four. If we can assume that Seip will partner Davies and that Threlfall will return at left back, what about the right side? Is this Mitchell’s big opportunity, or will the promising Andrew Burns play? Alternatively, O’Brien and Lee Bullock were deployed at right back with limited success last season, or the latter could come in at centre back where he has impressed. That particular piece of insight, however, may have departed with Peter Jackson last August.

In midfield Ravenhill and Ritchie Jones are building a formidable central partnership, with the pair wonderfully complimenting each other in terms of the attacking and defensive side of the game. It will be interesting to see if Syers can break this partnership up when he returns from suspension next week. Craig Fagan will continue on the right, with Haworth – who looked promising last week before tiring – on the left.

Up front, the arrival of Deane Smalley from Oxford has sparked a flurry of differing opinions from City fans. Having failed to sign Paul Benson in November and with a six-figure budget to sign a forward apparently still available, Smalley’s modest goalscoring record can be viewed as underwhelming. However, the way James Hanson and Nakhi Wells have struck up such a strong understanding since the Benson transfer fell through suggests a change of transfer priorities. Adding the back up support of Smalley looks a good bit of business, and instead Parkinson can either use the money elsewhere or save it until the summer.

Hanson and Wells should continue for now, though it is disappointing for Stewart and Ross Hannah that Smalley will automatically become third choice striker ahead of them.

Injuries present a ready-made excuse for a difficult afternoon against a Burton side currently sat on the edge of the play offs. Though the fact they have lost three consecutive matches and won only once in seven means they are a team which City should be aiming to defeat. A 6 foot 7 inch hole is a problem for sure, but Parkinson will be looking for new faces and/or fringe players to fill it and fill it well.



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