So far, so hugely promising (part two)

SAM_0818

Seven Width of a Post writers donned the pundit chairs to answer questions about Bradford City’s first two months back in League One. They are Katie Whyatt, Andrew Baxter, Phil Abbott, Ian Sheard, Damien Wilkinson, Nick Beanland and Omar Eliwi.

What have you made of Bradford City’s start to the season?

Katie: At the risk of getting slightly carried away, it’s been unbelievable. At home, the team start on the front foot and hit the ground running from the first whistle, while our ardent fans back them with unbroken vocal support. Phil Parkinson is beginning to implement a strategy of ‘treat away games like you’re at Valley Parade’, and that’s a plan that’s beginning to reap lavish rewards and should help City to start picking up more points on the road. We knew the home form was something to be proud of, but it’s been brilliant this season, and I didn’t expect us to brush aside the Blades or Brentford so easily. All things considered, I’m very happy, and I’m sure Parkinson is, too.

Andrew: Averaging two points per game is an impressive feat in any division. Also, just one defeat in nine games is very encouraging start, and shows plenty of promise.

Phil: I’ve been hugely encouraged by the start. Although we are yet to face some of the early pace setters, I think we’ve shown enough to expect a mid-table finish is perfectly within our grasp. Anything greater than that will be a big bonus. We’ve looked like a well-balanced side and appear fairly comfortable in our new League One surroundings.

Ian: We have done far better than I thought we would to be honest. I did expect a few losses at home as well as the odd one away. I have been impressed with our home form especially and it was so amazing just to see us come back the way we did on Saturday. The key to a good season is having good home form. If we can beat teams like Brentford and Sheffield United at home, other teams will have seen this and fear Valley Parade. The knock-on effect of bums on seats could really make the difference between mid-table or play-offs.

What stands out for you as the highlight so far?

Damien: The home victory over Sheffield United probably just eclipses the emphatic Carlisle win for me. A sizeable crowd and fantastic atmosphere carried on the feel good factor from last season and the team showed a good level of resilience against a side tipped to do well, albeit one that has subsequently struggled. A hard fought victory, capped by Nahki Wells equalling the City goal scoring run record, meant that we had finally ‘arrived’ in League One.

Nick: The atmosphere and performance against Sheffield United was unrelentingly positive and a world away from our six year sojourn in Division Four. Seeing 18,000 inside Valley Parade for a league fixture was brilliant.

Omar: The best thing about it is that teams have come to Valley Parade to play and not just look for a draw or a ‘snatch and grab’ 1-0. This helps the players’ confidence in terms of not being afraid to express themselves on the ball. In League Two they would often find themselves blocked out by a packed, defensive minded midfield.

Ian: Saturday, without a shadow of a doubt. Shrewsbury came to draw for me and surprised themselves with the goal. I think the Kop singing ‘2 little birds’ really encapsulated the mood around the stadium. This was the team that played out of situation and didn’t rely on just the long ball up to big James Hanson. We were the better team for the 90 minutes.

Katie: There have been so many great moments up to now, but the atmosphere at games and the positive feeling around the club have stood out for me the most. My dad used to always note the lack of chanting at home games, but now there’s never a moment of silence: it’s a rip-roaring chorus of ‘Midland Road, Take Me Home’, followed by ‘He’s Magic, You Know’ and a hearty rendition of ‘Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Mark Yeates’, before someone throws in a final anthemic bash of ‘Stephen Darby, Baby’ for good measure. That’s such a stark contrast to the ‘Love the club, hate the team’ tunes of old, and it’s enough to bring a tear to your eye – I remember my vision blurring when we all sang for Gary Jones before kick off at Huddersfield.

On a more personal note, Stephen Darby recognising me at the first home game and asking me how my blog was going. Best. Start. To. A. Season. Ever.

Has League One surprised you in any way?

Phil: It hasn’t so much surprised me, but I feel there is so much more time on the ball in this league. City seem to play their best football when the ball is on the deck and players are running into space. Where teams have come to play good football against us, we’ve excelled ourselves. This is a far cry to our struggles in a much more physical and frantic League Two.

Nick: I was surprised at how embarrassingly poor Carlisle were. That aside there has been a noticeable improvement in quality. Teams generally try to play more attractive football than in Division Four and that has helped us hugely, as we’ve yet to encounter a team coming to Valley Parade looking solely to frustrate us. That may well change if our home form remains as good as it has been thus far.

Damien: Not massively to date. It was expected that there would be a higher level of quality and that teams would try to play football rather than adopt the stifling tactics we became frustrated watching in League Two, especially at Valley Parade, and this has proved to be the case so far. It was interesting to hear Gillingham fans at the recent away match say how different and difficult they have found the division so far, perhaps speaking volumes regarding the styles of play and tactics of our respective sides.

