By Jason McKeown
The story – as told by David Baldwin during a Q&A session at Cullingworth Conservative Club on Monday night – was that Phil Parkinson and other Bradford City staff were at Valley Parade on transfer deadline evening, waiting for Jason Kennedy to turn up. The Rochdale central midfielder was due to complete a move to West Yorkshire, but with the transfer window due to close in less than 40 minutes, anxiousness at his continued absence grew. A quick call to Kennedy’s agent on the player’s whereabouts revealed some unexpected news. “He was driving over on the motorway, but has decided to turn around and go back to Rochdale.” Oh.
And with Ritchie Jones’ contract termination already agreed, Bradford City ended the transfer window a central midfielder light. A change of heart on the M62 leaving a hole in Parkinson’s playing squad. Kennedy – who was outstanding for Dale in their 4-2 Valley Parade triumph a month ago – looked a solid addition. Now a bad injury to one or both of Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones will test a small squad.
Was it supposed to go this way? Bradford City went into the January transfer window apparently in a position of strength. The defeating of Arsenal in the League Cup quarter finals set up a £1 million Aston Villa semi final bonanza that would cover the reminder of the £600k playing budget deficit. A bloke was recruited to find players. Time to go big in the January sales was the hope from some. A month of speculation and rumour saw all manner of players linked with a move to the club.
Yet in the end there have been three arrivals and two departures. Andy Gray and Michael Nelson rocking up on permanent contracts, with Ryan Dickson arriving on loan until the end of the season. City look stronger in attack and have more options in defence, but is the squad better?
In a way I’m not too bothered. January was undoubtedly the worst month of the season league-wise, with a draw and two defeats from the three games that went ahead pushing City out of the play off traffic and down to a lowly 10th. That is concerning, even if the heroics against Aston Villa have largely overshadowed these set backs. In all competitions, City have won only once – the Villa home leg – in eight games. A troubling stat, that we will do well to improve upon when strong travellers Gillingham visit on Saturday.
But I personally see it as a blip, rather than the beginning of the slide. And the second half performance at Fleetwood Town on Saturday left me with huge encouragement that we’re getting back on track. League-wise it was the best that I have seen us play since the Torquay victory three days before Arsenal. The energy, the tempo and the attractive passing football that has been our hallmark was rediscovered. We should have won easily, and it’s not often that we’ve said that recently.
The poor form in January can be put down to many things. Nahki Wells, speaking alongside Baldwin on Monday, believes it is down to fatigue and the number of injuries, rather than distractions of the cups. He’s unlikely to admit to the latter, but I think he’s probably right anyway. Playing two games a week for months was always going to take its toll at some stage. We can only hope that the sun in Tenerife and a couple of postponements will have allowed batteries to recharge.
I also think the loss of James Meredith through glandular fever was one it took the team a while to get past. It was obvious in Meredith’s last two games – Rochdale and Morecambe – that something wasn’t right. Curtis Good has done a decent job, Ryan Dickson was at least better on Saturday (but not perfect), but the all action running style of Meredith which has been such a feature since Kyel Reid’s injury provided a balance that was difficult to cover for.
Yet the poor results of January are no reason to lose faith in what Phil Parkinson and his players have achieved so far this season. And my personal view is that the players’ heroics up to Christmas did not deserve to be rewarded with losing their places to new signings. Strengthen in key areas yes (which Gray and Nelson offer the potential to do that), but not an overhaul.
Parkinson spent the summer carefully building a squad which has performed impressively to date, and most of his forays into the loan market have been about backing that up. Instead of chopping and changing his core players, he has sought to improve their performances. This can be evidenced by the development of Garry Thompson, Zavon Hines and Stephen Darby from their relatively slow starts to the season. It’s a style of management that I personally prefer, and it has been a pleasure to watch such a settled side.
From that, I have grown quite an attachment to these players. A few months ago I had Thompson on my dislike list, but now there is no one who I don’t have time for. It is a strong squad packed full of quality – some of the players who can’t get into this team at the moment would have walked into the sides we’ve seen over the three previous seasons. And they’ve got us to Wembley.
So yes, Paul Benson might have got us closer to League One. Yes, the rumours about James Vardy were very exciting. And yes, Kennedy would have been an excellent capture. But if these arrivals had have caused James Hanson, Nahki Wells, Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle to lose their places, well I’m not sure I’d have warmed to any of them.
I want promotion this season, but I want it in the right way. Phil Parkinson’s January transfer window business sits well with me. Having spent so many years desperate to have a team to be proud of, I’m in no rush to see the back of a group of players who have lived up to that pressure and then some.