By Jason McKeown
Writing about Bradford City has, traditionally, proven to be tricky at the start of a new season. The temptation to make conclusive judgements on new signings has to be resisted (I once likened Ben Muirhead and Bobby Petta to having Peter Beagrie and Jamie Lawrence out-wide, cringe), and evaluating whether team performances are good or bad are that more difficult without the sufficient context of previous displays.
This season is proving just as difficult to analyse. Getting criticised for my writing and views is an accepted and welcome part of the job (especially when it is balanced against the praise you also receive), but so far I’ve found that – whether writing positively or negatively on City matters – someone has disagreed. And it got me thinking about what exactly we are expecting, as a support base, from the 2012/13 campaign? And, therefore, how should subsequent performances and results be measured against that expectation level?
As a result, earlier this week The Width of a Post asked for readers’ views on two very key questions: where do you think City will finish, and your minimum City finish for you to be satisfied. Thank you to everyone who shared their views; from which we calculated an average league position in answer to each question.
I’m sure you’re keen to know, so let’s dive straight into it…
1) What league position do you predict Bradford City will finish this season?
(Average score: 6.28)
A 6th place for City next May would, of course, mean a shot at the play offs.
This survey attracted a wide spectrum of opinion. A couple of you were confident enough to predict a 1st place position for the Bantams, a handful of others went down as low as 14th. That already is a telling statistic to take from this survey: everyone believes we are going to finish in a higher league position than last season’s 18th.
2) What is the minimum final City league position that you would be satisfied with this season?
(Average score: 9.23)
Minimum finishes that respondents would be satisfied with ranged from 2nd down to 22nd (as such avoiding relegation). The average score of a 9th place finish suggests the majority of us would be satisfied with a top 10 placing, even if this means the Bantams are not promoted.
I would agree this is a realistic and laudable objective. Ending the season better off than 12 months earlier is a rare occurrence at Valley Parade over the past decade. It has only happened once – 2008/09 – and even then it was overshadowed by disappointment and the reality of playing staff cutbacks.
Nevertheless it’s worth noting that the 2008/09 finish was also 9th. Meaning that, if this year City do not at least match what Stuart McCall’s Bantams achieved that season (our best League Two finish), the results of this survey would suggest we’d consider it a dissatisfactory campaign.
The expectation problem that has yet to be answered by the club
When last season came to an end with City 18th and avoiding relegation, I personally looked ahead to the 2012/13 campaign and hoped we’d see the progress of a top half finish – promotion seemed far too ambitious a target, given we’d finished 22 points short of the play offs.
However, events over the summer saw everyone’s expectations grow considerably. Julian Rhodes declared Phil Parkinson would have the largest City budget in four years, and quality arrivals such as Andrew Davies and Gary Jones drew acclaim, despite the obvious suspicion they would not be here on cheap wages.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room: the Valley Parade free school which has been postponed for at least a year (if not indefinitely). With the club having on numerous occasions over the summer confirmed the increased budget was the result of expected proceeds from the sale of the land, for the deal to fall through – even if it’s just for 12 months – throws up questions that have yet to be answered by Rhodes and Mark Lawn. A small comment in the T&A from David Baldwin, and a couple of tweets from the City Head of Operations about not yet knowing the impact, are not sufficient in the long-run.
To be clear: the club spent the summer making stella signings and attributing them to the school sale proceeds, but then that school deal was not completed. At present there is a big gap in public knowledge over how City might be affected. We should be concerned.
Because if City cannot afford this team, or we can only afford this team for a season…well…we’d better be demanding that it does the business, to justify what appears to be a considerable gamble.
I guess this is where I personally feel conflicted. I would love for City to achieve the survey’s minimum expectation of 9th. That would represent improvement and progress. But if finishing 9th – as such failing to be promoted – leads to players being released, cut backs, a managerial change and a revamp, that improvement and progress is likely to be quickly reversed.
Fulfilling the average league prediction
Judging the last five League Two seasons (ie since City dropped down), the average points haul to achieve the sixth-place finish we predict is 73.2. That’s a points average of 1.59. Or in real terms, going through a season winning at home and losing away, with the occasional draw here and there.
|6th in League Two records 2007/08-2011/12|
City’s points average start to the season of 1.40 would suggest that we are just below target after five games, which have featured two of the most difficult away trips of the season. Win these back-to-back home games against Barnet and Morecambe, and the average will be up to 1.9. In other words we will be performing better than we ourselves expect (which might be worth bearing in mind if, shock horror, we don’t end up winning both matches).
Is it fair to demand top seven form from our new-look team? Even though the early signs are promising, it’s difficult to judge at this stage. For sure, Parkinson has built a better side than the one he inherited (largely because of the greater financial backing), but what has alluded City managers for years is gelling individual parts into a powerfully performing sum.
This is clearly a pivotal season in Bradford City’s modern history. The bar has been raised by the club itself, and as supporters we have (justifiably) increased our expectation levels too. If things don’t go to plan there may be worrying ramifications for the very future of the club (and that’s not hyperbole), but to have the best possible chance of succeeding we have to back the management and players to a level that we haven’t consistently done for some time.
Feel disappointed to get thrashed by Rotherham and only draw at Accrington? Of course. But there are plenty of positive signs to suggest the new-look Bantams side is capable of achieving this survey’s average predicted league position of 6th, thereby meeting the expectations of a traditionally demanding Bradford public.