Omar: The standard is higher than expected. Colchester surprised me. It looked like a classic Valley Parade ‘ home banker’, but we have all grown to realise that easier looking games never turn out to be as easy and expected.

Of the teams City have faced so far most are near the bottom of the table. Do you think that we’ve had an easy start?

Andrew: Fortunately, we have faced an out of form Sheffield United and Brentford, but I wouldn’t say the start has been easy. Yes, we’ve had a moderately kind start to the season in terms of fixtures, but Sheffield United and Brentford were amongst the pre-season favourites for promotion, and will surely get stronger as the season develops.

Phil: They are only easy games if you win them, and City have done well against the teams they have faced. Clearly, October is a tough month and if we are still within sniffing distance of the play off spots by the end of the month, then we are very much in with a shout. Six points from five games would be a fair return if I’m honest.

Omar: I don’t think any start in any professional league in easy. Games still need to be won however easy or hard they look. Things on paper rarely turn out as expected – which is why football is such an enjoyable game to watch. By the end of October, we will have played a lot more ‘contenders’ and we will definitely have an idea by then as to our chances of success this season. But even consolidating in this league should be seen as progress.

Katie: I don’t think we’ve had an easy start. Granted, the Carlisle outfit we blew away for the opening home game was on its knees and Gillingham are on a low ebb, but Brentford were on a strong run of form and City did well to claw a draw out of the close encounter with Colchester. I think things just seem a little easier because the Bantams have made Valley Parade such a difficult place for opposing teams to play. The players seem like superhumans and we take it as a given they’ll rack up points at home. October looks the hardest month of the lot, so no doubt any qualms about a soft first few matches will be put to bed if Wolves, Preston, Walsall and co. are humbled.

So far, Parkinson has almost entirely relied upon the players that got City promoted last season…

Damien: The players did more than enough last season to avoid Phil Parkinson having to make any significant changes, and the importance of carrying the momentum forward from the end of last season cannot be underestimated. You feel there is something very special within this group of players and attempts at reshaping it need to be very carefully made. This was evident in Parkinson’s summer recruitment with most of the signings, Yeates possibly excepted, being similar to what we currently have, thus adding cover and a better depth and solidity to the squad, rather than out and out improvements or changes.

Katie: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. We always knew these guys were better than League Two level, that the bottom tier was the base point and the higher divisions where they really ought to be. It’s not a case of League Two players punching above their weight, but League One and Championship players plying their trade at the level they’re cut out for. Phil Parkinson recruited wisely over the summer, and rightly decided the priority was to keep his squad together because the quality and camaraderie were already there. I’m fine with that and it doesn’t bother me, but the flaw is that it doesn’t allow the new signings to have the run of games needed to find their feet and establish themselves properly. Is that a fair enough compromise? If it’s sending City soaring into the play off spots, it has to be, doesn’t it?

Phil: He gave them the chance and they’ve taken it with both hands. Good on them. When the likes of Kennedy and Yeates signed, most fans saw them as regular starters. That says a lot about the current team.

Ian: As Katie says, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! The trouble with many managers is that they lose faith or don’t have faith in their players. This is a team who played 60 odd games last season and gained promotion! I’m still a little unsure of the new lads, De Vita, Taylor etc but it’s got to be tough joining a team with such a blatantly high team spirit. I’m glad Parkinson’s kept faith with a lot of the players, some of them are real class, Davies, Wells, Jones to name a few. If the Championship is round the corner I would be tempted to keep the main core also.

Is it important to you that, so far, none of the summer recruits have made much of an impact?

Andrew: If Parkinson had brought in seven or eight players, I would be worried. But as he only brought in a couple, I don’t think it is too concerning. The time will come for players like Kennedy and Yeates, as injuries and fatigue will undoubtedly take its toll this season. Also, with these players waiting in the wings should a player get injured, it resists the temptation for Parkinson to delve into the loan market, as the quality is already in the squad.

Omar: The team are playing too well to be worried. Yeates had a good start, but then Reid came in and has been outstanding. You can still see that the former Watford man has Championship quality, however. Kennedy is probably viewed as a long term replacement for Gary Jones – but the evergreen skipper is playing just too well at the moment to be dislodged from the team.

Nick: It’s no big deal at this stage. Yeates looks technically brilliant and when he gets a run of games I think he’ll be a big player for us. The rest of the new boys have barely featured but the old boys are doing so well that they’ll have to wait their turn.

Continues tomorrow.

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