Oldham Athletic vs Bradford City preview
@Boundary Park on Sunday 1 December, 2013
By Jason McKeown (image by Mike Holdsworth)
It is becoming strikingly clear that December is going to be a huge month for Bradford City. One that will go a long way to determining what kind of a season we enjoy; and one that may even greatly influence the next few years.
Fixture-wise, each game looks significant. Oldham tomorrow will be a tougher match than the current League One standings suggest. Then, after a two-week break, second-place Leyton Orient travel to Valley Parade, followed by a trip to fifth-in-the-table Peterborough. The Christmas period features back-to-back home games against sides competing with City to achieve a play off spot (Rotherham and Swindon). Therefore, a good, poor or average points haul from these games could prove telling.
And then, as the month ends and 2014 arrives, the transfer window opens. The inevitable speculation about Nahki Wells’ future re-commenced unexpectedly early this week, as a Yorkshire Post interview with Joint-Chairman Mark Lawn on Tuesday revealed that attempts to discuss a new contract with the Bermudian had been batted back. A day later, the Sun claimed QPR were lining up a £3 million bid for the striker.
Let’s take a considered look at all of this. First of all, Width of a Post contacted City’s former Chief Scout and Head of Football development, Archie Christie, who has been working for QPR manager Harry Redknapp. Christie confirmed that Wells had indeed been on QPR’s radar, but they have ruled out a move in favour of looking at other targets instead.
A relief in that respect, but Width of a Post understands that there is serious interest in Wells elsewhere, and the club is already dealing with initial enquiries. It has been suggested to us that even Premier League sides are interested, and so a bidding war could be in the offing.
Lawn’s comments in the Yorkshire Post should be taken extremely seriously by every City fan, as they succinctly sum up the dilemma faced by the board and manager. “There could be a big decision for the club to make in January. And also a big decision for Nahki to make. We want to keep Nahki. He has been a big part of what this club has achieved over the past 18 months. But what I will say is that if Nahki does leave, he won’t do so on the cheap.”
The fact Nahki has only 18 months left on his contract – and is not looking to extend that deal – means that this January transfer window is a peak moment in terms of the size of transfer fee City could command for him, if not the peak moment of his value to the club. Wait until the summer, and with 12 months of his deal to run at that point, Wells’ transfer value will inevitably fall. The club would be in a weaker position to negotiate a high fee, as would-be buyers will know Wells has only a year before he could be picked him up on a free transfer. This is the last window where the Bantams have the upper hand in negotiations.
Not that it means they have to sell now, and this is why December looks so important. A strong month in terms of results and points acquired, and City would go past the halfway stage of the season with a big chance of back-to-back promotions. Should that be the case, selling Wells would possibly represent a larger gamble than waiting until the summer and receiving a lower fee for his services – the relative riches of the Championship could prove considerably more than the transfer fee Wells might command in January.
On the other side of the coin, if the Bantams have a bad month and fall off the promotion pace, the temptation to cash in on Wells for the maximum profit will be almost overwhelming.
Putting aside our feelings as supporters of the football club – and focusing on our feelings as supporters of Nahki Wells the player – it is impossible to begrudge him on his contract stance. It is not in the best interests of Wells’ career to sign a new deal with City at this moment. Six months ago there were questions over whether he could perform at the higher level of League One. He has proven himself spectacularly, and for the good of his continued progression he probably needs to take that next step either in the New Year or during the summer.
There is no doubt that a Wells departure in January would be heart-breaking to every right-minded City fan. But the pragmatic, head-over-heart viewpoint is that the money City could make from Wells (the Sun gets much wrong, but £3 million would be a fantastic sum to receive – by some distance a club record) could be used to strengthen the team considerably.
So December matters a lot. The more Wells scores, the higher his transfer value. But the more Wells scores, the more points City pick up and stronger the possibility of promotion – thereby tightening the club’s grip on his services. It’s all rather serious, all rather significant.
Oldham Athletic might start the weekend in 14th, but they are unbeaten in six and have won their last four fixtures. I watched their Sky TV defeat to Preston North End earlier in the season, and they played their high-flying opponents off the park with a superb performance of excellent passing. Do not take Oldham lightly tomorrow; they are unbeaten at Boundary Park since August.
With illness rampant through the camp, question marks over team selection make it difficult to predict the side. But assuming everyone is back to full health, expect a back five of the in-form Jon McLaughlin behind Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Matthew Bates and James Meredith.
There is much criticism of the defence of late – nine goals conceded in four games will do that – but I don’t believe there is any need for a radical shake-up. Meredith has struggled for form this season, but I felt attempts to blame him for Notts County’s goal on Tuesday were unfair. Bates was certainly more culpable, but there is an undoubted quality about him that will hopefully shine brighter as his fitness and sharpness improves. That said, someone needs to tell him that you’re allowed to tackle opponents running at you.
In midfield, calls for Garry Thompson to be dropped are growing louder – but as much as Mark Yeates deserves a start, is it wise to go with two out-and-out wingers (Yeates and Kyel Reid) in a tough away game? I’m not sure if I see it happening, although there is no doubt that on current form Yeates has earned a starting berth. Nathan Doyle will also be recalled to partner Gary Jones ahead of Jason Kennedy. Two steps forwards and then two steps back for Kennedy, although Parkinson continues to talk him up.
Over the last few weeks we have seen attempts to integrate two of the summer arrivals – Kennedy and, before him, Rafa De Vita – without the level of success Parkinson would have hoped. Both have made contributions for sure, but are yet to truly influence matters. Yeates was another in and then out, earlier in the season (twice) and will be itching to be handed the opportunity to make it third time lucky,
Up front, whilst Wells’ future looks more uncertain, question marks about his strike partner James Hanson have been answered by Friday morning’s news he has agreed a three-and-a-half year deal with the club. The T&A’s Simon Parker has revealed Hanson will become one of the highest paid members of the squad, which is much deserved given it is understand he was previously amongst the lowest. The prospect of losing both Hanson and Wells over the coming months had the potential to seriously derail the club’s stunning progress of the past 18 months, so it is a huge boost that one of the pair, at least, is staying put.
Indeed, next summer Hanson would begin his sixth campaign as a Bantam. The last striker I can think of who stayed at Valley Parade for so long was Paul Jewell. We are truly reaping the rewards of all the effort and dedication that has been put into developing Hanson since his arrival from Guiseley in the summer of 2009. Like Wells, you suspect Hanson’s curve of improvement still has a way to go and that he too can play at a higher level – therefore, retaining his services is a big statement for the club to make. We will have more on this development next week.
It has been a strange few days for City. The 1-1 draw with County was never going to attract widespread approval, but the negative reaction from some quarters has been over the top and unfair. It’s just a few short months ago that Width of a Post writer Alex Scott argued that no supporters in the land were having as much fun as we were and, as we enter the final month of the year, few would disagree that 2013 will go down as one of the best in the club’s history.
No one would advocate living in the past, but the goodwill and high regard built up during the highs of the past 12 months should ensure the players receive greater support during the difficult moments. For the most part that is the case; but from a minority, the outrage over recent results grows and memories seem too short.
A huge visiting support is expected at Boundary Park on Sunday, and I just hope that translates into positive support. We remain in a fantastic position and the long-term future is potentially very bright, but the short-term of December could not be more important. It’s time for us to stand up for the players and give it everything we have. It’s time to show that the mutual appreciation between supporters and players remains as strong as ever.