By Jason McKeown
Even as we filed out of Deepdale, it was impossible to avoid hearing one or two criticisms. “Why the f*** didn’t he cross it then instead of selfishly shooting?” “I know, what a greedy b******!” But that comes with the territory for most wingers. They will never be faultless. And if they were, they wouldn’t be playing in League One.
Yet still, Kyel Reid’s performance against Preston on Tuesday evening was as close to perfection as you are likely to see from a lower league winger. In what was his 96th appearance in claret and amber, this was arguably the finest 90-minute display that the 25-year-old has produced. He scared the life out of a street-smart Preston defence, who all too often had to resort to borderline legal tactics to stop him. And every time he was kicked over, Reid simply got back on his feet and terrorised them some more.
He, as the song goes, tore them apart.
What was especially interesting was to notice the way in which Preston’s equivalent speedy winger, Chris Humphrey, performed and how Reid’s play was not compromised. Humphrey – who until this summer was competing with Omar Daley for a place on the flanks at Stuart McCall’s Motherwell – began the contest causing all manner of problems on City’s left-side of the pitch. The side where Reid was playing in front of James Meredith. Not long after, Phil Parkinson swapped Reid and Rafa De Vita over, presumably because the Italian could offer Meredith greater defensive support. It worked, as Humphrey’s influence faded.
Meanwhile Reid – now, unusually, playing on the right wing – had the freedom to continue attacking Preston’s backline without fear of a counter attack on his side of the pitch leaving him caught out. Imagine if Reid had been on the left and lost possession, and the ball was then worked to Humphrey to run at Meredith? After the match, Parkinson highlighted Reid’s defensive contribution which was indeed good; but it was largely good because he wasn’t required to do as much tracking back as the early stages of the match suggested.
Instead, he had the greater freedom to run and run at opposition players, beating them for fun with his box of tricks. Not everything came off, but it was rare that his forward bursts didn’t result in something productive. Reid won numerous free kicks, throws in and corners for his team, whilst instigating opportunities for James Hanson and Garry Thompson, even if they didn’t always result in an attempt on goal. The boos he received from the home fans – after going down so often, following some strong challenges – may have been ludicrous, but they were also a compliment.
No one in the stadium could afford to take their eyes off him.
It was fantastic to see his efforts be so appreciated by supporters, and the attempts of almost 3,000 away fans to drown out the announcement of Preston’s man of the match by singing Reid’s name will live long in the memory. All his performance lacked was a goal. But then, in the final minute, came that moment which attracted full time grumbles: Reid breaking clear and, with team mates charging into the box, electing to shoot tamely into a Preston defender. A bad decision, on a night where the majority of his choices were the right ones.
It has been an up and down 12 months for Reid – one that does not mirror his club’s rise and rise. After starting the 2012/13 in good form, a bad injury picked up at Rochdale in October saw him ruled out of action until December, where he quickly suffered a further fitness set-back thanks to Accrington’s rough-house tactics on Boxing Day.
Let’s just reflect on what he missed out. Those incredible cup wins over Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa, occurred with Reid sat in the stands as a mere spectator. Some of the greatest nights in the club’s history, and he was not involved. Even at Wembley against Swansea, the moment he was about to be introduced as substitute was taken away from his grasp by Matt Duke’s sending off. It can’t have been easy for him.
And then, as City stuttered to stay in promotion contention, Reid was brought back into the side and struggled like many of his team mates. The low point for the former Charlton winger was a dreadful appearance at Plymouth in March. I had travelled to Devon for that midweek draw and remember stating in the pub afterwards that he could leave in the summer for me. He seemed to have given up on his City career, and I was ready to give up on him.
But that moment proved the turning point. Parkinson was said to have had stern words with him that night, and Reid was able to rediscover his form in line with the team. Nevertheless, he wasn’t exactly one of the stars of the run in. The plaudits went elsewhere. The team, set up around Hanson and Nahki Wells, was less reliant upon him compared to the grim relegation battle of a year earlier. Some rated his play off final performance worthy of man of the match. He was good that day for sure, but so were the team.
This year, Reid was the only member of that Wembley promotion winning XI to lose his place to new arrivals. That must have hurt, and arguably has acted for the motivation that has seen him win back his place and perform consistently well over recent weeks. Goals have occurred that little more frequently – not least that spectacular strike at Walsall – and his value to the team has increased in the absence of Wells. Reid is no longer the fringe player of the past 12 months, but a key man.
Clearly, Reid is not going to play as well as he did at Preston every week. If he were capable of doing so, his career would not have slumped to the point he signed for a struggling League Two Bradford City in the first place. But right now, he is playing some of his best football of two years at Valley Parade. Right now, he is one of the first names on the team sheet.
Right now, Reid has his watching public in exactly the position that he would want them to be in: on the edge of our seats.
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