Finding new favourites as Bradford City travel to Torquay

Torquay United vs Bradford City match preview

@Plainmoor on Saturday 18 February

“Has Luke O’Brien left now?” my wife asked me in a sad voice on Tuesday, as the Bradford City team came onto the pitch against Port Vale. After I confirmed the sad news that Luke was indeed now an Exeter player, she replied “now I don’t have any favourite players”.

It was an interesting point which reflects the high footballer turnover over the past 12 months. Her other favourite player was Omar Daley, who was released in the summer despite been promised a new contract. And while there are plenty of current players worthy of replacing these two on her favourites list, in general there is a slight disconnect between players and supporters right now.

The team which played the majority of Tuesday’s game is fascinating when you analyse length of service. Once James Hanson went off injured, the 11 on the pitch were made up of one player signed by Stuart McCall, one by Peter Taylor, two by Peter Jackson and the rest – seven – by Phil Parkinson. Given the current City manager hasn’t been in the hot seat for six months yet, the speed on change is extraordinary.

Of that 11, only Luke Oliver (84 appearances) and Jon McLaughlin (52) have played more than 26 times for the club so far. That’s a lot of players who we supporters haven’t seen a great deal of. And although more established players like Simon Ramsden, Michael Flynn, David Syers and James Hanson might be considered first choice when fit, there’s been a lot of new arrivals this season.

There’s no doubt that Parkinson has a very strong idea of what he wants in terms of players, and his style is very different from, say, McCall – who was more inclined to coach his squad to do better rather than instantly turn to the loan market. Nevertheless it seems the direction he is taking the club is very different to the one Jackson was attempting.

Indeed when you consider 11 players were brought in by Jackson during the close season, that only Ritchie Jones (suggested by Archie Christie) and Nakhi Wells (recommended to the club by Mark Ellis) have been able to establish themselves as first team players so far is a damning statement of the job Parkinson must have thought Jackson had performed.

Much of the signings Jackson made in the summer were with one eye on the future and of City having a building season, which has gone out of the window mainly because of the perilous league position. It’s hoped the likes of Andrew Burns, Scott Brown and Chris Mitchell can still enjoy successful careers at the club, but the writing looks to be on the wall for several others.

Which takes us back to those supporter-player relationships. Although, every summer, we’ve got used to seeing a high number of players released and heavy influx of new signings to replace them, generally when the season gets going we become familiar with the players who perform in front of us. Some we grow attached to, others split opinion. But whether we love, feel indifferent or dislike the players, they still feel like ours. This season so far, I don’t think that we supporters have been able to build that level of emotional attachment with the current crop.

When this is absent, it’s difficult to be as supportive and tolerant. The team Jackson began the season with was hardly pulling up trees results-wise, but in general we were backing them because of their high work rate and obvious passion for the club. That’s not to say Parkinson’s signings don’t feel the same way – I’m sure they do – but, somehow, it feels less engaging.

Is it just a matter of needing to give the new-look team more time to mean more to us? Perhaps, but only if the turnover of players begins to slow in pace, so we can get used to those on the books. While loan players and other short-term deals will play a part over the coming weeks, we want to see evidence of longer-term building in operation and that, in the main, the players we are watching have a future at Valley Parade beyond May. If that isn’t to be the case, I’ll warn the wife not to pick some new favourites just yet.

City travel to Devon today ahead of Saturday’s daunting-looking fixture against a Torquay United side 3rd in League Two – with seven consecutive wins to boot. An impressive 1-0 victory at Cheltenham on Tuesday emphasised that the Gulls are in title contention, and City’s away record of just one win so far would suggest an eighth straight United success is the likely outcome.

Though that one away win did come at leaders Southend, while City have also taken points on the road from 4th-placed Swindon, 7th-placed Oxford and fading early season promotion candidates Gillingham. A 1-0 victory over Torquay at Valley Parade last October – achieved with 10-men – provides further reasons to believe a defeat could be avoided.

McLaughlin keeps goal in front of a back four which is likely to see a change at right back, now that Rob Kozluk has completed his suspension and Ramsden was fit enough to appear from the bench against Port Vale. Expect Matt Fry – who looked solid enough on his debut – to drop down and Marcel Seip to return to left back. Oliver and Andrew Davies are in the centre.

In midfield, Jones’ superb midweek display should ensure he keeps his place, even if Syers is back from injury. Ricky Ravenhill didn’t have his best game on Tuesday and there may be a temptation to recall Flynn – an unused sub against Port Vale. Kyel Reid also had an average night but might prosper on a better pitch; the right flank may be occupied by Will Atkinson or Deane Smalley again, or Craig Fagan may be recalled.

It is curious that Parkinson left Fagan out completely on Tuesday, and despite the criticism he gets from others I felt we missed his quality and experience. The quickly forgotten Andy Haworth has signed on loan until the end of the season, despite not playing for nearly a month.

Up front, there will be no Hanson after the injury that forced him to hobble off against Port Vale, and his clear importance to the team was underlined by how much they struggled without him. In his absence, dare we speculate about Davies playing up front? Memories of Taylor deploying Oliver as a striker still make me shudder.

Instead it’s more likely Smalley or Fagan will partner Nakhi Wells, with Ross Hannah dropping to the bench. Hannah was highly unfortunate that his big opportunity to impress came in a game where Hanson had to go off. Hannah showed some decent touches, but for now is probably going to have to try and build a role as an impact substitute.

On paper, all of City’s relegation rivals apart from Macclesfield and Northampton (not in action) also have tough fixtures this weekend, so any Bantams’ defeat at Plainmoor may not prove too calamitous. But ahead of a massive week of games beginning next Saturday – Hereford, Barnet and Dagenham – it would be good to build up to it with the positive boost of not losing to Torquay.

Over to our familiar, and still-not-so-familiar, players to achieve just that.

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