Bradford City vs Accrington Stanley preview
@Valley Parade on Wednesday 26 December, 2012
By Jason McKeown
If the rise and rise of Bradford City is suddenly prompting supporter fears of losing manager Phil Parkinson – and the sound of Reading fans chanting his name during their recent Monday night defeat to Arsenal was an uneasy moment – the news that Russ Richardson has been appointed Head of Player Recruitment should help allay these anxieties.
Richardson joins the club as a Parkinson appointment, with the remit of helping the manager identify potential new signings for both this up-coming January transfer window and over the longer-term. Russ will head up a scouting network within which Nigel Brown has proved pivotal over the past 18 months. Brown is likely to continue spying future opposition, with Richardson eyeing up players who can add to what Parkinson has already built.
Such a long-term focused appointment by Parkinson is not the action of someone looking to exit Valley Parade anytime soon. And Parkinson’s strengthening of his behind-the-scenes staff is, in some way, also an acknowledgment that he needs extra support finding the right players to bring in. Because as impressive as Parkinson’s 2012 close season recruitment business has proven, that rise and rise of Bradford City has masked the fact that his loan signings this season have, so far, once again failed to have a significant impact.
Indeed we can look at the case of Curtis Good, signed from Newcastle for two months and – to date – making just two appearances for the club (one of those when he technically shouldn’t). Although Good has demonstrated he is capable of backing up the in-form Rory McArdle and Carl McHugh, the Aussie rocked up with Parkinson admitting he would have liked to have brought in someone with more experience.
Good is good, but perhaps in different circumstances Parkinson could have brought in a more first team ready player instead, meaning less reliance or pressure on McHugh. That McHugh has played so well is a huge positive, and testament to his huge potential, but if 19-year-old McHugh had looked more like a 19-year-old – that is to say inconsistent and not ready for playing week in week out – we could have been left with a huge, season-disrupting problem as we wait for Andrew Davies to return.
So Richardson, rather like Archie Christie until he left a year ago, is tasked with identifying potential targets for the manager to consider signing. And this in turn allows the manager to continue to focus on the all-important matters of managing the squad and planning for the matches. Perhaps the next time Parkinson urgently needs a loan signing, he can turn to Richardson for a more detailed and thorough list than his own workloads allow him to compile himself. Perhaps in future we will see less loan signings who appear to be a stab-in-the-dark, hope-they-do-okay-but-we-can’t-be-sure.
It appears as though January 2013 is going to be a crucial period for the club. The £1 million bonanza beating Arsenal promises is seemingly going to arm Parkinson with a war chest of sorts for the transfer window. Some people have said to me, quite understandably, that we should not be signing new players and risking disrupting the harmony of the squad which has got us so far. I agree with this view to a point, and I would certainly be upset if, for example, James Hanson’s reward for leading the line so well this season is to be relegated the bench in favour of another target man. But at the same time, the effects of the huge injury list during the first half of the season cannot be discounted.
Yes, the club has performed well despite these setbacks, but with the likelihood of fatigue setting in, given the huge number of games played, any injuries during the second half of the season might be more keenly felt. How would we cope without Hanson? Or Nahki Wells? What if Nathan Doyle is hurt badly tomorrow? We need the insurance of back up options – either through making moves in January or identifying good loan players who could be brought in at short notice. Parkinson needs to use his windfall wisely.
In the meantime, City welcome Accrington to Valley Parade on Boxing Day with two of the long-term injured, Zavon Hines and Kyel Reid, finally back in home league game contention. It’s easy to forget that, at the start of the season, the game plan in home games centred upon having two out-and-out wingers charging at full backs. Without Hines and Reid, Parkinson had to evolve this approach and has enjoyed great success deploying Will Atkinson on the left flank, and the belated good form of Garry Thompson on the right. Neither are blessed with soaring pace, but are full of tricks and can beat their man. When Hines and Reid are fit, it will be interesting to see if Parkinson goes back to the early season approach or prefers to retain Atkinson, at least, in his starting XI.
For now expect Thompson and Atkinson to keep their places and Reid and Hines revved up and ready to go from the bench. Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle stand tall in-between the wide players. It took Jones a few weeks to get back to his own strong early season form, after injury, which enabled others to catch up in the race for the player of the season award that he was winning by a country mile. Jones has been back on top form in recent weeks, and his central midfield partnership with Doyle is, relatively speaking, the best we have had since Gareth Whalley and Stuart McCall.
Like central midfield, the rest of the team picks itself at the moment. James Hanson and Nahki Wells should be up top, although Width of a Post has heard that Nahki has endured a difficult Christmas period , quarantined in a hotel room due to illness. The back four are Stephen Darby, McArdle, McHugh and James Meredith, and in goal Matt Duke. Over a week since the Brentford cup game (a week! By Bradford City standards that’s a mid-winter break for the players) it seems unlikely any of the fringe players who performed that night will earn anything more than a place on the bench.
Another big week for City then; as these two home games offer a huge opportunity to climb into the top three. Accrington’s excellent Valley Parade record always gets a mention in the build up: five visits in League Two, one win and four draws. The long-serving manager John Coleman, who will be back at Valley Parade with Rochdale on Saturday, was replaced last season by Paul Cook, who in November moved to Chesterfield after a short-lived reign that included a 1-1 draw at Valley Parade last March. Leam Richardson is the current Stanley gaffer, with James Beattie a player/coach.
A winnable looking fixture like this simply has to be won; but as City and Accrington do battle, the club’s new Head of Player Recruitment will be focusing on finding ways for Parkinson to improve upon what he has. Hopefully Russ Richardson will be able to add huge value to the club in a very short space of time. Hopefully Richardson can rival Gary Jones in being looked back upon as one of Parkinson’s most important signings.