Bradford City striker Mark Stewart is finalising a loan deal to Scottish First Division side Hamilton Academical for the rest of the season. The 23-year-old, who only joined the Bantams from Falkirk during the summer, has started just eight games for the club ( and a further seven sub appearances) as injuries and strong competition for places have limited his opportunities.
Stewart’s first six months at the club would appear to be a textbook tale of a player signed by one manager suddenly struggling to get an opportunity under his replacement. Brought to the club by Peter Jackson – probably with the help of then-Chief Scout Archie Christie – big things were expected of Stewart, and Falkirk even lodged an appeal with FIFA as they believed City should be paying them compensation. Upon arriving Jackson was quoted as saying:
Mark Stewart is a really exciting prospect and can score a variety of different goals…He has a lot of pace and can easily play down the middle or out wide on either side…I’ve seen him score goals with his left foot, right foot and his head.
There was plenty of promise about his pre-season performances, but – just like the team – Stewart struggled during the opening few weeks of the season and has started just three times since Phil Parkinson took charge. When spending a day with Christie last September, I was lucky enough to get to speak to Parkinson for 10 minutes at the training ground and asked him about Stewart. Parkinson’s verdict was he thought Stewart was a good player who worked hard, but that the majority of his best work came outside the box and he was looking for Mark to become more of a goal threat.
Whether it was a matter of Stewart needing to break his scoring duck to get going is unclear, but there were similarities in his play to Danny Cadamarteri, Gareth Evans and, to a lesser extent, Eddie Johnson. His best work did indeed come outside the box, and he produced few attempts at goal. The stats show he has only had 14 shots or headers while wearing the claret and amber.
Nevertheless his hard work and desire was commendable, and there is little doubt that he is a decent player who could have proven himself good enough to play at this level if circumstances had worked out differently. Alas for Stewart, there are a number of forwards at the club who have jumped ahead of him in the pecking order. A spell back in Scotland could see him recapture his previous form and he may return to be in contention next season; but more likely, this is the beginning of the end of his City career.
The January transfer window has so far not seen the big transfer dealings we might have expected, but as many new faces arrive and the likes of Stewart – and possibly Luke O’Brien – join Jack Compton and Steve Williams in heading out the door, the evolution of the playing squad continues at a fast pace.
Stewart could make his Hamilton debut tomorrow.